Top albums of 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

1. Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War)": It's been five years since Badu made any musical statement of merit. But Badu, one of R&B's most creative voices, returned to form with "New Amerykah," which played like an eclectic, absorbing jam session. We are already awaiting part two.

2. Estelle, "Shine": This British singer-rapper-songwriter made her mark with "American Boy," an upbeat jam aided by a Kanye West appearance. The CD is a true reflection of Estelle — gritty, funny and full of sass. From slow R&B grooves to reggae jams, Estelle entertains throughout.

3. Sia, "Some People Have Real Problems": Sia's album was morose, depressing and full of despair — yet undeniably beautiful and captivating. You'll find yourself sucked into her tales of heartbreak — and you won't want to leave them either.

4. Kanye West, "808s & Heartbreak": It's a testament to West's amazing talent that he could release an album as uneven as "808s" and still make an impressive artistic statement. West poured his heartache over his breakup with his fiancee and the death of his mother into Auto-tune and an 808 machine, but the results were hardly sterile or mechanical: It was perhaps the most emotional CD of his young career (and given his penchant for displaying his feelings, that's saying a lot).

5. Jazmine Sullivan, "Fearless": Comparisons to Lauryn Hill were a bit over the top. But make no mistake, Sullivan — whose husky voice recalls that of Hill — is a talent on the rise, as seen by her great debut, "Fearless." Songs like "Lions, Tigers & Bears" and "Call Me Guilty" show a gift for storytelling and writing flair. On second thought, maybe those Hill comparisons aren't so far off.

6. Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III": The best rapper in the game doles out such a dizzying array of one-liners, puns and cracks, it's hard to catch them all on the first listen — which is why this album remained on heavy rotation all year. Lil Wayne had plenty of help from guest stars ranging from T-Pain to Jay-Z, but it was Wayne's wit, enhanced by some killer grooves, that kept us entranced. There's a reason why he seemed to be everywhere this year — we just couldn't get enough of him.

7. Taylor Swift, "Fearless": An album title isn't the only thing Swift and Sullivan share. Like Sullivan, Swift has an amazing gift as a songwriter, weaving tales rich with detail and emotion. Her CD is further enhanced when you realize that she's still a teen — and has many great albums in her future.

8. Anthony Hamilton, "The Point of it All": Hamilton's old-time soul sound never gets old because he knows what it takes to sound classic instead of simply "retro." It boils down to top-notch songs and an amazing voice, and Hamilton has both.

9. My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges": The group retooled its jam-band sound with a tighter, rhythmic CD, but still retained its experimental vibe. The Jim James-led band delivered a CD that explores different styles — from funk to rock to soul to a bit of country twang — that still sounds cohesive.

10. Mariah Carey, "EMC2": Wait — Mariah released an album this year? You'd be forgiven if that was your first thought, because this album disappeared almost as fast as "Glitter" after she became Mrs. Nick Cannon. But it deserved to stay around longer. Like its predecessor, "The Emancipation of Mimi," it has the right mix of party jams, torch songs and touching ballads.

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