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Top CDs of 2005

Steve Morse

10. Neil Young, "Prairie Wind," Reprise. The hippie icon suffered a brain aneurysm this year, forcing him to take stock of his life. The result was this magical disc that also was the final record in his "Harvest" trilogy. Young eloquently shared memories, adding horns, strings, and the celestial voice of Emmylou Harris to make it timeless.

10. Sufjan Stevens, "Illinois," Asthmatic Kitty. It was creativity unbound for Stevens, whose lo-fi indie-rock cut across many genres with glee and depth. He paid a quirky but well-researched homage to the state of Illinois, using it as a way to mark universal truths.

10. Audioslave, "Out of Exile," Interscope. The title was prophetic. Audioslave was coming out of a tough period in which the band's music wasn't measuring up to that of the members' previous groups, Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden. On this sophomore album, they found the right blend, yielding huge hits in "Be Yourself" and "Doesn't Remind Me."

10. The Darkness, "One Way Ticket to Hell ... And Back," Atlantic. The tongue-in-cheek Brits nearly imploded from the weight of their early success. But they righted the ship with this hard-rocking effort that threw around enough satire to fill a boxed set and was anchored by Justin Hawkins' son-of-Freddie Mercury vocals.

10. Lee Ann Womack, "There's More Where That Came From," MCA Nashville. In linking to the country-pop sound of Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, and other tell-it-like-it-is women, Womack made history sound fresh. And nothing was more candid than her song, "Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago."

10. My Morning Jacket, "Z," Badman. The Kentucky band performed Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" in the awful movie "Elizabethtown," but don't judge them by that. This album has a haunting, neo-psychedelic feel that made for a late-night, reverb-drenched journey into the soul.

10. Rolling Stones, "A Bigger Bang," Virgin. How old are these guys? It didn't matter once Jagger and Richards regrouped again. Their writing was more intimate, their sound more spare, and when a healed Charlie Watts came back into the picture, the songs really took off.

10. Ry Cooder, "Chavez Ravine," Nonesuch. A remarkable album about the human toll exacted when the city of Los Angeles bulldozed the Latino neighborhood of Chavez Ravine to make way for Dodger Stadium. It didn't have the success of his "Buena Vista Social Club" project, but its ambition and execution were just as noble.

10. Bettye LaVette,cq "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise," Anti. The year's feel-good moment might have been the rediscovery of this classic-soul artist. The Detroit-raised LaVette flashed the power of a long-lost Tina Turner -- and her intimate adaptation of songs by everyone from Lucinda Williams to Dolly Parton was spellbinding.

10. Dave Matthews Band, "Stand Up," RCA. Not all Dave fans dug it, but he stepped up his songwriting with hip-hop producer Mark Batson (Eminem, 50 Cent) and moved easily from Southern funk to Nirvana-esque hard-rock. Matthews was open to new ideas, and this had plenty of them.

Top CDs of 2005
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Read more CD reviews: Scott Alarik  |  Joan Anderman  |  Bill Beuttler  |  Richard Dyer  |  Renee Graham  |  Siddhartha Mitter  |  Steve Morse  |  Christopher Muther  |  James Reed  |  Top CDs of 2005
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