Brandon’s Tips: August 2007

Miss me?

Yep, just when you thought it was safe to check your email again, it’s the blazing return of Brandon’s Tips, back after a brief, refreshing sabbatical and ready anew to point your ‘tention toward the best of what’s around. In my absence — which included an emotional pilgramage home, a turbulent flight to Calla-forny, and a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway that was as harrowing as it was humbling — an entire monthful of great music passed through the pop culture birth canal to help bring the supremely satisfying summer of 2007 to an appropriately august close.

But first, while the doctors are cutting the cords and the nurses are prepping the incubators, let’s tie up a few loose ends:

— A and I listened to a host of terrific tunes on our endless drive down Highway 1 — honest to God, I’m eternally happy to have had that experience, and it’s a pair of days that I’ll eventually look back on with nothing but gratitude and joy, but I’m quite serious when I tell you I don’t ever want to do that again, ever, because (a) some of those hairpin curves are genuinely horrifying; (b) straight up, it takes you four hours to drive thirty miles, and if you neglect to grab a bottle of water and a Snickers before you leave the city, you are screwed, babe; and (c) A knows how I adore him, but his driving has all the logic and grace of a runaway pinball — including the electrifying new Hanson record (a start-to-finish ringer) and a Paul Simon sampler that miraculously left A (who has been unacceptably slow to embrace Simon and his innumerable charms) tapping his toes. But hands down, the disc we had the most fun with was the scary-fabulous The Best of Schoolhouse Rock, which I had picked up on a whim a few weeks prior, and which we both found to be a nonstop riot. The album’s seventeen tracks include all the usual suspects (Jack Sheldon’s eternal classics “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction,” and Blossom Dearie’s strangely affecting “Figure Eight,” the spare and haunting videoclip for which I just purchased from iTunes), as well as a handful of songs I didn’t remember from the first time around (like Dearie’s “Unpack Your Adjectives” or Lynn Ahrens’ hilarious, slightly subversive “No More Kings”), and listening to it in one sitting, you’re struck dumb not only by the concept’s slyly magnificent simplicity — hiding (and in plain sight, no less!) dry math, science, grammar, and history facts inside undeniably ingenious lyrical and melodic conceits (can even Waits, even Dylan , claim a rhyme as viciously exacting and exhilarating as “it takes three wheels / to make a vehicle / called a tricycle” (from “Three is a Magic Number”)?) — but also by the fact that today’s children have nothing neither this brilliant nor this cool to unwittingly stoke their mental furnaces (and I say that as a man who, once upon a glorious time, learned his times tables while waiting patiently for Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” to come on). If you’re wondering how exactly we’ve raised a generation of heathens and horrors, may I submit that wrenching truth as exhibit A?

— On our road trip, A demonstrated major and heartwarming strides in his desire and ability to appreciate good music. As previously mentioned, he’s coming around on Paul Simon; Abra Moore seems to be slowly growing on him, a process that I helped along by snapping him up a copy of Strangest Places from the dollar bin at Half Price Books earlier this summer (for the record, he loved “Your Faithful Friend” and liked “Four Leaf Clover,” though he continues to resist my declaration that the latter is an undeniable classic); and I even got him to kinda sorta alter his completely ridiculous stance on Patty Griffin’s criminally beautiful “Heavenly Day” (still doesn’t love it, mind you, but no longer does he actively loathe it, and I’ll call that progress ten times outta ten, boys). However, his once-amusing stubborn refusal to accept the behemoth talent that is the divine George Michael has suddenly, without warning, turned hellish and horrific. While in San Francisco, we stepped into Amoeba Records, whereupon I located and immediately purchased Twentyfive, a profoundly stunning two-disc DVD collection of Michael’s videos that has just been released to mark the silver anniversary of Wham!’s recording debut. That evening, A — ever curious, that lovable chap — decided he was ready to take another shot at understanding Mr. Michael’s charms. Before you can say, “Take me dancin’ tonight, I wanna hit that hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh,” I leapt into action and popped disc two into the machine. Time being of the essence, I figured I’d whip out a cannon right off the bat: the gorgeous, image-drenched, unforgettable 1996 clip for “Jesus to a Child,” which found George — a scant half-decade after he swore off making videos forever, mind you — back front and center, looking and sounding like the living legend he’ll forever be, conducting a master class on master classes. Next up was the risible 1998 clip for “Outside,” George’s thinly-veiled response to his infamous Beverly Hills arrest a few months prior (the priceless scene in which an ordinary restroom morphs into a tricked-out party palace, replete with stainless steel urinals and a disco ball, surely numbers among the classic sight gags in MTV history, yeah?). Following that, we checked in with a pair of sterling choices, 1999’s “Waltz Away Dreaming” (a searing duet with fellow Brit Toby Bourke) and 2004’s “John and Elvis Are Dead” (which coulda, shoulda, woulda been a massive smash in this country if the folks at Sony hadn’t had their heads permanently lodged plumb up their asses), that never got stateside airplay but were massive hits overseas. Astoundingly, despite being loaded with passion and sincerity, not a moment, not a millisecond — neither visually nor aurally — of these four videos moved my all-time favorite Russian lug in any direction. Frustrated yet stubbornly determined — if nothing else, the two-plus years I’ve spent playfully ribbing A over his often baffling choices in music appreciation have instructed me in the skillful art of wearing down his resistance — I decided to alter my approach, decided to step the game up a level. Having previously shown me an (sometimes stomach-churning) affinity for witless pop, I gambled that, since George-as-auteur was falling on deaf ears, there was no way in hell A wouldn’t trip all over himself falling obscenely in love with Wham! As I switched discs and mentally debated whether I should open phase two with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Careless Whisper,” I explained to A that what he was about to see was: a) decidedly a product of the ’80s (to subliminally convey that embracing “My Humps” and yet mocking George Michael’s tight pink short-shorts and Choose Life sweatshirt was not going to be tolerated), and b) created by (and largely for) teenagers. With that, I swallowed hard and rolled tape on “Whisper,” which, as would befit its status as one of the all-time great songs, I figured (prayed, even) would stand the better chance of slipping past the goalie. A sat through the entire video positively stone-faced — he didn’t even as much as twitch when I reminded him that Michael was seventeen years old when he wrote this eloquent, melancholy brilliance! — and when it was over, he still didn’t get it. The shellshocked devastation in my eyes must have been palpable, for he immediately grabbed my hand, stared at me with heartbreaking intensity, and said, with all the wrenching sincerity he could muster, “Well, maybe you should just make me a George Michael playlist.” Demolished, I knew I hadn’t the will to proceed with this pointless torture, and I closed the computer before we could even get to “Go-Go.” Not since I found out that the tooth fairy was actually my father have I felt so emotionally ravaged, so spent. (As for that playlist: looks like A will get his chance this November, which is when Sony has finally promised a stateside release of Twentyfive ‘s audio complement — heretofore only available in America as an import — in a two- or three-CD set. Should give me just enough time to work up sufficient nerve to take another shot at piercing A’s mulishly impenetrable tenacity.)

— My reaction to last week’s news of the imminent release of a 160-gigabyte iPod can be summed up with three simple words: Halla. Freakin’. Loooo-yah.

— A bona-fide, heaven-sent miracle is blooming on your television sets every weekday at 1 pm, and I’m telling you right now: if you’re missing it, you’re missing out. ABC’s classic soap opera “One Life to Live” — which, since the unceremonious, unjustified 1996 firing of its Emmy-winning head writer Michael Malone, has flailed wildly between dynamite (most of the Jill Farren Phelps era at the end of the ’90s, which gave us the riveting “Who Killed Georgie?” saga and the refreshingly adult Nora/Bo/Lindsay/Sam quadrangle, a yarn that — even though it robbed our uber-fierce Nora of no fewer than fifty IQ points — gave the divine Catherine Hickland the role of her life) and dreadful (most of Malone’s disastrous second headwriting tenure in 2003, which unleashed that marble-mouthed parody-of-a-villain Tico Santi on Llanview (a story which itself led to one of the dopiest murder mysteries in the history of daytime, since we were all so freakin’ happy to be rid of Tico that nobody in the audience or on the show gave a flying damn who offed him) and gave our beloved heroine Viki yet another daughter she couldn’t remember delivering) — has caught fire at the threshold of autumn and promises to burn white hot for months to come. As succinctly as possible, here’s what’s happening backstage and how that has led to the most amazing onscreen renaissance. Dena Higley, the gimmick-mad writer who took over for Malone in 2004, was fired this past May after almost three years of loud yet strangely hollow storytelling. (No joke: the woman staged a plane crash, a tornado, even an execution, but none of the stories surrounding these events had any resonance, and none of the characters that populated those stories possessed any depth or dimension.) Replacing Higley is Ron Carlivati, who has been a scriptwriter with the show for eleven years and who is quite obviously steeped in (and, more paramount, respectful of) “One Life’s” rich history (next summer marks this series’ fortieth year on the air). The first episodes that rolled out under the new regime in mid-August — the death of the show’s patriarch Asa Buchanan, whose funeral brought back to town a host of popular characters from yesteryear (how great was it to see Nathan Fillion playing Joey again?!) — were bracing and wondrous; against all odds, the month that followed was even more glorious, as a storyline that has been simmering on the back of the stove for the better part of three years has bubbled up to the forefront and blown the whole damn canvas wide open. Again, succinctly: in November of 2004, on the eve of his wedding to true love Blair Cramer, Todd Manning was kidnapped and imprisoned by a psycho bitch named Margaret Cochran. Her objective: she wanted to get pregnant, and she wanted Todd to be the “donor.” This crap literally dragged on for months, but ultimately, Todd was freed and Margaret escaped, pregnant with Todd, Jr. Some time later, an evil doctor named Spencer Truman came to town and fell in love with Blair, and through lots of ridiculous machinations, he lured Margaret back to town and hatched a plot to frame Todd for her murder. (He figured he could have Todd shipped off to prison, and that would leave his own strapping shoulders free for Miss Blair to cry upon.) Well, Todd and Margaret ended up in a canoe on a lake one stormy night (please, don’t ask), and we in the audience weren’t allowed to see what happened, but we were (mis)led to believe that Todd had forcibly drowned Margaret and their unborn child, and was put on trial for (and later convicted of) the two murders. After the guilty verdict was returned, it was revealed that Spencer had saved Margaret and was preparing to deliver the child, whom he subsequently pawned off on some shady lawyer to give up for adoption. Months after that, the aforementioned tornado struck, and a beautiful baby boy was brought into the hospital. Now, those of us who’ve been watching soaps since we were infants knew exactly who that baby was the instant we saw him, but the characters in town had no means of identifying the child, and his parents had evidently been killed in the storm. Marcie McBain, (a fan favorite portrayed by the brilliant Kathy Brier for six years, and a volunteer at the hospital) was instantly drawn to the boy, and after no family members ever materialized to claim the boy, she and her husband Michael (everybody’s favorite local doctor) began the process of adopting the child, whom they had named Tommy.

The truth about Tommy’s identity wasn’t revealed until months later. After being almost executed for a murder that never even happened, Todd was proven innocent and set free, whereupon he immediately began searching for his son. He turned to Rex Balsom, a local yokel trying to make it as a private investigator (and, natch, one of Marcie and Michael’s best friends). Rex and Michael did some digging and unearthed some documents that proved that Tommy and Todd, Jr. were one and the same. Not wanting to devastate Marcie — who, in the interim, had learned she would never be able to have children of her own — Rex forged a death certificate for Todd, Jr. and presented it to Todd, thinking (and hoping) that would be the end of it. Rex and Michael vowed to take the secret to their graves.

The big mystery, of course, was how much Spencer knew about any of this, and even after he was murdered this past January, it was still unclear. That murder mystery and the Tommy story have meandered about aimlessly for this entire year, but in the past month, the tales have been pulled into one invigorating, taut umbrella story that touches almost everybody on the canvas in at least one crucial way: John McBain (the town’s lead detective, as well as Michael’s brother) realized who Tommy is, and also realized that Spencer knew the truth all along, which is why he was murdered. It appears that Lindsay Rappaport killed him after she stumbled upon the truth. (You see, Lindsay’s daughter Jen was Marcie McBain’s best friend, and after Jen was murdered by a gay serial killer a couple of years ago, Lindsay became a sorta-surrogate mom to Marcie.) Lindsay’s lifelong enemy is Nora Buchanan, who is the town district attorney and who is currently charged with prosecuting her bitter rival for murder. Lindsay and Nora have each been married to Bo Buchanan, the town police chief, and he and Lindsay have been growing closer again in recent months (much to Nora’s chagrin). Bo’s one-time sister-in-law is Viki Davidson, the town saint (and the woman around whom this series has always revolved at its best), and Viki’s half brother is — wait for it, now — Todd Manning, “Tommy’s” biological father.

Todd learned the truth last week and has gone apeshit crazy, demanding that his son be returned to him at once. The McBains have retained an attorney, and we’re now headed for a high-stakes custody battle that is so rich and dramatically satisfying for four distinct, monumental reasons: a) the writing team, headed by the terrific Carlivati (who has truly hit the ground running with his opening salvo), is actually scripting the relationships and the history that these characters have shared, rather than just ignoring them, as has previously been commonplace; b) there aren’t really any bad guys anywhere in this story, only unfortunate victims of circumstance; c) however it turns out, the outcome of this storyline is going to create canvas-wide ripples and repercussions for years to come; and d) in a radical change of pace, something important happens on the show every day (and in a genre whose stories depend on constant repetition and glacial pacing, that’s huge). And as I said at the head of this rant, if you miss a second of it, you’re missing the exciting rebirth of a television classic that couldn’t deserve it more.

— If you (like a certain dark-featured Russian I know and love) have an instant prejudice against (egad) a daytime soap, there’s also big news from the world of prime time television: the intensely felt, meticulously observed freshman season of the most exciting, most acclaimed, most authentic dramatic series this side of Tony Soprano has just landed on DVD with a spectacular five-disc set that carries a ridiculously low price tag. Hard as it is to believe, you can actually walk into any establishment which sells DVDs, and you can walk out brandishing Friday Night Lights: The Complete First Season having spent less than twenty-five dollars. It’s money well spent, kids, mark it. Chronicling a semester in the lives of both a small-town Texas high school football team and the townsfolk who support them, the series evolves over the course of twenty-two episodes toward an innately human, ferociously identifiable story about big dreams, about broken hearts, about letting go, about moving on, all brought to life by one of the most staggering acting ensembles ever assembled for a mere television show. Led by the reliably brilliant Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton — instantly credible as a couple, with chemistry to burn from their very first scene — as the team’s head coach and his staunchly supportive wife, mention must also be made of Scott Porter (whose star quarterback Jason Street is tragically paralyzed in episode one and spends the ensuing twenty-one hours slowly coming to grips with his new life), the amazing Zach Gilford (whose shy, stuttering backup QB Matt Saracen is thrust into the spotlight in the wake of tragedy and hangs on by the crust of the skin of his fingernails to become the team’s — and, in many ways, the town’s — anchor), and the hilarious Brad Leland (whose car salesman Buddy Garrity starts out as a one-note mustache twirler and, with painstaking grace, becomes the character you can’t help but root for). Filmed as it is in real classrooms, real restaurants, real automobiles, real houses, real parking lots and football fields — there’s not a soundstage within fifty miles, y’all — you become so engrossed by these people and their stories that you often forget you’re watching a damn TV show. (Name me a single other series that can make that claim.) It is an extraordinary piece of entertainment; as I wrote A in an April email immediately following the season finale, one of this program’s great legacies is that it proved definitively that television — and network television, to boot! — can, at its very best, be exhilarating. It can exhaust, it can provoke, and it can strive.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen.

We’re over 3000 words in and we haven’t discussed a note of new music, and with six weeks to cover, we don’t have a moment to spare. The great theme of the month just passed was talented artists bravely trying to follow up their exciting breakthroughs with worthy successors. At the head of that list, place the fascinating Lori McKenna, who was “discovered” by Faith Hill a couple of years ago, who co-wrote a chunk of Mandy Moore’s great Wild Hope (including its finest song, “Most of Me”) earlier this year, and whose second album, Unglamorous, is an intriguing stunner. If you don’t recognize Matt Nathanson‘s name, you damn well ought to: in 2003, he contributed a sexy-as-sin cover of James’ 1995 classic “Laid” to the American Wedding soundtrack, and topped it later that year with his major-label debut Beneath These Fireworks. Following last year’s live album At the Point, he’s back with the brand new Some Mad Hope, and if you’re ready to dismiss this as yet another boy-and-his-guitar thing, you’re definitely not listening closely enough.

Very much in the Nathanson vein is Patrick Park, who also released an interesting debut in ’03 — the slightly dark Loneliness Knows My Name, which featured one of that year’s classics, “Honest Skrew” — and who’s back with Everyone’s in Everyone, which doesn’t make quite an immediate impression as Loneliness did, but which is worthy of an hour of your time.

I’m jumping onto the Josh Ritter train a couple of albums late, but this ambitious kid is without doubt the class of the current male singer-songwriter movement. I stumbled upon Ritter’s second CD, the uncommonly gorgeous The Animal Years, earlier this year, shortly after lamenting in this very forum about the sad lack of future wearers of Paul Simon’s mantle. Consider those words (at least partially) rescinded; not less than one solid listen to the first verse of Animal’s “Girl in the War” is all it takes to make you a zealous believer, and all that obvious talent shines through even stronger on his latest album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. This young man is confident, he’s smart, he’s a great singer, and he’s well on his way to an obscenely successful career.

Indie darlings Rilo Kiley follow up their much-lauded 2005 debut More Adventurous with a more pop-leaning effort (and advantageously so) Under the Blacklight. Jenny Lewis — who, I just learned from her band’s cover story in the new Spin magazine, played the little girl who mistakenly bought Rose’s beloved teddy bear in a classic “Golden Girls” episode! — still doesn’t reach out and grab me as a singer or a songwriter, but like Tegan and Sara beside her, there’s more than enough potential here to believe that she will at some point.

Hot on the heels of their independently-released debut Nothing But the Water, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have aligned with Hollywood Records with their second effort, the earthy and remarkable This is Somewhere. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, having not been terribly taken by Water, but this record is quite strong; you can hear shades of Bonnie Raitt, of Susan Tedeschi, of Patrice Pike in Potter’s yearning vocals. Without question, a band to watch.

Speaking of bluesy, yearning vocals: just ahead of Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming album Magic (due October 3), his terrific wife Patti Scialfa is back with her third album, Play It As It Lays. If you’re not familiar with her work outside of her contributions to her husband’s E Street Band, you should correct that at once. Her pulse-pounding debut record, 1993’s Rumble Doll, was one of that decade’s premier collections, and even though it took her eleven years to follow it up, 2004’s 23rd Street Lullaby (with its shimmering title track) was well worth the wait.

A pair of young artists with old, patient souls have returned with surprising new efforts. Ben Harper is back leading The Innocent Criminals (with whom he recorded 2000’s Burn to Shine, his commercial breakthrough) on his latest, Lifeline, on which he’s seemingly trying to channel Otis Redding. Even though there’s nothing here that even approaches the undying cool of “Diamonds on the Inside” from a few years back, the effect mostly works. Ditto that with Joe Nichols‘ latest, Real Things, which admirably continues his quest to return old school country to contemporary radio. (If you haven’t already, pick this up at Best Buy, whose version contains a great acoustic rendition of Nichols’ first number one hit, the instant classic “Brokenheartsville.”)

Anybody remember Curtis Stigers? He hit it big in 1992 with a radio hit called “I Wonder Why,” and then promptly fell off of most people’s radar screens. (Me, I stuck with him, which is how I know that he only got better out of the spotlight; his 1996 single “Keep Me From the Cold” remains of the great love songs, and his 1999 album Brighter Days was cruelly ignored commercially, despite the appearance of most of its tracks in various WB series.) After that third pop record’s failure, he turned to his true love, jazz, and that’s the genre where he continues to flourish. On the heels of his 2005 triumph I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today (which contains a reading of Randy Newman’s classic title track that damn near rivals Dusty Springfield’s and Bette Midler’s as the very best of that song’s thousand-plus covers), Stigers is back with his third jazz outing, Real Emotional Girl, which holds totally fascinating, left-of-left-field covers of Emmylou Harris’ “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune” (Eva Cassidy still owns that song, but Curtis comes as close to dethroning her than anyone has). If even the word jazz makes your palms sweat, give this one a spin. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Speaking of Miss Emmylou, she turns up on the soundtrack for Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut, The Hottest State (based on his 1996 novel), alongside the likes of Feist, Bright Eyes, and Norah Jones (who, speak of the devil, herself turned in a more-than-adequate version of “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” for a Katrina benefit a couple years back). Each of the songs from this film was written by Jesse Harris (a Grammy winner for penning Jones’ monster smash “Don’t Know Why” in 2002), and the vanilla sameness of the record tends to grate on your nerves after a while. Nonetheless, this is a stupendously impressive assemblage of talent.

A hearty welcome back to the long-missed country queen Suzy Bogguss, who is probably best known for her airy, fun 1991 cover of Nanci Griffith’s “Outbound Plane,” and who was last heard from eight years ago with a self-titled record that gave us my all-time favorite Bogguss tune, “Goodnight.” (True story: my dad first got sick in the fall of 1999, and between September and November of that year, Sherry and I drove made four round trips between Austin and Amarillo, which meant a lot of music and a lot of singing at the tops of our lungs. The three songs that I clearly remember us listening to the most were Meredith Brooks and Queen Latifah’s outrageously cool rendition of “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” Bonnie Tyler’s version of Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around,” and “Goodnight,” which has one of the great choruses ever (“live from high atop / the hood of my car / I’m signing off / sweet dreams baby / wherever you are,” and I promise that within the context of the song, it makes total sense).) Bogguss returned last week with Sweet Danger, and while her voice remains unmistakable, the music is no longer straight up country; you get tastes of jazz, bits of pop (there’s even a cover of Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now”), shades of classic soul. It’s a fascinating departure from a true original.

Also gone for far too long has been Darren Hayes, who gained international fame as the voice of Savage Garden, and who has just dropped his second solo disc, the double-length This Delicate Thing We’ve Made. I’ve only heard one half of this record, but I’m definitely into it, and so is Hayes: since coming out last year, there’s no question that he’s more content and more settled than ever, and the new confident edge in his voice is too sexy for words. Count me in. (Anybody else think this should be required listening for the ultra-doofus Kenny Chesney, who continueth to protest too much, and who is back this week with an album whose title totally escapes me. Something about poets and pirates, I think. Let’s just call it More of the Same and be done, yeah?)

More of the same is definitely what we get from Fuel’s new record, Angels and Devils. In the wake of lead singer Brett Scallions’ somewhat acrimonious departure from the band last year, they’ve gone and recruited a soundalike half-wit named Toryn Green, and with him, they’ve created more perfectly nondescript music. Just pop in that old copy of “Hemorrhage” and play it in a continuous loop until you’ve managed to forget that this ever even happened.

Old buddies Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds have released a second concert album, Live at Radio City, which pretty much covers the same material as 1999’s Live at Luther College, their last joint effort (right down to the painfully bloated versions of “Crash Into Me” and “Dancing Nancies”). Matthews sounds great as ever, and if you love him, you’ll love this. You just may also wish he’d take more chances, especially in a more intimate setting such as this.

Anybody else already over the infamous battle between Kanye West and 50 Cent? Yeah, thought so. Me, I’m more interested in hearing the contributions of the guest stars (Coldplay’s Chris Martin on West’s disc, and the ever-compelling Justin Timberlake on Fiddy’s) than anything the marquee talent can muster.

Led by previously released tracks from Paolo Nutini and (whaddya know) Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a new song from Mat Kearney, and Brandi Carlile’s breakthrough smash “The Story,” volume three of the Grey’s Anatomy television soundtrack is out this week. Say what you will about that uneven show, but the music is top-notch.

Finally, while we await the November release of Trisha Yearwood‘s latest album, allow her second Greatest Hits collection to tide you over. All the biggies are here (including, thankfully, “The Woman Before Me” and “Walkaway Joe,” her classic duet with Don Henley), plus a pair of previously unreleased tracks that I’m sure will only serve to bump up our anticipation for the new record.

And that brings us, after a seeming eternity, to this week’s playlist, in which we’ll pay one final tribute to the season just ended. Tuesday’s epic showdown between Kanye and Half-Dollar officially ushered in fall and its music, but let’s pause in extended recognition of a surprisingly strong summer which found seasoned pros mixing it up with promising newcomers in what became a pitch-perfect distraction from the humidity and the heat, all the while creating their own mixtures of either.

1. “Almost Lover” (from One Cell in the Sea) — A Fine Frenzy — so, all the Tori Amos comparisons are irking me no end — again, boys, you gotta earn praise that high — but this girl clearly knows what she’s doing.

2. “Stop Me” (from Version) — Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriwether — true, most of Version went right over my head, but this terrifically strange melange of Morrissey’s “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and Diana Ross’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (performed by a major new talent, the soulful Brit Merriwether) grabs you by the scruff of your neck and hijacks your attention.

3. “Dark Road” (from Dark Road) — Annie Lennox — Patty Griffin finally gets some worthy competition in the single of the year derby, and wouldn’t you know it would take no less than Lennox’s caliber to challenge her? I probably shouldn’t say this, since I’m certain I’ll jinx it, but if the rest of Songs of Mass Destruction (coming October 3) sounds anywhere even close to this, we’re in for a monster of an album, boys. Get your life jackets on now.

4. “Your Next Lover” (from Unglamorous) — Lori McKenna — speakin’ of Miss Patty, close your eyes and you can hear the aching echo of her unmistakable timbre as McKenna sings these words straight from her gut. Painful yet precisely beautiful.

5. “In the Ghetto” (from In the Ghetto) — Elvis Presley & Lisa Marie Presley — go ahead, laugh if you must. Whine, even, about how this quasi-duet was completely unnecessary. Then, listen, and try to tell me that it doesn’t work twice as well as it ever deserved to. The blend of their voices at the climax — hers high, his impossibly low — is irresistible.

6. “Georgia” (from The Walk) — Hanson — I’m dead serious when I repeat this: if Taylor Hanson isn’t the finest pop singer on the globe right now, I’ll gnaw my fingers off.

7. “If I Could Build My World Around You” (from S.O.S. Save our Soul) — Marc Broussard & Toby Lightman — leave it to a couple of brave-beyond-their-years white kids to not only take on Marvin and Tammi, but to nail it.

8. “Dance Tonight” (from Memory Almost Full) — Paul McCartney — just when I wrote that he hadn’t written a truly great song in about twenty-five years, Macca blows the roof off the joint with this giddy, simple stunner. A flawless introduction to a grand album.

9. “Resolution” (from Planet Earth) — Prince — as predicted, the Prince playlist from the last tipsheet went over like fascism. Still, I remain undeterred. The album was far from great, but this track shows a new side of Prince that seems worth exploring.

10. “Umbrella” (from Good Girl Gone Bad) — Rihanna featuring Jay-Z — Sherry Ann and I had a ferocious fight over this song — I still swear she’s saying “umba-relly” all throughout — but one thing is sure: the beat is killer.

11. “Imagine” (from Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur) — Me’Shell N’DegeOcello — a firm reminder that this woman was one hell of a soul singer — “if that’s your boyfriend / he wasn’t last night,” anyone? — before she turned into the world’s most frightening lesbian.

12. “Wake Up Call” (from It Won’t Be Soon Before Long) — Maroon 5 — the album fell totally flat with me, and the video for this track is even more inexplicably bizarro than the track itself. Still, what a song, yeah?