The Best CDs of 2008! Our Critics Choices!

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    It is always fun at the end of each year to celebrate the best of that year.  And in the midst of a music industry that is trying to redefine itself, 2008 gave us a lot of great music to celebrate. 

    And so we've lassoed our music critics to each pick five of their favorites, which we've assembled below in alphabetical order (by artist name).  These are uniformly releases with which you can't go wrong -- or so our critics say. Looking for a Christmas gift for a music lover?  Then spend some time with these winners.

    It is always fun at the end of each year to celebrate the best of that year.  And in the midst of a music industry that is trying to redefine itself, 2008 gave us a lot of great music to celebrate. 

    And so we've lassoed our music critics to each pick five of their favorites, which we've assembled below in alphabetical order (by artist name).  These are uniformly releases with which you can't go wrong -- or so our critics say. Looking for a Christmas gift for a music lover?  Then spend some time with these winners.

    This was tough stuff for us. Many of us had way more than five choices and had to limit them.  Others had favorite choices who were already taken by another writer (sorry Angela J, but Christian had already picked you!).  So, imperfect as they are, here are the selections from Peggy Oliver (PO), BJ Bunneh (BB), Christian John Wikane (CJW), Chris Rizik (CR), David Nathan (DN), L. Michael Gipson (LMG), Melody Charles (MC), Detrel Howell (DH) and Howard Dukes (HD).  Also, each album cover is a link to either CD Baby or Amazon, where you can generally listen to clips from the disc or where you can purchase it.

    We know these picks will have SoulTrackers talking. So be sure to comment below to let us know what we did right and what we missed!

    Rachael Bell / Rueben's Thread - Colour Me Blue (2007) Rachael Bell: Colour Me Blue -- It's too bad there's no longer a place on urban radio for singer-songwriters like this Brit. Her nuanced and metaphorical brand of acoustic, folksy soul makes the listener move in real close to hear, but it's Bell's lyrics that pack the punch. Take a listen to "It's About Time," and "Just Like You."  HD
    Regina Belle - Love Forever Shines (2008) Regina Belle: Love Forever Shines -- Once a major R&B hit maker during the 80s and 90s , Regina Belle's long-awaited gospel debut, Love Forever Shines, combines messages of gratitude about life delivered with soul. PO
    B001D0MB7Q Divine Brown: The Love Chronicles -- With notable artists like Dru, Kreesha Turner, Jennie Laws and now Divine Brown, Canada is finally cultivating the soul renaissance we expected after Glenn Lewis. From shades of Motown to Patrice Rushen, Brown consistently knocks the ball out the park. If jams like "Jump Start" can't rightly kick off your day, check your pulse pumpkin, ‘cause Ms. Brown is strictly for the lively. LMG
    J Davey - the beauty in distortion/the land of the lost J*Davey: The Beauty In Distortion / The Land Of The Lost -- With a meld of electronica, funk, soul, new wave, and hip hop, Jack Davey and Brook D'Leau manage to fuse synth to sexy in an amazing double disc debut. BB
    Don-E - Natural

    Don-E: Natural -- The latest from U.K. based Don-E is a naturally refreshing Nu-Soul experience with playful hip-hop, house music beats, and a killer reconstruction of a lesser known Bob Marley hit.  PO

    Conya Doss - Still (2008) Conya Doss: Still -- The song "Somethin' 2 Nite" shows how Doss has evolved as a singer. This radio-worthy track should have been picked up by stations around the nation. Meanwhile, songs like "Message" and "Come Over" proves that Doss has more than enough to offer her long-time soul fans. HD

    The Foreign Exchange: Leave It All Behind -- Nicolay and Phonte journey from hip hop to pure soul in their sophomore effort while still delivering their uncanny chemistry with complex harmonies and featured vocalists Muhsinah, Yahzarah and Darien Brockington. BB

    Al Green - Lay It Down (2008) Al Green: Lay It Down -- Nostalgia plays no role in this album's greatness. A killer combination of uniformly strong material, an excellent musical backdrop by a group of young producers and Green's usual vocal prowess make it essential listening. CR
    Soul Folk feat. Will Hammond - To Be Continued (2008) Will Hammond, Jr. and Soul Folk: To Be Continued... -- This CD checked in at a normally overweight 17 tracks. However, there is little fat. There are several radio-ready tracks on To Be Continued, including "When It  Rains" and a nice remake of "Golden Lady," but nobody would call any of the album tracks on this record "filler." HD
    Lalah Hathaway - Self Portrait (2008) Lalah Hathaway: Self Portrait - 1st daughter of soul returns with an array of songs ranging from mellow to soul stirring party-starters that provide listeners with a glimpse into her soulful upbringing. Self Portrait is Ms. Hathaway's very best musical configuration to date.  DH  
    Heston - Storyteller (2008) Heston: Storyteller -- If there was an indie soul newcomer who made his mark this year, it was certainly Heston Francis. The ATL singer/songwriter showed himself to have the whole package, mixing accessible tunes with solid production, a beautiful voice and lyrics worth remembering.  CR
    Angela Johnson - A Woman's Touch, Vol. 1 (2008) Angela Johnson: A Woman's Touch, Volume I -- Beloved by soul music devotees the world over, producer/singer/songwriter/musician Angela Johnson gave listeners one of the greatest musical gifts of 2008 by bringing together icons of the independent soul scene through her distinct, stylistic "touch."  CJW
    Leigh Jones - Music In My Soul Leigh Jones: Music In My Soul --  It didn't hurt that folks like Berry Gordy Jr. and Al Bell were involved with this new artist's first album but even beyond their 'stamp of approval,' this L.A.-based singer delivers the best debut of 2008 for Peak Records. Her vocals are sublime and soulful, the songs - especially "Cold In L.A." (a slice of truth if ever I heard one), "Free Fall" and "Sick Of Fools" - are excellent. DN
    Little Jackie - The Stoop Little Jackie: The Stoop -- Crude never sounded so good. Biting political and social commentary done to a Motown beat, Imani Coppola restores the true meaning of the word "maverick." Expanding the definition of hip hop soul through sumptuous backgrounds and ballsy lyrical content that speaks truth to the issues and realities of people's lives, Little Jackie is always welcome on our stoop.  LMG
    Kindred the Family Soul - The Arrival Kindred & The Family Soul: The Arrival -- On each of their previous albums, Fatin and Aja have demonstrated their ability to produce the best examples of the Philly neo-soul sound.  With this third Hidden Beach set, they've reached beyond that sound to create a truly satisfying set that is musically cohesive, adventurous and full of primo cuts from "House Of Love" to "The Love We Share."  Their best yet. DN
    Labelle - Back To Now Labelle: Back to Now -- Ending a 32-year hiatus between albums, Nona Hendryx, Patti LaBelle, and Sarah Dash reunited and served up an incredible stew of funk, rock, and soul. It's rare that a reunion is so warmly welcomed -- and warranted! -- but the galvanizing power of Labelle is as potent as ever. CJW
    Jamie Lidell - Jim (2008) Jamie Lidell: JIM -- You must look beyond the mainstream and across the pond to find the source of one of this year's most essential albums. Start to finish, JIM is a first-class experience in soul. CJW
    Maiysha - This Much Is True Maiysha: This Much Is True -- It's painful to witness talent this extraordinary go unappreciated. If there were any justice this daring, funky album of robust soul and R&B would be at the top of every top ten music list for the year. If you can, peep the vice lounge remix of album standout, "Orbit," it's an otherworldly bonus to an already meteoric project.  LMG
    Mary Mary - The Sound Mary Mary: The Sound -- Sisters Erica and Tina Campbell, along with unofficial group member and producer Warryn "Baby Dub" Campbell, show again that Gospel music can be stylish, fun and extremely danceable.  They are at the top of their game, and nobody is making music that is any more joyful. CR
    Maysa - Metamorphosis Maysa: Metamorphosis -- Pretty much every Maysa album has been great without exception.  Her latest work on Shanachie shows this soulfulstress' creative growth as a songwriter while displaying her potent skills as a contemporary vocalist with few peers. No single cut to pick since this is a complete body of work enjoyed in its entirety.  A delight. DN
    Sergio Mendes - Encanto (2008) Sergio Mendes: Encanto -- The second disc co-produced with The Black Eyed Peas - Encanto - features fresh interpretations of Brazilian pop classics by a solid international cast from the U.S., Italy, France, and Mendes' home country of Brazil.  PO
    Mint_Condition_E_Life_Album.jpg Mint Condition: E-Life -- The sixth release from the finest band remaining in the r&b world since their emergence in the late 80s brings together a collection of songs that include the type of classic goodies that have delighted loyal Mint Condition F.O.O.M.S (fans) around the world, as well as songs that tug on your emotions while promoting family unity (Baby Boy, Baby Girl) and a host of other musical delights. Mint Condition never fails to deliver a knockout!  DH
    Chante Moore - Love the Woman (2008) Chante Moore: Love the Woman -- After two duet albums with husband Kenny Lattimore, Chante returned with a smart, sexy solo album that lit up Urban Adult Contemporary radio and reminded us of what a special singer she is.  CR 
    James Morrison - Songs for You, Truths for Me James Morrison: Songs For You, Truths for Me --  Morrison's Undiscovered gave an initial taste, but Songs shows Morrison to be a true soul singer -- never mind the pejorative "blue-eyed" prefix -- and a top notch songwriter. CR
    Muhsinah - Daybreak (2008) Muhsinah: Day Break 2.0 -- With an experiemental blend of hip hop turntablism and complex soul harmonies, Muhsinah writes, produces, and sings her way into a brilliantly intense effort that defines a new style of soul all her own. BB
    Rob Murat - So Much to Say (2008) Rob Murat: So Much To Say  -- New Yorker Rob Murat came out of the box with "Dilemma," one of the best songs of the year, and followed it with a debut album that had way more high spots than anyone could have expected. Good songwriting and hot production made this a keeper.  CR
    Reel People - Seven Ways to Wonder (2008) Reel People: Seven Ways To Wonder -- Just like their U.K. brethren Incognito and Down To The Bone, Reel People carries the dance club/classic soul music torch for their second disc - Seven Ways To WonderPO
    Rogiérs - Life and Music: All of It (2007) Rogiers: Life and Love: All of It -- No matter how many times I listen to "Fa Sho," "Come When You Call"and--my personal favorite--"Come Into My World," I'm always drawn into a boudoir of knuckle-gripped satin sheets and grapes fed to me while luxuriating in milk baths. Rogiers has created some of the most sensual songs of 2008
    B001JL2V10 Alice Russell: Pot of Gold -- What this blue-eyed soul mama sacrifices in her abdication of the smooth, she gains in raw, rough edged blues. Since My Favourite Letters and Under The Munka Moon, Russell has gained the confidence to let a song blossom and build in a way few artists will. More shades of Janis Joplin and less of Teena Marie make Pot of Gold worth each songs journey over the rainbow.  LMG
    Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It --  Unquestionably his best album to date and my favorite album of the year because Raphael faithfully recreates the sound and feel of late '60s and early '70s soul music without mimicking the flavor of that golden era in R&B on his Columbia debut. Brilliant production, vocals and track-for-track consistency make this a complete DN winner! DN
    Sy Smith - Conflict (2008)

    Sy Smith: Conflict --  This standout recording underscores why Sy Smith is a star on the indie soul scene.  Smith explores just about every musical movement that has emerged over the last three decades, and she manages to infuse them with a new twist. Sy proves that she's comfortable performing at any tempo, her  lyrics are imaginative and her vocal range is off the charts. HD

    Phoebe Snow - Live

    Phoebe Snow: Live -- Phoebe Snow, who split time between her career and caring for her disabled daughter who passed last year, releases her first live recording with a pleasing, mixed bag of pop, rock, soul and musical theatre.  PO

    Solange - SoL - Angel & the Hadley Street Dreams Solange: Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams. Familial conflicts and rumored ego-tripping aside, Solange Knowles definitely established her individual talents on her competent, kaleidoscopic sophomore disc. With its deft blend of 60's innocence and 70's sparkle, Ms. Knowles and her dream-team of producers create a disc full of irresistible dance tunes, lovesick litanies and billowy ballads that should earn one of music's most famous baby sisters her own perpetual spotlight. MC
    Jazmine Sullivan - Fearless Jazmine Sullivan: Fearless -- If for no other reason, the instant classic "I'm In Love With Another Man," makes Fearless more than worth its criminally low price point. But the dead-on honesty of "I'm In Love..." is matched by the ethereal "Lions Tigers and Bears," the should-be-ghetto-but-isn't "Bust Your Windows" and several other brilliant moments in this must-have collection.  LMG
    Donna Summer - Crayons (2008) Donna Summer: Crayons -- Drawing upon a myriad of styles, Crayons marked the auspicious return of Donna Summer after a 17-year gap between studio albums and underscored her breathtaking versatility on tracks like "Science of Love", "Drivin' Down Brazil" and "Be Myself Again." CJW
    Leon Ware - Moon Ride (2008) Leon Ware: Moon Ride -- The vet producer/songwriter, musician and artist in his own right delivered his first major label album in decades and once again showed why he's been able to sustain his career and create a solid following (albeit mostly in the UK and Japan). A master of sensuality, Leon made a Stax/Concord record that makes folks want to be (and stay!) in love.  DN
    Wayna - Higher Ground (2008)

    Wayna: Higher Ground -- Excellent songwriting and Wanya's amazing throwback jazzy voice once again meld hip hop and neo-soul in a blessed sophomore effort. BB

    Winslow - Crazy Kind of Love (2008) Winslow: A Crazy Kind of Love -- Oh my goodness, a real live band! One that plays real live music, and makes honest to goodness red hot soul/rock/funk fusion. I thought making that kind of music was against the law. HD

    Editor's Choice: The Most Innovative Artists of 2008 (Honorable Mentions)

    Musinah, Kev-O, Erik Rico, Jazzanova, Janelle Monae, RaRe Valverde, Jesse Boykins III, Kameron Corvet and, of course, Foreign Exchange each had strong star turns with new albums that propel soul music in forward thinking directions, defying the dominance of AutoTunes and the soullessness of electronica to reclaim and re-infuse the soul in rock, nu-jazz and electrosoul. Each of these solo artists, duos, and collectives deserve honorable mentions for consistently pushing the envelope in what we call soul music. We are grateful for their promise, boldness and awesome talents and I, for one, can't wait for more.(LMG)