#20 Cheap Trick - The Latest (Cheap Trick Unlimited, 2009)
You know, its easy to respect your elders when, musically speaking at least, they can kick your ass. Thirty plus years after they started Cheap Trick proved what they are best at is being Cheap Trick. From the happy-go-lucky cover of the Slade sing-along "When The Lights Are Out," to the hard rocking "Sick Man of Europe," to the power ballad "These Days," this albums goes from strength to strength like a checklist. "Miracle" sounds like it belongs in a catalog with the best of John Lennon's solo work, and "Smile" brings the album to close with class. Indeed, that is the word that sums up the whole album: class.
#19 Joey Sykes - Joey Sykes (Purple Virgo Records, 2010)
Sykes music is straight ahead pop/rock which derives its power from fine song writing. The craftsman's touch is apparent in great tunes like the wannabe single "Loveless Crowd," and the poignant "This is My Battlecry." The bouncy optimism of a track like "It's Good to be Alive" is outrageously infectious. Sykes isn't above taking a stab at melodrama ("Baby Breathe"), which is fine by me as it hearkens back to 70's era John Miles. The finest moment on the record is the rootsy "It's Easier to Run Away" which is a perfect showcase for Sykes writing and his fine rock singing.
#18 Paul McCartney - Chaos & Creation in the Backyard (Capitol, 2005)
Talk about a surprise. After the mess that was 2001's Driving Rain it was an open question as to if McCartney would be able to put together an album's worth of good material again. Chaos put any doubts to rest. "Fine Line," "Jenny Wren," "At The Mercy," and "Riding to Vanity Fair" have to rank highly in McCartney's solo work taken as a whole. Here they are the supporting cast. The real highlights are the insanely catchy "Friends to Go," the nostalgia-fest "English Tea" (complete with Paul on the recorder), and, most especially, the classic "Too Much Rain."
#17 Cliff Hillis - Be Seeing You (Not Lame Records, 2001)
I'm sure this album was insanely difficult to write and record. It just sounds effortless. Every song seems to have every note exactly where it was meant to be. "Coming Out Alive," "Grounded," and "Before and After" feel like they have always existed and Hillis merely discovered them forgotten in some dark attic. The groove of a song like "Medicine" is something experienced all too infrequently. "Me & You" is classic power pop single material. Hell, the whole album is.
#16 Walter Clevenger & The Dairy Kings - Full Tilt & Swing (Brewery Records, 2003)
Change isn't always a good thing in the world of pop music. All too often an artist who can display real artistry in one musical form wastes our time as well as their own trying something new. (Yeah, Rundgren. I'm looking at you.) But sometimes change is good.
Clevenger had perfected a Beatles/Holly/Crenshaw writing style on the great Love Songs To Myself album, but the approach here is less pithy and the result is greater depth. Clevenger uses that depth to great affect on tracks such as the Blue Rodeo-ish "Hold on Tight" and the Tom Petty-ish "Jonathan Doe." A rootsy/folky vibe infuses the album which is just right on songs like the sweet lullaby "I'll Be The One" and the 3/4 time "Let Your Hair Down Tonight." The harder material is just as smartly done, with the standouts including the opening roots rocker "Love Don't Mean Anything" and the closing number "Radio Sea" which reigns supreme in the kingdom of "songs that bitch about the state of radio these days."