8. "No Better Than This," John Mellencamp -- T-Bone Burnett produced this album (as well as the No. 1 pick on this list). It was a good match for this, Indiana-born Mellencamp's 25th album, and perhaps one of his strongest overall. The material is all original and recorded in historic settings, including Sun Studios in Memphis, where Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash and Elvis got their start, and also the hotel room where Faustian bluesman Robert Johnson cut his sides.
Production is kept simple, with a ribbon mike for vocals and a small, respected backing duo for support. The songwriting is some of Mellencamp's best in years, truly timeless pieces that resonate as well now as they might have 50 years ago, or likely will 50 hence.
The tone might be a bit dark for those who only know Mellencamp from his Johnny Cougar days, but the work is sparkling with characters. "No One Cares About Me" is about an out-of-work man abandoned by all he loves. The title cut is a rocker about having a rich fantasy life without much real hope in getting there, like a modern take on "Big Rock Candy Mountain."
This album shows just how good a songwriter Mellencamp has become over the years, and how strong his rootsy rock 'n' roll musical heart still beats.
Though some say the album format is doomed due to single-song downloading,
the 10 releases in our 2010 CD picks beg to differ.
What makes each work is that they are albums -- works by artists who care about creating a unified piece by stringing together a series of songs that relate thematically and paint a bigger picture.
From a spot-on movie soundtrack to a neo-vintage electric soul record, to remakes of classic pop tunes, this Top 10 is strong enough to stand out from the pack now, as well as legs to stand the test of time.
Celebrate the season by counting down with us to welcome in the new year with some fine music.