10 Best CDs of 2006 Page 6

0702_flaminglips_best200Parke Puterbaugh's Top 10 of 2006 Best Sound on CD

1. The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics (Warner Bros.). Room-enveloping sound that brings the Lips' cosmic concepts to life.

2. Donald Fagen: Morph the Cat (Reprise). Fagen and his engineer, Elliot Scheiner, prove that they can still create some of the most pristine sonics in pop. And the very notion of recording quality plays right into Fagen's aesthetic of close observation and moody intoxication.

3. Lindsey Buckingham: Under the Skin (Reprise). Buckingham's close-miked voice and fingerpicked guitar, combined with his penchant for found percussion, gives force and presence to his emotional bloodletting. Listen to the Tusk-like textures.

4. Beck: The Information (Interscope). Mr. Hansen makes the most soulful sound-effects records of anyone on the planet. I love every beep, bell, and whistle.

5. Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse (Verve Forecast). That Toussaint piano, the natural timbre of the horns, those throaty vocals: Kudos to producer Joe Henry for capturing the moment.

6. Alejandro Escovedo: The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch). Producer John Cale understands the cinematic drama of Escovedo's songs. The forceful (if unlikely) blend of violin and viola with guitars, bass, and drums leaps from the speakers like a flurry of punches.

7. Tom Petty: Highway Companion (American). A clean, bright recording that makes Petty and companions sound like they've set up in your listening room. Producer and studio rat Jeff Lynne knows how to wring every sonic nuance.

8. Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia). I hate the "brick-wall limiting" used by engineers and masterers to make contemporary albums sound artificially, fatiguingly loud. By contrast, this self-produced album is an understated, unpretentious aural document. The band doesn't overwhelm Dylan, allowing him to sing at a volume that doesn't tax what's left of his vocal cords. As a result, he sounds way better on disc than in concert these days.

9. Neil Young: Living with War (Reprise). Young cares about sound, so even his field recordings - such as this originally unintended-for-release set of quick-take protest songs - have a gripping audio-verité. Especially when the 100-voice choir kicks in.

10. Solomon Burke: Nashville (Shout! Factory). The voice is the thing, and Burke's is big, warm, and real. Producer Buddy Miller's unfettered settings accentuate the weathered grain in that marvelous instrument.