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TOP ALBUMS OF 2006

It's time to recap the best discs of 2006, and here are the picks from Medleyville staffers.

JOE BELOCK'S TOP 10

1. Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick (Down There).
Ex-Dream Syndicate leader keeps getting better and better with age.

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2. Blank Stares, All Blown Up (Full Tilt).
San Francisco-via-Brooklyn, N.Y., trio is on target with explosive mix of great songs and hooks.

3. Cyril Lords, Motherland (No Fun).
Detroit's not over! Long-awaited debut from Motor City veterans delivers.

4. Little Killers, A Real Good One (Gern Blandsten).
No sophomore slump here as second release from NYC punkers lives up to its title.

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5. The Minus 5, The Minus 5 (Yep Roc).
If only Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey could transfer the spark and inspiration to the next R.E.M. project.

6. Mudhoney, Under a Billion Suns (Sub Pop).
Grunge survivors take another turn toward Hawkwind as 21st century rebirth continues in strong way.

7. Nikki Corvette & the Stingrays, Back to Detroit (Dollar).
Late '70s power-pop icon returns as great as ever.

8. Los Straitjackets featuring Kaiser George, Twist Party (Yep Roc).
How can a crazed Scotsman fronting a band of Mexican wrestlers not add up to wild fun? Let's twist!

9. Kelley Stoltz, Below the Branches (Sub Pop).
DIY popster puts bigger budget to good use on his third long player.

10. Neil Young Living With War (Reprise).
Regardless of politics, "Families" is one of Young's best songs ever.

BEST OF THE REST
The Royal Purple, Transcendental Medication (Umbrella).
Hi-Risers, The Fine Art of Making Mistakes (2-Bit).
Muck and the Mires, 1-2-3-4 (Dionysus).
Griefs, Throwing a Tempo Tantrum (Spoonful).
New York Dolls, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember
Even This
(Roadrunner).
Rainy Day Saints, Diamond Star Highway (Get Hip).
Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped (Geffen).
SSM, SSM (Alive).
Tommy Keene, Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty).
Goldstars, Purple Girlfriend (Pravda).

MICHAEL CORBY'S TOP 10

1. Wolfmother, Wolfmother (Interscope).
Aussie trio brings Black Sabbath riffs and Led Zeppelin mystique back in big way. Classic rock is cool and hip again.

2. Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam (J Records).
Best comeback album by a band that never went away.

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3. Ben Harper, Both Sides of the Gun (Virgin Records).
This double disc is composed of Harper's unique blend of blues, rock and folk music and sheds some hope and light to what seems like a very dark time.

4. Ray LaMontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black (RCA Records).
LaMontagne mixes his soulful voice with the folkiness of Nick Drake and produces a great retro album that will take you back to the singer/songwriter days of the 1970s.

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.).
There isn't a single throwaway cut on this two-disc album. It features the usual funk meets punk signature sound, all the while showcasing John Frusciante's under-appreciated guitar stylings.

6. Tom Petty, Highway Companion (American).
This solo album, with the help of Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and fellow Traveling Wilbury extraordinaire Jeff Lynne, is Petty's best work in years.

7. Loose Fur, Born Again in the USA (Drag City).
Why does Jeff Tweedy seem to do all of his best work on side projects lately? Save some of this for future Wilco records!

8. John Mayer, Continuum (Aware).
Mayer does a solid job at his transformation into a blues trio singer/guitarist. He has a tendency to sound too much like Eric Clapton, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

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9. Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae (Capitol).
She has a real smooth R&B voice, plays a nice folky guitar and has cool dreamy lyrics, much like Lauryn Hill and Macy Gray back in the day.

10. Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia).
Here's a shocker: Dylan released a record and it's great, although it was weird to see him in a TV ad.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (Lost Highway).
Golden Smog, Another Fine Day (Lost Highway).
Elton John, The Captain & the Kid (Interscope).
Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia).
Neil Young, Living With War (Reprise).

GEORGE HENN'S TOP 10

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1. James Hunter, People Gonna Talk (Rounder).
The only question surrounding this British soulster's accomplished breakout disc is how he was he such a well kept secret until now.

2. The Minus 5, The Minus 5 (Yep Roc).
Scott McCaughey and his expansive collection of cronies follow up the morose Down With Wilco with a less daring but infinitely more fun listen.

3. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick (Down There).
Wynn and his seasoned band tap into the raw emotion of their live shows with impressive results.

4. The Fags, Light 'Em Up (Idol).
Trio combines indelible harmonies and a muscular power-pop sound, and the result is early Cheap Trick on steroids.

5. The Weather Machines, The Sound of Pseudoscience (Tigers
Against Crime
).
South Dakota indie rockers offer moments of punchy post-punk perfection.

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6. Lucero, Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (Liberty & Lament).
What this record lacks in originality -- think Bruce Springsteen singing his hard-luck tales, backed by The Replacements -- is more than made up for in the sheer sincerity of the songs, heightened by Ben Nichols' gravelly vocals.

7. Drive By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse (New West).
The band's singer/songwriter triumvirate tones down the southern-rock ethos and long-windedness, and churns out leaner, meaner, and ultimately stronger material.

8. Tom Petty, Highway Companion (American).
With his live show growing more stale by the year, Petty sounds recharged, even on his starkest and quietest album.

9. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls in America (Vagrant).
In Craig Finn's snapshot of American youth, rock 'n' roll kids score dates -- and an alarming amount of drugs -- over the course of 11 loosely connected and passionately rendered narratives.

10. Sonic Youth Rather Ripped (Geffen).
Just when these art-noise veterans seemingly have done it all over a quarter century, they turn in a catchy, concise effort that should rate among their career triumphs.

THE BEST OF THE REST
The Figgs, Follow Jean Through the Sea (Gern Blandsten).
Golden Smog, Another Fine Day (Lost Highway).
Hank III, Straight to Hell (Bruc).
Tommy Keene, Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty).
Jim Lauderdale, Country Super Hits, Vol. I (Yep Roc).
The Lonely Hearts, Paper Tapes (Tooth & Nail).
Rhett Miller, The Believer (Verve Forecast).
Van Morrison, Pay the Devil (Lost Highway).
Willie Nile, Streets of New York (00:02:59).
The Whigs, Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip (ATO).

MIKE MADDEN'S TOP 10

1. The Damnwells, Air Stereo (Zoe Records).
The second full-length release from this Brooklyn, N.Y., quartet is just the right amount of sad laments and confident power pop. The lyrics are augmented by some mighty fine harmonies and guitar atmosphere.

2. Drive By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse (New West).
This is a bit of a departure from the band that made its reputation with long, vivid story songs. The tunes on Curse, for the most part, resemble the barroom rock of The Faces and less like the local tales of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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3. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant).
The follow-up to last year's eclectic Separation Sunday doesn't break any new ground, but what makes this a standout is how the song arrangements are looser and the subject matter of the lyrics is relatable and a bit less harsh.

4. The Drams, Jubilee Dive (New West).
Fans of the alt-country casualties Slobberbone might be skeptical of a new project for three of its core members, but those who weren't discovered this to be a fresh take on Brent Best's folk-rock.

5. Hank Williams III, Straight to Hell (Bruc Records).
Hank III puts some piss and vinegar back into country with a loud and rude album.

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6. Rhett Miller, The Believer (Verve Forecast).
Miller is taking his shot at hitting a broader audience on this album of smart pop. He shows off his serious side and proves he still can charm with his wordplay.

7. Wolfmother, Wolfmother (Interscope).
This Australian band offers a fresh update on the classic power trio sound, but these guys are not a parody.

8. Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick (Down There).
It's hard not to like an album that has so much fuzzed-out guitar. Wynn and his band are getting better and better with each release.

9. Beyonce, B’Day (Sony).
It was pretty hard to escape Beyonce in 2006 but with solid material like this, why try? She had a Kelly Clarkson-type year with a string of solid pop and R&B hits.

10. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory).
This is a nice snapshot into '60s folk-rock and a smooth blending of distinct voices. Neither artist outshines the other.

BEST OF THE REST
The Yayhoos, Put the Hammer Down (Lakeside).
Rob Zombie, Educated Horses (Geffen).
The Roots, Game Theory (Def Jam).
The Blue Van, Dear Independence (TVT).
Scott Miller & the Commonwealth, Citation (Sugar Hill).
Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam (Sony).
Beck, The Information (Interscope).
Golden Smog, Another Fine Day (Lost Highway).
Bobby Bare Jr., The Longest Meow (Bloodshot).
Jennifer O'Connor, Over the Mountain, Across the Valley, and Back to the Stars (Matador).

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