End-of-year lists do several things. They clear the mind, give props to records and artists who might be a bit undervalued, and reveal the taste of the listmaker. The trick is to balance what one thinks is truly significant—difficult records that nonetheless are worth the work—and the records that you just got a kick out of. They're nice blends of obsessiveness and sober analysis. Yeah, right. Anyway, at the jump, here are a few that I thought were significant in 2006, and it's gratifying that a couple were products of the incredibly fertile Nashville music scene.
1. Tom Ze, Estudando o Pagode (Luaka Bop). Ze has been making records since the 1960s, and this might be his most accomplished to date. An "unfinished operetta" about the oppression of women and the macho attitudes that the Brazilian variant of samba known as "pagode" embodies, it's dense, literate and funny. The sharp funk rhythms collide with conniving female voices, making this a record that achieves a depth far younger performers can envy.
2. Lone Official, Tuckassee Take (Honest Jons). The finest concept record ever made about horse racing, a gloss on the guitarisms of bands like Television and yes, Pavement, and an endlessly enjoyable piece of music that happens to be lyrical and heartfelt. Nashville should be proud of these guys.
3. Ghostfinger, These Colors Run (Set International). A record about effortlessly spanning the distance between pop styles, or a great Gram Parsons/Mick Jagger pastiche, or something—another fine Nashville band comes through like a champ.
4. Oneida, Happy New Year (Jagjaguwar). Prolific New York-based band keeps the circular rhythms moving on what might be their best long-player to date.
5. Andy Fairweather Low, Sweet Soulful Music (Proper American). Welsh singer, singwriter and guitarist Low makes his first solo record in decades, and proves himself a wry aphorist who can namecheck Nietzsche while rocking out. He's an underrated guitarist, a first-rate songwriter, and he was once a teen idol, back in the days of British group The Amen Corner.
6. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-). She sings well, of course, and these songs get under your skin—all of them.
7. Terry Manning, Home Sweet Home (Sunbeam). Whatever was in the water in Memphis around 1970, that strange, headstrong city sure produced some amazing music back then, as this reissue demonstrates. This is Anglophilia as cheerful dementia, and it points the way toward proto-indie masterpieces like Big Star's Radio City and Jim Dickinson's Dixie Fried.
8. Coyle and Sharpe, These 2 Men Are Impostors (SharpeWorld). These pranksters, who made a couple of fine records in 1963 and 1964, anticipate Borat by 40 years. They pioneered the put-on—in one memorable bit, they appeared in front of a University of California audience as fake folksingers Noge and Palok from "Bugravia," and this 3-CD set contains some of their funniest man-in-the-street stuff.
9. Scritti Politti, White Bread Black Beer (Nonesuch/Rough Trade). Green Gartside makes his Beach Boys record, and it's dreamy—more Wild Honey than Pet Sounds, spare and surprisingly catchy.
10. Allen Toussaint, Life, Love and Faith (Water). Another reissue. Backed by The Meters, Toussaint made this in 1972, and it's good-humored but not lightweight, funky and elegant. And, it's a portrait of a New Orleans that, sadly, we might not see again.