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The Year On Vinyl: Dropping The Needle

There's something wonderful about the ceremony of playing records: dropping the needle, enjoying the gatefold artwork, holding on to something weighty while listening. It's easier to feel connected to music when you have to flip the record halfway through. It also makes proper sequencing that much more important: Which track closes Side 1, or opens Side 2?

Now that the MP3 is king, vinyl has become something of an underground revolution. More and more artists have begun to insist on releasing their new albums on vinyl, and music fans who jettisoned their collections in favor of "clear, perfect digital sound CDs" are raiding garage sales and rediscovering analog music all over again.

Now, moving and storing records isn't fun — MP3s are a whole lot lighter — but vinyl is often worth the schlep. If you haven't listened to an LP in a while, the warm, intimate sound is instantly disarming.

This isn't necessarily about being an audiophile: A $200 investment gets you a decent turntable — even one you can hook up to your computer. You can turn up great records for $1 at a garage sale (or choose the 180-gram vinyl for your favorites, though the costs add up quickly). And new vinyl issues often come with bonus songs and even free digital downloads, so you can still carry the tunes on your iPod.

Here are 10 releases from 2008 that are worth the extra effort of vinyl.

Click here for more entries in the Best CDs of 2008 series.

1. Shelby Lynne

My favorite album of the year comes with authentic wear and tear. It's analog all the way -- recorded to tape, old-school-style, with Phil Ramone at the helm. The sparse arrangements really allow Lynne's vocals to own the spotlight.

2. Radiohead

This great album is even better on vinyl, for both the audio quality and the sequencing: Each side is its own experience, with "Faust Arp" serving as a stellar opening track for Side 2. This is no background listen, so sit down, take it all in and then flip it over. Treat yourself or a loved one to the entire catalog on vinyl; it's just been reissued and remastered properly.

3. Jenny Lewis

Acid Tongue gets stretched over 2 LPs, with an amusing surprise on Side 4. The nuances of these well-crafted tunes, coupled with the roomy production of her vocals, really bring out the intimacy. This album seals Jenny Lewis' status as an artist for the long haul. The Shaft-like strings really pop on "Bad Man's World."

4. Marvin Gaye

Here's another classic worthy of the high-end remastering, with crisp high hats practically jumping out of the mix in the title track. Plus, the gatefold album preserves Gaye's liner notes.

5. Love That Girl

This one offers the year's coolest packaging: A stack of seven 45s to match the retro experience of the music. There's a real connection that comes with getting up to flip a disc after each song, though you could just stay up and dance. The Way I See It is a solid reason to relive the iconic experience of playing 45's, and "Love that Girl" is a sing-along delight.

6. Bob Dylan

The deluxe four-album limited-edition set costs more than $100, so this one's a real luxury item. It comes with a huge booklet full of photos that bring Dylan and his never-ending tour right into the listener's hands. This mix of unreleased and (recent) live tracks captures a great era of live Dylan, complete with Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton on guitar, as well as snappy stand-up bass. It presents Dylan as living musician, not a museum piece.

7. Beck

Beck gets psychedelic and groovy with Danger Mouse on a collection that's the perfect length for vinyl: just 10 songs. Beck really seemed to visualize Modern Guilt as a record, not just a CD with a vinyl issue. Another clue: The digital download that comes with the record is ripped from the vinyl.

8. Fleet Foxes

Much has been written about this impressive debut, which grabs listeners from the opening notes of the harmony-rich, time- and place-defying "White Winter Hymnal." Is this 2008 or 1968? Seattle or London?

9. Amos Lee

This Don Was production is all about the vocals. Amos Lee's inner soul singer really comes out in "Won't Let Me Go," which drops his vocal right into the middle of the listener's living room.

10. Alejandro Escovedo

Vinyl isn't all about smooth sounds, and neither is Alejandro Escovedo. This rocking album nicely captures the energy and dynamic range for which he's known. "Chelsea Hotel" is one of the loud ones, and a true tale to boot. The LP even includes a couple of excellent bonus tracks.

Copyright 2008 WFUV

Rita Houston
A nationally recognized tastemaker with a broad knowledge of and passion for music, Rita Houston shapes the musical direction of WFUV's acclaimed City Folk® format. With the help of staff, Houston selects the songs that become part of City Folk®, establishes theme days and creates popular features like "New Release Monday" and "Guilty Pleasures Day." Well-known for her rapport with artists, she books the on-air interviews, hosting a number of them herself. Houston also serves as executive producer of the nationally distributed City Folk Live concert series, and produces annual benefit CDs of performances from WFUV's Studio A.