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2011 Top 10 Albums for Grownups

Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand among our best bets

10 Best Albums for Grownups of the Year

Quality, uniqueness and relevance to AARP members helped determine our top albums of 2011.

Anyone who tells you there are no good albums for grownups anymore just isn't listening. 2011 was a year as musically varied as it was inspired — filled with songs that were raucous, tender, naughty and nice.

Thousands of albums made it to your local record store and the digital shelves of Amazon.com and iTunes in the past year. To help sort through this very tall stack and find the music just right for the AARP audience, we enlisted, for the first time, a panel of respected music critics and artists. They selected AARP's 2011 Top 10 Albums for Grownups based on quality, uniqueness and relevance to AARP members.

We hope the judges' picks — which include pop, rock, soul and country titles — have made it into your collection over the past 12 months. If not, let this list be your guide to make some holiday purchases. What better way to spend the holidays than with some old friends and new music?

Album cover for Paul Simon's

Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What

With So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon steps up to the plate, hits a home run and reclaims his career. Simon turned 70 this year, and his songwriting prowess is undiminished. So Beautiful or So What features tales of the afterlife, God's humor and the workingman's struggle to exist. It's an album filled with big existential ideas and musical riffs from nearly every part of the globe. The sounds and the tales are universal without becoming clichéd. Simon is one of America's best songwriters, but he's also a citizen of the world. Ultimately, what's really beautiful about So Beautiful is its humanity.

What the judges say: Rolling Stone music critic David Wild says, "Simon's best since Graceland." USA Today music critic Edna Gunderson echoes, "Rhymin' Simon's elegant, melodic, polyrhythmic soundscapes and simple, poetic verses add up to his loveliest and liveliest record since Graceland."

Video: Paul Simon explores love, death, war and more

Album Cover for Adele's

Adele, 21

There's a long line of British female singers looking to lay claim to the throne left vacant by the late, great Dusty Springfield. Adele inches closer to the front of the line with 21. On this follow-up to her debut album 19, Adele surrounds herself with writers and producers who have one eye on the charts and another guarding her credibility. All that's left for her to do is sing her behind off. 21 is one of the rare albums that is unabashedly commercial while sounding more classic than derivative.

What the judges say: Award-winning jazz artist Dave Koz raves: "Arguably the most important young voice in pop music today. She's so young and yet, when you listen to the sound that comes out of her mouth and her way of communicating her message, you realize this is a very old soul."

Listen to Someone Like You by Adele...

 

Album cover for Jill Scott's

Jill Scott, The Light Of The Sun

It's been a long four years since Jill Scott's last album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3. During that time, she divorced her husband and her record label, and she had a baby boy with her (now-ex) boyfriend. At last, Scott is ready to make music again. The Light of the Sun is a classic soul soundtrack sung by a woman ready to tell her tales of survival. Beneath the Philly strings, beat box rhythms, multilayered vocals and street poems, The Light of the Sun has a simple message: Stay strong, sisters.

What the judges say: Edna Gunderson says, "A strong sense of self-love, gratitude and determination bolster Scott's graceful and earthy collection of retro funk, hip-hop soul and sultry R&B."

Listen to So in Love by Jill Scott...

 

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