DEVON SPROULE/Don't Hurry For Heaven-----
If this isn't the album of the year (I am trying to wean myself off of such judgments), for many it is. Devon Sproule stepped across the pond to England to lay down the basic tracks for this album, utilizing the talents of Andy Whitehead, G. Vaughan and celebrated pedal steel player B.J. Cole. She then brought the tracks back to Charlottesville for honing, a process which involved husband and fellow genius Paul Curreri. Separately, the sessions could have produced a solid album. Overlapping, they create pure adventure in music. Tracks revolve around the unique songwriting and voice of Sproule, ranging in style from folk to country to, ahem, well, not exactly reggae (the cover of Black Uhurus's Sponji Reggae is one of the best covers I've heard in years and is, in fact, my pick for track of the year) and capture a talent deserving of much more than bubbling-under status. And perhaps it is time for you to step beyond the music and listen to the sound. You get the multi-levels of Sponji Reggae (listen closely to the layered guitar parts and how well they meld with the vocals), the straight forward country rock of Good To Get Out, and the stunningly unique Sproule phrasing mixed with church-basement piano, too-short Duane Eddy sounding low end guitar, exceptional vocal chorus, and the pedal-steel-to-the-forehead originality of B.J. Cole, not just on the solo but throughout Julie--- it's a killer! Albums like this don't give me hope for the future. They are the future. And knowing Devon (and Paul), the next album will be that much further along.
Favorite Tracks: Good To Get Out, Julie, Sponji Reggae.
THE BEIGE/El Angel Exterminador-----
The Beige dragged me into a dark alley and bludgeoned me into submission with some of the most creative and out there music I'd heard in some time. I freaked out. In retrospect, maybe some of the songs aren't pushing the envelope as much as I heard, but push the envelope they do and played in order, they leap canyons compared to most music. Such is the power of the album. For those of you who disdain the album for individual tracks, when albums like this come along, you miss a lot. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here--- the individual tracks are great--- but the album..... When you hear the transition from the freakishly eerie and march-like Road to the sci-fi-heavy and odd-chorded I Got a Job In the Belly of the Beast to the beat-heavy (complete with anthemic orchestral chorus and break) King George to the ethereal streaming country rock of The Exterminating Angel--- My eyes roll back in my head just thinking about the twists and turns and the mastery of it all, it's that good. Rick Maddocks put it together along with Jon Wood--- two names you should hear more of in the future. Maddocks, in fact, is involved with a new project called The Meal. If it is anything like this album, it will be something else altogether.
Favorite Tracks: Road, King George, The Exterminating Angel.
There is something about Aloud which is vaguely reminiscent of a few of my more favorite alt.bands of the immediate past. Bands like The Decemberists and The New Pornographers. Not in sound, exactly, but in structure. To my ears, the best of the alt.bands have a looseness in the verse which culminates in full chorus or bridge, on a good percentage of their songs at least. The technique grabs me every time, vulnerable giving way to the hopeful and even majestic, and these guys have it down. I tossed this around to a few people I trust and received comments like "the vocals could be better" and "they need more structure," which only proves that you can't trust anyone. They missed the ebb and flow, the impressive songwriting and the exceptional production. Sometimes, you see, the genius is in what you do not do. While it is true that they have a sparse and even at times raw edge, repeated listenings uncovers a structure which enhances what is there. Okay, I can't describe it that well. Suffice it to say that I return to this album on a regular basis. There is something which keeps me coming back. They must have something... they must. I hear it! Tell you what. Start here:
Favorite Tracks: Broken Hearts, Exile In the Night, Old Soldier, Counterfeit Star.
LAURIE BIAGINI/A Far-Out Place-----
If you don't hear where Laurie Biagini is headed after ten seconds of Intro - Setting the Scene, hang it up. You're brain dead. Biagini carves her music out of the fossilized sun and surf sound of the past and does it with a touch which brings it alive again. These are bright pop and good feeling songs. Think girl groups, surf, Annette, Frankie, Moondawgie and sand... lots of sand. No, she isn't from SoCal. She's from Vancouver. They evidently have sand up there too.
Favorite Tracks: A Far-Out Place, Another Old Lazy Lyin' On the Beach Afternoon, Gonna Do It My Way.
TOM MANK & SERA SMOLEN/Paper Kisses-----
Tom Mank lives in virtual obscurity and I can't understand why. He is one of the best songwriters out there these days and surrounds himself with super-talented people, yet his albums get little respect. Well, the last couple are not totally 'his'. He shares the studio with wife and internationally recognized cellist Sera Smolen and utilizes a support group which includes Julie Last, Kirsti Gholson, Kathy Ziegler, to name only a few. The last album, Paper Kisses, steps slightly away from his folk roots and rides on a carpet of eerie between offerings of folk/jazz/blues. They love Tom & Sera in Holland and Belgium. They even recorded them live:
MIST AND MAST/Action at a Distance-----
Mist and Mast live at Eugene's Sam Bond's Garage and despite the earsplitting level of the sound, they knocked my socks off. The musicianship and the confidence of the band caught me totally off guard. Playing to a room of five or six, they put on a show worthy of the Cow Palace, testament to their commitment to their music and their fans. They were borne out of the remains of another solid Bay Area band, The Red Thread, and retain a lot of the Red Thread sound, thanks in no small part to the songwriting and vocals of Jason Lakis. You know how some bands and/or songwriters are not quite like anything you've heard? Welcome to Mist and Mast. Plainly unique but not plain.
Favorite Tracks: X-Ray, Action at a Distance, Two Seams, De Trop.
RUTH MOODY/The Garden-----
Ruth Moody's The Garden was a simple case of love at first listen. From the opening strains of the title track, the lightly plucked banjo giving way to Moody's sweet voice, I was hooked. Moody struck a major chord with me, and it wasn't just the voice or the songwriting or the production or arrangements. It was all of those and more. I had the same reaction to The Dixie Bee-Liners' outstanding Susanville album last year. It's almost like some albums are made just for you sometimes, you know? Moody is a member of The Wailin' Jennys, who have a new album ready for release as I type this. I include the video from the making of that album as an idea of what the future holds for present and future fans of Ruth Moody and, in particular, The Wailin' Jennys.
Favorite Tracks: The Garden, Cold Outside, Never Said Goodbye, We Could Pretend.
HYMN FOR HER/Lucy & Wayne and the Amairican Stream-----
Maggi Jane and Pierce Ternay are hardly new to the music scene, having started busking on the streets of Philadelphia back in the mid-90s. Ternay, alongside pal E.J., was playing with rap/hip-hop favorites The Goats when they decided to head out on their own, joining friend Maggi to form a trio which was way more than a trio. Maggi, Pierce & EJ, in fact, stretched boundaries far beyond what a trio usually does, proving it with no less than ten+ albums of musical consequence. Releasing one after another to little response from a buying public (in spite of overwhelming critical support) took its toll, though, and Pierce and Maggi started a side group--- Hymn For Her. The same adventurous qualities which were the defining fabric of Maggi, Pierce & EJ remain, though, and one has to wonder when seeing them live how much music two people can make. Lucy & Wayne is their second album, a followup to Year of the Golden Pig, and a step into hogwaller heaven. They are touring to support the album right now, joined by daughter Diver and road manager/roadie/pet dog Pokey. If you want to see something a step outside the room, check these guys out. Until then, check out this video. A video is worth a thousand words and, yes, this is how they record. In an old Airstream trailer. Like they say on the album, "When the Airstream's a rockin', we're recordin'."
Favorite Tracks: Grave, C'mon, Cave, and an excellent version of Morphine's Thursday.
THE WINTERPILLS/Tuxedo of Ashes-----
Other critics have marked this Winterpills EP a collection of afterthoughts. After hearing it, the first thing that went through my mind was , holy crap! Just how good were their earlier albums? I cannot imagine them bettering these six tracks. I will go back and give them a listen, but am still enthralled enough with Tuxedo of Ashes that I as yet have no need. What it is is acoustic psych, reminiscent of the sounds of the late sixties and early seventies but updated. Think The Arbors' Symphony For Susan overlapping the spacier side of Simon & Garfunkel with a bit more of a psych edge. I searched for a video from the EP, but could not find one. Here is one from their 2008 Central Chambers album. A bit more rocking than Tuxedo, but a great track and shows what they can do.
Favorite Tracks: Pick any, but The Ballad of the Ancient Decoder completely wipes me out. The harmonies are outstanding and the spacey folk feel hits me right where I live.
DAVE GLEASON/Turn and Fade-----
Dave Gleason has been developing a solid following and his own style on the Left Coast for a number of years and just last year decided to take his act to Nashville. His style is a conglomeration of west coast country and brit rock with touches of whatever else he deems worthy of a fit. True, he does live and play country, but when he does, it is old-style. No modern country for him. The lineup on the following video is the same as on the album and features some of my favorite musicians. I have a feeling it was a hell of a show. I'm sorry I missed it.
Favorite Tracks: If You're Going Through Hell, Pale Blue, Radio 1965, Tonight.
HEARTSFIELD/Here I Am-----
Perry Jordan has been flying the Heartsfield flag for a number of years, the original band having released their first album back in 1973. The band has morphed constantly since its last album with that original lineup and here Perry is back with a new and very impressive lineup which looks back to the old days of shit-kickin' rock with a country flair interspersed with angelic ballads and trademark harmonies. The best of the alt.country bands only wish they could hit the highs these guys do. An aside: Perry has suffered some serious health setbacks and at present has been replaced by original Heartsfield guitarist and vocalist Fred Dobbs for the interim. Like many musicians, he is caught between a rock and a hard place regarding finances. If you are a diehard fan from the old days or just someone who recognizes the plights of those without deep pockets, you might want to check out their site and help an old country rocker out. A click on the band's name up above will take you to the website and you can click on from there.
Favorite Tracks: Here I Am, One Word, Did You Know.
JEFF FINLIN/The Tao of Motor Oil-----
Jeff Finlin is as good as anyone out there. With unique voice and masterful lyric skills, Finlin brings his own sound to the aura of Steve Goodman, John Prine and others who have proven themselves writers of songs of substance. Finlin stands equal with Ellis Paul, A.J. Roach, Will Kimbrough and a handful of others in writing the complete song. If you haven't heard or heard of him, it isn't his fault. He's one hard working SOB and is doing his damnedest to spread his music. From Fort Collins, Colorado. A place we love in the summer but avoid like hell during winter. Man, it gets c-c-cold there! Finlin is a trooper, though, and proves it on The Tao of Motor Oil and a slew of other albums he has recorded. A musician's musician.
Favorite Tracks: Hands Off the Wheel, My Maybelline, Barefoot In the Snow, Only Human (a dream of consciousness).
JUSTIN NOZUKA/You I Wind Land and Sea-----
Subtitled, How In the Hell Did the Major Labels Miss This Guy (Or is he just smart enough to avoid the trap)? Normally, I steer clear of mainstream music, but Justin Nozuka is a talent of major league proportions and is ready-wrapped for success. The performance and production on You I Wind Land and Sea is as good as it gets and the songwriting is over the top. I have no idea who he sounds like (Lenny Kravitz? Seal? Hell if I know.) because I seldom listen to the hits, but 'hit' this is. Listen for yourself.
Favorite Tracks: Love, Heartless, Unwoken Dream (King With Everything).
PIETA BROWN/One and All-----
Someone once told me that if Pieta Brown's father did not own Red House Records, she would not have a contract. That guy was an idiot. Wait. I take that back. That guy is an idiot. Not only is One and All one of the best albums of the year, it is one of the most solid. Great songs, front to back, excellent arrangements, outstanding production and performance. One listen and Brown jumped from obscurity (in my world) to the top of my you-have-to-hear list. You don't think so? Watch and listen.
Favorite Tracks: Pick one. The whole album is a killer.
KINK ADOR/The Shape of Life-----
In the musical chain of evolution, Kink Ador are the logical end result of the punk cycle. Their sound is lean, their beat punchy and their attitude in-your-face, but the music more cerebral than punk and most certainly modified. The three share expertise on their various instruments (Sharon Koltick: bass guitar, trumpet; Brad Naylor: drums and percussion; Andrew Sovine: guitars, lap steel, piano and trumpet) as well as drive. Influences are hard to pinpoint, bits and pieces inserted at will, but one can hear a bit of Motown, a slice of the B-52s, a smattering of Iggy and a string of others. If you thrive on the creative edge with a real beat, Kink Ador might just be the band for you. I file them under punk/not punk. You have to hear them to fully understand. And understand--- this is only one face of a multi-faceted band--- and not the punk face.
Favorite Tracks: Barbarians, The Shape of Life To Come, Coming Clean, Stop On By.
THE GREEN PAJAMAS/The Red, Red Rose EP-----
When I left Seattle back in early '92, I somehow lost touch with The Green Pajamas, a band I revered for its treatment of pop/psych. I didn't pick up on them until 2009's Poison In the Russian Room and right away realized what I'd missed. I just had no idea how much. I found that they had released over 20 albums as a band and that didn't include solo albums and side projects. Friends have since given me lists of their favorites and even the honed-down list is massive. Over the years, according to Jeff Kelly, the Pajamas have recorded in varying combinations and conditions but have (according to my sources) retained the musical spark which caught my ear when they released Kim the Waitress and the first album I'd ever heard by them, Book of Hours (recently re-released as The Complete Book of Hours and worth a gander, if you get my drift). Kelly says the next album as projected may well be a country album, something they have been considering for some time. In lieu of a video from the EP, allow me to post a video from the Poison In the Russian Room album--- Any Way the Wind Blows.
Favorite Tracks: You get five solid songs on this EP. Pick your own.
PAT ANDERSON/Magnolia Road-----
Pat Anderson must have stolen his PR list from Will Kimbrough's briefcase during the sessions for Magnolia Road because I received an email from him one day asking if I would review his new album. I explained that I normally did not accept submissions (that would be considered a submission, right?) but told him to send it on ahead and I would listen, if nothing else. I listened. And I give high praise to the rookie, if rookie he be. There is a lot of Kimbrough influence here, not surprising being's how Kimbrough plays on the sessions and probably had a suggestion or two. Of course, when you start off with a raft of songs like Anderson's, you have a fair chance at success and, musically, he succeeded. It is country with pop and rock influences. The songwriting is exceptional, the production and musicianship is topnotch and, hey, the guy can sing! Not at all Nashville, this is what Nashville should be doing instead of pumping out formulaic tripe. Wait! That's what Nashville does, is it not? Here is a short news clip which might give insight and features live snippets of Anderson's She's the One.
Favorite Tracks: She's the One, Six Spent Shells, Martinsville, Magnolia Road.
FIERY BLUE/Fiery Blue-----
There were a lot of files floating around the Internet when Fiery Blue's self-titled album was being put together, but you couldn't tell by the time the project was finished. This is as polished as an album can be, pop as polished as you could want. The roots are there--- a little country, a bit of folk and one whole lotta pop--- but they don't overtake the songs. Credit Paul Marsteller's songwriting, Simone Steven's voice and Gabe Rhodes' musicianship and engineering skills. This is just plain nice stuff.
Favorite Tracks: Hide Away, The Long Light, Virtue, Big Moment, Stranger.
Did I just mention Will Kimbrough a minute ago? Sonofagun. Here's his Wings album. Wonder how that happened? Oh, well. I've been following Kimbrough since his days with Will & the Bushmen back in--- what was it? 1980? Time flies when you're having fun and Will's been having plenty of it. Not only does he have his solo career, he is much in demand as a producer and session man and plays in a handful of bands, the most notable of which is Daddy, which he fronts alongside Tommy Womack, formerly of Government Cheese. Will leans toward country, but you can't count on it. He is a pop-rocker at heart and plays every genre known to man. Tell you what. Call him Americana. I call him damn good.
Favorite Tracks: You Can't Go Home, It Ain't Cool, Bog Big Love and Day of the Troubadour, co-written by Jeff Finlin (see above)
MORWENNA LASKO & JAY PUN/Chioggia Beat-----
I'd been waiting for any of the fine Charlottesville musicians to come to the West Coast by the time Danny Schmidt scheduled the 2009 Sisters Folk Festival and all it did was whet my appetite. When Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun scheduled a concert at Richmond, Oregon's Old Richmond Church, I committed to a long drive (somewhere around 400 miles) and a long drive back. It was more than worth it. I consider myself lucky to have seen two excellent musicians play in a little country church building with a wood stove and rough-cut boards with a handful of others who had made long drives as well. It was more than I'd hoped for and reinforced my faith in music outside the accepted boundaries. They played long and well--- a little jazz, a bit of soul, some gypsy and classical influenced pieces. All instrumental. It was something else, indeed. Here is an indication what they do and can do live--- a musical tribute to a close friend no longer with us--- LeRoi Holloway Moore.
Favorite Tracks: Atip Ouypron, Into the Hedges, Mama, One Moore Farewell.
When Shade's Jane Gowan approached me about a review, I (as always) was leery, but she had a connection with The Beige, and what the hell, I didn't promise anything. I dove in with critical ear and thought I understood what I was hearing and immediately sent Gowan an email I wish I could have back. In it, I gave critical appraisal based upon bands whose albums I was then listening to rather than Shade's music itself. It is a trap easily fallen into, judging my the number of times I've fallen in. I should have waited because the more I listened, the more I wanted to hear and that alone says a lot about any album. As a songwriter, Gowan is simple and it caught me totally off guard. As I listened, it became obvious that her songs were simple but effective and I have since embraced Highway as a necessary part of my music collection. It is AM Pop for the 21st Century--- songs for music's sake. Especially notable is the vocal relationship between Gowan and bassist Mary Harmer--- voices which belong together (on these songs, at the least). And this, by the way, is one of my most played albums for my own pleasure. I love this band!
Favorite Tracks: Highway, Los Angeles, What I Mean--- aw, hell. I love each and every song on this album. Jane, send me back that email. I was an idiot.
MOJO MONKEYS/blessings & curses-----
Damn! These guys are good! Kind of a hybrid of ZZ Top, Eric Quincy Tate, The Juke Jumpers and The Morrells. You want to read about them, here's a link to my review. If not, watch this live performance.
Favorite Tracks: Bodacious, Can't Say No, A Girl Might Do, Our Curse.
RICH McCULLEY/Starting All Over Again-----
Getting lost in Los Angeles is easy to do, especially when it comes to Pop and Power Pop. Rich McCulley and fellow power popper Adam Marsland have been lost for some time in spite of some way above attempts to break out. Starting All Over Again should find a home with people who love the hook and melody side of rock--- The Shoes, Matthew Sweet, Greg Kihn, etc. Fans who followed BOMP Magazine closely should feel right at home with this. Here's a taste.
Favorite Tracks: Tell Me I'm Listening, Who'll Hang the Moon (Song For DJ), Not the One, Wake Me Up.
Leave it to these clowns to title their new album Cargoe. Title-challenged, they obviously forgot that their now-classic 1973 release for Ardent Records was also self-titled. How long ago was that? Forty years? Well, they are back and after all that time, there is only one substitution--- guitarist Steve Thornbrugh for the incredibly adept Tommy Richard. As substitutions go, that's not a bad one, Thornbrugh handling guitar chores very well indeed. Of course, this is not the same Cargoe, at least not in spirit. These guys are older and more mature and are not under the thumb of Ardent and Terry Manning. They still have it, though, the real difference being that the songs are more mature and up front. A bit more soul creeps into certain of the songs, but the Brit Rock influence remains. Solid production, outstanding musicianship and first-rate vocal harmonies carry this into the albums-of-note column. Still in Tulsa and still rockin'! Oh. Seems that they claim the album is titled Twenty-Ten. Hmmm. Must have forgotten to have it printed on the album jacket! Now you understand why it has been hard to be a diehard fan for the past, uh, four decades!!! Just kiddin', guys. Welcome back!
Favorite Tracks: Do It, It Won't Be Wrong, Sailing, Together.
Thing is, as long as it has taken me to gather the info and post the pics and videos, I already have another list of 2010 favorites. I am hunched over with guilt because every one of the albums I missed are albums I love and love listening to. Maybe if I get a wild hair and some energy in the near future, I will add a Part Two. Probably not, though. I am too far behind as it is. In fact, I normally post an Instant Replay section at the end of these posts, but I have to sleep sometime. Maybe I will save them for an all-Instant Replay posting. Not a bad idea because I have links to some very interesting bands. Like Elephantom and Mothership and Feverbird and..... Yawn. Sleep overcomes. Stay tuned, though. Tomorrow is another day and the music just keeps getting better and better.