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Top records of 2011

February 5, 2012

It turned out to be a really great year for music.  We heard surprise debut releases, saw record breaking concerts, and reconnected with old friends.  Here’s the best of what 2011 gave me:

1.  Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

I fell in love with them in 2008.  But they have done it again with a follow-up that complements the first and elevating the band higher than some of their more well known counter parties (eh um Mumford, Avetts).  I was fortunate to see them play the Ryman this year which was one of the most energetic shows I’ve ever seen, (and one of the most hipster crowds).  It was a long over due show much like their first bonnaroo appearance will be.

2.  Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

Hip Hop continues to be a fun genre to explore.  I heard “The show must go on” during my pop radio phase this spring and surprisingly really liked it, despite its over the top catchy hooks (thank you modest mouse).  I heard that Mr Fiasco was not real pleased with this record.  Maybe he thought it was too glossy and people where missing the extremely direct lyrics, it was like he wasn’t even saying anything substantial.  But I think glossy music with strong lyrics is a good thing (like sugar coated meat).  He is connecting with the people he’s trying to preach to and hopefully it’s working.

3.  The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

This is my favorite new band of the year.  Like most rock critics I knew of them before they were big, but didn’t really give them much attention until I got their record at record store day.  They are fitting quite well into the new folk rock sound that is overtaking the post hipster movement.  I’m curious to see how they can develop, they have a wide range of creativity in the band that I don’t think has been fully unlocked.

4.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Jim James has developed an unmistakable sound, mostly due with an unnatural desire to put reverb on everything, the band sounds angelic.  But James continues to wrestle with his personal demons and express them in a way we all relate to.  I felt they were genre defining with their first major release in 2002.  They somehow broke through the noise of pop radio and managed to sell records when every college kid just started stopped paying for music.  MMJ continues to build on their success and seem content with their current status as long as Jim has enough side projects to keep him busy (still waiting for the electric mayhem tour).

5.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Notice a theme yet.  Yeah I like folk rock.  I never got the first record.  I heard that he recorded it on an eight track in a cabin in Montana and immediately got bored.  But the follow up was different.  Maybe after he did a track with Kanye, he gained my respect but for whatever reason I bought this one on release day.  I was pleasantly surprised with the full band.  His voice is so falsetto that I find it hard to follow at times but the instrumentation keeps it intriguing.  Still not sure how he gets that chambered sound but it works, and at times reminds me of classic ballads from the 80s.

6.  Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

One thing I love about music coming out today is it sounds like it could have come out at any point in time (future or past). This album should have come out 50 years ago.  Raphael has been putting out music for the past 30 years.  After breaking out of Tony! Toni! Tone! Saadiq has created an instant classic.

7.  Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me

My first interaction with JLM was when she sang a song with her Bother’s now extinct band Cadillac Sky as the opening act for Mumford and Sons.  I was immediately taken in.  She seems to be caring the banner that Neko Case lifted last decade.  At 22 she has written some serious heartbreak ballads.  This record is true americana, simple melodic structure soaked with iron belt distortion thank you Dan Auerbach.

8.  Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome

This is a beautiful soundtrack for an unwritten movie.

9.  The Black Keys – El Camino

The follow-up of Brothers was a challenge.  They did a good job but I couldn’t place this higher as its time to go a different direction.  They have an arena rock sound now and any track could be a single.  I’m ready for them to bring it back home.

10.  Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

This had more hype than the return of the McRib.  Z and Yeezy where my gateway to hip hop 2 years ago so I was excited to hear what they could do together.  Despite critics noting that they failed to connect with people living in the real world, I think they are doing what they do best.  For me its comedic to rap about have multiple benz and deciding which rolex to wear.  Hip Hop is my escape from sad depressing “I’m no good” music.  Its in your face arrogance, and not letting anyone decide your worth for you.

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Top records of 2010

January 18, 2011

As a whole 2010 lived up to its expectations.  It seems we are finally entering a new era, a time we stop and think about what we are doing before we do it.  And not settling for less then exceptional.  While the year in music may have not blown us away, it did set a solid foundation and pre-taste of what the new decade has in store.  Without further discourse I give you the year in music.

1.  Mumford and Sons – Sign No More.

If you’ve read my previous years entries you know I pick one favorite new band each year.  This was a very easy choice.  I first heard of these guys when I read the bonnaroo line-up and people started building a buzz.  Having doubts about attending the festival I quickly bought my tickets after the first listen.  This band has everything I look for in music.  Solid instrumentation, thought provoking lyrics and killer British accents (ok I can live without the accents).  But right out of the gate these guys have surpassed any previous debut records I’ve heard since.

2. The Roots – How I Got Over

This record almost made it to number one, but the Roots are one of the best bands in the world so this was probably easier for them to pull off. I love smart hop and this record hits in on all levels. I went from 28 years of listening to sad depressing music to rappers doing the exact opposite. While most of their counterparts eventually lower their standards to fit the mainstream, ?uest Love and his boys have consistently remained true to what hip hop represents.

3. The Black Keys – Brothers

The rust belt duo seemingly came out of nowhere this year to deliver one of the best records we’ve heard in a long time.  However Dan and Patrick have been diligently perfecting their roots rock sound that I believe will define the rock sound of this decade.  Their simplicity seems to be their greatest strength.  Without a 5 piece band to back them up they have to rely on themselves to keep the music moving.  While Dan seems to be a master of effects on top of a skilled guitarist he somehow manages not to get in the way of himself.  This record is a friendlier version of their previous work but at the same time a new plateau to keep building on.  I think History will be kind to them and glad to experience it first hand.

4. The National – High Violet

The most common criticism I hear about bands is that all records sound the same.  The second most common is that bands don’t sound like they used to.  It seems the evolution of most rock bands who build a back catalog is to have a 2-3 records that have a familiar sound but eventually move on.  I think that is what is happening here.  I’m afraid that what makes the National, the National is Matt Beringer’s Baritone voice.  While it distinguishes them from the 1000 other indie rock bands out there, it also appears to be a challenge to keep moving forward.  All this considered this record is no doubt worthy of any fan’s collection, while it may sound like disc 2 to 2007s Boxer it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

2010 may be the year for surprises.  This Canadian synthetic orchestra on wheels certainly shocked pop stars and hipsters alike when they took home the coveted Grammy for Album of the Year.  I think they deserved it if only for the fact they it was the only concept album in the category.  And the topic of the album really speaks to every 80s baby to grow up on the outskits of some larger fantasy

6. Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter may be the happiest manic depressed person I’ve ever seen.  If you were to watch his live show on mute you could easily think he’s playing a setlist of cartoon theme songs.  If you then reversed your senses and closed your eyes you could believe the guy on stage is in the wings because he’s afraid of looking the audience in the eye.  This marks Ritter’s third disc in a trilogy

7. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

This is a strange little album.  At first it sounds like a death metal band but then breaks into this really catchy synth driven pop song.  I got this as part of a record exchange and didn’t really hear much from them this year.  They remind me of a slightly more welcoming version of MGMT.  I think this evolution of rock n roll has done a reverse big bang, but bands like this prove that rock has exploded again and going in some crazy new directions.

8.  Fitz and the Tantrums Pickin’ Up the Pieces

One of my favorite new bands in the last 5 years.  These guys are bringing the motown sound back to the 21st century. Instant classic songs that will stick with you as if you’ve been listening to them for 20 years.  These guys are not listening to music execs but building on a solid foundation of quality work that will sound relevant for future decades.

9.  B.O.B – The adventures or Bobby Ray

I love a good hip hop record.  My favorite style is fun music that still tells a positive message.  For too many years I listened to sad depressing singer songwriters moan about heartbreak.  Hip Hop actually pumps you up, and speaks out for social justice or overcoming hurdles in life to rise above the madness.  This record is mostly just fun with many special guests and excellent production.

10. Kings of Leon – Come around Sundown

Well KOL know their audience, and they seem to have a formula for consistent arena rock crescendos.  This is a good record, not ground breaking like previous releases, but not really worse then anything out already either.  I’d like to hear a new spin or a return to less polished and back to the time they dreamed of Victoria Secret models instead of marrying them.

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Top records of 2009

January 3, 2010

The year started very promising.  I was anticipating releases from some highly revered artists which seldom disappoint.  Once again it was another seller year despite a depressing economy and an industry stuck in an identity crisis.   These are my personal favorites, not the most musically challenging, not the highest selling, and not what I listen to the most,  just the best, at least that’s what I thought…

1.  The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

As you can tell from my previous post I have much respect for this work.  I realize I quickly assume the geek persona by including this in the list and will most likely lose respect of true musicologists by placing it at number one, but its my list, and this was the most creative record I’ve ever heard.  There is little more to be said from what I mentioned when it came out, but having seen the band perform this at Bonnaroo and the Ryman I can easily say the Decemberists will be hard pressed to ever top this album.  This was also the first new record that I bought on vinyl and I continued this trend for every new release that came out this year.

2.  Bob Dylan – Together through Life

As an unashamedly cliché Dylan fan I’m putting this album up there with the other 2 albums that came out this decade.  I would probably place this at number 2 of the trilogy topped by Modern Times.  Like the finest of distilled Whiskey, Dylan truly gets better with time.   This album is really set apart thanks largely to the accordion styling of David Hildago, who later is showcased on Dylan’s Christmas Classic (also released this year but not on the list).  I realize that Dylan’s voice is an acquired taste and at first listen may evoke the listener to wait for someone to cover the song than listen in its purest form, but I find this album to be uncommonly catchy and listener friendly, a trend he has been developing after the painfully awful recordings from 78 – 88.  Here’s hoping for another 10 years of the same.

3. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

This band has been at the brink of breaking for several years.  I’m not sure what they or any of the record labels they were flirting with were waiting for, but things finally clicked with this major label debut.  With a title so bold, only this emotional heartbreak band could pull it off.  The songwriting strays from the back catalog of lost and unrealized love, as Scott most assuredly broke hearts with January Wedding announcing he is no longer holding out for the adoring fan to complete him.  The band also introduces a piano which takes center stage on several key tracks.  With Rick Rubin behind the wheel I tend to think this was the band’s idea.  This takes them to another level of creativity. which may have been trapped by the traditional Appalachian instruments they were most noted for.  This record speaks boldly for what they’ve been through and a nice segue for where they are about to go.

4.  Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King

When I first heard this album I quickly admitted that this was my favorite DMB record.  It certainly is the most creative of the past 10 years, as most will agree it’s the best since BTCS.  However, I still hold to my statement as I find this album gels their entire career.  Tim Reynolds is spotlighted like never before, and even though Jeff Coffin freely replaces Fallen member LeRoy.  Moore is notably the biggest influence of the album.  While several tracks have been outplayed on AAA radio, the album works as a whole and not simply a collection of singles.

5.  Pearl Jam –  Backspacer

Thanks primarily to the limited distribution (Target and indie stores), this album has not had near the publicity as it deserves.  The singles have had repetitive play but they fail to convey the true spirit of the record.  Jumping from the success of their self titled 2006 release, Eddie and Co. have begun a resurgence and progressed the Seattle sound they helped define 20 years earlier.  I find this album a more solid effort with focus on each track and careful to maintain a consistency which prior releases have struggled to capture.  (Unless you’re a true fan, you really could get by on “Rearview Mirror” to filter out Eddie’s ramblings and just get the key tracks you remember from your youth.)  But this album really set’s the band apart and moves them into a broader audience who may have not connected before.

6. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

I really respect two fourths of this band.  1/4 I really don’t know, and 1/4 I just have my doubts about (mostly b/c of the air mattress song).  Anyway this album clicks.  They really come together as a group and no one out shadows the other.  The sound is quite unique compared to the works they have produced individually, and you can tell they took their time to create a work of art and not fulfill a contract.  It’s hard to say where they will go from here.  I think super creative artists need multiple platforms to express themselves, and while it seems they’ve enjoyed the process I don’t see a follow-up release in the near future.  I do see them taking bold moves with their individual careers hopefully inspired from this project.

7.  Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

I had never given Neko a fair chance.  Being titled the queen of alternative country I have no excuse, but with this years release and show at the Ryman I figured now was the time.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The record is so instrumentally full, you immediately feel the warmth of her seductive vocals.  Having missed her show at Bonnaroo I was throughly entertained at her inaugural Ryman performance.  Which was the perfect complement to match the record’s rustic romanticism.

8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Leaving the Drive by Truckers was the best decision the kid made.  I think he owes a lot to his mentors (and former band mates) but Jason has surpassed them in his writing ability, and this album shows he’s so much more than a singer/songwriter.  The album catapults off his previous release and laughs at the sophomore slump curse.  The band sounds as if they grew up in the same neighborhood.  The lyrics are deep southern poetry as the vocals melt in your ears and leave you begging for more.

9.  Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard – One fast move or I’m gone

Stealing the poetry of Jack Karovac and driving to Big Sur to burn them into songs reminiscent of Gram Parsons, this unlikely couple found each other and have produced a remarkable tribute to their favorite muse.  The album is simply complex.  The music does not get in the way of imagery found in the fleeting skylines and deserted landscapes as the duo drifts across america.  This is the definition of a road trip record, and make sure your keys are out of reach unless you plan on making a crazy escape.

10.  Elvis Costello  – Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane

I struggled with this last one, there are several contenders that wanted this last spot, but I settled on Costello because I’ve never been big fan until this record was released.  I’m a sucker for a good bluegrass song with piercing vocals and this collection was exactly that.  The musicians chosen for this project were handpicked with care.  After a failed attempt to record the “Nashville Sound” in the 1980s, Elvis wanted a second chance.  An epic 2007 performance with Dylan at the Ryman is rumoured to get the ball rolling.  Having hired T. Bone Burnett to pick out the paint, it seems Elvis captured exactly what he set out after.  The album is permanently stained by rolling around with bluegrass legends Douglas, Lauderdale, and Compton. And while Elvis continues to stretch his musical horizons, he has helped create a standard with this timeless release.

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The Hazards of Love

March 23, 2009

What the Decemberists have done is somewhat beyond belief in the state of today’s failing music industry.  Perhaps this is what the new industry will produce.  Maybe labels will finally let bands do whatever they want.  Maybe executives will finally realize that the bands their A&R reps sign are popular because of who they are, not what they could be with more money.  And certainly not so they can go into a mold of whatever is playing on the top 40 count-down.  With traditional radio ratings continuing to drop, and alternate forms of  exposure being introduced daily, the album should no longer be defiant on how many singles it contains.  There will always be catchy hooks, and 3 minute love songs, which appeal to the larger audience.  But after 50 years of mass production, I think what people are searching for more than ever is personalization.  We don’t want to be the same anymore, we are all looking for our own identity.

The Hazards of Love is a rock opera in its truest form, however unlike the trend of the 70s (the Wall, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Tommy) this tale has no visual representation.  The story exists solely in audible form, produced exclusively from the mind of creative genius Colin Meloy.  A deep and complex tale has been weaved that must be unpacked  in one setting.  While the album is divided into 17 “tracks”  there are no breaks, each composition moves seamlessly into the next.  However, in a span of  59.4 minutes the band takes a musical journey that has no limits.  While the band has never been afraid of musical creativity and often prided themselves on traditional instrumentation and folk-art-rock sound, they expand their horizons, ironically, by allowing guitarist Chris Funk to inject  incredible yet brilliantly simple rock riffs,  which create a mysteriously dark aspect to the tale.

The story is told by a cast of charters who’s names are listed above their respective lines  inside the gatefold.  Colin sings the majority of the parts, but is accompanied by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and a children’s choir to portray the imagery of heroins, queens, and the ghosts of unfortunate soles, all painted with the spirit of Russian folklore. While I can not wait to see this album performed live, the record is so rich that it feels as if I am witnessing the actors live in my living room.

The album is available in three forms, download, compact disk, and vinyl.  While the audiophile in me enjoys the pure sound of vinyl the pauses incurred from flipping the 2 disks tempts me to purchase the digital version when it becomes available next week.

Whether you a fan of the decemberists or not, one can not deny the historical importance of this undertaking.  In an era of singles, most would say the album is dead, and major labels would not gamble on a hitless project.  But the decemberits have denied the common beliefs music critics have tried to convey.  The album lives and true art (like love) will always find a way.

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Together through life

March 7, 2009

Dylan has surprised us all.  While the last 3 albums have been highly anticipated leaving us counting down the days, this album comes out seemingly out of no where.  When the local record store called me to tell me it was out 4 days early, I should have expected it.

Dylan is a true artists, and true art progresses.  I think it is difficult to have the freedom to do what you want in the entertainment industry.  In order to survive you really have to do what others want.  Dylan is in a unique position to be a living legend with no need to perform, or record other than pure personal desire.

Together through life seems to end the last trilogy of classic solid albums.  While I don’t think Dylan has ever recorded a “filler” song this album defiantly has tracks that stand on their own more than others.  While the album has a very authentic dusty sound musically, lyrically it doesn’t tie together. The accordion is a welcomed addition, however tends to overpower the rest of the band and distractingly competes with Dylan’s vocals at times.

I don’t hear a consistent theme in the record, which is usually a noticeable undertone when listening to his 32 other recordings.  I do sense  his sarcastic optimism but not as deep or profound as in the past.  And he most notibly was going for a southern Tex-ican feel, but the stories behind the songs feel a bit lack-luster and perhaps forced.

All in all it will certainly be one of the best albums to come out this year.  I’m comparing Dylan to Dylan which is entirely unfair, compared to the rest of the albums produced in today’s industry he’s untouchable.

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Top Records of 2008

January 4, 2009

1.  Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

By far the best record of the year.  I remember when I first heard it at edge hill studios cafe and I asked the guy who made my sandwich if he was playing early my morning jacket.  He informed me that the music was  in fact the debut album from what quickly became my favorite new band.  Because this is the first record released from the sub pop quintet, it proves that sub pop may be the last label that focuses on finding true artists and not bands that fit the mold of whatever is spinning in the clubs at the present moment.  Everything about this album is brilliant, the songs are true form with just enough production to allow simple arrangements with complex harmonies carry the poetry of Robin Pecknold to satisfy the ventral tegmental of any listener.  The artwork of this album alone is reason to buy this on vinyl and gives true music lovers something to look forward to as the day of the plastic cd may be coming to an end.

2. The Racontours – Consolers of the Lonely

It’s commonly known that there is a sophomore curse for most bands.  It only makes since as you have your whole life to make your first record but only 6 months to make your second.  While Jack White is hardly a rookie in the music industry, this is quite impressive to be the front man of two very different bands who consistently release stellar work and have the influence over the big label of Warner Bros to have the freedom to expand his musical creativity.  This is a great record, Jack has mastered the art of combining folk instruments, traditional ballad songwriting, with enough edginess to keep rockstars asking him for advise.  Nashville is a better place to have these guys call it home.

3.  Brian Wilson – That Lucky Old Sun

I have yet to see this appear on any top 10 list.  I admit I would be surprised to hear any of the 17 tracks on the air.  Even for Lightning 100 Brian’s Narratives may be a little unconventional.  But this is a real album.  This is what we could have expected had Mr. Wilson chosen a different path after departing the Beach Boys.  However I agree better late than never and having waiting 38 years to release SMiLE, you know he’s willing to be patient for excellence.  The record beautifully embraces Brian’s true love for the city of LA.  And captures the feeling of that region through his poetry carried on very consciously thought out melodies.

4.  Vampire Weekend-Vampire Weekend

At the risk of loosing all musical credibility I place this Boston based group fairly high among strong company.  However this is the first album I’ve heard in a long time that is fun, smart, and witty for a diverse group of listeners.  You can put this album on at practically any party and people will enjoy it, and I doubt anyone will leave because of it.  (Which is why I admire their artwork).  With practically every song coming in between 2:30 – 3:30 it would be a DJs best friend.  Surprisingly I have heard very little of this album played on air.  (Had things been different I may have not been so generous). None the less this is a strong effort from these frat – hippies and I hope to be presently impressed with their sophomore release in the coming months.

5. Guns and Roses – Chinese Democracy

I can’t deny that sympathy for Axel Rose may have influenced my decision on this but in fairness my expectations were low when I first put this album in the car stereo.  I was surprised at the quality and production.  After 14 years I’d given up hope that Axel could stay sober enough to give this project the attention it deserved.  But having listening to it a few times I’m convinced that Mr. Roses’ true talent is in production and not theatrics.  The album is solid from start to finish.  The musicianship is incendiary and if there were courtroom battles taking place in the studio you certainly can’t tell from listening.  While the album may not have the stand out tracks that made the band famous on previous works, it is a valiant effort from a hard working rock star.

6.  Jakob Dylan – Seeing Things

Being an avid fan of his fathers, I was tempted to place this album much higher on the list.  But I will admit you really can’t compare “With God on our side” to “evil is alive and well”. But I do think “on up the mountain” is a nice complement to “When I paint my masterpiece”.  I knew I was going to like this record no matter what it sounded like, but it is a pleasing collection and different from what I have come to expect from previous work.    Jakob has more freedom to explore concepts that may not flow as well from from the full sound of his day job.  I hope to hear more from both.

7.  REM – Accelerate

There are few bands that can make it through more the 10 years without splitting due to artistic differences, or giving into a record labels assessment of the mass market to create music which is hardly creative at all.  This group from the University of Georgia have remained faithful to their fans and to each other to remain relevant through the past 28 years.  This years release was anticipated as the politically charged Stipe had a wealth of material to help bring back a genre of music that new A&R reps keep pushing out of the mainstream.  Like the other records on this list the album is solid from start to finish packed with several single quality tracks and not one “filler” to meet a quota.

8.  Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch

It seems most people believe Tom Petty hit his peak during the 1990s, and that work he does today does not measure up with the timeless classics that have left their mark on American history.  Maybe the last releases have not had the commercial success of the heart breakers experienced a decade and a half ago, but he has not been sitting on his laurels.  Petty has done well balancing a string of worldwide tours and studio time to give us a range of quality,  entertaining, and insightful records over the past 10 years.  This year Petty went back to the basics, scrounging up his first band mates to create a fresh but rootsy collection of classics and new jam friendly rock.

9.  My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

The Kentucky boys have  found a way to bring creative and stretch the fabric of modern music for listeners and producers.  Evil Urges moves the band to a more stable market, but still maintains the sound that the band has made their own.  Adopting a style first discovered in the underground during the 70s, MMJ have reawakened the southern rock culture made famous by acts like Zeppelin, Steely Dan, and Jethro Tull.  Urges has more stand out tracks such as “I’m Amazed” and “Touch me I’m gong to Scream” without compromising the concept album feel that keeps them unique in today’s pop saturated industry.

10.  Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

This family of hard working rockers have attempted to redefine the Nashville music scene.  Ironically it seems they have obtained far more respect across the ponds than they have in their own back yard.  Perhaps this record will prove that Nashville has finally broken the sterotype of tradition that has hung over music city since WSM first went on the air.  Only by the Night proves that Rock and Roll is far from over.  Both topically and musically these guys keep the heart still beating and just as edgy as when the lizard king first played the London Fog.  The Kings have masted the act of the no frills stage preformance that keeps the audience entralled enough to be reliving the show seeks later to friends and co-workers.  Only by the Night is a strong follow-up to Because of the Times, a bit more radio friendly, but just as irasicible as their previous 3 releases.

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Top Records of 2006

January 7, 2007

It’s time for the list:

This is my first Top 10 countdown.  It seems that we are finally entering a new era for music.  Musicians have stopped fighting the internet and instead used it as a tool to fight the music industry.   Music has finally been open to the masses in a way like never before.

So the count down:

1.  Modern Times-Bob Dylan.

Without argument this is his best work since 1989’s Oh Mercy.  His voice has not been cleaner, the band has not been better, and the song writing continues to bring us to our knees begging please don’t stop.

2.  The Crane Wife – The Decembrists

This is band finally getting the respect it deserves.  For the first major label release the Decembrists choose not to forsake their independent style.  Choosing the theme from an ancient Chinese fairy tale full of heartbreak, revenge, and murder ballads, they are proving that they will not sell out.

3.  Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam

How bold it is to self title your 8th studio album after 15 solid years of true rock and roll.  While it may not reach the number of sales as their classic debut, Eddie and the boys have made us believe that rock is not dead.

4.  The Life Pursuit – Belle & Sebastian

You may not agree with my placement of this record, but for me it set the course for the year.  This sleepy underground band from Scotland has been cranking out beautiful records for 10 years.  This record will make you wonder why no one has been paying attention.

5.  Continuum – John Mayer

I admit I was not excited about the release of this record.  While I was impressed with Try! I was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to follow-through with the expectations and truly give up on his teenage fan base.  I was pleasantly surprised after my first listen.  He has out done him self and truly established a firm foundation to set a new direction for popular music.

6.  The Information – Beck

Having never been an avid Beck fan I really didn’t know what to expect with this record.  My first Beck record was Sea Change and I had mixed feelings.  With the Information I think he is back in his element and out to bring the fun back to the live show.

7.  How to Grow a woman from the ground – Chris Thille

Yes finally a real bluegrass record!  While I’m saddened by the break up of a band that is near and dear to my heart, I’m excited to see what these cats can do on their own.  This record proves that bluegrass rocks and will continue to be an influential piece of American music.

8.  Highway Companion – Tom Petty

I thought I was going to place this higher on the list but it’s really been just an outstanding year.  With rumors of retirement and this being the last studio album I’m slightly nervous that this may be the last we hear of a rock legend.  While not as direct as the previous record, Highway companion sets Petty back at the front of rock stardom.

9.  Songbird – Willie Nelson

Possibly his best work since the mid 70s, Nelson has teamed up with protégé Ryan Adams and borrowed the band that is defining the new sound of Alternative Country.  Songbird is a benchmark record that hasn’t been truly acknowledged.

10.  Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers – Lucero

I didn’t like this band when I first heard them.  Ben’s voice is a bit hard to overcome, but being a Dylan fan that’s not an excuse.  I got this album and an earlier release this year and changed my perspective.  This band of brothers is what rock and roll is all about.  With a fan base of die hards who would probably quit work just to see these guys play, Lucero is continuing to follow the dream where thousands of us have fallen short.

Dishonorable mentions:

The Eraser – Thom York

Being a Radiohead fan I was disappointed in this attempt do it solo.

Eyes Open – Snow Patrol

This album would have made the list if they didn’t name check Sufjan Stevens.

Supply and Demand – Amos Lee

I thought this album would have been different than the first, sadly it was not.