Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fair Game or Inside Job?

25 December 2010

Mo betta music than ever!! I actually cannot remember a year when there was an overwhelming abundance of great beats, great lyrics and amazing performances. Of all the shows I saw this year, by far the best performances were turned in by the old guy, Bruce Springsteen ( 6 performances), the Icelander, Jonsi ( 3 performances), Dr Dog, the new kids, Local Natives and Mumford and Sons, and the best band in Brooklyn, The National.

Amidst all of the uncertainty in the world of politics and business there is one constant: Original, heartfelt music and those who are truly gifted enough to pass it on. It is with this in mind that I am inspired every year to sit down and gift my old friends, new friends and business associates with those tunes which have been my soundtrack for the year 2010. From the back roads of Birmingham to the trails in Iceland and the streets of New York and the beaches of Anguilla and the reservoir in Silver Lake, these were the artists that carried me through the airports and along the road of life. Some days more than others the music wrapped around me, other days it made me a better person and for sure a better runner. Music is love, music is happiness, but more than anything else this music is the heart in the darkness.

On a somber note, we have lived through the worst of times economically and politically. We have witnessed one of the longest and bloodiest wars in Afghanistan and nary a protest in the streets. Multi national companies continue to pay little in taxes while Exxon and Halliburton continue to enjoy record profits. Julian Assange becomes the journalist of 2010 and is threatened with charges of espionage for his WikiLeaks. Goldman Sachs rewards their traders with record bonus money this year while millions of Americans lose their homes. What is wrong with this picture? If you have not seen the film FAIR GAME yet.......GO...TODAY. It is one of the most important films released this year. Maybe we will finally get off our butts and get Mad As Hell. Or....maybe not.

Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado here is music that will energize you, proselytize you, make you smile and generally provide you with happiness in the dark days of winter ahead.

25. THE PROMISE: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Yes, it was actually recorded in 1978, but this particular set of songs was not released on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. This is a gem, a diamond in the rough; actually it ranks as one of Bruce's great contributions to American music

24. THE MYNABIRDS: WHAT WE LOSE IN THE FIRE WE GAIN IN THE FLOOD Once again a brilliant songstress with the voice of an angel or Dusty Springfield, take your pick. Brilliant production by Richard Swift and released on Conor Oberst's Saddle Creek label.

23. JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE: HARLEM RIVER BLUES On his third release, the son of Steve Earle continues to amaze. Each record has been better than the last and yet no one has heard of him yet. There must be justice for a guy who can tell stories as well as his daddy and Townes Van Zandt. A singer/songwriter for America in the 21st century.

22. PHOSPHORESCENT: HERE'S TO TAKING IT EASY Matthew Houck I am sure was somehow inspired by the LA vibe of Jackson Browne and the Eagles, at least lyrically. This is his second proper album and his first with a band, but his sun drenched country rock which recalls some of the best American voices is a winner and the title is apt.

21. FRIGHTENED RABBIT: THE WINTER OF MIXED DRINKS The Scottish rockers have continued to make great majestic rock n roll. Their previous album Midnight Organ Fight was a bit more despondent but the Rabbits and full on rocking here.

20. JAKOB DYLAN: WOMEN AND COUNTRY When you have this famous last name you had better live up to it and Jakob does again and again. As a member of the Wallflowers he rocked and the last few albums on his own have been inspired. With Neko Case joining him on this effort he establishes himself as a sensitive and glorious minstrel, sort of in the shadow of his old man.

19. ALOE BLACC: GOOD THINGS New is old and old is new. In the case of Aloe Blacc he is following in the tradition of the great Motown and Philly soul hipsters. His contemporaries are Eli "Paperboy" Reed and Mayer Hawthorne and like them, Aloe has crafted a wonderful soul record with a topical twist. I Need A Dollar and Miss Fortune are stunners and this is someone who will have a bit of pressure to follow this with a great second album.

18. PETER WOLF: MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS One of the all time great white soul singers and the VOICE of the J Geils Band, Wolf killed it on this one. All of the blue eyed soul and UGGA BUGGA from Boston comes through on this remarkable album. It also is a treat to hear Wolf with Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and Neko Case.

17. AFROCUBISM: AFROCUBISM This is the record that was supposed to have been made but instead Buena Vista Social Club was recorded in Havana Cuba. The record was to have had the best of Mali musicians playing with the best of Cuba. They play together on this one thanks to the vision of Nick Gold. Only Eliades Ochoa from the Social Club remains, but the musical marriage is brilliant.

16. JOHN MELLENCAMP: NO BETTER THAN THIS The revered American singer/songwriter traveled across the country recording in some of the great studios, including Sun Studio where Elvis recorded, to make a truly wonderful record in MONO. Mellencamp resides in that rare air of Seger and Springsteen as great modern American storytellers in the tradition of Guthrie, Dylan and Seeger.

15. BAND OF HORSES: INFINITE ARMS How about one of the great American bands in the tradition of The Band and Crosby Stills and Nash? Granola, dreamy and perfect harmonies dominate their third release which is another beautiful sounding gem. Ben Bridwell has brought it for three straight albums. A nice day on the trails....

14. ROBERT PLANT: BAND OF JOY For over 40 years this long haired blues master has continually made beautiful music. Some may argue about the Led Zeppelin years, but they were not paying attention. Band of Joy is another testament to Plant's love of rootsy blues and pure American music.

13. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM: AMERICAN SLANG Brian Fallon may indeed by the lost child of Bruce Springsteen, well not really, but let it be said that this New Jersey manchild sure gets it. Somehow I totally missed the 59 Sound in 2008. It is one of the great albums ever. American Slang is almost as good and the Gaslight Anthem capture great American Rock n Roll in the New Jersey tradition shall I say.

12. MOSE ALLISON: THE WAY OF THE WORLD A legend. An icon. The man. Mose Allison is one of the most accomplished jazz musicians who has influenced the likes of Ben Sidran to Bonnie Raitt. The piano man teamed up with Joe Henry to record one of the best jazz albums of the year and possibly of his illustrious career. At 83 years young Mose continues to make wonderful music. Listen.

11. JOHN LEGEND AND THE ROOTS: WAKE UP! What a concept, take an amazing singer and let him record an album of "protest" songs from the 60's with one of the great American bands The Roots. The result is short of extraordinary for anyone with or without a point of reference of these songs. Les McCann and Eddie Harris would be pleased with "Compared to What" and the song "Shine" from the extraordinary American film "Waiting For Superman" spotlights just how good Legend can sing.

10. ELTON JOHN AND LEON RUSSELL: THE UNION If you are old enough to remember how great these two were in the 70's then you are in for a real treat. Somehow these two regained their respective mojos from that "place and time." Both are blessed with beautiful voices, one sweet and the other from a Delta far far away. Not only is this a real treat but Leon Russell had just recovered from brain surgery when he recorded this with his dear friend Elton.

9. MUMFORD AND SONS: SIGH NO MORE On their major label debut Marcus Mumford and his mates (not his Sons) capturerd the intensity of their live performances and became one of the Best new bands of 2010. Folk rock is the label, but their rock as folk musicians needs to be seen. Their first 2 EPS had me hooked but this album with Roll Away The Stone, Cry No More and The Cave are stellar. Rave on Sons!!

8. LOCAL NATIVES: GORILLA MANOR One of the best parts of the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles is another entrant for Best New Band of the Year. Their show in Ann Arbor was an almost pitch perfect re creation of thier debut album. A bright future for the band that some have compared to Grizzly Bear. Inteligent rock n roll is more like it, but not a bad comparison. As Neil Young said, "Long may you run."

7. BEACH HOUSE: TEEN DREAM From the town of Baltimore, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand made one of the most sonically beautiful records of 2010. On the heels of their first release, this sophomore effort is so pleasant and dreamy that it defines a beautful day on the beach or any other summer activity. If you remember the song The Windmills Of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair, it was composed by her uncle Michel Legrand. The genetic link is pretty damn amazing....

6. JAMEY JOHNSON: THE GUITAR SONG Country, cowboy, rebel or outlaw. Any of these would be an fine way of describing Jamey Johnson. An if you happen to listen to this DOUBLE RECORD, yes a real live Double Record of original recordings, you will be blown away. Not only does he provide the country record establishment with a good dose of real COUNTRY, the man has survived much like Waylon, Willie and Merle. Just a sample of Johnson from "Lonely At The Top".... I said Would you like a drink? He said Thanks I'll have a double. I've worked up a powerful thirst just listening to your troubles. And while you mix that drink I'll smoke one if you got em. It might be lonely at the top but it's a bitch at the bottom." GIL SCOTT HERON: I'M NEW HERE Its only right that two real life outlawa share the #6 spot. Gil Scott heron may have been one of the originators of rap. As the leader of the great American band The Last Poets and the seminal American song The Revolution Will NOT Be Televised from 1971. His newest effort and his first since 1994 combines spoken word, jazz and blues. It is a real life portrait of a man of the streets of NYC. Much like Jamey Johson, Gil Scott has hopefully conquered his demons.

5. ARCADE FIRE: THE SUBURBS Intelligent orchestral rock at its best in the opus about the Suburbs. Win Butler, Regine Chassagne and the rest of this great Montreal collective have once again recorded a gem. Having sold out Madison Square Garden and had the #1 album in the USA for a week has done nothing but make more people aware of this beautifully melodic and intimate music. Maybe just maybe there is hope for music today. This is one of the greatest bands which keeps making aural diamonds.

4. JONSI: GO/GO LIVE Rarely am I speechless, nor do I usually have a hard time describing what I have seen or heard. In the case of Jonsi it is even more difficult to understand. His music takes one to another time and for sure another space, and this is without any sort of natural of pharmaceutical enhancement. Visually and aurally the music is big and beautiful and it makes you smile and it makes you cringe it is so overwheming at times. Jonsi and Alex and the rest of the band makes music that is at times classical, at other times tribal and always pleasurable. In short the experience both live and on record is orgasmic.

3. SHE AND HIM: VOLUME TWO Zooey Deschanel is an actress. Zooey Deschanel is a real great singer. M Ward is a great musician and singer. What started out as a "project" has surely evolved into a real live phenomenal musical experience. From the first notes of Thieves, Zooey conjures up all of the great girl voices of the 60s, which is not a bad thing at all. Songs of love and California sunshine just plain thrill the listener. This is not some sort of gimmick, this is straight ahead great pop music. Ridin In My Car and the so sweet Me and You make this a collection of wonderful and seemingly simple love songs.

2. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: CONTRA From Ezra Koenings opening sigh on Horchata to the final notes of I Think Ur A Contra this is one of most engaging and enjoyable records i have ever listened to. The lyrics are truly "intelligent", as who comes up with "In December drinking Horchata, I look psychotic in a Balaklava." No one rhymes words like these boys. Musically they owe a great deal to Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The drumming is topnotch as is every other instrument that they use, many which are surely unconventional. Every single song is close to perfect, but who am I to rate perfection. Hopefully they have paid the model for the beautiful album cover picture. Contra...buy it you cannot be disappointed.

1. THE NATIONAL: HIGH VIOLET Not only the best band in Brooklyn, but surely one of the great American bands. Matt Berninger, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf all brilliant musicians who have released seven proper albums recording as The National and I daresay this is the best one yet. Every sound and every lyric in every song has been made to be perfect. This is not idle folly for these boys. This is the embodiment of intelligent music, and as a band they have grown into "stars." Not stars like rock stars in the traditional sense, but rock stars for a new generation. Their live show is now a real rock n roll show, not just a bunch of geeks playing music. These young men have the goods. Every song is stellar. Terrible Love, Sorrow, Anyones Ghost, Lemonworld, Bloodbuzz Ohio, England and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks stick in your mind. They do not leave until you fall asleep and then they are in your subconscious. Luckily they are still there when you awake. The National, the new new American standard of greatness. Long live The National. "I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe."

HONORABLE MENTION

Blitzen Trapper
Dr Dog
Broken Bells
Tallest Man On Earth
Belle and Sebastian
Deerhunter
Autumn Defense
Elvis Costello
Mavis Staples
Charlotte Gainsbourgh
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings
Cee Lo Green
Mary Gauthier
Black Keys
Ray Wylie Hubbard
Best Coast
Ray Lamontagne and The Pariah Dogs
Laura Marling
Eli "Paperboy" Reed
Willie Nelson
Spoon
Horse Feathers
The Walkmen
Josh Ritter

As a slight postscript, the most infectious song of the year was Fuck You by Cee Lo Green, one half of the great band Gnarls Barkley. Although the words were changed for radio play to Forget You, the internet rocked with the song. With all due respect to one of the great singers today, Cee Lo was not the first to specifically use those words in a song to describe heartbreak. In 1972 while recording Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson recorded a song called Your Breaking My Heart Fuck You, which coincidentally was sung over his grave at his funeral. Cee Lo Green owes a slight debt to Nilsson who paved the way for him and will always be remembered as one of the great American singer/songwriters. If you ever saw the movie Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, the song Everybody's Tallkin was sung by Nilsson, but written by Fred Neil.




1 comment:

Lilja said...

Thank you so much for this list Mark. Now I can start my study! so many interesting bands this year..Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
p.s. Jónsi says hi :)