20 Best cd's of 2010 (in alphabetical order)
* Jeff Beck - Emotion & Commotion
JB delivers the goods on his first studio recording in 7 years. He's still a badass, he still says more with one note than all the Yngwie wannabe's say with fifty 64th notes. This cd is short (40 minutes) but sweet, and it left me wanting more. You know you're in for a good ride when it opens with a cover of Jeff Buckley's arrangement of "Corpus Christy Carol." The personnel vary from track to track, but musicians accompanying Jeff include Tal WIlkenfeld, Joss Stone, Pino Palladino, Vinnie Colaiuta, Imelda May, and others, plus a 64 piece orchestra. I am not hip to Joss Stone, aside from the fact she is mainstream, but I don't blame Jeff if he's trying to cash in… She does nail it on "I Put a Spell On You." Then again, he's been recording and touring with women since at least as far back as his "Who Else!" cd released back in 1999 (Jennifer Batten), and either Tal or Imelda have been part of his touring band since 2007. So, yeah, if you're a fan of Jeff Beck or electric guitar in general, then you owe it to yourself to give this cd a spin.
* Black Country Communion (Self Titled)
I hate the term "supergroup" but that is what this album's been described as. Joe Bonamassa on guitar/the up and coming "guitar god," Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals/from Deep Purple Mark III, Jason Bonham/son of Bonzo on drums, and Derek Sherinian on keyboards/a heavyweight in the metal and progressive rock worlds. This is music that begs to be played loud. You can definitely hear the Zeppelin and Deep Purple roots, actually this album sounds like it could have been released in the 70's, stylistically that is... You won't find any nu-metal or rap-rock or other subgenres here, just good old (mainly blues based) rock and roll that would fit right in on a playlist from any classic rock radio station.
* Lois Deloatch - Roots: Jazz Blues Spirituals
Lois on vocals, Scott Sawyer on guitar, Gabe Evens on piano, John Brown on bass, and Beverly Botsford on percussion. This is NC jazz, from the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). Fans of vocal jazz and blues, ala Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn, will find a lot to like here. The band sounds excellent and all get ample opportunity to stretch it out at times. Top notch production too, this cd sounds excellent. There are 4 original tunes, the other 8 a mix of covers and traditional songs. The entire cd swings but my favorite tracks are Wade in the Water, Queen KoKo Blue, Pennies From Heaven, When The Saints Come Marching In, Steal Away, and Someday Soon.
* Bill Frisell - Beautiful Dreamers
Bill on guitar, Eyvind Kang on viola, Rudy Royston on drums, and produced by the great Lee Townsend. Not the standard instrumentation as most trio's, but not at all a surprise from the shy bespectacled One… It works, and a lot of the tunes definitely groove, and there is plenty of odd timing, use of dynamics and space between the notes, along with more of the out weirdness that Bill Frisell is known for. This cd is mainly original tunes, but there are some interesting covers too, including Nobody's Fault but Mine, Keep On the Sunny Side, and Goin' Out of My Head (I'll admit I caught myself off guard the 1st time I noticed myself singing the words to this Frank Sinatra classic, while driving my truck). Bill Frisell isn't for everybody, but if you're a fan, this is pretty much a must hear cd. Lastly, kudos to Bill for his shout out to the late great Vic Chestnutt, RIP.
* JJ Grey & Mofro - Georgia Warhorse
JJ is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from Jacksonville, FL. I have been following him since I caught his late night set at High Sierra Music Fest a few years ago. This is his 3rd release on Alligator Records, and in my opinion he has hugely stepped up his game. This is swampy greasy southern music, and he has a great band backing him. He is joined by his neighbor Derek Trucks on "Lullaby," and the great Toots Hibbert joins him on "The Sweetest Thing." I will go so far as to proclaim this JJ Grey's breakout cd. Good stuff!
* Buddy Guy - Living Proof
Buddy Guy is 74 years old, just 4 years younger than my Dad! This autobiographical cd is his best since his coming out (to the masses) party, "Damn Right I Got the Blues" - Not that he has anything to prove, but he hasn't lost a thing, he can still solo with complete reckless but perfect fury and abandonment. His voice sounds great too. Check out the opening track, "74 Years Young," damn! He comes out of the gate strong and doesn't let up for the next 54 minutes... Like all his albums these last few years it seems, there are guests; on this one BB King plays on a track, as does Carlos Santana track. As far as I am concerned, Buddy Guy is today's undisputed unified "heavyweight champion" of the blues, whether he wants it or not (I am sure he'd disagree and point to BB). He's earned it, he's a master of his craft; and anything he does usually sounds light years better than anything done by Cats 20, 30, 40, and 50 years younger.
* Charlie Hunter - Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid
Consider me biased, I have been a Charlie Hunter fan for 17 years and his cd's are always among my favorites of the year, every year. Same thing applies to this release (a mono recording!); Charlie on 7 string guitar (simultaneous guitar and bass lines), Eric Kalb on drums, Alan Ferber and Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Eric Biondo on trumpet. In my opinion Charlie continues to "hone" his voice, and evolve and cross over into different genres; and this cd is as heavily influenced by blues, as it is jazz. Like his other cd's, the band is top shelf, great compositions and great production. Also very worthy of mention is his just released extremely excellent solo cd, "Public Domain" which as of now is only available at live performances and from his website (http://bit.ly/btGVHd).
* Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust
Los Lobos: The most underrated American band ever. This is their first studio album of original music in 4 years. Nothing revelatory compared to 2006's "The Town and the City" cd, which I also thought was killer, but I do rank this up there with their best: Kiko, Colossal head, This Time… They have perfected their groove, which happens after making music together for 35 plus years… They continue with their signature sound and production here. Wolves fans won't be disappointed with this latest effort. 11 tunes in all, 2 of which are in Spanish, and a cool rendition of the Robert Hunter penned Grateful Dead's "West LA Fadeaway," plus a new Robert Hunter/Cesar Rosas composition. Viva Los Lobos!
* Pat Metheny - Orchestrion
I suspect this is Pat's most controversial work since his noise album "Zero Tolerance for Silence." To me, it's definitely the most interesting inclusion on my list this year… This is a solo album, but do not be deceived… In this particular context, solo equates to Pat Metheny on guitar, and via MIDI triggers and a series of pneumatic assemblies and solenoid switches; Pat Metheny on piano, orchestra bells, marimba, vibraphone, bass, guitarbots (?), percussion, cymbals, drums, and other custom-fabricated acoustic instruments… His inspiration for this was memories of player piano (automatic, self-playing) from his youth. There is plenty of info on the web on all the prep work, the process, and the inventors Pat worked with to record this album and follow it with a tour. While the description could lead one to believe this cd sounds sterile and is lacking soul, this is not the case at all. You can hear Pat's voice, it has an organic sound/human element, it does groove at times, and there's plenty of great guitar. I would say the opening "center piece" 15 minute long title-track "Orchestrion" is the most ambitious tune on the album, as far as the compositional complexity and number of instruments being played simultaneously. Techo-Geeks and gearheads especially should dig this cd.
* Stanton Moore - Groove Alchemy
Galactic's Stanton Moore on drums, Will Bernard on guitar, and Robert Walter on B3 and piano; all heavyweights. This cd owns anything Galactic has released in recent memory. Yeah it's a drummer's project, but this is a band cd all the way. The music is funky, and although Stanton's from New Orleans, this is not strictly a Nola affair. I will say this trio plays their collective ass off on this cd; and I hope they collaborate more in the future, in the studio (they did play a run of live shows, the night in San Fran was great - a double bill with Anders Osborne).
* Willie Nelson - Country Music
First off, this is Willie's 81st studio cd in 49 years! That is simply a mind-boggling stat, period. To be doing it for half a decade, and still be as relevant (artistically) as he is, well that just doesn't happen often. This cd was produced by T-Bone Burnett, and features plenty of Nashville heavyweights; including Buddy Miller, Stuart Duncan, and Ronnie McCoury, to name a few… This is great country music, easily the best I have heard since Willie's "Asleep at the Wheel" cd from last year; but take that comment with a grain of salt, because I am not a huge country fan and am pretty selective in that genre of music. Anyway, 15 tunes, some Willie Nelson originals, some covers (Ernest Tubb, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, George Jones and Ray Price, and others), and some old school traditional tunes; including a sweet "Nobody's Fault but Mine" to end the cd with.
* Anders Osborne - American Patchwork
Anders is new to me, I am still discovering him… On one hand he is a gifted guitarist, a musician's musician, capable of blistering frenzied slide runs; and on the other hand he's a singer/songwriter from New Orleans whose other gig is professional songwriter in Nashville since the mid 90's (country star Tim McGraw had a #1 hit with one of his songs, and he co-wrote 2 songs with Keb Mo on Keb's Grammy winning "Slow Down" cd in 1999) . This is his debut release on Alligator Records; and joining him is Robert Walter on various keyboards/keyboard bass, Pepper Keenan on guitars and vocals, and Stanton Moore on drums. This cd has a little bit of everything: Blues (the opening track, "On the Road to Charlie Parker" is burning), rock, funky Nola grooves, even some reggae/calypso; with great, sometimes dark, and introspective lyrics. This is Anders' homage to New Orleans.
* Robert Plant - Band of Joy
At 17 years old, I was a bona fide Led Zeppelin fanatic. If I wasn't driving all over the state of TN to record conventions, in order to buy bootleg concert albums; I was trading cassette copies with people all over the world, via classified advertisements in Goldmine magazine. My daily attire for several years was completed with a brown light-weather army jacket, with a large Swansong winged dude airbrushed on the back. I have seen both Page and Plant solo and together (no live Zep for me though) a number of times, starting in 1983 to most recently 2005. At one time I considered Robert Plant pompous and arrogant for not wanting to go on tour with a new Led Zeppelin. Now I completely understand his logic. Bonzo is dead and buried for 31 years, and Mr. Plant continues to grow as an artist. His music is still evolving and I can understand why he would consider a Zep tour a step backwards. Incidentally, "Band of Joy" was a band he was in prior to Led Zeppelin, along with John Bonham. While Robert is accompanied by all Nashville Heavyweights, like the Allison Krauss collaborated "Raisin' Sand" cd, "Band of Joy" is more rock and roll… I still hear roots and Americana, but it's less folkie. Produced by Buddy Miller, Robert on lead vocals, Buddy on guitar, Patty griffin - vocals, Byron House on bass, Darrel Scott on various stringed instruments, and Marco Giovino on drums. By the way, and in case you didn't know it, Buddy Miller is badass. Only 1 Plant penned tune here (co-written with Buddy Miller), some of the covers are traditional, some are more well known than others; and the cd opens with "Angel Dance" by Los Lobos.
* 7 Walkers (Self Titled)
Let me start by saying I am pretty heavily into the Grateful Dead, and GD drummer Bill Kreutzmann is on this; so I am biased. However, this cd was produced by singer/songwriter/guitarist Papa Mali, a New Orleans area native now based in Austin, and he is a heavyweight himself. The full lineup is Papa Mali (guitar and vocals), Matt Hubbard (keyboards, harmonica, trombone), funky George Porter Jr. (bass, 1 track), and Reed Mathis (bass, the rest of the tracks), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). Willie Nelson also sings and plays guitar on "King Cotton Blues." All words were co-written by Papa Mali and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. In my humble opinion, this is by far the best album featuring any Grateful Dead member since Jerry died. However, this music veers much more in the direction of New Orleans music then it does the Grateful Dead; although I bet fans of both will like this. Papa Mali's 2007 release "Do Your Thing" was one of my favorites that year, and I was wondering if he would be able to top it with his next release… Well, this is the closest thing to his next release and I believe he has.
* Soulive - Rubber Soulive
Soulive cd's have been hit or miss for me. I prefer their straight guitar/organ/drums instrumental side, versus horn sections and guest vocalists and MC's…. This one is straight trio, doing all Beatles tunes; and yes, it's a hit. If you've been "on the fence" regarding Soulive these last few years, like me, you should give this one a listen; especially if you're a Beatles fan.
* Triple Fret - Songs in Borrowed Time
More NC music here. Triple Fret is Mike Babyak's Band. I am pretty sure He wrote 11 of the 12 tunes (at least the lyrics), although the whole (very tight) band is credited on the cd, speaking of which: Mike Babyak on guitar, lap steel, and vocals - Mike Rosado on drums - E. Scott Warren on bass. Also, guest appearances by Jim Kost on keyboards, John Metcalfe on miscellaneous percussion, and several background vocalists. This cd straddles a lot of different genres, there's a bit of everything here... I hear blues, roots and Americana, some reggae, straight rock and roll, jamband like vehicles, even a little Afro-Caribbean. If you are a fan of lap steel then this cd should be moved immediately to the top of your queue, as there is plenty of it all over this excellent recording. Are you a Steve Kimock fan? David Lindley? If so, you will very much dig this music. Lyrically, the cd covers a lot of different subjects, some serious, nothing too heavy, some just fun. Vocally, I do hear North Carolina, Mike's voice is sometimes raspy, and at times I am reminded of John Bell and maybe Lowell George. This cd is a great listen and highly recommended.
* Trombone Shorty - BACKATOWN
I got turned onto Trombone Shorty when he played a set @ Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival back in July. As good as their live show is, this excellently produced studio effort matches it, musically and "energy wise" too; killer Nola funk and soul/R&B, this is music designed to make you shake that ass! All but 1 tune are originals, and the cover was written by Allen Toussaint. Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews has a great band backing him (and some heavyweight guests sitting in); whether they're laying down a thick groove, or going off on an instrumental jam, this band brings it.
* The Derek Trucks Band - Roadsongs
If you know me, any dTb inclusion on my list is no surprise; especially a live recording, as I have been preaching about this particular lineup of the dTb for several years now. In my opinion this is/was consistently the tightest touring rock band out there - Derek Trucks on guitar, Todd Smallie on bass, Yonrico Scott on drums, Kofi Burbridge on keyboards/flute, Mike Mattison on vocals, and Count M'butu on percussion; and on this particular night in Chicago they were augmented by a 3 piece horn section. Although dTb is a rock band and this is a rock album, stylistically the dTb crosses over many genres; and my favorite moments take place during the jazz tunes. This cd is worth picking up alone for the killer version of "Afro Blue..." But less adventurous ears not so much into the out stuff will find plenty to like here too. In closing, any live dTb is top shelf… Speaking of which, anybody heard anything about this band ending their hiatus and going back on the road?!?
* Doug Wamble (Self Titled)
I am not sure if this recording falls under rock, jazz, or pop; but at the end of the day Doug Wamble is another relatively unknown and very badass guitarist from TN, now living in NY. This cd is yet another Lee Townsend produced masterpiece, and I heard about it via a plug from Charlie Hunter (who plays on one track)… Although he's better known for his acoustic and slide playing, there is some fine electric guitar all over this album. Doug also sings, and although there are plenty of great moments of lead guitar and improv, this is a song based cd. Definitely worth seeking out, as is his '05 release "Bluestate" on Branford Marsalis' record label (http://amzn.to/etGTqJ).
* Yakuza - Of Seismic Consequence
Heavy music from Chicago… I found this cd at Reckless Records, which is a very cool store on the north side, Belmont and Broadway (3126 N. Broadway). Their "thing" is, in addition to the bins of cd's to browse through, their walls are literally covered with cd's in completely random order of varying genres, that have little index cards taped to them noting descriptions/recommendations from staff. I have discovered some great music from that wall, including this cd; and that is an experience that in no way can be reproduced when you buy all your music online… Anyway, back to this cd: It's pretty interesting stuff. This is their 5th album - I haven't heard the earlier ones. There are too many metal subgenres for me to keep up with, and my limited research found this album being classified under several different ones: avant garde progressive metal, post-apocalyptic hardcore, grindcore; with elements of jazz and world music. I read that the death metal cookie-monster vocals were more prevalent on their earlier albums, but Singer Bruce Lamont has eased up to focus on his secret weapon: The saxophone! Some of the more mellow tunes with heavily reverberated guitars remind me of Opeth, and the dominant berserk sax reminds me of 70's era King Crimson (a good thing); but overall this band sounds very unique, and at least on this particular cd, they have their own thing happening for sure.
Honorable Mentions* Hill Country Revue - Zebra Ranch
This is a North Mississippi Allstar's side project; including Cody Dickinson on guitar and vocals along with his drums and washboard/percussion, Luther Dickinson on guitar, and bunch of other Cats including Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel. I hear a strong southern rock influence, swampy Mississippi music, lots of slide guitar, a bit of funk; and parts of this remind me of Frank Marino, and Pat Travers (pre-Shrapnel records). They include a couple covers: Going Down, and Wild Horses. Incidentally, their father Jim Dickinson played on the original Wild Horses. The only reason this cd didn't make my top 20 is a couple of the more "radio friendly" tunes lyrically/vocally remind me a little bit too much of 38 Special, but that could just be me… Still, at the end of the day, I love this cd.
* Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King - Have Blues Will Travel
These Cats have been recording cd's together for 20 years and are (IMO) unheralded royalty in the blues community. This is their 2nd Alligator Records release. There is plenty of tasty slide and lead guitar all over this latest effort. Nothing groundbreaking here - Just more Texas blues, but they are masters of their craft… The opening title track is reminiscent of early ZZ Top. Some of the lyrics on this cd are a little too "tongue in cheek" for me, but the strong guitarwork makes up for it… To summarize, Smokin' Joe and Bnois both play the shit out of the blues; and Texas blues aficionado's and fans of guitar in the vein of Hendrix, Freddie King (whom Joe backed up on rhythm guitar), Stevie Ray, Chris Duarte, etc will dig this cd.
* Railroad Earth (Self Titled)
RR is one of the rare jamgrass bands that don't bore me senseless after 30 minutes (SCI?). In fact, I have been following these Cats for about 5 years now and own all their cd's. Although their product is usually and rightly in the bluegrass section, like their last release "Amen Corner" this cd is IMO more roots/Americana and less bluegrass compared to their earlier recordings. The band is still very tight, and there is plenty of great storytelling and jamming guitar, violin, and mandolin to treat your ears to.
* Widespread Panic - Dirty Side Down
This cd didn't initially grab me; I got sucked in after listening to it quite a few times and then catching their 3 night run in Oakland back in October. The production is great, Jimmy Herring is continuing to gel with the band and sounding less like a hired gun… But as good as this cd is, it doesn't match what I still consider to be the best Panic cd's: Space Wrangler, Mom's Kitchen, Everyday, Ain't Life Grand, and 'Til the Medicine Takes - That is why it didn't make my top 20. That being said, most old school Panic fans AND Panic newbies should dig this music.
* Vinnie Zummo - Swinging Guitar Sounds Of Young America: Volume 2
I discovered Vinnie around 2007, via Myspace! He's based in NYC and best known as Joe Jackson's guitar player. He is yet another badass NYC musician, one of the more unknown guitarists on my radar, deserving of wider recognition, and also a very adept drummer (he plays accordion and harmonica too). There are guests a plenty on this cd too. Too many to list all of them, but here a few of them: Shawn Pelton, Mark Egan, Mike Mainieri, and John Sebastian (Lovin' Spoonful)… I am still absorbing this recently released cd, it's a lot of different styles of music to take in. This cd is meant to be a tribute to his musical heroes, and it's fun to pick out who inspired which tunes. I am hearing some Jeff Beck, BB King, Cream, Jimi, some Beatles (nobody does the George Harrison slide sound better), Patsy Cline, John Abercrombie, and some Elvin Jones to start with... I also recommend his 2006 release SGSOYA Volume 1 (http://bit.ly/hCjTUw).
If I had to pick a favorite cd of 2010, I would say it's a tie between Anders Osborne, and Trombone Shorty; with the 7 Walkers not far behind.
Other realizations I made, or was reminded of, while composing this blog (aside from the fact I spend too much money on music):
* I Like Rounder Records (Willie, and Robert Plant)
* I Like Alligator Records (Mofro, Anders, and Smokin' Joe)
* 2010 was the year of Nobody's Fault but Mine (recorded by Frisell, Willie, and Vegas crooner Tom Jones).
* I still consider Lee Townsend a superstar producer.
* I should consider relocating to Nola, or at least try to make it to Jazzfest this year!