(No TGIF today as we conclude the 2010 countdown…)
When all is said and done, rock’n’roll is supposed to be a release, whether that’s from the pulsating rhythm of the music, the depth of the lyrical message or the sheer enjoyment of playing the damned thing loud. It’s hard enough to compare the apples and oranges of music, but when I was finalizing the list I asked myself… which album brought me the most pleasure? Which did I play the most often? Which did I look forward to playing, even if I had heard it thirty times?
And so I give you Pictures from The Len Price 3.
Video: “Mr. Grey“
Recalling the great kinetic music of The Kinks, The Creation, The Small Faces and the early Who, the trio blends in irresistible pop vocals (think Sire-era Searchers or The Records) and punk energy (The Jam and The Clash being obvious influences). The result is a baker’s dozen of explosive three-minute singles; kudos to the production of Graham Day (The Prisoners, Graham Day and the Gaolers).
The album launches itself with the title track (led by Keith Moon drum fills) and follows that jab with the right cross of the celebretard anthem “Keep Your Eyes On Me“, one of 2010’s absolute classics.
Free Download (while it lasts!): “Keep Your Eyes On Me”
By the time I got to the third track, “I Don’t Believe You” I already knew I was gobsmacked…and then it just got better. Music like this is the epitome of what the Underground Garage is going for, so it’s no wonder that Little Steven signed these guys onto his Wicked Cool label. I really liked their first two albums Rentacrowd and Chinese Burn, but Pictures is a leap forward even from those. I had it pegged as a best-of contender when it came out in January, and sure enough, it held off all comers to finish as the best album of 2010.
Listen to clips at Amazon
Video: “I Don’t Believe You”
Len Price 3 on MySpace
The Prisoners heritage is clear
It’s not often that a veteran artist belts one out of the park deep into their career; most tend to hit the heights early on and then survive on reputation. Of course there are many who are consistently good over many years (although the musical landscape doesn’t really permit that anymore unless you are bringing in the coin). Tom Petty, U2 and Bruce Springsteen can write their own ticket, but artists less familiar who don’t sell big numbers have a tougher road to hoe.
Christine Ohlman, a/k/a The Beehive Queen, has survived that tough road for a long time thanks to an unwavering committment to follow her instincts and ignore musical fads and trends. As a walking musical encyclopedia with a ten-star voice and an ability to channel soul and passion through her music, she’s made several great records. But with The Deep End, she stepped up to the plate and crushed that fastball. Crack musicianship, first-rate songwriting, a dazzling array of guest artist collaborators, and – most importantly – the soul of Christine Ohlman fusing it all together.
Video: inside take on The Deep End
I had the great pleasure of seeing the band play two sets this past Summer, and had a brief audience with the Queen afterwards. While that has nothing to do with my feelings about this album – I had already made that clear in April – I was thrilled to find that she was every bit the delightful, witty and appreciative musicologist that I hoped she’d be (bee?). If you’ve been a fan over the years you already know what a great album The Deep End is. But if you are new to Christine and her catalogue…and I suspect many of you are…man, do you have some sweet moments ahead of you.
Listen to clips at Amazon
You’ve heard the phrase actions speak louder than words? Well, before I say any more I implore you to watch this video clip and tell me it isn’t the most ass-shaking, head-knocking rock and roll track of 2010…
Video: “High Horse”
The Jim Jones Revue can lay claim to being the fiercest rock’n’roll band on tha planet right now, and while that might not prove absolute, I guarantee you they’d be in the final rounds. Slam some Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis down your throat and follow it with a chaser of Ziggy-era David Bowie and The Stooges and you’re only scratching the surface.
Video: “Shoot First”
The band exploded (probably literally) on the English scene in 2008 and issued a hastily recorded self-titled album; last year a compilation of singles and b-sides called Here To Save Your Soul followed. Jones (formerly of Thee Hypnotics) fronts a powerhouse band featuring guitarist Rupert Orton, bassist Gavin Jay, drummer Nick Jones and keyboard player Elliot Mortimer. Everyone is great – obviously – but it’s piano man Mortimer whose raucous boogie-woogie attack gives the band its hybrid punk/rockabilly energy. It’s scary how good this band has gotten in less than two years; I cannot wait to see them live.
Video: Live at the Dirty Water Club
Burning Your House Down is not only one of 2010’s most aptly named albums, it’s one of the loudest records you will ever own.
And it is absolutely one of the best.
Melt your ears at Amazon
Jim Jones website
Jim Jones Revue on MySpace
I first came across The 88 when I heard one of their songs and thought a band was channeling The Kinks. Little did I realize that a few short years later, this band would be backing Ray Davies on tour, essentially standing in for my favorite band of all time. And although you might not know the band nor the names of anyone in the group, you’ve no doubt heard their music peppering the soundtracks of many television shows and films.
Video: “Theme from “Community”
Their knack for hooks and melody exudes an inescapable charm, and lead singer Keith Slettedahl darts around the scale with the ease of Fred Astaire on a dance floor. The current lineup (with keyboard player Adam Merrin, bassist Todd O’Keefe and drummer Anthony Zimmitti) is a tight-knit unit, and their sound is as strong on a delicate ballad as a full blown rave-up. I really like the way the keyboards are used on this album, adding flavors from garage rock to piano pop to the music hall DNA The Kinks mined in the early 70s.
Video: “All ‘Cause of You” (live)
I felt they were on quite a roll from album to album but thought the last one (This Must Be Love) was a bit of a dip. A solid record, it just was more sedate than the other efforts; I think they’re at their best when playing more uptempo fare. So this eponymous album, their fifth, was a return to form in my book and one of the best listens of the year.
Fans of Fountains of Wayne, The Zombies, XTC, The Kinks…hell, anyone with a pop heart will eat this stuff up. Great vocals, great songwriting – go buy their records so you won’t have to sit through tripe like Gossip Girl.
Video: “They Ought To See You Now”
Listen to tracks at Amazon – on sale for $5 today!
The 88 homepage
The 88 on MySpace
You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.
Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.
Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.
Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?
Video: “Speed Of Life”
I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.
The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.
Listen to clips on Amazon
The Grip Weeds on MySpace
Outstanding in their field.
The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:
Video: “Love Me Like A Man”
The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!
Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…
This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.
Listen to clips on Amazon
Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour
The Mother Truckers on MySpace
Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Rock’n’Roll Christmas!