Monthly Archives: December 2010

T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #7

The Sights’ newest release Most of What Follows Is True might be their best yet, and that’s saying a mouthful. Despite their relatively young age, these garage/pop/blues rockers have distilled the essence of primal garage inspirations like The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Pretty Things with a modern pop sound (many pull out a Supergrass comparison, and that’s not far off).

Video: “Rock and Roll Circus”

But it’s their versatility that slays me. “Guilty” is raucous, guttural rock’n’roll that intimates more horns that it actually contains. “Maria” is music hall crossed with sixties pop – like The Kinks and Small Faces made careers upon; shit, “Tick Talkies” all but has tap dancing in it. “Take and Take” and “How Do You Sleep” (with traces of “Tin Soldier” DNA in it) mine Freakbeat waters, and “Back To You” and “I Left My Muse“? Americana meets garage.

And can they wail? Oh yeah…”Nose to The Grindstone” closes the album with that 60s/70s FM deep track vibe that is so sorely missed today.

Video: “Nose To The Grindstone“.

The Sights are yet one more underrated American band – and from Detroit, mind you – who deserve much bigger and better things. Now a four piece (Eddie Baranek on guitar and vocals, Dave Lawson on bass and vocals, drummer Skip Denomme and Gordon Smith on guitar, keyboards and vocals), they’ve had a few changes over the years including Bobby Emmett, whose solo album was in my top ten last year.  This effort is their first studio album in five years, and it was worth the wait.

All of what follows is true

  • Their albums groove.
  • They’re Nugget-y.
  • You will play them often and loud. 
  • I highly recommend you check out their entire catalogue.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

Enlist in The Sights Army

The Sights on MySpace.

Four guys, totally fab.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #8

If the overt visual homage to Jesus Of Cool didn’t tip you off that there’s some Nick Lowe influence here, one spin through this excellent debut disc will clearly prove that Edward O’Connell is a product of his influences. Had he Photoshopped Elvis Costello’s head on those shoulders instead of a paper bag, you’d have his two major ingredients clearly identified.

Pop guy influenced by Nick Lowe? Maybe that’s why I immediately thought of Walter Clevenger when I heard Our Little Secret. If like me you are pining for Clevenger to release another album, I implore you to grab this one, for it pushes all the same buttons (I bet you could play “With This Ring” to a Clevenger fan and fool him).

What separates O’Connell from most artists with melodic chops is strong lyrical songwriting. Gotta figure that a law student knows his way around a lexicon, and like Elvis Costello, there’s a lot going on in and between the lines. I was gobsmacked at just how good this album is wall-to-wall. The lyrical wordplay of “Acres of Diamonds”, “Happy Black” and “We Will Bury You” is at a level I would expect from a vet like John Hiatt. How could I never have even heard his name before when he drops this as his debut?

Jangly, chiming guitars. Massive hooks and choruses. Superior vocals. Organic warmth. A sound that recalls (in addition to the aforementioned geniuses) Tom Petty, The Byrds, Richard X. Heyman, Teenage Fanclub, Michael Carpenter and their ilk. As fulfilling on the tenth play as the first. Why he has a bag over his head like The Unknown Comic is beyond me; this is clearly a major pop release that deserves widespread attention.

Let’s not make this (ahem) Our Little Secret – spread the word far and wide. We just might have a major pop star on our hands.

Listen to clips at Amazon or CD BABY

Edward O’Connell website

Edward O’Connell on MySpace

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #9

Normally when a band gives itself four stars, it’s unwarranted. Not this time.

Craig Fox, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler might have been on hiatus from The Greenhornes, but they’ve been actively peppering your album collection as members of The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs or backing up Loretta Lynn with Jack White on Van Lear Rose. You can have the Animal Collective; I’ll take Brendan Benson, Jack White and the collaborative Venn diagram between Cincinnati and Detroit that’s released some of the most vibrant music of the decade.

Their marriage of 60s blues rock and garage pop is revered in the same circles that bow to The Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings and a serious chunk of the Underground Garage playlist. Basically anyone with a solid rock’n’roll pulse.

Video: “I’ve Been Down”

Eight years after their last album release, the boys are (finally) back in town, and Four Stars kicks ass from jump street. While “Saying Goodbye” blends the early Who (right down to the Keith Moon drum fills) and The Kinks, the standout is the organ-drenched “Better Off Without It”. My immediate first impression, oddly, was Wilco circa Being There; a pure garage-pop-psychedelia-blues hybrid that makes me turn up the volume and hit the replay button again and again and again. And my god…Craig Fox’s voice?

Easily one of the best songs of the year – listen for yourself!

Yet another example of the great music sailing under most people’s radar. If you’re not already hooked into these guys, catch up now and stay focused.

The Greenhornes website

The Greenhornes on MySpace

Jack White’s Third Man Records

Lost a few people over the past week; Hall of Famer Bob Feller, Captain Beefheart and Blake Edwards. And yesterday, sadly, Steve Landesberg lost his battle with cancer. I recently paid tribute to the man on his birthday, but like just about everyone, I had no idea that he fudged his age until today.

So a belated 76th birthday, Steve, not a 65th. RIP regardless.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #10

Farrah is a vastly underappreciated pop band whose catalogue is swimming in great songs. Their latest self-titled effort is no exception; in fact it’s the Fountains of Wayne record that you didn’t get this year. (Check out “Scarborough“, a kissing cousin to FOW’s “Valley Winter Song”.)

“Swings and Roundabouts”, the opening track, is about as perfect a cross between Paul McCartney and ELO that you will ever hear. Like “Just Driving” and the pulsing piano pop of “If You Were Mine” , it screams radio hit. Hell, there isn’t a duff track on the album.

Video: “Swings and Roundabouts

Equally adept at delicate ballads (“Wasting Time”, “DNA”) and infectious pop rockers, Farrah is simply bloody brilliant. Jez Ashurt has a knack for hooks and melody and his lead vocals are instantly engaging (as are his duets – Kim Richey excels on “Abby’s Going Out”).  Everyone in the band adds vocals as well; kudos to Andy Campbell on guitar, drummer Dana Myzer and bassist Michelle Margherita. Absolutely criminal that they’ve barely made a dent in the US, but that is par for the course.

So you might as well head to Amazon and get your copy now. And grab Cut Out And Keep while you’re there. And Moustache. Good luck finding Me Too.

And then tell everybody you know.

Farrah on MySpace.

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Under The Radar: Rod Stewart??

Yep.

In 2010, The Faces finally reunited after several aborted attempts, subbing Simply Red moptop Mick Hucknall in the Rod Stewart seat and grabbing original Sex Pistol bassist Glen Matlock to stand in for the late, great Ronnie Lane. (Somewhere, Tetsu raised a pint. And then probably a few more…)

In 2010, Rod Stewart released yet another collection of American croooner covers, his fifth, which once again endeared him to housewives, daytime television talk shows and background noise radio. Oh…and probably fattened his wallet by another few million pounds.

Most people who revile the MOR album collections remember Rod as the spiky haired carouser who juggled his own stellar solo career with his stint as lead beverage in The Faces. It was a phenomenal run, albeit a short one, but the influence from Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story and A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse continues to live on in bands from The Black Crowes to The Diamond Dogs. Add in The Small Faces and Paul Weller and you can pretty much trace the genealogy of every Britpop band since then.

While Stewart arguably hasn’t been a viable writer since the early 80s, there was a glimmer of hope eleven years ago, a road flare from the tour bus called When We Were The New Boys. Yes, it was a cover album (except for the title track, an American Pie take on his own career), but the covers were from the likes of Oasis and Primal Scream and Graham Parker…and they rocked! Of course he couldn’t sustain it, but the ballads (including covers of Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith) were done well. as a longtime fan I was excited that he rediscovered his muse. Now twelve years later, I’m still waiting for another sign.

I really have mixed emotions about his cover of “Ooh La La”. He sings it well, although that song will be forever owned by Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane. One could say that it’s a heartfelt nod to his old bandmate, except that…well, his timing sucks. Lane’s battle with MS was painful and long, and he was far from financially solvent thanks to the mountainous bills that illnesses like that generate. Sure would have been nice if Rod would have covered this when he was at the apex of his stadium dates…or if he had gone back on the road with his old mates. Huge royalties and tour money would have made a major impact upon Lane’s options. But no

I don’t hate Rod Stewart. Hell, I don’t even know Rod Stewart. And lord knows what I would do if someone rolled up to me and told me I could make millions of dollars by transforming myself into…well, the highest paid karaoke singer on the planet. I just feel like I’ve watched a guy with once-in-a-generation talent take the easy road rather than push the envelope.

So it’s quite possible that you did miss this blip on the radar, halfway between “Love Touch” and “Fly Me To The Moon”. I heartily recommend that you grab it – I’ll add in my original review if I can find the damned thing – because “Hotel Chambermaid” and “Rocks Off” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” and “Ooh La La” are worth the price of admission and then some. And yes, I will hold out hope in my heart that the old rooster has one last hurrah left in him.

If you want to know what all the Rod Stewart fuss was about, try the excellent collection Sessions…or read this.  And if you want to hear a full length tribute to Ronnie Lane, go get Ian McLagan’s wonderful Spiritual Boy (as well as Plonk’s catalogue, of course).

When We Were The New Boys at Amazon.

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Blast From The Past: Sheryl Crow

Digging through albums while assembling candidates for end-of-the-year’s “Best Of” is always fun;because I invariably come across a forgotten treat. In this case, it was Sheryl Crow’s third album, The Globe Sessions.

WTF, Doc? She’s a mainstream success, a household word!

Yeah? So what? Her first album was launched on the backs of her songwriter circle collaborators – a cardinal sin – and lately she’s been so glammed up she makes Liz Phair look positively indie again. There’s a slew of people who love her regardless of what tripe whe shovels out (her cover of “The First Cut Is The Deepest” was brutal)…but there are also people who slag her simply because she’s successful…or has legs to die for. I prefer to consider the music above the rest.

I’m just saying that sometimes you need to be more open-minded. This was a good album – here’s my original review from TransAction Magazine.

Crow’s third record is a large leap forward, and she may have finally shaken the critical backlash shes been wallowing in ever since her initial success. Maybe its the freedom the label gave her, maybe its a natural maturation of a songwriter, or maybe she just doesnt give a shit about pleasing others anymore, but whatever crawled up her back and forced this out should be bottled and saved.

Amid the nods to Tom Petty, The Band and especially The Rolling Stones, Crow’s confessional songs about sour relationships, painful affairs and surviving the nineties are light years better than her previous work. She wrote most of the songs on bass to force a fresh approach and produced the record herself; songs like “My Favorite Mistake”, There Goes The Neighborhood”, “Anything But Down” and “Am I Getting Through” are much the better for it.

The instrumentation is diverse and well chosen, and her vocals have never been better. Bonus video of “My Favorite Mistake” for those playing the CD on their computer. Give this one a spin before you dismiss her; you might be very surprised at what you think afterwards.

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