Top ten albums of 2010


5 Ene 2011, 22:30

First, a few honorable mentions....

April Smith and The Great Picture ShowSongs for a Sinking Ship
Fun, if a bit shallow.

Carolina Chocolate DropsGenuine Negro Jig
Title track is one of the year's best.
"Snowden's Jig (Genuine Negro Jig)"

Deer TickThe Black Dirt Sessions
Would love to hear them cover "Please Don't Judas Me".
"Choir of Angels"

Eilen JewellButcher Holler
No one does a better Loretta Lynn cover.
"A Man I Hardly Know - Feat. Eilen Jewell"

jjjj n° 3
They can find their way to a hook, and they know what to do once they've found it.
"Let Go"

Good, if a bit distant.

Mala RodriguezDirty Bailarina
Intense, well-written hip-hop.
"En La Linea"

Mumford & SonsSigh No More
The fierce younger brother in London's new-folk crowd.
"Thistle & Weeds"

Norah Jones...Featuring
Just simply a good idea.
"Creepin' In"

Patty GriffinDowntown Church
Gospel is a natural fit for her voice & style.
"Never Grow Old (feat. Buddy Miller)"

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah DogsGod Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise
Not as strong as previous albums, but pretty good throughout.
"Old Before Your Time"

Sean HayesRun Wolves Run
Always one of the more interesting and original singer-songwriters.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-KingsI Learned the Hard Way
Rougher than their session work for others, which is perfect for Jones.
"The Game Gets Old"

Smoke FairiesGhosts
Gorgeous, haunting blend of British & American folk styles.
"Living With Ghosts"

Trombone ShortyBackatown
Manages to blend jazz & funk in a very organic way.
"In the 6th"

Every year I miss a few good albums. And every year, it seems that at least one of them would have made my Top 10. So I'm going to devote a little space to one, even if it is a year late. This particular album would probably have been my number one of 2009, if only I had heard it in time. Besides which, it was released in late November, so it's practically a 2010 album anyway.

#1 2009 Omission: MotoponyMotopony
The first song I heard from this was "Seer", and it hooked me very quickly. By the time the first verse was over, I was downloading the album. Before I had listened to the album one time through, I was recommending it to people. A year later, it hasn't lost its luster. Daniel Blue is clearly a man with vision, and the creativity to back it up. The album is thoroughly unique, but fully realized at the same time—more a statement than an experiment. Can't wait to see where it goes from here.
"Seer" "God Damn Girl"

I usually exclude EPs from my list, for several reasons. But in recent years, and especially with the influence of the iTunes store, there have been some pretty significant ones. I'll mention one below in the regular list, but let me just throw a little light on the one that I consider the best of the year, here.

#1 EP: Diana JonesSparrow
Diana Jones had one of my favorite albums last year, and I'm eagerly anticipating her next full album in 2011. I don't know the story behind this EP—it's not even mentioned on her own website, and barely rates a description on the sites that are selling it. But if you're at all interested in Americana/roots music, Jones should be at the top of your list of artists to check out. There are few who balance the twin challenges of originality and authenticity so effortlessly. The best Americana songs sound like unearthed gems—not new, but never heard before—and every one of these songs fits that description. It's gorgeous, and only amplifies my excitement for her next full album.
"Love O Love" "Sparrow"

And finally, on to the list proper. It was another really great year for music, I have to say. Great new artists, surprisingly good albums from artists I hadn't been impressed with before, and even great returns from artists I did enjoy before. Normally at least one of those groups disappoints, but not this year. But without further ado . . .

10. The Black KeysBrothers
The Black Keys seem to have created a whole new area of the blues, just for themselves. You can always spot a Keys tune pretty quickly, but they do manage to keep finding new territory to roam around in. Being only a moderate blues fan, their albums aren't always consistently compelling for me, but most of this one hit the right notes. It does drag a bit in the last third, but it's never less than good. And it's often pretty great.
"Ten Cent Pistol" "Howlin' for You"

9. AṣaBeautiful Imperfection
Asa seems to be catching her stride. Her debut a couple of years ago had one really stunning song, "Fire on the Mountain", but the rest of it was unimpressive. While the new album doesn't have another spectacular song like that, it is more consistently strong overall. She has a good sense of how a song can have a hook without being simplistic or shallow. Like a lot of politically minded artists, her weak spot is lyrics which are often gracelessly blunt. But they are a bit more refined (and thus less distracting) this time around.
"Bimpe" "Be My Man"

8. Johnny FlynnBeen Listening
He is a really remarkable songwriter, weaving together cynicism and cheerfulness as though they were natural complements. This album is certainly darker than his last, and there are a couple of songs in the last third of the album where the bitterness seems to win over. But for the most part it's a really great listen. It's great on the surface, and the lyrics reward a deeper look. Flynn is another member of London's new-folk scene, and his instrumentation is always interesting.
"Lost And Found" "Barnacled Warship"

7. Dylan LeBlancPauper's Field
There are plenty of people these days that sound like Neil Young, and to my ear almost every one of them is an improvement on the original. But just a few of them stand out from the crowd, and newcomer LeBlanc is one. Having listened to this album a few times, I was surprised to then discover his age. There is a depth and texture to this album that isn't often achieved by experienced musicians, much less on a 19-year-old's debut. His crutches are sometimes apparent—a bit too much reliance on the steel guitar, and hewing a little close to his influences (the aforementioned Young, as well as contemporaries like Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine), etc. But none of these is fault enough to really mar the experience, and I strongly suspect that they'll be less in evidence on future albums.
"If Time Was For Wasting" "Changing of the Seasons"

6. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani DiabatéAli & Toumani
The final collaboration between these two great artists doesn't sound like a coda, or like the rushed four-day recording session it was. It sounds like two musicians at the height of their talents, with an easy ability to blend into each other's work. Touré's blues guitar and Diabaté's kora are gorgeous together, and there is a patience at the heart of this album that is truly rare. The result is a meditative, lilting, celebratory hour of music, the most fitting eulogy imaginable for Touré himself. It's incredible that in this last recording session, practically on his death bed, he was still exploring new musical styles. That the results of that exploration are so fruitful and vivid is incredible on its own.
"Be Mankan" "Samba Geladio"

5. The Budos BandThe Budos Band III
I'm afraid that I don't have much intelligent to say about The Budos Band, or about the Afro-beat genre as a whole. The only criterion I really have for it is that it be compelling, and this album certainly is that. No matter where my mind is when I put the album on, I know that within five minutes I'll be in sync with where the music is going. They show some real progression from earlier releases, espeecially as they wade into darker territory with tracks like "Raja Haje" and "Black Venom". It's a more diverse album overall, but still as tight as Budos II was.
"Nature's Wrath" "Raja Haje"

4. Justin Townes EarleHarlem River Blues
Justin Townes Earle is wearing his influences openly on this one, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I won't be the first person to note the sounds of Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis, etc. on this album. And Earle isn't the first person in recent memory to so openly channel such artists. But where the music of Ryan Adams or Dan Bern sound like homages at best, and rip-offs at worst, Earle's songwriting elevates his music beyond such peers. It's also common for reviewers to note the ironies of singing bona fide country songs about New York subway lines and the Harlem River. Beyond the irony, though, what shows through in those moments is Earle's confidence, his well deserved sense that this music is his. He may sound like Johnny Cash, either purposefully or not, but he's not borrowing from anyone. If the apocryphal Picasso quote about artistry & theft is true, then Earle is a great artist. He has stolen this music, and now he's treating as his own. The genre is all the better for it.
"Harlem River Blues" "Working for the MTA"

3. Crooked StillSome Strange Country
Crooked Still play bluegrass with a vitality that makes it hard to use words like 'old-fashioned', and impossible to use words like 'retro' or 'nostalgic'. The songs on this album are mostly traditional, to be sure, but the arrangements and especially the performances are fresh and innovative. The best part is that the band don't rely on novel instrumentation or genre fusion to achieve this, but rather simply on their own talent. Previous releases have been energetic and compelling, if inconsistent, but this time it all comes together. The band's vision is pure and clear, and the execution impeccable. This album is engaging from start to finish, time after time.
"Henry Lee" "The Golden Vanity"

2. The MynabirdsWhat We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
The story goes that Laura Burhenn wanted to put together a band with a sound like Neil Young playing Motown. Honestly, that's not a description that would appeal to me very much. On the other hand, The Mynabirds do sound a bit like that, and it's pretty great. The reasons, though, go well beyond the novelty and genre-bending of that concept. What makes this such an incredible album is Burhenn herself. Both her songwriting and her vocal talents are unquestionable. The Mynabirds' music is muscular, beautiful, and deep—all of which characteristics only increase with repeated exposure. This would be an incredibly strong second or third album; the fact that it's a debut gives me reason to hope for the condition of the world.
"Numbers Don't Lie" "Let the Record Go" "We Made a Mountain"

1. The Tallest Man on EarthThe Wild Hunt & Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird
It's not easy for me to put a Swede in the number one spot on my list. I'm not sure if it's ironic or perfectly apt, then, that this is some of the most distinctively, authentically American music I've heard. There's a rawness to Kristian Mattson's performance, and it does a great job of masking the depth and complexity behind every chord, and every word. You can, at some level, just listen: Mattson's guitar and voice break from the speakers with a timeless urgency, and it's not your head that he's calling to. I've listened to this album many, many times; I can sing along with every line, but I couldn't tell you what the words are actually saying. Not because the lyrics are cryptic or inscrutable, but because the meaning really isn't the point. The point is immersion, and The Wild Hunt is a wonderfully rich setting for it. Simplicity and directness lead directly to (and sometimes overlap) elaborate, delicate structures, all with an organic quality that makes it seem impossibly easy.
I'm also throwing in his recent EP, Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird, partly because it's also really good, and partly because one particular song, "The Dreamer", represents a departure from TMoE's characteristic stripped-down sound. It reminds me of a similar departure on Iron & Wine's Woman King EP, which was a portent of the sound to come. Let me just say that if the same is true of this song, I can't wait. Either way though, really, I can't wait.
"Burden of Tomorrow" "The Drying of the Lawns" "Troubles Will Be Gone" "The Dreamer"


  • Saveall

    Nice list. Judging from the ones that I do have...I need to find the rest that I don't!

    8 Ene 2011, 16:33
  • spoko

    Thanks for looking. Hope you find something good in what you hadn't heard!

    8 Ene 2011, 18:30
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