It’s been a good year of music. At this point I’m just piling on, but here’s what I heard this year that was the best of the best.
Top Ten Albums of 2010
- Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues. Somehow managing to combine the spirit of Woody Guthrie with the soul of Memphis, it only seems appropriate they meet somewhere in the middle, namely Earle’s adopted home of New York City. This record has a stripped down production ethic that simultaneously creates a wall of sound. And the songs themselves are a testament to how Junior may outstrip both his dad and his namesake. Sit back, close your eyes, and just let it wash over you.
- Robert Plant – Band of Joy. Picking a record featuring Plant, Patty Griffin, and Buddy Guy is maybe a safe choice. But I can’t help but feel this was a musicians record. No one needed the money or the validation or the exposure. This album has a little something for everyone, from old-timey to Motown to 60’s pop, and it nails it all. It just kept growing on me and is likely to stay in my car rotation for a while longer.
- Alejandro Escovedo – Street Songs Of Love. Escovedo has a long history of covering a lot of genres. For this release he reached into his past and pulled inspiration from his early days with The Nuns and the True Believers. This is rock and roll, and roots rock, at its finest.
- The Avett Brothers – Live, Volume 3. The Avetts have been building a loyal fan base for several years, and this record conveys the passion they have for those fans and vice versa. It also proves you can write songs with depth and still have women swoon over you.
- John Prine – In Person & On Stage. The second live album in my top five, but, hey, I’m a big live-music fan. Prine can tell a story like no one else in the business and he’s been out telling those stories on stage for decades. This disc captures the essence of that.
- Carrie Rodriguez – Love & Circumstance. This record isn’t for those whose emotions are easily manipulated. It passes along a sense of melancholy like a contagious flu outbreak an in elementary school: you’re going to get it no matter what you do. But the cover of Hank William’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry is a masterpiece.
- Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig. If you do happen to get self-possessed after listening to the Carrie Rodriguez disc, this is your antidote. You have no choice but to get up and dance. Or at least bob your head around and tap your feet in your chair.
- Terri Hendrix – Cry Till You Laugh. The belle of San Marcos, TX, has outdone herself on this effort. It covers a lot of ground musically and lyrically, and it’s just one of those things you can put in the CD player for anyone and they’ll enjoy it.
- Patty Griffin – Downtown Church. Mavis Staples had a pretty good album this year, but if you want to really hear the gospel spirit injected into a record, I recommend this. It’s not really gospel songs in much of any sense, and yet after every listen you’ll swear you’ve been to church.
- Elizabeth Cook – Welder. Another singer-songwriter from Nashville that stands for practically everything Nashville doesn’t. This is probably the twangiest record in my list, but even if that isn’t your gig, give this a listen. Great songs from a great singer.
Top Five Live Sets Of 2010
- Alejandro Escovedo. This set at Austin’s Old Settler’s Music Festival is the one I’ve told more people about than anything else I’ve seen this year. It was before Street Songs Of Love had been released and the crowd was expecting the rootsy-Americana songs from his last couple of albums. Instead, he came out rocking. It was a head-banging, air-guitar inducing testament to musical energy. Still sends a chill down my spine thinking about it.
- The Band Of Heathens. Another one from OSMF. I saw the Heathens 3 times this year, but this is the one I’ll remember. Half way through their set the heavens opened up with rain like something from a Francis Ford Coppola epic. The event manager announced they were going to have to turn off the electricity since the power distribution system was getting flooded. So the band pulled out their acoustic instruments and finished the set getting soaked to the bone. And half the crowd stayed out in it with them.
- The Dukes of September. This supergroup of 70’s icons (Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald) did a brief tour in the fall. I was expecting a rehash of each musicians greatest hits, but they delivered so much more than that. Sure, they did a few of their hits, but also covered everything from blues classics to the Grateful Dead. This is why you should go see live music. Pure joy.
- Trombone Shorty. Hard to bet against someone doing a set of New Orleans style jazz/funk/blues/pop. But even when you know what’s coming, it’s better than you expected. This is a party, and you can hardly go wrong seeing Trombone Shorty live.
- The Infamous Stringdusters. One of the latest generation of newgrass-inspired jam bands, these guys can do everything from John Hartford to Bono. Getting the crowd worked into a frenzy is a specialty of theirs. Plan on being on your feet, grinning your butt off for most of the show.
OK, so that’s my contribution to the various best-of posts. Have a musically saturated 2011.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.