The following is a link to iTunes to download a playlist containing songs from many of the records I reviewed below: BOBBY K’S 2010 PICKS. I took great care in arranging this playlist, which I think you’ll enjoy as a CD in and of itself. If you click on an artist’s name below, it will take you to his/her web site. Clicking on the title of the record will take you to a site to buy the record.
Recently, I was thinking about the fact that my music listening habits have changed a lot over the last couple of years, and not for the better. While trying to figure out what exactly these changes were and why they occurred, I realized that I wasn’t concentrating on the music as I had been in the past . . . I just wasn’t as focused. Then I read an article in the Rolling Stone Magazine that discussed how, on average, kids between the ages of 15 to 24 yrs old listen to 1 ½ hours of music less per day than their peers did from five years ago. The article concluded that kids are bombarded with so many outside distractions, like Facebook, computer surfing, gaming, fantasy football and so on – that listening to music has become one of many multi-tasking distractions, rather than a primary activity. I thought about this article for a few days and concluded that this problem not only affects our children, but also negatively affects our generation. Just a few years ago, I would sit down and listen to music . . . listen to an entire record. That was my activity. Now, most of the time when I listen to music at home, I’m checking my e-mails on the computer, I’m reading articles about the Jets, the Mets (that can depress the hell out of you), Israel, browsing through ESPN, fantasy football, you name it. I’m doing all of these different things, and the music is in the background. So it’s only logical that sometimes a great song can be playing and I just miss it. The songs that do get my attention are those that are more aggressive, upbeat songs that have really catchy hooks. I wonder if this is one of the many reasons our children have fallen so hard for rap music because the beat of rap is so rhythmic that kids can feel the music while concentrating on other activities.
Thanks to this Newsletter I re-listened to all the records I bought this year with a heightened level of concentration. I realized there were quite a few records I didn’t like give much attention to when I first listened to them, but are actually terrific records. Most of these records have a subtlety to them that if I wasn’t giving them my full attention were easy to miss. For instance, I thought the Shelby Lynn record (reviewed below) was a downright boring record the first few times I listened to it. I revisited it a month or so ago and really concentrated on it. The funny thing is, now I can’t get it off my turntable. The same thing happened with the Ryan Bingham record, which was so disappointing to me when it was first released. When I re-listened to it with focus, I fell in love with the subtle and beautiful instrumentation and melodies.
At a recent James Maddock concert I had an epiphany that the secret of live music is that it forces one to focus on the music with few outside distractions. At this show, James played in a beautiful church in Montclair, New Jersey with a piano player and guitar player (Dave Immergluck from the Counting Crows). There were no distractions at the concert. . . just the audience and this trio of incredibly talented musicians. Listening to these musicians, I started to really appreciate how superior the songs are on James new record (reviewed below). This show had a profound affect on me as it not only heightened my appreciation of James’ new record, it reaffirmed my love and faith in, and importance of, live music. In fact, it inspired me to make a trip to Jazz Fest in April with my cousin Steven from Portland.
Now that I’ve recognized that these outside distractions adversely affect an important, substantive, soulful and spiritual form of enjoyment . . . music, I am more dedicated then ever to continue spreading the word of new music to anyone that will listen. So before I review the new records that I admired this year, I ask you to concentrate on two things: the song Brokenhearted on Springsteen’s new album, The Promise and the song Stars Align on James Maddock’s record. On Brokenhearted concentrate on the horns. For the first two minutes they are barely audible. Around the two minute mark they become more prominent until they dominate the song with these incredible Spanish-like riffs. At the very end of the song Bruce changes his voice and moans using a form of singing that the late, great Roy Orbison would appreciate. The second song, Stars Align I must have listened to 5 or 6 times before I gave it my full attention. When I did, I realized that this song was too intricate . . . to passive for me to understand its beauty without devoting my full attention to it.
Anyway, enough of my musing for now. I’ll end with a quote from the great hip hop artist Speech who said:
”Music is the inner expression that made us whole, that inspires us. The thing that takes us higher. The thing that reflects the better place of what society could be . . . what it should be.”
Well my friends, I hope you find a little piece of that in some of the music below.
JAMES MADDOCK – SUNRISE ON AVENUE C This record is filled with mid-tempo rock-n-roll songs and ballads that are catchy, melodic and down-right dramatic. If you like Van Morrison, David Gray and Steve Forbert you will love this record. As I said above, I went to see James Maddock in Montclair in a gorgeous church. As I sat there I couldn’t believe what a superior songwriter this guy is. The next day I listened to his record again, start to finish, . . . it just blew me away. Putting aside the Bruce record, this was my favorite record of the year. There have been few records over the last decade that have hit me like this one. It’s rare these days to find a record that’s great from beginning to end, but this record is consistent throughout. His melodies are gorgeous, his lyrics are sharp and this man knows how to write a hook. The secret to James’ magic is that he can be so quiet and dramatic at the same time. James was the leader of the group Wood that released the great record Songs on Stafford Hill in 2000. At the time, Wood received a lot of positive press and reviews and even had a song on a hit TV show. He then disappeared for a decade and recently resurfaced with the release of this record. The record is getting a lot of airplay on Satellite Radio. While the title track Sunrise on Avenue C was the song that hooked me into this record, my favorite song changes with each listen. My current favorite tracks, besides Sunrise On Avenue C are Fragile, Straight Line and Stars Align. I’m really confident I will be listening to this record for the next 20 years.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – THE PROMISE What can I say . . . just incredible. A total gift from Bruce. Not only are there so many great songs on this two record set, the remastered Darkness and DVD re-contextualizes Darkness On the Edge of Town for me. I now understand the darkness . . the sparseness that Bruce was trying to achieve with Darkness and its elevated the record for me . . even though it didn’t need any elevation. Almost all of the songs on The Promise (the title track being the big exception) didn’t belong on Darkness. These two records are filled with songs that are influenced by the artist from the 60’s, especially Roy Orbison. Bruce said on the DVD that he wanted Darkness to be his own, not a rehashing of the music styles that came a decade or so before him. Well, these songs scream his influences. Bruce’s genius was at his height in 1977 to 1979. He was writing songs at a pace that Mozart would have been proud of. He wrote something like 70 to 80 songs in a year for this record. Songs were popping out of him. As Little Steven said on the DVD, Bruce was throwing away hit songs on a dally basis. On this record alone are songs like Because the Night ( a major hit for Patti Smith), Fire ( a hit for the Pointer Sisters”), Talk to Me, Gotta Get That Feeling, Rendezvous and Ain’t Good Enough For You, all songs that could have been popular hits for Bruce. Little Steven always said that Bruce could have been one of the best pop songwriters of all time. Well this record proves he was right. The songs still, however, have the Bruce substance to them.
As stated in many of the reviews, these two records are not a collection of outtakes. However, I was so disappointed that Bruce started the first record with the alternative outtake of Racing In the Streets. I think that starting with an outtake confuses the listener. That being said, the first record is very good, but a it inconsistent. The highlights are the Southside-like Gotta Get that Feeling, the explosive Because the Night, One Way Street, the Roy Orbison-like Brokenhearted, Rendezvous (which never sounded better) and Candy’s Boy which has one of the best endings of a Bruce song (listen to the late, great Danny Federici’s playing on this song).
The second record is almost perfect. It starts with Save My Love which was written during the Darkness sessions, but was recorded by Bruce and the Band recently. The rest of the songs were recorded during the Darkness sessions and are just fabulous. The highlights for me on the second record are Spanish Eyes (Bruce’s singing is his best on this song), It’s A Shame, Talk to Me (the music track is the same track as the one used by Southside), the operatic Breakaway, The Promise (one of my favorite Bruce songs of all-time, though there is still a substantially better and more heart-wrenching version out there), City of Nights (which rolls so beautifully, but just is too damn short) and the hidden track The Way (a song Bruce hates, but I think is one of the best love songs he ever wrote).
Bruce fans should love this. It is just so great to get a record from Bruce’s creative talent in 1978. I’m filing these records in my collection after Born to Run and before Darkness. These are records that I’m going to wear out over the next decade. Thanks again Bruce.
PETER WOLF – MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS. Once again Peter Wolf makes a record full of soulful rock-n-roll songs. Its been eight years since Mr. Wolf’s last release. Every record he’s made in his solo career (Peter Wolf used to be the lead singer in The J Geils Band) has been excellent, and this one is no exception. The songs on this record maybe be his strongest yet. On the hysterical Overnight Lows Peter Wolf conjures up the spirit of Barry White. This song contains lyrics like “right in the dark, sittin’ all alone in my underwear, with a cold baloney sandwich and a confused, confused heart there, girl” or “I thought I’d put on some French cologne, and then I’d check out my astrological forecast . . . you know I’m a Pisces — we get kind o’ sensitive at times. Well, tonight, the signs said you’re in for some good shwacking “, or my favorite “get a little hot oil and just do a little rub-a-dub-dub-dub . . put a little bit o’ that Grateful Dead on and we’ll jam, baby , we’ll jam all night long, just you and me, holdin’ each other, I’m talkin about ecstasy, yeah, we’ll be rubbin’ a little of that oil all over our tushies”. Real funny stuff that only Wolf can pull off.
The record starts off with the great duet Tragedy between Wolf and Shelby Lynn. This song is an instant I-Pod classic. There are two other really strong duets on this record, It’s Too Late For Me with Merle Haggard, and The Green Fields of Summer with Neko Case. Other songs I really like are I Don’t Wanna Know, Don’t Try to Change Her and The Night Comes Down (for the late, great Willy DeVille). I’ve really enjoy this record and I’m confident that anyone that buys it will feel the same way.
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – HARLEM RIVER BLUES. Justin’s music is right in my wheelhouse . . a little folksy with a heavy dose of soul and blues. People have been saying that this record is inspired by Woody Guthrie . . . and I understand where they are coming from when you listen to songs like Working for the MTA and Wanderin. But the rest of the songs have a real blues, soulful feel to them. Woody never released songs like the bluesy One More Night in Brooklyn, Ain’t Waitin or Slippin’ and Slidin (which has one of the best horn section arrangements I’ve heard in years) or the gospel like Harlem River Blues. If anything, this record (other than the two songs mentioned above) is more Leadbelly influenced, than Woody. Regardless of the influences, this record is a great one from top to bottom and deserves to be mentioned with the other three records reviewed above.
RYAN BINGHAM – JUNKY STAR. Ryan music is Austin Country music, rather than Nashville Country music. Austin Country music has balls and is anything but commercial. The music range on this record is fairly narrow, but the music hits my spot. Ryan’s voice is one that will burrow inside you. Its rough and gravely, but beautiful. Like a young Tom Waits. Ryan is an artist that I’ve been excited about since his first release Mescalito in 2007. His second record, Roadhouse Sun released in 2009 was a little too raucous for my taste. He subsequently scored an Oscar with The Weary Kind, the song in Jeff Bridges’ fabulous movie Crazy Heart. I knew we would be in for a little change of pace on this record, but I wasn’t ready for such a sonic change from his last record. There is an darkness to this record, but it is not a depressing record. Highlights are The Poet, The Wandering, Hallelujah and All Chocked Up Again which has a great two minute country guitar solo at the end. I’m really excited about this artist and I am looking forward to his next release.
KID ROCK – BORN FREE. OK, OK, OK. It’s true, I’ve included Kid Rock in my year end list. I can’t believe it either. But it’s a good record with an incredible band including Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. Really catchy songs that sound like a Bob Seger record. Also, how many mega-popular rock and roll artists exist these days? Kid may be the only one left. Can you imagine after over 50 years of rock and roll, Kid Rock is the last current superstar rock and roller. Over the last couple of years Kid has been slowly working his way into my consciousness. His last record Rock-n-Roll Jesus had a few really great songs on it that caught my ear. Then John Eddie told me Kid is a top tier performer. Finally, this record comes out. Now, don’t get me wrong, the guy is still a clown and he doesn’t write his own songs. But he has a great ear and chooses good songs from other people. Maybe as he turns 40 and ages, he will continue to mature and become a vital artist. This record is a good start. It begins with the infectious Born Free which is just a classic rock and roll, anthemic, radio song. The third song Care is another hit with guest appearances by Martina McBride (I think she was Roger Clemens’ lover) and some rap artist called T.I. Other radio friendly hits are Purple Sky, and For the First Time (a ballad that shows off Kid’s surprisingly good falsetto voice). There are a slew of other good ballads on this record such as When it Rains, Collide (featuring Sheryl Crow and Seger on piano) and Times Like These. My favorite song on the record is the blues song Rock On which has some really superior guitar playing on it. Kid did cut John Eddie’s Fu_ken Forty for this record, but Rick Rubin, the producer, apparently convinced him to leave it off the record. Kid is releasing the song as a single and let’s hope it sells because it is one of the best novelty songs written, and John should continue to get recognition as a great songwriter. The bottom line, this is a really good record that is immensely listenable. While it may not be the most substantial record on my list . . . it sure is enjoyable.
DEADSTRING BROTHERS – SAO PAULO. Really good record from this alt-country Detroit based band that I’ve written about in past Newsletters and performed at my house this past year. As has been written before and shouldn’t be denied, the sound of this band is incredibly reminiscent of the Rolling Stones from the Exile and Let it Bleed era . . . bluesy, rock-n-roll. Their 2005 record Starving Winter Report was a fabulous record. I was slightly disappointed with their 2007 release, Silver Mountain, but this new record restored my faith in this band. It starts out with a real bluesy, slide guitar song Sao Paulo. The next two songs Smile and Houston are Rolling Stone-type rockers. Thereafter, the tempo of the record really changes with Still Can’t Make it Through the Night into my favorite song on this record Adalee. While I dig the first three songs on this record, for some reason they don’t give a good indication of what the whole record is all about. This record is a real keeper that I know I will be listening to for years to come. Key songs Can’t Make It Through the Night, Adalee, It’s A Shame, The River Song and the beautiful ballad Always a Friend of Mine.
SHELBY LYNNE – TEARS, LIES AND ALIBIS. Another really nice record from Shelby. For those of you that don’t know Shelby, her music can be classified as soul with a little touch of country (very little country on this record). Her sound is very similar to Dusty Springfield’s sound on the all-time classic record Dusty in Memphis. This record is real soft and delicate, but extremely beautiful. The women will love this one. Highlights are Alibis, Something to Be Said and Laugh Out Loud.
RAY LAMONTAGNE & THE PARIAH DOGS – GOD WILLIN’ & THE CREEK DON’T RISE. I really have had a hard time with Ray LaMontagne over the last few years. On each of his prior three records, he’s had one or two really superior songs which would get me excited to listen to the record. The great song was always the first song on the record. Unfortunately the rest of the record is always really boring. To make matters worse, Satellite Radio (especially The Coffee House) really overplays the few good songs in his catalog hyping this artist tremendously. When this record came out and I heard a good song (but not great) on Serious Radio (The Loft). A few days later I heard another good song. I then went to iTunes to check out the record and I didn’t dig the first song Repo Man, but the rest of the record had a nice vibe to it and was very consistent. This record is extremely mellow, but this new band has brought a depth to Ray’s music that he didn’t previously have. There are no obvious standout tracks on this record, but after the first song it is an extremely pleasing record. A few of the songs actually remind me of Neil Young songs (listen to Like Rock & Roll Radio). All in all, a good record that has revived my interest in this clearly talented artist.
PHOSPHORESCENT – HERE’S TO TAKING IT EASY. I would describe Phosphorescent’s music as eclectic . . . a little ethereal, excellent hooks, with an occasional horn section mixed in to give it a little soulful feel. As I’m writing this I realize that fans of Wilco will really dig these guys. What a nice surprise this record was for me this year. The record only has nine songs (how nice) and does fall off in quality the last few, but the first six songs are really strong. The band is from Athens, Georgia and recently moved to Brooklyn, NY. Pretty great pedigree. Standout tracks are The Mermaid Parade, and I Don’t Care if There’s Cursing.
GASLIGHT ANTHEM – AMERICAN SLANG. This is the third release from this rockin’ New Brunswick, New Jersey band. At first I thought they were a little like Bon Jovi. But after a few times through this record, I was impressed by how diverse they were musically, with interesting rhythm changes. In fact, they remind me of the more listenable rock-n-roll songs of Green Day. When you’re in the mood for some good rock-n-roll, this is the record for you. All these songs really jump off the turntable. My notable songs are American Slang, Bring It On, The Diamond Church Street Choir and The Queen of Lower Chelsea.
ERIC LINDELL – BETWEEN MOTION AND REST. The music on this record is exactly what you’ve heard from Eric on his past few records, his own form of New Orleans/Van soul music backed by a great horn section. Some might say that this record is just more of the same from Eric, but so what. His sound is great and his songs are really strong. I hope he releases another 3 or 4 records like this. I might not jump up and down with excitement, but I love them and keep listening to them. In fact, this is one of the more consistent records he has made. This is one of those artists that I hope you continue to support.
J RODDY WATSON AND THE BUSINESS – J RODDY WATSON & THE BUSINESS. For those of you that like fun rock-n-roll with a singer that sounds like he is singing off-key (but isn’t), like Paul Westerberg from the Replacements, this band is for you. They remind me of Ezra Furman and the Harpoons or Langhorne Slim whose records I reviewed last year. Great, fun songs . . . some rock-n-roll, some punk-like folk songs, with a couple of real punk songs thrown in, that for me breaks the flow of the record. All the songs (other than the 2 punk songs) are catchy with great lyrics. Many of their songs have this bluesy, honky tonk vibe to them that make me believe that they are distant cousins to the Rolling Stones. While this is a good record, I’m going to follow this band closely, as I have a hunch they have a great record in them.
GRIFFIN HOUSE – THE LEARNER. Another strong record from this great, emerging singer-songwriter. The music on this record is mid-tempo rock-n-roll with a fair share of slower ballads. On this record, Griffin went for the ring by including two or three “Tom Petty type” pop songs (listen to Just Another Guy and If You Want To, which actually contains a line “am I not Tom Petty enough”.) After Griffin’s last brilliant record Flying Upside Down released in 2009, I had great expectations for this record. I thought that if Griffin released another brilliant record we could be talking about him in a elite class of artists. Well, unfortunately, this record was a little disappointing to me. After a few times through this record, I put it down and revisited it after a month or so. When I listened to it again, with no expectations, I realized this is a good record with tons of goods songs. The first five songs on this record are extremely strong. It then goes into a lull for a few songs and picks back-up at the end. This is a record that should be listened to, but if you are going to buy one Griffin House record (which, by the way, I recommend you buy multiple records from this artist), then buy the 2008 release of Flying Upside Down. Outstanding tracks are Coming Down the Road, Gotta Get Out and Just Another Guy. While I really dig this artist, I just hope he goes back to making his music without the obvious pressure of becoming a commercial success.
FREDDY JOHNSTON – RAIN ON THE CITY. This is the 12th record from this talented singer-songwriter. This record will not blow you away, but almost all of the songs on this record are really well-crafted mid-tempo rock-n-roll songs or ballads. Standout tracks are Venus Is Her Name, The Other Side of Love and Central Station. Beautiful Sunday morning record.
PAUL THORNE – PIMPS & PREACHERS. Another mid-tempo, adult oriented, singer-songwriter. This is a strong record. The 46 year old Thorne has released 4 prior records, all of which have been good records. Of the 13 tracks, there are six that I really dig. That’s a really good percentage, but the record lacks a little flow for me. Still a really strong effort. Standout tracks are That’s Life, Nona Lisa, I Hope I’m Doing This Right, Love Scar, Tequila is Good for the Heart and You’re Not the Only One. Fun note, prior to becoming a professional musician, Thorne was a professional boxer who once fought Roberto Duran.
I hope you enjoyed this year’s Newsletter and hope you find some good music that will make your upcoming year more enjoyable. I will see you further down the road.
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