Here are some of my favorites from the Summer.
Best of Summer 2011
- OLD 97S, The Grand Theatre, Vol. 2 [★★★★/4.308]
This is side two of last year’s full length originally conceived of as a double album. The band says that releasing with time in between afforded them time to adjust the songs and add a few more. Good call. Most reviews I’ve read have pinned Vol. 2 as slightly lesser than Vol. 1. I’ll be the first to say I think this is the better album. Put the two together and you’ve got a great set. “Bright Spark” is worth the album cost alone with its pounding drums, warbling guitar, and raucous vocals. It’s a good thing they’re still going strong after 20 years with their unique power-pop meets folk-punk approach to rock and roll. Standouts: Perfume, No Simple Machine, Bright Spark (See What I Mean), You Call It Rain
- MATTHEW RYAN, I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall [★★★★/4.000]
This is the 13th album from Matthew Ryan whose songwriting keeps getting better and better with each release. Number thirteen is filled with politically and socially charged reflections upon current events and casual discussions with friends as described by the artist. From what I can tell, this is Ryan’s Ghost of Tom Joad (Springsteen) in that it’s filled with hazy and gray narratives that just needed to be told in these colorful times. The drum machine gets to me in parts but the must-be Edge-inspired (U2) guitar riffs heard on Hey Kid and All Hail The Kings Of Trash make up for it. “All Of That Means Nothing Now” which thematically could have fit on the previous album, Dear Lover, with it’s talk of heartbreak is one of the best tracks of the year. Standouts: Hey Kid, All Of That Means Nothing Now, Here Comes The Snow
- HOTEL LIGHTS, Girl Graffiti [★★★★/3.909]
Hotel Lights is new to me but apparently they’ve been around since 2003 and have had songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. The band was formed by former Ben Folds Five drummer and songwriter Darren Jessee and borrows Jay Brown (bass) and Zeke Hutchins (drums) from Tift Merritt’s band. Jessee gets songwriting credits for BFF’s hit “Brick” and similarly applies that experience on Girl Graffiti with “My Asshole Friends”. That may be were comparisons end. Girl Graffiti is far more ethereal and sublime than we’ve heard from his time with BFF. I’m drawn to pop tracks “Falling Down” and “My Pretty Quirk” which have a Elliott Smith meets Nada Surf vibe to them. A great addition to the Fall lineup. Standouts: Falling Down
- RECKLESS KELLY, Good Luck & True Love [★★★★/3.900]
This is the ninth album from the Texas-based Reckless Kelly and first release with new material since 2008’s Bulletproof. More recently the produced a tribute to songwriter Pinto Bennett titled Somewhere In Time (2008). Fifteen years after forming the band they are ditching their label and trying it on their own. It’s not quite the rocker that we heard with Bulletproof nor as country as Somewhere in Time. Where Good Luck & True Love lacks edge it makes up for with thoughtful songwriting, solid musicianship, and twang the way it should be played. Reckless Kelly remains one of the best rock & country bands around.
- JOHN HIATT, Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns [★★★★/3.818]
Two things ring true about John Hiatt’s 20th solo album, Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns… 1) he makes a less than perfect world lovable and 2) he’s still a badass – no surprises here. While I’m not as fond of Dirty Jeans… as I am Master of Disaster, a personal favorite, it stands among his best work. Standout: Adios To California
- TOMMY KEENE, Behind The Parade [★★★★/3.700]
Tommy Keene is one of the greatest living guitarists. His jangly sounding power-pop is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting – it’s nothing and everything at the same time. The sound calls to mind The Byrds and in more recent times reminiscent of Matthew Sweet’s work. While the desirable guitarist has played alongside Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg, Behind The Parade shows Keene is his own man and musician. The vocals largely take a back seat to the music but that’s not entirely a bad thing.
- THE DUKE & THE KING, The Duke & The King [★★★★/3.667]
The Duke & The King is a four-piece outfit led by Simone Felice of the Felice Brothers and Robert ‘Chicken’ Burke. The self-titled album is like a post-modern revival of 70’s era peaceful, easy, feeling folk rock harmonies and all. Each song is in a twisted way reminiscent of classic bands like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Eagles, Lou Reed, and even the Bee Gees. Each member takes a turn at vocals to add a nice variety to the album. A few songs drag on but it’s an otherwise powerful album. Standout: Shine On You
- THE LATEBIRDS, Last Of The Good Ol’ Days [★★★/3.385]
- BODEANS, Indigo Dreams [★★★/3.308]
About the author: Washington, D.C. area web designer by day. Certifiable music freak by night. Husband and father of two by the loving grace of God.