With another year behind us, we at Twangville poured through our cd players and iPods to pick our favorites of 2005. Over the next week I’ll be highlighting my favorite albums and songs from 2005, culminating with a preview of some highly anticipated 2006 releases.
- This was a surprise discovery this year. My introduction to the Trews took place in March when they blew the doors off a small club at Austin’s SXSW festival. I finished the year seeing the band’s twin guitars shred the room at a club in Boston.
The Trews offer nothing short of slick radio-friendly, in-your-face rock and roll. “Poor Ol’ Broken-Hearted Me” is a typical Trews rock anthem. Opening with an a cappella harmony, joined quickly by twin guitars and the infamous cow-bell. The chorus arrives sounding like a mix of AC/DC and Cheap Trick, “her mission is my misery, poor ol’ broken-hearted me”. Wham.
Other stand-outs include a surprise cover of Tracey Bonham’s “Naked” and “Yearning”, a personal favorite, which features the best Cheap Trick riff heard since, well, Cheap Trick.
Key Tracks: Cry, Yearning, Poor ol’ Broken Hearted Me, Naked, The Traveling Kind.
- Hailing from Canada, I’m guessing that Matt Mays and El Torpedo have absorbed much of Neil Young’s recorded output. It’s not the Canadian connection that matters; it’s the music connection. There’s enough ragged glory on this album to make Mr. Young proud.
The album roars to life with “Stand Down at Sundown,” featuring a healthy dose of the band’s twin guitar attack. “The sun will come back tomorrow,” declares Mays, “We don’t need all your sorrow.” Complimented by touches of acoustic guitar and organ, the intensity hardly subsides as the band drives through 14 tracks.
In addition to its clear Neil Young influence, the band also channels some American rock legends. “The Plan” has a subtle Creedence Clearwater Revival rhythm while “On the Hood” has a Tom Petty/Traveling Wilbury’s vibe.
Key Tracks: Stand Down at Sundown, Cocaine Cowgirl, The Plan, It Don’t Matter, Wicked Come Winter.
“My first love was an angry painful song, I wanted one so bad I went and did everything wrong,” sings Willy Braun in the evocative acoustic title track to Reckless Kelly’s latest release. He continues with the tale of a thousand bands, “a lesson in reality would come before too long, yea my first love was an angry painful song.”
Fortunately for us, the band persevered and rewards us with their strongest outing to date. Anchored by Braun’s expressive voice, Reckless Kelly continues to demonstrate a mastery of acoustic-based country complimented by solid pop hooks.
Wicked Twisted Road hits stride on the haunting “Nobody Haunts Me Like You” followed by the fiery “Wretched Again”. “Broken Heart,” a particular favorite, features a guitar riff reminiscent of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”.
The album ends with an instrumental reprise of the title track, showcasing the band’s musical talents. Here’s hoping they continue down this road.
Key Tracks: Wicked Twisted Road, These Tears, Nobody Haunts Me Like You, Wretched Again, Broken Heart, Baby’s Got a Whole Lot More.
Who’d have thought that the best southern soul and blues album of 2005 would be produced by a 20-something Jewish kid from Brookline. Recorded in mono and with a fitting analog feel, Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ is a lesson in backwoods blues, mountain gospel and Memphis R&B.
From the opening guitar riff, a smoldering cover of bluesman Jimmy McCracklin’s “I Just Got to Know,” you’re magically transported to a Mississippi juke joint. From there Reed channels everyone from Sam Cooke to Bobby “Blue” Bland, displaying talent well beyond his years.
Backing band The True Loves – themselves mostly 20-somethings – are an equally talented group of musicians. On tracks like “Something You Got”, they bring the groove and prove themselves worthy of the musical heritage.
What makes this album special – and testifies to the talents of the young Paperboy and his crew – are the few originals tucked between well selected covers. “Walkin’ and Talkin’ (for my Baby)” sounds like a lost Stax classic while “Don’t Let Me Down” could be a hit for Sam and Dave.
Key Tracks: Walkin’ and Talkin’ (For My Baby), Something You Got, I’m Tired of Wandering, Don’t Let Me Down.
In my book, Todd Thibaud can do little wrong, consistently turning out impressive roots rock. His songwriting has an honest and organic feel to it, while his lyrics are sharp and well-crafted.
Take album opener, “Three Words”, which features a great pop hook highlighted by a tasty Hammond B3 organ. Like many of Thibaud’s songs, the lyrics focus on love and relationships complimented by clever wordplay: “Yeah I’d like to know the secret of my hesitation, and maybe find a little more motivation… I’m getting one step closer and three words from being alone.”
Thibaud is clearly a musician’s musician, always surrounded by some of the top musicians in Boston. Guitarist Jabe Beyer – himself a stand-out solo artist – only does vocals on the album but spent the year giving the songs added power at live performances. Mandolinist Sean Staples – also a top local musician – lends to the depth and quality of the album.
Key Tracks: Three Words, Isn’t Love My Friend, Louisiana, Long Way Down.
There’s no substitute to seeing the boys from Brooklyn (via Philly) live, but this album is as close as they’ve come to capturing the energy of their live show. After repeated listens, I’d even put this on par with their landmark Kids in Philly, the perpetual fan favorite.
Rock tracks like “The Hustler” have a raw edge to them, sometimes veering towards cacophony. Despite the mayhem, however, the band always remains in complete control, kind of like a car flying around a curvy mountain highway but never going over the edge. The performance is a testament to both the band’s talent and endless spirit.
Tucked between the barn-burners are some beautiful ballads, most notably “City of Dreams” and “Walt Whitman Bridge”. The latter track strikes the musical and lyrical balance between hope and despair, “Faraway from these winter streets on a cloudless day, your memory blows away.”
With swagger and heart, these guys are the real deal. Although written as a love song, a line from “Sooner or Later” may best sum up the band’s approach: “You’ll be comin’ back sooner or later & we’ll be waiting for you.”
Key Tracks: The Closer, The Hustle, Sooner or Later, The Demon of White Sadness, Walt Whitman Bridge.
It’s a satisfying feeling to lose track of a musician, only to see him or her re-emerge several years later with a triumphant release. Such is the case with Jon Nicholson, who I first saw several years ago at the SXSW music festival with his old band Stroller.
Fast forward to this fall and the release of Jon’s debut solo album. Though the two opening tracks date back to the Stroller days, they appear here with greater maturity and a heightened intensity – a bellwether for the entire album.
Nicholson excels and taking a classic soul foundation and giving it a contemporary sheen. “Just a Man,” for example, leads with simmering bass-driven verses that build into full-blown choruses fueled by a horn section and Nicholson’s impassioned vocals.
Other stand-outs include the ballad “Hero,” with a distant saxophone accompanying Nicholson’s subdued electric piano, and the upbeat “Love is Alright” with its charming clarinet that dances around the melody.
Key Tracks: Just a Man, Love is Alright, Rock & Roll, 7 Days, Hero, Stereo.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.