BEST OF 2009

(strictly for fun … and heated argument)

by Peter Jesperson


When I started making notes for this year’s list, it struck me that 2009 was an unusual year for me, musically. My biggest EUREKA! moments were related to falling madly in love with two local (L.A.) groups - Leslie & The Badgers and The Parson Red Heads. More often than not, after we become enamoured with an artist’s recordings, we have to wait weeks, sometimes months or more, to see them live. Well, there’s nuthin’ like your new favorite band(s) residing in your hometown! Within a week or two of discovering their records I got to see both L&TBs and TPRHs live. And I was able to see them both multiple times, in a fairly short period of time. I haven’t had this experience since the heyday of my former hometown, Minneapolis, in its late 70s / early 80s boom when bands like The Suicide Commandos, Thumbs Up (Curt Almstead) & The Replacements ruled the (local) earth. So then, the list …


1. Leslie & The Badgers – Roomful Of Smoke

The lure of this album for me began with the voice, was heightened by the songs, then solidified by the overall musicianship. Though at a glance it’s country-rock, L&TBs sound is multi-leveled, it oozes soul, has elements of folk, rock and jazz. Leader and lead vocalist, Leslie Stevens studied opera and jazz before joining a punk rock band and then forming the Badgers. Her experience, versatility and extraordinary talent are all readily apparent. I first heard ROS  in August, fell in love with it, then promptly discovered the band was doing a month-long residency at The Echo – such luck! Turns out, on a good night, Leslie & The Badgers are even better onstage than they are on this quite brilliant album. Personal faves are “Old Timers” (it’s not just a song, it’s a short story!), “Ballpark Lights” and “Salvation,” but really, the whole damn album is magnificent. Easily my most played record of the year, the closer you listen the better it gets.


- Leslie & The Badgers (self-titled debut album, released in 2007, now out of print, five songs are available digitally as the Greetings From Leslie & The Badgers EP)

A terrific debut album containing three of the groups’ best songs ever; the definitive, original version of “Old Timers” (slower and sung with more resignation), “Torture” and “Black Rose Window,” a seven minute tour de force that still floors me every time I listen to it … absolutely one of my most played single songs of the year.


2. The Parson Red Heads

- “You Can Leave It” – (2-song 7” single/3-song download) (’09)

Owl & Timber – EP (’08)

- King Giraffe – album (‘07)

- Field Mouse Carnival – EP (’06)


As you can see, only one of the above was actually released in ’09 but I’m counting ‘em all cos I first heard them this year and cos they’re all just so damn good. A lawyer friend sent me the Owl & Timber EP. One listen and I was hooked, especially by the voices, the harmonies. Overall, TPRHs songs are a blend of pop-rock and country rock. To my ears reminiscent of Big Star, The Beatles and Wings on the one hand, The Byrds and Poco on the other, with a bit of prog thrown in for good measure … it’s like they don’t feel obligated to fill the songs up with words, at times taking off on detailed musical passages but always coming back to stunningly beautiful, expertly done, multiple-voiced harmonies. Though the Parson’s core band is five, they often have more on stage. The first show I saw at The Echoplex featured a nine person line-up, seven of them singing. I almost couldn’t believe my ears – to hear vocals this perfect in a live setting is a rare experience, indeed. Led by Oregonian, Evan Way, a true visionary frontman, the Parsons exude warmth, precision and a genuine embracing of ye olde peace, love and understanding. Owl & Timber is a great place to start but don’t miss the song “Punctual As Usual,” arguably their finest, featured on both the ‘Field Mouse’ EP and slightly remixed on the ‘Giraffe’ album.


3. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life

Bob and band come out blues-rockin’ with the ominous, fabulous “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” and set the tone for yet another benchmark album, the 4th in a row. “Forgetful Heart,” “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” and “It’s All Good” were among my most played songs of the year. And I played this album a TON.


Mixin’ Up The Medicine (bootleg)

This is allegedly a copy of a studio tape containing 23 tracks from the summer/fall ’67 ‘Basement Tapes’ sessions, unearthed from (of all places) Neil Young’s private archive when Dylan’s camp set about trying to locate the best quality tape of the song “I’m Not There” for the 2007 film of the same name. These sessions have been endlessly bootlegged but I have never heard them sound this good: glorious, just-shy-of-high-fidelity, stereo. Of course, it’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of the songs that poured out of Bob during this period – “I Shall Be Released,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Tears Of Rage,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” … so, when you add to that the audio quality of this collection, we have a true contender for greatest album ever made.


Christmas In The Heart

An unexpected twist, fun and at times funny, done with such heart it works.


4. Angus & Julia Stone

- “And The Boys” (3-song single)

The first real new recordings since the debut album by this phenomenally talented Australian brother-sister group. Two Julia lead vocals and one by Angus. The A side is one of the most awe-inspiring songs of the year, dare I say ‘a hit’ if there’s any justice in this world (it’s a smash on the imaginary radio station in my head!). In line with, yet an advancement in both the writing and arrangement of their previous work, it starts with their trademark plucked acoustic guitar then builds slowly adding bass, drums, swirls of layered backing vocals, piano, organ and horns. Julia approaches singing like an actress, with such panache, her vocals feel wonderfully studied and deliberate and are infinitely better for it. Even Jennifer, who has frequently had difficulty with Julia’s decidedly artistic voice in the past, has fallen under the spell of this track! B-sides, “Change” and “Take You Away” are both top shelf too, the latter features gorgeous strings. As with all of their recordings, the production is exquisite!These songs present strong evidence that A&J are no one-trick pony, a solid indication they could be making great music for a long. long time.


Sessions - live EP

There have been quite a few auxiliary A&J releases in their short history but this one takes the cake. Recorded live at the i-Tunes studio in Los Angeles around the time of their phenomenal Troubadour show in April, these are terrific, inspired performances. What with the staggered release of their one album to date (Sept ’07 in Australia, Feb ’08 in UK/Europe, March ’09 in the U.S.), they performed many of these songs repeatedly over an extended period of time. The tightness that resulted is clear here and they still manage to keep everything sounding fresh. Unreleased song “Draw Your Swords,” with Angus showing a bit more of a rock side in his singing (ala his Lady Of The Sunshine side project), is especially exciting. As are “The Beast” and “Private Lawns,” which have cool new arrangements. 


- Lady Of The Sunshine Smoking Gun

A side-project (basically a duo - Angus Stone along with co-producer Govinda Doyle). This is a remarkable album, featuring a blend of Angus’s signature soft side with a startling hard rockin’ side. Again, strong evidence his is a deep well. Interesting description from their website: “I tripped off up to North QLD to record with Finn (Govinda Doyle) who played drums & bass on the record. We layed down the tracks in about 6 weeks throughout 2008, recording in an old water tank Finn had fixed up. Finn’s wife would cook supper for us & her new born baby whilst we worked till the young hours of dawn.Oh, and the ‘Stone Hallmarks’ are clearly in place here as well: impeccably produced audio and award-winning packaging.


5. Stackridge – A Victory For Common Sense

Astounding to me that a group who formed in 1970, made several exceptional albums (including one produced by George Martin) and broke up in ’77 could reunite in the 2000s and make an album every bit as good as their heyday – but that’s precisely what seems to have happened! Helmed by the formidable partners in crime, James Warren and Andy Davis, this is clever, sophisticated British pop-rock done with heart and humor …  and it’s some of the most genuinely Beatle-ey music ever made.


6. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

Not just a pop confection, this record has brains, heart, humour, it’s sexy and has staying power. “I Could Say” is one of the greatest pop songs of this or any year and I still get a pang in my heart everytime I hear Lily sing the line (in “Who’d Have Known”) : “And even though it’s moving forward/There’s just the right amount of awkward/And today you accidentally called me baby” – ya gotta hear it for yourself, it’s the coolest! It was my first favorite album of 2009 and held up over repeated listening all year long. Absolutely top shelf British Girl Pop … like vintage Lulu or Petula Clark with an edge. Must mention the  work of Greg Kurstin who is not only the producer but the programmer and player of all instruments (except Glockenspiel on one song, played by Lily), the sound of this record is an integral part of its character … and I find it fascinating that there isn’t a real drum in sight!


7. Luluc – Dear Hamlyn

First impresssions are undeniably key. I first laid ears on this group in March on a Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. at The Golden Plains Festival in the little town of Meredith, an hour or so outside of Melbourne, Australia. They were the first act of the day, people were just coming out of their tents on a chilly, overcast morning and Luluc completely captivated me and a few thousand others with their gorgeous, delicate, pastoral, folk music. Back in my hotel room later that night I put the CD on for the first time and was transported once again. Sounding a bit like Nick Drake songs sung by Judy Collins, their music is incredibly focused and carefully thought out. Zoe Randell’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful. An added endorsement - Lucinda Williams heard them and immediately requested that they open her entire spring tour of Australia.


8. Ram On L.A. – various artists (digital release only)

Justin Gage, founder of the essential, cutting edge L.A. blog Aquarium Drunkard (, comandeered this track-by-track recreation of Paul McCartney’s 1971 classic with recordings by the cream of the crop of L.A.’s bountiful eastside music scene (including two tracks by The Parson Red Heads!). I couldn’t stop playing it all year long.


9. Vic Chesnutt

- At The Cut

- Skitter on Take-Off

Two fantastic and very different new albums released a month apart. ‘Cut’ recorded in Montreal again (like his previous album, North Star Deserter), orchestrated by members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor plus Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. ‘Skitter’ is solo, unadorned performances captured live by Jonathan Richman. Sadly, they become his epitaph.


10. Inara GeorgeAccidental Experimental (digital only release)

For me, this is Inara’s best album to date. A collaboration with her sometimes musical partner Mike Andrews, this collection includes five stripped down versions of songs from last year’s ‘An Invitation’ and others she regards as “source material for that album’s luxurious symphonies.” I find these simpler treatments much more appealing.


- The Bird And The BeeRay Guns Are Not Just The Future

As with the previous B&B material, this is a sort of 60s pop mixed with Brazilian and jazz influences. And once again, Greg Kurstin (see Lily Allen above) proves himself an invaluable cohort alongside a stellar female frontperson, in this case the singular, immensely talented and beguiling Inara George. One can imagine them coming up with a perfect title song for a new James Bond movie!


11. Tegan And Sara Sainthood

Their sixth album, they continue to push the envelope while writing catchy pop-rock songs. There’s an obvious attempt to sing differently on some of the tracks which I’m still getting used to. “Sentimental Tune” got played a million times in my world.


12. Son Of The Velvet Rat – Animals

This Austrian group totally captured my imagination with their beautiful and somber music, somewhat reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, the lyrics are pure poetry.


13. The GrowlersAre You In Or Out?

This Costa Mesa, CA band describe themselves on their MySpace as “country/folk.” Mix that with some very danceable surf guitar music and a smart, wry sense of humor and you’ll have the big picture.


14. A.A. BondyWhen The Devil’s Loose

Having done the gritty, hard, blues-rock trio thing for three albums with Verbena in the late 90s/early 2000s, Scott Bondy took a break and then a sharp turn into traditional acoustic (often dark) folk music. This is his second album in this vein, every bit as good as the first. “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing” was in high rotation all year.


15. The Duke & The KingNothing Gold Can Stay

This Hudson Valley, NY outfit includes Simone Felice, one time drummer for The Felice Brothers, (who, incidentally, are A.A. Bondy’s brother in-laws) doing Americana Music in a way that really got under my skin. Jennifer thinks the vocals sound a bit like Matthew Sweet and I agree. I found songs like “Union Street,” “Lose My Self” and “One More American Song” turning up in my head at all hours of the day and night. And dig this line from “Water Spider”: “Jesus walked on water but so did Marvin Gaye.”


16. Tommy KeeneIn The Late Bright

Clearly on a roll, this might be Tommy’s best record since 1996’s Ten Years After. “Tomorrow’s Gone Tonight” was one that got regular airplay ‘round our house. And, once again, a fantastic sounding rock record, courtesy of  producers Tommy, R. Walt Vincent and Jonathan Pines.


17. Bob EvansGoodnight Bull Creek!

Australian pop-rock, recorded in Nashville. “Pasha Bulker” was another song I played endlessly all year.


18. M. WardHold Time

One of the most consistent artists of the recent past, he’s just making one great album after another. The cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” was the first song I heard and I was sold instantly. The title song is another of the year’s best.


19. Orchestre National De Jazz/Daniel YvinecAround Robert Wyatt

Jazz interpretations of Robert Wyatt songs, fascinating stuff even if some of it is just plain over my head


20. Sarah BlaskoAs Day Follows Night

Another gifted Australian artist, Sarah’s unusual voice and songs are the stars of the show but the production, courtesy of Bjorn Yttling (of Swedish group Peter, Bjorn & John), lifts the whole thing up several notches. Moody, literate pop-rock.

Other albums I listened to a lot

- El May – self titled debut by Lara Myerratken, longtime member of Ben Lee’s band.

- Olin and the MoonTerrible Town One of L.A.’s most promising young groups.

- Julian CasablancasPhrazes For The Young

- Lisa GermanoMagic Neighbor

- Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

- Rickie Lee JonesBalm In Gilead

- Hank & The Skinny 3Coyote Speaks

- The Evening RigIs Doin’ Stuff

- Joe HenryBlood From Stars

- L73Men Of Distinction

- Nathan MooreFolk Singer

- VisqueenMessage To Garcia

- The Swell SeasonStrict Joy

- Monsters Of Folk

- Peter Holsapple & Chris StameyhERE aND nOW

- Jay Farrar & Benjamin GibbardOne Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur

- Son VoltAmerican Central Dust

- Neil YoungFork In The Road


Oops! Albums I realized I didn’t have yet while I was making this list that would have been here if I did (will rectify immediately)


Mark Eitzel – Klamath

Neil Young – Dreamin’ Man Live ‘92

R.E.M. – Live At The Olympia

Special Mention

Robert Forster – “It’s Not What You Think” (digital only release – split single w/Adele Pickvance for the stage play “The True Story Of Butterfish.” Available at or i-Tunes). We didn’t get an album from Robert this year but this song is so good, it almost makes up for that. Flip side, Adele’s “The Light That Guides You Home,” is a complete knockout as well.


EisleyFire Kite

Put together to sell on tour. Two from the upcoming new album sessions (“Ambulance” and “The Valley”) with lead vocals by Stacy and two demos (“Away We Go” and “192 Days”) with lead vocals by Sherri. Still two of the greatest vocalists in rock these days.


Selah SueBlack Part Love

Another vocal epiphany, her 20 minute folk-soul-reggae set at The Viper Room in October was one of the best things I saw all year. This small-ish, beautiful, big-haired, nineteen year old girl from Belgium played with such syle and conviction, I was mesmerized. The rhythm in her singing was breathtaking (as a caption aptly reads on one of her YouTube clips: “white girl rhymes like a Jamaican”). Currently recording, no album out yet, this 6-song EP was made to sell at gigs. PLEASE check out the song “Ragamuffin,” one of 2009’s very best!


Paul Westerberg – PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys

Six new songs in the raw, some fun and promising stuff here including “Ghost On The Canvas,” would love to hear this one fleshed out and finished, one of his best songs in years.


Bon IverBlood Bank

No album this year but lots of live activity and this fine 4-song set.


The Beatles – Mono Box

Big StarKeep An Eye On The Sky

A 4 CD set, this might be THE best anthology ever produced, so well researched, sequenced and designed, I just can’t get over it...

Chris BellI Am The Cosmos – Rhino Handmade double CD

The JayhawksMusic From The North Country

Robert WyattRadio Experiment Rome , February1981

The FeeliesCrazy Rhythms and The Good Earth


Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Was The Night

Various Artists - Ciao My Shining StarThe Songs Of Mark Mulcahy


(all shows in LA unless otherwise noted)


Cy Coleman Tribute Concerts:

– Largo 1/15 – featuring Fiona Apple, Sara Watkins, Perla Batalla, Dave Palmer, etc.

- Grammy Museum 10/23 featuring Jill Sobule, Sarah Watkins, Perla Batalla, Julianna Raye, etc.

-  Ben Lee – Largo – The Little Room 1/15 / The Troubadour 4/30

- The Walkmen – Henry Fonda Theater 1/20 /  The El Rey 5/20

- Tara Holloway – The Mint 1/21

- Blue Giant- Spaceland 1/22

- Mark Olson & Gary Louris – Promo Day in Mpls 2/2, including 2 radio appearances, a noon-time set at Best Buy HQ and an in-store at Treehouse Records (formerly Oar Folkjokeopus, my alma mater!); Largo 4/11

- Dr. Dog – One Eyed Jack’s – New Orleans 2/17

- Tim Easton – The Mint 2/19 & 6/5 / The Redwood Bar 9/3

- Joe Pug – Hotel Café 2/26

- The Fuse Festival – Adelaide, Australia 3/4 - 6 – various artists including Cloud Control, The Aviators, Jess Ribero & The Bone Collectors, The Sundance Kids and Your Motive For

- The Golden Plains Festival – Meredith, Australia 3/8 – various artists including Dan Kelly & The Ukeladies, Luluc, Bridezilla, Jim White & John Doe, Old Crow Medicine Show

- You Am I – The Corner Hotel – Melbourne, Australia 3/8

- SXSW 2009 – various artists including Angus & Julia Stone, Mark Olson & Gary Louris, Elliott BROOD, The Orbans (formerly Lifters), Blue Giant, The Evening Rig, Haley Bonar, Mumford & Sons, The Boat People, Joe Pug. Plus a fantastic speech/Q&A about the state of the record industry given by Miami Steve Van Zandt. 

- Rachael Yamagata – The Troubadour 4/4

- The Henry Clay People – Spaceland 4/6, 4/20 & 4/27 / Echoplex 8/14

- Leonard Cohen – The Nokia Theater 4/10

- Teddy Thompson – Largo 4/11

- Angus & Julia Stone – Buffalo Billiards – Austin, TX 3/19 / House of Blues 3/24 & 25 / Amoeba Records in-store 4/22 / Troubadour 4/23

- Olin and the Moon – Origami Vinyl 4/18 / The Silverlake Lounge 4/27

- Audra Mae – The Silverlake Lounge 4/20

- The Parson Red Heads – Echoplex 4/28 / Origami Vinyl 5/2 / Troubadour 5/12, Spaceland 6/4 / On The Roxx 6/23 / Summershine Pop Festival – Venura, CA 6/27 / Spaceland 7/21 / Evan Way (solo) – Spaceland 7/25 / Knitting Factory 8/12 / The Echo 8/21 / Spaceland 8/24 / Spaceland 10/6 / The Echo 11/3/Spaceland 12/12

- Princeton and Castle Dooor – Echoplex 4/28

- AM - Swinghouse 5/13

- The Flatlanders – Troubadour 5/30

- Patrick Park and Butterfly Boucher – Hotel Café 6/10

- Viva Voce – The Echo 6/17

- Nico Stai – Spaceland 6/17

- Joel Plaskett, Christina Martin, Rose Cousins and Anna Egge - Hotel Café 6/18

- Kami Thompson – Hotel Café 6/22

- Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin – The Greek Theater 6/24

- Luluc – Hotel Café 7/14 / my backyard (!) 8/30 / The Bordello 9/1

- Susan Marshall – Hotel Café 7/21

- The Audreys – Spaceland 7/27

- Roadside Graves and Avi Buffalo – Knitting Factory 8/12

- Gaby Moreno – The Wiltern 8/19

- Maxim Ludwig – Hotel Café 8/19

- Mannequin Men – The Echo 9/1

- The Faraway Places – Redwood Bar 9/3

- Leslie & The Badgers – The Echo 9/7, 9/14 & 9/28 / Eagle Rock Music Festival 10/3 / Hotel Café 10/15 / The Silverlake Lounge 10/22 / The Farmer’s Market Ranch Party 11/21 / Bootleg Theater 11/24

- Lucinda Williams – First Avenue (concert & wedding!) – Minneapolis, MN 9/18

- Monte Negro – The Wiltern 10/3

- Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 – Spaceland 10/6

- Selah Sue – Viper Room 10/8

- Bob Dylan & his band – The Palladium 10/13

- Nick 13 – rehearsal space, N. Hollywood 10/19

- Emm Gryner – Hotel Café 10/26

- Corb Lund – Hotel Café 11/19

- Eisley – Troubadour 11/22

- Vic Chesnutt with members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor + Guy       Picciotto from Fugazi – The Echoplex 12/1

- Son Of The Velvet Rat – The Bootleg Theater 12/8

- Army Navy – Spaceland 12/8

- Inara George – Everlovong Records Xmas Party – 12/12

- The Growlers – “                                                   

- The Coles – Spaceland 12/12

Two things that fall into categories all by themselves


- I made my first trip to Australia in March, brought down by the good folks from The Fuse Festival in Adelaide. Fuse showcased about 60 artists from all over the country, there were workshops and panels and fabulous dinners with fabulous people from Australia’s formidable music community. I even did two panels (‘Making Records Independently’ and ‘International A&R’) and I didn’t suck! The day after the festival ended, the organizers took a few of us on a day trip, visiting wineries all over the south coast, stunningly beautiful country and the food was ridiculous! From there I went to Melbourne for a few days and had the good fortune to have two amazing tour guides – Bernadette Ryan (who manages Dan Kelly & Luluc among others) and Mary Mihelakos (local promoter, scenester and diehard music enthusiast). Among many other things, I attended the aforementioned Golden Plains Festival; visited the Shock offices (New West’s distributor down there); saw the incomparable You Am I in their natural habitat – legendary rock joint, The Corner Hotel (which was packed to the rafters with fans who knew the words to every song they did … I’ll never forget their stunning, stomping rendition of The Clash’s “London Calling”!); and I talked Bernadette and Dan Kelly into driving me by Paul Kelly’s house, just so I could see where he lived (too thrilling for words)! The trip was hands-down one of the greatest adventures of my life. I loved the country and the people so much, I feel like I could live there.


- Fiona Apple’s vocal on “Why Try To Change Me Now”

Up until this year, I have had no real relationship with Fiona Apple’s music. I loved her version (and video for) John Lennon’s “Across The Universe” but, overall, her music kinda goes over my head, I just can’t figure it out. But I have always been intrigued by her because she seems like such a genuine artist. I remember running into her occasionally at The Paramour, an old mansion in Silver Lake, where we were recording a Vic Chesnutt album back in fall/winter of 2002. She was living there temporarily while recording with John Brion and I’d bump into her out on the grounds, walking her dog. Though she always seemed shy, she was friendly enough and would sort of say hello (which, I must admit, gave me a curious thrill). This year, I got involved with a wonderful project for New West Records that was a tribute to the legendary NYC Popular Music/Broadway songwriter Cy Coleman. Cy’s publisher, Notable Music, enlisted a number of contemporary female vocalists to record his songs. Fiona cut two, including the above-mentioned. I saw her sing it live at Largo in January and it completely brought down the house. It was the most sincere, unanimous standing ovation I have witnessed in years. As for the recording (for the album The Best Is Yet To Come – The Songs Of Cy Coleman), I almost can’t find words to describe how powerful and how perfect it is. I still find myself almost holding my breath when I play it  – her vocal is absolutely riveting. It is as high art as anything I have ever been near. Please seek it out, I can almost guarantee you’ll be as moved by it as I am.



And lastly, R.I.P. dear friends Duane Jarvis, Stephen Bruton, Bruce Allen and Vic Chesnutt