BEST OF 2010

(strictly for fun … and heated argument)

by Peter Jesperson

 

I struggled putting together this year’s list. The first three albums kept switching around on me, order-wise, until I finally realized I had a three-way tie for #1. And I’m just going to be straight with you from the git-go – I think the 3 principals here are artistic geniuses.

 

Albums

 

1 - a. Dan Kelly – Dan Kelly’s Dream

This album has pretty much everything I love about rock n’ roll … how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! :

- for the catchy songs with great words (many of which it’s a gas to sing along with)

- for the fantastic singing and harmonies (Dan himself is a terrific vocalist, more than ably assisted here by Augie March drummer David Williams, new sidekick/bassist Indra Adams, The Ukeladies – Amanda Roff and Maylise Dent - and his Uncle Paul’s daughters, Madeleine and Memphis Kelly)

- for the kick-ass guitar playing (check out the solos on the title song and “Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam,” especially the latter when Dan stomps on his fuzz box at 2:35 – file under “Great Moments In Rock 2010”!)

- for the variety of styles (twee Kinks-ey pop, raunchy Pavement-esque rock, complex Beatle-ey invention, thoughtful Beach Boys influenced ballads, slow-building jams that grow to orgasmic proportions, even a Mothers-Of-Invention-esque 6/8 time signature)

- ‘cos it’s wonderfully odd (where else can you find a song about Jimi Hendrix and Ringo Starr living in an underwater city getting hopped up on Jellyfish Tea?)

- for its considerable sense of humor

(just one of a myriad of examples: singing “how many times can I repeat myself” twice in a row on “Grown Up Solutions”)

- ‘cos it sounds great (particularly the detail in the mixing - for instance on “West Coast Fishing Incident” the perfectly placed camera shutter ‘click’ right after the line, “Like a pose for the cover of a Witness Magazine / we say Cheese.” The whole thing’s a real WOW on headphones, shockingly 3-dimensional!)

- AND, of course, ‘cos it rocks!

Somehow, seemingly thousands of ideas work miraculously together to create this brainy pop-rock masterpiece. Dan’s 3rd and finest album to date. A family favorite, Jennifer and Autry love it too!

Addendum: I had only seen Dan live solo, here in LA (and believe me, they were excellent shows). But in September I was lucky enough to see him with his mighty band twice in Brisbane, Australia … his homeland, a country where he may not have sold a shitload of records but he has had significant radio play and been nominated for several Arias (the Aussie equivalent of a Grammy) – it was a revelatory experience! And hey, one of the shows took place in a Speigeltent! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiegeltent). Talk about a spectacular setting!

(http://www.myspace.com/dankellysongs)

 

1 - b. Angus & Julia Stone – Down The Way

Simply put, I am madly in love with this, Angus and Julia’s second disarmingly gorgeous folk-rock album. An impeccably produced, weighty work full of inspired songs and some of the most beautiful string arrangements I’ve ever heard. 66 minutes long, 14 songs (including a hidden track), it never flags for an instant. There’s a perfect balance between what each of them contributes to the whole. In my experience, rarely are groups so evenly matched in their abilities to make records and in live performance. Both Angus & Julia are first rate musicians  … though onstage Julia upstages Angus a bit, moving gracefully from acoustic guitar to piano, trumpet, mandolin and, quite dramatically, to raunchy, electric lead guitar on Angus’s new song, the lengthy “Yellow Brick Road.” Immensely gratifying to see them being recognized - Down The Way swept the 2010 ARIAs, taking top honors in 5 categories including Best Album, Best Single (for “Big Jet Plane”) and Best Production.

Addendum: As performers, the ‘Stones’ have consistently been the best band I’ve seen over the last 3 or so years. I can’t think of any other way to accurately describe it – they regularly conjure real magic onstage. Primarily as a quartet, including the extraordinary rhythm section of Rob Calder on bass/backing vocals and Matt Johnson on drums/backing vocals; late this year addding multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Whitmore on violin, keyboards, mandolin and backing vocals. I’ve seen them live a dozen times now, mostly in front of adult audiences in the states where it’s a mix of real fans, the curious and others just there to see whoever A&J were opening up for. In September I was fortunate to see them headline two nights in a row on their home turf (Australia), in a tiny village (Meeniyan, population 425) Town Hall (capacity 250). Admittedly an underplay for a platinum-selling act. Meeniyan is about 2.5 hours SE of Melbourne so there were some folks that traveled from the big city but, fortunately for the overall ambience, it was a mostly local audience. It was especially cool to see dozens of teenagers crammed up front who knew the words to every song. And the added bonus of Luluc opening both shows made it an even greater experience!

(http://www.myspace.com/angusandjuliastone)

 

1 - c. Julia Stone – The Memory Machine

While I was prepared for how incredible the Dan Kelly and Angus & Julia albums were, I must confess I didn’t see this one coming. I mean, I knew Julia would make a strong solo record but this is so much more than that – to these ears it’s arguably the single greatest artistic achievement of the year … and every bit as solid as the Angus & Julia albums. After an insanely busy three years recording and touring, Angus & Julia took a holiday. Well, I should say Angus took a holiday. Julia hunkered down in New York City and birthed this, her first solo project, an intensely beautiful, romantic, often sad collection of songs. Some perhaps the result of bad dreams, nightmares, like little Poe stories. As it says in the liner notes, “All songs written & recorded whilst hunger was subdued & the fruits of fear & anger were growing wildly in the New York summer sun.” Julia has always approached her role as a vocalist in a very theatrical way but never more so than here, the singing is wildly creative. And the words are out of this world. Two examples:

- from “Winter On The Weekend,” - “Don’t be scared, I’m not here for your heart / Don’t be scared, I’m not here for your reasons / Don’t be scared, I’m just here for the radio / That plays in the background while you’re asking me to go”

- from the title song, “and we wandered round your streets / with sewn on button eyes”

The whole album’s full of great songs but the capper for me is “Catastrophe,” a pop song with an old-school reggae feel, a candidate for best song I heard all year.

Fascinating to note that, reportedly, Julia removed two songs originally slated for this album (“Hold On” and “And The Boys”) to put them on ‘Down The Way.’ To think she could subtract two songs of that caliber and still have an album this mind-bendingly brilliant is almost beyond my comprehension. This woman is unquestionably one of the greatest artists of our time.

(http://www.myspace.com/juliastonemusic)

 

2. Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon & Ros Stephen –  … for the ghosts within

Wyatt continues his run of consistently strong releases in this collaboration with violinist Ros Stephen and Gilad Atzmon on saxophone and clarinet. Jazz, classical and avante garde overtones abound in versions of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” as well as strong reworkings of a couple of songs Wyatt has cut before – Chic’s “At Last I Am Free” and his own “Maryan.” I can’t say enough about Robert Wyatt as a vocalist – one of my all-time favorites!

(http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Wyatt-Gilad-Atzmon-Ros-Stephen/e/B0045ZPY5C)  

 

3. The Head And The Heart – self titled

I first heard this album in August, liked it immediately, but it wasn’t until I saw them live in December that I really “got it.” Generally speaking I suppose, it falls into the ‘Americana’ category though ultimately I think it transcends easy classification. The songwriting is accomplished and decidedly odd. The singing is top-notch featuring two male lead voices, Josiah Johnson and Jon Russell, splitting duties pretty evenly with harmonies and occasional female leads beautifully handled by the unique-voiced Charity Thielen, who also plays violin and percussion. Instrumentally, it’s piano-driven for the most part.  Both main singers play rhythm guitar, nary a solo in sight. And frequently in TH&TH’s singular musical stew I am reminded of Rufus Wainwright. I’m dying to know if they’d count him as an influence.

(http://www.myspace.com/theheadandtheheart)

 

4. Rumer – Seasons Of My Soul

Classic, timeless, poetic girl pop with a voice that falls somewhere between Dusty Springfield, Jackie DeShannon and Karen Carpenter. Like the latter two, the British Rumer (given name: Sarah Joyce) is also a formidable songwriter. I listened to the song “Take Me As I Am” uncountable times, surely one of the best songs/performances of 2010!

(http://www.myspace.com/rumerlovesyou)

 

5. Paul Kelly – The A To Z Recordings (8 CD live box set)

For the uninitiated, Paul Kelly, now in his 4th decade as a recording and performing artist, is considered a National Treasure in his homeland. Often referred to as The Bob Dylan of Australia. When Leonard Cohen toured Oz in 2009, Paul was invited to share the bill. He’s that good. You really oughtta own all his albums.

The A to Z concerts began as a one-off idea for a special show in 2004 – doing songs from his voluminous catalog in alphabetical order. It was so successful for both audiences and PK himself that it became an ongoing thing, hence this sprawling live box set - the deluxe edition of which includes an absorbing, informative, delightful and incredibly well-written 568 page memoir! Most of the performances are as a duo with Paul’s gifted nephew, Dan Kelly, ably handling lead guitar and harmonies.

8 CDs. 105 songs. I know it sounds crazy but you really can spend days listening to and marveling at the vastness of this man’s work.

(http://www.myspace.com/paulkellymusic)

 

6. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Mojo

“Jefferson Jericho Blues” comes roaring outta the gate - a blues-ey rocker that sounds like something off side three of Blonde On Blonde - and from there the album proceeds gloriously and unselfconsciously through a variety of styles over the course of an hour. There’s an old-fashioned quality to this record that I find particularly appealing and it’s a nice feeling somehow to think Tom and I probably listened to a lot of the same stuff. We all hear things through the prism of our own previous audio experiences and on this record, besides Dylan, I hear shades of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, The Allman Brothers, the original Steve Miller Band … at one point there’s a tinkling electric piano ala “Riders Of The Storm”; there’s a terrific reggae number; and even what has to be an actual homage to Led Zepplin. One of the things I find most irresistible about this album is the air of the band doing whatever they felt like with no one breathing down their necks to have current, radio-friendly songs or sound. Which is no mean feat for a Hit Machine like these guys have been over the years. And I found myself constantly thinking, “Has Mike Campbell ever played something that wasn’t totally cool?!”

(http://www.myspace.com/tompetty)

 

7. The Walkmen – Lisbon

One of the most consistent recording outfits of the 2000s, The Walkmen deliver yet another fantastic record.

(http://www.myspace.com/thewalkmen)

 

8. The Whigs – In The Dark

The best, flat-out rock n’ roll record I heard all year. This was in my play pile all year long and remains there now. Why aren’t these guys all over the radio??!!

(http://www.myspace.com/thewhigs)

 

9. Hot Rats – Turn Ons

Two-thirds of Supergrass – singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey -  doing an album of covers (their Pin Ups if you will) including slammin’ takes on Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols and Pink Floyd among others. They were killer live too!

(http://www.myspace.com/thehotrats)

 

10. Midlake – The Courage of Others

A carefully constructed blend of British folk and prog performed by musicians of the highest caliber.

(http://www.myspace.com/midlake)

 

11. John Grant – Queen Of Denmark

Soft, piano based pop-rock with introspective lyrics that go unexpected places. Backed by the sublime Midlake. Another record that makes me think of Rufus Wainwright.

(http://www.myspace.com/johnwilliamgrant)

 

12. The Duke & The King – Long Live The Duke & The King

A great 2nd album though very different from the first, where they were essentially a two-piece – singer/guitarist/drummer Simone Felice, formerly of The Felice Brothers, and singer/bassist Robert Burke. On this new one they’ve added singer/drummer Nowell Haskins and singer/violinist, Simi Stone, expanded their sound and became decidedly democratic with regard to the lead vocal seat. They’ve gone from folky Americana to something much more soulful. As one of the British papers described it – somewhere between James Taylor and Marvin Gaye. “Shakey” is another of the best songs I heard all year.

(http://www.myspace.com/dukeandtheking)

 

13. Jenny & Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now

A solid collection of songs on this first full album collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her beau, Jonathan Rice. And certainly the best work Jenny has done since RK’s 2004 album ‘More Adventurous.’

 

14. Bright-Littlefield – Treatment Bound – A Ukelele Tribute To The Replacements

Admittedly, when I first heard about this project, I expected nothing but silliness. Shocking then to hear it and have a completely unexpected reaction. This is a GREAT record, done with reverence, excellent singing and smart, inspired arrangements. A reminder of what phenomenal songs The Replacements had.

(http://www.amazon.com/Treatment-ukulele-tribute-Replacements-Explicit/dp/B004FA0P9M)

 

15. The Barr Brothers – self titled

Taking a break from their band, The Slip, brothers Brad and Andrew Barr made an eclectic album full of great songs and superb musicianship.

(http://www.myspace.com/superlittleband)

 

16. Richard In Your Mind – My Volcano

Really out there pop. “I Will” is one of the best songs of 2010 for me.

(http://www.myspace.com/richardinyourmind)

 

17. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush To Relax

Punky garage rock that, at times, reminds me of Wire.

(http://www.myspace.com/eddycurrentsuppressionring)

 

18. Simone Felice – Live From A Lonely Place

A heavy bunch of tracks recorded to sell on tour that totally stand up with his previous work. He of The Duke & The King and Felice Brothers’ fame, Simone is one of our finest contemporary songwriters. (http://www.myspace.com/simonefelice)

 

19. The Slummers – Love Of The Amateur

Fabulous, ramshackle, Stones-ey rock by Dan Suart, formerly of Green On Red, and J.D. Foster (notable musician/producer)

(http://www.myspace.com/theslummers/music)

 

20. Ben Weaver – Mirepox And Smoke

Dark, poetic, singer-songwriter stuff, incredibly focused.

(http://www.myspace.com/benweavermusic)

 

21. CeeLo Green – The Lady Killer

A great vocalist doing fantastic R&B with a sense of humor. (http://jp.myspace.com/ceelogreen)

 

22. Robert Plant – Band Of Joy

Another fine collection of Americana. http://www.myspace.com/robertplant

 

23. Macy Gray – The Sellout

One of the most distinctive R&B singers of the last fifteen years. Her best in eons.

(http://www.myspace.com/macygray)

 

24. Tara Holloway – Sins To Confess

First effort from this striking vocalist from eastern Canada.

(http://www.myspace.com/tarahollowaymusic)

 

25. Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You

Smart-ass English rocker, somewhat reminiscent of Lily Allen. (http://www.myspace.com/katenashmusic)

 

26. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions

Raggedy voiced  alt-country. (http://www.myspace.com/deertick)

 

27. Bruno Mars – doo wops and hooligans

Modern day pop-R&B.

(http://www.myspace.com/brunomars)

 

28. Charlie Parr – When The Devil Goes Blind

Folk-blues music and tremendous guitar playing from this northern Minnesota artist who’s working it hard all over the world. (http://www.myspace.com/charlieparr)

 

29. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame

Scruffy but tight pop-rock.

(http://www.myspace.com/drdog)

 

30. Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs

A treat of a record, soulful rock from the longtime lead vocalist of The J. Geils Band. (http://www.myspace.com/peterwolf)

 

---------------------------

 

45's & E.P.s

 

Mr. F. (aka Paul Westerberg) – This Machine b/w Foolish Handshake

In late October, with little advance fanfare, this two-song 7” 45 was released via the website Nimbit Music. Both songs are fantastic. Solo acoustic guitar and voice. Cryptic, clever and funny lyrics. Sort of early Dylan-style. The hookline of the top side refers to the hand-written phrase on Woody Guthrie’s guitar, which read “This machine kills fascists” … Paul’s lyric goes: “This here machine it kills time.” The single comes with a free download card that gives you access to “Grandpa Boys Last Stand,” 37:00 of some pretty crazy dialog and snippets of music including pieces of a couple of great songs, the best of which is called “Love In Reverse.” One can only hope he’ll follow this up with an album soon.

(http://www.nimbitmusic.com/mrf/)

Jenny O. – Home

Great, slightly bent, folk-pop from Los Angeles. One of my most played records of the year, these 5 songs are stunners, especially “Won’t Let You Leave” and “I Do I Do.”.

(http://www.myspace.com/jennyo)

 

The Parson Red Heads – Early Birds

Some older material, re-recorded to make an EP to sell on the road while they finish their proper new album. As with all the Parsons recordings, great stuff worth owning.

(http://www.myspace.com/redheads)

 

Christie DuPree – self titled

The debut of the youngest DuPree sister. In a similar vein to her sisters in Eisley. Smart, melodic pop-rock.

(http://www.myspace.com/christiedupreemusic)

 

---------------------------------

 

REISSUES/ARCHIVAL

 

Bob Dylan – The Whitmark Demos: 1962-1964

This got as much airplay around my house in 2010 as just about anything. This is a humbling listening experience, worth buying for the stupendous version of “Boots Of Spanish Leather” alone.

(http://www.myspace.com/bobdylan)

 

Tommy Keene – Tommy Keene You Hear Me – A Retrospective 1983-2009

Collected, these songs almost become more powerful than they were in their original album context. What a body of work this man has created!

(http://www.myspace.com/tommykeeneband)

Jefferson Airplane -  Live At The Fillmore Auditorium 1966, 1968 (4 reissues)

3 with Grace Slick, 1 with Signe Anderson, these are amazing documents of the legendary San Francisco band.

(http://www.myspace.com/jeffersonairplane)

 

Fleetwood Mac- Perfect In Every Way

Studio outtakes, rehearsals and live tracks from the ‘Kiln House’ era Fleetwood Mac. Not all tremendous performances but it fills in some blanks about the period (1969-1971) after Peter Green, right as Christine Perfect (aka McVie) was entering the picture and before the advent of Buckingham-Nicks … one the most interesting periods of the band’s lengthy career.

(http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Every-Way-Fleetwood-Mac/dp/B003A6C6TO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296950123&sr=1-1)

 

Live Shows (in L.A. except where noted)

 

- Blue Giant – Spaceland 1/14

- Son Of The Velvet Rat – Hotel Café 1/17 & 10/27

- Hot Rats – Spaceland 1/19, Troubadour 1/21

- The Parson Red Heads – The Echo 1/28 & 4/19 & 8/17, The Troubadour 6/9

- Leslie & The Badgers – The Troubadour 2/5, The Bootleg Theater 2/23, The Echoplex 7/31

- Jeff Bridges, T Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham, etc. – The Vibrato Grill 2/15

- Vic Chesnutt Memorial – Silver Mount Zion, Liz Durrett, Jack Logan and Kelly Keneipp, Todd McBride and Rob Veal formerly of The Dashboard Saviors and Lambchop among many others - The 40 Watt – Athens, GA 2/19 & 20

- Visqueen – Amoeba 2/24

- Skybombers – The Viper Room 2/25

- SXSW 2010 – Eisley, The Unthanks, The Uglysuit, John Hiatt, Smokey Robinson’s Keynote Speech, Ponderosa, Buddy Miller, Leslie & The Badgers, The Low Anthem, Charlie Parr, The Carolina Chocolate Drops

- Maxim Ludwig – Hotel Café 3/24

- Paul McCartney & Band – The Hollywood Bowl 3/31

- Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin – The Wiltern Theater 4/10

- The Fling – The Echo 4/13

- The Uglysuit – Hotel Café 5/24

- Angus & Julia Stone – The Masonic Lodge 5/25 & 26, The Town Hall – Meenyiyan, Victoria, Australia 9/11 & 12, The El Rey Theater 10/5

- The Whigs – The Troubadour 6/18

- Luluc – The Bootleg Theater 7/20 & The Town Hall – Meeniyan, Australia

- Carina Round – Hotel Café 8/5

- Simone Felice – The City Winery – New York City 8/7

- Andy Clockwise – Hotel Café 8/23

- Buddy Miller – Country Music Hall Of Fame – Nashville, TN 8/24

- The Bahamas – Spaceland 9/29

- The Felice Brothers – The Echo 9/29

- John Cale (performing Paris 1919) – Royce Hall @ UCLA 9/30

- Leslie Stevens – Downtown Brewery – San Luis Obispo, CA 10/2

- Jessie Baylin – The Bootleg Theater 10/11 & 10/25

- Kate Miller-Heidke – Hotel Café 11/17

- The Head & The Heart – The Troubadour 12/13

 

One last thing I’ve gotta rave about

In September, I took my 2nd trip to Australia. I was invited down by the kind folks from the music conference Big Sound in Brisbane. The conference itself was one of the best I’ve ever been to. It reminded me of SXSW before it got so huge. Very well organized, a slew of fantastic bands and industry people. One of the things that made it so great was the close proximity of the venues for the evening showcases. Big Sound took place in The Fortitude Valley area of Brisbane, an actual licensed entertainment district, and no club was more than five blocks away from the others and I saw more bands because of that. The best of which were Dan Kelly (of course!), Halfway (who did a terrific cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”!), The Gin Club, Oh Mercy, The Eagle And The Worm and City Riots. During the days, we listened to Q&As, panels and lectures by the likes of U.S. journalist/author Michael Azerrad, Aussie music business legends John O’Donnell and Michael Gudinski and transplanted American musician Brian Ritchie, former bassist of The Violent Femmes (now living in Tasmania). I did three panels and many one-on-one mentoring sessions. As always at these music conferences, the things you can’t plan for were the most fun … like running into Cathy Oates, Angus & Julia Stone’s fabulous manager, having a nice catch-up chat and then her handing me an advance promo of Julia’s solo album, good gawd, I about fainted! Or finding myself on a fire escape in the back of a club called The Troubadour at 2 a.m with Dan Kelly & his bassist, Indra Adams, talking till the wee hours. One of the BIG highlights of Big Sound for me was the closing keynote, a Q&A with former co-founder of The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster. Like a complete geek, I got there early and nabbed a front row seat. It was a thrilling hour-long discussion. After Big Sound, I did some traveling (special thanks to my dear friend and tour guide, artist manager extraordinaire Bernadette Ryan); south to Melbourne where, among other things, I had a lovely dinner with Dan and Paul Kelly and Paul’s significant other, Sian Prior; out into the picturesque farm land of South Gippsland where we stayed on an actual sheep farm that looked like the Scottish Highlands; a couple of days in the charming old town of Daylesford; and back north to Byron Bay, an indescribably beautiful beach town surrounded by rain forest and mountainous remnants of volcanos where I did lots of hiking and biking and generally just chilled out. The finale of the trip was back in Brisbane where I attended an amazing concert by Robert Forster, held in a breathtaking outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the city's old power station that has been redesigned as an art museum called The Powerhouse. The program was billed as “15 Songs About Brisbane” and the between song portions were filled with stories about the origins of some of my favorite Go-Betweens and Forster songs. The country of Australia and its music scene are an endless source of fascination for me and I can’t wait to go back!

 

R.I.P. – Alex Chilton, Don Smith, Bob Meide, Joey Stinson and Supergrass.