It’s that time of year folks – time for my annual “best of” lists. To kick it off, the Top Ten Albums of 2010. I could attempt to tell you how hard this list is for me to make and a few of you would probably understand. I will not claim that this is an unbiased list; in fact, I’d say the complete opposite. I firmly believe that music shouldn’t be all “industry” talk – about whose breaking ground, and who writes technically perfect songs. Sure, you have to be able to write and play music well, but music is also about how a song reaches the audience, and how it makes people feel. With that said, my “Top Ten” list is a list of albums that I wore out this year because I just had to hear them – over and over and over again. It’s a list of records that makes me happy.
12. The Jealous Kind – EP
I couldn’t leave my friends Josh and Dave off of this list. I love their music more than life – and my love for it is augmented because they are friends. “Beautiful Regrets” was the soundtrack to my summer this year…so, so, so singable. And despite the fact that iTunes has a completely wrong description of the album (some other band), I’m linking to it here so that you can download it and listen to how great these boys are. Expect to be hearing more of The Jealous Kind on a TV station near you soon!
11. Son of a Bad Man – EP
These fellas from Jacksonville were my favorite “new find” of the year. Formerly known as Shawn Fisher and The Jukebox Gypsies, the guys were signed to Universal for a short time, but realized they could be doing more on their own, so as of last month, are back to being independent. And already they are cranking out new stuff that is utterly phenomenal (wait until you all hear their new tune “Written in Stone” – I played it more than 50 times in a week! Wee bit obsessed!). This EP is the perfect, bite-sized portion of pop-rock. I love, love, LOVE it. Fair warning “Open Your Eyes” WILL get stuck in your head!
THE TOP 10
10. HoneyChild – Nearer The Earth
Damn Adam Duritz. As if being my favorite songwriter on earth wasn’t enough, the man has to make musical recommendations that make me swoon. Sometime this summer, Adam sent out a tweet about this band, so I immediately investigated, and almost as immediately fell in love. I could go swimming in this record – vacillating between delicate (“The Father”) or fever-pitch (“Away We Go”), this is modern Americana that everyone should know. Favorite track: “Driving Song.”
09. Green River Ordinance – The Morning Passengers EP
It’s no secret that I love me some GRO, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the boys’ first foray sans record label would be on my Top Ten list. And acoustic nonetheless! But this one is a very emotional add for me. The album was released the day I drove home to NC from NJ after spending two weeks with my Mom during her chemo treatments. Twenty-four hours later, I was on a plane back to NJ because she was in dire straits in medical ICU at University of Pennsylvania. I listened to this record over and over again for the next month as my Mom slowly fought her way back. But I digress…this is GRO at their very core. Great songwriting with their signature positive, upbeat spin. Favorite Track: “Undertow.”
08. The Grand Magnolias – The Grand Magnolias
Formerly known as Hightide Blues, this little quintet from Alabama is nothing short of a lightning rod for incredibly solid, dirty, sweaty southern rock n’ roll. And their debut album under their new name (which you can get on iTunes for all of $4.99 right now, people) does a fairly good job of capturing their powerhouse live performance. Eases you in with the ear-worm “Sing Out” and then puts you straight on your ass with the mandolin-laced “I Can’t Remember” – and it doesn’t let up. I’m not kidding when I say I bang on the steering wheel like I’m the best drummer in the world when I’m playing this album. If you’re a fan of Whiskeytown, Will Hoge, or The Allman Brothers, you owe it to yourself to check this record out. Favorite Track: “Heartbreak.”
07. Gareth Asher – Between the Smiles and the Tears
Sweet heaven. Gareth. What can I say to describe this record in one word? Soulful. Two words? With heart. I owe the world to Christy for turning me onto Gareth’s music so many years ago…I don’t know if I can imagine my musical landscape without his songs. Gareth’s third album packs together everything I love most about him: his gigantic heart, his ability to connect with others and capture the emotions he feels from them in song, and his obvious passion for making music. Gareth’s been performing these songs live for a few years, so it was great to hear them appear on this record – songs like “Can We Get It Right?” and the heartbreaking ballad “Somewhere South of Here,” but there were also unexpected little gems like the James Taylor-esque “On My Own.” You really should just own this record. Favorite Track: “Break.”
06. Shane Hines – All the Quiet, All the Chaos
One of the great things about “discovering” an artist early in their career is that you get to watch them evolve and grow. Shane Hines is one of those artists for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever met an artist that is as prolific as Shane and yet consistently strong. One of the best things about Shane is that he really writes from the heart. All the Quiet, All the Chaos is Shane’s best record to date, in my opinion, for this very reason. It’s a really introspective record, and because of that, sometimes it’s actually hard to listen to (if “It’s Not Home” doesn’t make you tear up, you are NOT human). And he’s a master at putting fake smiles on songs – “Cemetery Shoes” is crazily morbid and sad, but will have you tapping your toes the whole time you’re singing along. And then there’s just straight up rock n’ roll, with Shane killing on the electric guitar as always, with songs like “Leave It All Behind.” I adore every second of this record. Every. Single. Second. Favorite Track: “Nobody Tells You Anything.”
05. Christopher Jak – The Folk EP
Even if this whole EP wasn’t amazing, it would have made it on this list for one single lyric, perhaps the best line out of any song I’ve purchased this year. “I’m the human wrecking ball, you’re the love grenade; we leave a trail behind us, like a suicide parade.” Utterly brilliant. Then there’s this one: “I was a man on fire asking you to dance, but having been burned before, you’re not taking no chances on me.” C’mon – you cannot tell me that line just doesn’t blow the stuff you hear on the radio out of the freakin’ water. The “mellow” to last year’s more upbeat Leadfoot Lover EP, The Folk EP is Jak at what I think is his best – just that delicious voice and an acoustic guitar. Three new songs, one older song done acoustic, and a haunting cover of Neil Young’s “Birds”… and all sheer perfection in their own ways. I couldn’t be more in love with Jak’s music if I wanted to be. You can be, too – for free. The EP is still available for free download at Bandcamp. Favorite Track: “Breaking.”
04. Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
This one’s a surprise for those of you who know my musical tastes well, I know. But I can’t help it…This record is by far my favorite driving record of the year. The one that caused me to open the sunroof, crank the volume to max, and unabashedly sing my lungs out like it was nobody’s business, much to the amusement of the people sitting next to me in D.C. traffic. This album is FULL of…well, anthemic rock songs. Or should I say punk rock songs? Either way, I LOVE THIS ALBUM. But don’t take my word for it… here’s a little quote from Paste Magazine’s “Slobbering Rave” from earlier this year:
“More than it even knows it, this country needs a great rock band. We live in a complicated age. We’ve got tea parties and bailouts and shutdowns and politicized street howlers of all persuasions shrieking from our thousand-channel satellite descramblers. We have no common chant to anchor our dreams or uphold a cherished myth. We’ve got mixtapes and sequins and nostalgia merchants and every manner of self-conscious polyrhythms, but we’re short on raw fire and romantic longing. Too many curveballs, too few Hail Marys…Enter The Gaslight Anthem. Could they be The Ones? Hell, their name has the word “anthem” in it. They are unafraid. There is absolutely no fucking sleight-of-hand with this band. They don’t just sound like Springsteen; they flat-out quote his lyrics. They sketch charcoal drawings of hard-luck girls and guys who yearn themselves bloody. They sing about classic cars and sailor tattoos and outlaw cowboy bands. They’re not topical. They’re universal. They awake our inner teenager who retreated in us too quickly.”
Well said, Paste, well said. Put this one in, blow out your speakers and forget about life for awhile. Favorite track: “Queen of Lower Chelsea.”
And now for the Top 3. I just want you all to know that it was REALLY hard for me to rank these records. All three of them, at some point or another this year, have been my favorite. But, I forced myself to do it, based on a number of things (including how many plays it got on my iPod), and this is how it shook out. (P.S. A little shout out to Hollywood Records, which claimed two of the top three spots!)
03. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I’ve been professing my love for Grace and her merry band of Nocturnals since the summer of 2007 when my friend Pete forced me to stay at the XPN festival to see her play. I am not a fan of female singers, and the thought of having to sit through an entire set of some chick I did not know was about as appealing as listening to someone scrape fingernails on a chalkboard. I can admit when I am wrong. She and the band blew my mind that day, and have been doing so ever since. I knew the second I heard their latest album that I would soon have to share Grace with the rest of the world, and I was not wrong…She’s currently blowing up. Last week the record was number 1 on the rock charts! You go, Grace. This record, while not quite as gospel-laden as her previous two records, is the perfect mix of Grace’s fortés – blistering, make you dance rock n’ roll (re-written “Paris (Ooh La La)” and “Only Love” being two great examples), and wailing, soul-filled numbers (“Colors” and “Things I Never Needed”). And while I don’t think anything could capture her live energy – fabulous music blogger Allison Rizk says it’s like rock n’ roll porn – this record will definitely turn the masses into fans. About time the world learned to love some good music. Favorite Track: “Only Love.”
02. Alpha Rev – New Morning
No holds barred, this was my most anticipated album this year. When it came out in April, I’d been waiting well over two years for it, and it did not disappoint me in anyway. I first heard Alpha Rev nearly four years ago courtesy of Alternative Addiction, and I became immediately obsessed with them. Lead singer Casey McPherson comes within a hair of Adam Duritz brilliance in my world. His writing speaks to me in ways that nothing has in a long time. And talk about music! This band is downright orchestral at times, and they make it SEXY. They are a seven-piece band – complete with a cello player and a violin player (who, by the way, I could watch play for hours on end…he is bottled lightning, I tell ya!). Anyway, you always get scared when your favorite artists go to a big label – that the songs will be watered down, that they’ll lose the very things that made them unique enough to get signed, etc. Not Alpha Rev. Every single song on New Morning screams out why these guys should be huge rock stars… The only thing missing, in my opinion, were a few of their older songs I wish had made it onto the record – but then it would have been about 20 songs too long. I honestly don’t think I can do my love for this album, or this band, justice. Just get the record and you’ll understand. Favorite Track: “Alone With You.”
01. The Influence – Falling Objects
I once read a review of The Influence’s music that described them as “dark surf rock” or something to that effect, and it’s been the way I have described them to every single person I’ve talked to about them since. These five guys from Virginia Beach have got IT. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – more than any other band I follow, I believe in this band. I know, in my gut, that when the right person hears them, they are going to take off like a rocket. And I will freely admit to you that when Falling Objects came out, I was not expecting it to be this amazing. I knew it was going to be good, but it is beyond good. Normally, I’m not a fan of bands “redoing” their songs because they always seem to lose something in translation. But The Influence took a few of their older songs and reworked them, rearranged them, added to them and … holy shit, they got even stronger than they already were. That, to me, is a sign of true musicianship. Here’s an example – “Torn” old version and “Torn” new version. Sure, you can chalk some of the stronger up to production, but it’s 99% the guys working these songs over and over until they got them perfect. And the new songs on the album are really tight. “Colorado Lazer Storm” and “Bleed Out” are two of the new songs that showcase the creativity and range that these guys have. I’m not kidding you when I say I have listened to this album more than 200 times since I got it. This band is the most unique thing going right now, in my opinion. “Falling Objects” should fall directly into your lap via iPod, CD, or whatever way you can get it there quickest. (P.S. If you buy it on iTunes, you get a phenomenal bonus track – an acoustic version of my all-time favorite Influence tune, “Corpse Song.”) Favorite Track: If I had to choose at gunpoint, I’d say “Bleed Out,” but I adore them all.
So there ya go, kids. The Top 10 of 2010. Phew. It’s now nearly 3 AM and I’m going to be SO tired tomorrow, but it feels good to have written all of this…and as usual, I surprised myself with some of these! Next up in a few days…The Top 10 Best Live Shows of 2010.