There sure has been a bunch of great music from this year that I’ve been enjoying! I realized as I listened to my big 2010 releases playlist that there are some themes that emerged, so I’m doing some lumping here.
Theme #1 – Old Guys (and Gals) Rule
- Robert Plant – Band of Joy
I was never much of a Led Zep fan, primarily because Plant always sounded like a cat that was having its tail stepped on. I began to get interested when he collaborated with Allison Krause, mostly because it seemed like such an odd couple. But this new album floored me. Spooky, rootsy music with lots of atmosphere, but always retaining soul. Banjos and upright on some tunes, lots of electric distortion on others, and sometimes all of the above together.
- Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
A joyous celebration by the legendary gospel and soul singer. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who had the good sense to record Mavis with her superb hard working road band.
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo
To my ears the strongest Petty work since Damn The Torpedoes (that ought get a rise out of some folks). I read in Tape Op that before this Petty had been listening to lots of Muddy Waters, while Mike Campbell was spending time listening to old Zeppelin. Both influences show and work together beautifully. A rocking, bluesy, mature work from what is arguably the best band in the business.
- Los Lobos – Tin Can Trust
Are these guys simply too good to be popular? This is their best effort in a while, showing off the incredible range and sonic versatility they’re capable of. The one-two guitar punch of Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo just gets better and better, and the songwriting and singing are equally strong.
- Keith Jarret and Charlie Haden – Jasmine
What can you say? This is another gem in a spread out series of Charlie Haden’s duets with marvelous pianists (previous efforts featured Hank Jones and Kenny Barron), and it’s wonderful. Charlie Haden, as always, makes every note count, and Jarrett plays right in sync with him. Gorgeous music.
- Bettye LaVette – Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook
While it sounds like a concept that might fail miserably (veteran neglected soul singer takes on hoary British rock anthems from ’60s to the present), it mostly works quite well. I’m particularly fond of her takes on the Beatles’ The Word and Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. And I like her good taste in picking Salt of the Earth, though her version doesn’t really add anything to the Stones’ original.
Theme #2 – In which I discover some younger veterans that I had never listened to before
- Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
I had never listened to their earlier stuff (this is their ninth album, and the first since 2001), but I really like this one. Great power pop, putting an equal emphasis on both words. Killer hooks, heavy guitar, terrific sound.
- Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now
Thoroughly modern girl group surf music that’s more sophisticated than it sounds on first listen. Jenny is Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley. Johnny is Jonathan Rice, who has worked with Elvis Costello. Big Wave is the catchiest tune yet written about the economic crisis. Pure pop for now people.
- Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love
I’d tried little snippets of Belle and Sebastian before, but Bryn convinced me to give them a go again, and I’m glad she did! Perhaps a bit too earnest for some, but their tuneful, intelligent Scottish pop somehow soothed my hectic fall season as I started transitioning to a new job in a new city, and it’s stuck with me.
- Spoon – GaGaGa
I know – everybody’s been into Spoon like forever – where have I been? I like this. Don’t make me a target!
Theme #3: Not all good jazz is from the US
- Moutin Reunion Quartet – Soul Dancers
Francois Moutin is probably the number one on-call jazz bassist in Europe. His upright technique is awesome, but it never gets in the way of his musicianship. His own quartet, including his brother Louis on drums, really come into their own on this recording. All acoustic (well, some light electronic keys), but to me it seems heavily influenced by late quintet to early electric Miles, say Filles de Killimanjaro to In A Silent Way and early Weather Report, while still finding an original voice.
- Sunna Gunnlaugs – The Dream
Sunna Gunnlaugs is an Icelandic jazz pianist. I came across her after somehow becoming Twitter mutual-followers with her drummer (and husband), Scott McLemore. This is a quartet effort, and it’s one of the few new jazz releases from this year that I keep coming back to. Accessible and melodic, but not insipid or wimpy – there’s a core of strength and adventure running underneath the beauty that seems characteristic somehow of Icelandic music. Worth seeking out – get it from her web site: http://www.sunnagunnlaugs.com/shop.htm
That’s my list for now – I’ve got a bunch of stuff I haven’t gotten to that is showing up on other people’s end of year lists, like Brandi Disterheft’s Second Side (she’s a Canadian bassist and singer – where do these monstrously good young jazz bassists keep coming from?), the Drive By Truckers’ Big To Do, The Head and the Heart (a good sounding new Seattle band), and lots of others.