Its that time: We present our annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2010;  If you missed prior versions, then here’s the deal with what makes this list different:

There are lots of Best of Lists out there, but most of them aren’t relevant to real people, i.e. adults (a group I have only recently begrudgingly joined). Those of you with families, careers, hobbies, etc. do not have time listen to 200 new CDs each year.

Hence, this list. Rather than cranking out yet another list of music you never heard, this is a more useful list: What a relatively informed music fan’s “Most played” albums were this year (at least, according to my iTunes).

These albums are what was most frequently spinning in the car/ipod/computer this past year — my personal soundtrack for 2010.

Those are the ground rules. Let’s have at it:

~~~

Seasick Steve: Man From Another Time is a raucous, ferociously exciting collection of organic rock and blues. Home recorded, Steve displays a musical virtuosity and intensity that is belied by the simplicity of his approach. Never before has so much noise been coaxed forth from a single string. Seasick Steve cranks out solid, listenable rock and blues that will have you standing, clapping, tapping your feet.

2009′s Dog House Music is also worth a throw.

Bonus: Blues so good it makes George Thorogood weep.

~~~

Vampire Weekend Contra:

The sophomore effort was the disc I wanted to dislike for all too many reasons: At first listen, it sounded just like the debut disc, channeled Paul Simon constantly,  and sold out way too soon for a new band — their song Holiday seemed to be on every television commercial this year.

But the incessantly inventive, infectiously upbeat, constantly original music made this disc impossible to hate. Its catchy, jangling guitar runs layered with the immediately recognizable vocals are a sophisticated progression from the first album. The sound is immediately recognizable, yet remains fresh and interesting. In addition to the Graceland influence, you can hear bits of reggae, Brazilian funk, and ska.

The first disc had a great first four songs, then tailed off a bit. Contra is a consistently strong album — which probably accounts for why I played it constantly.

~~~

The Black Keys Brothers:

The Black Keys graced our very first “Best of” back in 2004. The reasons I liked it then — crunchy guitar riffs, soulful vocals over no nonsense drumming combining to sound like a lot more than two guys from Ohio — are the same reasons why this disc is on this year’s list.

Described as a “mysterious and heavy brew of seventies-vintage rock, classic R&B and timeless, downhearted blues,” the album poweres its way through track after a track til the very end.

The Black Keys have maturation as song writers and performers, and it shows in subtle ways on Brothers. For those of you who haven’t discovered this great power duo yet, this is their most approachable album.

Bonus: Tighten Up was produced by Danger Mouse

~~~

Ray LaMontagne God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise:

LaMontagne’s fourth album is funkier more upbeat and fun than any of his prior outings. Self-produced, recorded in two weeks at LaMontagne’s home, this album is full of pathos — stories of loss, desire and heartbreak.

Ray’s vocals perfectly suit his strong songwriting, with a killer band — the Pariah Dogs — providing excellent musical backing.

Steel guitars, jangly electrics, snare drums round out the sound to this album that falls somewhere in between Alt Country and Rock n roll.

The songs themselves are the stars here, and Ray’s gifts as a composer are on full display. A terrific outing.

~~~

Peter Gabriel Scratch My Back:

There are musicians and pop stars and rock and rollers. Then there is Peter Gabriel. From his early days as front man of Genesis to enormously successful solo career, from his use of new world instrumentation and musicians, his innovative videos and spectacular live shows, Peter Gabriel is a unique artist. It is not overstating things to say that he is one of the most influential musicians of the past 40 years.

Never one to play it safe, Gabriel decided to “re-listen to” some of his favorite songs from other artists — David Bowie, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Radiohead — and reinvent their melodies in a no drums, no guitars orchestral arrangement.

It takes more than a single listening to — seeing the show at Radio City also revealed how intricate and poised this music is — but it is worth the effort.

The result is a fascinating and eclectic mix of familiar yet weirdly new songs, revealing the essence of the original. Sadly beautiful, strange, full of tenderness and remorse, this is an album only Gabriel could have created.

~~~

David Gray White Ladder:

This is a new category: “new found appreciation.” Its the album I changed my mind the most about this year.

I first heard White Ladder a decade ago — and while the songwriting was worthwhile, I couldn’t get past David Gray’s less than impressive vocals.

Then I saw him live, and it changed my entire view of him.

He was on a double bill with Ray Lamontagne, and I was all set to leave after Ray’s set was over. But a funny thing happened: We listened to the first song, then the next, and the next, and soon we had stayed for the entire show. Days later, the songs were still running through my head. The disc played constantly late Summer and into the Fall. Once you look past the vibrato-laden voice, his gorgeous melodic compositions make for unforgettable songs.

~~~

Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone:

When 2010 began, I never expected to fall for a Gospel album. Then again, this is not your run-of-the mill Sunday church music, and Mavis Staples is not your run-of-the mill baritone.

She has been cranking out Gospel, Blues and R&B for four decades. Her resume boasts collaborations with Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, Prince, Ry Cooder and on this album, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

While this is not a traditional Gospel album, it manages to remain true to its roots by mixing both the secular and the sacred, with bluesy guitars, steel pedal, and upbeat hymns. The element that ties it all together is Staples world weary, smoldering voice.

Runner ups: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I Learned The Hard Way and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, We Walk This Road.

~~~

Elvis Costello: National Ransom

I am always interested in anything Elvis Costello records, but this disc caught my attention for its cover art — a wolf in Banker’s top hat and tails, fleeing a crisis, the carpet bag he clutches trailing flaming cash the whole way. It is an arresting vision of the economic crisis, too close to the truth for most people’s comfort.

Costello is in fine form on the this album. He has always been idiosyncratic, and this eclectic disc is no different: Tasteful and lyrically sophisticated, it meanders through genres from hard edged rock,  New Orleans jazz, acoustic jazz, country, ballads, blues, with a little of the the old “Elvis Costello and the Attractions” thrown in for good measure. All the shifts in style and form are to further the narrative each song presents.

This is an album that rewards the patient listener — its not in your face (i.e., Vampire Weekend) but is filled with little subtleties. It gets better with subsequent listen.

Bonuses:

1) Elvis’s home page is a wiki;

2) Courtesy of VF, you can stream the entire album here:

~~~

Sade Soldier of Love

From the file “music to listen to that won’t make your wife annoyed” –

I used to occasionally listen to Sade back in the day — it was pleasant enough, inoffensive “seduction pop.” Sade’s sensual voice was the highlight of their music, even if the song’s quickly became overplayed, even cliched.

Soldier of Love is Sade’s most mature, sophisticated album. It has less pop hooks, and more eclectic, quirky and even joyous melodies.

~~~

Favorite Mash Up:   Girl Talk All Day

Any hip hop album that begins with Black Sabbath’s War Pigs gets my attention.

Add to that the free download, and the killer graphic of all the artists used, and you have the making of an instant hip hop classic.

There are 372 samples in the album, all instantly recognizable hooks. The mega mash up serves as rehabilitation for disposable pop of days gone by, lovingly assembled in a stupendously danceable form.

Bonus: Your teenage kids will be impressed you even know this.

http://www.illegal-art.net/allday/

~~~

• Favorite Electronica: The Chill Lounge – 26 Chilled Euro Tracks (iTunes)

Follow this progression: A reader sends me an MP3 of LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression (from the out of print disc of the same name). I go ahubting for it, can’t find it, but stumble across this chill mix of etheral beats, containing a song from LTJ Bukem.

Airy jazzy, euro synth driven tunes, good for a relaxing massage or bubble bath.

~~~

Box Set of the YearBruce Springsteen: The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge of Town Story

What do you do after a monster success like Born to Run? This set reveals not only how Darkness on the Edge of Town was made, but how Springteen was handling the challenge of new found super-stardom. “An unprecedented look into Springsteen’s creative process during a defining moment in his career.”

This is no ordinary box set– it includes six hours of film, two hours of audio across 3 CDs and 3 DVDs, along with an 80-page notebook, It also features The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,‘ a ninety-minute documentary film directed by Grammy- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny.

The album itself shows Bruce’s talent for editing himself — no easy task for any artist. There are 22 unreleased songs in this package, and they could have easily slipped into The River or Born in the USA without disrupting much.

Fans of Springsteen will find this material fascinating; those of you who are unsure if this work will be to your liking should check out the outstanding reviews at the LATimes and especially Pitchfork.

~~~

Beatles Covers: And speaking of Box Sets: Forget the Beatles on iTunes — anyone who wanted the full digital Fab Four catalogue bought the Box Set and ripped it lossless in 2009. Thsi year, I’ve been getting my Liverpool fix from various Beatles cover albums.

Here are a few are worth mentioning:

-LJ Plays the Beatles (plus  Volume Two) Paul McCartney’s guitarist from his Wings period, Laurence Juber, recorded two albums of Lennon & McCartney music — all finger pickin, all acoustic guitar. Very mellow versions, that make for an interesting surprise when mixed into other playlists.

-Rubber Soulive:  Imagine the Beatles covered by a jazzy retro groove band, recorded live-in-the-studio, sounding both old school and fresh at the same time. The drumming is all over the place, with a thumping jazz bassline. The essence of the melodies are all here, but the band takes them off in different directions. A very different, surprisingly fun find.

(You can stream the album at their site here)

-Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band: From the band that brought you Dub Side of the Moon, comes this reworking of the Beatle’s classic album, infused with reggae rythms. Its an upbeat, joyously fun outing, one that reworks Sgt Pepper’s surprisingly well.

Guest appearances by Steel Pulse, Matisyahu, Michael Rose [Black Uhuru], Luciano, U Roy, Bunny Rugs [Third World], Ranking Roger [English Beat], Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Max Romeo and The Mighty Diamonds.

Check out a few tunes here.

Category: Friday Night Jazz, Music

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

25 Responses to “A Different Kind of Top 10 Music List for 2010”

  1. klhoughton says:

    Certainly no argument on Scratch My Back. The LaMontaigne was in the Top Ten at FUV and sounded vaguely interesting. (Yes, the new FUV antenna makes it more difficult to receive in the suburbs of NYC.)

    I still can’t get around David Gray’s studioed vocal skills, though. Will have to try one of his concert disks. Any recommendations?

  2. Dunno — I saw him on the double bill with LaMontagne — his performance changed my entire perspective of both his voice and the songs . . .

  3. David S says:

    Hey, cutting rather close for 2010!

    Good list, thanks for all you do all year — Happy, healthy new years to you and your family!

  4. Arturo says:

    I found Ray LaMontagne on The Big Picture years ago — The new disc is fantastic!

  5. Edoc says:

    I liked:

    Roky Erikson & Okerville River – True Love Cast Out All Evil
    The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
    Dr. Dog – Shame Shame
    Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
    Allo Darlin’ – Self Titled
    Stars – Five Ghosts
    Vulture Whale – Bamboo You

  6. Mike in Nola says:

    Boy, some people seem to spend too much time listening to music, not that I begrudge it to those who enjoy it. I guess that’s what keeps me from being part of the Apple crowd. I like silence a bit too much, except when I’m trying to stay awake on the long commutes to NOLA.

    I will give some of these a listen, though.

  7. jdjed says:

    Mike in NOLA said: “Boy, some people seem to spend too much time listening to music, not that I begrudge it to those who enjoy it….”

    Why do we do it? Berthold Auerbach said it best: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

  8. badtrader says:

    Well I’m going to go off-topic but at least my topic will be about music. I can’t really contribute to the topic at hand since I rarely buy new CDs and don’t listen to pop radio. I’ll give the last two CDs I bought – both of which I really like, then I’ll get back to my off-topic topic.

    The last two CDs I bought that I highly recommend are:
    * Norman Granz’ J.A.T.P. Carnegie Hall, 1949 – this is a live recording of a band with Charlie Parker in it and he smokes on it. And the sound quality is very good despite the recording being made in 1949. I got it at a used jazz record store (that I want to keep from going under).

    The website listed on it is http://www.fantasyjazz.com in case one wants to find it. The players on it are (tracks 1-4), Charlie Parker, Sonny Criss, Flip Phillips, Fat Navarro, Tommy Turk, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne, (tracks 5-8) Coleman Hawkins, Fats Navarro, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Shelley Manne.

    I had never heard Charlie Parker before. Wow! Guy was incredible and he is definitely that on this Nov 2, 1949 recording. If you’ve never heard CP before, you’ve got to hear it to believe one can do that.

    * Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forrest
    Darren Johnston is a fabulous trumpet player based in San Franciso (though he plays around the country) that I first saw in the Sheldon Brown band. Sheldon (on sax) is on this record as is Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Devon Hoff (bass), Smith Dobson V (drums), and Rob Reich (accordian). Some really excellent playing and musicianship demonstrated on this record and good compositions (no vocals). Style is upbeat jazz.

    Now my off-topic topic is great live shows one saw in 2010. Two that I saw in the last three weeks I’ll mention now.

    * Saw Furthur last night. Furthur is the band that’s been around a little over two years containing Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. They played last night at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco (and playing there tonight too on New’s Years Eve that will surely go well into New Year’s day). They played two long sets (with about an hour break in between – my only complaint was the length of the break which should be cut to a half hour) – each set itself could have been a show for a lot of bands.

    I’ve seen a lot of the bands Phil Lesh has formed or been a part of since Jerry Garcia’s death and this is easily my favorite. This band last night was fantastic. I saw them last year on the same date (Dec 30th) at the same place and another time mid-2010 but the show last night easily topped them. The name Furthur is appropriate because this band is doing things I’ve never heard any band do (including the GD). Did fabulous versions of Shakedown St, Chinacat > Rider, Scarlet > Fire, St Steven’s > (song I forget) > The Eleven. The musicianship was fabulous by all the players.

    They sold out both nights and everybody on the dance floor last night was dancin big time to the incredible music coming off the state. Go see these guys if you get the chance (I recommend getting down on the floor rather than sitting in the seats – the musical intensity is significantly higher the closer one gets to the stage).

    I recently heard Joel Selvin, the former and longtime music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, being interviewed on the radio (he recently came out with a book) and a caller asked about the Dead. He said he couldn’t understand how the members could still keep playing after Garcia died. Well if he were to actually go and see this band, he’d know what a silly comment that was. This band IS going Furthur despite Selvin’s ignorance of them.

    * Another band that I saw two weeks ago at The BoomBoom Room in San Francisco was The Greyboy Allstars (it was moved to the Boom Boom Room two days before the show from Napa – despite only two days and no press, the show sold out – tickets were $40, place holds 150 – 200 people) .

    Unfortunately barely anybody knows about these guys even though they’ve been around since the mid 1990s (out of San Diego – the name came from the fact that they started out as a back-up band for a dj called Greyboy).

    I call them a supergroup because at all times, all five members are cooking when they are playing – and all five are extremely talented musicians. They consist of Karl Denson (who has his own band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) on sax and flute and vocals, Robert Walter on the Hammond B3 organ (who also has his own band), Elgin Park on the extremely tasty electric guitar (his main job is doing movie music tracks), Chris Stillwell on a powerful bass, and Aaron Redfield on drums (he’s the newest guy – I didn’t think anyone could top the previous guy but this guy does – he’s like a Keith Moon / Mitch Mitchell machine back there).

    These guys just smoke. I’ve seen them numerous times (normally at The Fillmore in SF) and they never fail to deliver the goods. My only complaint is they rarely play – but despite this, when they do play they never fail to get the whole joint jumpin for the whole time they are on stage. SF loves them (as demonstrated by the show selling out even though it was moved there two days before the show and tickets were $40).

    The style of music they play is a combo of mod (think James Bond music), R&B, funk, jazz – always cooking hot at a high pace. If you’re lucky to ever get a chance to see them, GRAB IT!

  9. wunsacon says:

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    .|.|.(_|.|_).|_).\/…|.\|.(/_.\/\/….|.(/_.(_|.|..o.
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  10. wunsacon says:

    Er, Happy New Year!

  11. CB says:

    BR – much appreciation for this informative blog AND for your wide ranging taste in music. I like this eclectic list and would only add the new James Blake – Klavierwerke EP. especially the track: I Only Know (What I Know Now) – a very effective use of  silence as a compositional element along with a few well chosen sounds and manipulated samples. (Mike in Nola might even dig it?)  

  12. Julia Chestnut says:

    Ray LaMontagne and David Gray was my ultimate double bill — and I didn’t get to go to the concert! As someone who used to listen to Dylan, I don’t find Gray’s vocals really a problem. I like them better on the older records, though. “Pocket Full of Rain” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

    But I really do love LaMontagne. And I really do like the new album. I’m giving Patti Griffith a lot more spins this year than I had in the past – I think I’m aging. ;) Otherwise, the album we played most this year was Queen’s greatest hits, followed closely by a band called “Recess Monkey” that’s a kids’ band. Their album “Final Funktier” is up for a grammy this year, and worth a listen – we also really like an older one, “Field Trip.” It’s good when you find things the kids like that don’t suck. Of course, my kids are the ones rocking the 70s Glam Rock. They also like Yaz. The rest of what we listen to is in Spanish.

  13. Julia Chestnut says:

    Ugh – Patty Griffin. It’s too freakin’ early. Happy New Year!

  14. machinehead says:

    Eric Heywood, responsible for the prominent pedal steel on Ray Lamontagne’s ‘Beg Steal or Borrow’ and other cuts, also played on ‘Love’s a Mystery,’ another beautiful country-rock hybrid with prominent pedal steel on the Pretenders’ ‘Break Up the Concrete’ album from 2008.

    http://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=188309&sid=619951f4f08b8edc32c6792be9f65eca

    Hope we hear more from Eric Heywood.

  15. Jackson says:

    Mavis Staples You Are Not Alone is a great disc. Jeff Tweedy should do more of this sort of producing

  16. machinehead says:

    Re Beatles covers — be thankful for statutory royalties! Although royalties often end up being negotiated, musicians have the automatic right to cover songs written by other musicians by paying a statutory rate of 9.1 cents per track sold for songs of under 5 minutes in length — no permission needed.

    This liberal dispensation for musicians to cover songs does not apply elsewhere. For instance, there is no automatic right (and corresponding statutory royalty) to cover songs for a film soundtrack, a theatrical work, or a dance performance. Similarly, because of absurdly long copyright terms (typically 70 years after the death of the author, or if a work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first), most works published from our childhood to our dotage, and even decades before our birth, will never be in the public domain during our lifetimes.

    Although it’s largely invisible (you can’t see what is never produced), we live in an impoverished culture because of corporate abuse of intellectual property. Disney, with the help of the late Sonny Bono, muscled through the preposterous term for corporate works in order to extend its Mickey Mouse copyright from the 1920s. Dance (perpetually underfunded) particularly suffers, because choreographers have to go so far back to find public domain music.

    So let us celebrate the one ray of light in our oppressive copyright regime, which still allows for the creativity of cross-fertilization and reinterpretation among musicians! And shun Disney …

  17. wildebeest says:

    Thumbs up for Seasick Steve. I stumbled across him a few months ago when I saw him on Top Gear.

  18. chromex says:

    Most Played in 2010:
    Mahler Symphony 9: Bernstein;Vienna
    Dream Circle: Steve Roach
    The Grays: The Grays
    Electric Ladder:Robert Rich
    Last 9 Convoys-John Lakveet
    Nefertiti-Miles Davis
    Ondos_Mike Nock
    Apogee-Warne Marsh and Pete Christlieb
    The Source_Osamu Kitajima
    Deeper Purity-Mathias Grassow

  19. Transor Z says:

    A friend had been on me to give Ray Lamontagne a listen for about 5 years. Somebody got me and the wife tickets to see Lamontagne and Gray over the summer and Ray Lamontagne just blew me away. I had seen David Gray twice before in concert and I love White Ladder but Lamontagne outshone him on stage I thought.

  20. Bono says:

    Didn’t you do a post of Rolling Stones covers this year? I can’t seem to find that

    ~~~

    BR: That was back in June:

    Friday Night Jazz Rolling Stones Covers

  21. badtrader says:

    I just saw that you mentioned Soulive’s Rubber Soulive. They just played two nights here in San Francisco with Karl Denson of the Greyboy Allstars playing with them. Went to get tickets for the Sat night show at 6:30 pm but the ticket window closes betw 6 pm until an hour before the show (one of the dumbest practices I’ve ever heard). Returned later at show time but the show had sold out.

    I was bummed because I was really looking forward to seeing Soulive (who I had never seen and from what I read sounds like they’re similar to the Greyboy Allstars), especially because I expected them to do a lot from the Rubber Soulive record (which sounds really interesting – glad to hear you liked it), and doublly especially because Karl Denson was playing with them.

    At the Greyboy Allstars show I went to a week later, I was talking to a guy who’s a longtime fans of both bands (Greyboy Allstars & Soulive) and he said both shows smoked.

  22. nicejob says:

    Barry, forget all this financial stuff. We gotta get you doing music reviews on the radio.

  23. slk23 says:

    If you like Girl Talk, check out the Solid Steel label. They have a lot of stuff much better than Girl Talk IMHO.
    http://solidsteel.ninjatune.net/

  24. U262554 says:

    Re Beatles covers: Barry – please check out The Nu-Utopians (formerly The John Lennon Song Project) for a heartfelt and enjoyable reimagining and mashup of Lennon covers. The two principals in the band are Rex Fowler (of Aztec Two-Step) and Tom Dean. You can hear them at http://nu-utopians.com/audio.html. PS – just finished Bailout Nation last night (the most honest book I’ve read about the financial crisis yet). TomH.