Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Fucking New Years

I don't know about you, but my 2009 sucked ass. 2010 better be awesome! My resolution: less doctors, more bartenders. Kinda like the little new years babies above. Yay to drinking!

The Mountain Goats - This Year.mp3
Buy: The Sunset Tree (2005)

Todd Snider - Happy New Year/All That Matters.mp3
From: Live at Grimey's (2007, out of print)

NQ Arbuckle
- Goodnight Irene on New Years Eve.mp3
Buy (Maple Music): Last Supper in a Cheap Town (2005)

Lightnin' Hopkins - Happy New Year.mp3
Buy (MP3): The Best Of Lightnin' Hopkins (2006)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More on 2009

I meant to do more blogging last week while I was on vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida, but the internet connection at the hotel was abysmal at best. So instead I did a lot more drinking. The above photo is from Dockside Dave's. Nothing like eating a half pound of fresh fried grouper, giant onion rings, and several beers on an outdoor patio on December 26. And then slipping into a food coma and napping on the beach.

Anyhoo, here are a few more albums which I feel are among the best of 2009.

Tim Easton put out a wonderful bluesy/alt country album called Porcupine. And wow, can he play guitar! Check out his web site to see some of the 500 limited edition album covers which he painted.

Broke My Heart.mp3

William Elliott Whitmore is young white man who sounds like an old black blues man. Great album.

There's Hope for You.mp3

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love all things Jay Farrar. Son Volt put out a wonderful album this year, that some bloggers even compared to Trace. Well, I won't go that far, but it is a damn good album. I'm surprised that it is not on more end of the year lists.

Strength and Doubt.mp3

And speaking of my main man Jay, Farrar and Ben Gibbard released an album based on Jack Keroac's 1962 novel Big Sur, and the subsequent film entitled One Fast Move and I'm Gone. I really don't like Gibbard's day gig with Death Cab for Cutie (worst band name ever), but his voice really works on this record. Farrar wrote all of the music for this film, which came out in limited release on Oct 16.

These Roads Don't Move.mp3

BettySoo was new to me this year. I can really relate to her music. For fans of Kathleen Edwards and/or Patty Griffin.

Never the Pretty Girl.mp3

The sophomore release from A.A. Bondy is even better than his first one. And, he's a hell of a live performer. This album made many best-of lists for 2009.

False River.mp3
Buy: When the Devil's Loose

I learned about American Aquarium from my buddy at Great stuff from this band from Raleigh, North Carolina. Be sure not to confuse them with American Aquarium Products of Oregon when you google them.

City Lights.mp3

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Bird List

So I am several days late and several hundred dollars short on this one, but better late than never. On December 15 a collective of like-minded bloggers launched the premiere of The Bird List. This list acknowledges what we in the blogging community consider the best in country music for 2009, while flipping the proverbial bird at the mainstream country music establishment. 30 amazing blogs participated in making this list, and I encourage you to check all of them out. Each blogger ranked their Top 20 albums with each album being rewarded points inversely proportional to their ranking (i.e. Number 1 = 20 points, Number 2 = 19 points, and so on). Here are the Top 20 twang albums for 2009, as voted on by the little people like me:

My number one too! JTE's second full length album was in the top five for 10 different blogs.

I ranked this as #10. I was surprised it was ranked so highly overall as so many bloggers complained about Lucero's use of horns.

I totally missed this one. I will be buying it with the Amazon gift certificated that I got from Santa.

Another one I missed. Grrrrr....

5. Dave Rawlings Machine - A Friend of a Friend
I gave this one a few spins but it didn't do much for me. I will have to revisit it.

My #5!

Another one that didn't knock me out. But usually I do love me some Todd Snider.

A lot of people are raving about this album, but to me it is a glossier version of 2007's Emotionalism. Its a good album, but not great.

So much music, so little time...

Great album! My #14.
The Most Dangerous Woman in America.mp3

Dare I say this album is even better than Isbell's first solo effort? I struggled ranking this one, but I finally landed it at #12.

I am thrilled to see this album ranked so highly as I think I am the only blogger in this group based in Canada. I ranked it #6.

Another one that a lot of people really liked, but didn't do a lot for me.

I rated this one #7. Like I said in my review, "pseudo-new Drive-By Truckers is better than most brand new releases."

A good effort from Earle, and I appreciate him trying to keep the legacy of Townes Van Zandt alive, but I much prefer the original TVZ recordings. I do like Earle's version of "Lungs."

Another one I missed.

I didn't get this one until December and didn't have time to properly listen to it before my rankings were due.

The first half of this album is really good, but the second half fizzles out.

And yet another one I never got to.

My best new artist of 2009. There are some great songs on this album. I also rated it #20.

I don't know very much about Miranda Lambert, but I do know that she is one of the few Nashville country artists that still has a lot of credibility among alt country fans.

Its been quite an amazing year in music, especially when you consider that seven of the above 20 albums I never even got to. Can't wait to see what 2010 brings!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Feel Bad For Santa

Thanks to the forum users at for these lovely tunes! Ho-Ho-Holy Shit! This is a great comp! The comments under the songs are not necessarily from me, but they are necessarily hysterical.

1. The Legendary Tiger Man - Fuck Christmas, I Got the Blues.mp3
Buy (MP3): Fuck Christmas, I Got The Blues (2007)

2. Andre Williams - Poor Mr. Santa.mp3
From: Poor Mr. Santa 7" (1997, out of print)
Not safe for work.

3. Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.mp3
Buy: Wizzard Brew (1973, reissued 2006)
On of my blog readers suggested this song as one that is impossible to avoid during Christmas across the pond. "Guaranteed to get played at office Xmas parties in the UK, everyone knows the words well enough to slur them. "

4. Jeffrey Foucault - Ghost Repeater.mp3
Buy: Ghost Repeater (2006)

5. Sam Baker - Angel Hair.mp3
Buy: Cotton (2009)

6. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - Little Drummer Boy.mp3
Buy: I Love Rock N Roll (1984, reissued 2006)

7. Belle & Sebastian - O Come, O Come Emmanuel.mp3
From: It's a Cool, Cool Christmas (2000 compilation, out of print)
I don't really like Belle & Sebastian, but Santa Aimz is generous this holiday season.

8. Shonen Knife - Space Christmas.mp3
From: 7" vinyl (1991, out of print)

9. Johnny Cash - What Child Is This.mp3
From: Country Christmas (1991, out of print)

10. Weezer - The Christmas Song.mp3
From: Christmas CD (2000, out of print)

11. Julian Casablancas -I Wish It Were Christmas Today (Horatio Sanz Cover).mp3
Buy: Phrazes For The Young (bonus track, 2009)

12. The Drifters - White Christmas.mp3
From: Atlantic Rhythm and Blues (1954 compilation, out of print)

13. Perry Como - I'll Be Home for Christmas
Buy: Sings Merry Christmas Music (1946, reissued 2009)
Had this album recorded on reel to reel as a kid. Loved it. Absolutely loved it. Happened on the CD one day. Spent $3.95 -- best bargain since Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes for $2.98. Anyhoo, never thought much of this song until I read about how this was a very poignant song for the soldiers in WW2 ("If only in my dreams..."). Never realized that about the song until recently.

14. The Ventures - Sleigh Ride.mp3
Buy: The Ventures' Christmas Album (1965, reissued 1995)
Great Christmas party record. Each song starts with a current pop smash riff then off to the melody. Great challenge to name what song is sampled ('65 style).

15. The Ventures - Snow Flakes (What Child is This).mp3
Buy: The Ventures' Christmas Album (1965, reissued 1995)

16. Brenda Lee - I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus.mp3
From: Rockin Little Christmas (out of print, 1986 compilation, song orig. recorded in 1960)
Sweet steel here. Brenda was fourteen on this, I think. She sounds like an elf, haha.

17. Kapelye - Chicken.mp3
From: Chicken (1987, out of print)
A non-Sandler Hanukkah song....mmmm....chicken. This album also has the sweetest cover art (right).

18. Funk Machine - Soul Santa.mp3
Buy: In the Christmas Groove (2009 compilation)
I've been fascinated with black santas since I was a kid....this is a SONG about black santa, so WIN: me.
Edit: I can't find any info on this band.

19. The Last Poets - Hands Off.mp3
From: Chastisement (1973, out of print)
The Kwanzaa song. This is perfect for Kwanzaa, cause Kwanzaa has no ties to any african holiday and was made up in the 60s by the (cult) leader of the ultra militant black pride group US Organization. A group so militant they frequently clashed with the black panthers. Screw whitey's holiday....we'll make our own and whitey's not allowed to celebrate it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Favorite Albums of 2009

What a strong year for music! I've had a hell of a time narrowing down my list this year. Once I got it down to my top 30 albums, it took me forever to parse it down to ten. One thing that I noticed about my particular list is that it really leans heavily towards the country/folk-ish albums. I'm usually a big indie rock geek, but for some reason none of the rock releases that professional critics are lauding this year really did anything for me (e.g. Grizzly Bear, Phoenix, Animal Collective, etc.). Does this mean that I am getting old and I subconsciously don't want to listen to what the damn hipster kids are into? Am I turning introspective and listening to music that more closely resembles the calamity that is my life? Would I feel the same had Okkervil River put out an album this year? Hmmm....

This list also leans towards artists that I saw live this year, and I have tried to reference back to their show somewhere in my review of that album. This system is probably not fair to the artists that I didn't see this year, but what can I do? I see an enormous number of shows every year, and if an artist/band doesn't get his/her/there ass(es) to Toronto, its not my fault.

Any of these top ten can rotate to the top of the list at any given time, but on this day, in the year of our lord two thousand and nine, these are my ten favorites.

1. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies

Justin Townes Earle knows his country music history. Hell, given his middle name and surname, he's lived part of this history. Which is one of the reasons why Midnight at the Movies is so special. JTE, while acutely aware of his family legacy, writes songs that are uniquely his. In fact, many of these songs have so much classic country character that they sound like they could have been written by A.P. Carter. The instrumentation is almost all acoustic, and mixes classic country, bluegrass, blues, folk, and even a bit of rock. And in true classic country style, JTE loves to tell stories in his music. The title track tells of a lonely soul waiting in the dark movie theatre for a few hours of affection from his mystery ladyfriend. "Mama's Eyes" may be JTE's most poignant song, describing his difficult relationship with his father, while acknowledging that he's also his mother's son. "Sure it hurts but, it should hurt sometimes." What a great lyric for anyone who has even had issues with their parents. "Forgiven for This" describes the disintegration of a relationship with the narrator hoping for eventual absolution. And every great country album needs a song about folk legend John Henry. "Dirty Rag" is a short bluegrass instrumental that sounds like it could have been written by the Sadies. The harmonica part on "Halfway to Jackson" really makes you feel like you are listening to a train chug by. But then JTE pulls a fast one on us with a brilliant country-fied cover of the Replacements "Can't Hardly Wait." Who hasn't had the mandolin riff from this song stuck in their head since the album came out in March? In a year full of cover song recordings, this one is my favorite. There is a not a bad song on this album. Midnight at the Movies is a must own for all country music fans.

Halfway to Jackson.mp3
Buy: Midnight at the Movies

2. Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle - Let's Just Stay Here

I will admit that the reason this album is so high on my list is that their live show was absolutely killer. After hearing Carolyn Mark sing I turned into this crazy/creepy fan girl and confessed my love for her when I ran into her in the washroom that night. How embarrassing. How old am I? Anyway, the album is wonderful, alternating between songs written by Mark and NQ Arbuckle. Some songs are serious ("All Time Low"), some are fun ("Canada Day/Toronto"), some are kick-ass covers ("Too Sober to Sleep," "Downtime"), some will make you dance ("When I Come Back"), and some will make you cry ("Saskatoon Tonight"). And how can you not love a song that name drops the Drive-By Truckers ("Officer Down")? Mark and Neville Quinlan's voices blend so well, and the musicianship on the record is top notch. I can't wait to see them again!

When I Come Back.mp3
Buy (Amazon): Let's Just Stay Here
Buy (Maple Music): Let's Just Stay Here

3. Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Ready For The Flood

I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the Jayhawks trademark song "Blue." My dad was driving me home from college for spring break 1995 and we were somewhere north of Milwaukee when "Blue" came on the radio. I've been a huge Jayhawks fan every since. The Jayhawks as we knew them may not exist anymore (they more or less have to pay Rick Rubin to use the Jayhawks name), but Mark Olson and Gary Louris continue making beautiful country/folk music, and Ready for the Flood sounds like it could be a proper Jayhawks album. Not that its a sounds totally like a Jayhawks release, but all of the elements are there. Highlights include "The Rose Society," "Bicycle," "Turn Your Pretty Name Around," "Saturday Morning on Sunday Street," and the rest of the album. Its also a long alum: 15 tracks and over 55 minutes. But as soon as its over you will want to play it again. I was worried that people would forget about this album since it came out in mid-January, and I remember freezing my ass off in February just to see this duo preform in Toronto. In summary, to quote my buddy Daddy, "The sound of these two humans harmonizing together again will melt your cynical heart and make you weep like a newly born babe washed in the white, blinding light of love." Well said, Daddy.

Saturday Morning on Sunday Street.mp3
Buy: Ready For The Flood

4. Ben Nichols - The Last Pale Light In The West

In early 2009 Ben Nichols of Lucero put out his first solo album which immediately frustrated me because I had to wait eleven more months before I could put it on my best of list. We are used to Nichols writing kick-ass rock songs about getting drunk and breaking hearts, but when he put out an acoustic album based on Cormac McCathry's novel Blood Meridian, alt country fans everywhere were blown away. To quote Mr. Nichols himself, "I'm partial to the sad, slow shit," and that statement really shows on this album. Most of this album is slow, melancholy folk music, and you don't necessarily have to know the book to appreciate the lyrics. "Your mother died night you were born, her name you never knew..." Tell me that is not the alt country lyric of the year? And who would have thought that Ben freakin' Nichols would lead me to finally read a McCarthy novel? Which lead me to read another one, which lead me to buy two more as e-books which Brad Pitt will read to me while I am on vacation this winter.

Davy Brown.mp3
Buy: The Last Pale Light In The West
Buy the book: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (orig. published 1985)

Although this album came out in April, it wasn't until I started getting my thoughts on 2009 organized in November when I really started to listen to this album. When I hit the ole shuffle button on my 2009 playlist, the songs from this album always had me looking at my Zune and thinking, "This is great. Who is this?" This is an unhappy record, disguised in happy folk melodies. For example, the opening song "Cry" sounds like it could be an upbeat, poppy folk tune until you listen to the lyrics. "There's no poison like a dream when it all comes undone." Not to mention the downer of an album title. "Green Mountains and Me" is a beautiful song about love gone wrong. There are several references to dreams not coming true in various songs on this album, especially in the song, uhh, "Dreams." Its not to say that this album is super depressing, but like life, we all have a hard time coming to terms with what will and will not be, and Cleaves does an excellent job at expressing these feelings in song.

This album was produced, mixed, and engineered by Gurf Morlix, who also put out one hell of a solo album this year. Morlix also plays various instruments and sings backup vocals on this album.

This album has the most variety of any album that I listened to in 2009. Although its tagged as "country," it ranges all over the place from traditional country, to ballads, to country-rock, and continues on the long tradition, and Lund's previous songwriting, of humor and storytelling in country music. And some of the songs even contain musical elements of jazz and blues. The opening track, "Horse Doctor, Come Quick" is about scoring drugs off of a veterinarian, which I am pretty sure was also an episode of the Trailer Park Boys. "This is My Prairie" is an environmental/anti-corporate ballad that could have been written by Steve Earle. "A Game in Town Like This" is about regret, and it may be the best song that Lund has ever written. The fact that this song is not played on country radio makes me weep for the future of humanity. Edit: this "fact" may not be totally accurate as country radio doesn't exist in Toronto and I have done no other field research.

A Game in Town Like This.mp3
Buy (Amazon): Losin' Lately Gambler
Buy (Maple Music): Losin' Lately Gambler

Pseudo-new Drive-By Truckers is better than most brand new releases. I say "pseudo-new" as some of these tracks have been floating around as bootlegs for quite a while ("The Great Car Dealer War"), some were used on random compilations (covers of Tom Petty's "Rebels" and Bobby D.'s "Like a Rolling Stone"), and some tracks are outtakes ("Uncle Frank" and "Goode's Field Road"). My personal favorite is the Trucker's unbelievably rocking cover of Warren Zevon's "Play it All Night Long" which sounds like it could have been straight out of their 2001 opus Southern Rock Opera. I also love the juxtaposition of "Uncle Frank," an anti-Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) rocking rant sung by Mike Cooley, followed by a deliberate pro- song "TVA" by Jason Isbell. And how great it is to hear new Isbell-penned Truckers songs? DBT have been together for over 15 years and undoubtedly have tons of other tracks stashed away. I can't wait for the next batch of oddities and rarities.

Bonus: I got to see the Truckers at a private show in November. I rule!

Uncle Frank.mp3
Buy: The Fine Print

The reason I love this album is very simple. I am a child of the 80s, and this record sounds like it was recorded in 1989. Indeed, all three original Dinosaur Jr. members are back for their fifth studio album: J. Mascis on guitar, Lou Barlow on bass, and Murph on drums. Farm sounds like a modern Bug (1989) with lots of Crazy Horse-style guitar distortion and killer riffs. Ten of the 12 tracks were penned by Mascis, while the other two are by Barlow. My only criticism of this album is that the Barlow tracks kind of drag relative to the kickassery (is that a word? spell check says yes) of the Mascis songs. But Barlow's tracks do not diminish the greatness of this record by any means. If you don't want the entire album, just promise me that you will pick up the first four tracks. They rock harder than anything else I have heard in 2009. In a year when indie rock mostly let me down, these aging indie rock gods showed the hipster kids how it is done.

Buy: Farm

This is the sleeper album which I kept coming back to in 2009. I often found myself on a late night subway or streetcar train, slightly intoxicated, thinking, "I really want to listen to Doug Paisley." This debut album contains sweet, gentle country folk. It opens with the heartbreaking "What About Us?" "Cause I just ain't no good alone." Gulp. "We Weather" is a tender love song about making it through the rough patches in a relationship, and contains some beautiful pedal steel work. "Digging in the Ground" has a wonderfully unique piano lick. "Take My Hand" is about reconciliation. If you like James Taylor without all of the cheesiness and a little more country, then you should check out Doug Paisley. (Awful comparison, I know, but its the best that I can come up with. Doug, if you are reading this I apologize.)

Edit: Better comparison: Paisley's Canadian brethren Hayden, but with more twang.

Take My Hand.mp3
Buy (Amazon): Doug Paisley
Buy (No Quarter): Doug Paisley

10. Lucero - 1372 Overton Park

I didn't really like this album until I saw Lucero live. Then I fucking loved this album! There was a lot of hoopla in the blog-o-sphere about the fact that Lucero had incorporated a horn section into its band. To me, it was like Ben Nichols had spent too much time with The Hold Steady, for whom he did background vocals for their 2008 album Stay Positive. In fact, I thought it was The Hold Steady when I first heard it. Overall, I was fine with the horns, and even liked them better live where they were less pronounced. The thing that bugged me about this album was that wasn't that much different from previous Lucero releases. Not that this is a bad thing. I love, love, love their older albums. But after hearing Nichol's solo album (see #4) you realize how much more they can do than "boy with sketchy past meets girl with sketchy past, they get drunk, his/her heart is broken" (more or less the first eight tracks of 1372 Overton Park). "Drinking women chasing whiskey," from "Sixes and Sevens" is classic Lucero songwriting, as are most of the songs on this album. The only song that really stands out to me is "Mom." Nichols slayed me when he did this song live. The song is an ode to the band's mothers, telling them yeah, we fuck around a lot, especially when we are on tour, but don't worry, you raised us right, and we will be home soon. Amazing. I want to hear more songs like "Mom" from Lucero. If 2007's Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers was the "piano album," and 1372 Overton Park is the "horn album," I fully expect the "pedal steel" album in 2011.

Buy: 1372 Overton Park