Shelter From the Storm January 23, 2012Posted by Matt in family, personal stories.
Tags: destruction, drive-by truckers, music, neko case, sirens, Southaven, tornado, warning
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The word itself strikes fear into the heart of men, women, and children across the land. Feet get antsy, ears and eyes go on high alert, and people begin scurrying for protection at the first sound of danger, the blaring tornado siren or the soothing voice of Dave Brown, weatherman extraordinaire. This scourge of the south attacks with reckless abandon, its path of wanton destruction arbitrarily striking here and yon, with no regard for the victims.
Last night was another of those type nights. We knew the meteorological attack was coming, we knew that, if chosen, our chances for saving our worldly possessions were next to nothing and that perhaps even our lives may be in jeopardy.
I kept the television on as long as our satellite worked, watching the ominous red line move closer and closer to our home, listening to reports of the shattering of civilization, the unstoppable bombardment from above, the crushing power of an angry mother nature. Like people in war movies (and presumably in real war situations) crouched in their foxholes awaiting the inevitable firestorm from the skies, hardening themselves against the chance of death and injury, we sat with bated breath, wondering how the die of fate cast in the skies might fall for us.
The sirens finally went off and I walked upstairs, shook the children awake and moved them to the master bathroom downstairs, presumably the safest room in the house. The groggily went along, pushed by fear of the unknown.
The electricity went out and we sat together, the inner bathroom illuminated by a lone flashlight and I tried to placate their fears of what the night may hold, of the unstoppable power from the skies, the vortex of doom indiscriminately destroying towns and lives, leaving behind the wreckage of hopes and dreams.
Minutes later it was over. The sirens stopped and the exhausted children lay in our bed, refusing to troop back to their own rooms upstairs. I acquiesced, kissed them goodnight, and retreated to the living room couch. We made it.
I tried to think of a good soundtrack for a tornado, but I could only come up with two good tornado songs: The Drive-By Truckers’ “Tornadoes,” and Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You.” What other tunes would you add to the playlist?
Ten for Tuesday: 2006 May 31, 2011Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 2006, Amy Winehouse, Beck, Belle and Sebastian, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, Matisyahu, neko case, The Decemberists, The Hold Steady, Thom Yorke, top 10
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Last year I began delving back in time to look at the sources of entertainment, particularly music and movies, from years in the past. Today we will continue that by traveling a mere five years back in time using our top ten time machine, to the year 2006.
It was a good year for music, with some releases that ranked among the better ones of the decade and as a then-29 year old with a voracious appetite for good albums, I collected quite a bit of them. Looking back, these are probably my 10 favorites.
10. Matisyahu – Youth
I first picked this release up because of its novelty – I mean, how often to do you find a reggae album by a Hasidic Jew? – I came back to it because of its quality, both in musicianship and in lyrics dealing with issues of social justice. Matisyahu does an excellent job of crossing genres while never giving up his reggae core and that is one reason why this stands as one of the few post-Marley albums of the genre that I actually own.
Download: Youth, Jerusalem
9. Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
Belle and Sebastian have long been the lead purveyors of sunshiny, twee pop, a genre that evokes visions of sunbeams and rainbows and all of that stuff that I usually can’t stand, but in this context it works remarkably well. A listen to this will undoubtedly lift the spirits of even the most dour person. Download: Another Sunny Day, The Blues are Still Blue
8. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
The genius of Yorke and his band (who are perhaps the most important band of the past two decades) Radiohead has been scoped and probed from every possible angle, and yet they continue to astound. Though this solo release may not be on the level of modern masterpieces like OK Computer or Kid A, it is still quite good and certainly deserves its spot in the holy canon.
Download: The Eraser, Atoms for Peace
7. Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning
The idea of teaming former Dire Straits guitarist Knopfler with folk siren Harris may seem strange upon first hearing of it, but a listen will soon dispel all misgivings. On this set the two artists meld perfectly, their voices intertwining in such a way that they seem as though they were always meant to be this way.
Download: Beachocombing, This is Us
6. Beck – The Information
I’m a longtime Beck fan who eagerly awaits each release from our generation’s lead troubadour and this work does not disappoint in the least. If songs like Elevator Music don’t have you dancing around the room, then I regretfully have to inform you that there is no hope for you.
Download: Elevator Music, Cellphone’s Dead
5. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
I first started listening to The Decemberists with their release prior to this one, Picaresque, but this album was the one that truly made me a fan of their weird, hyper-literate tales that seemed to be beamed in from some time past. This strange retelling of a Japanese folk tale is probably their best work to date and definitely a must-own.
Download: O Valencia, The Crane Wife 1 and 2
4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
If the powerful voice of Neko Case does not give you chills, then let me suggest that you may need some professional help. I fell in love with her vocals on this album and it has remained one of my favorites ever since then. After seeing her twice live, once solo and once with The New Pornographers, my devotion has never yet waned.
Download: Hold On, Hold On, That Teenage Feeling, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
3. Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Dylan was a spry 65 year old when this late career gem was released and it quickly became one of my favorites of that year. He sounds incredible, from the rollicking Thunder on the Mountain to the crooning Spirit on the Water, and this deserves several listens.
Download: Thunder on the Mountain, The Levee’s Gonna Break
2. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Her personal life may be a wreck, but this strong-voiced testament to hard-living is one of my favorite recordings of the past ten years. She comes across as the bad girl that guys want to date, but who you’d never want to take home to your parents, and it suits her sultry, soulful vocals perfectly. This is the rare albums that has no weak tracks, the kind that begs to be listened to from beginning to end and leave you wishing for more.
Download: You Know I’m No Good, Back to Black, Some Unholy War
1. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
Back in 2006 I had not yet come around to the Springsteen-fronting-a bar band sound of The Hold Steady, so I came back to this album later after becoming a huge fan of their next release, Stay Positive. These tales of massive nights with girls and drugs and music are masterful in the art of storytelling while the music just plain rocks. I had the chance to see them live last year and let me tell you, the energy of their live show is almost beyond compare.
Download: Stuck Between Stations, Hot Soft Light, Massive Nights, Citrus
Best of the Decade – Music Artists February 9, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Arcade Fire, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, drive-by truckers, Green Day, Interpol, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, josh ritter, Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, neko case, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys, The Decemberists, The Flaming Lips, The Hold Steady, The White Stripes, top artists of the decade, Wilco
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Over the past few months we’ve taken a look at the music from the past decade in my ranking of the top 100 albums released during that time period. To arrive at this list, I considered more than 400 releases from those ten years, the majority of which I actually own. But, this undertaking led me to yet another question – if these are the top albums, who are the top artists? So, using these 400 albums and my rankings as a guide, I have compiled a listing of my 30 top artists of the time period stretching from 2000-2009. Let me know what you think.
30. Bright Eyes – Between his solo work and that with Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst is one of the most prolific artists on my list. Though he can be a bit over-earnest at times, I’m still a big fan of his unsure, wavering voice.
Notable Albums: Lifted or The Story is in the Soul, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002), Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005), Cassadega (2007)
29. The Avett Brothers – I became an instant fan of The Avett Brothers after hearing 2007’s alt-grass classic Emotionalism, a feeling which has only grown stronger through 2009’s piano ballad-driven I and Love and You.
Notable Albums: Mignonette (2004), Emotionalism (2007), I and Love and You (2009)
28. Modest Mouse – Modest Mouse had been around in indie rock circles for several years, but it was 2004’s unavoidable catchy “Float On” that propelled them to stardom.
Notable Albums: The Moon & Antarctica (2000), Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004), We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)
27. Interpol – Downbeat and depressing, Interpol brought back everything that was good about the early 80’s post-punk movement.
Notable Albums: Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007)
26. Ryan Adams – Another prolific artist, Adams released the equivalent of 10 studio albums over the past decade. Though most of his work is hit and miss, when he is on, he’s among the best working today.
Notable Albums: Heartbreaker (2000), Gold (2001), Love is Hell (2004), Easy Tiger (2007)
25. Johnny Cash – The Man in Black may have passed away in 2002, but that didn’t stop him from being among the highest rated artists of the decade. His final series of works with Rick Rubin are some of the most poignant to be found anywhere.
Notable Albums: American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
24. Jay-Z – There are few hip-hop artists who reach stardom that continue produce top-notch albums. Though Jay-Z has had his fair share of misses, he continues to be one of the best in the game.
Notable Albums: The Blueprint (2001), The Black Album (2003)
23. Neko Case – I fell in love with Neko Case’s soaring voice following her stellar ’06 release, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and she has yet to disappoint me.
Notable Albums: Blacklisted (2002), Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), Middle Cyclone (2009)
22. Arcade Fire – With a huge sound and a big Springsteen influence, Canada’s Arcade Fire burst onto the scene in a big way with their 2004 debut Funeral. They have a great deal of energy and passion that translates well in their stadium-ready songs.
Notable Albums: Funeral (2004), Neon Bible (2007)
21. Wilco – Though 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may be the creative pinnacle of their career thus far, in my opinion, the 1990’s were a far better decade overall for Jeff Tweedy’s band. Nevertheless, they did produce some enjoyable and inventive fare over the past ten years.
Notable Albums: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), Sky Blue Sky (2007), Wilco (The Album) (2009)
20. The Decemberists – As I have mentioned in the past, there is probably no success story that is more unlikely than that of The Decemberists, with their obscure lyrical references and use of uncommon instruments (accordions, Wurlitzer organs, etc.).
Notable Albums: Picaresque (2005), The Crane Wife (2006), The Hazards of Love (2009)
19. Outkast – Given the fact that they have released two of the all-time quintessential hip hop albums over the past ten years, I wanted to place Big Boi and Andre 3000 higher then this. But, their lack of quality output since 2003’s double album extravaganza hurt them in the long run.
Notable Albums: Stankonia (2000), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
18. The Flaming Lips – Trippy and weird, these Oklahomans have been cranking out alt-rock oddities for more than two decades. The past decade from the Lips brought us pink robots, politics, and a penchant for sonic insanity. Really, what else do you need?
Notable Albums: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2000), At War with the Mystics (2006), Embryonic (2009)
17. The Black Keys – This is down and dirty blues-rock done right – by a couple of hippy-ish white guys from Akron, Ohio. The Keys have put together work after work of irresistible riff-rock that needs to be heard.
Notable albums: Thickfreakness (2003), Rubber Factory 92004), Attack & Release (2008)
16. Coldplay – Sure, their sound may be a bit contrived and safe, but this band, which is certainly among the most popular groups of the decade, know how to make stadium-ready rock.
Notable albums: Parachutes (2000), A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
15. Kanye West – With the kind of talent Kanye has who cares if he’s not a nice guy. If there is a single hip hop artist to be identified with this decade, it must be him. He is creative, fun, and a definite risk-taker across all four of his excellent releases.
Notable Albums: The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
14. The Hold Steady – The band once proclaimed to be the “best bar band in America” has become one of the best bands period in America. Openly wielding a love for Springsteen, the band tears through song after song about the dead end people and towns.
Notable Albums: Separation Sunday (2005), Boys and Girls in America (2005), Stay Positive (2008)
13. Bob Dylan – Dylan’s career resurgence following 1997’s Time Out of Mind carried through the first decade of the millennium, a time in which his releases went from incredible to strange (whoever guessed we’d have Dylan Christmas album?), but never boring.
Notable Albums: Love & Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), Together Through Life (2009)
12. Kings of Leon – KoL began the decade as little-known Southern rockers, the sons of a Tennessee preacher, and ended it as one of the biggest bands in America.
Notable Albums: Youth and Young Manhood (2003), Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), Only By Night (2008)
11. Beck – Eschewing his “two turntables and a microphone” persona, alternative rock’s Dylan began the decade with a sad and darn near perfect collection of acoustic laments before carrying on with a return to the fun-loving and danceable tunes that propelled him to stardom in the 90’s.
Notable Albums: Sea Change (2002), The Information (2006), Modern Guilty (2008)
10. Sufjan Stevens – Earnest and uncertain, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens chose to do things his way over the past decade, releasing entire albums devoted to the states of Michigan and Illinois, producing a collection of Christmas EPs and wearing his spiritual side on his sleeve.
Notable Albums: Greetings from Michigan (2003), Seven Swans (2004), Illinois (2005)
9. Pearl Jam – The majority of Pearl Jam’s releases this decade were good, but lacking a bit when compared to their work from the 1990’s – or course, that was prior to 2009’s Backspacer, which ranked as one of my very favorite albums of the entire decade.
Notable Albums: Binaural (2000), Riot Act (2002), Backspacer (2009)
8. Green Day – This decade marked the evolution of Green Day from juvenile pop-punkers to worldwide fame and renown. Their newfound maturity and political themes turned Billy Joe’s band into one of the most important ones in America today.
Notable Albums: American Idiot (2004), 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
7. Spoon – Though Spoon had been around in the 90’s, it was not until the early 2000’s that I came in contact with their infectious, danceable tunes and I loved it. There are few bands that have been as consistently good as Spoon over the past 10 years.
Notable Albums: Kill the Moonlight (2002), Girls Can Tell (2001), Gimme Fiction (2005)
6. My Morning Jacket – Jim James’ band burst through their reverb-soaked haze early in the decade to claim a piece of the 2000’s Southern rock crown. Though their sound can veer from Neil Young to Prince, the overall product is a distinctly Southern one and not to be missed.
Notable Albums: It Still Moves (2003), Z (2005), Evil Urges (2008)
5. Josh Ritter – Ritter is quite possibly the best songwriter of my generation, and that’s really saying something. He could be the next Springsteen or the next Dylan, or maybe sometime in the future we’ll be calling another young singer-songwriter the next Ritter.
Notable Albums: Hello Starling (2003), The Animal Years (2006), The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
4. Drive-By Truckers – There are few artists that I have followed as intently over the past ten years as DBT. There is just something about their stories of the dark side of the South that I find appealing and they have a killer live show.
Notable Albums: Southern Rock Opera (2001), Decoration Day (2003), Brighter than Creation’s Dark (2008)
3. Radiohead – If my generation has an answer to The Beatles, it is Radiohead. Thom Yorke’s band has continually pushed boundaries for the past 15 years and, in so doing, have produced some of the most creative and incredible pieces of work to be found in the music business today.
Notable Albums: Kid A (2000), Hail to the Thief (2003), In Rainbows (2007)
2. The White Stripes – I’m an unabashed worshipper of the power of Jack White and his guitar. The guy can pull incredible solos out of nowhere and make them look easy. This duo’s five albums of blues-rock are among the best of anybody for the entire decade.
Notable Albums: White Blood Cells (2001), Elephant (2003), Icky Thump (2007)
1. Bruce Springsteen – Who cares if the Boss topped 60 last year? The guy can still bring it like no other. The 2000’s have proven to be his most fruitful time since the early-mid ‘80’s, with 5 great albums released over the course of ten years. All hail the Boss, he’s still the man!
Notable Albums: The Rising (2002), Magic (2007), Working on a Dream (2009)
Best of the Decade – Music Edition (11-20) January 26, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, drive-by truckers, music, My Morning Jacket, neko case, The Flaming Lips, The Hold Steady, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Top 100 of the Decade
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We’ve almost completed are look back at the top 100 music releases of the past decade and today we will pick up with those ranked 11-20, leaving only the top ten for later.. In case you missed the previous entries, you can access them through the following links:
20. My Morning Jacket – Z (2005)
With Z, Jim James’ band reached a pinnacle of artistry to which many aspire, but few succeed. This time MMJ uses plentiful synthesizers and their normal southern fried brand of trippy rock, to create a bona fide masterpiece. The band channels the spirit of Neil Young in a haze of smoke and bourbon (I mean, they are from Kentucky) to near perfection. Check out songs like “Gideon” and “Lay Low” for just a taste and then listen to the whole thing.
19. Bob Dylan – Modern Times (2006)
Dylan’s remarkable career renaissance over the past decade probably reached its pinnacle with this great work (though a case could certainly be made for Love & Theft as well). Well into his 60’s, Dylan came out firing on this album and no doubt taught some of those young people dominating the charts a thing or two about respecting their elders. He rocks on songs like “Thunder on the Mountain,” croons on “Spirit on the Water,” and makes a timely political statement with “Workingman’s Blues #2,” all the while channeling his inner bluesman, jazzman and folk-rock star. It’s truly an amazing piece of work.
18. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (2008)
The “best bar band in America” may have first hit their stride with 2006’s “Boys and Girls in America,” but this is the release that propelled them to the forefront for me. I ranked this as the top album of 2008 for a reason – it is great. The line, “Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer. / I think he might have been our only decent teacher,” is perhaps the most descriptive way to describe their work, which, in my mind, sound like a young Springsteen fronting the Clash. Process that for a moment and you’ll realize just how awesome they are. Listen to “Constructive Summer,” “Sequestered in Memphis,” and the beautiful downer, “Lord, I’m Discouraged.” You won’t be disappointed.
17. The Strokes – Is This It (2001)
Is This It set the world on fire back in 2001, bringing about a sort of garage rock revival that helped form the state of music for the rest of the decade. It’s groovy and danceable and as much fun as your going to have with any release on this list. They have earned their place in the modern canon of greats. Just listen to “Soma,” “Barely Legal,” and “Someday,” and you’ll agree.
16. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
A lush and strange album revolving around a nebulous and no doubt metaphorical story of a young girl named Yoshimi, who happens to be a black belt in karate, that fights off an invasion of pink robots. This is proof positive that hallucinogens can make for some great music. Yoshimi is a mind-blowing work that must be listened to carefully and probably at high volumes to truly grasp and let it carry you away. Check out “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “Do You Realize??.”
15. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006)
Amy Winehouse is the neighborhood bad girl, the one that every guy wants to take out, but none of them want to take home to meet their mother. She’s brash and vulgar and soulful like no white girl from Britain should be. In case you ever wonder what the big deal is about her, just put on this album and you will understand. I sometimes think of her as the anti-Norah Jones, the kind of artist you will never hear on an elevator. From the somewhat prophetic, “Rehab,” to “You Know that I’m No Good,” to “Back to Black,” this release shines and stands apart from all others.
14. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream (2009)
Let us all hope that The Boss never slows down. The guy is 60 years old and still on top of the world as one of the most beloved artists to ever grace the stage. I saw him earlier this year while on tour for this album and let me tell you, the guy still brings it like no other. The album is superb and, along with the preceding release Magic, the best works he’s done since Born in the USA. This optimistic album kicks off with the incredible 8 minute epic “Outlaw Pete” and never lets up. The songs, “Queen of the Supermarket” and “Kingdom of Days” are also must-haves, but truly there is not one bad song on the whole album.
13. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)
This album marks the moment that I first fell in love Neko Case’s soaring, beautiful voice and when I first downloaded this back in 2006 I rarely went a day without listening to it. I tend to think of her work as having a southern gothic sort of sound, as if there is always something dark and sinister lurking beneath the surface of her powerful and aching vocals. Among my favorite tracks on the album are “Star Witness,” “Hold On, Hold On,” and “That Teenage Feeling,” but the entire thing is excellent.
12. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera (2001)
Nobody probes the dark side of Southern life like DBT and nowhere do they do it better than on this sprawling double album. Though it may be true that there is some filler contained in its 94 minutes, when the Truckers are on, they are among the best. This throwback to decades before is not only a double album, but also a concept album that tells parallel stories of the rise and demise of Lynyrd Sknynyrd and of growing up in the 1970’s South. Frontman Patterson Hood sings of “the duality of the Southern Thing,” both rejoicing in his love for the land below the Mason Dixon and recognizing its many faults and the evils perpetuated there. You need really need to hear “Zip City,” “The Southern Thing,” and “Let There be Rock,” then grab the entire work.
11. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
Jack and Meg White constitute what may be the greatest music act of the entire decade, something that is certainly apparent on this 2001 release. This amalgamation of blues, country, and a do-it-yourself punk-garage rock attitude blasted the duo into the stratosphere and put Jack on a well-deserved guitar god pedestal. Check out “Fell in Love with a Girl,” “Hotel Yorba,” and “Offend in Every Way,” and turn it up to an ear-splitting volume.
Best of 2009 in Music – The First Ten December 29, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: Blakroc, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Isbell, Metric, neko case, Sonic Youth, The Decemberists, The Raveonettes, U2, Wilco
2009 was quite a year in the music world, one that was filled with superb high profile releases and great recordings by artists toiling under the radar. I purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 new albums over the past year, most from either emusic or Amazon, and I have whittled that list down to 25 that I will present now as the best of the year. Yesterday we looked at five honorable mentions and today we will delve into the first 10 albums, those ranked 11-20 on our list.
20. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
I first came into contact with Jason Isbell’s music during his tenure with one of my favorite bands of the past decade, the Drive-By Truckers, so it goes without saying that I have also followed his solo career closely. This time around Isbell ratchets up the southern rock another notch, to a level that almost rivals his former band. It’s another great work from a real up-and-comer on the scene.
Download: Seven-Mile Island, However Long
19. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
The last album from The Raveonettes, 2007’s Lust Lust Lust, seemed to make the female-lead band an heir apparent to the shoegazing movement, that genre best defined by bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Like the aforementioned bands, their sound was an atmospheric blend of loud guitars and ethereal vocals that worked well and was a bit nostalgic to those of us who came of age in the 90’s. For their latest release, the band has taken a slightly different turn, making songs that can stand alone and do not need the album context to be recognized as good. To me this album sounds more like the band Garbage than it does pure shoegazing, and that’s a good thing.
Download: Bang!, Last Dance
18. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
These legends of noisy alternative rock have been relatively quiet over the past decade or so. Long gone are the halcyon days of the 80’s with their wild musical experimentation and the 90’s with their MTV video rotation, but after nearly 30 years Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon continue to plug away. This album marks a remarkable return to form for these oft-lauded figures, now well into middle age, and we are all better for it.
Download: Sacred Trickster, Leaky Lifeboat
17. Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
Throughout the decade, DMB continued to be one of the greatest live acts around, regularly performing to sold-out crowds around the world, but, despite this popularity, the quality of their studio recordings took a hit. It seemed as though they would never again capture the magic of their albums from the 1990’s, at least it did until they released this gem. Big Whiskey was recorded following the death of longtime saxophonist Leroi Moore and though that cloud of sorrow hung over the band, their creativity must have been rejuvenated because this is, without a doubt, their best album in a decade.
Download: Shake Me Like a Monkey, Why I Am
16. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
If there is a more unlikely success story than that of the Decemberists, I don’t know what it is. Their style is nothing like most mainstream artists and they have just released a second consecutive concept album telling a very strange story. Their last work, 2006’s The Crane Wife, was one of my favorites of that year and this later work, while not quite as good as Crane, is still very interesting and different. The Hazards of Love tells the story of a woman named Margaret who falls in love with a shape-shifting forest creature named William. It should also be mentioned that the best song on the album, “The Rake’s Song” is probably the catchiest song ever written about infanticide.
Download: The Rake’s Song, Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
15. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I know it is cliché to say that you could listen to someone sing the phone book, but I truly feel as though I could listen to Neko Case, with her soaring vocals, take on anything and love it. I first began listening to her following the release of 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and quickly fell completely in love with her voice. This album continues in the tradition of her other solo albums, telling dark tales with a Southern kick while employing her huge, room-filling voice. I had the chance to see her earlier this year at a show here in Memphis and let me tell you, this woman is amazing.
Download: This Tornado Loves You, People Got a Lotta Nerve
14. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
I’ve been listening to U2 for a long time now and I would definitely count myself a fan of their songs. But while I love several of their individual songs, I have usually found their complete albums lacking. I mean, even The Joshua Tree is terribly front-loaded. Now that that is out of the way, No Line on the Horizon is, without a doubt, their finest work since 1991’s Achtung Baby. There are some truly great songs on here, some that nearly rival the best of their past works.
Download: Magnificent, Moment of Surrender
13. Blakroc – Blakroc
The collaboration of rap and rock music has a spotty history. On one hand, you have a great genre-bending band like Rage Against the Machine or an inspired team-up like Anthrax and Public Enemy or an accomplished rapper like Jay-Z who seamlessly blends rock guitar into his compositions. On the other hand you have Limp Bizkit. Blackrock continues the tradition in a good way, this time teaming blues-rock aficionados The Black Keys with an assortment of rappers, including Mos Def, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest), Ludacris, and an assortment of Wu-Tang Clan members like ODB, Raekwon, and RZA. Some of the tracks may be better than others, but the great ones are truly great.
Download: Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo), Hope You’re Happy
12. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
With their latest release Wilco continues to hold their position as one of the best and most interesting bands in the music world today. There has been no greater voice in the alt-country world over the past 15 years than that of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. This latest release harkens back to their first few albums, with happier, more joyful sounding songs than any we’ve heard since the release of their magnum opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Download: You and I, You Never Know
11. Metric – Fantasies
This Canadian indie rock band made a few waves this year with songs that ended up on the soundtracks of various television shows and movies. Their synthesizer-driven rhythms and danceable beats mix with vocalist Emily Haines in such a way that their music is irresistible. You definitely need to check them out. Between this band and government-run health care, Canada has a lot going for it.
Download: Help I’m Alive, Sick Muse
Stay tuned for the top ten…
Free Music Friday – Neko Case November 6, 2009Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Deep Red Bells, neko case, video
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After seeing her earlier this week, I just had to post one of her songs. Here is one from a few years back, “Deep Red Bells.” Enjoy.
A Night with Neko November 5, 2009Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: concert, Memphis, Minglewood Hall, neko case, Sarah Harmer
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Last night I had the opportunity to see one of the biggest acts on the alt-country scene, a siren of the southern gothic soul, Neko Case, and it was a good show.
The concert took place at Minglewood Hall in midtown Memphis. Though there have been several shows there that I really wanted to see since it opened, this was my first trip to newest mid-size venue in the city. I was impressed with the place, especially when you compare it to other similarly sized spots in town like the New Daisy. It had two bars, along with rows or seating and tables in the back half of the room. I stood for the entire show, which isn’t that easy for someone used to spending their days in a cubicle, in the floor area in front of the stage. I had a great spot, probably only 15 feet or so from the stage and had a perfectly clear view for the entire evening. The crowd demographics were different from most concerts I have attended, with most audience members obviously in the 30 and over bracket, and many couples dancing together throughout the evening.
The opener, Sarah Harmer, came on stage around 8:00 for a 45 minute set, during which time the room steadily filled in anticipation for the main event. Harmer played the entire folk music set on her own with her guitar as the only accompaniment. Though I had never listened to her before (even though I think I recognized her from WEVL or something), I was quite impressed with her organic sound as she sang songs of nature and love and other normal folk music subjects. Though I was not that familiar with her, there were several people in the crowd who obviously were fans and they called out song titles to her several times, asking her to play their favorites. In response, she seemed genuinely touched and said in a surprised tone, “You know my stuff!” Then she did something that I have rarely seen at any type of concert. She played their requests and, though I did not know of her beforehand, I am now a definite fan. You just don’t see that kind of appreciation very often.
Truth be told, I didn’t recognize Neko Case when she came on the stage around 9:15. I guess the pictures I have seen of her on album covers and whatnot have her more made up, with her long, fiery red hair flowing out and dressed in something not so casual, at least more so than the t-shirt and jeans she was wearing last night. Her appearance was earthier than any pictures I had seen before, actually causing her to look like the woman well into her 30’s that she is. I don’t mean to harp too much on appearance, but it really did surprise me. Then the band kicked into the bluegrass-sounding opener “Things That Scare Me” and I didn’t worry about her appearance anymore. It was her golden, soaring voice that mattered and it soon had me in its tight embrace. As I mentioned in passing before, I generally think of her songs as a southern gothic style, with dark and macabre elements, but still retaining their pop sensibilities, and this transferred pretty well to a live format. She went through several numbers from her last three albums, including songs like “Maybe Sparrow,” “Prison Girls,” “Hold On, Hold On,” “That Teenage Feeling,” “This Tornado Loves You,” “Deep Red Bells,” “I Wish I Was the Moon,” and several others that I can’t recall off the top of my head. There were technical problems throughout the night that seemed to frustrate her at times and by the end of the show they had shut their monitors down and were playing, in her words, “campfire style.” She spoke to the audience a fairly good deal, but her backup singer conversed with everyone even more, especially at the times when the technical problems were being attended to. Another thing that became clear during the show was that Case is definitely a perfectionist, seeing that she stopped two songs during their intros because of tuning problems – which, I didn’t think were as bad as she did, but, hey, she’s the professional.
In all, I thought it was a good low-key sort of show and I was really happy to get the chance to see someone that I have been a big fan of for such a long time. If you ever get the chance, I would definitely recommend her.
Ten for Tuesday – Women of Music October 20, 2009Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: Allison Krauss, Amy Winehouse, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams, music, neko case, Portishead, She & Him, Sinead O'Connor, top ten, women
I have a confession to make.
As a teen and young adult in the 1990’s, my large music collection was notoriously sexist. Now, I don’t think I ever had an overt disdain toward female artists, but for some reason I never really paid them any attention. This glaring omission may have been from the mistaken belief that women couldn’t rock like most of the testosterone-fueled artists I did enjoy or from lumping all female artists into the same pop diva music box, but for whatever reason, my CD case stayed almost exclusively male-dominated.
I’ve grown up a good bit over the past decade, though, and the contributions of female artists have become much more important to me. Today my music collection is quite expansive and women performers have become an integral part of my regular listening. So, for this installment of Ten for Tuesday, I wanted to give you ten of my favorite female-dominated albums from the past decade. Many of these additions have come since I joined emusic in 2006, so it is weighted to the last few years, but there are some that I picked up prior to that. Let me know of any others that you think should be added.
10. She & Him – Volume One
When this album was released in 2008, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the collaboration between actress Zooey Deschanel and retro folk artist M. Ward, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Deschanel’s voice fits very well in the simple, old-style mold that M. Ward helps to craft. Like many of his other recordings, this sounds like something you might listen to on an old transistor radio and that’s a good thing.
9. Portishead – Third
Though the comeback album of this seminal trip-hop outfit may not be to the level of 1994’s classic Dummy, it is still pretty good and it was especially nice to hear the familiar sound of Beth Gibbon’s voice after more than a decade. I am really looking forward to hearing what else the band has in store for the future.
8. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey
Little Honey was a wonderful return to form for one of the best known voices of the alt-country movement. The album is a rollicking tour-de-force that proves that women over 50 can still contribute great things to the world of music.
7. Emmylou Harris/Mark Knopfler – All the Roadrunning
Though folk legend Harris shares the spotlight with Knopfler, the guitar maestro behind Dire Straits and several excellent solo releases, she still shines brightly as one of the most distinctive voices of the past few decades. Their voices meld wonderfully throughout this gem of an album.
6. Allison Krauss/Robert Plant – Raising Sand
Though rock legend Robert Plant is given equal billing on this album, this work is more of a Krauss album with Plant singing backup. The songs are mostly downbeat and drowsy, but not in a way that tires the listener. Instead, Plant and bluegrass queen Krauss turns this into a seminar of how two very different halves can make one beautiful whole.
5. Sinead O’Connor – Theology
By the time this album came out, I had pretty much forgotten about O’Connor. Sure, I remembered her tirade on Saturday Night Live in the early 90’s when she tore up a picture of the pope, but I had lost track of any music that she had recorded over the years. I first heard of this album from my friend Scott and thought that he must be kidding – really, Sinead O’Connor? But then I listened to this collection of gospel numbers and was immediately drawn into it, especially the CD (this is a 2 disc set) of the more sparsely accompanied songs. In her voice was something beautiful and heartfelt and spiritual that puts the entire CCM industry to shame.
4. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
With this album (and the two preceding it), Welch proved herself to be one of the most important voices in the neo-traditional folk movement. Her style draws from bluegrass and folk genres, melding the old forms into something relevant in today’s fast-paced 21st century and it is a sound that deserves to be heard by everyone.
3. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
In 2004, an unlikely pairing emerged in the world of music – country music legend Loretta Lynn, age 69 at the time, and indie rock star Jack White of the White stripes, age 28. I imagine that the seeming strangeness of this collaboration must have raised some eyebrows, but somehow it worked perfectly. The duet of Lynn and White on the song “Portland, Oregon” is especially great and helped to make this one of the better albums of the entire decade.
2. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Look, I know she’s a crackhead and I know that my giving this much credence to her work doesn’t help her on the path to self-destruction, but I really love this album and have for quite sometime. I think of her raunchy jazz/soul sound as the anti-Norah Jones, the type of music you would never hear on an elevator. She has one of those retro smoky voices, which I’m sure was probably self-inflicted, that just blows me away.
1. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
What brought the idea for this list on? The fact that I’m about to purchase a ticket to see Neko Case in just a matter of weeks here in Memphis. I fell in love with her powerful voice in 2007 when I purchased this album and I have been a devoted follower ever since. I could listen to this every day of my life and never get tired of it.
What else should have made the list?
Best of 2009…So Far – Part 2 June 18, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: 2009, albums, Best Of, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle, music, neko case
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Yesterday I gave my rankings for the 11th-15th best albums of the year so far and with this entry I will continue in that same vein, giving choices 6-10. Let me know what you think.
10. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
It’s no secret that I think the vast majority of today’s country music is embarrassingly bad, so it probably just as well that artists like Jason Isbell are making the best common man anthems below the radar. This former member of one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers, released an excellent solo debut in 2007, but I think this one may be even better. If you have a soft spot for southern music like I do, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Download: Seven Mile Island, However Long
9. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies
This progeny of the aforementioned Steve Earle is the second reason to believe that the genre of country music has not been entirely destroyed by the record companies and the radio. Earle’s songs are pure old-school, sounding much more like something you’d hear from a person pickin’ and grinnin’ on their front porch than an overly sanitized tune from the country charts. From bluegrass to honky-tonk to good old-fashioned hurting songs, this is essential listening.
Download: What I Mean to You, They Killed John Henry
8. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
You know its been an incredible year for music when the latest release from the legendary Dylan gets pushed all the way back to 8. Employing a distinct Southwestern sound mixed with Cajun and the blues and, heck, anything else he can jumble together, Dylan’s music genius continues to hack away the boundaries people try to set up for him. Every time I’ve listened to this album, it makes me want to hang out with him in some smoky border town cantina.
Download: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, My Wife’s Home Town
7. Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
I’ve been a fan of DMB since the band’s debut some 15 years ago, but their recent releases have seemed to be lacking something that the earlier ones had. Though their live show was still incredible, the quality of their studio albums seemed to be in decline….until this one. Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, recorded on the heels of saxophonist Leroi Moore’s sudden death, is a definite return to their early form and may possibly even be their best release yet.
Download: Funny the Way it Is, Shake Me Like a Monkey
6. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
In our home Neko Case is known as “the other woman” because it is no secret that I totally and completely in love with her voice. Her latest continues in a dark, Southern gothic tradition that frames her incredible vocals almost perfectly. I could and would listen to her sing the phone book, but it doesn’t help that this is another excellent collection of songs.
Download: This Tornado Loves You, Fever
To be continued…
Free Music Friday – Neko Case February 27, 2009Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: live, neko case, video
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I’m a huge fan of Neko Case (or, as she’s known in my house, “the other woman”), so I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of her latest album. NPR has been streaming the album prior to its release, so I was able to listen to it earlier this week and let me just tell you, it is great. Below is a live performance of one of the new songs.