Each year I seem to listen to more local music and less of what the rest of the music media tells me I should be listening to. That’s not to say there weren’t some great releases on a national level, but this is the year that there were so many excellent releases by local artists that I decided to bump out the national ones in my Top 10 and go strictly with locals.
1 “Spies, Lies and Burning Eyes,” RB Morris (Rich Mountain Bound): It took a decade for the multi-faceted RB Morris to take time for a new album, but it was worth the wait. It’s Morris’ best, most varied and yet most all-encompassing disc. It’s sweet. It’s spooky. It’s deep. And the song “That’s How Every Empire Falls” is the sort of modest classic that feels timeless.
2 “Inkling,” Senryu (El Deth): The songs in Senryu’s “Inkling” don’t so much play as unfold. It’s an album about following clues, disintegrating relationships and having some kind of faith. The second half of the song “A Trail of Asterisks” is one of the most touching and beautiful two minutes that you will hear this year.
3 “Blackwater Swamp,” Melungeons (http://melungeonsrock.com): This is roots rock with all the dirt left on those roots. Teenage Love and Evil Twin vocalist Rus Harper, guitarist Bill Irwin and bassist Brad Deaton (also both formerly of Evil Twin), harmonica player Doug Hemphill and drummer Kevin Trotter deliver songs that are gritty, nasty and totally arresting.
4 “Within,” Steve Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org): Who knew what to expect when longtime Knoxville drummer Steve Brown put together an album of his music? Aptly enough, “Within” contains elements of the many styles Brown has worked in, but with enough of a signature touch that they all make sense together.
5 “Angel’s Share,” Bill Mize (www.billmize.com): “Angel’s Share” finds guitarist Bill Mize with a stack of gorgeous new original songs. Mize’s fingerstyle playing is always stunning, but he never seems like he’s just showing off. Instead, Mize channels his formidable skill into making music with soul and sweetness.
6 “The Fake That Sunk a Thousand Ships,” Sam Quinn (Ramseur): Sam Quinn’s songs on this first solo disc are just as melancholy as his work with Jill Andrews in the now-defunct Everybodyfields, but even better. Tom Pryor’s steel guitar work and Megan Gregory’s fiddle only intensifies the combination of beauty and sorrow.
7 “Raucous Americanus,” Tim Lee 3 (www.timleethree.com): When the Tim Lee Band became the Tim Lee 3 (featuring Tim’s wife, Susan Bauer Lee, on bass and now Matt Honkonen on drums) guitarist, singer-songwriter Tim seemed liberated and suddenly this seemed like a real band. It’s never been more evident than on the double-CD “Raucous Americanus.” It’s solid, unpretentious rock with no apologies, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
8 “Great Commotion,” Mic Harrision and the High Score (www.micharrison.com): After a great honky tonk record, Mic Harrison and the High Score steer a slightly more diverse course. There’s more rock and pop.No band has ever been more of a guaranteed good time.
9 “Real Monsters Look Like Men,” Dark Hollow Band (www.darkhollowband.net): Dark Hollow Band leader Randall Wilkerson went through a sort of spiritual epiphany before starting the Dark Hollow Band. The group’s album “Real Monsters Look Like Men” might help give listeners one as well. It’s a sweet, soulful combination of folk and rock, good melodies and playful musicianship that is irresistible.
10 “Basically Sane,” Greg Horne (www.greghornemusic.com): Although known best in Knoxville as an instrumentalist, Greg Horne’s songwriting and singing skills would make him a standout among celebrated company. This album features only Horne accompanying himself on guitar on some great songs — from the fun “I Liked You Better” to a gorgeous post-break-up weeper “No Condition” and the gentle “November, Metamora.”