I gave up saying what the "best albums of the year" are a long time ago. No, all I can say is what albums meant something to me during the year. What albums did I go back to and they made me feel good? And, if I couldn't feel good, what albums at least made me feel something? What albums would I give or recommend to my best friends? These are the 10 discs that I expect to be listening to for many years:
1. "Scrap Metal Blues," Kevin Abernathy Band (www.kevinabernathymusic.com)
What a concept: The sort of loud, brash rock 'n' roll that reminds you of your first good beer coupled with lyrics that actually give you something to chew on — Van Halen butt-shaking brashness mixed with Bruce Springsteen-style storytelling and sensitivity. It could be just awful. Instead, it's just great. This is a power trio that sounds just on the edge of, well, falling right off the edge, I kept this disc cranked up in my car stereo for months.
2. "Half Wild," Senryu (El Deth)
Every time I listen to this album thinking I'll just play one song, I end up listening to the whole thing — generally twice. I don't think anyone in the country is creating better, smarter, more emotionally fulfilling modern rock than Senryu. And, "Half Wild," with its oughta-be hits "Halfwild Boys" and the heart-wrenching "Last to Let Go" and "Great. Expectations" is a knockout from start to finish.
3. "The Whole Love," Wilco (dBpm/Anti-)
Whatever you like or dislike about Wilco, it's all here — the noisy chaos from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and the folky melodies of "Summerteeth." A magical mix of beautiful and ugly, it's one of the band's most lovable discs in a very rich catalog.
4. "Welding Burns," Rod Picott (www.rodpicott.com)
Hard times sometimes bring out the best songs. Nashville's Rod Picott is the workingman-poet find of the year. Whether the singer is resigned to hang sheetrock for the rest of his life or buying a shotgun to start a life of crime to make ends meet, it all rings true.
5. "Daybreak," Sierra Hull (Rounder)
Sierra Hull was a bluegrass mandolin whiz-kid before she started high school. It's a joy to hear how she's matured (at the ripe old age of 20) into a complete musical package. Hull has a gorgeous voice and is a formidable songwriter. The similarities to Alison Krauss are unmistakable. However, Hull sounds like she's going to cut a path all her own.
6. "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down," Ry Cooder (Nonesuch)
Are you just a little angry over the bank bailout and the ever-widening gulf between the rich and poor? Guitarist/musicologist/singer-songwriter Ry Cooder has created your album. The lead off track, "No Banker Left Behind," is a rabble-rousing anthem worthy of Woody Guthrie.
7. "Mockingbird Time," The Jayhawks (Rounder)
Reunions can be disastrous, but the members of the Jayhawks hit just the right note when they got back together to create new music. It's gorgeous Americana from a band that if you didn't know in the 1990s you should rediscover now.
8. "Dancing Backwards in High Heels," New York Dolls (429)
Speaking of reunions, who would expect the AARP card-carrying New York Dolls to sound so vital? This third disc after reuniting original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain references the classics of pop and rock 'n' roll and somehow manages to retain the band's bratty swagger.
9. "Scandalous," Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears (Lost Highway)
This young Austin band knows how to deliver classic R&B, funk and soul with an updated attitude. Even spastics like me want to go to "Booty City" when the band gets cranked up.
10. "All Eternals Deck," The Mountain Goats (Merge)
Singer-songwriter John Darnielle is as acerbic and insightful as they come. This is one of those slow-grower discs that keeps rewarding you when you go back for more.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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