Best Albums 2010
1. Leroy Powell and the Messengers Atlantis
Leroy Powell- he’s hard to beat in 2010. His fourth studio album since 2007 is such a gem that one reviewer said it made The Black Crowes sound like Hannah Montana. I agree- and then some. While 2007’s self-titled album Leroy Powell and 2008’s classic Angles and Curves were clear tributes to 70s country legends like Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons, Atlantis like Paranoid is self-described “Garage Soul Rock” in the vein of Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Stand out tracks include “When the Morning Comes,” “Family Tree,” “Song for You” and “It’s Our Turn Now”- a contender for my favorite song of the year. I cannot wait for the 2011 rumored studio album, Snowblind Moonshine Deathride, which is supposed to be (according to Leroy) a “harrowing and sordid tale of adventure and metaphorical journey through a diabolical world of corruption, fornication, and Armageddon with rocking uptempo jams.”
2. Reckless Kelly Somewhere In Time
Damn, this is a good album. For the last decade or so this Texas via Idaho band has been putting out qualitiy albums, but never quite reaching what you could call album-greatness. Somewhere In Time does that. This album takes a cue from an earlier 1970s Waylon Outlaw classic, Honky Tonk Heroes, in that every song is written by an obscure figure from outside the band. Like Waylon used Billy Joe Shaver, Reckless Kelly uses Idaho outlaw country music songwriter Pinto Bennett and the result is magic. Great tracks include “Little Blossom,”Some People’s Kids,”Somewhere in Time,” Best Forever Yet” and “You Cared Enough to Lie.” This is an immediate country-rock classic.
3. Dave Gleason Turn and Fade
I vividly remember the first time I heard a Dave Gleason and the Wasted Days album: January 2003, Waterville, Maine. That day California country jams mingled with wintry Maine and had me wondering what the hell I was doing my senior year of college. I had never really heard a band and vocalist with a sound quite like Gleason’s. I listened to it over and over and ate up each new release as they came out. I similarly remember where I was when I first heard each other new album, rather like some people remember assassinations of famous people: Midnight, California New Orleans, Louisiana; Just Fall to Pieces, Lawrence, Kansas. Gleason hasn’t had a new album in a couple of years, but Turn and Fade was well worth the wait. This album start to finish is filled with Clarence White-esque electric guitar riffs and California country rock vocal sensibilities. It may sound like Gram Parsons and Buck Owens spent a night in 1969 partying by a southern California pool with The Byrds, but hey, this stuff is pretty damn original. Exceptional tracks include “Turn and Fade,” “If You’re Going Through Hell,” “Blue Side of the World” and “The Neon and the Wine.”
4. Jamey Johnson The Guitar Song
Jamey Johnson, a motorcycle man and Nashville’s closest thing to an Outlaw a la Waylon pulled off something special with<span> The Guitar Song.</span> This album is a double-disc set with 25 songs about the home-place, failure, success, cheating, women, dogs and other country standbys- and Johnson pulls it off big time. Stand out tracks include “Macon,” “Dog in the Yard” and “Good Morning Sunrise.”
5. The Turnpike Troubadors Diamonds and Gasoline
The Turnkpike Troubadors are the best Okie band to come out of Stillwater in years. If you love early Jason Boland, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen you willl get a major kick out of these guys. That is not to say that they are just copying an older formula either- they are unique. While you can tell this band is very young and still learning the whole album thing, they hit homeruns more than the strike out on Diamonds and Gasoline. Best songs include “Every Girl,” “7×7,” “Leaving and Lonely,” “Whole Damn Town” and “Down on Washington (yes, a song about going dowtown to Washington Street in Stilllwater). Many of these were some of my favorites of the year.
6. Drive-By Truckers The Big To-Do
DBT hasn’t been quite the same since Jason Isbell left. His departure is not necessarily a negative however, as it has afforded Mike Cooley the opportunity to showcase more of his songwriting and singing talent. Mike Cooley has been one of my favorite musicians for years, even though he spent quite a bit of that time strictly as a lead guitarist. The Big To-Do is a solid album with songs from Hood, Cooley and Tucker. It is probably DBT’s best work since Isbell jumped ship. Best tracks include “The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” “After the Scene Dies,” “Santa Fe” and “Birthday Boy.”
7. Stonehoney The Cedar Creek Sessions
Stonehoney is something of an all-star consortium of a few of Austin, Texas’ better songwriters and musicians. The Cedar Creek Sessions is their debut album and it is a success. Like many bands that feature more than one vocalist and songwriter they shift from one genre of music to another and when they do this the album gets a bit confused in direction and you can sense the band/producer trying to transfer a great live 2.5 hour set to a 50 minute recording. All that said, two tracks on this album, “Two Years Down” and “Feels like Home,” are damn near instant country rock classics and personal favorites (for a lot of reasons) for me this year.
8. Eleven Hundred Springs This Crazy Life
Dallas’ self-described “long-haired tattoo hippie freaks” are back on This Crazy Life with another stellar Texas-rooted country album. If you like Doug Sahm you will love Eleven Hundred Springs. Much like their previous albums No Stranger to the Blues, Bandwagon and Country Jam there is not a single weak track on This Crazy Life. Eleven Hundred Springs is the rare group that can piece together an hour of music that ages well and is playable from start to finish. Lyrically, the group may be getting a little more mature than the days when they used to sing songs that started with lines like “roll up another joint and pass the whiskey over here.” That’s alright, it still works.
9. Richmond Fontaine We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River
Ok, this is a major change of music pace. Hey, it happens. Once a cowpunk darling, Richmond Fontaine over the years has morphed into an alt-country stand-by. Willy Vlautin, the sometime novelist and lead singer/songwriter of the band, is probably one of the most interesting frontmen in the country. Best songs include “You Can Move Back Here” and “Maybe We Were Both Born Blue.” Also, don’t forget to check out Willy Vlautin’s novels too. They are very well written vignettes of American life in the West.
10. Hank III Rebel Within
Like global warming, the fact that Hank III is clinically insane is the shared consensus of the international scientific community. This fact, however, does not prevent him from frequently putting out top-notch, entertaining metal-tonk albums. Rebel Within is no exception to this rule. “Getting’ Drunk and Fallin’ Down” is one of the best songs of the year, easily, and should make your party playlist for years to come. Also check out the tracks “Drinkin’ Ain’t Hard to Do,” “Moonshiner’s Blues,” “Tore Up and Loud” and “Lost in Oklahoma.”