That was a mouthful. Especially with the tongue planted firmly...well you get it, we're self-referentially ironic. Yawn. Let's git er done. Sorry, couldn't resist
10. Cast King: Saw Mill Man
9. Gob Iron: Death Songs For the Living
8. Richard Buckner: Meadow
7. Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You
6. Lambchop: Damaged
5. South Filthy: Crackin' Up
4. Cat Power:: The Greatest
On with the show.
3. Tom Waits: Orphans
This should really come as no surprise, except for the expectation that we might have placed old Tom a couple of slots higher at number 1. What that should tell you is how keen I am on the the top finishers.
In my experience, there is little middle ground so far as Tom Waits appreciation goes. Folks either love him or hate him. His is not the persona or Howlin' Wolf fucking Beefheart voice that invites apathy. Which is fair enough. And this three disc set of odds, sods and whatnot, frankly, is probably not the best starting point for the novice.
This set is essentially a love letter to his fans, a group he's been reluctant to admit to, though in a recent interview on the Daily Show Waits came as close as I can remember to acknowledging the beast that is the Tom Waits collective.
I am not unbiased when it comes to Waits, I couldn't pretend to be, so I can't offer a critical remove when including this set. I also had a hell of a time selecting one track as a sampler, so I'm offering up one from each album. If I did this tomorrow, I'd probably select three different songs.
"Bottom of The World", is Waits at his hobo best, containing one of my favorite lines "Well God's green hair is where I slept last/He balanced a diamond on a blade of grass". "Take Care Of All My Children" is a track from the film Streetwise, and on of my favorite missing Waits songs, previously sitting dusty in my rows of Waits bootlegs. It's Waits channelling his inner Salvation Army band. And "Home I'll Never Be" is a Kerouac piece. I'm not a Kerouac fan, but filtered through Wait's grizzled growl and pathos, the song takes life of it's own, borrowing but not indebted to the Beats.
This is another album I can't lay a claim to having a critical remove from. Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams are my favorite band. Doesn't matter, though, because they've earned their spot on this list. They're the best band in America you've never heard. Actually, they're better than most bands you have heard. The Hi-Beams are a honky tonk band, pure and simple. No posturing or hip and ironic Western shirts from the Gap. No insurgent stance or loudfast Hank Williams as punk icon nonsense. A band in their element in sweaty, Lone Star beer-soaked venues ripping shit-hot steel guitar lines perfectly twanged to a snap snare, stand up bass and the sweet Texas yodel of Halden himself. To rein in the perfection of their live presence, which I've covered briefly elsewhere, and commit it to aluminum, is a daunting task, one which they achieve brilliantly on their second album, Midnight Rodeo. If the current state of Country and Western, and Western is certainly a part of the Hi-Beams canon, leaves you cold and wistful, this is your salvation. For all those in favor of honky tonk bands out there slogging the spirit of Country in the face of Nashville and commercial packaging indifference, this band's for you. Catch 'em live if you can. The album contains several rave-ups, and runs the gamut of great Country styling, but I'm picking a slightly slower number to feature, one which is a live favorite of mine, and one you can dance with your lady or fella to. I'm going to do a longer post later, featuring, fingers crossed, an interview, so you'll get your swinging bopper later. Stay tuned.
Shocker. If you've read my posts here or here, you could have easily guessed where this would end up. It's not only the best album I've hear this year, it's the best album I've heard in many years. Chasing his own ghostriders in the Country constellation, Hand forges something that is uniquely his own, yet rooted strongly in a tradition as old as the first plucked string. In a time in which Bob Dylan can record the same album for the third time in a row, and receive rave reviews, it's artists like Hand who should be getting the attention.
A horse trainer and beer joint troubadour, Hand plays a continually rarefied form of hard Country, one passed through mountain water and Texas dust, a twangy and hiccupping yodel traveling the darker roads where lonesome has lost the ability to cry. Hand can sound as old as the hills, filtering a strain of deep Southern Gothic, but the songs he writes are timeless, both in subject and the ability speak across years.
More hyped bands and artists will always sell more records and fill larger venues, but that's the problem with hype, in that it allows for passing fad to overshadow the great artist hiding in corners. James Hand has made a stunning album, one I think folks will be talking about years from now when the dust settles and perspective weighs in. If you have any love for Country, this album is the one for you this year. And next year. And the year after....
Please support you local, independent Honky Tonker, jukejoint, and record store.