Happy New Year, folks.
Always late to the party, we,finally, we finish off our Favorite Records of the Year list with the Top Ten today. We'll follow this up with our favorite re-issues and our tribute to a couple of folks who passed last year that may have fallen under the radar. Then we'll return with regular posting, and we'll have the return of an old favorite. Phew.
There's probably hundreds of great records we missed in 2008, so please feel free to share your favorite records. We like recommendations, and still think word of mouth is the best way to discover new artists.
Before we dive into the Top 10, here's our favorite shows of the year, one of which is such a no-brainer it's almost pointless to list it. But, hell, why not?
Favorite Shows of 2008:
-Tom Waits @ The Ohio Theatre, Columbus, Ohio
-King Khan and His Sensational Shrines @ Pitchfork Festival, Chicago
-Jolie Holland @ The Lakeshore Theatre, Chicago
-American Music Club @ Schubas, Chicago
Let's do this, then, shall we? Songs ripped from vinyl when possible.
Big Rock Candy Mountain Favorite Records of the Year (Pt.3)
10. The Dirtbombs: We Have You Surrounded LP, "Play Sparks" 7" and "Brand New Game" 7"
Main Dirtbomb Mick Collins can be a frustrating feller for some folks who enjoy artists to be easily pigeonholed. Throughout his career and his various bands (The Gories, The Voltaire Brothers, Blacktop, The Screws, etc.), Collins has explored the history of rock with an eye for all things cool. Filtering soul through a garbage can fuzz, The Dirtbombs come closest to what one would generically call a "conventional" band, which isn't really saying much, as they are hardly predictable. On "We Have You Surrounded" and the various 7 inchers released this year, The Dirtbombs mine the very heart rhythm and blues, mixing garage sleaze and deep soul into a jiveass concoction best heard a full volume and dancing your porkpie hat. There are many imitators to this style, but the Dirtbombs remain the original, and the best.
The Dirtbombs: Ever Lovin' Man (mp3)
The Dirtbombs: All My Friends (Should Be Punished) (mp3)
9. Jolie Holland: The Living and the Dead
Jolie makes a rock album. Well, not really, but on "The Living and the Dead", Holland brings in an actual band: guitar, drums, bass, that sort of thing. It makes for a revelatory listen. What's intrigued about Holland in the past was her use of "old-timey" tropes in both instrumentation and in her vocal delivery, echoing Marcus' "old weird America", and placing an outsider's context into the proceedings. On this record, Hollands voice is still the magical, dust bowl meander that we love so dearly. It's a beautiful and hazy instrument. But placing it into a less fragile environment, pushing it out in front of a structured musical backdrop, serves to highlight and push Holland into another level. It shows her versatility as a performer, and the strength of her songwriting, allowing her to roam free.
Jolie Holland: Mexico City (mp3)
8. Miss Ludella Black and the Masonics: From This Witness Stand
Former Delmona and Headcoatee, Ludella Black hooks up with the mighty Masonics for her second proper "solo" album. A trash-noir masterpiece, Black alternates between sleazy guitar sex and lo-fi loungey ruminations on love, lust and loss. Best heard as two sides (if you know what we mean), this is a record that sticks in your gut and pulls the strings of your basest desires.
Miss Ludella Black and The Masonics: Loony (mp3)
Miss Ludella Black and The Masonics: This Heart Is Condemned (mp3)
7. Hipbone Slim: The Sheik Said Shake
In all honesty, there's nothing revelatory on this record. It's not an album that will change your life. But you'll be hard pressed to pull this off your rekkid player. Best known to some as Sir Bald Diddley, Hipbone Slim takes us to the barn dance at the end of the world, and has us (square) dancing like there aint no tomorrow. Rockabilly without the pyscho (gad, how we hate psychobilly, and all it entails), and Country without the treacle, this record is an instant party classic, shaking your boogie in all the right places. It's a beer guzzlin', boot scootin' throwdown, all swaggering twang-trash, who's only aim is to fuck'n'run. There's a reason this record ranked so highly on our list, and we really encourage you to check the attached mp3's to see how great this record is. We'll let the music speak for itself.
Hipbone Slim: Put A Rocket Up It (mp3)
Hipbone Slim: The Sheik Said Shake (mp3)
6. Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: Lord Keep Me Sanctified 7"
2 songs. 2 songs is all you get with this selection. What more do you need? All hail the mighty 7", where there is no time to fuck around. You gotta give your best, and no 80 minute cd filler to cover your ass. We covered Msr. Evans not too long ago, and our opinion holds. We'd like to see most other artists out there distill a sound and vision into such a concise vision as Evans does on this '45. A hallelujah guitar scuzz burst, with Evans doing his best backwoods hillbilly yowl and holler. What more, really, could you ask for in life?
Monsieur Jeffrey Evans and His Southern Aces: Lord Keep Me Sanctified (mp3)
5. AA Bondy: American Hearts
Another record we covered previously. Here's what we wrote:
"...A classic back porch record that reminds us, eerily, of Townes Van Zandt's early records.
The first thing you notice about the record is its intimacy. The recording is barely, production-wise, a step above Palace's "Days In The Wake", and you keep expecting to hear a passing car or crickets in the background. That's a good thing. Sure, it's filled with snare, piano/organ, and pedal steel, but done in such an understated way as to render the proceedings close. You are there, sitting on the steps to the porch, lit by fireflies, watching with wonder. It's an album rooted in an older, forgotten time.
Bondy's voice has a weariness, a whiskey and nicotine timbre, that pulls you in, invites you to stay the night and dance the slow waltz of the moonlight.
"There's A Reason" is a moment of pure beauty and loss...beauty in the heart of sadness. A lament of of hope and remembrance, a sepia-toned ode to the beating of the heart, a valedictory on the space between the possible and the dreamt."
That pretty much sums it up, then, doesn't it?
AA Bondy: There Is A Reason (mp3)
AA Bondy: Vice Rag (mp3)
4. Andre Williams: Can You Deal With It
Oh, Andre. A filthy son of a bitch, isn't he? He's been criticized as an R'n'B and Soul guy that's safe for white people to like. I'm not sure what that means, outside of jackass pretentiousness and an unwillingness of music critics to move beyond convention. It's a stupid criticism which doesn't take into account that great music should be enjoyed by any damn person who wants to appreciate it. Williams has worked with a variety of musicians throughout his career, and recently he's experienced his revival with the help of a slew of garage bands. So, you know, he's getting paid now, which is more than could be said for his years of depending on the R'n'B crowd to continue ignoring him, to the point where he was homeless and forgotten.
Rant over, why should you care about this particular record? Well, because it's his best since Silky. Teaming up with New Orleans stalwarts Morning 40 Federation (the New Orleans Hellhounds on this record) and the inimitable Mr. Quintron (see #17), Williams creates a nasty rhythm and booze concoction, all sex and sin with the fatback bacon fat rising to the top of the stew pot. Quintron especially makes for the perfect foil to Williams' greasy slant on life, a pairing made in sweat and soil. Yes, you can certainly get yer, erm, freak on to this record.
Andre Williams: Pray For Your Daughter (mp3)
3. Holly Golighty and the Brokeoffs: Dirt Don't Hurt
This record is even better than last year's "You Can't Buy A Gun When You're Crying", which is really saying something, man. Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave return to their rickety wagon jaunt through the back roads of America, filtering their unique take on brokedown Country'n'Blues through a gauzy sheen of old-timey instruments both recognizable and arcane. While Golightly gets top billing, her voice captivating as always, like some far off Appalachian tone poet through static, it's Lawyer Dave who may actually be the real star here. His grasp of mud-caked rural dystopia informs every note and lyrical line of this album, pulling us deeper and deeper into the woods. When he takes a lead or features on a duet with Golightly he sounds like that creepy uncle who lives up the road in a tiny shack who's missing a couple of fingers, and only emerges for the Holidays. This record is the secret sins of coal miner's daughter laid bare and soaked in moonshine and kudzu.
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: My 45 (mp3)
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: Bottom Below (mp3)
2. Times New Viking: Rip It Off
This is a goddamn fucking loud record. Really, you might want to turn the volume down, 'cuz this sucker was recorded at ear-splitting volume. How three people can make this racket without the aid of any trickery is a testament to the power of the rock and the roll, maaaaannnn. I'm not sure what the hell it is about Columbus, Ohio that has consistently produced more than it's share of lo-fi trash gods, but Times New Viking follow the tradition admirably. With only one song clocking in at over 3 minutes, and most of them coming in under 2 minutes, there's no time for wankery on this album. Short, nasty bursts of guitar junk scrawling all over shouted girl/boy vocals and drums from a tin can, it's all adrenaline rush, a kick to the head and a punch to the balls. Not everyone's cuppa, surely, and there's nothing here remotely resembling soul, it's pure, distilled rawk, snotty and amateurish, and only one other record managed more time on our turntable than this'un. And did we mention that it's really, really fucking loud?
Times New Viking: (My Head)(mp3)
1. Hayes Carll: Trouble In Mind
Well, when it comes right down to it, we're a Country blog, first and foremost, aren't we? It's not easy being a Country fan these days. "Alt-Country (who cares what that is)" has become tired and boring, and contemporary assembly-line Nashville product is just bad. So when a record as brilliant as Carll's "Trouble In Mind" drops, it's cause for celebration. It's the best Country album since the mighty James Hand's "The Truth Will Set You Free".
We sort of predicted where this album might place back in May. And, sure enough, nothing else came close. Here's what we wrote then (with a bit of editing):
"Carll's voice is the even ground between early Steve Earle nasality and James McMurtry's desert-scorched ramble, drunkenly close to alt-country affectation, but he's a Texas boy, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. There's something in the water in Texas (oil?) that produces brilliant songwriters with a back-porch pick and an everyman drawl. Carll is the next in line.
The first thing you notice about Carll's songs on "Trouble In Mind" is their sense of place, the wide open spaces made claustrophobic, squeezed into those little towns you see on exit ramp signs. The type of places you'd never go, but someone comes from there, with escape in mind, heading for...the next exit ramp, maybe. The next town, the next country. Drunk and disorderly, with lost love in mind and fingers clutching the stick shift on a truck that aint been paid for yet. Their whole lives shot through with IOU's, desperate for the payoff at the end of the day, or the break of morning.
Carll delivers these Carver-esque slices through a Western veneer of fiddle, pedal steel, and grit, the long drive to the roadhouse carried bleary-eyed by the promise of a cold one, a hoedown, and a honky tonk woman."
Yep. Frankly, we don't think we could possibly convey in words how good this record is. Just give the tunes a spin, and you'll see what we mean. Reward yourself. You deserve this album.
Hayes Carll: Beaumont (mp3)
Hayes Carll: Knockin' Over Whiskeys (mp3)
Please support your local, independent musicians and record stores.