Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Jackson Browne &
Love Is Strange
The Guitar Song
|Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
|J.J. Grey & Mofro
Til the Light Comes
|The Texas Sapphires
As He Wanders
Somewhere Down The Road
Live In Vancouver
Quarantine the Past
Luck In the Valley
|Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
1970 With Eric Clapton
|The Rolling Stones
Exile On Main Street
My first thought to myself, while scanning a spreadsheet listing of my popular music encounters last year, was, ‘what a great year for hippie music!’
As it is, any year’s offering will be filtered through my decidedly unhip residual hippiedom. Yet, 2010 was exceptional on several crucial counts: first, despite not really having any shelves on which to shelve box sets, or any bins into which to slide reissues, it was sterling year for reissues of ‘way’ old classic stuff. Two reissues almost bookend this year’s distillation, The Doors, and Delaney and Bonnie. On another count, because some of the oldest rock generation’s members popped out records fabulous (Neil Young obviously,) and horrendous. There seemed to be ongoing reminders that some dogged efforts have persisted for 40+ years. What a surprise that Peter Wolf walked back through the door with a darn good record! Then there was the cover record phenomena marked by a lot of mostly forgettable retreading from Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana, Sheryl Crow, Garth Hudson, and one immensely enjoyable blast from Bettye Lavette.
Of course by ‘anti’hip’ I mean pro-hippie, and imply that my tastes in pop are long mostly fixed to the verities of well played and well sung, and ‘musicianly’ rock, where the paragons are The Byrds, The Band, Little Feat, and a few really elder others, most long gone. The final count reveals that a lot of rock style buried by FM bombast and punk in the late seventies today has come to constitute touchstones for a third generation of melodious, rootsy bands. It’s not odd that none of this new music is either new or fit to the current mainstream, a mainstream to some extent centered on those bombastic precedents. But, I don’t listen much to this mainstream, settling, as I have settled, on this third wave of accessible, and hoary–in a good sense–rock. The New Pornographers essayed very focused takes on this era on their ingratiating Together.
I put in evidence Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Janiva Magness, whose records this year would instantly appeal to anyone who valorizes Bonnie Raitt. Similarly, and by surprise, The Nouveau Honkies echo Brinsley Schwarz, the connoisseur’s pub rock outfit and Brit equivalent to The Band. Brinsley Schwarz made their last record in 1973! This list of twenty records distills a master accounting of 200+ recordings, so it’s significant English folkie Ralph McTell came out of nowhere with an outstanding record, a record that could be described as what Ry Cooder might be up to were he long The Queen’s subject. Jackson Browne and Dave Lindley‘s 2CD live set squares Browne’s earnest and often biting folk songs with Lindley’s virtuosity, and, on this very fine record, a cast of Latin players. It’s of one of Jackson’s best records.
A certain kind of purist keeps the door shut to the modern sound of Nashville, perhaps not realizing that Nashville isn’t the epicenter anymore. There are so many enjoyable, if modest, records coming out which get lumped into the alt-country, Americana, roots country rock, and, country, that it isn’t possible to keep up. Julie Neumark, naughty Elizabeth Cook and sweet steelin’ The Texas Sapphires, with the Nouveau Honkies, rose into my own top rank. It was Jamey Johnson who sent the biggest message, (perhaps to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban?) with the masterful two sides, The Guitar Song. His deep record has a lot of gravity, and to me Johnson has set himself apart in his genre, in the same way Springsteen did with singer/songwriter fueled rock long ago.
Lilium was new to me and they hold down a spot where hippie demands overlap with post-rock. For Lilium, this means an unholy alliance of country, and, say the demonic spawn of Lou Reed and King Crimson. I know…doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is a fine, if-you-will, slab of “post-alt-country. Sungrazer‘s on the cusp. In my scheme of working this all out I could have plugged something else in. Still, I like this record of heavy guitar psych and hard rock. Unlike the several other alternatives, it preserves its crunch from beginning to the end. Steinar Gregertsen is a Swedish lap steel virtuoso, and he slides all over the Hendrix canon with felicitous zap and zing.
Old timer Brian Wilson‘s Gershwin project proved a winner. If you have any kind of taste for, or weakness to, fifties pop, Wilson has made a statement about timelessness and beauty on a record with only one rock song on it. Delaney and Bonnie‘s archival set from 1970 brings together 3 tour sets from the D&B & friends band that featured Eric Clapton. These have circulated in lesser fidelity in the underground, but Rhino Handmade has given them the mastering and packaging treatment these sets deserve. Prime white gospel soul and rock and roll is the agenda. Last and hardly least is The Doors‘s instantly essential Vancouver performance. Nuff said.
As for Neil Young, the bar is set high because he’s long been in my pantheon and has etched a handful of absolutely essential discs. I was set up for Le Noise by the concert recordings that popped up last spring. Young toured without a band and playing electric, acoustic, piano, and pump organ. A movie of Le Noise is available in a high quality stream. Check it out. This great gust of folk noise music is self-explanatory.
Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti finally go into a regular studio after leader Ariel Marcus Rosenberg’s many years working his lo-fi power pop magic from the bedroom or the equivalent. Ironically, I was never a huge fan of the FM radio hitmeisters Mr. Pink brilliantly refers to here. So, I was never much into The Sweet or David Bowie or T-Rex, and, on-and-on, because this record is littered with references and “simulacratic” artifacts from roughly 1965-1980. On the other hand, this was the most refreshing burst of pure psychedelic pop in 2010.
Jazz picks are up next. And then I’ll cover realms of experimental, electronic, and world music…some time soon.
(note–I made up this list year by assigning records released in these genres 3 points each, and then slowly upgraded them through re-listening and re-evaluating, adding points along the way. 2 points is a reject, and 1 point was a waste of my time. Whereas this list of twenty represents the 7,8,9 point evaluations. I’m picky when I do the sort, and I’m careful about where my investment goes, so 80% of the records I engaged with last year have value to me. 63 of 205 pop recordings gained 5 or more points, so there are many gems underneath this creamy top flight.)
The short list.
1. Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
2. Neil Young – Le Noise
3. Jackson Browne & Dave Lindley – Love Is Strange
4. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
5. Brian Wilson – Reimagines Gershwin
6. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
7. Ralph McTell – Somewhere Down The Road
8. Dead String Brothers – Sao Paulo
9. Janiva Magness – The Devil Is An Angel Too
10. JJ Grey & Mofro – Georgia Warhorse
11. Elizabeth Cook – Welder
12. Ray Davies – See My Friends
13. Julie Neumark – Dimestore Halo
14. The Texas Sapphires – As He Wanders
15. The Nouveaux Honkies – Where Do I Go
16. Cassandra Wilson – Silver Pony
17. The New Pornographers – Together
18. Black Dub – Black Dub
19. Jackie Greene – Til the Light Comes
20. Steinar Gregertsen – Standing Next To a Mountain – A Tribute to the Music of Jimi Hendrix
21. Lilium – Felt
22. Sungrazer – Sungrazer