Hoon’s Muso Tunes Favorite Music for 2011

Here are 105 of my favorite recordings from 2011. I put in the time, so, maybe, you don’t have to. This tip of the iceberg, revealed here, stands atop a mountainous amount of satisfying music. Unlike last year, the recap is all in one place, and from my perspective I note lots of interesting juxtapositions. It was terrific year for archival digging and reconstitution. The Beach Boys Smile Sessions may stand on top, but the scorching sessions from Miles Davis (1967) and Jimmy Hendrix (1968) mark out other staggering musical moments from the sixties.

Matana Roberts struck me as a likely leading light of the improv year after hearing her two superb records the first time. She made it first across the finish line of my highest estimations with her sturdy and sophisticated updating of Great Black Music; i.e. the so-called Chicago avant-garde. The last ten years in Jazz have turned about the arrival of a brilliant wave of youngish players. This year Matana Roberts, Peter Evans, and Colin Stetson, scratched my radar screen. Meanwhile in 2012 Phil Woods turns 81 and Stan Tracey turns 86. Abdullah Ibrahim turns 78. Hopefully each has another brilliant record or two or more in ’em.

Hidden gems in my listing here include Dengue Fever’s Cannibal Courtship, a rollicking, syncretic world beat bounce-around; Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane, who at 76 came back with a record of Senegalese rhumbas; and another comeback item from Plaid, Scintilli. Maria Minerva’s Sacred and Profane Love helped fill the gap for an Ariel Pink-less year. The Belle Brigade’s backward-looking west coast pop rock won me over, edging out Old Californo and The Dawes for pride of place in the department of guilty pleasures. Ndidi Onukwulu’s The Escape proves we in fact do need an ebony Cat Power.

Bjork’s Bibliophilia earns special mention because in its “app” form for mobile devices she pulled the cover off of one engrossing prototype for the future modalities for pop music. Finally, Glen Campbell’s Ghost On the Canvas is likely his last record, and may well be his best too. It was without a doubt the most courageous record of the year.


1. The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions
2. Matana Roberts – Coin Coin, Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres
3. Miles Davis – Live in Europe 1967- The Bootleg Series V.1
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
5. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
6. Bombino – Agadez
7. Dengue Fever – Cannibal Courtship
8. Stan Tracey – Soundcheck
9. Bjork – Biophilia
10. Ellen Fullman – Through Glass Panes
11. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming
12. Ebo Taylor – Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980


1. (a) Matana Roberts – Coin Coin, Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres(b) Matana Roberts – Live in London
2. Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble – Watershed
3. Peter Evans Quintet – Ghosts
4. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol.2- Judges
5. Craig Taborn – Avenging Angel
6. David S. Ware – Planetary Unknown
7. Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic – Heart’s Reflections
8, Irene Schweizer – Chicago Piano Solo
9. Joe McPhee & Chris Corsano – Under a Double Moon
10. William Parker & The Element Choir – At Christ Church Deer Park
11. Bill Dixon – Envoi


1. Stan Tracey – Soundcheck
2. Keith Jarrett – Rio
3. Phil Woods & Bill Mays – Woods & Mays
4. Charles Lloyd & Maria Farantouri – Athens Concert
5. Eric Reed – The Dancing Monk
6. Erena Terakubo – New York Attitude
7. Joe Lovano – Us Five – Bird Songs
8. Captain Black Big Band – Captain Black Big Band
9. Jack DeJohnette – Group Live at Yoshi’s
10. Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau – Live at Birdland


1. Miles Davis – Live in Europe 1967- The Bootleg Series V.1
2. Weather Report – Live In Berlin 1975
3. George Russell – Things New – Unissued Concerts 1960 & 1964
4. Weather Report – Live in Offenbach 1977
5. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live


1. Dengue Fever – Cannibal Courtship
2. Omara Portuondo & Chucho Valde – Omara & Chucho
3. Hossam Ramzy – Rock the Tabla
4. Adanowsky – Amador
5. Carlo De Rosa’s Cross-Fade – Brain Dance
6. Kiran Ahluwalia – Aam Zameen Common-Ground
7. Omar Souleyman – Haflat Gharbia_ The Western Concerts
8. Stephen Marley – Revelation Pt. 1 The Root Of Life
9. Aurelio Martinez – Laru Beya
10. Nana Vasconcelos – Sinfonia & Batuques


1. Bombino – Agadez
Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane – Thiossane
2. Mamadou Diabate – Courage
3. Tinariwen – Tassili
4. Vusi Mahlasela – Say Africa
5. Cheikh Lo – Jamm
6. Dawda Jobarteh – Northern Light Gambian Night
7. Fatoumata Diawara – Fatou
8. Tamikrest – Toumastin
9. Seun Kuti And The Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury Rise
10. Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya – Sotho Blue


1. Ebo Taylor – Life Stories (Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980)
2. El Rego – El Rego
3. va – Bambara Mystic Soul- The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso
4. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Cotonou Club
5. Remi Kabaka – Black Goddess – The Soundtrack from Ola Balogun’s film



1. Ellen Fullman – Through Glass Panes
2. Mark McGuire – Get Lost
3. Thisquietarmy – Vessels
4. Barn Owl – Shadowland
5. Hallock Hill – The Union
6. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
7. Le Revelateur – Fictions
8. Killimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble – From The Stairwell
9. Bill Orcutt – How the Thing Sings
10. Aidan Baker With Kevin Micka – Green Figures


1. Bjork – Biophilia
2. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath
3. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
4. Banquet of the Spirits – Caym. The Book Of Angels V. 17
5. Plaid – Scintilli
6. Nicholas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
7. Gorillaz – The Singles Collection
8. Gold Panda – DJ-Kicks
9. various – The Remix According To Nightmares On Wax
10. various – Ninja Tune XX Rarities



1. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
2. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
3. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
4. Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down
5. Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key
6. The Black Lillies – 100 Miles of Wreckage
7. Liz Green – O, Devotion!
8. Austin Lucas – A New Home in the Old World
9. Buddy Miller – The Majestic Silver Strings
10. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest


1. The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions
2. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
3. Cowboy Junkies – Demons – The Nomad Series, Volume 2
4. Glen Campbell – Ghost On The Canvas
5. Garland Jefferys – The King of In Between
6. Bobby Charles – Bobby Charles
7. Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven
8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Winterland
9. Lindsey Buckingham – Songs From the Small Machine
10. Ray Davies – See My Friends


1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
2. Feist – Metals
3. The Belle Brigade – The Belle Brigade
4. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
5. Glossary – Long Live All Of Us
6. tUnE-yArDs – Who Kill
7. Old Californio – Sundrunk Angels
8. Maria Minerva – Sacred and Profane Love
9. TV On the Radio – Nine TYpes of Light
10. Wilco – The Whole Love


1. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming 
2. Steve Cropper – Dedicated, A Salute to the Five Royales
3. Eric Bibb with Staffan Astner – Troubadour Live
4. Mayer Hawthorne – Impressions
5. Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather
6. Ndidi Onukwulu – The Escape
7. Tracy Nelson – Victim Of The Blues
8. Lucky Peterson – Every Second A Fool Is Born
9. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul Time! vol. 1
10. Five Blind Boys of Alabama – Take the High Road


1. REM – Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011
2. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Singles Collection 1992-2011
3. Lou Reed – Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal
4. Mekons – Ancient & Modern 1911-2011
5. The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

Wrap Up Wrapped


2010 Music Favorites recapped and wrapped
V. Blues – Soul Funk
IV. Ambient – Drift – Experimental – Breaks
III. World Music
II. Jazz
I. Rock – Pop – Country – Folk

Another outstanding year despite the rantings of iPod musos. No, I didn’t hear Kanye West. Here are five starting points–and these cover a fairly wide swath of my experience with sound last year. Let’s put it this way: if you happen to enjoy, inclusive, The Beatles, Prince, and Fela Ransom Kuti, you’ll likely enjoy any of the following.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today

Janelle Monae
The ArchAndroid

Dennis Gonzalez
Yells At Eels – Cape Of Storms

Flight Patterns
Open Graves

Havana Cultura Session
Danay Suarez

Wrapping Up 2010 V. Blues, Soul and Funk

Buddy Guy
Living Proof
Janelle Monae
The ArchAndroid
Trombone Shorty
Janiva Magness
The Devil Is An Angel Too
Karen Lovely
Still the Rain
Otis Grove
The Runk
Pinetop Perkins &
Willie Big Eyes Smith
Joined at the Hip
Mavis Staples
You Are Not Alone
The Haggis Horns
Keep On Movin’
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Genuine Negro Jig
Betty LaVette
British Rock Songbook
Little Axe
Bought For a Dollar,
Sold For a Dime
Aretha Franklin-King Curtis
Live at the Fillmore
Junior Wells & the Aces
Live in Boston 1966

Last in my year-end accounting come blues, soul, and funk. Funk serves as a catch-all. In important respects the umbrella class is rhythm and blues. In recent years this class doesn’t get enough attention. The main reason for this is that I tend reach for old classic Chicago blues and southern soul when I want to scratch my itch. For funk my habit is to pull out Fela, The Meters, James Brown, and others. These predilections do not imply my global value judgment about recent rhythm and blues. I have to narrow my attention simply as matter of time, and, I’m as enthusiastic about the gems here and deeper on my list, as I am about anything else I’ve put my ears to this year.

The fact of the matter is that in this summary sits the one record I’d dare to elevate to be my record of the year. We’ll get to this honor shortly.

Buddy Guy is 74 years old. He originally was a leading light of the second wave of Chicago electric bluesmen, establishing his signature sound starting in 1965 with his debut for Delmark and the classic six sides made with Junior Wells for producer Sam Charters, forever enshrined on volume one of Chicago/The Blues/Today, (Vanguard Records.) It’s fitting the two most thrilling records of electric blues I heard last year came from the elder statesman Guy, Living Proof, and his off-and-on partner, Junior Wells, Live in Boston 1966.

The latter record captures a working band on a working night. The recording is serviceable, the playing sturdy and locked in. The music provides a time machine back to a time when this was how blues drummers drummed and blues bass players played. We are here talking about Dave Myers and Fred Below. Louis Myers is on guitar. Wells, thirty-one at the time of this club date had been plying his trade for 15 years by this night. He, and a handful of others, were about to enjoy a brief enlightening run through college town clubs, hippie ballrooms and main stages, such as the two Fillmores. Here, we’re on the cusp of the Chicago blues coming to town. Rock and roll would never be the same.

Buddy Guy is without any doubt the preeminent guitarist of the Chicago blues sound. He is also a survivor, whose long recording career has demonstrated his keen ability to evolve his artistry with the currents of change in Black popular music. A confident player, sometimes he can seem to coast while cranking out the tried-and-true. He’s always been a terrific singer, and my hope with each outing over the years is that it go beyond mere everything falling into place. No problem with Living Proof: Guy goes right for the heart of the matter with the first track, etching slashing, psychedelic blues lines as only he can do. From there, he’s so on that cameos by B.B.King and Carlos Santana are as frosting–sweet augmentation. Greatly advantaged by the arrangements and recording, this strikes me as the most invigorating blues record of the new century, so far.

New Orleans R&B has equal standing with Chicago blues in my funked-up world. Trombone Shorty, I’m sure, means to amuse on Backtown, a record preceded by a reputation somehow gathered up and delivered on the ethers. He’s good to this advance world. Although the NOLA brass band is central to a number of big easy ritual musics, here various conventions get stretched and hammered into bottom heavy funk only Shorty is thumping out. Backtown is razor sharp in execution and smile-inducing in its borrowings from the Caribbean, urban funk, Wonderesque soul, and fusion jazz. Crazy good.

I’d like to offer a concoction: a bit of Peggy Lee, a bit more David Bowie, and a liberal helping ofThe Fugees. Hmmm, you’re shaking your head? Let me adjust this mix then. Sprinkle some Queen and David Axelrod into the pot. Huh, you don’t know who Axelrod is? Okay, sounds unappetizing, but just take a sip.

Janelle Monáe. The ArchAndroid, Ms. Monáe’s second record, and one which continues her suite, Metropolis, is one of those musical moments I wouldn’t of thought possible. Her earlier record didn’t trip my triggers and then she signed on Bad Boy, and joined Diddy‘s stable of has-beens and wannabees.

So what happens? She forges the most ingenious and extravagant and utterly unique slab of neo-everything since Prince’s heyday.

Here’s an excerpt from Pitchfork’s review.

The songs zip gleefully from genre to genre, mostly grounded in R&B and funk, but spinning out into rap, pastoral British folk, psychedelic rock, disco, cabaret, cinematic scores, and whatever else strikes her fancy. It’s about as bold as mainstream music gets, marrying the world-building possibilities of the concept album to the big tent genre-mutating pop of Michael Jackson and Prince in their prime. Monáe describes The ArchAndroid as an “emotion picture,” an album with a story arc intended to be experienced in one sitting, like a movie. It most certainly works in this way, but at first blush, it’s almost too much to take in all at once. The first listen is mostly about being wowed by the very existence of this fabulously talented young singer and her over-the-top record; every subsequent spin reveals the depths of her achievement.

Here, I’ll poor you a full glass.

Wrapping Up 2010 IV. Electro & Beyond


Flight Patterns

Open Graves

Ruins of Morning

Praha Meditations
Alio Die
Yellow Swans
Going Places
The Art of Dying Alone
The Effective Disconnect
Brian McBride
Sigh of Ages
Steve Roach
The Ominous Silence

Desert Phase

Kaya Project

The New Emancipation

Soweto Kinch
Variations for Oud and Synthesizer
Keith Fullerton Whitman
Funeral Mariachi
Sun City Girls
Ninja Tune XX
(various artists)
My Friend Rain
Robert Millis (recordist/compiler)
Into the Deep 3-4-5-6

Turning to genres of music that can hardly be encompassed by either electronic or experimental, the challenge mention in a previous post, is how to deal with the flood of musical creativity. Again, one can’t keep up. I don’t try. I follow my favorites, keep a close eye on credible blogs, and am open to completely out-of-the-blue investigations.

I have no problem with accepting and receiving this flood as documentation of prolix artistry. This is different than being the musical equivalent of a picky eater.  I like it that a new find, the noise and dark ambient guitarist Aidan Baker rolled out over ten recordings last year, under is own name, with Nadja, (duo with Leah Buckhart,) and in partnership with other sonic explorers. I have experienced six of ’em. Steve Roach, in my pantheon of sound painters, released four recordings; a wave of riches, and, yes, some better than others. Yet, I want to hear every last note.

For me it’s about the documentation of artistry for better or for worse. Still, I can’t try everything at the buffet. Overall, the rise of the cheap digital studio has inspired a prolific, oft lo-fi, tendency. This has caused an explosion in the aforementioned documentation, and, paradoxically, amplified the challenge of being selective, and this against wishing to take in every last note.

Half of the sixteen recordings listed here are by artists new to me last year. Pride of place goes to Open Graves exercise in deep listening, and the flood of ambient noise unleashed by Mr. Baker. Ruins of Morning is both heavy and heavenly. The Kaya Project‘s ambient post-rock meshes pedal steel with slow moving sound worlds. I have a weak spot for what I call slow music. Even Soweto Kinch‘s marvelous down-tempo hip-hop unfolds at a leisurely pace.

It’s all every-last noteworthy.

Wrapping Up 2010 III. World Music

Havana Cultura Session
Danay Suarez
Timbuktu Tarab
Khaira Arby
Little Earth
Rahim alHaj
Ancestors Call
Huun Huur Tu
Natacha Atlas
Seu Jorge and Almaz
Seu Jorge and Almaz
Sotho Blue
Abdullah Ibrahim/Ekaya
Abu Nawas Rhapsody
Dhafer Youssef
El Encuentro
Dino Saluzzi
Assume Crash Position
Konono No. 1
Jazeera Nights
Omar Souleyman
Next Stop Soweto Vol 2. Soultown. R&B, Funk & Psychedelic
Sounds From The Townships 1969-1976
Pomegranates – Persian Pop, Funk,
Folk, and Psych Of The 60s & 70s
The Roots Of Chicha Volume 2
Psycho African Beat

When I do my end-of-the-year evaluations of my favorite music I become aware of how impossible it is to qualify the fruits of my listening experience as being any other than one guy’s enthusiasms. My yearly experience of new recordings is limited and far from comprehensive. When it comes to world music, I’m under no illusion that I’m able to take the pulse of, for example, what’s really going on, musically, in Africa. My sample, so-to-speak, is very limited.

Sixteen recordings are mentioned here and each is superb in their own way. My favorite of last year is Danay Suarez‘s Havana Cultural Session. Start there.

Under the sponsorship of world music maven Gilles Peterson, Suarez has squared cuban music with spiritual jazz in a beguiling synthesis that might be described as Alice Coltrane meets Buena Vista Social Club. There’s also an inflection of hip-hop, nu-soul, and downtempo threaded through her debut EP.

Her melding of diverse flavors reaches a peak in Ser O No Ser, the centerpiece of the record. You can audition the entire record on Soundcloud. Brownsville Record’s outpost for Suarez features a terrific video which brilliantly contextualizes her artistry and its thrust to achieve a transcendent Cuban fusion.



Wrapping Up 2010 II. Jazz Carousel



As I pointed out in a previous post my enjoyment of Jazz over forty years has been keyed by my understanding its all about immersing myself in the individuated artistry of the player. I do not go to the music through the conventional grid that supposes there are luminaries of innovation and each obtains historical position in a genealogy given by the degree the music is advanced. My own iconoclastic view proposes this kind of myth-mongering does not, and cannot, encompass the actual process of artistry.

What then results is my preoccupation with checking out where the artist’s music stands as a statement of where he or she is “at.” If I want to experience where David Murray or Myra Melford or Tom Harrell is “at” I need only make the time to check out what each has to play as each renders the current state of their personal art.

(In Ben Ratliff‘s NYT podcast review of the best of 2010 his and Nate Chinen parse their choices along conventional lines. From my perspective, this seems more ad hoc than refined because the given’s of the cultural political-economy of Jazz don’t figure into it, and, in a cultural field where thousands of records are issued every year, the reduction to so-called importance comes off as arbitrary.)

My point is: every year is a good year for jazz. This follows, and has followed in my almost forty year experience, from the singular verity supposing that each artistic statement is positioned as the development of artistry rather than as a commentary on jazz history.

Once again, then, a recently past year showcases the annual self-fulfilling prophecy!


I bring some order to the wave of new music from last year by highlighting the sessions that soared up and into my listening. Although there’s no way this order can be fixed in place, I’ve selected here, and put in what I call my Jazz Carousel for 2010, about 30 prime instances. I easily could have put another fifty records into play. One thing I know is it will take a lot more time to truly deal with all the artistry.

A few highlights… Geri Allen has been a masterful pianist for decades and yet her solo recording Flying Toward the Sound strikes me as a superb recapitulation of her deeply felt commitments. There were numerous terrific piano-centric records last and none of the finest–Jason Moran, Jessica Williams, Keith Jarrett, Vijay Iyer, –should be discounted against Geri’s outing. Still, Geri travels to the top on possibly my favorite of her recordings so far.

Charles Lloyd has been on the jazz scene for fifty years. He began recording for ECM 1989 and has settled into an elder’s predictable path. He plays his heart. Mirror, a quartet record with Jason Moran at the piano, uses the classic sax and rhythm format, and provides essays on standards, two Monk pieces and some originals. It is stately in its mostly slow tempos. The record is full of searching and soulful playing and completely realized ensemble interplay.

Roswell Rudd over the last few years experimented to fine results with matching his burry trombone to zesty folkloric contexts. Not so for this record he made with the working quartet of pianist Riccardo Fassi. Rudd is a musician’s musician and this is the first time in quite a while he’s enjoined a format where his playing is the main feature. He’s a great trombone player, has been for decades, and Fassi and his group are up to the task of giving Rudd an ideal setting.

I’m going to defer to the BBC’s review of Isla, by The Portico Quartet.

Portico Quartet are one such act to have flourished. Following their Mercury-nominated 2007 debut Knee-Deep in the North Sea – a sprightly, fleet-fingered album of post-jazz ambience with a glistening, sinewy thread of minimalism that saw the four-piece nod appreciatively the way of Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich – the four-piece have made a follow up that makes their beginnings busking on the South Bank seem like a myth propagated by publicists. Receiving a nod of approval for their pigeonhole-defying venture really has emboldened them.

The group’s folkloric inclinations are born by Nick Mulvey‘s hang drum. The group has carved out something like a tribal chamber jazz. Their antecedents are few, yet would include Oregon and Jan Garbarek. Stunning.

Finally, although no single record could possibly claim the mantle of ‘the best of 2010,’ I easily nominate Cape of Storms by trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez to be my second-to-none favorite for last year. I’ve been following Gonzalez since his debut for his own DIY label Daagnim in 1987, Catechism. Since then he’s released on average a record every year. However, he would also be counted as an unsung genius likely unknown to all but the most tenacious jazz fans.

I can circle back to my point about how the sophisticated listener might contextualize jazz year in and year out and point out that the history of jazz cant be intelligently spoken of without making room for Dennis Gonzalez. His artistry mixes a combination of freebop, African melody and rhythm, and, experimentation, in different quantities on different occasions.

He is an astonishing trumpeter in the vein of Don Cherry and Bobby Bradford, and his cascading lines can be said to dance. On Cape of Storms, he’s joined by Aaron González, double bass; Stefan González, drums, percussion; Louis Moholo-Moholo, drums, percussion; Tim Green, tenor sax. The South African percussion giant Moholo-Moholo is the ringer. This band is a family affair going on ten years. The two sons comprise a unique rhythm section; having internalized–no doubt–the rhythmic gospel of their father. The new record is tipped toward freebop, yet the underpinning is drumming.

(A brief excerpt is heard as the backing for the carousel.)

Some of the cream of 2010.

Aki Takase – A Week Went By
Charles Lloyd – Mirror
Cookers – Warriors
Dave Douglas – Spark of Being
Dave Holland – Pathway
Dave Liebman – Turnaround_(Music of Ornette Coleman)
David Binney – Aliso
Decoy & Joe McPhee – Oto
Dennis Gonzalez – Yells At Eels – Cape Of Storms
Evan Parker – Whitstable Solo
Fight the Big Bull – All Is Gladness in The Kingdom
Geri Allen – Flying Toward The Sound
Henry Threadgill Zooid – This Brings Us To Volume
Ideal Bread – Transmit
Jason Moran – Ten
Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden – Jasmine
Lee Konitz – Live at the Village
Michael Formanek – The Rub And Spare Change
Odeon Pope – Fresh Breeze
Perry Robinson – From A to Z
Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra – Presents
Portico Quartet – Isla
Riccardo Fassi – Roswell Rudd – Double Exposure
Steve Coleman – Harvesting Semblances And Affinities
Ted Nash – (LCJO) Portrait In Seven Shades
The Marsalis Family – Music Redeems
World Saxophone Quartet – Yes We Can

Wrapping Up 2010 I. Everything Rock Pop and Country and Folk List for 2010

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today
Jackson Browne &
David Lindley
Love Is Strange
Jamey Johnson
The Guitar Song
Neil Young
Le Noise
Brian Wilson
Gershwin Reimagined
Elisabeth Cook
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Cassandra Wilson
Silver Pony
Julie Neumark
Dimestore Halo
J.J. Grey & Mofro
Georgia Warhorse
Jackie Greene
Til the Light Comes
The Texas Sapphires
As He Wanders


Ralph McTell
Somewhere Down The Road
The Doors
Live In Vancouver
Deadstring Brothers
Sao Paulo
Quarantine the Past
Jack Rose
Luck In the Valley
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
1970 With Eric Clapton
Patty Griffin
Downtown Church
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