Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2009 Conclusion - #5-1

This turned out to be much harder than I thought. I ended up leaving out a few albums that I really enjoyed, and on any given day could have replaced most any of the albums on this list. There are also a few albums that I didn't pick up until the last week of 2009 (or the first week of 2010) that would have likely made the cut if I had a few more weeks to evaluate them.

At any rate, these are my top 5 favorite albums of 2009.

5. Lucero - 1372 Overton Park: I only have two Lucero albums, this one and Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers. 1372 Overton Park is a quantum leap forward from their last album. The hooks are tighter, the lyrics stronger, and the music more memorable (the horn section is a nice touch).

These songs are full of whiskey, cigarettes, and youth searching for something (meaning, love, the next bar....). Although the tunes don't specifically mention it, you can definitely tell from the feeling that this is a Memphis-bred album (of course the title is a dead giveaway for locals). This album is polished in all the right areas and ragged just the same. All the studio sheen in the world couldn't take the grit out of front man Ben Nichols' voice, and the band is better for it.

Perhaps my favorite trait of the album is how decidedly Southern it is. It begins with the characters of from the song "Smoke" hanging around a mid-town bar and ends with the line "Mama we're still your boys." To me that pretty much sums up the Sunday morning / Saturday night phenomenon so prominent in the South.

4. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You: Brothers Scott and Seth from Concord, NC have been at this for years, building a loyal and expanding fan base in the process. Say what you want, but when you bring in Rick Rubin to produce, you are clearly aiming for the stars. A lot of their long-time fans took offense to this and fans of underground bands usually do. Luckily, the music here is as good as ever (if slightly less quirky) and Rubin manages to bring focus and just the right amount of production value to the talented siblings.

This album shows how powerful acoustic music can still be. The songs are smart, the harmonies tight, and the musicianship outstanding. When I saw the somewhat dark cover art and read the title of the second song "January Wedding," I expected a murder ballad. However, nothing could be further from the truth as this is probably the sweetest song released this year. Here is my favorite verse from the song and the album:

No longer does it matter what circumstances we were born in
She knows which birds are singin'
And the names of the trees where they're performin' in the mornin'
And in January we're gettin' married
Come January let's get married

Funny how a seemingly simple line can say so much. Don't get the wrong impression that this is an album full of sappy love songs, but don't expect much moping or negativity either...just beautiful music.

3. Monsters of Folk - Self Titled: Monsters of Folk is comprised of Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, and M. Ward. This super group manages do what most super groups fail to do...make an album of good songs. Most super groups sound fine and they definitely seem to be having a good time, but the songs tend to sound like they were written in a week as an excuse to get together and record an album. That's not the case here. Every song on this album is fully developed and interesting. The range of styles here is immense. From the beat-driven lush pop of "Dear God" to the pure folk of "Man Named Truth," this album manages to create something entirely different from the members' full-time gigs.

I think the thing that strikes me most about this album is that the guys sound like an actual band. Maybe that's because they have played together off and on since 2004when they toured together with their respective bands. On many of the songs, you can't even tell when the baton is passed from one singer to the other, the voices flow together so perfectly. Why do Monsters of Folk succeed where so many others have failed? My suspicion is that Jim James is their secret weapon. James has quickly become one of my favorite artists (mostly from his work with My Morning Jacket), and he doesn't disappoint here. I'll be listening to this album this time next year, and beyond.

2. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies: It's hard to describe just how good this album is. Don't expect the early day rebellion or latter day politics of his father's work. The younger Earle has definitely paved his own path. The strange thing is his music is more traditional than his father's. Earle and his band make the most of the bluegrass instrumentation and make the music on this album every bit as captivating as the lyrics.

The title track is one of the best written songs I've heard in years, and the cover of "Can't Hardly Wait" may even be better than the original. It's on the song "Mama's Eyes" where Earle shines brightest though. He begins the song explaining that he is "his father's son," which explains many of his flaws including never "knowing when to shut up." However, he goes on to sing "I still see wrong from right, cause I've got my Mama's eyes." Anyone familiar with the Hell-raising exploits of his famous father will definitely understand this song.

1. Jeffrey C. Capps - The Muddy and the Blue: After years as a member of the Memphis band The Central Standards, Jeff has shown he has the talent and the vision to continue to make an impact with his music. The first thing you'll notice when hearing this album is how melodic these songs are. Try listening to the opener "Let The Fever" without it being stuck in your head the rest of the day. However, upon further listening, you'll start to realize the depth in the lyrics. He left Memphis shortly after this album was released, and the excitement of something new and the sadness of leaving the familiar behind definitely influenced this album.

On the song "Sleep Easy," he acknowledges the downside of the city, especially in the line "There's a million lights turned on in a thousand neighborhoods, but when midnight comes around they never seem to do no good." It amazes me how many Memphis references he fits into this album, while never being too literal. He's not touching on the "tourist themes" of Memphis either(Beale Street, Elvis, etc). These songs were written from the perspective of someone who picks up on the day to day things that make Memphis unique. If you've lived in the nighttime flight path of the FedEx planes, as my wife and I did our first summer in Memphis, then the song "47 747's" will strike a chord with you. I've had the album since last spring and I still hear something new almost every time I listen to it.

To me the best track on the album is "Marguerite." The troubled characters in the song combined with the understated instrumentation and harmonies make this one of my favorite songs of the year.

Check this album out on Itunes or Better yet, go see Jeff live if you get the chance. You won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words. Jeff is a great guy to work with and helping him make this was some of the most fun I've had playing music. I'm glad to see that people enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it.