Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last week I wrote about my favorite albums of the decade. Here’s my favorite of the past year.

* Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. This Austin, Texas outfit doesn’t see soul music as some fragile museum exhibit — it’s a funk/punk Saturday night fish fry that never ends. The horn section is loud, the guitar has a bite, and the organist sounds as if he has been force-fed a steady diet of Jimmy Smith and The Animals. And Lewis shouts like Wilson Pickett’s long-lost grandson.

* Dracula Boots by Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Brian Tristan, the El Monte, California, native better known as Kid Congo Powers, has been a member of The Cramps as well as of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Gun Club. With The Pink Monkey Birds, his M.O. is reciting strange tales over insane psychedelic guitar. Sometimes there’s New Wave-y keyboards adding some science-fiction zing to the mix. There’s a song about Santa Fe’s favorite ghost La Llorona, two songs about Santa Claus, and a cover of a funny Thee Midnighters tune.

* Not Now! by The A-Bones. This band of New Yorkers — led by the first couple of Norton Records, Billy Miller and Miriam Linna — sounds like those anonymous combos playing at sinister nightclubs or hopped-up youth dance parties in black-and-white teen-exploitation movies. A little dangerous, a little sleazy, but ultimately inviting because they’re so much fun.

* Viper of Melody by Wayne Hancock. Wayne the Train is perhaps the greatest living purveyor of ’50s-style roadhouse honky-tonk. With a tip of the hat to western swing and a sly wink at rockabilly, Hancock is retro to be sure. But he never sounds hokey. My favorite song here is a murder ballad, “Your Love and His Blood,” which contains a should-be-classic line: “The next time we’re together, you’ll be on the witness stand.”

* Raw, Raw, Rough by Barrence Whitfield. His first solo album since 1995 is full of early rock ’n’ roll/crazed R & B spirit. Barry probably gets sick of Little Richard comparisons, but in many ways such talk is well deserved. He also can sound almost pretty — in an Otis Redding kind of pretty.

* Invisible Girl by The King Khan & BBQ Show. There’s a big element of stripped-down blues bashers like Flat Duo Jets and White Stripes in KK & BBQ. But what distinguishes this dynamic duo is its anchor in raw doo-wop. The basic sound, therefore, is punk-rock roar, embellished by some Ruben & The Jets/Sha Na Na/rama-lama-ding-dong silliness but frequently based on some seriously gorgeous melodies and occasional sweet harmonies.

* Ruins of Berlin by Dex Romweber Duo. Speaking of Flat Duo Jets, founder Romweber was back this year with a new duo, this time with his sister Sara. Some songs sound like Flat Duo Jets Mach II. But other tracks feature guest musicians including a bevy of female guest vocalists, such as Exene Cervenka, Neko Case, and Chan Marshall. Try not thinking of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet while listening to Marshall singing “Love Letters” with the Duo.

* Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. My one concession to “modern” rock and my one favorite you’ll probably find on most those real rock critics’ list. Some of this music sounds like an advanced civilization of space creatures who worship Brian Wilson. One of my favorite songs of the year is the sweet, euphoric and irresistible “My Girls.”

* The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities and Rarities 2003-2008) by Drive-By Truckers. I find this collection of outtakes, alternate versions, cover songs, and other previously unreleased tracks fresher than the Truckers’ past couple of studio albums. The strongest cut is Patterson Hood’s slow burner called “The Great Car Dealer War,” about a guy paid to torch vehicles at a car lot. The best lyrics: “I don’t ask questions, I don’t assume/I just take a long hard look when I walk into a room.”

* High, Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project by Loudon Wainwright III. Wainwright plays lots of songs associated with Poole — a hard-living, ramblin’, gamblin’, singing moonshiner — as well as some original tunes about the influential singer. It’s hard to find anything as cosmically kooky this year as Wainwright’s version of Poole’s “I’m the Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World.”

Honorable Discharges
* Haymaker! by The Gourds
* Blue Black Hair by The Del Moroccos
* Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes by Tin Huey
* Tangled Tales by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks
* Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women

Best Live Album/DVD Set:
*Live From Axis Mundi by Gogol Bordello

Best Oldies Compilation:
* I Still Hate CDs by Various Artists

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