Showing posts with label TOP10. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TOP10. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

My Favorite Albums of 2023




I haven't done this since right before I retired in late 2019, but there were so many fine albums released in 2023 I've decided to make a Top 10 list this year, even though this blog is my only platform.

Except I couldn't reduce it down to 10. So I'm giving you my Top 15. (In 2019, I only did my "Top 8" because there was still more than a month to go before in the year until I quit my job.)

So here you go, my favorites of 2023. These are listed by album title in alphabetical order. (I frequently have trouble choosing -- then sticking with -- a choice for number one.) I immediately noticed that this meant that my top three records present are in the country/bluegrass mode. So nice break there, you hillbillies. But if you aren't into country: 1) You can kiss my ass; 2) Just keep scrolling down.

By the way, all the song titles below are linked to the albums' various Bandcamp sites (except Marty Stuart's album, which isn't on Bandcamp), where you can listen to and BUY.  (Yes, students, you should actually purchase music you like!)

 Happy New Year, pendejos!

* All Bad by Nick Shoulders. One reason I was hesitant in 2019 to do a full Top 10 albums list was because I sometimes late, late in the year, stumble upon a record so magical, it becomes an instant favorite. That was certainly the case in 2019 when in late, late December I stumbled upon an album called  Okay, Crawdad by a backwoods crooner named Nick Shoulders. I discovered Crawdad too late for my final New Mexican column but just in time to include in the Nashville Scene Country Music Critics Poll,  published in January 2020. "I’ve been a fanatical fan of an Arkansas-born singer named Nick Shoulders for — at this writing — several days now," I wrote when submitting my list.

Shoulders has done two albums since then, Home on the Rage in 2021 and this one earlier this year. And yes, I'm still a fanatical fan of this nasal voiced bard of the Ozarks, who's apparently accepted Jimmie Rodgers as his personal savior. With his minimalist band, named for the album that first drew me to him, Shoulders' basic sound hasn't changed. There is still plenty of yodeling and whistling -- and some occasional mouth bow. And he keeps writing memorable tunes including the title song,  the upbeat "It's the Best?" and "Won't Fence Us In," in which Shoulders reimagines the old Bing Crosby psuedo cowboy song, with a Joni Mitchell "Big Yellow Taxi" thematic twist. 

Because Shoulders has carved a niche as a hillbilly environmentalist, he doomed any chance of being invited to perform with Kid Rock Hank Junior and Jason Aldean at the upcoming Rock the Country festival. Something tells me Nick doesn't care.   


* Altitude by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. I'm going to try to write this blurb without mentioning The Byrds.

Oh shit, I can't do it

With this record it's impossible not to recognize the impact that late-period Byrds has had on Stuart. Just listen to the opening instrumental "Lost Byrd Space Train ("Scene 1)" and it sounds as if he's non-verbally explaining how "Eight Miles High" led to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. You might even consider this a showcase of Stuart's knack of stretching the surly bonds of traditional country without once sounding as if he's abandoning his roots. 

One of my greatest joys at a Marty Stuart show was when he did the garage-punk classic "Psychotic Reaction" as an encore a couple of years ago. I was slightly disappointed he didn't include that Count Five fave on this album, but there are plenty of strong, country-fried rockers on Altitude such as  "Country Star," "Tomahawk" and especially "A Friend of Mine," which I've embedded below.


* Bluegrass Vacation by Robbie Fulks. Fulks albums frequently made my annual Top 10 lists. Even Fulks' genre exercises like his previous album with rockabilly matron Linda Gail Lewis and his latest one (in case the title didn't tip you off,  this is a bluegrass album) are full of Fulks' heart and wit and usually have moment of transcendence. And that's true of Bluegrass Vacation, where Fulks is aided by bluegrass giants like Sam Bush, Alison Brown, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas, Sierra Hull,  Tim O’Brien and Ronnie McCoury. (Mandolin man McCoury's presence here reminded me of his participation on a similar project, The Mountain by Steve Earle and The Del McCoury band in 1999.)  

My favorite tracks here are "Molly and the Old Man," a celebration of a beautiful banjo picker and her father; "Let the Old Dog In," which, like Hank Williams' "Move it On Over," concerns a husband in the doghouse; and "Longhair Bluegrass," (embedded below.) 

On this song, Robbie celebrates the bluegrass festivals his parents took him to when he was a teenager in the early '70s with "old men doin’ the buck and wing / Young gals skinny-dippin’ in the spring / While the singin’ and the fiddlin’ and the feedback filled the air / While Mom and Daddy were getting’ fried / I was sittin' there with my eyeballs wide  ..." By the end of the number, Fulks name-checks the high priests of the "new wing" of Bill Monroe's church: Norman Blake, Tony Rice,Clarence White, John Hartford, The Nitty Gritty Dirt band, Earl Scruggs and his sons and David Grisman. These are the spirits that guide this delightful album. 


Chronicles of a Diamond by Black Pumas. This record has to be the soul album of the year, and The Black Pumas, headed by singer Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada, have to be the top soul group of this era. 

And a little New Mexico True pride here, as Burton spent his childhood in Alamogordo and later attended New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. As the Las Cruces Sun News said in 2020,  Burton has "gone from performing at house parties in Las Cruces to jamming on some of the largest stages in the world ..." (Check out this video from 2014 of Burton singing the song that would become The Black Pumas' signature song. at a Cruces open mic.)

Chronicles is the studio follow-up to The Pumas' self-titled 2019 debut (another record that would have been on my top albums had I not discovered it in late November of that year after I retired, buying it at a Pumas concert in San Antonio). While mainly sticking to the same basic slow groove as the first album, Burton and Quesada stretch out a little on tracks such as the upbeat, almost poppy "Ice Cream (Pay Phone)" (embedded below); the pounding "Gemini Sun"; and "Sauvignon," which Quesada kicks off with a spaghetti western guitar and Burton sings mostly in falsetto against a psychedelic backdrop.


Creatures of Culture by The Minks.This irresistible Nashville band was my major discovery of 2023. I caught them live at the American Music Festival in Chicago in early July, and was an instant fan. I loved their high-powered punk/pop/psych/garage sound and was captivated by the sweet, sassy vocals and big smile of singer Nikki Barber.  

Album highlights include rockers like "Motorbike" (The Minks should consider doing a medley of this song and this one!); the slow and trippy country-tinged "Sweet Treat" and "Take It Easy" (embedded below), which thankfully is NOT an Eagles cover. 


Deano & Jo Deano is Dean Schlabowske, a singer, guitarist and songwwriter in The Waco Brothers, and Jo is Jo Walston, singer of the Meat Purveyors. The two have been married for four years -- a match made at Bloodshot Records, or probably at the annual Bloodshot party at the Yarddog Gallery in Austin during South by Southwest, where traditionally the Purvs played immediately before The Wacos.

This album is a mixture of original tunes (my favorites being "Murlene," written by Deano, sung by Jo) and Deano's "My Evil Twin") plus covers of classic honky-tonk and bluegrass songs. The basic sound reminds me mostly of late '50s / early '60s country, that fabled era when (former Santa Fe resident and personal idol) Roger Miller was writing songs like "A Man Like Me" (embedded below); The Stanley Brothers were singing tunes like "Stone Walls and Steel Bars";  and Nashville stars like Porter Wagoner were still singing Hank Williams songs like "Tennessee Border."

On this album, Deano & Jon are aided by some quality musical pals such as Robbie Fulks, who plays guitar, Mark Rubin of The Bad Livers on stand-up bass and Austin fiddler Beth Chrisman. 

Deano and Jo is nothing but a crazy fun hillbilly romp. And while I do love the latest Waco Brothers album (keep scrolling!) in my heart I love this one even more.


Death is Forever by The Dead Brothers. Not surprisingly this Swiss band -- who called themselves a "death blues funeral trash orchestra" always had an aura of death round them. That's even more true on this record, which was recorded in 2021, shortly before the death of singer and frontman Alain Croubalian. They always did sound like a world-weary, mournful Bizarro World Salvation Army band, a typical banjo/tuba/harmonium group with gypsy jazz and New Orleans second-line overtones. But because of Croubalian's passing, this album has that extra kick, a melodic testament to the fact that death don't have no mercy in this land.

As usual, most of the songs on their final album are Croubalian originals, some of my favorites including the delicate, ethereal "500 Horses," the snazzy, jazzy "Diamond Mind," and "Whalebone," which Tom Waits would have loved to have written. And there are a handful of songs from other sources here, including the oft-covered "Wayfaring Stranger," "I Wrote a Book," written by another singer who died too soon, Blaze Foley and "Amara Terra," a "work song of the olive harvesters of the Abruzzo region" popularized by Italian pop star Domenico Modugno and transformed by The Dead Brothers into a hymn-like dirge.

So, in tribute to his life, here's a hearty "Fare Thee Well" to the Dead Brother Supreme,  Alain Croubalian: 


Get Behind the Wheel by Eilen Jewell. Eilen is an artist who just seems to get better and better with age and continues to amaze and delight with her latest record. (Not only that, this former St. John's College student who began her performing career busking at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, put on an excellent free show on the Plaza this year, which was even stronger than her show at Tumbleroot in 2022.) 

Though my favorite Eilen album still is Gypsy (2019). Get Behind the Wheel is pure gold. From Jerry Miller's nasty guitar licks and Eilen's desperate-sounding, moaning vocals that open the album on the smoldering "Alive" through the meandering, swampy blues of "The Bitter End," this work is a winner

Embedded below is one of my Wheel favorites, "Lethal Love."


Glory by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages. On their latest album, Barrence and band keep doing what they do best: play hard-charging, early-R&B fortified, garage/punk-informed rock 'n' roll. Though the term "party record' normally refers to X-rated comedy from the '50s and '60s -- and Barrence is no Redd Foxx or Rusty Warren -- "party record" is exactly what Glory is. I wish all the parties I get invited to were as fun as this album.

This actually is a return to form for Whitfield. His previous album, Songs from the Sun Ra Cosmos, credited to "The Barrence Whitfield Soul Savage Arkestra," was a tribute to the late jazz man/mystic who was born Herman Blount. That was a fun experiment, but I prefer his work with the actual 
Savages, propelled by guitarist, former New Mexico resident, and longtime Whitfield collaborator Peter Greenberg and sax man Tom Quartulli.

Basically every glorious Glory song is joyful romp, and any one of them would make an excellent introduction for those not acquainted with Whitfield, though if forced to choose my favorite, it would be the short, punchy  “Cape May Diamond,” (embedded below).



Is Heaven Real? How Would I Know by Johnny Dowd. Is Johnny Dowd real? I think probably so.

The ever prolific Dowd once again offers a tasty, if curious, mix of deconstructed, often discordant rock 'n' roll, Okie humor, fascinating madness and, ever so often, terrifying tales of people on the ledge. (All this and an album cover by Mekon/Waco Brother Jon Langford.) 

Dowd's first solo album was called The Wrong Side of Memphis. The new one could be called "Return to Memphis," as it was recorded in that town, where Dowd has lived at least a couple of times in his youth. Heaven features several Memphis musicians, including singer and upright bass player Amy Lavere and her husband Will Sexton, who plays guitar on the record and produced it.  

The sound of Memphis soul definitely permeates the album, but, as is the case with most of Dowd's influences, it's a mutated, otherworldly version of the sound. Probably the most striking example is the title song, slow somber death march of a tune punctuated by eery, spook-house soprano vocalizing.

On the other end, there are some downright whimsical tunes, bouncy little numbers that sound as if they might have come from the world of British Music Hall or maybe even some obscure foreign cartoon. These include "Pillow," "LSD" and "Black and Shiny Crow" (embedded below). At least the middle section. This remarkable journey to the center of Dowd's weirdness starts out with slow Randy Newman-like piano meditation. That only blasts a few seconds. Then he goes into a cartoony section. But right past the two-minute mark, the song turns into a jazzy blues (or maybe a bluesy jazz) vamp, which goes on for six minutes. Truly inspirational!


The Men That God Forgot by The Waco Brothers. Like creators of other favorite albums this year -- Robbie Fulks', Barrence Whitfield's and Deano & Jo's -- the Wacos are refugees from the old Bloodshot Records, the label was responsible for stretching the boundaries of the alt country scare of the '90s. Led by founding Mekon Jon Langford, who apparently starts a new band any time he has a spare moment, the Waco Brothers embodied the crazy spirit of Bloodshot. I mentioned the Yarddog SXSW parties up in the section on Deano & Jo. The Wacos almost always headlined that party  and almost always blasted the audience into a blissful state of cosmic consciousness -- or at least, drunken joy.

Although they originally billed themselves as "insurgent country," there's actually not much "country" in The Men That God Forgot -- save a couple of songs like "Blowin' My Top" and "George Walked With Jesus" (both Deano songs). Even with the presence of Tracy Dear's mandolin (which he usually plays like a rhythm guitar instead of a lead instrument like you hear in bluegrass) and Jean Cooke's fiddle, the overall sound of the Wacos in recent years has been muscular, guitar-driven roots-rock. 

But damned fine muscular, guitar-driven roots-rock.

I can't wait until the next time I see The Wacos (it's been too many years!) and hear them play some of these new songs like the title song, "The Best That Money Can Buy" and, my personal favorite, at least at the moment, "Backstage at the Boneyard" (embedded below).


These Things Remain Unassigned by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282.The subtitle of this compilation, the San Francisco band's first release in more than 20 years, is subtitled "singles, compilation tracks, rarities & unreleased recordings." And indeed it's an odds 'n' sods collection with basically cut reminding me of the mad genius of the Fellers.  

My introduction to the Fellers was when I saw them live in the summer of 1991 at the Off Ramp which I described as "a dark little joint in an ugly part of Seattle." Yes, I was searching for "grunge" but I found something much crazier in the Fellers. When reviewing their album Lovelyville (which I purchased on cassette tape at that show) I noted the album "does not quite capture the intensity of a Thinking Fellers show." The group released many albums after Lovelyville, and while every one of them is full of inspired lunacy, they never matched the intensity I felt at that Seattle show.

 It's hard to describe their alluringly strange sound. Yeah, you can hear strains of Captain Beefheart, a smudge of Ubu, a quick snort of The Residents and echoes of The Shaggs. (They do a sweet version of "Who Are Parents," which originally appeared on a Shaggs tribute album.) You might imagine Jad Fair fronting a local high-school metal group or a Martian marching band playing Tom Waits' most incomprehensible nightmares. On These Things, besides the Shaggs cover, this album also has a couple of tracks of the Fellers playing movie music from  Rosemary's Baby (featuring sinister "la la las")  and A Fist Full of Dollars

It's only a fantasy, but I would love it if the release of this collection -- the first Thinking Fellers album in more than 20 years! -- as a sign that the band will reunite. I can dream can't I? 


Tropical Breakdown by Pierre Omer's Swing Revue. You'd never guess by listening to this upbeat, happy, jumpy album that Pierre Omer was once a member of The Dead Brothers. But indeed, he was a 

This band has strong echoes of Django Reinhardt, as well as definite traces of the ghost of Cab Calloway and more recent purveyors of such sounds, like Dan Hicks and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Pretty much all the tracks will get your face smiling and feet moving. 

I especially recommend the album opener "Atomic Swing"; "Leslie Kong," (an ode to the great Jamaican record producer;  the slow, bluesy "L’amour a la Plage," which a bass line fans of Concrete Blonde's song "Bloodletting" should recognize;  and  the snappy "Just One Kiss" (embedded below)


Trouble On Big Beat Street by Pere Ubu. For most of this century it's hard not to think of Pere Ubu as a noir band. Not that you'd expect to hear music from David Thomas and his fellow noisemakers in a remake of Double Indemnity or Lady in the Lake, and not that you hear riffs from the soundtracks of such movies in Ubu's music. But it's obvious from the titles of most of the albums they've released since 2006's Why I Hate Women (which, according to Thomas,  "... is based on the Jim Thompson novel that he never wrote but might have") that noir is in Thomas'' soul. 

Since Why I Hate Women, Ubu has released records called Lady from Shanghai (2013) (the title borrowed from a 1947 Rita Hayworth / Orson Wells murder flick) and The Long Goodbye (2019), which was a Raymond Chandler novel. And back in 2013 Ubu released Carnival of Souls, the title coming from a noir-influenced 1962 horror movie.

And now we've got Trouble on Big Beat Street, which isn't named for any known film or pulp story, though the cover looks, at least at first glance, as if it could have been taken from some noir handbook -- some shadowy guy in a fedora coming out of a dark alley onto a street where the cobblestones seem to be camouflage for an alligator. (I suspect this is a reference to the song "Crocodile Smile," where Thomas declares, "...like a crocodile I will smile / Maybe like an alligator / I will see you later ..."

Like a great noir story, Big Beat Street is an atmospheric, cacophonic tour, full of apprehension, dread and occasionally some weird humor. At one point we go from walking down the street obsessed with a movie in your head ("Make me better off than bled... all over the sidewalk ..." and the next thing you know, you've got gum on your shoe and strange voices are mocking you like a bunch of bratty street urchins ("Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah ...")

As strange as the music is, Ubu sounds stronger than ever, though it occurs to me that I've probably said that before more than once. Maybe Thomas and crew are just getting better with age -- though certainly not more commercial. 

Besides the ones mentioned above, my favorite songs here include the opening track  "Love is Like Gravity," (embedded below), which sounds like sad trumpets,  a scratchy guitar, a fluttering flute and Thomas' tortured voice lost in the woods and trying to call for help. "I light the fearsome night," he sings, "Oh, I like fearsome nights ..." 

Then there's "Worried Man Blues," a dreamlike trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi in which Thomas discovers a Popeye's Fried Chicken right there at the crossroads where according to legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. And working in that Popeye's are Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Alan Lomax and Bob Dylan. Then he starts singing an alien version of the old hillbilly song first made famous by The Carter Family. Thomas declares "I'm worried now, but I won't be worried long."

I don't believe him.


Zango by WITCH. By the cruelty of the English alphabet, this album last on this list. But not in my heart. And, had I listed my favorite concerts of the year, WITCH at Meow Wolf on Sept. 17 would have been at the top of the list.

I was excited a couple of years ago when I learned the documentary, We Intend To Cause Havoc, was playing in Santa Fe. Imagine the excitement on my pretty little face when I learned the band itself was coming to a small venue in Santa Fe.

For those who aren't familiar, WITCH arose in the newly independent Zambia in 1972 (!), led by a young man named Emmanuel Chanda, who went by the nickname Jagari. The nickname was inspired by the Rolling Stones resurrected from its decades of slumber, but the sound owed much more to James Brown (who performed there in 1970), rock 'n' roll and native African sounds. 

The style became known as Zamrock, and WITCH was at the top of this vibrant scene. But as the '70s resurrected from its decades of slumber, economic and political turmoil basically killed that scene. And in the '80s, AIDS claimed the lives of most of the original band members. Chanda retired from music limelight and went to work as a gemstone miner and teacher.

The 2019 documentary led to the reformation of WITCH. The film's director Gio Arlotta, introduced Chanda to the guys who'd become the new rhythm section of WITCH, bassist Jacco Gardner and drummer Nico MauskoviƧ, both from The Netherlands. Chanda added more instrumentalists and singers so WITCH could be "resurrected from its decades of slumber"

Recorded at DB Studios in Lusaka, Zambia, where most of the original band made their magic, Zango
is clearly rooted in '70s Zamrock -- plenty of wah-wah guitars -- but has incorporated more modern sounds as well. WITCH pulls that off without a hitch.

Standout tracks include the opener, "By the Time You Realize," a slow groove in which Chandra raps the lyrics and is joined by female vocalists in the sing-song chorus,; "Waile," which sounds like a prime candidate for the soundtrack of a remake of Shaft in Africa; and "Avalanche of Love," (embedded below), which features lady rapper Sampa the Great (she's pretty great) and a middle section that slows down into a quiet storm.

Then there's "Message from WITCH," which closes the album. Here Chandra, over a bass-heavy backdrop, talks about the power of Zamrock: “It unites beliefs/Conquers xenophobia/It laughs at hate speech/Ends sexism/It erases homophobia/Shatters antisemitism/Embraces every race.”

That sounds like a great New Years wish to me.


For more songs from these albums check my Youtube playlist


And check this Spotify list for all the songs from these albums -- except for The Thinking Fellers compilation, for which Spotify had only a couple of tracks from previous compilations.


And if you're musically adventurous, play either of those lists on shuffle mode.

Friday, November 22, 2019

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Top Eight of 2019 (so far)


The clocks have caught up with me, folks, it’s really time to go. This is my last Terrell’s Tune-up. After more than 32 years at The New Mexican, I’m officially retiring as of Nov. 22.

No, this column isn’t going to be a self-congratulatory walk down Memory Lane, recounting more than 30 years of writing this golden column.

Besides, I don’t want to write a tearful “farewell” column when I’ll probably resume writing music commentary in some form for Pasatiempo in a few months, and I don’t want to have to write a “How Can You Miss Me When I Won’t Go Away” column in the near future. (Those who like my weird tastes in music can still listen to Terrell’s Sound World, 10 p.m. Sundays on KSFR and my monthly Big Enchilada podcast at bigenchiladapodcast.com.)

But I’ve got some unfinished business here. I’m not going to be around at the end of the year, so I won’t be around to do my annual Top 10 album list. Even knowing I was retiring, I’d compulsively been compiling my favorite albums of this year. I hadn’t quite finished, so here are my Top 8 albums of (most of) 2019.


* Deserted by The Mekons (Bloodshot). This is the best album by this 40-plus-year-old band in more than a decade. It’s wild, somewhat cryptic, beautiful in spots — and it rocks like folks their age (or my age) aren’t supposed to rock. The first song, “Lawrence of California,” sounds like a lunatic’s call to arms, conjuring a last-gasp proclamation by a ragtag army of fanatics about to be mowed down. I’m also enthralled by the sweet, melodic, and pretty “How Many Stars?” which has deep roots in British folk music. The story is ancient, but the melody could haunt you forever.





* I Used to Be Pretty by The Flesh Eaters (Yep Roc). This band rose up during the pioneer days of the great Los Angeles punk rock explosion of the early 1980s. It’s a revolving door supergroup that in some incarnations included a who’s who of southern California punk and roots rock. The band that recorded this includes frontman Chris Desjardins, some vocals from his ex-wife and longtime Flesh Eater Julie Christensen, as well as various members of The Blasters, X, and Los Lobos. Desjardins also lends some vocals here. His voice sounds as if he’s just woken up from a nightmare — and his cronies capture the spirit of the unique bluesy, noirish sounds they were making back at the dawn of the Reagan years. The band still is powerful and a little bit frightening.





* Human Question by The Yawpers (Bloodshot). This trio of Colorado roots rockers, whose album Boy in the Well became a serious obsession of mine a few years ago, continue their raw, blues-infused rock. This record grabbed me and refused to let go in the opening seconds of the locomotive onslaught of “Child of Mercy,” which deals with the putrid pangs of romantic collapse. And the next song, an even more brutal romp called “Dancing on My Knees,” sealed the deal. While I mostly like their rowdier tunes, the soul-soaked “Carry Me,” the type of song you could imagine being covered by Solomon Burke, hits just as hard.











Country Squire by Tyler Childers (Hickman Holler). Childers plays country music, basic fiddle-and-steel country music, singing honest tales of life with a little sob in his voice and, I imagine, a little bourbon on his breath. Many of the themes in Childers’ lyrics traverse along well-trodden country themes. Yet when Childers sings, it never sounds corny.










* 3 by Nots (Goner Records). This is an all-woman punk, or maybe post-punk, band from Memphis that I discovered back in 2016 with their second album Cosmetic. Though the new album didn’t take me by surprise like their last one, the sound is no less urgent, painting a bleak, paranoid picture of 21st-century life.








* Too Much Tension! by The Mystery Lights (Wick). A budtender in Durango and fellow public-radio DJ first alerted me to this wailing, psychedelia-touched, garage-fueled band. The Lights are fronted by singer Mike Brandon and guitarist Luis Alfonso Solano, who, inspired by the first-wave garage-rock madness of the old Nuggets compilations, as well as groups like The Velvet Underground and Suicide, started playing together as teenagers. This album is just as good if not better than the group’s self-titled debut.






* Gypsy by Eilen Jewell (Signature Sounds). In recent years, this former St. John’s College student has become one of my favorite lady roots rockers. This, her latest album, is packed with many fine songs, from the swampy rocker “Crawl” to hardcore honky-tonkers like “You Cared Enough to Lie” and “These Blues,” as well as lovely acoustic numbers like “Miles to Go” (which reminds me of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”) and even a funny protest song, “79 Cents (The Meow Song),” which deals with sexism and economic disparity and has a catty reference to the current commander in chief.




* Gastwerk Saboteurs by Imperial Wax (Saustex). After Mark E. Smith — founder, frontman, and frothing prophet of The Fall — died last year, surviving members of his band decided to go on together. I was prepared to be cynical about this project, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if someone had played me these songs without mentioning anything about The Fall, I still would have liked them. It’s just good, aggressive, guitar-driven, punk-painted rock.




So long, gentle readers. And watch out for flying chairs!

Updated Nov. 30, 2019 AD

Here's a Spotify playlist with selections from all these albums:


Thursday, January 03, 2019

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Best Albums of 2018

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 4, 2018




Here is a list of my favorite albums released in 2018.

* The Difference Between Me & You by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. Longtime fans of young Black Joe should immediately realize that this record is a back-to-basics move for this Austin band. The Honeybears still have their excellent funky horn section, and a handful of songs here are closer to sweet soul ballads than rump-rousing rock. But the overall sound of Difference is raw and rowdy, with roots stretching back to Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf.



* The Night Guy at the Apocalypse Profiles of a Rushing Midnight by Hamell on Trial. This basically is a song cycle by singer/songwriter Ed Hamell centered around a fictional hardcore dive called The Apocalypse, which is populated by drunks, drug addicts, backdoor beauties, angel-headed hipsters, small-time criminals, and tough guys. It’s a lo-fi affair recorded in its entirety on Hamell’s iPhone in various locales.



* Songs from the Lodge by Archie and the Bunkers. Kids these days, conventional wisdom goes, don’t love rock ’n’ roll like we did when I was a lad. But not these two teenage brothers from Cleveland. Drummer Emmett and organ player Cullen O’Connor have a unique high-energy sound they call “hi-fi organ punk.” Plus, they do a couple of songs here about Twin Peaks: “Fire Walk With Me” and “Laura.” These kids not only have talent, they have taste.




* Thought Gang by David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. Speaking of Twin Peaks, this album — full of avant-garde jazz, synthesized rumblings, and sinister beatnik-style poetry — is required listening for anyone who claims to be a fan of David Lynch and his musical henchman Angelo Badalamenti. Recorded in the early 1990s, the music is spooky, unsettling, and sometimes even funny.




* See You in Miami by Charlie Pickett. This guitar singer from Florida had an enthusiastic regional following back in the early-to mid-’80s, but he jettisoned his musical career to become a lawyer in Miami. This album, Pickett’s first original-material release in decades, picks right up from his ’80s
heyday. He still does songs that sound like ZZ Top trying to rewrite The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.




* Wild! Wild! Wild! by Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis. Fulks takes a break from the heaviness of his recent work and tears up the honky tonk with a boogie-woogie country gal on this duet album with rockabilly royal Lewis. And Lordy, it’s fun. Wild! is full of rockabilly romps, country weepers, blue-eyed soul, bouncy blues, sweet harmonies, drinkin’ songs, cheatin’ songs ... the sounds that made America a beacon of the free world.




* Benton County Relic by Cedric Burnside. If anyone thought that Mississippi Hill Country blues died with R.L. Burnside — or T-Model Ford or Junior Kimbrough or Paul “Wine” Jones — get your ears on this album and think again. Cedric, who is R.L.’s grandson (and former drummer) has those
blues in his blood. Like the work of all those ascended masters, Cedric’s music is rough, raw, and sometimes hypnotic. Somewhere up above, R.L. is looking down smiling, saying, “Well, well, well ...”




* Years by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. I was somewhat apprehensive when I got a copy of this album. How could it be anywhere as good as her debut, Sidelong, coming just a year later? Am I bound to be disappointed? But I wasn’t. Her sophomore effort is full of impressive tunes about love gone sour. But there is little, if any, confessional self-pity. Shook’s confidence, pride, and humor frequently shine through the heartache.




* A History of Violence by Harlan T. Bobo. Despite all the songs about romance gone wrong and the tensions between a man and a woman — and the fact that the Memphis rocker got divorced between his previous album and this one, Bobo has said this is not a breakup album. Either way, the songs here are packed with frustration, desperation, and loneliness. And some of the hardest rocking tunes are obviously dark fantasies of wanton violence.




* King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller by various artists. It’s true that most tribute albums suck the warts. But partly because Miller really was one of the greatest songwriters to ever live — and partly because of the caliber of the talent that producer (and Roger’s son) Dean Miller has
wrangled for this project — nearly every track is a winner. The songs capture Roger’s wide emotional range: the funny tunes, cool anthems, honky-tonk stompers, and surprisingly powerful heartache songs. Standout tracks include the stunning bluegrass cover of “When Two Worlds Collide” by the female-fronted band Flatt Lonesome; a soulful take on a little-known Miller song called “I’ll Pick Up My Heart and Go Home” by Lily Meola; “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me,” by Dolly Parton and featuring Alison Krauss; and the slow, jazzy “Lock, Stock, and Teardrops” by Mandy Barnett.



Honorable mentions (Damn! There really were a lot of fine albums released last year):

Spencer Sings the Hits by Jon Spencer

The Beast Is You by The Electric Mess

Psychic Action by The Vagoos

Clippety Clop by Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs

Trouble and Desire by The Callas with Lee Ranaldo

Blues Trash by The Reverend Beat Man & The New Wave

Soul Flowers of Titan by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Fire Dream by J.D. Wilkes

Smote Reverser by Thee Oh Sees

In This Time by The Ar-Kaics

UPDATED Jan. 6, 2019: Here's a Spotify playlist with 2 songs each from the Top 10 albums and one each from the "honorable mentions" (except Holly Golightly's, which isn't available on Spotify)


Thursday, December 28, 2017

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: The Best Albums of 2017

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Dec. 29, 2017




Here are my favorite albums of 2017.

Sidelong by Sarah Shook & The Disarmers. On my very first listen, I was a fan by the end of the first two tracks: “Keep the Home Fires Burnin’ “ (with its beyond catchy melody, similar to the bluegrass classic “Rocky Top”) and “The Nail” (a love-gone-wrong honky-tonker with some fine guitar and lap steel in which Shook sings, “Well, I ain’t your last, you ain’t my first/You can’t decide which fact is worse”). With her voice sporting more than a hint of a whiskey rasp, Shook sounds as if she’s the punk-rock granddaughter of Hazel Dickens.



Texa$ Platinum by Ghost Wolves. This Austin band made some of the finest garage rock I’ve heard all year. Singer Carley Wolf has a pixieish voice that wouldn’t seem out of place in some of my favorite Japanese girl-punk bands. Actually, the first time I heard her, I thought of KatieJane Garside, the singer of the early-’90s group Daisy Chainsaw (“Love Your Money”). Carley is also a heck of a guitarist. Her hubby Jonathan is not only downright powerful on the drums, he also adds subtle iggly-squiggly, sci-fi synth effects.



Boy in the Well by The Yawpers. This rowdy little band from Denver has created one of the most rocking little albums of the year. With big sonic traces of The Gun Club, ZZ Top, The Legendary Shack Shakers, and their own twisted take on rockabilly, The Yawpers rip through most these songs with an urgency that’s undeniable. And the whole thing centers on a bizarre story of a World War I love child who, yes, spent most of his life in a well — before he emerges and unleashes a series of Oedipal wrecks.



Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Another fine revelation from the crusty old Texan, who only seems to get tougher and ornerier with age. Like the Bible, the album starts out with the creation story — a song called “God Looked Around,” in which Hubbard, in his knowing drawl and slow-moving guitar, tells the story of the origin of the universe, Adam and Eve, and that pesky snake. But the next song, “Dead Thumb King” goes right to the hoodoo, as Hubbard explains that he’s armed with “some dirt from Lightnin’ Hopkins’ grave,” “bones from an old black crow,” and a “rattlesnake tail inside my guitar.”



Goin’ Back to Wurstville by King Salami & The Cumberland 3. This hopped-up, high-energy London-based band has been around for more than a decade, but despite my overly optimistic prediction a few years ago, they never really have made a huge splash in the good old USA. That’s our loss, my fellow Americans. With Salami and the Cumberlands’ seamless bend of garage-rock, ’50s and ’60s R&B, and occasionally a little instrumental surf music, few bands match their sound in terms of pure fun.



20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo by Pere Ubu. This is the most outright rocking studio album Ubu has unleashed in about a decade, maybe longer. No, the band, which emerged during the punk and New Wave scare of the late ’70s, hasn’t forsaken their heritage of avant-garde, experimental, atmospheric sounds. But they also haven’t forgotten how to make your feet move and head bang either. The group’s foundation was garage and surf rock — colored by darkly bizarre lyrics, David Thomas’ warbling vocals, and Plan 9 From Outer Space-esque  synth noises. And Missile Silo shows that foundation is strong.



Purgatory by Tyler Childers. This twenty-six-year-old guitar slinger from Kentucky writes and sings songs that sound timeless. Covering evergreen hillbilly themes, he tells tales of good moonshine, bad drugs, an all-seeing God, a powerful devil, and the joys of love and sex. Some tracks have a pure outlaw country sound, while some come right out of the world of bluegrass. Purgatory was produced by Sturgill Simpson. And it shows.



Existentialism by The Mekons. Technically, this album was originally released in 2016, but it was part of a fancy, expensive “limited edition” package. But this year, Bloodshot Records released it as a single (and affordable) CD. Recorded live at a small club in Brooklyn a couple of years ago, this album has all the things Mekons fans love — rowdy barroom singalongs over inexplicable ambient noise, nods to Hank Williams and dub reggae, and lyrics that seem soaked in alcohol and revolutionary fervor. Speaking of which, the song “Fear and Beer,” subtitled “Hymn for Brexit,” is as sad as it is lovely.



Down to the River by The War  and Treaty. Singer Michael Trotter Jr. has one of the greatest music biographies I’ve ever seen. He was a soldier during the invasion of Iraq and was assigned to guard one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces after the strongman was driven from power. In the basement of the building, the occupying Americans found an old piano said to have belonged to Saddam himself. Trotter taught himself to play on that abandoned instrument, writing his first song, a tribute to a fallen captain. But even without that crazy back story, this music, on which Trotter shares vocal duties with his wife Tanya Blount, is soulful, bluesy, and rootsy.



Down Hearted Blues by Eilen Jewell. Can a white girl from Idaho sing the blues? Should a white girl from Idaho sing the blues? I’ll leave those important questions to the guardians of political correctness. All I know is that on this collection of old songs — mainly obscurities, spanning Memphis Minnie to Howlin’ Wolf — Jewell pulls it off with grace and grit. A former St. John’s student who used to busk at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, Jewell even includes a great hillbilly blues song here, Moonshine Kate’s “The Poor Girl’s Story.”



Just to show how obsessive I can be I created a new tag on this blog for my annual Top 10 album lists. If you're as bored as I am obsessive, you can go back to the very early days of this blog and see what albums I liked best between the present and 2003. CLICK HERE

Finally here's a Spotify list featuring a couple of tracks from each of my favorite 20017 albums.

Happy New New!



Thursday, December 22, 2016

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: The Best Albums of 2016




A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Dec. 23, 2016


These are my favorite albums of the year:

* Meridian Rising by Paul Burch. On this song-cycle biography of ascended country-music master Jimmie Rodgers, Burch tells the story of Rodgers’ life from the Singing Brakeman’s point of view, as he toured the country like a Depression-era rock star, picking, drinking, womanizing, and eventually dying. Burch juxtaposes the sweet sunny South of romantic myth against its oppressive historical reality. “Let me tell you all about the place I’m from/Where the police tip their hats while they’re swinging their clubs.” It’s not an overtly political album, but Burch makes some biting commentary on social inequality with songs like “Poor Don’t Vote.”


* Meet Your Death (self-titled). This band is something of an Austin punk-blues supergroup fronted by harp-man Walter Daniels — a veteran of bands including Big Foot Chester and Jack O’ Fire (a band who, years ago, covered a Blind Willie McTell song called “Meet Your Death”) — and slide guitarist John Schooley, who I know best from his three albums on the Voodoo Rhythm label, under the name “John Schooley and his one-man band.” The standouts on this outstanding record are “Elephant Man” (that one comes from a nasty old gutter blues song) and “Obeah Man,” a Caribbean-rooted invocation to the ruling hoodoo deities of rock ’n’ roll.



* Hex City by Churchwood. If you’re a fan of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Pere Ubu, The Fall, The Butthole Surfers, or Jonathan Swift, get yourself acquainted with Churchwood. Every track on their fourth album is filled with incredible blues, funk, and sometimes even metal riffs, with unpredictable time signatures and lyrics that sound like a cryptic code that, for the illuminated, could open the secrets of reality. The band’s basic lineup on this album is fortified on some songs by a horn section (The Money Shot Brass) and female vocalists called The Nicotine Choir. Hex City is a dangerous adventure. And the adventure only deepens with every listen.




Blood on the Keys by James Leg. If you need more of that blues-driven, rump-bumpin’, holy-
roller-shoutin’, swampy rock ‘n’ roll, a keyboard player called James Leg just might be your man. A former member of Black Diamond Heavies and Immortal Lee County Killers, Leg has a voice that falls somewhere between Beefheart and Jim “Dandy” Mangrum of Black Oak Arkansas. And he can even do a credible version of a Blaze Foley song, “Should’ve Been Home With You.”




Changes by Charles Bradley. Like the late Sharon Jones, her Daptone label-mate Bradley’s music career didn’t take off until relatively late in life — Jones was in her forties when she put out her first solo album, Bradley was in his sixties. But this guy, known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul, sinks his talons into a song and won’t let go. Changes opens with a monologue by Bradley, who introduces himself as “a brother that came from the hard licks of life. That knows America is my home … America represents love for all the Americans in the world” before breaking into a soulful chorus of “God Bless America.” But his patriotism isn’t the blind kind. In “Change For the World,” he sings, “If we’re not careful, we’ll be back segregated … Stop hiding behind religion/Hate is poison in the blood.” The album is all this plus a sweaty, emotional cover of a Black Sabbath song — the title track, “Changes.”




The Mystery Lights (self-titled). Speaking of Daptone, the New York neo-soul label is branching out with an imprint (Wick) specializing in neo-garage rock. The first release is by this basic loud-fast-and-snotty, fuzz ’n’ Farfisa group that also loves to take sonic excursions into psychedelia. These guys obviously have spent some time listening to old records by The Seeds and new ones by Thee Oh Sees — and maybe even some early Country Joe & the Fish. Nobody's going to mistake singer Mike Brandon for Charles Bradley but this white-boy soul is a rocking delight.





* Upland Stories by Robbie Fulks. Once again, Fulks has graced this troubled land with a powerful acoustic album. Some of these songs were inspired by James Agee, who documented the lives of Depression-era Southern sharecroppers in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). For instance, the opening song, “Alabama at Night,” is about Agee’s trip to the South in 1936. More pointed is the stark, hard-bitten “America Is a Hard Religion.” Fulks, who first became known for his funny, sardonic tunes, has some lighter moments here, too. “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man” is a celebration of an elderly relative finding a new beau. “Katy Kay” is a devilish hillbilly love song.


* Cosmetic by Nots. This is the most urgent-sounding music I’ve heard in a long time. Though it’s not always easy to understand the lyrics, it’s impossible to escape the intensity of the sound. Fronted by singer Natalie Hoffmann, this is basically a guitar group — except they’ve got a keyboard player, Alexandra Eastburn, whose fearsome synthesized blips, bloops, wiggles, and squiggles remind me of Allen Ravenstine, the keyboard maniac of early Pere Ubu. The five-and-a-half-minute title song begins with a slow distorted blues riff, then, about three minutes in, the pace suddenly takes off and becomes a frenzied race to the finish



* Tumbling Heights by The Come N’ Go. This Swiss band cut its proverbial teeth in the crazed world of garage-punk. On this, their fourth album for Voodoo Rhythm Records, The Come N’ Go prove they can play it fast and furious. But on some songs they show a folkie sensibility, while on others, they go psychedelic on us. They’re still working hard to get our butts shaking — but they also seem interested in getting our minds expanding.


* Johnny & Bo by The Dustaphonics. This London-based band, featuring the guitar of the French-born Yvan Serrano-Fontova and the full-throttle vocals of Hayley Red, combines surf music, punk, and R&B (and a few echoes of ska, soundtrack music, and exotica) into a unique hopped-up sound. The names in the title refer to Ramone and Diddley, who are in Serrano-Fontova’s and Red’s personal pantheon of music heroes. They also pay tribute to the late Tura Satana, the star of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, who collaborated with Serrano-Fontova on some music projects.



Hey, I lucked out this year. I found songs from all these albums on Spotify, so I put 'em in this playlist:

Friday, January 01, 2016

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: My Favorite 2015 Albums



Happy New Year, dear friends! Here is a list of my favorite albums of 2015. This list is in no particular order, but at some point throughout the past year, each one was my number-one favorite for at least a few days.

1) This Is The Sonics . Unlike The Standells, Question Mark and The Mysterians, Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs, and other giants of the garage-rock era of the mid-1960s, The Sonics didn’t get much radio play where I grew up. Thus, I didn’t really get exposed to them until well into my adulthood. And I didn’t become a complete babbling devotee of their cult until just a couple of years ago when I saw The Sonics — with three original members — rage, ravage, and conquer the Ponderosa Stomp festival in New Orleans. This is the band’s first studio album of all-new material in nearly 50 years, and it rocks harder than anything by any young whippersnapper I heard all year.



2) Mutilator Defeated at Last by Thee Oh Sees. John Dwyer is a miserable failure at hiatus. His attempt at putting Thee Oh Sees on the shelf only lasted a few months before he was back with a new line-up, which I begrudgingly have to admit is just as ferocious as the previous incarnation. The sound of Mutilator is unmistakably Oh Sees: rubbery post-psychedelic guitar-based excursions into the unknown with distorted echoes of garage rock, punk, and noise-rock.



3) Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party 2015 by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This album, the Blues Explosion’s second since the band’s resurrection with 2012’s Meat + Bone, is a loving song cycle about New York City. In several tunes, the band indulges in a little well-earned nostalgia about the sleazy, crime-ridden era of the ’70s and ’80s, those gritty days when punk rock, hip-hop, and yes, “No Wave” were born. Jon Spencer and the boys are as loud, frantic, and joyful as they were in their mid-’90s heyday.



4) The Ruffian’s Misfortune by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Once again, Ray Wylie Hubbard has given the world a swampy, blues-soaked collection of tunes in which, in his trademark Okie drawl, he tells stories of sin and salvation; gods and devils; women who light candles to the “Black Madonna;” undertakers who look like crows (“red-eyed and dressed in black”); and hot-wiring cars in Oklahoma.



5) No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney. These women are far better at hiatus than Thee Oh Sees. Sleater-Kinney’s little break lasted about 10 years. They roared back this year, though, with a mighty tour (including a memorable show in Albuquerque in April) and this new album. It’s brash, urgent, and emotional. And they make it seem so easy.



6) Long Lost Suitcase by Tom Jones. No, I’m not being ironic here. In 2015, Tom Jones — the old British pop star who sang “It’s Not Unusual,” the cheesy ’70s TV star and Las Vegas sex symbol at whom grown women threw their underwear — made one of the year’s finest albums. I was drawn in by his haunting cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” but I stayed for his rocking version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would,” and Los Lobos’ “Everybody Loves a Train” – not to mention his stark take on one of my favorite early Willie Nelson tunes, “Opportunity to Cry.” I was so impressed, I sought out Jones’ previous albums with producer Ethan Johns — the gospel-drenched Praise & Blame and Spirit in the Room. Jones’ powerful voice is still in impeccable form and his taste in material has never been better.



7) Giving My Bones to the Western Lands by Slackeye Slim. On his latest album, Joe Frankland, aka Slackeye Slim, continues his exploration of the shadows. As usual, many of his songs are frequently cast in an Old West setting, though his themes of sin, redemption, loneliness, desperation, and freedom are universal. Slackeye lived among us in New Mexico for a few months, forming a sinister musical alliance with The Imperial Rooster, an EspaƱola band. He’s moved back to Colorado, but promises he won’t be a stranger.



8) Walk on Jindal’s Splinters by Jello Biafra & the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars. This is a live New Orleans concert by former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra that was reportedly done on a dare. Teaming up with a rootsy but raucous band (including a horn section), the West Coast punk-rock icon blasts his way through a bunch of Big Easy R & B classics.



9) Bailazo by Rolando Bruno. This is my choice for world-beat heavyweight champion of 2015. Rolando Bruno’s label, Voodoo Rhythm Records, describes his sound as “Full Blast Psychedelic Latino Cumbia Garage with a very Cheesy Touch of a ’70s Supermarket!!!” Bruno, a former member of the Peruvian garage-punk band Los Peyotes, also throws in Middle Eastern riffs, kung-fu movie soundtrack sounds, and other surprises to create a wacky but very danceable brew.



10) Coulda Shoulda Woulda by Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs. Holly Golightly and her partner “Lawyer Dave” Drake continue their streak of bare-boned funky-clunky country bluesy albums. Golightly is a native Brit, but this is a big sloppy homemade American mess, which of course I mean as a compliment. The whole album is packed with crazy fun.




Honorable Mentions

* Lost Time by Dave & Phil Alvin

* Under the Savage Sky by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

* So Delicious by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

* Banditos

* Ballsier by The Grannies

* Supay by Cankisou

* O How I Wish My Bad Heart Was True by Chipper Thompson

* That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse by Johnny Dowd 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: BEST OF 2014

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 2, 2015



One of the most frequent questions I get from readers of this column, as well as from listeners to my podcast and radio shows, is “Where do you find this stuff?” I usually reply, half-joking, “I don’t find it. It finds me.”

But the question underscores what has become the state of music in the early 21st century. It’s harder to find great music with the tightly controlled playlists on commercial radio, the consolidation of major labels, and all that other stuff we’ve been wringing our hands about for so many years. But with the magic of the internet, there are a zillion more choices if music means enough to you that you are willing to invest a little time to seek it out.

Faced with that reality, 2014 didn't produce any new Elvis, Beatles, or Nirvana. But it did bring breakout work by Sturgill Simpson, Benjamin Booker, and The Bloodhounds — plus a lot of cool sounds by old favorites and new favorites who deserve bigger audiences. Here are my favorites of the year.

1. Red Beans and Weiss by Chuck E. Weiss. The craggy-faced, mop-topped hierophant of the hipster underground (and Tom Waits crony) returned in 2014 with a new album that’s full of stripped-down rock ’ n’ roll, R & B, blues, laughs, post-Beat cool, hard-earned wisdom, and flashes of insanity. For sheer goofiness, listen to the crazy New Orleans-soaked singalong, “Willy’s in the Pee Pee House,” or “Hey Pendejo,” the greatest pseudo-Mexican tune by gringos since the Pogues’ “Fiesta.” And for some dead-on insight into the Holocaust, try “Bomb the Tracks.”



2. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson. This is truly one of the strangest country albums I’ve ever heard. It’s also one of the most authentic-sounding new country albums to cross my eardrums in a long while — even though there are a couple of spots where the music drifts from its sturdy, ’70s-outlaw foundations into raw psychedelia. And yes, this is “authentic country,” even with lyrics like “reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain” and references to marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. And that’s just in the first song. Sturgill Simpson is a true hillbilly visionary.



3. Benjamin Booker (self-titled). I’ve been a huge fan of Benjamin Booker’s ever since his early days. In fact, I became a devoted, drooling Bookerhead right after the release of this, his debut album, in late August. A discerning ear probably can hear subtle musical nods to the young New Orleans-based rocker’s idols from the realms of primitive rock, raw blues, and gritty soul in Booker’s music. (His record-company hype mentioned the Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson, and T. Rex.) But there is no obvious imitation at work here. Booker builds on the foundations of the music he loves and creates a sound that’s fresh, though somewhat familiar.



4. Do the Beast by The Afghan Whigs. As with most rock reunions, I was skeptical when I found out that a new version of the Afghan Whigs (a Cincinnati band led by singer/howler Greg Dulli that called it quits around the turn of the century) had risen from the rock ’n’ roll tarpits. I was so apprehensive of disappointment that I put off checking out their new album for nearly four months. But all my fears were for naught. Do the Beast is full of the power and rage that made us love this band back in the ’90s.



5. Brass Tacks by NRBQ. As with The Afghan Whigs, I was leery about the new version of NRBQ, in which singer/keyboardist Terry Adams is the only original member. In fact, I skipped the first couple of albums by the group’s latest lineup. But after just a few seconds into Brass Tacks, I realized I was wrong. Adams is still in great form, but new Qs Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough both sing and write some fine tunes. The band has long had a talent for creating songs that at first glance seem easy and lighthearted, but on closer examination turn out to be at least somewhat twisted.



6. 3: Trickgnosis by Churchwood. With cryptic but alluring lyrics with references to Gnosticism, voodoo, God, and Satan, Churchwood created a unified work in which some kind of cosmic struggle seems to be playing out from song to song (though there’s no easy story line to grasp on this album). Each tune is a weird tale sung over musical backdrops with changing time signatures and unpredictable twists and turns, with nods to Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, and Pere Ubu.



7. Let Loose! by The Bloodhounds. This mostly Chicano band from East L.A. plays basic, unfettered, rocking blues — closer to gutbucket than to the smooth, tame uptown stuff — a little rockabilly sneer. They honor ascended masters like Hound Dog Taylor and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as the Yardbirds, the Count Five and other ’60s-garage crazies. And sometimes, when you least expect it, the Bloodhounds will slip into jug-band or skiffle mode. Despite all its obvious roots in the past, Let Loose! is some of the most exciting music I’ve heard lately.



8. Only Me by Rhonda Vincent. Rhonda Vincent has to be one of the most undeservedly underrecognized musicians in Nashville today. Starting out in the world of bluegrass, she has a pure, beautiful voice, and she’s not afraid to wail. She also knows her way around a mandolin. This album is divided into two six-song discs (needlessly, because everything would easily have fit on one). The first is a bluegrass set — acoustic, with only traditional instruments — and the second is country. Both are impressive.



9. House on Fire by The Electric Mess. Hands down, this is the garage-rock album of the year. If you like wild, frantic, high-energy, guitar-based (with an electric organ) rock ’n’ roll, you really need to acquaint yourself with this New York band. House on Fire is as good a place as any to start. All 13 tracks are full of fire and craziness. But that’s a good thing. Fronted by singer Chip Fontaine (real name: Esther Crow), the group has a sound rooted in ’60s garage rock but not shackled in nostalgia.



10. Drop by Thee Oh Sees. After only a few months of their “indefinite hiatus,” Thee Oh Sees apparently reformed and sprang back to life. Guitarist/vocalist John Dwyer moved from the group’s home base of San Francisco to Los Angeles, got himself a new bunch of bandmates, and made a dandy album. Although not as overtly powerful as last year’s magical Floating Coffin, it still has several mighty examples of Dwyer’s fuzzed-out, rubbery psychedelic excursions. “Penetrating Eye,” “Encrypted Bounce,” and “Savage Victory” are all powerful tunes.




Runners-up:
* Common Ground by Dave & Phil Alvin;
* Manipulator by Ty Segall
Long in the Tooth by Billy Joe Shaver
 Images 13 by The Dex Romweber Duo

Here's a Spotify list with selctions from these albums (the ones that can be found on Spotify)



I'll be playing tracks from all of these this weekend on The Santa Fe Opry (10 pm Friday) and Terrell's Sound World (10 pm Sunday) on KSFR

WACKY WEDNESDAY: AI Songs to Destroy Art & Civilization

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