2009 marked some personal numerical milestones for me; I turned 50, celebrated 20 years of wedded bliss but most frightening my daughter turned 18. How did that happen?
So I am continuing a recent tradition with my yearly music review. As I considered my favorites from the year it became obvious that many bands on the list were acts I had seen live. 5 of my top 10 CD releases were bands I enjoyed perform this year, including one and two which I saw in the same night! If you are a music fan you absolutely must go out and see live music. My year included the SXSW live music overload, Phish for the first time in Jones Beach, NY, and two iconic artists closing the old Spectrum in Philly. I was also fortunate to witness a crazy number of quality World Café Live shows, a jazz series celebrating the greatest music recording of all time (Kind of Blue) at the Kimmel, and even Daniela Cotton in someone’s back yard! Because the list is dominated by shows I have included my top 5 shows at the end.
My top 10 CD list is as always all over the map. But if there is a subtle trend it is a return to some basic rock and roll. The accompanying CD (which can be down loaded from ITunes) is a great rock n roll mix if I do say so myself!
With that here is my Top 10 CD’s of 2009 and a few honorable mentions:
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You – This CD will be on every top 10 list at the end of this year and it should. Two brothers, Scott and Seth write and harmonize the many beautiful ballads. The Avett Brothers had quite a strong underground following until now. Produced by Rick Rubin, this CD puts them in the musical mainstream. The CD is mellow but all the songs tell interesting stories told through gorgeous melodies.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is – All out, rowdy, blues based, blistering rock n roll. I saw them the same night as the Avett Brothers at the WCL, both for the first time. And what are the odds that these two CD’s end up at the top of my list. Black Joe Lewis is a young guy from Austin, clearly influenced by James Brown, with a full brass section supporting his high energy songs.
Pearl Jam – The Fixer – Not one of their classics but a return to a little edgier rock. Breathe is a beautiful ballad which could be a wedding song. The CD opens with 4 all out rockers similar in style to earlier releases. Eddie Vedder continues his excellent song writing, powerful vocals and support by one of rock’s best bands.
Jay Z – The Blueprint 3 – Hova bringing the goods once again. Yes it is the same braggadocio but he has fun delivering it. He gets help from a rap all star line up including, Kayne, Rhianna, Young Jeezy, Kid Cudi and Alicia Keys but only ‘the Sinatra of rap’ can make ‘the Yankees hat more famous than the Yankees do’! Hysterical.
Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King – Have you ever listened to a CD and not thought too much about it but it keeps sneaking back into your rotation? Dave Matthews was this type of listen. He pays tribute to a long time sax player Leroi Moore who passed away last year (complications from an ATV accident), with a sax solo to open the CD and featured throughout. There is an emotional under current to the the GrooGrux King (Leroi’s nickname) throughout the CD.
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown – Who would have thought that fifteen years ago when this cocky punk band released Dookie, they would be capable of some day producing a classic rock opera and following up it up with an even better rock opera? This story about Christian and Gloria dealing in an 21st Century America is confusing but loaded with great catchy pop tunes. I saw their live performance with my son (Liam’s first concert) and although loud the show was wildly entertaining.
XX – X – Dreamy, mystical soundscapes, the music from this English foursome debuted late in the year with a significant buzz. The band members are all barley 20. They make interesting use of space (ala Miles). The CD was recorded at night and it has an almost eerie nighttime sound quality.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South – Conor Oberst was pretty busy this year. The Bright Eyes front man released this CD with a much more upbeat and diverse back up, the Mystic Valley Band. His other project was the super group “the Monsters of Folk” with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and M. Ward. Outer South shows Conor is not always an emo dweeb and can actually kick it on guitar.
The Derek Trucks Band – Already Free – Derek is probably the greatest slide guitarist alive. This CD was made in his new studio built next to his southern home that he shares with his wife Susan Tedeschi and their kids. Derek writes and plays but leaves the vocals to Doyle Bramhall and his wife. The music is southern blues based with some R&B and jazz influence.
The Airborne Toxic Event – Mikel Jollett was a former music critic that launched a career making music after in one week his girlfriend dumped him, found out his mother had cancer and he himself was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. The result is a surprising upbeat collection of catchy, poppy, songs that received some radio play early in the year.
Honorable mentions: Dinosaur Jr. with a great return CD, Monsters of Folk, and for all you folks that still yearn for your college and high school songs Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (previously with the Bangles) did an interesting CD of covers from the 60’s and 70’s.
Top 5 Shows
Springsteen – Saw Bruce twice this year in the old Spectrum which is about to be torn down. Both times I went with some of my sisters who attended their first concerts ever many moons ago with their big brother in this very venue. The October show was just a week before the final Pearl Jam shows and featured Bruce and the E Street band performing entire albums straight through. My night was Born to Run which is an all time music album never mind just Bruce’s recordings. No one puts on a better show than the boss!
Pearl Jam – PJ played the final 4 shows ever at the Spectrum. My wife and I saw the second show. All four shows were epic as Eddie Vedder and band tried to play all the songs in their catalog. They opened our night with ‘Animal’ and never let up. They featured a different Who cover in the encore each night. PJ never disappoints but this was great even by their lofty standards.
Black Joe Lewis and the Avett Brothers at the Non-com Convention at the World Café live. If you have not witnessed a show at the WCL you are missing one of the finest music venues on the planet. Black Joe Lewis rocked the upstairs room to finish the show. I had never heard of the Avett Brothers and was stunned by their talent.
Randy Brecker – The Kimmel Center hosted a jazz series celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the release of Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue’. This CD is arguably the greatest piece of recorded music by some experts. My all time favorite CD was released the day I was born so Miles and I kind of celebrated turning 50 together. The series highlighted a different instrument each night but Brecker plays trumpet so naturally was the best in the series. And for the first time in my long concert going career I guessed the opening song, Freddy Freeloader. If you ever attended a show with me you know my obsession with the opening song. Funny thing followed in that I guessed correctly again at the very next show I attended after being wrong for so long!
The Hold Steady – 2009 SXSW – At this week long music festival in Austin there is always one show which defines the trip. This year it was the Hold Steady with their fun, sing along, lively show. The week continued to be a crazy fun festival/conference for musical junkies as 1800 acts played over four days! Yes, 1800 bands, that is not a typo.
Enjoy the holidays and hope 2010 is awesome. Get out and see some shows and treat your self to new music! VZ