Well, my friend Todd Remley tagged me on his "Top 15" list on Facebook, and my friend Belinda, at Bubbles in the Think Tank has her list and talked to me about mine, so I guess there are two people in this world who care.
Todd went with 15, Belinda tried to stick to 10 but I think she had one extra. I'm going to split it into 10 "new" releases and 5 "archival" releases. And then I'm going to have a couple of "gotta mention this one, too" selections at the end, because really, I just want to have the chance to share and recommend some cool stuff, and I don't care exactly how many there are.
So sue me.
NEW RELEASES (alphabetical)
Beat Caravan - On Parade
Japanese power-pop. Some serious hooks and nice harmonies coming from this band. They even cover Cape Cod's Link Montana!
Elizabeth Cook - Welder
A great mix of humor, pathos, and party songs, all with a great twang. She sure seems to me to be the real deal. This is the kind of country music I love.
John DeVries (Agitpop) - X No
A really wonderful mix of styles, most with some nice, dark lyrics on this release from John DeVries, also a member of the 80's art-punk band Agitpop. I had forgotten this was a 2010 release until near the end of my review process and threw it on just to check it out again and whadaya know, it bumped up into my faves list.
The Figgs - The Man Who Fights Himself
Power-pop in the spirit of the Replacements, hard-edged guitar-based music with serious hooks. They live in different parts of the US now and have other projects, so they don't get together to tour or record all that much. A new release is always a treat. Definitely see them if they come to your area - they might be even better live than on their releases.
Jack Grace Band - Drinking Songs For Lovers
Witty honkytonk drinking and truck driving songs and serious musicianship. 'nuf sed.
Movin' Jelly - Yay Disc
Japanese rock & roll band influenced greatly by the Incredible Casuals, NRBQ, and Cheap Trick. This album shows off more of the Cheap Trick influence than their first album. My fave cuts are "My Birthday", "Movin' Jelly Twist", "Cell Phone Number Please", and "She Cried". Sadly, this is a posthumous release for one member of the band, guitarist Masaaki "Masa" Gunji.
(whatever journalistic integrity I think I might have tells me I should inform you that I am thanked in the credits ... but it really is a fun album)
The CD is available in the US from Cape Cod's SonicTrout on their catalog page:
Edward O'Connell - Our Little Secret
Power-pop from DC-based Edward O'Connell. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but they're great influences (Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, for example), and wears them proud and well. A really lovely album, not a bad song in the bunch.
The Parkington Sisters - Till Voices Wake Us
Five sisters from Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod who play various string instruments (guitar, violin, banjo and cello) and piano and sing really really pretty. Lydia, the youngest of the five, has voice that haunts.
Stan Ridgway - Neon Mirage
What a wonderful surprise. Stan's put out some good stuff over the years, but this one is really something. And great reed contributions by the great Ralph Carney, too.
Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here
The poet returns. The guy's led a hard life, and he doesn't sugarcoat it one bit on his first album in many years. I found this album haunting.
ARCHIVAL RELEASES (alphabetical)
Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
Bruce certainly doesn't need my help in selling this, a 2 CD collection of outtakes from "Darkness on the Edge of Town", but man-o-man do I love it.
Sun Ra - College Tour Vol 1: The Complete Nothing Is ...
This is a 2-CD ESP Disk release of the complete 1966 set from which the "Nothing Is ..." album was taken, plus part of the 2nd set the band performed that night and part of the soundcheck for the show. All-in-all 90 additional minutes of material. A fantastic performance and well-recorded. I love the transitions the band makes from song to song, from a big band swing number into cacophonous roar into a space chant and back into swing. It's a wonderful thing.
Oh, and that's Massachusetts' Governor Deval Patrick's father Pat Patrick playing baritone sax.
Travis & Shook - The Essential Travis, Shook & the Club Wow
First CD release of this early-70's LP release (no one seems to know the exact year as it seems there were a LOT of drugs going 'round in those days). In addition to the songwriting and beautiful harmonies of Chandler Travis and Steve Shook, not to mention Steve's unique guitar picking and voicing, this album features guest appearances by members of NRBQ, and songs written by Terry Adams, Sun Ra, and Keith Spring.
Frank Zappa - Greasy Love Songs
The original 1968 stereo mix of "Cruising with Ruben & the Jets" plus a whole bunch more alternate mixes and unreleased tracks. The title says it all, really.
Frank Zappa - Hammersmith Odeon
Oh, one of my fave Zappa lineups, maybe because it's the first one I saw live (Poughkeepsie, NY in September or October '77, these shows are from the end of the same tour, January & February '78). THREE discs of live material assembled to feel like a full (extra long) show from that era. Some really tasty guitar solos from both Zappa and Adrian Belew and a gorgeous sounding production.
I JUST HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT
Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet - Facebook/Soundcloud Digital Downloads
Seven live tracks have been made available so far from the formerly notoriously close-to-the-vest Adams - for FREE! Who are you and what have you done with Terry? I'm not arguing, I like the new openness and I sure hope people spread the word just how good this band can be. Reports are that there will be a studio release from the band sometime in 2011. Let's just say I'm pretty excited about that.
The Baseball Project - Broadside Ballads
Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Gutterball), Peter Buck (REM, Minus 5), and Linda Pitmon (Zu Zu's Petals, Steve Wynn) wrote 9 downloadable songs over the course of the 2010 baseball season, commenting on various baseball events that struck their fancy (anticipation of the season, the possibility of a triple crown winner, another 30 game winner, too many players spending time on the disabled list, the phenom Stephen Strasburg, a eulogy to former player Jose Lima, ...)
Tim Carroll - All Kinds of Pain
This is a 2009 release I just found out about at the end of 2010. It would most definitely have been on my favorites list. I've been a fan of Tim Carroll's for many years, since I first heard the singles he wrote and recorded with the Blue Chieftains, a New York City country band that recorded for the Diesel Only label. Oh, and he's married to Elizabeth Cook (see my 2010 faves above).
Clare & the Reasons / Van Dyke Parks - Iron Horse, Northampton, MA
Man, I was in a foul mood that day. Getting sick, feeling general miserable. But I had tickets for the show and we were playing an after-show gig across the street (a Chandler Travis Trio gig that ended up having 7 band members), so I rode up to Northampton with Chandler & Rikki. Clare & the Reasons had already started (adding to my foul mood - I hate missing part of a show), but I swear as soon as I walked into that room I started to feel better, their sound was so calming, the volume at a perfect level where you really had to stay quiet to hear everything (and for the most part, the audience did). By the end of the night, thanks to both the music, Van Dyke Parks' between-song patter, and a few vodka tonics, I was transformed - joyous, I'd call my mood. What a wonderful night. Clare & the Reasons' "Live in Amsterdam", which just missed my fave 10 (partially because I knew I could mention it here), offers a very good representation of what we heard that night.
Incredible Casuals - Valentine's, Albany, NY
OK, I work for the band, I'm a total sycophant. I've seen them practically every Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day for 12 years. And I'm a relative new-comer to the band, compared to some of their fans. Their home turf these days is the Wellfleet Beachcomber and there's always something different about those shows compared to their shows in other venues, particulary off-cape venues, I think (with the exception of the Japan tour in 2006 ... that was CRAZY!) Anyway, the show at Valentines was the closest thing to a mid-summer Beachcomber feel that I've gotten from them at any off-cape gig since, well, probably Japan in 2006. There was this great give & take between the audience and the band, and things rose to a fever pitch by the end of the night. I was really proud of the boys that night, hanging out at my merch table, and I was thrilled to be there.
KK & the Meds / The Catbirds / Treat Her Right - Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA
A CD release party for Kimon Kirk, the Boston debut of the Catbirds (Rikki Bates, Dinty Child, Steve Wood, and Chandler Travis), and reunion of Treat Her Right alumni, all in the friendly confines of the Lizard Lounge. Kimon was wonderful and can really sing a ballad beautifully. The Catbirds played a nice, tight set of their stronger material and the sonic interplay of Steve and Dinty was great. Treat Her Right played a fun set, the memory of Mark Sandman definitely there. Also notable for me as being the last night I saw Billy Ruane.
Parkington Sisters / Tin Hat - Wellfleet Library, Wellfleet, MA
BLEW. MY. MIND. After a very nice opening set by locals the Parkington Sisters (I think their CD release party at the Wellfleet Congregational Church a couple of months earlier was a better show, but there was nothing to sneeze at with this opening set), Tin Hat performed an amazing set of acoustic music that defied classification. Jazz? Classical? Who cares what you call it, it was stunnng. The group features sparse instrumentation (guitar/dobro, piano/accordion, clarinet/contra-alto clarinet, violin, voice) and what seemed to be arranged pieces with room for improvisation, though I suppose it could all be arranged, I forgot to ask them. The group was on the cape to rehearse for a new tour. Apparently, Carla, their violinist/vocalist has moved to the cape with her husband and new born, so hopefully we'll get occasional shows here in future.
Ticks / Greenheads / Earth Jr ('Coma opening night '10) - Wellfleet Beachcomber, Wellfleet, MA
Always a great night, always a favorite of mine. It's the beginning of Summer, a night to reconnect with folks we hardly ever see during the off-season. For the last several years it has featured these three bands. For the last couple of years I've had the chance to sing backup with the Greenheads on a handful of songs. Opening night 2010 is particularly memorable for one thing: The Ticks playing "Crazy Train". Yeah, that kicked off the season just grand.