In 1976 I went away to college-- Clark University in Worcester Mass-- where I met a girl who became my first serious long term girlfriend. We were buddies for a good 8 months first. It was during the buddy phase that she introduced me to the music of Todd Rundgren, who was her favorite. At the time I was listening to Yes, ELP, Pink Floyd, Tull-- you know, music to get high for the first time to. The swirling synths of her favorite Todd records, Todd and Initiation, were right up my alley, and I instantly "got" the Beatles/Beach Boys appeal of Something/Anything. After 2 years we both transferred out of Clark to NYU, and that last semester at Clark (spring '78) Todd put out Hermit of Mink Hollow, the first release of his since I'd become a fan. It was brilliant and I played it to death.
PS: Here's some video from that date; I'm not sure if this is from the early show or the late.
Sax man Bill Evans comes on to assist on "Dusk Till Dawn." Warren's entrance to the song is ringing and clear. Evans goes all "House of the Rising Sun" on a solo, then he and Warren square off, then Derek blows a beautiful bop solo on guitar. Derek, Warren and Evans close out drawn together, creating a 3-man triangle of fire. On the set-closing "Revival," a punchy take, Warren plays some full yet tiny runs, and wouldn't you know it, "love is everywhere."
Hot 'Lanta; Midnight Rider; Leave My Blues at Home; Bag End; River's Gonna Rise; Soulshine (Alecia Chakour vox, Jukes Horns); The Weight (Alecia Chakour vox, Jukes Horns); Black Hearted Woman
Melissa; Rain; Dusk Till Dawn; You Don't Love Me; Blind Willie McTell (Juke Horns); Into the Mystic (Juke Horns); Jessica; encore: Southbound (Juke Horns)
You might expect the last midweek show prior to the final, climactic weekend to be something of a palette-cleanser. In this case you would be right. There were moments of full-on intensity, but overall, some pacing issues rendered this show maybe not the best of the run. Of course, we're comparing the band to themselves here, and my three buddies who came with me to the show, their only one of the year, were all dutifully blown away (afterward, when they asked me to rate the show and I gave it a B, they were stunned.)
With no ado at all the band launches into "Hot 'Lanta." Gregg darts across the organ, then Derek runs the voodoo down, and Warren plays full round lines. "Midnight Rider" is the usual just-so story. On "Leave My Blues at Home" Oteil swings like his back ain't got no bone. A nice drum break, then Derek and Warren do the molten mambo, passing a single furious solo back and forth between the two of them.
Next, the sour overture, then the chiming intro to "Bag End." Warren's guitar cries as it spills out over the sides of the melody. Next up, the drums start up with a big bam boom, Warren eases into the back door of what sounds like a slow version of "Who's Been Talkin'," but ends up being "River's Gonna Rise." Warren whips things into a frenzy, and finishes the song with a nice vocal vamp over a cool, simmering outro... but it is the second song in a row in which most of the house is sitting down, and that has brought the energy in the room down.
The Juke Horns come on for their final appearance of the run (but the first for me), joined by Alecia Chakour of Warren's solo band joins on vocals for "Soulshine." Derek souls it up, then Warren wails about adversity with the horns.A sax solo, then Derek testifies, then Warren and Derek trade the happy "Soulshine" licks. Everyone stays on for "The Weight." Warren takes the first verse, Alecia belts the hell out of the second, Warren offers up a sweet solo and then sings the third verse. Alecia takes the fourth verse, then Derek tears it up and Warren and Alecia together sing the final verse.
On "Black Hearted Woman" Warren wrings the neck of that poor Les Paul till it begs for mercy. During the "Other One" section Derek flashes his fingers furiously across the strings. The song is big stupid fun and a highlight; and the set ends at 9:53, a late start notwithstanding it has been a long first set.
"Melissa" is a lovely beginning to the second set; on the outro, Oteil rolls off a countermelody to Warren's solo. On "Rain," Derek rains down some pretty, unhurried slide; I thought maybe they tripped up a bit on the mid-section solos... "Dusk TIll Dawn" continues to get better every time they play it. Tonight it is a dreamy take, even as Warren comes up from underneath and heats it to a midnight blue. "You Don't Love Me" gets everyone in the house back up on their feet. In the middle of the song the band pulls to stop, Warren peels off a long, stretched note, and as he holds it, the band tiptoes gently back underneath him, until they've whipped back up a full attack on the song. It is a lovely moment, and the finish is large.
The jukes are back on for "Blind Willie McTell," which they make especially mournful and elegiac. Then a lovely "Into the Mystic," still with the horns. Derek's ringing lines emerge from Gregg's organ swells, building into a ringing solo, then Warren, then Derek, riding the brassy waves of the horns. Warren's return vocals "When that foghorn whistle blows..." are especially beautiful.
The horns depart and the band rolls into "Jessica." Warren peels off clear, ringing lines. Deep into the middle section, the familiar "Jessica" riffs cascade out over a Marc-driven rhythm, but out of phase from where they usually are, so the effect is as if they are teasing "Jessica" during "Jessica." THen hard into the twin licks, then they milk the ending for all it's worth. THe horns are back on for the encore, which of course is "Southbound."
Done Somebody Wrong; Midnight Rider; End of the Line; Worried Down With the Blues; Ain't Wastin' Time No More; Dusk Till Dawn (Bill Evans); Jessica
Statesboro Blues (David stoltz bass); You Don't Love Me; Rocking Horse > Black Hearted Woman; Standback > Elizabeth Reed (Evans) > bass > drums > Liz (conclusion). encore: Southbound (Oteil on Jaimoe's kit; Vaylor Trucks, guitar; unknown, bass)
The show kicks off with a super-jaunty "Done Somebody Wrong," crisp, clear, precise. Derek plays some nice hanging lines. "Midnight Rider," then a nice "End of the Line;" there's some pretty Warren mist, giving way to a smoldering Warren/Derek square-off, with Warren's rhythm and Oteil's bass providing a crunchy bottom.
"Worried Down With the Blues" is an early highlight. Warren sings the hell out of it like he's got all the time in the world to tell you his pitiful tale of woe. It's killer, simply redolent of the blues; big, dewy blues drops splash down all around us (I wish I'd worn my blues galoshes). Derek kills it, then Warren kills it, then they converge center stage for a blues clinic. "Aint Wastin' Time No More" changes up the mood, from deep dark to light and airy; Derek glides and swoops leading into the vocals, Warren plays wavy lines on the outro.
Sax player Bill Evans joins the band for Warren's new "Dusk Till Dawn," a song the band has put in heavy rotation, trying out in different slots and in different ways. Butch counts it in ("1-2-3, 2-2-3..."), Warren spells out the chords gently with his fingers while Evans blows like he's on the roof at 3AM under a sad moon. Warren goes mojo, leading into the inevitable Warren/Evans showdown, the invisible musical rubber band between them contracting, pulling them closer to each other as the heat rises (and Evans starts out all the way on the right side of the stage, so they've got some space to traverse.) Then Derek trades licks with Evans into the close. Another highlight.
A big "Jessica" closes the set, a brisk, frisky jaunt through the riffage of the front end. Then the music comes to a pregnant pause, and Oteil toys with the theme from "Mountain Jam." The drums are on it, then Warren, and you wonder if it's still just a tease. Soon the rhythm morphs back to "Jessica," but all the melody on the top is gone... then, sprinkled lightly back on, until the band is racing into the back forty of the song to close out a solid, solid first set.
Dave Stoltz of Great Southern joins on bass in Oteil's place for an opening "Statesboro Blues;" because the song rides so hard on the bass riff (the "bumpa-dumpa"), changing the bass player changes the feel of the song. It's still "Statesboro" though, and a fun run through it. Warren plays some slide on "You Don't Love Me," Derek counters with some fingered lead work. The drums roll and rumble as the music stills, the guitars search, Jaimoe plays with pronounced precision (finally a seat I can see him from!), then on to the close.
Next Oteil lays down a rubbery beat. The drums join in, then Warren, then finally Derek and Gregg... the band rides Oteil's groove, Warren dances above it, lightly peppering the stew with tangy notes, until finally they tumble into "Rocking Horse." Out of the first vocal portion, Warren and Oteil hit the note together, then Warren explodes out off the energy of it. Warren and Oteil cook it till it's smoldering hot, Derek smiling in approval. Then the band descends into the mist, from which emerges the section I've come to think of as "Derek's Tune," happy and soaring, before slamming back into the climax of "Rocking Horse." Instead of stopping though, they barge right into "Black Hearted Woman," falling hard into the frantic waltz-time coda of the song, spewing molten intensity. Again, lots of Warren/Oteil heat. From there they flip over into the "Other One" jam that now regularly emerges from the waltzy coda, Derek pulls taffy over pretty Warren chords, then the whole mess is amped up to triple speed, then the band wraps itself around the riff, a flash of drums into the two-chord statement from Warren that heralds a return to the waltz-time part, and a mad 40 yard dash to the close.
"Standback" continues in exactly the same place "Black Hearted Woman" leaves off, that same hard hot boiler room one-chord hose of fire. The song ends but the drums don't stop, and the band gently eases into a new space, down, down, until a smack on the drums cues the flip into "Elizabeth Reed." Evans saunters out to join in, Warren makes it rain, splashing big tone droplets. Evans answers... and finally we get to the first sprint through the theme. Out of that, Derek smolders in a rapid fire run, then Gregg solos over just drums and bass, until the guitars join in, egging him on with chords. Then Evans improvises over just drums and bass; then Oteil throws down, and the guitar chording engine is engaged. A quick flash of drums, then Warren peels off whistles, then rubbery queries, then he solos over full band. Derek churns with the drums while Warren, Evans and Oteil turn up the boil, into a Warren/Evans duel. Whew.
Then into the bass solo, then a four-man drum circle, with Oteil on Butch's kit. Out of which Evans and Warren engage in a quick call and response, then Warren rings out, and then back quickly to the close.
Vaylor Trucks (Butch's boy) joins on guitar for the inevitable "Soutnbound" encore, along with John Ray (I don't know who that is) on bass; Oteil is on Jaimoe's kit now, and is featured in a brief
interlude. Vaylor acquits himself quite nicely.
Solid, solid show. I came away thinking the first set had been outstanding; reliving the second set now as I write, I realize it was hotter than I'd remembered. They'd played all the colorful songs the night prior, so this second set was all monochromatic-- "Black Hearted Woman," "Standback," Elizabeth Reed," even "Rocking Horse." I like the color, but they can do monochromatic just as well as they do the color. So this night was very different from the night prior, more earth as opposed to air, but highly rewarding.
Don't Want You No More > Not My Cross to Bear > Statesboro Blues; Rain; Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home; Revival; Come On Into My Kitchen (Cody & Luther Dickenson); One Way Out (Cody & Luther Dickenson, Jay Collins); Hot 'Lanta > All Along the Watchtower > Hot 'Lanta (Jay Collins).
Melissa; Low Down Dirty Mean; Blue Sky; Dreams; 1983 > Mountain Jam (Saunders Semon trombone) > 1983 > Mountain Jam. encore: Whipping Post
Generally, I thought the first set was missing that certain something; I know others thought it was tight, but I found it mostly lacking that transcendence I'm looking for. Maybe it was just a question of song selection. But not to worry. The second set was transcendent from the word go, and the net was a great show and a super-fun night.
"Don't Want You No More" is always one of my favorite openers; Gregg snarls on the organ, Derek stings, then Warren tumbles into "Not My Cross to Bear." Warren squeals on "Statesboro Blues," Gregg vamps it up-- the three shows so far I've seen, Gregg has been more adventurous instrumentally than I've seen him in ages-- and Derek wanders over to see what all the hubbub is, peering over the plexiglass divider by the keyboard rig like he's inspecting the salad bar. Then Derek wails it out. Warren joins Gregg for the chorus vocals on "Rain," after which Derek makes it rain over descending Warren lines.
There's a brief front line huddle, then a collective chugga chugga into another rainy song, "Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home" ("Laying around home alone on a rainy night like this...") Then "Revival;" Derek and Warren square off, ratchet up the heat; Derek plays bluesy slide runs at the top of the neck, then cool, sparse jazzy runs at the bottom, leading into a conversation with Warren. Then once more into the frenetic, and back out of the instrumental midsection into "People can you feel it." A musical highlight.
Gregg takes the band into "Come On In My Kitchen"-- the rain theme continuing ("well it's gonna be raining, outside...")-- while Butch and others are waving someone on from stage left; finally, after the song has begun, Luther Dickenson ambles out, straps on an ax over by Oteil, then brother Cody joins on washboard by Gregg. Gregg chugs along on keys as Warren peels off slide lines, then Luther follows with some slide dirt of his own. Cody by the way is one hell of a washboard player... Sax man Jay Collins joins for a "One Way Out" that is reminiscent of the all-hands-on-deck encore hot potato versions of "Southbound," then the Dickenson brothers leave the stage, Collins stays on, and the band assays "Hot 'Lanta." Now, having seen them do this three times last spring with a horn on stage, I know that they're going to bring the song to a close, and then emerge into "Watchtower." On which, Collins blows a dark, hard, hot solo, then Warren sings cool purple vocals. Derek rides the waves; then the waves crash hard against the shore, into more cool cool vocals. Then back out the rabbit hole into "Hot 'Lanta;" Butch leads a brief drum solo interlude hard into set close. "Watchtower," inevitably, is another highlight.
In my notebook it says, "solid workmanlike set; not much transcendence." I needn't have fretted. Turns out they were saving it up.
The second set opens with "Melissa," so Greg on acoustic, no Derek. Warren just keeps on going, round and round and round on the exit solo. Sublime. "Low Down Dirty Mean" is the big ass bumpa dumpa. Then "Blue Sky" takes everything up a notch, transcendence-wise, and we pretty much stay there the rest of the night. Derek takes a fat-noted solo, then falls finally into the "Blue Sky" sunshine. Then the transition harmony licks, which are just glorious. Warren fills the space with tone, then goes crunchy. The challenge for the guitarists on this song now is, how long can they stay away from the sticky, gooey, familiar sunny licks; the longer they do so, the greater the tension developed, so that when they do finally succumb to the sunshiny goo, it's just that much more delightful. Warren at last goes to the happy gooey place, makes the sun shine, then goes into the transition licks once through himself. Then Derek joins, the place erupts as they come in for a landing back to Warren singing the final verse. If you're not smiling now, you're just not paying attention. Exquisite.
I guess now they figure, hell, were already in this place, so let's stay here, and so they count off into "Dreams." Derek embarks on a journey to the center of my mind. Warren puts out skull-tickling vibrations... Derek rips long, furious lines, pulling you out of the mist and into the now; he bends hard to his right as he plays, for maximum body English, driving hard back to the concluding vocal section.
Then the set-closing suite that combines the Hendrix tune "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" and "Mountain Jam." It's the second time they've busted this out now. The first run through "1983" is psychedelic derring do; at the end the music stills, Derek and Warren pose tentative questions to each other on guitar, then Butch marches into the beat that heralds "Mountain Jam," pulling it out of the foggy ether as Derek fights back with "Little Martha" before giving in, and it's the "Jam." The guitars tease "Birdland." Then Saunders Semon from Tedeschi Trucks comes out on trombone and takes the band for a ride; Derek, Warren and Oteil are riveted to him. Gregg vamps over a bed of drums and little else, then the guitars lay on some more "Birdland" licks ("Oh for heaven sake, just play it," I think to myself, smiling). Oteil is glue-- or, I guess, more aptly, rubber cement-- anchoring the ruckus while upping the ante. Semon is off, Warren pulls it all back, then offers some wah-wah questions, the answers to which are a return into the close of "1983." Then back to the flip side of "Mountain Jam," a massive dash to the finish. Great, great set.
Then a "Whipping Post" encore, which leaves me wondering what they've saved for tomorrow night (which, as I write this, is actually tonight, but since I write my reviews in the present tense...) It is pure heat and fury. You leave very satisfied, spent and sated, yet hungry for what tomorrow night may bring.
Come & Go Blues
Every Hungry Woman
Dusk Till Dawn
Low Down Dirty Mean
You Don't Love Me (w/David Grissom)
The Sky is Crying
Long Black Veil
Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad? >
Elizabeth Reed > bass > drums > Liz (conclusion)
(e) Whipping Post
I think last night, the MVP would have been Gregg. Tonight it was almost certainly a "Warren show."
No preamble, the band steps right into 'Done Somebody Wrong," Derek playing slide licks, Warren offering up a toasty solo. "Come and Go Blues" is bright and colorful. Then "Every Hungry Woman," unusually early in the set, turns things up to 10; the band generates some serious heat. Oteil throws down with his thumb. Warren crackles as he and Derek square off on the extended outro, both of them spraying white hot bullets.
Tonight Warren offers up "Dusk Till Dawn," his new tune, in his "four songs in" slot. There's a brief bass solo between Derek's and Warren's runs; Warren pleads and cries, working a lengthy, spectacular solo on the back end of the song. This is now the second time I've heard it; "Dusk Till Dawn" is sort of like a Warren version of "Desdemona," at least structurally, and as the band finds it's way in this song I think it's going to be a solid piece in the setlist...
Next up is "Low Down Dirty Mean," which hasn't been played in 21 years (almost exactly); Marc is wailing on the tambourine like Betty from the Archies(!) Gregg's vocals are fierce; the band is clearly tickled by this tune playing it all easy breezy. It's a blues that just rolls off them, easy as pie, but fully infused with joy, and a highlight.
"Standback" features the smoky one-chord outro vamp. Then David Grissom joins on guitar. The last time I saw Grissom with this band, it pissed me off, because he was sitting in for Dickey at Jones Beach in 1993 (and besides, it poured). Tonight though it was fun to see him, on what is basically a "Southbound"-style rave-up run through "You Don't Love Me."
"The Sky is Crying" is a highlight. Warren plays the straight blues; soon he's almost too big for the form, spilling out over the sides of the song. Is Warren Haynes the best living blues guitar player, I find myself wondering... I don't know who's better... Derek's chording eggs him on, with a right hand slicing down repeatedly, almost too fast to see. Then Derek steps forward to solo, takes it way down, then turns it into a happy dance, Warren chording behind him. Derek pulls an ovation from the crowd as he hands the baton to Warren, who sings the final verse. There have been a lot of blues tonight... then a brisk "Revival," with Warren quoting both "Mountain Jam" and "Fly Me o the Moon" during the extended instrumental midsection.
Gregg opens set two on acoustic guitar for "Long Black Veil," a song associated with the Band which he sings on the recent Levon Helm tribute record. Derek takes a nice pretty solo early; Warren looks to Gregg for direction on the vocals, it's a tentative take, but then Derek chimes like he's ringing a bell. Then Oteil and the drummers whip up a blue, bubbling funk that becomes "Feel Like Breaking Up Someone's Home." Derek stings while Warren leads the band through a dark, steamy stew of blues funk. It's big, boastful fun and a highlight, more Warren, more blues.
Then "Dreams." It hits perfectly. When this song is good, I find myself drifting through the caverns of my own mind, and tonight is no exception, so I haven't got much narrative for you, save to say that Warren is dreamy and thrilling (most of the times I open my eyes, that's him soloing.) Then "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?", in the same ethereal head space; Derek and Warren soar above those major seventh chords on the two-chord vamp that accompanies the chorus; Derek in particular is airy and exquisite. Then as the song tapers off the band turns to face Butch, sitting center on the back line, for what we know will be a crash into "Liz Reed." It's a high octane take; Gregg actually solos during his section, before falling back into the organ part that pushes the song's story arc forward. Warren plays juicy, purple lines, then trades runs with Oteil; all the soloists are avoiding the Liz Reed melodic cliches, making for an adventurous take. Some serious Warren/Oteil heat is generated over on the right side of the stage, leading into the closing licks that clear the way for the bass and drum interlude... Oteil and the drummers are left on stage, Oteil zeroes in on melodic phrases, then bends and twists them to his will, poor Marc valiantly racing to keep up. Then a solid, "flowy" drum section, borrowing from the groove Oteil has laid down. Soon the band is back on for the dash to the close.
It's Saturday night, so a "Whipping Post" encore comes as no surprise. There's some pretty Warren Haynes tone poetry over a soft bed of drums and organ, then a big, furious finish, full and vibrating.
Solid show, lots of blues, lots of Warren. The first weekend is on the books, an interesting start, some nice surprises. Let's see where this carnival goes next.
Don't Want You No More >
Not My Cross to Bear
Aint Wastin' TIme No More
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Blind Willie McTell
Leave My Blues at Home
Trouble No More
Dusk TIll Dawn
No One Left to Run With
Don't Keep Me Wonderin'
1983 > Mountain Jam > 1983 > Mountain Jam
(e) One Way Out
The first set is solid and crowd-pleasing, if unspectacular, owing to a generally low degree of difficulty; less jamming, more of the "just so songs. The band lays down the overture to "Les Brers" before rolling over into "Don't Want You No More," a crunchy Warren rhythm under a fresh Derek lead. Then a smashing, declarative "Not My Cross to Bear" (that's what it says in my notes.) Lots of smiles on stage during "Statesboro Blues," it's nice to see and augers well for the rest of the run...
Both guitarists offer nice, pleasing solos in "Aint Wastin' Time No More," Derek coming, Warren going. Then, in what I like to think of as Warren's Howlin' Wolf slot, a nice'n'greasy version of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." Derek squeezes out snaky slide lines as the band starts slowly, slowly, but very soon the train leaves the station and careens down the tracks, Derek making repeated, furious runs up the neck, until the inevitable stop-on-a-dime backflip back into the riff, then Derek with some nice train lines over the all-the-time-in-the-world outro.
Derek offers some nice tone on "Midnight Rider." Then "Blind Willie McTell," the relatively obscure Dylan tune that is, to my ears, fast becoming a highlight of the active repertoire. Gregg and Warren both sing the HELL out of it as they swap verses. On "Leave My Blues at Home" the guitar players do the two-man chugga chugga, Derek chording, Warren wailing. Then a low Oteil rumble heralds the back end of the Les Brers sandwich, the piece proper; Warren smolders over cool Derek rhythm.
Post-break, Derek noodles gently with "Little Martha as the band settles, then they open with "Rain," the Beatles song that Gregg did solo a la Ray Charles. The string section of the recording replaced by slide guitars, it is gooey ear candy. Derek plays beautiful, empathetic slide lines off of Gregg;'s gritty and soulful vocals. Derek caps the tune wih a beauiful, melodic, sunshiny solo; "Rain" is a highlight.
"Trouble No More" follows. Gregory has taken some heat of late, but at this juncture it is worth noting, damn if he isn't having a hot shit show.You can tell bythe way his happy feet are beating time that he's all in tonight. Warren offers up a new song, "Dusk Till Dawn" (I'm guessing). It's one of his :songwriter songs," brooding and contemplative, with a nice melody for solos; the piece moves from the song part to a sprightly instrumental part sort of like "Desdemona," Warren taking th first solo, Derek the second, over a "House of the Rising Sun" sort of vibe. I think this one is gonna grow on us.
"No One Left to Run With" features a nice, majestic run by Warren; as he begins, he's pulled inexorably over by Oteil's gravity, and the two of them lock in. Finally he tears himself away from the Oteil orbit, turns to face Derek for the harmony licks that lead back to the song, the drums percolating underneath. On a joyous "Key to the Highway" there is some serious sway in the house.
"Don't Keep Me Wonderin'," then a psychedelic attack on Hendrix's "1983," Oteil taking a spoken interlude. It's an aggressive attack, then time stops, the music falls apart, away; Warren spews steel bubbles of tone... then from the molten pit emerges a cool breeze of "Mountain Jam." Sweet, chiming two-guitar tone, into a wild, frenetic, wah-wah-infused march, into a wild psychedelic breakdown... Warren leads the band down... down... and back into "1983." Then, bam, back into "Mountain Jam," the post-drums section, meaning tonight, no drum solo... and on to the close. The 1983/Jam suite contains some of the most exciting playing of the night.
A jaunty "One Way Out" that surprises no one is the encore, and night one is in the books. SOlid start, and an inventive second set full of treats.
Why, hello again. Herewith, I am presenting my annual but scandalously late rundown of my favorite 20 albums of the year.
As you probably know, I'm old school when it comes to my music. I would rather hear it on vinyl than on Spotify. But the record stores have mostly all gone away, and I hear that the record industry is going to be phasing out CDs in favor of all digital releases (although, and here you can score one for the good guys, apparently there is still a market for vinyl.) Kids don't listen to music anymore, not like we used to. I know I went on this rant last year, so I'll keep it short. Hey, I love my iTunes and my iPod as much as the next guy; how great is it to walk around with a couple thousand albums in your pocket? But nothing touches the experience of listening to a full-on piece of physical media (not some lossy MP3) through the big speakers-- listening, damn it, on the hi fi! Sometimes when I get a new album I'll rip it to iTunes, put it on my iPod, and maybe the first 10 times I play it (and if it gets that far I already like it) it's MP3s on headphones. And then I get some time in the living room on a Saturday, I crank the thing up big-- and it's just awesome.
Have you played the Jack White on the big stereo? No? Seriously then, go do that now.
Anyway, the usual disclaimer is that I don't claim these are the best albums of the year; what they are is my favorites. So there's usually a bunch of old guys on here, and genres of music that already existed in the '70s. I respect hip hop, but I don't much care for it.
So it isn't surprising that 3 of my top 7, and 6 overall, are by guys over 60. On the other hand, there are some new bands here, and by my count there are 5 debut albums here. They may not all be rookies (i.e., Chris Robinson Brotherhood)-- but a couple of them are.
Note that each album title in the purple bold is a link to the artist's website (or in a couple of cases, Amazon) where you can procure said release. I'm such a colossal music geek that, in visiting these sites to get you the links, I ended up discovering-- and buying-- three more albums from these artists (in each case, a new or relatively new live recording.)
As always, RIYL means "Recommended if you like."
1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill
I really do love Norah Jones, but I fear she’s fated, post-debut record, to do her best work in collaboration with others (as opposed to as a solo artist.) She put out a new solo record this year, but for me the Little Willies release—their second—was the one I played and that stuck with me. The mythology of the Little Willies is that they are a Willie Nelson cover band; what they actually are is a hip, talented band of New York musicians who are “slumming” by playing country music in an un-ironic fashion (which is kind of ironic). Here they cover the likes of Willie Nelson (of course, but just one song), Lefty Frizzel, Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. Now that’s country. Jones is great when she’s one of the boys; I especially like her read of Parton’s “Jolene” and Lynn’s “Fist City” (but the boys sing too.) Not quite as much fun as their debut—but close. Also, check this out, it's a lot of fun-- a full live show from Brooklyn, which as everyone knows is the new Manhattan, streaming on Hulu. Dig the hats. RIYL: Norah Jones, Old time country music with an urban tincture.
11. Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
I’ve been a sucker for psychedelia ever since that fateful day freshman year in college, when—ah, but I digress. The Sufis is a good old-fashioned psychedelic record; I’d benchmark it somewhere between the Beatles’ Revolver and Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It starts out in a Nuggets-style song form, but evolves into more free-form music as the disc progresses... and gets more interesting in the process. Listening to it on headphones is quite a… well, trip. I don’t know that this will age especially well (although it already sounds like it’s 45 years old.) But it’s fun. Especially if you really, like, LISTEN to it, ma-an! Also—ten songs, under a half hour, like they used to make ‘em. Leave them wanting more, I always say. RIYL: Dukes of Stratosphear, Olivia Tremor Control, The Orgone Box, Purple Haze, Orange Sunshine, blotters, barrels, vintage psychedelia.
18. Doctor John, Locked Down
It would be hard for this to go wrong-- Dr. John, 72, who is stone cold N'Awlins hoodoo down to the bone, teaming up with Dan Auerbach, singer/guitarist of the Black Keys, who plays and produces. And it does not go wrong... yet conversely, it hasn't really grabbed me and stuck like I thought it would, which is why it's down here as opposed to up at the top with Fagen. I think it's because I'm just not finding any "earworm" style hooks. Still, you gotta mojo hand it to these guys. They find the common ground between the good Doctor's swampy Cajun voodoo blues, and the Black Keys' electric modern Zep-meets-Son-House-on-acid 21st century blues. I'll have to ask my pal Henry how they were live; I assume he caught the show. RIYL: Gris Gris, Gumbo, being in the right place at the wrong time.
19. Father John Misty, Fear Fun