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* Favorite Vocal Albums of 2010 *

29th Dec 10 (Wed) 7 comments

Disclaimer: No, I haven’t heard all 8,000+albums released this year. I’ve heard about 120 of them, which makes me at least 98.5% likely to be wrong. I make no claims to objectivity. These albums are my favorites from 2010. You might think that the one you’ve heard that I haven’t heard is the best album of 2010. And you might be right. And, I while I generally agree with John Roderick about Year-End Lists, I still find it quite fun to compile my own.

I’ve been buying less music… or, at least a lot less mainstream (major label) music. This is also my third year now that I bought more instrumental CDs than vocal CDs. I think as I get older, I am drawn more towards jazz and other instrumental forms of expression. For that reason, the favorite vocal albums list goes first this go ’round. Hopefully my spilling out of music that I like finds interest with someone else. But if not, thanks for stopping by… check out the artists’ webpages, SpaceBook & MyFace pages, yadda yadda yadda. A lot of these also made it on to my 2010 Mix CD.

OK, now on to the best of what’s hit my ears this year…

Honorable Mentions: Finger Eleven‘s Life Turns Electric, Gnashing of Teeth‘s Walking the Appian Way, Kaki King‘s Junior, Kim Taylor‘s Little Miracle (out late Dec ’09 digitally), and That1Guy & the Magic Pipe‘s Packs A Wallop!

The WeepiesBe My Thrill (Nettwerk) :: Lush singer-songwriter husband/wife duo from Northern California. Syrup-y sweet & poppy, but regardless of my penchant normally against those types of things – The Weepies do it up right. A superb piece of well-crafted pop.
Chali 2NaFish Market Part 2 (Decon) :: Another great solo outing from my favorite rapper from Jurassic 5. This is Chali’s 3rd solo album, and while the sound and vibe hasn’t changed much – his consistency is most what I like about him. Hard hitting, booming voice, witting lyricism, and generally moving into more positive territory (he’s not a “bitches and hoes”-type of rapper).
Caedmon’s CallRaising the Dead (INO) :: I’ve been a fan of Caedmon’s Call for going on fifteen years. I’ve stuck with them through some (personal opinion) lackluster lyricism after the departure of my favorite Caedmon’s songwriter – Derek Webb. He came back to produce and be in the band for this one; and quite frankly, I think this is their best record since 40 Acres. Lyrically, it still has a religious bent; but being in a minority of “non-Christian Caedmon’s Call fans,” I still didn’t find it cringe-worthy like most “contemporary Christian music.”
RedbirdLive at Café Carpe (Signature Sounds) :: Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and David “Goody” Goodrich put out a great studio album of covers and originals in 2003. At the recent Mulvey/Foucault live shows this fall, they announced this new release. This new release is the live equivalent of the debut seven years ago (but different material) – a great mix of covers of people that influenced them, as well as a few of their own originals. Vocal duties split between Mulvey, Foucault & Delmhorst. I hope they are able to tour behind this in 2011.
Ty TaborSomething’s Coming (Molken) :: I’m a big fan of King’s X. As a trio, they put out a wall of sound, and a big component of their brilliance is Ty Tabor’s stellar guitar-work. His solo work also features his Beatles-esque vocals on top of his southern-grungy-rock sound. 2010 also saw the release of Ty’s Trip Magnet side solo project, Jelly Jam’s Additives bonus material, and the studio time with Jelly Jam (with John Myung & Rod Morgenstein) for their upcoming 3rd record. Whew, he’s been busy.
Ben Folds & Nick HornbyLonely Avenue (Nonesuch) :: I’m ambivalent about Ben Folds. I never know if I’ll like it; so I put off getting it. Then I get it and love it. This record was a collaboration between Ben and author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, etc). The lyrics are a little jumpier to me (Nick’s style versus Ben’s style), but it still feels very much like a Ben Folds record. They also feature a bonus song (iTunes version) with “video song” heroes Pomplamoose.
Jeanne CherhalCharade (Barclay FR) :: I first heard Jeanne Cherhal when we picked up her second album (Douze fois par an) when in Toulouse, France, for my MBA program in 2004. Only available in France, I’ve managed to get her albums via Amazon.fr (good thing the buttons are in roughly the same spot). I still don’t know what she’s saying, but I dig her style.
S (Jenn Ghetto)I’m Not As Good At It As You (Own Records) :: Carissa’s Wierd [sic] front woman promised this 3rd ‘S’ record back in… oh, 2007?? It was worth the wait. Haunting lyrics and vocals, simple yet complex acoustic guitar (that hearkens back to Elliott Smith). Bright emo and depressing pop music. Carissa’s Wierd also put out a retrospective (with a couple new tunes) and a small handful of West coast dates. Who knows – maybe they’ll get active again in the near future? I could dig it…
Greydon SquareThe Kardashev Scale (self) :: A little more mature in lyricism compared to The CPT Theorem. Perhaps it’s due to putting some of the ‘Rational Response Squad’ fighting behind him. Greydon, the foremost atheist rapper, made his 3rd record into what I think to be his most consistent. It’s solid, smart and superlative-worthy.
Damien JuradoSaint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian) :: I got into Damien Jurado via the Seattle-based melancholy, indie singer-songwriter scene (i.e.- Pedro the Lion / David Bazan). While similar in general geography and friendship, Damien strikes me as more of a pure “songwriter” when compared to David’s social critique set to music. Saint Bartlett fits well into Damien’s oeuvre. At a show this past February (6 months before the album came out), I hardly knew any of the songs but felt as though I did. That’s a testament to his craft.
ClogsThe Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton (Brassland) :: I first saw Clogs at MusicNow 2007 (in Cincinnati). Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner (of The National) know how to make some interesting chamber pop. The album (as with the live premiere in 2007) features Sufjan Stevens and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). It’s quite a lush record – as the title suggests.
Sufjan StevensAll Delighted People (Asthmatic Kitty) :: Two albums in 2010, Sufjan’s 50+ minute “EP” hit us first. Beautiful and haunting in “The Owl and the Tanager” and primarily experimental and adventurous throughout, especially compared to his older material. Originally only released online via bandcamp, the EP saw physical form (CD & vinyl) earlier this month. I’m bummed Sufjan nixed future “State” albums, but I’m still glad with his 2010 output.
George HrabTrebuchet (self) :: George Hrab creates one of my favorite podcasts ever… the Geologic Podcast. It’s not about geology. It’s about science, skepticism, and his general life as a musician from Bethlehem, PA. He is both humorous and intelligent, and he puts out great albums as well. Trebuchet is his 6th studio album, and it features some great instrumental songs as well as some witty numbers fitting his skeptical, atheistic viewpoint. One of my favorite songs on it is “A Small Comfort,” which is about the death of his dog Oscar. I also give George some kudos for kicking off his album with the Christopher Hitchens’ inspired “God Is Not Great” (an atheist pop song). Bravo!
Damien & Drake JuradoHoquiam (St. Ives) :: Short and sweet and beautiful. My only gripe with this record… well, it wasn’t made available on CD, and the vinyl didn’t include a free download code for the mp3’s. Industry standard practice aside, the Jurado brothers put out some fantastic music. I borrowed a vinyl-to-mp3 device from my friend; so I could enjoy it on my iPod as well. So, my gripes have been abated.
ElleryThis Isn’t Over Yet (Set Adrift) :: Ellery is one of my favorite things in Cincinnati… I miss being able to see them multiple times a year (sad face). Husband/wife duo of Justin & Tasha Golden craft singer-songwriter pop songs… usually layered nicely on their albums with the help of producer, knob-twiddler Ric Hordinski (of Over the Rhine fame). This album, they switched it up with Malcolm Burn at the helm (Daniel Lanois / Bob Dylan / Iggy Pop / Kaki King / Emmylou Harris / etc).
Nellie McKayHome Sweet Mobile Home (Verve) :: Nellie McKay’s move to Verve (instead of Sony) has been good for her. They seem to give her free reign to put out Doris Day cover albums one year and an album of originals the next. HSMH is a return to the quirky, diverse collection of songs that drove me to fall in love with her. The album is full of Nellie’s modern piano jazz-pop, ukulele ditties, and even a pro-animal reggae tune. The album has grown on me nicely, and I’m looking forward to more Nellie in the near future. She seems to be in a period of prolificity as of late. This is greatly welcomed.
JónsiGo (XL) :: Sigur Rós-frontman’s debut solo album was going to be an acoustic affair, and then it turned into a lushly produced, Rós-ian opus with a multimedia firestorm of a tour (two U.S. legs with stunning stage design by 59 Productions). Jónsi is superbly brilliant and and ambivalently hyper-sensitively shy individual (ex. his abrupt cancellation of in-store performance tour) and boisterous-acting performer (ex. his magnificent stageshow). This album makes me excited for more solo work in the future, but I hope his day job with Sigur Rós is not on hold for too much longer.
Sarah Kirkland Snider & Shara WordenPenelope (New Amsterdam) :: Chamber pop featuring Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) is a theme this year (see #10). Quite frankly, I think Shara Worden has one of the best voices in indie rock. Period. Sarah Kirkland Snider is a new musical force for me… she originally wrote Penelope as music for a theater piece and then debuted it as a song cycle with Signal in May 2009. When Shara came aboard, Sarah revised and expanded the songs yet again, tailoring them to Shara’s talents and arranging them for a 25-person orchestra of strings, harp, percussion, drums, electric guitar and bass, and electronics (with sound design by Michael Hammond). It is gorgeous.
Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty) :: His second album of the year, The Age of Adz is a odd musical assembly. At first I didn’t know what to think of it, then I started to like it, and then after seeing him live – I truly loved the album. For those previously familiar with Sufjan, this album may not fit easily in with his prior albums – but I think if you have an open mind and a desire to explore, you may very well fall in love with this record as well.
Mike PattonMondo Cane (Ipecac) :: Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantômas, et cetera is known for more boisterous, left of center fare. With Mondo Cane, he classes up the joint that is Ipecac Records. Mondo Cane, named after the film, is Mike’s homage to 50s Italian pop songs. He croons some classic Italian songs with the backing of the Orchestra Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini conducted by Aldo Sisillo. The artwork, in both CD digipack and vinyl, is stupendous. This is a magnificent record – both aurally and visually.

Top 20 instrumental albums coming up later this week…

My Other Favorites of 2010 Recaps:

~Dan – np: Kevin MooreShine

Ben Folds & Nick Hornby & Pomplamoose

10th Oct 10 (Sun) Leave a comment

Sure, it came out a month ago, but I was waiting to post about it until I got a chance to listen to Ben Folds & Nick Hornby‘s collaborative album before I posted the video song to the Pomplamoose & Ben Folds (& Nick Hornby) song.  Alas, the song isn’t even on the album (unless you buy the deluxe version)… haha.  Good thing they didn’t make that an “album only” song on the iTunes version.

Anyway, here’s the great video song for “Things You Think“…

VideoSong, a new medium with 2 rules:
1. What you see is what you hear (no lip-syncing for instruments or voice).
2. If you hear it, at some point you see it (no hidden sounds).

Check out more video songs from Pomplamoose over on their YouTube channel.  They’re rad video musicians.  I got hooked after their version of Lady Gaga‘s “Telephone”…

Check out Ben Folds & Nick Hornby’s album, Lonely Avenue, over at the Amazons

~Dan – np: Over the RhineThe Long Surrender

REVIEW: Nellie McKay @ Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley (Seattle, WA – 10/20/09)

21st Oct 09 (Wed) 5 comments

FYI… PHOTOS of the SHOW at the BOTTOM

So, I had tickets to see Ben Folds with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall last night.  I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to sell my ticket on craigslist to go see Nellie McKay instead.  I dig both of them as artists, and the main reason for the hemming and hawing was the whole symphony aspect (I mean, I’ve seen Ben Folds Five or solo a half dozen times already… so the symphony take on it was my main draw).  Ah, but… Nellie totally has my heart when in a piano/vocalist celebrity deathmatch with Mr. Folds.  She’s quirky, cute, writes and sings both silly and political songs, has a passionate love for animals (she’s a vegetarian with a stance on animal cruelty that makes me proud), and… you rarely know what to expect from her musically on any given night.  I’ve seen her twice prior, and both times were fantastical suprises.

Sorry, Ben.  Next time?

As a consolation for the Ben Folds fans, there’s a free mp3 stream (or download if you do some research, i.e.- “view source”) from the Huffington Post of the Ben Folds collaboration with author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, etc).  It’s a jab song at the ex-fiance of ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin‘s daughter Bristol… from the HuffPo, I present you “Levi Johnston’s Blues.”

Speaking of the HuffPo… here’s a recent article / interview with Nellie McKay by Michael Giltz.

Oh, so Nellie’s latest album, Normal As Blueberry Pie, is all about Doris Day (a total of 14 Doris Day tracks in the recording session, and one Nellie original).  Two of the 15 session tracks are more difficult to get ahold of, unless you want to buy both the “exclusive” Barnes & Noble bonus track version and the iTunes bonus track version.  Have I mentioned that Universal Music Group’s tactics suck!? Anyway, the album is great (special track tactics notwithstanding).  The album lacks some of the bite and wit of Nellie’s prior 3 (and a half) solo albums.  But, I love it all the same.  It’s got Nellie trademark nostalgia / campiness, as evidenced by the photos surrounding the release (see to the right).

OK… on to the review of the show…

I really dig Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley.  It’s small and intimate (but large enough for the room to breathe).  Also I like the idea of making an experience out of the show – a fantastic meal, great atmosphere, and an attentive audience makes for a wonderful evening.  Oh, and free parking in downtown Seattle is like the cherry on top.  This was only my second time here (Hiromi in June was my first), but it is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues in the PacNW, if not ever.  I just wish it wasn’t so far away from me in Eugene all the time.

Nellie went on around 7:40pm with her backing band, The Aristocrats.  This was my first time seeing Nellie with a band.  They were excellent.  They were all younger than I was expecting.  I mean, this wasn’t her studio backing band… but as hired guns solely for touring, they really worked well with Nellie in a fun & playful way.  The band was Nellie McKay (piano and ukulele), Howard Fishman (guitar), Charles Schiermeyer (sax), Ben Bynum (drums), Scott Litroff (violin and flute), and Daniel Policar (keys).


Setlist: just shy of 90 minutes

  • If I Ever Had a Dream
  • Close Your Eyes (Doris Day cover)
  • Sentimental Journey (Doris Day cover)
  • Send Me No Flowers (Doris Day & Burt Bacharach cover, Nellie on Uke)
  • Do Do Do (Doris Day cover) *a fave of the night*
  • Mean To Me (Doris Day cover)
  • Dig It (Doris Day cover, Nellie dance-off) *a fave of the night*
  • The Very Thought of You (Doris Day cover)
  • A Wonderful Guy (Doris Day cover)
  • I Remember You (Doris Day cover)
  • “I Killed Larry David and I Liked It” / Grunge Song *a fave of the night*
  • Crazy Rhythm (Doris Day cover) *a fave of the night*
  • Black Hills of Dakota (Doris Day cover)
  • A-Tisket, A-Tasket (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
  • The Dog Song *a fave of the night*
  • Encore: Zombie (with Gary Danielson on sax)
  • I Wanna Get Married (Doo Wop Version, with Gary Danielson on sax) *a fave of the night*

So, yeah, holy crap… Nellie just keeps on getting better each time I see her.  I thought I’d be slightly bummed by a mostly Doris Day set (as I really like Nellie’s original songs a lot), but the Doris Day material was really fantastic in a live band setting.  The addition of a jazz combo behind her really made the songs gel, and her interaction with the others was really fun.  She’s kinda of a nutty person (or maybe as corny as Kansas in August)… but I wouldn’t want her to be any other way.  I didn’t get a chance to meet her after the show, but I had a fun night regardless.  Nellie and the Aristocrats are playing a second night (Wednesday, October 21st) at the Jazz Alley.  If you go, drop me a line with your thoughts on Night 2.

Some of the best lines of the night by Nellie…

I still can’t go back to Olympia, because I have overdue library books.”

There’s hashish in that music… that was a score!” (really funny in context)

The Jazz Alley’s description of Nellie as a “martini cool chanteuse” was kinda of spot on. :)  If you don’t have her newest one, get it… it’s fun (and out on vinyl, too):

The Appropriate Linkage:

~Dan – np: Erik FriedlanderTopaz

NELLIE McKAY PHOTOS
all pictures (cc) 2009 Daniel Temmesfeld,
you may use freely under a creative commons attribution

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