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My Top Ten CDs of 2015
Two from 2014
There were two CDs from the end of 2014 which I didn't get until well into 2015 -- too late to wedge into the already posted Top Ten CDs of 2014. But they are both so good, I am leading off with them in a special pre-2015 section.
Dust Devil by LL Cooper
Larry Cooper has the sage Texas drawl of a wise statesmen. He is one of those recent musicians who are content not too wander too far from home; in his case, that appears to be from Austin to Houston. So, I enjoy his live work only in posted videos on the net.
He writes songs so near-perfect, they almost feel sculpted. But even when the themes are serious, there is still a sense of amusement to make them a blast to play and listen to again and again. I appreciate the earnestness of his songs because they always have an impact. They are always about something of emotional, ethical, or social worth. The musical accompaniment is as finely tuned as the songwriting. In no way minimal, but he does a lot with sometimes limited resources.
Thanks to the bartender for letting me borrow this guitar Thank you for listening and for all the tips in the jar
You know, there must be a decent song in there somewhere
The college boys shooting eight ball in the back don't care
That my Gibson's in the pawn shop and it's probably staying over there
Home Now by Gerald Dowd
Of all my recent musical finds, there isn't a one I'm higher on than Gerald Dowd. Anonymously, to me at least, he built his reputation in the Midwest as a drummer for several bands and session work. His first full length CD proves he's as skilled with his rhymes and melodies as he is with beats and tempos. His heartfelt lyrics are layered over playful melodies without being frivolous or losing the purpose of the song. The main thing is that whenever he finishes a song, my first reaction is always, "do another one."
Hit the deck, throw yourself down on me I'm a live grenade Take my word this won't be no rose parade
Happy homes fall apart
Those once loved, get kicked and shoved
Talking about a brand new start
While trembling hands touch bathrobe strands
It's getting so hard to find
Simple things to ease your worried mind
We're either too far along or far behind
Go on, leave your shoes by the door
I never wanted to see anyone more
Let me be the first to welcome you home
Rich in Love by Colin Linden
Colin Linden is yet another Canadian who plays Americana music better than, in my humble opinion, the majority of Americans in the genre. (I say another because I've commented before about Daniel Romano, Rob Lutes, Justin Rutledge, Serena Ryder, and Catherine MacLellan not to mention Lightfoot, Cockburn, and Neil Young.) He's also another top flight practitioner of the music I profess to cover who has remained totally obscure from me and others with whom I share likes and dislikes. No longer.
Legend has it that Linden learned at the knee of Howlin' Wolf, almost literally having met the blues legend when he was 11 years old. He used that early entre to develop a mastery of several styles guitar-playing. He's a slide virtuoso and a jack-of-all finger picking. His resumes includes touring with other legendary artist such as Bruce Cockburn, Bob Dylan, and David Wilcox among others and formed the super trio Blackie and Rodeo Kings with Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson. Since 2012, he has been the musical director for the TV series, "Nashville." He's won about every Canadian music accolade from Junos to SOCAN Songwriting Awards.
His solo songs feature his soulful delivery, not too thick, not too heavy. His new CD Rich In Love is rich in lyrics, melody, and presentation. Top to bottom, this is my favorite CD of the year.
"I Need Water"
Don't you know it's hard to cry
when all the rivers have run dry
I been holding on for years
But I need water to build these tears
"Paybacks Are Hell"
What are they singing in Heaven today
to make the saints cover up and fly away
Refilling glasses for angels who fell
Welcome to paradise, paybacks are hell
Complicated Game by James McMurtry
McMurtry's Complicated Game is uncompromising storytelling with just the right musical atmosphere for the yarns being spun. So visceral are these portrayals that you expect the disc to be stained with the dirt and grease, the sweat and blood, and spit and tears of the characters inhabiting each track. This entire album has a way of getting caught between your teeth and under your fingernails. You won't want to live there necessarily, but it's impossible not to keep going back.
Honey, don't you be yelling at me when I'm cleaning my gun...
"How'm I Gonna Find You Now"
I've got a mad coming on and it's gonna be dreadful Now I'm washing down my blood pressure pill with a Red Bull I hit the city limit sign and I'm blind and I'm seeing red
"She Loves Me"
And when she's not she's angry And somehow I'm to blame Don't know if I can hang It's such a complicated game
All Your Favorite Bands by Dawes
There's only nine songs on this CD, but each is a polished gem from the prophetic title cut (keyboardist Tay Strathairn left the band in late 2015) to "Things Happen" and "Somewhere Along the Way." This is as tight and well-played a collection of songs as I can remember ever hearing. Absolutely no weak efforts, no filler. There is a depth of quality in every note, every tone, every beat.
Not only, is Taylor Goldsmith a consummate songwriter but as it turns out also a whale of a lead guitar player as well. This CD also lays to rest the notion that Dawes is a folk band. If this aint rock and roll, then I don't know what is, and neither does David Letterman who took to introducing them in their appearances during his last year on TV as "pretty much all you need in a rock and roll band."
Let's make a list of all the things the world has put you through
Let's raise a glass to all the people you're not speaking to
"All Your Favorite Bands"
I hope that life without a chaperone is what you'd thought it be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you've always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together
Fortune by Rod Picott
I have been a Picott fan since I found him as a friend and co-writer of Slaid Cleaves. I liked that his versions of those songs were different and distinctive but I most often preferred the Cleaves' takes. However, this CD is so comprehensively impressive that I was persuaded to listen to it over and over. It got better the more I played it.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle: "I don't care if I have to sit on a drywall bucket in the rain to get the right take, that's what we're going to do. And when we get it, we don't (expletive) with it."
There's a lot of struggle and a hint of pain in both the voice and the lyrics, but there's a resilient secret heart there as well.
"Maybe That's What It Takes"
It's not that I ever stopped loving you
I just quit waiting for you to love me, too
"Until I'm Satisfied"
I can make it on my own here, you won't hear me complain
Just quit pissin' on my leg and telling me it's rain.
Because I'm not leaving,
no, I'm not leaving
Until I'm satsfied
Waiting on You by Sam Lewis
From his website: (I was a) “typical kid with a guitar, going from Nirvana to Bob Dylan.”
It's hard to pin down what makes Lewis's vocals so incredibly genial. There's a stylistic finesse to his voice, a wry twang somewhere between nasal and reedy, that is inviting and accessible. His songs have the insight of a John Prine with the lilt of a Bruce Cockburn or James Taylor. His backing band provides the perfect bed for that appealing presentation.
Take a trip down sunny highway
and tell me what do you see
When you're looking back in the rearview, honey,
tell me you don't see me
Royal Blue by Lilly Hiatt
Cause it ain't in the water and it ain't in the wine
I am somebody's daughter and I'm going to be fine
She is so much more than that, but this is a great indication of her musical roots and jumping off point. It's clear she has a grasp of an array of styles from straight folk to driving rock to jazzy blues. She has an ethereal voice which can rasp into gritty and wail into fine whine when necessary. But the stars of this solid debut are the songs themselves.
She's definitely her father's daughter, but these songs are all hers.
"Get This Right"
And the stars lit up just the same as they did that night
You're looking too and the questions' burning bright
Are we ever gonna get this right
You aint heartache
You're just a heart attack
"I Don't Do Those Things Anymore"
There were stars in your eyes, there were tears in mine
And I slammed my hand in the door
If you want to be saved,
secrets laid to the grave
I don't do those things anymore
I hear my father's fight when I strum at night
I just wasn't raised to say so what
Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell
Isabel's new CD poses the legitimate question: can you as a writer for ready is this good actually be getting even better. There were always flashes of brilliance, but now, he just keeps getting better and better. He's better at recording, beginning to end more solid. He's better playing live. He's better at presenting Jason Isbell. It was never that he wasn't good or even great, but he keeps improving. That's the way it should be.
As always, best of all, are his songs.
You thought God was an architect, now you know He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames In 24 frames
"Something More Than Free"
You see, a hammer finds a nail And a freight train needs the rail And I'm doin' what I'm on this earth to do
The Spirit Moves by Langhorne Slim and the Law
"I don’t want to tame myself. I want to be wild,” says Langhorne Slim (Sean Scolnick from Langhorne, PA) on his website. “If I can continue to refine the wildness but never suffocate or tame it, then I’m on the right path. Because it is a path. I feel it.” He calls the Law, his brothers (drummer Malachi DeLorenzo, bassist Jeff Ratner, and keyboard/banjo player David Moore).
After watching him live or listening to a Langhorne Slim CD, there is always a sense that nothing is ever left in tank. All the heart and soul is in the songwriting and the recordings and the playing. His vocals are an irresistable balls-to-the-wall cross between Neil Young and Cat Stevens. Give him a chance, he will win you over.
Things could be different but I don't know how I'm going through changes through all the strangeness I'm going through changes now
The stormclouds have burst So let 'em hear us curse There's nothing left for us to fear Except ourselves and what we've done here If we should meet again Love, if we should meet again
Out of the Birdcage by The Damn Quails
The Damn Quails continue a firm sense of harmony and the power of a swinging rhythm and a driving beat. In their lyrics and storytelling, they are masters of using catchy hooks and memorable wordplay. The Damn Quails started as a weekly jam session between two Oklahoma songwriters. Gabe Marshall and Bryon White and a semi-stable stable of instrumentalists. They loosely refer to the music they play as "folk rock," but their sound is much more distinctive and unique than that label can cover. It has to be heard.
They are proud of their prodigious touring schedule. I wish it included a few more dates north of Kansas so I could see them live. Until then, I will play their CD to a fine dust and put them on a loop on my MP3 player.
"Out of the Birdcage"
Dash all my hopes in a blink of an eye
You ask me why I get so down
My heart is heavy though I'm saying goodbye
Tomorrow I may not be around
So, last night, I didn't take no guff
I tilted back the bottle 'til I'd had enough
Then went and had a little bit more
Landed on my best friend's floor
Tied for 11th:
Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth
Ode to Thinking by Bobby Long
South Broadway Athletic Club by The Bottle Rockets
Traveler by Chris Stapleton