Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.


Read the rest after the jump...

Robert Plant: Band of Joy


RIYL: Buddy Miller, Bob Dylan, Daniel Lanois

Robert-Plant-Band-of-Joy-artwork[1]Like a handful of his graying peers – Van Morrison and Neil Young come to mind – Robert Plant has made a career out of defying and confounding his fans’ expectations. What makes Plant unique among rock’s elder contrarians, though, is quality control; he may not give his fans what they say they want, but it’s rare that he delivers an album that’s impossible to love.

Band of Joy is a case in point. In terms of tone and vibe, it picks up more or less where his Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, left off: an album of rootsy, Nashville-recorded covers, rich in beautifully subdued atmosphere. But Plant remains too restless to settle for a straight sequel; he abandoned the follow-up sessions with Krauss and Sand producer T Bone Burnett, opting instead to team up with producer/guitarist Buddy Miller for a set whose title serves as a playful reminder of his pre-Zeppelin band.

What listeners are left with is an album that lacks Sand‘s stately grace, but has a pungent, bluesy heft all its own. Plant’s choice of material is as impeccable as ever – standouts include a mandolin-laced version of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance” and a mournfully loping take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way” – and Miller proves a splendid foil, adding dark, roiling swaths of guitar that hover over crisply recorded arrangements. And then, of course, there are the vocals: Plant remains in fine form, and if you’re disappointed by his continued disinterest in unleashing his old hammer-of-the-gods howl, you can take comfort in the presence of Patty Griffin, who lends a layer of burnished harmony to seven of the album’s 12 tracks.

So it isn’t a Zep reunion, and it isn’t Raising Sand II. Here’s what Band of Joy is: An addictive collection of strong, quietly confident performances from a 62-year-old man who could have started phoning it in 25 years ago, but hasn’t forgotten how to make music simply for the joy of it. If it isn’t one of the best albums of the year, it’s certainly one of the purest. (Rounder 2010)

Robert Plant MySpace page

  

Peter Case: Wig!


RIYL: The Plimsouls, Robert Plant, Stevie Ray Vaughn

Peter Case recently had a heart attack that required multiple-bypass surgery, and it brought the founder of the Nerves and the Plimsouls to within an inch of his life. But luckily for Case, and for his family and for his fans, the surgery was successful, and he even received financial aid in the form of benefit concerts that brought Case together with old friends like T-Bone Burnett, Dave Alvin and Richard Thompson. After a recovery period in which he listened to a lot of old jazz, Case’s new album, Wig! was spawned from a few songwriting and jamming sessions with his band. The result is a raw, bluesy effort that features Case’s distinctive vocals, but is almost more straight blues than the rock he’s been making most of his life. The live, direct-to-analog sound is reminiscent of ‘60s or ‘70s-era recordings, and the songs, while very much following a straight line in style, are nice – not great, but nice. In fact, it’s so bluesy that fans of the Plimsouls might not take to this effort as much as, say, fans of authentic blues would. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Case has earned the right to make music his way, and he sounds, not surprisingly, exuberant and full of life on Wig! Standout tracks are the blazing “Dig What You’re Putting Down” and the piano shuffle, “Look Out!” (Yep Roc 2010)

Peter Case website

  

Led Zeppelin: Good Times Bad Times; A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band

For fans of iconic rock band Led Zeppelin, there will forever be a hole in their collective heart stemming from the tragic death of drummer John Bonham in 1980. There have been several attempts at reunion performances, most recently in 2007 with Bonham’s son Jason pounding the skins for a tribute to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun. But there has never been another tour, or any new music from the band, nor any real promise of such. And as difficult as that may be to swallow for a Led Zep fan, it may be best to remember these guys as they were – pioneers of hard rock, filling arenas with loud music and prompting young musicians everywhere to dream of becoming rock stars.

And it’s easier to remember the good times when you have books like “Led Zeppelin: Good Times Bad Times (A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band)” by long-time Led Zep researchers Jerry Prochnicky and Ralph Hulett. This 200-plus page hardcover is filled with some incredible shots of the band from the early days when they were known as the New Yardbirds, all the way up to that 2007 performance that features a white-haired Jimmy Page on guitar. Throughout, there are live shots, shots of the band hanging out at home with their families, shots that might be considered ubiquitous and others that are quite obscure. Sometimes photos can tell a story better than words can, and in this case the authors have put together one of the finest retrospectives possible. The only thing missing is an accompanying music CD, but we suggest drawing from your own Zep collection, and crank it up really loud while you peruse. It’s the only way. (Abrams Books 2009)

  

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