Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Greg Schwartz’s picks

It’s been another bad year for the recording industry, but another great year for music fans. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well, as is the opportunity to see it performed live. Musicians can still make a living, but they have to hit the road and seize modern marketing opportunities. One thing that will never change is the public’s desire to hear great music. Bands that can deliver still have a chance to write their own ticket.

Top 10 lists are of course inherently subjective, and this observer’s faves will always lean toward the guitar-driven rock side of the music spectrum. I was certain that the debut album from the long-awaited Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band would be topping my list this year, especially after the slew of terrific new tunes they delivered in two stellar shows at the New Orleans Jazzfest back in April. But the album isn’t coming out until 2011. Here’s my take on the best albums and songs that were released in 2010.

10. The Henry Clay People: Somewhere on the Golden Coast
This is just an old-fashioned, ’90s-style indie-alternative rock ‘n’ roll album that stands out with its energetic yet down-to-earth sound. No Pro Tools trickery going on here, just a band plugging into their amps and turning up the volume. It’s got loud guitars with melodic hooks, rocking piano and zeitgeist lyrics from singer/guitarist Joey Siara that tap into this modern era of Depression and discontent. “Working Part Time” is one of the great anthems of the year, while “End of an Empire” sounds like an alt-rock prophecy.

9. The Sword: Warp Riders
The Austin, Texas hard rockers deliver a blast from the past that is easily the best metal album to come along in some time. It’s like a cross between Metallica, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy, which equals metal heaven. It’s chock full of great riffs, furious rhythms and tight metal mayhem with a twist of classic rock flavor.


Read the rest after the jump...

KT Tunstall: Tiger Suit


RIYL: Sheryl Crow, The Sundays, Stevie Nicks

KT Tunstall catapulted herself to overnight success in 2006 with her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, which spawned the hit single “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” Her 2007 follow-up, Drastic Fantastic, was just as good, if not better, than the debut, and now Tunstall is back with Tiger Suit. As usual, Tunstall’s songs are mostly upbeat hook-fests, albeit with slightly less magic than before. With Tiger Suit, she’s regressed a bit, because these are good tracks that are structured well and have solid melodies and arrangements – but something is lacking compared to Tunstall’s previous work, be it soul or depth or that slight bit of alternative grit that was present on both Telescope and Drastic.

Tiger Suit opens with “Uummannaq Song,” an odd title but the familiar mid-tempo singsong style that is most closely reminiscent of her earlier work. That rolls right into “Glamour Puss,” a song that is catchy beyond belief but somehow not exactly memorable. The best tracks on here are “Difficulty,” a song that lends itself to some quirky but effective production, and “Lost,” which is slower yet but arranged nicely. “Come on, Get In” is her label’s attempt at having Tunstall re-create “Cherry Tree,” and it’s kind of a lame one at that. Still, let’s face it – Tunstall’s mediocre is far better than most female singer/songwriters’ work these days. It’s just that her die hard fans may come away slightly disappointed this time, especially after a three-year wait. (Virgin 2010)

KT Tunstall website

  

Megan McCormick: Honest Words


RIYL: Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi

Megan McCormick’s debut album Honest Words is a blend of guitar-driven, bluesy rock and a dreamy Lilith Fair vibe.  Her voice falls in a pleasant, Sheryl Crow range, but with less cigarette smoke grit. Meanwhile, her guitar playing has the passion and technical prowess that should call the attention of people who dig the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Jimmie Vaughan.

The album kicks off with “Shiver,” a funky groove set against a blues riff that finds the singer suffering from the fever of a new love – simultaneously exciting and scary. This song is quickly followed by “Things Change,” a poppy song that begins with a traditional Texas blues arrangement before quickly becoming a peppy pop song. It has a chorus that would make Bonnie Raitt proud.  “Do Right” is nice enough, but a tad too generic with lyrics like “sold my soul to rock ‘n roll” and what not. “Wreck” is poignant, full of regret and heartbreak; “Oh My Love” is a shuffling, acoustic country tinged ballad and “Driveway” is slow and mournful; a tale told from the perspective of a woman dying at the wheel of her crashed car.

There are plenty of wonderful sounds on Honest Words: beautifully sung vocals, exemplary guitar playing and lyrics that are, for the most part, cliché-free. Unfortunately the album is a little too sleepy. For an artist who seems so grounded in the blues, a few more up-tempo rockers would have been welcome. After a string of slow songs, “Addiction,” a crunchy rock song jumps in as a much-needed wake up call. But then things slow right back down again. Bummer.

Nevertheless, McCormick is a nice discovery when so many female artists are either extremely pop or acoustic singer songwriters. For her next effort, here’s hoping she cuts back on the ballads and kicks it up a notch or two. (Ryko 2010)

Megan McCormick’s MySpace page
Click to buy Honest Words from Amazon

  

Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles from Memphis


RIYL: Shelby Lynne, Citizen Cope, Adele

To call 100 Miles from Memphis Sheryl Crow’s “soul” album would be a little misleading. It isn’t like the songwriter/songstress/Grammy favorite hasn’t always had something of a soulful streak running through her music. This latest effort just emphasizes that streak more explicitly than any of her previous albums. More importantly, it catches Crow (most of the time) in a playful, lighthearted mood. It’s a sharp turn from the heavy-handedness that’s made much of her last couple of albums a bit of a challenge to listen to, and it results in her best album in at least a decade.

Working with guitarist/producer Doyle Bramhall II, 100 Miles is a loose affair. In spirit and vibe, it’s the closest Crow has come to matching her charming 1993 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club. After focusing much of her material on personal and political issues for the past few years, it’s nice to hear her lighten up. The fact that she has lightened up a bit also makes the songs where she does turn serious (like the political “Say What You Want”) a lot easier to take.

The Hammond B-3 organ gets a major workout on 100 Miles. Not surprising, given that the instrument was a hallmark of the Memphis soul that Crow references in the album’s title. “Eye to Eye,” a standout track, matches an Al Green-type sound with a reggae beat. “Stop” is Crow’s most affecting ballad in quite some time, and she scores with big-name collaborators like Citizen Cope (on a cover of his “Sideways”) and Memphis native Justin Timberlake (on the album’s most surprising track – an effective cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name”). As a tip of the cap to one of the people who gave her a start in the music industry, she adds a faithful cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” to the end of the album. It’s casual, and Sheryl sounds like she had fun doing it – an apt way to close a record that’s one of the loosest (and best) of Crow’s career. (A&M Records 2010)

Sheryl Crow MySpace page

  

Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

Better than the 2003 collection that bears his name, this michelgondry.com-exclusive set of music videos is simply staggering. The beauty of Gondry’s work is that his methods are surprisingly low-tech (Beck’s “Cellphone’s Dead” being this set’s exception). He uses reflective glass to create the ghosts that haunt Paul McCartney’s house in “Dance Tonight,” and Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man” is a brilliant stop-motion clip, using both real people and their string equivalents. Gondry assembles a couple of clever yet completely unique one-take videos with Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” and the White Stripes’ “The Denial Twist,” and his videos from the pre-CGI early ’90s, namely Thomas Dolby’s “Close but No Cigar” and Sananda Maitreya’s “She Kissed Me” (otherwise known as Terence Trend D’Arby to your older brothers and sisters), look as good as any video made today. The set comes with a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage, a couple films featuring Gondry solving a Rubik’s Cube with various parts of his body (feet and nose, to be precise), and they also added the parody of Gondry’s video of the White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button” that appeared on a 2006 episode of “The Simpsons.” Genius stuff, across the board. If only he could replicate this consistency in the feature film arena.(ElektroFilm)

Click here to buy “Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

  

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