Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Farley’s picks

It was an interesting year for me music-wise. So much great stuff passed my desk or by e-mail from publicists, but something odd happened: my old PC started getting so slow that I literally could not listen to my iTunes and work at the same time. Makes writing CD reviews tough, but makes listening while I work to get a feel for new music even harder. I persevered, playing stuff in the car and also, finally, getting a super-fast new PC recently. My joy of listening to my iTunes catalog and discovering new music has returned. And so, I give to you, my Top 10 albums of 2010:

1. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
There are two songs on this album that can bring anyone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in no time flat: “The Best Things in Life” and “What’s the Drawback.” Daniel Tashian and company continue to make some of the best music that, unfortunately, most people have never heard. So hey, this holiday season, do something about that. Go buy the Silver Seas’ music, and tell them I sent you.

2. Rooney: Eureka
Editor David Medsker to me, “Hey, I think you’ll like these guys.” Me, after hearing band: “Um, understatement.” It’s just good, unadulterated pop/rock – no whiny kid voice and no Auto Tune.

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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.

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Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys

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Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

RIYL: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

This is technically the band’s fourth studio album, but the eponymous release marks a new era for the group. Former bassist Bryan Dondero has been replaced with Catherine Popper (formerly with Ryan Adams & the Cardinals), and this change has created a new synergy for the band. Popper helps balance the gender dynamic with her harmony vocals and she drives the songs higher with her superior jam skills on the bass. Rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco has also been added to the lineup, helping lead guitarist Scott Tournet, drummer Matt Burr and keyboardist/guitarist Potter to embiggen their sound, as they’d say on “The Simpsons.”

The album is a showcase for Potter’s dynamic vocals and melodic rock style, but it also feels like a coming-out party for what in hindsight will probably be viewed as the band’s classic lineup. Potter has her mojo working from the start in “Paris (Ooh La La),” a high-energy sexual rocker. “Oasis” comes down a notch, but then builds back up as Potter’s voice and Popper’s bass seem to sync in with each other. “Medicine” cranks it back up with a another blast of down and dirty groove rock where Potter sings about a mesmerizing gypsy type of woman not unlike herself.

Lead single “Tiny Light” shows off the new lineup at its best. The overall sound conjures visions of Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac, before blasting into the stratosphere with a big jam driven by Popper’s dynamic bass line. The song also features some of Potter’s best lyrics, which acknowledge the chaos of the early 21st century but ultimately lead to an uplifting catharsis. The song also gives a snapshot of the band’s live power with the jam at the end, where Tournet rips a sonic blast of lead guitar and Potter belts it out to the extreme. Potter’s softer side shines on piano-driven ballad “Colors,” where her delicate vocals dedicated to the twilight time of day are sure to melt hearts. “Only Love” provides a another high-energy blast of skillfully layered blues rock, a sound that is the band’s bread and butter.

The second half of the album isn’t quite as strong as far as memorable songs, although the band’s sound remains vibrant. “One Short Night” is a catchy number with a funky flavor about a questionable night out, while “Low Road” explores a bluesier territory with Potter still shining on vocals. “Hot Summer Night” is another sexy rocker similar to “Medicine” and “Only Love.” It would be nice to see Potter explore a wider variety of sonic flavors, but there’s no doubt this is one she’s very good at. “Things I Never Needed” closes out the album with a contemplative and endearing ballad. The first half of the album gets four stars, but the second half gets only three, so that’s three-and-a-half overall. This is a very good album, but the next one should be a true classic.

The band’s five-star live show is where they shine the brightest. When Potter & the Nocturnals played at Austin’s SXSW Festival in March, they highlighted the new material and knocked it out of the park with high-energy, jam-heavy performances in both an evening headliner show and a day-party performance. The band was good in 2008, but this version is at a higher level. Whoever orchestrated Popper’s entry into the band on bass should win rock ‘n’ roll’s “general manager of the year” award for the transaction. (Hollywood Records 2010)

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals MySpace page


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, again

I was so impressed with the band’s headlining set at Antone’s the previous night that I had to catch them again for this 6:00 day party set at Rusty Spurs on 7th Street. The band didn’t get to play quite as long, but they threw down another well received hour-long set before a packed house in the little bar. The new “Oasis” received the big jam treatment here, with bassist Catherine Popper once again powering the band’s jammy evolution. The mesmerizing Potter was sincerely appreciative of the positive crowd reaction throughout the set.

“There’s a lot of other places you could be right now and I hope you’re as glad as we are that you’re here and that’s what this next song is about,” said Potter in introducing a heartfelt new tune about how “all the treasures of my life are here in my hands.” The set continued to surge with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which built into a huge crescendo with Potter really belting it out at the end. “Medicine” soared as well, and featuring a four-way percussion jam before the band revved up for one more huge jam to close out another triumphant set. This band is quite simply en fuego and is most definitely one of the top rising acts to watch in 2010 and beyond.

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