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...

Phil Collins: Going Back

RIYL: Rod Stewart and other recent English artists who have put out cover albums

Those of us old enough to recall when Phil Collins was relevant can tell you that back in the ’80s he dominated the music industry with his musicality (he wrote, sang, produced and drummed the shit out of any record he played on), his cheeky humor, and his ability to transform even the slightest melody into a big hit. Before No Jacket Required, one of his most popular solo recordings was a cover of the Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love.”  It closes out Side 1 of Collins’ otherwise dark second album, Hello, I Must Be Going, and it’s a reminder, amongst those songs of bitterness and heartbreak, that Collins liked to have fun.

It’s 2010 now, the music industry has changed and Collins’ effectiveness as an artist has waned. Although he won an Academy Award in 1999 for a song in Disney’s animated “Tarzan,” the charm and musicality of the artist who was so influential in the ’80s is long gone. What’s an aging artist to do when they want to regain the public’s attention after so much time has passed? Why, record an album of covers, of course. Better yet, why not go back to the same Motown sound that gave him his first Top Ten hit?

On his new album, Collins painstakingly reproduced the sound of ’60s-era Detroit, even flying in some of the Funk Brothers over to England for sessions. Collins succeeds on this level, as the music on Going Back has the same tight arrangements and the appropriate amount of reverb to make you think these tunes were recorded over 40 years ago. Yes, the music is splendid, but how could it not be? It’s Motown. The problem with this album occurs the moment Collins opens his mouth to sing.

Through the years, Collins’ voice has become more whiny and bitter; he just doesn’t sing with the same joy or soulfulness to pull off an album of some of the greatest songs ever written. Because of this, no matter how great the music or production value, the tracks on Going Back are not fun to listen to at all. What should have been a loose, lively party record has had all of the soul squeezed out of it. Motown without soul is elevator music, and I’d dread being stuck in any elevator playing this album in the background.

Motown was the sound of young America; the music jumped off of turntables and into hearts. Collins’ renditions strain to get through the stereo speakers, like dried Play-Doh being squeezed through a colander. If you really want to hear a contemporary artist performing music that has the soul and sound of ’60s Motown, go out and buy the latest by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. You’ll hear soul music done right, and it’ll cleanse your palate of this dreck. (2010, Atlantic)

Click to buy Going Back from Amazon


Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way

RIYL: Aretha Franklin, Black Joe Lewis, Mavis Staples

From the outside, it might seem like putting together an honest soul record isn’t such a hard thing to do – all you need is a nice-sounding room, a band of talented musicians, and some, y’know, soul – and from that point of view, it might be tempting to wonder just where in the hell Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have been since releasing the magnificent 100 Days, 100 Nights in 2007.

Making real soul music is sort of tricky, though; if it weren’t, the genre wouldn’t be in the mess it’s been in since the mid-to-late ‘70s. A lot of things have changed since soul’s heyday, leaving us in a musical bizarro world where people are more accustomed to hearing digital clatter than analog sweat, and as a result, it’s become extremely difficult to cut a soul record that doesn’t sound like a cheap pastiche. What can anyone add to the style of music that gave us Aretha, Otis, and Pickett?

Nothing, probably. Which is why it’s to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ immense credit that they’ve been able to amass such a deeply satisfying catalog. They record using vintage gear, an affectation that sounds like a gimmick in the wrong hands – but their songs, while not as resonant as the true soul classics, deserve the retro treatment. Put another way: the band’s albums never sound like they’re trying to reach for the past – their traditional soul vibe sounds honest and earned, and the songs sound like they could have been recorded in 1968 or yesterday. You know, timeless – the way music is supposed to sound.

If you’re familiar with the band, you know what to expect from I Learned the Hard Way – raw, punchy rave-ups and bluesy ballads, all carried by an airtight rhythm section, shot through with bright brass, and topped off with Jones’ exhilarating vocals. You don’t listen to one of these albums expecting surprises; you expect some sweet soul music, and these songs deliver. These aren’t greenhorns imitating the form of those old classics and forgetting the function – like the title says, they learned the hard way. Let ‘em give you a lesson or two. (Daptone 2010)

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings MySpace page


SXSW Music 2010, Day 1: It Begins

The music world converged on Austin, Texas today for what is generally viewed as the biggest, bestest music industry event in the world. The thing that makes SXSW so unique is that you not only know you’re going to see some great bands you’ve had your eye on, but you’re also going to discover some great new bands. There are so many playing all over town all day for four straight days, so you can’t help but just stumble upon some cool new sounds.

This was the case early on when the line to try and see Broken Bells’ 1:00pm Red River garage show was too long to get in. I wandered over to the Mohawk up the street and there was a band throwing down a strong sound with some Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibes, and some of that My Morning Jacket kind of vibe. It was Yukon Blonde from Vancouver BC. Good stuff.

The line at the Forcefield PR/Terrorbird Media day party at Red 7 was also way too long, so again I wandered up the street and heard some Beatles coming out of Jaime’s Spanish Village, a Mexican restaurant across the street from Stubbs BBQ. It has a small patio where The Eggmen where dishing out the Beatles tunes, which sounded great on a warm sunny afternoon. It was a rotating lineup, with seven musicians up there for great readings of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Fixing a Hole,” “From Me to You” and “All You Need is Love.”

I waited in a crazy 45-minute line to get into the Levis/Fader Fort, because I wanted to see Philadelphia band Free Energy. The band’s studio stuff sounds amazing, but it was too bad they didn’t seem able to match it live. They have great gear, great looks and a great name, but something in the musicianship seemed lacking. Maybe I’ll give them another shot on Friday. The venue was pimped out though, dubbed by one fan as “a funhouse for hipsters.”

Walking past the Independent up the street, I heard the call of a bluesy sound, the Maldives from Seattle were rocking out, also with a Crazy Horse vibe, and maybe some Ryan Adams & the Cardinals influence. The Canadian Blast tent outside by the registrants lounge closed out with Plants and Animals, who blended reverb-y vocals with a cool groove to close their set. Austin’s own Strange Boys packed Emo’s Jr for an 8:00 set of their retro ’60s-style garage rock. There were moments, but I don’t think it was really my thing.

Jonneine Zapata out of Los Angeles caught my attention first with her name and then with her powerful voice at the Red Eyed Fly. This is a great little venue with nice outdoor stage where Zapata and her band rocked the stage with a powerful bluesy sound that recalled Concrete Blonde.

Here We Go Magic packed Club Deville for a 9:00 set. The sound was excellent although the songs kept seeming like they were building up to something that never came. They were doing something right though, as the indie rock crowd seemed to dig it.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tore up the stage at Stubbs BBQ, with the great band throwing down ’60s and ’70s-influenced funk behind the soul queen. This was the first major highlight of the day.

I caught up with Broken Bells when they followed Jones at Stubbs and James Mercer of The Shins led the band through a collection of tunes that sounded pretty Shins-y, with maybe more synth and less guitar. But when they added some more guitar toward the end, it was even better.

I bailed waiting for Spoon at Stubbs to go back to Emos main for Nas & Damian Marley. Mixing the hip-hop with the reggae was a slamming formula for the really packed crowd, who loved every minute. This is the new duo to watch out for in 2010, what a great set! It was all too brief though, leaving me able to catch the end of Spoon’s set. These guys confuse me. They play three songs in a row that are kind of blah, and then just when you’re about ready to give up on them they throw down a great rocker. Then they play two or three more blah, than some dope groove. Strange formula.

Compared to last year, this first day was so-so at first, picking up toward the end. Things looked primed to pick up tomorrow though, stay tuned…