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...

Street Sweeper Social Club: The Ghetto Blaster EP

RIYL: Rage Against the Machine, The Coup, System of a Down

Whether or not the world will ever receive a new Rage Against the Machine album remains a mystery. But in the meantime, Rage guitarist Tom Morello is giving us the next best thing by continuing his incendiary work with Boots Riley in their group Street Sweeper Social Club. Morello has thankfully put his Night Watchman acoustic folk project, a noble experiment, on the shelf and gone back to what he does best – laying down “revolutionary party jams,” a kick-ass blend of rock and hip-hop with a socially conscious vibe. This follow-up to 2009’s eponymous debut keeps the fire burning by kicking out the jams with block-rocking beats, heavy riffs, smoking guitar solos, and in-your-face vocals from Boots Riley.

The title track comes out guns blazing with a heavy Rage vibe. Riley takes no prisoners with lines like “We’re canon fodder for dollars / Both under Bush and Obama.” Riley continues to deliver venom on “Everythang,” slamming bankers, sellout mayors and the like. Morello gets his whammy bar going at the end, conjuring his trademark sound of guitar pyrotechnics with anti-establishmentt flavor over another heavy groove.

The band strikes sonic gold on “The New Fuck You,” a song of the year contender with its infectious groove, smoldering riffs and killer lyrics including the instant classic chorus of “Fuckin’ is the new ‘Hey, how do ya do?’ / And revolution is the new fuck you.” Morello throws down one of his best solos in recent memory, while every line from Riley resonates with the zeitgeist of an MC lamenting his ride on the Titanic through the decline of Western civilization.

“Scars” continues in a similar vein with another high-energy track about hard living, showing the band hasn’t forgotten their roots. The disc wraps up with “Promenade (Guitar Fury Remix),” a reprise of a monster groove from the band’s debut album with Morello adding some extra guitar tricks to elevate the song higher.

The EP also includes two covers with mixed results. The first is of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” which seems an odd selection that doesn’t really fit in musically with the rest of the disc. But the cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” is a barnburner, a track that seems tailor-made for this crew to crank out with maximum style and energy (as they did at Stubbs BBQ in Austin during this year’s SXSW festival, where the crowd was literally bouncing in response.)

Morello produced the EP himself for the band’s own SSSC independent label, so this is an anti-corporate joint all the way. Is musical revolution still alive in 2010? Street Sweeper Social Club answers affirmative with resounding solidarity. (Street Sweeper Social Club 2010)


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Street Sweeper Social Club

With a second stage set up at the back end of Stubbs, there was only a momentary break after Jakob Dylan’s set at Rachel Ray’s in-demand day party at Stubbs BBQ before Street Sweeper Social Club launched into an incendiary set that heated up the chilly afternoon.

Guitarist Tom Morello has put his Night Watchman folk experiment on the back burner and moved back to doing what he does best, which is rocking out Rage Against the Machine-style. The band’s aggressive and heavy sound clearly recalled Rage, yet with the urban flavor that only the Coup’s Boots Riley can provide in the vocal slot. The opening tune featured a “Manic Depression” vibe from Morello on guitar, while the second tune seemed cut from the same cloth as some early Rage classics. The crowd was instantly enthralled, with fists in the air and cameras out to take pictures.

“You can join Street Sweeper Social Club, there’s lots of ways, but they’re illegal to speak of in public… Austin, you’re gonna have to take the oath,” said Riley, and it seemed as if the assembled were more than ready to enlist. “The Oath” was a hard-hitting tune where Riley pledged “to get the foot off my neck” and “fight until the system is gone.” Morello played the tune with a whistle in his mouth, which he would tweet at peak moments for dramatic effect. The anthemic chorus was an absolute blast, with the crowd bouncing and eager for more.

New York City’s Outernational (whose debut album has been produced by Morello) were brought out for one tune and helped SSSC rock out with a party flavor that included trumpet and accordion. SSSC continued to electrify the crowd with a slamming cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” that had the audience bouncing. Riley was in full command of Stubbs as he belted out the lyrics, with most of the crowd singing along.

“We’re more than a band, we’re a motherfucking social club,” declared Riley toward the end. Sign me up, Boots, because this was one of the best sets of the week.

Street Sweeper Social Club, SXSW 2010
Photo by Steve Hopson


SXSW Music 2010, Day 4: Neither Wind Nor Rain…

The weather took a decided turn for the worse in the middle of the night when a big rainstorm hit town. Festival-goers were spared precipitation on Saturday, but the temperature dropped into the 50s and it was cold and windy throughout the day. It felt more like a late-autumn afternoon in the Midwest than Spring Equinox in Austin, but the chilly conditions would not stop SXSW music fans from getting their fill on the final day of the conference/festival.

The big highlight of Saturday afternoon was Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ, which required a special invite. The general RSVP line was going nowhere, but thank goodness a friend had an extra pass. Free margaritas and bloody Marys were served along with chicken quesadillas and meatball sandwiches. Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring the dazzling Neko Case) played a strong set that had a sound not unlike some of the recent work of Jakob’s dad – slow-burning blues and Americana sprinkled with the Tex-Mex flavor. Case’s backing vocals added an extra element to raise the songs higher for what sounds like some of the younger Dylan’s best work.

Street Sweeper Social Club stole the show though with an incendiary set that provided a needed infusion of heat to the chilly conditions. Tom Morello, Boots Riley and company rocked a heavy sound with a definite Rage kind of vibe that had people bouncing. This was one of the best sets of the week.

She & Him closed out the party with a strong set of their own. Zooey Deschanel sounded great, especially with the Chapin Sisters appearing as guest to harmonize with her. M.Ward led the able band, which even rocked out a deep jam at the end.

Getting indoors became the next imperative and there was a large crowd inside Lovejoys, one of Austin’s best dive bars. They had music too, of course, with Middle Distance Runner rocking a heavy sound. The guitarist even pulled one of Tom Morello’s slide guitar tricks. Caitlin Krisko & the Broadcast followed with a bluesier sound, with the charismatic blonde frontwoman belting out some powerful tunes, while a conga player helped provided polyrthythms.

After a break to eat some dinner and catch some March Madness (how about those Northern Iowa Panthers), it was over to Spill on 6th Street where Antennas Up were showcasing at 8 pm. The Kansas City band has a funky sound accented by some trippy synth samples. They’re clearly into the space vibe with astronaut helmets that were donned during one tune, and Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit.

The highlight of the early evening was the redemptive 9:00 set from the Watson Twins at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. The venue is an actual church with amazing acoustics. Combining this with an evening headliner slot had a dramatic effect on the Twins, with this set highlighting their dynamic sound in a way that their Friday day party set could not. They still didn’t play anything off their first album, but the new tunes sparkled in a new light in this setting.

The 10:00 hour fell flat for a variety of reasons, but Dengue Fever stepped up with an 11:00 set at Emo’s main to get things rocking again. Cambodian vocalist Chom Nimol started off the set wearing a hoodie and skullcap, but she and the band quickly heated things up with their groovy sound, causing Nimol to strip off layers until she was just wearing a pretty blue dress.

Then it was over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a great SXSW finale with Pretty Lights, who blew up the joint with their funky beats and trippy sounds. The Colorado duo’s spectacular light show provided a dazzling accompaniment to the dance party which went right up until 2 am.

Much more on the past four days coming in my wrap-up report within the next 24 hours…