2010: Music that Mattered

We’re having a hard time with our Best of 2010 list this year. You see, there are a whole pile of records that were quite good this year, and it’s been a bit hard narrowing that pile down. We’re working on it.

In the meantime, there are some that can’t go without mention. This is the list of albums this year that REALLY MATTER.

The essentials:

1. Del BarberLove Songs for the Last 20.

It’s hard to believe that this young kid from Winnipeg (OK, St. Norbert…), whom we hadn’t even heard of a year ago, could put out the best record of the year. But the fact remains that nobody, anywhere, put out a CD this damn good this year. Heck, this one’s almost as good as anything we’ve ever heard. Seriously. What can we say about Del? He’s got a whole lot of heart and a whole lot of spirit. The kid works, works, and works some more. And it’s all in the name of great songs. He’s not out trying to be flashy or famous or rich (he can’t even pay his student loans… or so he says), he’s just out playing songs that mean something, night after night after night. And what about those songs? Well, they’ve got substance and meaning, and they’re memorable and entertaining. What else could you ask for? This recording is sublime: a cast of characters that really bring life to the songs, without getting in the way. Listen to the stunning vocals of Nadine Klowak, the driving guitar of Luke Enns, or the perfect beat laid down by Caleb Friesen. Listen to the way Barber manages to bring heart and emotion to the songs. Listen to the times you can hear him smile or nod or feel a line. Normally, it takes a lifetime to master that. Barber’s done it at the age of 27, on only his second record. Miles and Years may be the song of the year, and I’ll put it on a mix with Townes and Blaze any time.

2. Matthew RyanDear Lover (The Acoustic Version).

Last year, Matthew Ryan put out a fine record called Dear Lover. It was good, but something about the layers of noise and sounds got in the way of the songs, for me. I liked it, but I didn’t connect with it. Then I saw Ryan live. He performed solo, acoustic, and I heard and felt the songs like I hadn’t been able to on the disc. Obviously, I am not alone, because he went and re-recorded the album in a stripped back, acoustic mode, and wow. This one is amazing.

3. Christina MartinI Can Too.

We’re a little biased here, because we love Christina, and she’s become a great friend. But why? Because she writes amazing songs like these, of course. Her record of a few years ago, Two Hearts, is a desert island disc for me, and one that I can’t ever put down. How to top that? Well, by writing another batch of powerful, personal, memorable songs, and bringing in some great players to help out. Dale “Magic” Murray again works as producer and guitarist, and he lays down some of his most amazing work to date (and he’s done a lot of great work.) Cuff the Duke’s Wayne Petti and some guy named Greg from a little band called Blue Rodeo drop in. But who needs them, Christina can carry this on her own, and she does so, beautifully.

4. The Tallest Man on EarthThe Wild Hunt
and Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird EP

He may not be all that Tall, but he casts a long shadow, already. I’m still kicking myself for not hearing his debut Shallow Grave, soon enough to put it on my best of list a couple of years ago. Luckily, this guy keeps pumping out amazing songs, so he’s sure to be a regular on my Best-of lists from now on. An incredible, intense, powerful performer, this young Swede needs nobody backing him up, just a guitar, some great lyrics, and an unforgettable voice. Check this guy out, now.

5. Old Man LuedeckeMy Hands Are on Fire and other Love Songs

Like The Tallest Man, Chris Luedecke has picked a bit of a weird stage name, but that doesn’t impact his amazing talent. When I first heard the guy, I thought he was fun and cute, and wrote some interesting tunes that bordered on the novelty variety, but I had no idea that he would blossom into a powerful songwriter and performer, like he has. The songs keep getting better, and with producer/player Steve Dawson and special guest Tim O’Brien (on pretty much every track), this record is his finest to date. Bonus points for including a Willie P. Bennett cover. Check out the beautiful simplicity of “My Love Comes Stepping Up the Stairs,” or the heartbreak of “The Palace is Golden.” This guy can write, even if he isn’t really that old.

6. Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans The Falcon Lake Incident.

I admit that this one suffered as a result of some unrealistic expectations on my part. This sounded like a dream pairing that could only come up with one hell of a great rock and roll record. I expected something that this wasn’t quite intended to be. This isn’t meant to be a barnburner of a rock and roller. Instead, Jim and his pals rented a quiet, secluded cabin and emerged with a beautifully intimate record. Sure, there are some of this year’s greatest pop songs: “Metal Girls,” “Decidedly,” and “Wild Folk,” are as good as anything you’ll hear all year, but there are also some really tender quiet moments, which you might not expect from Winnipeg’s greatest rock n’ roll band or one of this country’s best badass guitar players. But these guys are made for surprises, and there are many on this record.

Ones that we’re still mulling over (in no particular order, other than their position in the stack on my desk…):

Hannah GeorgasThis Is Good. More than that, there are some amazing pop music gems on here.

Brian MacMillanShine. Who is this guy and where has he been all my life? “Turn the Radio Up” is a contender for feel good song of the year, for sure.

Paul QuarringtonThe Songs. A sentimental pick, yeah, but it’s good, too. Quarrington is my favourite author and a really unerrated songwriter. Sadly, he left us this year, but he left behind a pretty great solo record.

Tanya DavisClocks and Hearts Keep Going. Produced by Jim Bryson and full of that magic that Jim puts into his own records, and all of it adds to the beautiful poetry of wordsmith Tanya Davis. “Eulogy for You and Me” is one of my favourite songs of the year, and it’s one of many gems on this record.

Mumford & SonsSigh No More. Sure, Spirit of the West did it long ago, but these wild & wooly young boys managed to take Celtic & folk and mix in rock & roll spirit and make it fun and enjoyable. This one won’t change the world, but it sure is fun.

Justin Townes EarleHarlem River Blues. He had a bit of a tough year, personally, but he managed to put out one hell of a good record. Let’s hope he gets back on track and keeps going in the right direction. He’s already managed to escape a couple of HUGE looming shadows (Townes and Earle…) and has proven that he’s his own artist (even if he seems to have inherited some demons that come with those names.)

Ruth MoodyThe Garden. Winnipeg’s own Ruth Moody has been an invaluable contributor to The Wailin’ Jennys and other bands & projects, but hasn’t made much of a splash as a solo artist – until now. This album is a masterpiece, and one that establishes her as a strong solo artist in her own right.

Jesse Malin & The St. Marks SocialLove It to Life. Malin’s always been enjoyable and entertaining with his rockin’ tunes, but this time out, he seems to have put together his most cohesive, interesting collection of songs, and boy, is it a winner.

Lynn MilesFall for Beauty. Any year with a new Lynn Miles CD is a good one (they come all too infrequently, for me), so this was bound to be a winner. Some typically strong lyrics and vocals, a beautiful cover, and a showstopper of a duet with Jim Bryson make this one of this year’s finest.

John PrineIn Person & On Stage. Live albums typically don’t impress me, but with John Prine’s catalogue, special guests aplenty (Iris DeMent, Emmylou, Josh Ritter, Kane Welch Kaplan, etc.), and a live show that just seems to get better & better, you can’t ignore this one.

Kasey ChambersLittle Bird. I’d sure love her to do another collaboration with husband Shane Nicholson, but while we wait, this new country album fills the void nicely.

Jeremy MessersmithThe Reluctant Graveyard. A truly impressive collection of memorable pop songs.

Leeroy Stagger & The WildflowersLittle Victories. Coming off of last year’s best record and paired with a backing band that finally gelled (before sadly falling apart, shortly after this record), Stagger comes up with another strong, mature, wonderful record. It’s a little short on the rock n’ roll energy for me, but there are some really great moments, for sure.

The BeautiesThe Beauties. A perfect combination of roots and rock. I bet they’d be killer, live. A few weird moments on this eclectic disc stop it from being perfect, but help it to be one of the most interesting, promising debuts in a while.

Will KimbroughWings. This guy can do no wrong, in my eyes. A masterful guitar player, great lyricist, and a strong songwriter, he stands on his own, in spite of the amazing roster of artists that he’s better known for playing with.

Wintersleep New Inheritors. I had no real knowledge of this band before this album, but I sure am glad that I discovered them this year. Some amazing rockin’ moments on this disc.

Reid JamiesonStaring Contest. This boy’s a tender, sweet, heartbreaker of a lad, and he writes some gorgeous tunes.

David MylesTurn Time Off. I initially dismissed this slow burner of a soulful, bluesy record, but I was wrong. It’s a consistent and interesting album.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Guests
Preservation. An incredible roster of artists joins this legendary New Orleans institution to run through some great old standards. Among others, this includes: Paolo Nutini, Tom Waits, Brandi Carlile, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, and Buddy Miller. You can’t go wrong with a lineup like that!

Kim RicheyWreck Your Wheels. Like Lynn Miles, Richey can do no wrong with a stunning voice and great lyrics. This one also includes appearances by faves Matthew Ryan and Will Kimbrough.

The Head and the HeartThe Head and the Heart. If you like the Avett Brothers or a bunch of other notable folk/roots/rock bands, this band’s for you. Great harmonies, melodies, and playing. One to watch.

Joe PurdyThis American. Perennial fave Purdy surprised us with another great record, and gave it away for free. Good on him all around.

Jack Marks Lost Wages. Toronto based country songwriter Marks continues to impress. Another one to watch for.

Matt AndersenSpirit of Christmas. I know. One should never even consider adding a Christmas disc to a Best-of list. They’re just so cheesy and forced and unnecessary. But Matt Andersen can overcome all of that, with some great originals that fit right alongside some inspired covers of the classics that we’re bored of, yet he somehow manages to breathe new life into.

Reissue/Historic recordings that made the world a better place this year:

The Lowest of the LowShakespeare My Butt. My favourite album of all time gets a much needed remaster and rerelease. It stands beautifully on its own, but paired with the new documentary DVD, featuring an interview done by ME, this is incredible for a bunch of reasons. People need to hear this CD.

The Blue ShadowsOn the Floor of Heaven. This amazing record came out in the 90s, just before the great Americana trend. It always seemed just a little bit ahead of its time, so I can only hope/assume that it will get more appreciation with this deluxe reissue. Not only do you get the amazing original disc, but a whole disc of bonus tracks that is equally amazing. Not to be missed by fans of roots, rock, country, folk, great harmonies, great songwriting, great musicians – in short, everybody!

Blaze FoleyThe Dawg Years and Sittin’ by the Road. Foley is the greatest songwriter that you’ve never heard. He came from the same fertile time & place as Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark, but because he was an oddball and a drifter, and because he died having never put out an album, most folks don’t have a clue who he is. Shame, because he’s great. These early, rough recordings show his genius in its infancy. There are better recordings of many of the classics, but these two separate sets reveal a wealth of material that was never rerecorded, and previously unheard.

Rheostatics Whale Music. Hard to believe that one of the best sounding, most beautiful albums in Canadian history never came out on vinyl, until now. Nothing new is added, but everything looks and sounds better. Plus, this comes with a full CD version of the classic disc (not some stupid download code.) Very cool. Now good luck finding one.

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