Does the year you’ve had influence what you listen to, or is it the other way around? Do you listen to the blues because you have them or because you’re glad you don’t? And what about love songs? Or death metal? This year’s selections are even more heavily weighted toward the Americana genre than my normal listening habits, mainly because the songwriters here are unusually adept at surveying and communicating the human condition, and in my opinion, our condition in 2009 surely needs someone to explain it to the rest of us and put it in context. As Will Kimbrough says, “For balance, how about we take in a little Buddha…and Johnny Cash.” So with that in mind, here are the CDs that spoke to me in 2009, in no particular order.
Daddy –For A Second Time – finely crafted roots music from Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, two guys who know their way around a song. Best track: “Nobody From Nowhere,” also the opening track on Jimmy Buffett’s new release.
Grant Peeples -Pawnshop – Grant sounds like a rusty-hinged wooden gate swinging wildly, beating out a rhythm in the chaos of a hurricane, but whether he’s railing against capital punishment or singing about trailer-park breakups (“Leaving her was easy once she’d done throw’d all my shit out in the yard”), Peeples is consistently entertaining, provocative and not afraid to shoot straight. Best track: “Searching for a Sign” (“It’s hard to swallow the truth, but I sure could use a taste right now.”)
Peter Cooper – Mission Door – Cooper’s songs are eloquent without being stilted and manage to tug a heartstring just as easily as they coax a smile. Best Track: “715 (for Hank Aaron)” is the best song about sports ever. Ever.
Patterson Hood – Murdering Oscar (and other love songs) – Hood, the frontman for The Drive-By Truckers, has a second solo release is much more cohesive than his previous one, thanks to Scott Danborn and Will Johnson from Centro-Matic. Best track: “I Understand Now”
Todd Snider – The Excitement Plan –Todd successfully channels Randy Newman, wrings the most out of every line, and joins the ranks of Americana’s finest songwriters, maturity optional. Best track: “America’s Favorite Pastime,” the true story of Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirate who pitched a no-hitter on LSD.
Scott Miller & The Commonwealth – For Crying Out Loud – Rock n roll with a big heart and a sly grin. Best track: “Cheap Ain’t Cheap” – “the dollar’s weak but it’s stronger than me.”
Ryan Bingham – Roadhouse Sun – Rock n roll with a big heart and an upraised middle finger. Best track: “Dylan’s Hard Rain” - a scathing diatribe that would invite name-dropping if it wasn’t so sharply honed.
The Gourds – Haymaker! - Gleefully defying description, the Gourds play music for “well-read-necks.” This is a record for people who are okay with throwing the GPS out the window and taking a sudden left turn down a dirt road. Best track: “Shreveport” - a semi-tribute to a town filled with meth-addled, spandex-clad heavy metal rednecks.
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper - You Don't Have To Like Them Both - this duo release by Eric Brace (Last Train Home) and Peter Cooper is full of friendship, warmth and good times. And good tunes. Best track: Cooper’s bouncy travelogue “Denali, Not McKinley.” (co-written with Todd Snider)
The Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008) – Just what it says. The stuff the Drive-By Truckers leave behind in the studio is better than the most of the dreck that passes for rock-n-roll on the radio today. Best track: The cover of Tom T. Hall’s “Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken).”
I’m sure I left off several things, but such is the nature of these lists. What are your top ten CDs?