This week, in addition to a couple of worthy new independent releases, I’m posting my Best of 2005 picks. These picks were kindly requested by Blogcritics, and have already been published there in individual articles for each category with the other critics’ selections, but for the convenience of my readers I’ve put mine all together at the bottom of today’s round-up.
First, this week’s items:
Brianna Lane, Radiator
Confessional folk-pop: not generally my favorite style. Another grown-up woman singing in a little-girl voice about her dreams and disappointments: sounds pretty bleak, I know. But several elements lift Brianna Lane’s CD out of the common dregs of the coffeehouse.
First, Lane’s minimally adorned tunes and sentiments are undergirded by sophisticated melodic and lyrical writing that borrows from country, jazz and rock along with whitebread-folk. Second, producer Evan Brubaker swaddles the songs in dense twangy guitars and earthy rhythms that get the most out of Lane’s limited vocal range and breathy, husky sound. Third, her own solid, expressive acoustic guitar playing gets numerous opportunities to drive the music.
Some of the most serious and interesting songs come late in the CD. “Wrong Hands” has an intense Americana-rock flavor and “Man in the Moon” is a quietly depressing acoustic-guitar gem. “Bullet” is that rarity, a song that centers around being a songwriter yet says something touching and interesting instead of cloying: “i just might have a bullet of a song to make you cry / we gave each other songs just like flowers / i never really gave you enough flowers / now these rhymes are just like guns.” That’s a pretty eloquent expression of the awesome power writers wield with their pens. Brianna Lane writes in small letters, but sings of heartbreak with the soul of a poet. Whether her smart, expressive writing can make up for her lack of a big or beautiful voice and propel her to the level of a Jewel or Sarah McLachlan remains to be seen, but this CD will help make her case.
Mark Tolstrup, Root Magic
Mark Tolstrup adeptly plays Delta blues (and related styles) on guitar and National Steel, singing in warm, flattened tones halfway between Charles Brown and John Mayall. He does fine justice to traditional numbers and to well-chosen classics by Robert Johnson, Leadbelly and others, and includes some of his own songs as well. His original lyrics don’t have quite the elemental heft of the classics, although “Old Man’s Blues” is epic in scope and “The Second Day of November,” based on Tampa Red’s “Denver Blues,” is haunting. Still they work well in the context of the CD. Tolstrup’s abundant skills and deep feel for the music make this a fine collection worthy of a place on anyone’s country-blues shelf.
BEST OF 2005
It’s that time! Please note that you won’t find any White Stripes or Gorillaz here; my selections are taken from the pool of indie music, since that’s my most “regular” beat. I have also broken the rules and included items from the second half of 2004, since indie artists typically have a longer gestation and promotion period than major label acts and sometimes it takes them a little longer to get their review copies distributed: thus the ritual cutting of the slack.
BEST SONG: “I Don’t Know”
CD: What’s the Point
In addition to putting on a killer stage show, Nicola writes some of the most captivating songs out there. This one rocks, it’s full of intense passion, and it’s super-catchy.
BEST ALBUM: Presenting The Great Unknowns
Artist: The Great Unknowns
Unfortunately still mostly living up to their name, this band infuses their weatherbeaten Americana sensibility with an unusual poetic lyricism.
BEST ARTIST (SINGLE): Ray Wylie Hubbard
Townes Van Zandt is gone and now we’ve lost Johnny Cash, but we still have Ray Wylie, as deeply soulful as ever.
BEST DUO OR GROUP: Moco
Iggy reborn? The Strokes on hash? The Ramones crossed with the Animals? Holy crap, these guys are stupid cool.
That is all. May our collective 2006 be better than 2005 was, and may your 2006 be your best year yet.