Once again it's time to look back over the past year and try – and fail – to think of a clever or original way to introduce a best-of list.
Presenting Indie Round-up's Best of 2006.
The Artist of the Year for 2006 is Mofro, who, conveniently for my critical credibility, was just signed to the prestigious blues label Alligator Records. Lead vocalist JJ Grey and his band evoke all at once the gritty funk of James Brown (RIP), the blue-eyed soul of Beck and Leon Russell, the bayou twinkle of Dr. John, and the shamanistic stage presence of Jim Morrison. The latest CD is a good one, but in-concert is the only way to fully appreciate the spell woven by Grey, guitarist Daryl Hance, and whoever else happens to be on their stage at the moment.
Album of the Year goes to Gregg Swann's sparkling Everybody's Got To Be Somewhere, a spot-on power-pop set without an ounce of filler. The artist himself seems to be somewhat reclusive – the gigs page at his minimalist website is empty as of this writing, and his Myspace page – where you can hear three full tracks (go there now) – has been little visited. Swann emailed me a thank-you note when I published my review, so, fortunately for fans of exceptional songwriting, it appears that he does exist.
International Album of the Year goes to Kobotown's Independence. Look for this Toronto-based, Caribbean-rooted band-with-a-message on festival stages in 2007.
Two releases share Instrumental Album of the Year honors: guitar wiz Vicki Genfan's Up Close disc from her two-CD set Up Close and Personal (reviewed here), and the newly honored Grand Master of the shakuhachi Elizabeth Reian Bennett's Song of the True Hand, which I covered here. In very different ways, these two releases exemplify the way a single individual with a musical instrument can wordlessly conjure the human spirit out of thin air.
Acoustic Song of the Year: Melissa Ivey, "No Ties to Break"
Mainstream Pop or Country Song of the Year: Laura Vecchione, "Fool's Gold"
Guitar/Hard Rock song of the Year: Burden Brothers, "Still"
Cover Song of the Year: Joe Rohan, "Ring of Fire"
Best Song Featuring a Tuba: The Animators, "The Senator Goes to Hell"
Stupidest Band Name: Hinder (what is that, a butt? a verb? either way, lame, lame, lame.)
And that's it. If you didn't win this year, better luck next time. By the way, I like dark chocolate.