that 2011 is only half-full, what fun to toss around this year's
albums and find a dozen that go all the way. With all the music released
it's impossible to come close calling anything the best, but these
twelve ring the gong loud and clear. More on the way, too.
Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues. The battle-hardened Allman
brother, still standing after all these years, takes a journey down the
dark end of the street for a chilling set of blues. Not for the
faint-hearted. Proving, in the end, that the road really can go on
Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming. Deep soul music
is in mighty short supply these days, but Charles Bradley wastes no time
or breath showing how it's really done. With the way-ready Daptones
brigade as the band, this music cuts straight to the core and stays
there. Real rhythm & blues may seem like an endangered species, but
don't tell this man. He's too busy getting down.
Mamadou Diabate, Courage. When nothing will do but the kora, look
no further. Mamadou Diabate comes from musical royalty, and even better,
isn't afraid to take his sound to new ground. Here he sets off for the
promised land, and actually gets there.
Exene, The Excitement of Maybe. Life has been a wild ride for the X
woman, but she never is less than thrilling in how she handles all the
twists and turns. These days she's still looking for love in all the
right and wrong places, and finding it enough to continue the chase.
That she's singing better than ever keeps the results irresistible.
Mark "Pocket" Goldberg, Off the Alleyway. In blues, they say, the
alley is the roughest place in town. For Mark "Pocket" Goldberg, it's a
home away from home. He takes music from Los Angeles' mean streets to
places it hasn't been in a long, long time. Though Goldberg may be
slightly off-road, he is always right on the money sonically and
spiritually, someone to trust and follow no matter how heavy it gets.
Larry Goldings, In My Room. Has there ever been a song to equal the
angst of adolescent lostness like the Beach Boys' "In My Room?" Brian
Wilson's classic captures that burning pain like nothing else before or
since. Pianist Larry Goldings' visionistic performance adds new colors
to the music, saying in notes what words have before. After that divine
visitation, his keyboard takes quiet eloquence and inspired
improvisation to a grand level, leaving listeners breathless by the
Garland Jeffreys, The King of In Between. The ultimate New Yorker
may have disappeared for a few years, but he's back now like a
heavyweight contender ready for a title match at the Garden. Garland
Jeffreys likely knows this is his decisive moment, and doesn't offer a
single song short of greatness. Mortality, God, rock 'n' roll, the
Cyclone: they're all here in glorious detail and vivid color, never to
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Band, Sing It Loud. It's as if ms. lang
jumped in the front seat with Dean Morarity and took wildly off across
America. In Nashville they picked up a few new renegades to play in the
band, letting Sal Paradise take notes about everything going on. She is
fearless in her wanderings, letting emotions swing from extreme to
excess. The lady has always danced to her own drum stick. That she's
smiling into the megaphone on the album cover assures our hearts are in
Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me. The young Ms. Mayfield is either an
angel in our midst, or someone with a weekend pass from the local
prison. Sometimes it's hard to tell, and that's a good thing; it's best
not knowing. The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach makes sure the guitars stay
smudgy and the drum beats loose. Too much definition would surely spoil
this party. Instead, everyone soars to the top of the ceiling and stays
Middle Brother. It's a good thing supergroups went the way of
Astroturf, because who wants to see a perfect playing field all the
time? Middle Brother takes the lead singers of Deertick, Dawes and Delta
Spirit (does that mean this music is 3-D?) and lets them go long. The
results are electrifying to the end. Fortunately, there's also a genius
move of generosity with their cover choice, a mind-bending take on the
Replacements' "Portland." Ooooooh nooooo, here we goooooo.
Tracy Nelson, Victim of the Blues. Straight outta Wisconsin, Tracy
Nelson has been chopping down thick brush through the musical jungle for
awhile now. She's made dozens of albums of every stripe and persuasion,
but deep down she's a blues singer and that's what is happening now.
Fortunately for us, no one does it better. Expect no frou-frou or studio
hijinks. The music is down and dirty and ready for action, no additives
Semi-Twang, Wages of Sin. Can a seasoned band of 50-somethings
still rock? Does Milwaukee sell beer? As long as bandleader John Sieger
is writing and singing the songs, Semi-Twang is long for this world.
Being off the grid living in the land of the Brewers lets the boys not
worry about cosmetics, and instead head for the healing hands of soul. A
long time coming, and hopefully never gone.