A Half-Year's Worth of Great Albums

By , Columnist


Now 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 forever.

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 end. 

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 be forgotten. 

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 good hands.

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 there.

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 allowed.

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.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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