17 for ’09 — and then some
Last week I wrote about my favorite albums of the decade. Here are my favorites of the past year.
Dracula Boots by Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Brian Tristan, the El Monte, California, native better known as Kid Congo Powers, has been a member of The Cramps as well as of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Gun Club. With The Pink Monkey Birds, his M.O. is reciting strange tales over insane psychedelic guitar. Sometimes there’s NewWave-y keyboards adding some science-fiction zing to the mix. There’s a song about La Llorona, Santa Fe’s favorite ghost; two songs about Santa Claus; and a cover of a funny Thee Midnighters tune.
Not Now! by The A-Bones. This band of New Yorkers— led by the first couple of Norton Records, Billy Miller and Miriam Linna— sounds like those anonymous combos playing at sinister nightclubs or hopped-up youth dance parties in blackand-white teen-exploitation movies. A little dangerous, a little sleazy, but ultimately inviting because it’s so much fun.
Viper of Melody byWayne Hancock. Wayne the Train is perhaps the greatest living purveyor of ’ 50s-style roadhouse honky-tonk. With a tip of the hat to western swing and a sly wink at rockabilly, Hancock is retro to be sure. But he never sounds hokey. My favorite song here is a murder ballad, “Your Love and His Blood,” which contains a should-be-classic line: “The next time we’re together, you’ll be on the witness stand.”
Raw, Raw, Rough! by Barrence Whitfield. His first solo album since 1995 is full of early rock ’n’ roll/crazed R & B spirit. Barry probably gets sick of Little Richard comparisons, but in many ways such talk is well deserved. He also can sound almost pretty— in an Otis Redding kind of way.
The Fine Print (a Collection of Oddities and Rarities 2003-2008) by Drive-By Truckers. I find this collection of outtakes, alternate versions, cover songs, and other previously unreleased tracks fresher than the Truckers’ past couple of studio albums. The strongest cut is Patterson Hood’s slow burner called “The Great Car DealerWar,” about a guy paid to torch vehicles at a car lot. The best lyrics: “I don’t ask questions, I don’t assume/I just take a long hard look when I walk into a room.”
Tell ’Em What Your Name Is by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. This Austin, Texas, outfit doesn’t see soul music as some fragile museum exhibit— it’s a funk/punk Saturday-night fish fry
that never ends. The horn section is loud, the guitar has a bite, and the organist sounds as if he has been force-fed a steady diet of Jimmy Smith and The Animals. And Lewis shouts like Wilson Pickett’s long-lost grandson.
Invisible Girl by The King Khan & BBQ Show. There’s a big element of stripped-down blues bashers like Flat Duo Jets and The White Stripes in KK & BBQ. But what distinguishes this dynamic duo is its anchor in raw doo-wop. The basic sound, therefore, is punk-rock roar, embellished by some Ruben & The Jets/ Sha Na Na/rama-lama-ding-dong silliness but frequently based on some seriously gorgeous melodies and occasional sweet harmonies.
Ruins of Berlin by Dex Romweber Duo. Speaking of Flat Duo Jets, founder Romweber was back this year with a new duo, this time with his sister Sara. Some songs sound like Flat Duo Jets reincarnated. But other tracks feature musicians including a bevy of female guest vocalists, such as Exene Cervenka, Neko Case, and Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power). Try not to think of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet while listening to Marshall singing “Love Letters” with the Duo.
Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. My one concession to “modern” rock and one selection that you’ll probably find on most of those real rock critics’ lists. Some of this music sounds like an advanced civilization of space creatures who worship BrianWilson. One of my favorite songs of the year is the sweet, euphoric, and irresistible “My Girls.”
High, Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project by Loudon Wainwright III. Wainwright plays lots of songs associated with Poole— a hard-livin’, ramblin’, gamblin’, singin’ moonshiner— as well as some original tunes about the influential singer. It’s hard to find anything as cosmically kooky this year as Wainwright’s version of Poole’s “I’m the Man Who Rode the Mule Around theWorld.” Also: honorable discharges: Haymaker! by The Gourds Blue Black Hair by The Del Moroccos Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes by Tin Huey Tangled Tales by Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women by Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women Best live album: Live From Axis Mundi by Gogol Bordello Best oldies compilation: I Still Hate CDs by Various Artists