Of The Year — 2019

December 28th, 2019

Albums

  1. Between the Country — Ian Noe
    Discovered this album via NPR First Listen on a whim (ala 2016s top album) and never looked back. A perfect mix of folky songs spanning a number of emotions and influences while still holding together as part of their own refreshingly new voice.
  2. On the Line — Jenny Lewis
    A strong, cathartic, singable companion/sequel to The Voyager. Jenny Lewis just keeps getting better with each release. Bonus points for how my mind was blown when I realized you can (probably inadvertently) sing the chorus to Champagne Supernova over the opening verse to Heads Gonna Roll. The intentionally train-wreck-y launch day all-star telethon special was also a nice touch.
  3. Help Us StrangerThe Raconteurs
    The best album Jack White has been involved in since Get Behind Me Satan with the possible exception of Rome which I consider more a Danger Mouse album with Jack White guesting.
  4. Night Shift EPJenny Owen Youngs
    I know every year I say EPs don’t count, but then almost every year I pick one anyways. This was a late breaking discovery a few weeks ago (thanks to the unexpected yet welcome return of TwentyFourBit), but I really dig it. Looking forward to diving into her back catalogue in 2020.
  5. Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains
    Like many, my excitement over the triumphant return of David Berman was overshadowed by his death which put me on a nostalgic Silver Jews listening spree for the second half of the year. But this new record stood out as a highlight even before that shift in perspective. It’s sonically different than the Joos for the most part, but still very Berman on the lyrics front. RIP.
  6. Dog in a Manger Smooth Hound Smith
    Despite what you may assume from the title, this isn’t an Xmas record. Instead it’s a big step forward for the Americana duo (now with a full band at live shows!)
  7. Monster (25th Anniversary Remix) R.E.M.
    Still my favorite R.E.M. album (and the first record I ever waited in line outside a record store to buy at midnight on release day), I love how the remix raises the vocals way up in the mix to better understand Michael Stipe’s lyrics. There also seem to be a few additional flourishes ala the remix treatment In Utero got in 2013. I had a lot of fun revising Monster this year.
  8. Weezer (The Teal Album) Weezer
    Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure covers album. But it’s also the best Weezer album since Maladroit.

Songs

  1. Topo Chico — Robert Ellis
  2. Eyelash — Asian She (cowritten by Benji Hughes)
  3. Uh Huh — Jade Bird
  4. Jesus & Elvis — Hayes Carll
  5. If Today Doesn’t Do Me In — Ian Noe
  6. Rabbit Hole — Jenny Lewis
  7. Hold Me Anyway — Wilco

Shows

Gin Blossoms @ Scoot Inn 3/7

Spiral Stairs, Sweet Spirit, Carson McHone, Kevin Galloway @ Mohawk 3/12 (Nine Mile Touring SXSW)

Hayes Carll @ SXSW 3/15-3/16 (4 shows in 27 hours!)

The Tallest Man on Earth @ Moody Theatre 4/23

Lemonheads @ Barracuda 5/31

Felice Brothers @ Barracuda 6/12

Will Courtney (solo acoustic) @ Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches 7/5

Mason Jennings @ 04 Center 7/12

Ian Noe @ Scoot Inn 8/17
(biggest disappointment of the year – he cancelled to have his wisdom teeth out)

Black Pumas @ Mohawk 8/24

Guns N Roses @ ACL 10/12

Reverend Horton Heat w/ Alejandro Escovedo @ The Continental Club 10/22

Wilco @ Moody Theatre 10/27

Ray LaMontagne @ Moody Theatre 11/2

Smooth Hound Smith @ Mohawk Indoor 11/19

Robert Ellis @ Armadillo Christmas Bazaar 12/23

In Memorium

Since David Berman was already covered above, I’d be remiss not to give a little eulogy for Shawn Smith as a wrap up to the year in music.

This one hit me the hardest, as I’ve been a big fan for a long time. As previously mentioned, I sought out the first Brad album early on and ended up stumbling onto a guy they call “Seattle’s Best Kept Secret” in this singer.

His voice was amazing, and even more amazing was the volume of side projects he sang for. Brad. Satchel. Pigeonhead. All Hail The Crown. From The North. Twilight Singers. Vincent & Mr. Green. Plus a plethora of solo releases, many of them underrated classics. (Shield of Thorns & The Diamond Hand still slay me.)

I named the protagonist of my short story Fester after Shawn Smith, and still shudder in glee when I encounter the part where my Shawn Smith listens to THE Shawn Smith in the car. I never intended for the namesakes to cross paths in the story, but I love that they did.

Shawn Smith 1965-2019 RIP

Of The Year – 2018

January 2nd, 2019

Albums

1. Glorietta — Glorietta
Oh my! Another year, another supergroup on the top list. This one’s a little different with it being a supergroup where I wasn’t very familiar with any of the members beforehand outside of Wild Child — but their end results absolutely blew my mind.

2. Loner — Caroline Rose
Great record, great live show. It’s quite possible nobody has ever had as much fun on a record (or a tour) where they completely reinvent themselves.

3. Western Movies — Traveller
Two supergroups in one year.  This long-awaited debut (hyped up by 2 Austin shows they played in 2017) didn’t disappoint with a Benji Hughes level of “goofy yet sincere” going on throughout.

4. The Tree of Forgiveness — John Prine
He looks like death on the cover (no offense intended), but the songs tell you he’s still got it and is totally fine if this ends up being his swan song.

5. Esher Demos — The Beatles
Acoustic demos recorded at George Harrison’s house, officially released as part of the White Album 50th anniversary re-issue.

6. Crazy Love — Will Courtney
Discovery of the year.  Saw him on the actual 50th Anniversary of the White Album and he covered “Sexy Sadie” for the occasion. This album is great, but he has an older song called “The Days When Bands Could Make Your Cry” with an acoustic version that absolutely makes me cry.

7. Blaze (Original Cast Recording) – Ben Dickey & Friends
I was super late to the Blaze Foley party, but this soundtrack (and the biopic it comes from, and delving deep into the Blaze back catalogue) were big highlights of the musical year.

Songs

  1. Chevrolet Van – The Nude Party
  2. Soul #5 – Caroline Rose
  3. The Movie Song – The Record Company
  4. 19th Amendment – Dolly Parton
  5. Resignation – Paul Cauthen
  6. I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch* – Courtney Barnett
  7. I Ain’t Got Nothin’** – Willie Nelson

    *Song title of the year

    **Lyric of the year: “A lonely summer night and memories linger / of when I gave you a ring and you gave me the finger…”

Shows

Rhett Miller @ Antone’s – 1/27
Bahamas @Antone’s – 2/17
Cha! (Police tribute band) @ Elysium – 3/3
Caroline Rose @ SXSW (4 shows!)
Blaze Foley movie & Tribute @SXSW – 3/16
Mason Jennings @ Cactus Cafe – 4/20
The Breeders @ Emo’s – 4/21
Rivers Cuomo @ the Troubadour – 5/30
Paul McCartney @ ACL Fest – 10/5
Jackie Venson @ ACL Fest – 10/5
The Record Company @ Scoot Inn – 11/1
Will Courtney @ Sam’s Town Point – 11/9
Hayes Carll & Jack Ingram @ Luckenbach Dance Hall – 11/17
Glorietta @ the Heights Theater – 12/15
Heart & Bones play the songs of Dirty Dancing @ 3Ten – 12/29

Of the Year – 2017

January 2nd, 2018

Commentary coming sooner or later…

ALBUMS

  1. Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album — Various
  2. Life Will See You Now — Jens Lekman
  3. Colors — Beck
  4. Like a Drunk in a Midnight Choir: RSD Celebrates the Music of Leonard Cohen — Various
  5. St. Mojo — Sweet Spirit
  6. Salutations* — Conor Oberst

SONGS

  1. Pamela — Sweet Spirit
  2. Beat of My Heart — Benji Hughes
  3. Goodbye One More Try — Hunter James
  4. A Little Uncanny — Conor Oberst (with the Felice Brothers)
  5. 1234 — Kevin Morby
  6. Losing Interest — Wilco

SHOWS

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam @ The Teragram Ballroom – 1/17/17

John Aielli Ekliktikos 50th Anniversary @ Hogg Auditorium – 3/7/17

Spiral Stairs @ Mohawk – 3/17/17

Tom Petty @ Frank Erwin Center – 5/2/17

The Record Company @ Emo’s – 9/17/17

Traveler @ ACL Fest (day) & Stubb’s Indoors (night) – 10/7/17

Continental Church of the Reverend Horton Heat @ The Continental Club – 10/27 & 10/28/17

John Fogerty @ Auditorium Shores – 10/29/17

Jen Cloher @ The Moody Theater – 11/11/17

Ray Wylie Hubbard @ The Paramount Theatre – 11/17/17

Beck @ John Anson Ford Amphitheatre – 11/18/17

ATX6 @ Stateside Theater – 11/29/17

Mike Doughty plays Irresistible Bliss @ Largo – 12/7/17

Of the Year – 2016

January 14th, 2017

ALBUMS

1. I Had a Dream That You Were Mine — Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam 
I love when my favorite album of the year comes out of nowhere. I listened to this on NPR first listen because I liked the title and Hamilton’s last name. And I pretty much haven’t stopped listening to it since. Never been a big Walkman fan, though in hindsight I always liked the music of Vampire Weekend more than the lyrics. Sooo good.

2. Wild Dark Metal — Mason Jennings
Probably Mason’s best record since Blood of Man (if you don’t count The Flood as an excellent collection of older songs) — and somewhat of a companion piece with the electric guitar focus. He didn’t tour for this album, and an interview seemed to suggest he’s contemplating retirement. I hope he doesn’t hang it up for good, but completely understand if he needs a break.

3. Ruminations — Conor Oberst
This is the first time I’ve genuinely loved a Conor Oberst record top to bottom on my own vs. slowly come around to it based on my wife’s interest in it.

4. Give It Back To You — The Record Company
This one feels weird to me in some regards since I’ve been a fan of this band for so long that these aren’t really “new” songs to me.  But super proud of the buzz they’ve achieved in the leap from “best local band in LA” to “Grammy nominated artist for best contemporary blues album.”

5. Songs in the Key of Animals — Benji Hughes
Another time travel moment since this tied for my second favorite album of 2014 in its original form, but got a re-issue on Merge with a different track order and some new flare to a few of the intros/outros of the songs. Love that Benji is getting more well-deserved exposure, though I’m still a little baffled by the re-ordering since I’ve always thought the “draft” version was especially well sequenced.  Maybe I’ll get to ask him someday.

6. Emotions & Math — Margaret Glaspy
Favorite debut of the year — if “debut” is defined as “first release by someone I hadn’t heard of before.”

7. Life in the Dark — The Felice Brothers

SONGS

1. Couples Skate — Robert Ellis

2. O’Brien is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian — The Mr T Experience

3. Two Dollar Man / Old Daze — Mason Jennings

4. Freaky Feedback Blues — Benji Hughes

5. Plunder — The Felice Brothers

SHOWS

Sweet Spirit @ ABGB 1/31/16
They did a cover from Blackstar shortly after Bowie’s passing — and then went straight into an awesome rendition of “Young Americans” that brought down the house.

Benji Hughes @ The Bootleg Bar 2/4/16
My grandmother passed away this year.  The funeral was the weekend before this show.  I was scheduled to go to LA for work and could have been off the hook no questions asked, but decided to keep the trip anyways.  Whether it was too soon or not is still debatable, but seeing Benji and hearing “I Hate When Pretty Ladies Die” live at this show was exactly what I needed.  RIP, Gram.

Smooth Hound Smith @ ON A RIVERBOAT (!!!) at SXSW 3/18/16
I already covered this show in the SXSW recap, but man was that fun.

Supersuckers @ The Continental Club 3/19/16
This one didn’t get too much detail in the SXSW recap, but was a highlight.  When the schedule first came out and I saw the Supersuckers were playing the Continental at 1am I was pretty sure I’d be going by myself, but somehow managed to convince my wife to join me (as well as our friend Hunter) and a good time was had by all.

Reverend Horton Heat & Dale Watson @ Strange Brew 7/23/16
Dale Watson became our discovery of the year due to this show.  And I fulfilled my musical bucket list item of finally hearing “Liquor, Beer & Wine” live.  One of four times I saw the Reverend this year after way too many years off.

Felice Brothers @ the Sidewinder 10/5/16
Super cool venue, super cool setlist by a band that’s really coming into their own. And we kept up our remarkable run of consecutive shows where they play “Marie” — still my favorite song of theirs.

The Record Company @ Antone’s 11/12/16
Coverville introduced me to the Record Company years ago based on their awesome cover of “So What’cha Want?” by the Beastie Boys. My favorite part of this show was turning around to watch the crowd while they played it, watching everyone slowly reach the same revelation about what song it was when the signature guitar riff kicks in. I also got to ask singer Chris Vos about the lyric change on “This Crooked City” from “…and we shared a couple of beers” to “…and we shed a couple of tears.”  Both work well, but completely change the interpretation of the song.  He laughed when we screamed the older “beers” version during the set, and later told me “to be honest, I still sing beers sometimes too.”

SXSW 2016

March 20th, 2016

3 Days + 1 Night. 19 Shows. 33 sets. 25 bands. So much fun. So glad it’s over until next year…

Playlist below. One song per set in the order we saw the shows.

(Multiple songs by the same band means I saw them multiple times. Smooth Hound Smith wins with 4 incredible sets — including one on a boat!)

SXSW in a nutshell…

Of The Year – 2015

January 1st, 2016

My annual best of music list — which this year will hopefully not be among my only posts of the year.

Albums

1. Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes
No sophomore slump here.

2. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit — Courtney Barnett
Most anticipated album of the year (thanks, Bob Boilen!). Best album title of the year. Heck of a live show (we saw her twice, listened from outside when we couldn’t get into a SXSW show, and strongly considered going to see her open for Blur in LA.)

3. Eponymous — Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
This thing is just so damn fun on so many levels.

4. Here Come The Girls — The London Souls
2nd best discovery of the year thanks to ACL.

5. Slow Gum — Fraser. A Gorman
Best discovery of the year thanks to Courtney Barnett at SXSW.

6. Star Wars — Wilco
Surprise, it’s good.

7. Sweet Tennessee Honey — Smooth Hound Smith
This record grows on me more and more with each listen. Every time I forget about it, I fall in love with it again.

Songs

1. To Fill My Heart With Love Until It Almost Breaks My Heart — Spirit Family Reunion

2. Book of Love — Fraser A. Gorman

3. Dark Bird Is Home — The Tallest Man on Earth

4. Jazz x10 — Benji Hughes

5. Ghost Ship — Blur

Shows

1. Courtney Barnett w/ Fraser A. Gorman @ SXSW

2. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats w/ Caroline Rose @ the Historic Scoot Inn

3. The Record Company @ Sam’s Burger Joint

4. Smooth Hound Smith @ Stay Gold

Read This If You Loved…

February 22nd, 2015

A review of The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley over at Unleashing Readers ended with this:

Read This If You Loved: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, Timely Persuasion by Jacob LaCivita, Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, Get Happy by Mary Amato

Read this if you loved Timely Persuasion

I’m flattered by the shout-out.  And I’ll probably check out The Carnival at Bray too.

 

Of The Year – 2014

January 10th, 2015

For once I’m writing this at a not too unreasonable point after the end of the year in question, so no need for a backdated post inserted via time travel…

1. LILILIL — Benji Hughes
I can’t think of another album in the last decade — if not ever — that leaves me with such a big grin every time I listen to it. LILILIL is concept album Benji wrote for his daughter. The story is a time travel rock opera set in outer space and narrated by Jeff Bridges.  Various characters leave “space messages” that are basically introductions to “space jams” by Benji.  Plus the whole thing starts off with a repeated chant of “I am from the future…I am from the future…I am from the future.”  You had me at hello…

2. OXOXOXOX / Songs in the Key of Animals / XXOXOXX – Benji Hughes
Yes, I really am saying my 4 favorite albums of 2014 are by the same artist. And it was pretty much a no brainer.  Since they are only available for purchase as a set I’ll go Nielsen-style and group them together under a single number.  (This also gets me off the hook from needing to rank them individually.)  Can you say infallible band?

3. Supernova – Ray LaMontagne
Ray’s best record since his debut. Taking chances with vocal arrangements and cool stuttery noises that paid off big. Any other year this would have been number one with a bullet.

4. The Voyager – Jenny Lewis
Breezy, poppy, snarky, confident and fun.

5. V for Vaselines – The Vaselines
Kurt Cobain’s fandom and Nirvana’s 3 famous covers sent me seeking out the Vaselines 20 years ago. Some songs I have always loved (“The Day I Was a Horse,” “Teenage Superstars” and “Dying For It”), but mostly I respected them and found the other songs more interesting than good. The same was mostly true about their 2010 comeback record — but V for Vaselines is easily the best album in their catalog. I hope they do another one.

Rocktober Recap

November 2nd, 2014

I know I go to more concerts than the average person. But October was nuts even for me. Let me count the ways…

October 1 – The Felice Brothers at the Roxy
The Felices are my wife’s favorite band, and have come to hold a special place in my heart too.  Their show was a rollicking good time as always. Plus the opening act was Spirit Family Reunion who may have my favorite song title of the year: “To Fill My Heart With Love Until It Almost Breaks My Heart.”  Highlights: “Marie” (my favorite Felice Brothers Song), “Silver in the Shadow,” “White Limo,” “Lincoln Continental.”

October 5 – Conor Oberst & John Prine at the Greek Theatre
More spousal influence: my wife has dug Conor since I dragged her to see Monsters of Folk at this same venue 5 years ago. (And she discovered the Felice Brothers when they opened for Conor at Pappy & Harriets.)  His set here was pretty good, but John Prine really stole the show.  Somehow I’d never heard of John Prine before, but when I checked out his back catalog in preparation for this show I was blown away.  (Incidentally I had heard some of his songs before, most famously Evan Dando’s cover of “Sam Stone” from the Griffith Sunset EP.)

October 7 – Conor Oberst at the Grammy Museum
Seeing the same artist multiple times on the same tour isn’t a common occurrence, but it isn’t unheard of either.  Shows at the Grammy Museum have a neat talk show style format with a short interview followed by a short set of music.  They also keep video of every on site event in their archives that anyone can view when visiting the museum.  Highlight of the live set was closing it out with a cover of John Prine’s “Pretty Good” — my favorite John Prine song that wasn’t played by Prine at the Greek show.

October 9 – Damien Rice at Immanuel Presbyterian Church
Between the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and this venue, the “concert in a church” thing is starting to really take off in LA.  This was the first time I’ve had an opportunity to see Damien Rice since discovering him.  Venue suited him perfectly and he nailed it.  He didn’t play my two favorite songs (“Rat Within the Grain” and “Coconut Skins”) — but still blew me away.  Highlights: “Rootless Tree” (on piano!), “Cheers Darlin” (complete with wine bistro skit lead-in), “Volcano” (with full on audience participation).

October 10 – Bahamas at the Roxy
Bahamas made my favorite albums list in 2011 & 2012 and are likely to do so again this year.  I’ve seen him play twice before — both times as an opening act, and both times left me wanting more.  This was the first time I got to see a full set.  It was good, but the setlist left me wanting more.  (No “Little Record Girl” or “You’re Bored, I’m Old.”)  Sometimes I feel guilty for criticizing setlist selections since I agree it should be fully in the artist’s control.  But I really was expecting more here.  (Sorry, Afie!)

October 11 (morning) – The Record Company at the Taste of South Lake Festival
A rare day/night doubleheader featuring the best band you’ve never heard.  Scrambled to get here on time after brunch for an 11am start time.  Missed a couple of songs, but caught most of the set.  These guys continue to blow me away every time I see them.  They’re about to go on a national tour opening for Brian Setzer — check ’em out if you can.

October 11 (evening) – Ray LaMontagne at the Greek Theatre
At one point Ray said he felt bad that people think his old songs are better.  I love Supernova — so much it might have been my favorite record of the year so far if not for the forthcoming trio of Benji Hughes albums — but the old Ray songs really are better.  “Burn” / “Trouble” / “Jolene” / “Shelter” stole the show.

October 16 – Jenny Lewis at the Broad Stage
This was part of Q Live — a Canadian talk show I’d never heard of when we bought the tickets to see Jenny but has become somewhat infamous since then due to the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Jenny was great; I just wish she played more than 2 songs. I thought Q was a cool show and Jian was a great interviewer at the time, but now I’m second guessing myself and remembering creepiness in hindsight. #IBelieveThem

October 18 – Mike Doughty at the Mint
A Mike & Scrap question jar show is always a must see event.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every Doughty show in LA since 1999 (at least in part — I got lost and only caught the last 3 songs at McCabes in 1999, and didn’t go to the matinee of his 2 separate admission sets at the Hotel Cafe a few years back).  I figured Soul Coughing was going to be reintroduced to the solo repertoire, but was actually a little surprised at how many songs made the cut.  “Janine” and “True Dreams of Wichita” would have been fine by me.  He didn’t play “True Dreams,” did play “Janine” plus the two hits.  “Lazybones” was a nice bonus surprise.  When it’s Doughty playing acoustic guitar with Scrap just about everything is a highlight, but if forced to single some out I’d go with “Janine,” “Looks,” “Put It Down / Pleasure on Credit,” “Ossining,” and “Train to Chicago” — plus his stopping to yell at chatty folks in the crowd!

October 24 – John Denver Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony
Fun fact: John Denver is the 2,531st star on the Hollywood Walk of fame.  He was awarded the star in 1982, but never got around to scheduling the required personal appearance.  His family accepted it posthumously in his honor, with the band Trampled by Turtles covering “Annie’s Song” at the afternoon ceremony and an exhibit of John Denver’s photography afterwards.

October 30 – Citizen Cope at House of Blues
I used to hate full-album shows, but now I think they are absolutely brilliant.  The underrated yet iconic Clarence Greenwood Recordings record is 10 years old, and it’s still a humdinger live and by far his best work.  Only downside were all of the chatty folks in the crowd during “d’Artagnan’s Theme.”  (Where was Doughty when I needed him?)

October 31 – Nirvana Live at the Paramount
Ok, this one doesn’t really count.  But I figured the 23rd anniversary of this legendary show was as good a reason as any to break out the DVD and send off Rocktober in style.  I always forget how much the kinetic energy of this concert just sucks me in.  It’s also one of the first bootleg cassettes I ever bought as a kid and wore out in my car.  And it’s still powerful after all these years.  Wow…

Ramblings VIII

May 31st, 2014
  • I mentioned before that I’ve only had 3 favorite albums in my lifetime. A three day stretch in April had me revisiting the whole Nirvana catalogue for the 20th Anniversary, the release of 6 new Benji Hughes songs, and the announcement of a new Mike Doughty album. Synergy is cool.
  • In that awesome Vulture article about Benji, it blows my mind that A Love Extreme album has barely sold 6,000 copies. But this part is so true:

Very few people have heard A Love Extreme, in other words, but some inordinate percentage of those who have adore it. If you go to Hughes’s concerts, you may find just a couple hundred ­people in the room, but they will be singing every word to every song.

  • No offense to the Devics, Shurman, Sake Bombs, or H is Orange – but The Record Company is easily the best live local band I’ve seen over my fifteen years in LA.
  • Somehow I never heard of the Time Traveling Robots in Space podcast until after it ended, but I love the time travel segments.