Friday, December 25, 2009

Jeff Bentoff - The Top 10 of '09

1. “Wilco (The Album)” – Wilco

What's not to love about a CD by my favorite band featuring Milwaukee-area camel Alfred on the cover photographed at Mader's? The record features a tight band with great guitar work by Nels Cline. Songs include the lovely “You And I,” a duet with Feist; pulsating, migraine-mirroring rocker “Bull Black Nova”; reflective “Country Disappeared”; sadly beautiful “Everlasting Everything”; exuberant “You Never Know.” Having heard much of the record live three times this year (twice at the Pabst, once at Red Rocks), I feel these songs belong in the revered Wilco canon.

2. “The Hazards of Love” – The Decemberists

Beautifully arranged, played and written, this rock opera meanders from madrigal to folk to Jethro Tell-era “Aqualung.” Like “Aqualung,” this tale is twisted and hard to follow, but no matter – it’s provocative and evocative even when meanings are unclear. Performed live as their first set at The Riverside this year, “The Hazards of Love” served as a vehicle for The Decemberists’ talented singers and instrumentalists. A real standout was guest vocalist from the CD My Brightest Diamond (Shara Worden), who torched and induced delirium in the crowd with a cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You” in the second set.

And, the rest, in no particular order…

Middle Cyclone” – Neko Case

Another naturalistic beauty of a CD by the naturalistic beauty Ms. Case. In excellent voice as always, Neko showcases her latest songs with a solid band featuring great backup vocals from Kelly Hogan and ringing guitars. Brought to life in a great show this year at The Pabst. Standout tracks include “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve.”

“Live at Bob’s” – John Sieger

Another great year for Milwaukee singing, songwriting, band-leading and guitar-slinging legend John Sieger. The prodigious Sieger released two CDs this year – The Subcontinentals’ “The Early Years” and this live scaled down acoustic set. “Live at Bob’s’” acoustic setting allows the songs to stand out and shine. Memorable music that’ll stick with you. Be sure to listen to the majestic “Remember Me” and delicate “That’ll Teach You.”

“A Friend Of A Friend” David Rawlings Machine

A late-year find that came due to a recent must-see Madison show by the great David Rawlings, whose CD and live show featured his constant musical foil, Gillian Welch. More bluegrass than I tend to favor, the record is simply gorgeous, with aching vocals from David and Gillian, with songs that don’t go away. “Ruby” and “Method Acting/Cortez The Killer” are worth the price of admission, as is “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High),” co-written with Ryan Adams and featured on Ryan’s first proper solo CD (with Rawlings and Welch supporting on that cut).

“I And Love And You” – The Avett Brothers

A band new to me, The Avett Brothers deserve a spot in the ten o’ the year listing thanks to some beautiful songwriting and thoughtful arrangements. Some songs remind me a bit of the gentler side of The Band, but this band is an original.

North Hills – Dawes

Another new find, also a bit Band-like, especially the opener, “That Western Skyline.”

Wild Young Hearts – The Noisettes

A fun English group and record I picked up on thanks to a Letterman appearance. I was struck by the neo-soul-meets-crunchy-guitars combination that struck two chords so to speak for me in the same song. And I enjoyed the band’s singer, Shingai Shoniwa, whose hammerhead of hair is an eighth wonder to watch.

“The Mountain” – Heartless Bastards

A lot of good buzz about this band led me to catch them at a Turner Hall Ballroom show, and I wasn’t disappointed. Stripped down and uncomplicated, this hard-rock quartet is focused, honest, exciting and fun.

“Monsters of Folks” — Monsters of Folk

Super groups can be scary. This one strikes me as not so much a super group, but as three great artists at the top of their games. Jim James, M. Ward and Conor Oberst take the lead on their own songs, with perfect backup by the other amigos. If you like these three guys, you’ll like this record.

And because 10 isn’t enough, I also enjoyed these 5…

· “Don’t Throw Me Away” – The Mumlers

· “Death Won’t Send A Letter” — Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons

· “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”— Phoenix

· “Manners” Passion Pit

· “xx” — The xx

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