Topsoil/Haywire Top 40 (plus 10) of 2002
- Hi everyone,
Here is my Top 40 (plus 10 reissues). If you want to hear any of these I'll be playing them on my radio show this week (Sundays, noon-3pm Eastern on wxdu.org.) Also, I'll be doing a tribute to Joe Strummer tomorrow (Fri) from 8-10pm. I'll be playing a bunch of material from the Clash, the 101ers, solo stuff as well as rare and live material.
In a few weeks we should also have a new issue of Fresh Dirt (www.topsoil.net/freshdirt) that will include my Top 40 along with a bunch of other best of lists from my writers.
Topsoil/Haywire on WXDU
www.topsoil.net / www.wxdu.org
1.. Bright Eyes "LIFTED or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground" (Saddle Creek)
This album is perfect, from beginning to end, and is the best Bright Eyes release to date. There is a diversity of sounds in this album, which is good for my short attention span. Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes' founder and core member, has been touted as one of the best songwriters of his generation, but with LIFTED I believe he has even outdone himself on previous albums. The sound of his voice on first listen can often sound like doom and gloom, but once you delve into the lyrics you find an optimist who sees the world as a troubled place, but with problems that are not impossible to solve. Perhaps his offering of solutions to the world's problems (through standard rock ideologies of peace and love) is the pipe dream of a guy who is still in the early stages of his adult life/innocence, but it has always been the artist's job to be idealistic. Whether or not we attain their dream is not as important as can he give us the strength to try. That's a lot of pressure to put on one album of rock and roll, but I find LIFTED that inspiring.
b.. Bobby Bare Jr "Young Criminals Starvation League" (Bloodshot)
Bobby Bare, Jr turns down the volume a bit on his first album without the Bare Jr band. The results are magnificent. They highlight the strength of his songwriting and his creativity in song arrangements, utilizing everything from Burt Bacharach-styled horns to some countryfied steel guitar. Bobby Bare also performed what was probably my two favorite live shows of the year, one in Nashville at the Belcourt Theater and one at the final weekend of house concerts at Pine Hill Farm in Durham, NC.
c.. Spoon "Kill the Moonlight" (Merge)
Some say that they don't like Spoon because Britt Daniels sings in a fake British accent. Well, I've never really noticed it much before, but even so I don't care. I mean, heck, I've liked the Rolling Stones all these years and they often get that southern drawl thing going on pretty well. Kill the Moonlight is another record that has held my interest for the year due to its high variation on musical styles. The lead-off song, "Small Stakes", could be something that Suicide did in the late 70s if they had ever collaborated with the Kinks. Then you have "Jonathon Fisk" which is a full-on rocker. Shades of the Zombies also find their way into this album, but all the while it sounds like a cohesive exciting effort. Be sure and also check out their reissue of A Series of Sneaks which was just reissued by Merge including two incredible (and scathing) bonus tracks about their relationship with their former relationship with Elektra, specifically the A&R Rep that brought them to the label Daniel Laffitte and the label's president, Sylvia Rhone. The songs are called "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now" and "The Agony of Laffitte." The latter contains the lines, "So when you do that line tonight/remember that it came at a steep price/Keep telling yourself there's more to you than her/ Oh, but you're no better than Sylvia."
d.. Gourds "Cow Fish Fowl or Pig" (Sugar Hill)
I've read many reviews of this album in the past year and nearly all of them mention the word, gumbo. It makes sense, though, because the Gourds are a band that take whatever they can from within reach and throw it into their musical mix. A Cajun romp can lead way to a funky rocker into a beautiful waltz. Instead of just aping a single style, though, they combine them all together to create something of their own. Gourd music. The last three albums (counting the bonus tracks on last year's reissue of Shinebox) add a third singer-songwriter into the mix in the way of Max Johnston. This album gets a special bonus by having Max's dad, Dollar Bill Johnston, on board to close out the album with the loping "Smoke Bend." All in all, it is the Gourds best album. The only thing better is seeing them live.
e.. Mark Erelli "The Memorial Hall Recordings" (Signature Sounds)
Mark Erelli. He wins the prize for the most underrated singer-songwriter producing albums today. On this, his third album, the Massachusetts songwriter has recorded a full album in a empty hall in Monson, Massachusetts that was built in 1884 to honor the men who fought in the Civil War. The acoustic in the hall provided for a beautiful sounding album. Since the hall was built to memorialize New England songwriters, Mark decided to devote a large portion of the album to songs written by other Northeasterners. So, although his last record, Compass and Companion, might be a better place to discover Mark's songwriting, this album goes a long way in showcasing the talents of this, unfortunately, little known artist. Either way, if you are a fan of songwriter based Americana a la Slaid Cleaves, do yourself a favor and go buy an album from Mark Erelli.
f.. Pedal Steel Transmission "In the Winter, It Makes the Dead Grass Look Green" (2)
Good albums cause me to listen to them multiple times. Great albums not only require multiple listens, but they inspire me to do other things as well, such as go back and listen to old records, or delve more into a style that has either not yet been discovered in my musical journey or has been put on hold for too long. The Pedal Steel Transmission's new one is a great album. They are a band from Chicago that combines indie rock with a wash of music that exists in textures as much as it does in sound. The backing tracks for these songs could almost be described as soundscapes. The best songs on the album are those that are long (a few break the ten minute barrier) and allow the song to stretch out and create a whole scene for the lyrics. After listening to this album a bunch of times it brought to mind some of those American Music Club shows I used to see in the late 80s in the San Francisco Bay Area. Perhaps it is the use of pedal steel in a non-country setting that brought it to mind, but I started to remember the overall sound that would be bouncing off the walls in those large concert halls. You could feel the music. I started pulling out those old AMC recordings and enjoying them all over again. This lead to all sorts of different music, new and old, including bands like Scenic, the Black Heart Procession, Savage Republic and many others. So yes, In the Winter� is a great album. I'm looking forward to another one from this new band.
g.. Supersuckers "Must've Been Live" (Hi-Fi/Yep Roc)
Perhaps the best party album of the year (besides the mixed CD a friend made me of stupid, but fun, rap music), the Supersuckers know how to throw down. Their terrific live shows was captured very well on this album that was recorded in Dallas, Austin and San Diego.
h.. Radio 4 "Gotham!" (Gern Blandsten)
One of the many bands that came out this year channeling the post-punk movement when punk was making way for New Wave. The basslines in this group immediately put me in Gang of 4 mode, but a closer listen to the album reveals a variety of other influences that include Mission of Burma and Television, as well as the band that gave them their name, Public Image, Ltd. (On P.I.L.'s album Second Edition the album closer is titled "Radio 4.")
i.. Hank Williams III "Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'" (Curb)
Hank goes further back down the family line on this album creating a disc of music that should satisfy any fan of Hank Sr. A much more cohesive effort than his debut, Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' is the best classic country-sounding albums of the year. If you were raised on rock, but are looking to hear some country music�this is the album I'd recommend.
j.. Josh Rouse "Under Cold Blue Stars" (Rykodisc)
At Josh Rouse's house concert at Pine Hill Farm earlier in the year (The only house concert ever, by the way, where everyone stood up, passed their chairs out of the room and danced for the rest of the set!) Josh said that two of his biggest musical influences were 80s new wave bands, like the Cure, and AM pop radio. That night he covered the Cure's "A Forest" and Air Supply's "Lost In Love." It made sense to me. I never really understood why the alt.country crowd called him one of their own. It also just so happened that I was going through an infatuation with AM pop and New Wave, so this album really hit home with me. I have friends, though, who hate it for all the same reasons. To each his own�again.
k.. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter "Reckless Burning" (Burn Burn Burn)
Mopey alt.country. Kind of an alt.country version of slo-core, if you are familiar with that. Great stuff that is a must listen for fans of Thalia Zedek, the Flatirons, Marianne Faithful, Mojave 3 or Oh Susanna.
l.. Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Yeah Yeah Yeahs" (Touch and Go)
Another one of those NYC bands that are playing in the classic punk/post-punk vein. This is just an EP, but the five songs on it all are great. They've also just released a 3-song EP that is good, too. Hopefully, 2003 will find a full album from this band that brings to mind X-Ray Spex, the Birthday Party and Sleater-Kinney.
m.. Guy Clark "The Dark" (Sugar Hill)
The daddy of all Texas singer-songwriters (well, not counting Townes of course) still is at the top of his game. 2002 brought a lot of ink about the whole Texas Country movement. This is better than all of that stuff.
n.. Kenny Roby "Rather Not Know" (Morebarn)
This album may have even landed higher on the list if I had more time to spend with it. Kenny Roby is pretty important in my own musical history because it was his band, Six String Drag, and the Backsliders that I seemed to see every other week when I first moved in North Carolina in 1996. I wore out the road between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. It was a sad day for me when Six String Drag broke up, but going solo has allowed Kenny to delve more into his songwriting since he isn't working within the confines of a band. With songs/tales like "Elizabeth Jones" and "Bobby Rodan", Roby continues to grow into one of the best songwriters making records today.
o.. Star Room Boys "This World Just Won't Leave You Alone" (Slewfoot)
They broke up. Damn. They were one of my favorite live bands. Sometimes people complained that there were better singers in the world of country music than Dave Marr, but I don't care. Top of the line vocal talent doesn't make up for crummy song/melodywriting, and that's why Dave was one of my favorites. The music was pure country and the hooks, lyrically and melodically, were barbed. They wouldn't let go once they sunk into you. I'll miss seeing them play live, but at least we have two great records available. I don't know about you, but I'm praying for spinoff groups.
p.. Desaparecidos "Read Music/Speak Spanish" (Saddle Creek)
Conor Oberst goes emo with this rocking release. It is more of an EP than a full album, but the songs are all great. Read Music/Speak Spanish includes diatribe after diatribe about things that are troubling Oberst such as suburban sprawl and greed.
q.. Interpol "Turn on the Bright Lights" (Matador)
This album of gothic post punk would probably have scored higher if I hadn't seen them live and got the pants bored offa me. Still, though, it is a terrific listen which calls to mind bands such as Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and the Chamelons. Oh, and Joy Division.
r.. Silkworm "Italian Platinum" (Touch and Go)
Although not as strong as their last CD Lifestyle, Silkworm does offer up a goodie with their latest album Italian Platinum. Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett deliver some terrific songs, and they get help on background (and some lead) vocals by Kelly Hogan. If you like this, also check out Tim Midgett's new solo EP, It Goes Like This that was recorded at home for the 3-Lobed record label.
s.. Kelly Willis "Easy" (Rykodisc)
Still one of the most stunning voices in country music, Kelly Willis offers up a fine platter here that didn't quite hit home with me at first, but after repeated listens became one of my favorite country albums of the year.
t.. Greg Trooper "Between a House and a Hard Place: Live at Pine Hill Farm" (McGonigel's Mucky Duck)
Pine Hill Farm is now out of the house concert business, but we did get one terrific live record out of it. This one was recorded in 2000 by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel. It was delayed for a while when Greg's record company, Eminent, went belly-up. It is out now on his website and does a fabulous job of portraying the magic of seeing an artist in the intimate space of someone's living room. Included in the set are some of his older hits (such as "Everywhere", which Billy Bragg recorded on his 1991 album, Don't Try This At Home) and, as yet, unrecorded songs such as the cut he says he cut for Faith Hill to sing, "Take The Gun Out Of Your Mouth." See www.gregtrooper.com.
u.. Mountain Goats "Tallahassee" (4AD)
A great song cycle about a couple that moves to Tallahassee to run away from their troubles. It doesn't work.
v.. Mclusky "Mclusky Do Dallas" (Too Pure)
ROCK! Like Fugazi, but thankfully much less serious.
w.. RJD2 "Deadringer" (Definitive Jux)
My favorite turntablist record of the year. I love this even better than the new DJ Shadow.
x.. MC Paul Barman "Paullelujah!" (Coup d'Etat)
Fun raps from the least stereotypical rapper I know.
y.. Liars "They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top" (Blast First/Mute)
A severly energetic album of post-punk rock.
z.. DJ Shadow "The Private Press" (MCA)
A good mix of samples and beats. DJ Shadow is still one of the best diggers in the turntablist world.
aa.. Will Rigby "Paradoxaholic" (Diesel Only)
Goofy and fun. Will Rigby reminds me of a roots rock version of the Holy Modal Rounders.
ab.. Neil Halsted "Sleeping on Roads" (4AD)
Solo album from the Mojave 3 frontman. The album is a little uneven, but it does include some of the best songs of the year, such as "Hi-Lo and Inbetween". Imagine Pink Floyd getting stoned (as if they weren't already) and then singing country music and you'll have a bit of an idea of what to expect from Neil Halsted.
ac.. Sadies "Stories Often Told" (Yep Roc)
Another band that is great for their diversity. From surf rock to spaghetti western music, you can hear it all (almost) with the Sadies.)
ad.. Jesse Dayton "Hey Nashvegas!" (Stag)
Country music. Good country music.
ae.. Patty Griffin "1000 Kisses" (ATO)
I got hooked on this album one song at a time. I first listened and decided that I didn't really like "that type" of folk music. But then I got hooked on the song "Chief". A few songs in I focused on "Making Pies" and the album finally won me over. Great stuff.
af.. The Agenda "Start the Panic" (Kindercore)
This is perhaps the most unlikely album ever to come out on Kindercore (until you realize that one of the owners is in the band.) This is screaming garage rock band. Think of the Woggles, but with triple the energy.
ag.. My Morning Jacket "Chocolate and Ice EP" (Badman)
A little uneven, but I just can't help buy fit one of my favorite band's into my top 40. If you really want to check out My Morning Jacket's dreamy reverb drenched rural rock, go to the store and get one of their full lengths, either At Dawn or Tennessee Fire.
ah.. Hot Hot Heat "Make Up The Breakdown" (Sub Pop)
There was a while this summer where everytime I called up WXDU and asked who was singing that great song the answer was always "Hot Hot Heat." So I finally bought the album. It's really great. They sound like a rock version of Dexy's Midnight Runners to me, but I guess not totally since I don't (and have never) like DMRs and I like this.
ai.. Porter Hall, TN "Welcome To Porter Hall, TN" (Slewfoot)
Good ol' country music, featuring a lot of duets.
aj.. Forty-Fives "Fight Dirty" (Yep Roc)
Still the best live band in America.
ak.. Damnations "Where It Lands" (Joy Ride)
A helluva cover of the Minutemen's "Corona".
al.. Chuck Prophet "No Other Love" (New West)
One of the only guys successfully mixing electronic and country music in a way that sounds natural and refreshing.
am.. Wire "Read and Burn, Vol 1" (Pink Flag)
They are back and rockin'.
an.. Kasey Chambers "Barricades and Brickwalls" (Warner Bros)
A good record, but a disappointment after The Captain.
a.. Rocket From The Tombs "The Day The Earth Met The�" (Smog Veil)
This is an answer to prayers. It is not a reissue, because this stuff has never been released before. Up until now the music of Cleveland's punk innovators, Rocket From the Tombs, has for the most part been something a fan heard about, but has never heard. They were only a band for a short time. They debuted at a show on June 16, 1974 and were broken up by August, 1975.
The Rocket From the Tombs were an early Cleveland punk band started by David Thomas (aka Crocus Behemoth), a local music writer and leader of the Great Bow-Wah (Death) Band. A short time later they added Peter Laughner (writer, Velvet's worshipper and former leader of Cinderella Backstreet [of which Chrissie Hynde was briefly a member]) on lead guitar. Peter was a great ringleader and concert organizer and with Thomas/Behemoth, took RFTT seriously enough to quickly become a major force in the burgeoning Cleveland pre-punk scene.
The band also including in his lineup some other important figures in early punk music, such as Cheetah Chrome (aka Gene O'Connor), Stiv Bators and Johnny "Madman" Madansky. The band itself didn't last long, perhaps due to the high number of egos and talent in their members, but their impact on rock/punk music cannot be overstated. They deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though I'm sure they never will. They produced a couple of punk classics, such as "Final Solution," "Sonic Reducer" and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" as well as giving birth to some of the greatest bands in rock history including Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. Peter Laughner was dead by the time he was 25 of liver failure due to his massive consumption of drugs and alcohol. It is a wonder to think of what great music he had left in him.
This album compiles three previously unreleased recordings. The first third is from a rehearsal tape and the last two thirds are shows in Cleveland. The quality of these recordings is amazingly good.
b.. Various "Do The Pop! - The Australian Garage Rock Sound 1976-1987" (Shock)
Australian bands were a major force in the college non-commercial radio heydey of the 1980s. The roots of these bands went back into the 70s with well-known bands such as the Saints, to the lesser known (but superior!) Radio Birdman. I won't even pretend to know what was happening down under during the years featured in this import compilation (1976-1987) but I can attest to their importance on the music scene stateside during this time period. Do The Pop!, named after a song by the aforementioned Radio Birdman, brings together 50 songs on this 2 CD set from bands such as The Saints, Radio Birdman, the Lime Spiders, the Screaming Tribesmen, the Scientists, Le Hoodoo Gurus, New Race and many more. Many of these bands were popular here in the 80s, but for one reason or another didn't make that jump to remain on the tip of college radio DJs tongues into the 21st century. Perhaps because of that, many of these recordings have not been issued on CD up until this point. Thank God for Shock Records and the compilation's producer, David Laing.
c.. Roky Erikson and the Aliens "The Evil One (Plus One)" (Sympathy For The Record Industry)
Roky Erickson had just come out of a long stay in a mental institution when he put together the Aliens and recorded this album. The album that was originally released differed track-wise from the release over in the UK. This reissue, however, compiles all those tracks in one place and includes a bonus CD of Roky's appearance in 1979 on my childhood radio station, KSJO. On that date Roky was on the Modern Humans Show and talked with DJs, introduced music and answered phone calls from fans calling on the station's hotline. The appearance on the light night show fits the music, which was heavily based around the horror theme. Check out these song titles: "I Think of Demons", "Creature with the Atom Brain", "Don't Shake Me Lucifer", "Bloody Hammer", "Stand for the Fire Demon", "If You Have Ghosts", "I Walked With A Zombie", "Night of the Vampire", etc., etc., etc. Sense a theme? This is underground 70s rock and roll at its best. Don't be fooled into thinking that the only rock that existed is the stuff you hear on classic rock radio.
d.. Lime Spiders "Nine Miles High 1983-1990" (Raven)
When Do the Pop! was released I went searching for full CDs of material from the Lime Spiders, especially their early albums and EPs. Unfortunately, I discovered that nothing was available. Nothing. Luckily, though, Raven Records from Australia must have tapped into my psychic plea because only a few months later this CD was issued which compiles just the tracks I was interested in. The Lime Spiders early period was fueled with their big love for 1960s Nuggets-era psychedelia and garage rock. Mick Blood, the lead singer, had one of the best ragged voices of the 80s. Nine Miles High 1983-1990 compiles tracks from various singles, EPs and albums from that time period. This is the best of 1980s Australian independent rock.
e.. Death Cab For Cutie "You Can Play These Songs With Chords" (Barsuk)
In 1997, Ben Gibbard decided to stop recording as a solo artist under the name All-Time Quarterback and form a band in his hometown of Bellingham, WA. The band, Death Cab For Cutie, first issued a cassette titled You Can Play These Songs With Chords. That 8-song cassette has finally been issued on CD here along with 10 bonus cuts of rare and previously unreleased recordings including covers of the Smiths' "This Charming Man" and Secret Stars "Wait." The highlight of the bonus cuts is the beautiful "Army Corps of Architects" which Gibbard describes as his favorite Death Cab for Cutie song to date. It was originally issued as a b-side on the March 2000 singles club 7" from Sub Pop Records.
f.. Richard Hell "Time" (Matador)
A double-disc that includes a ton of unreleased material. One of my favorite cuts is when he pulls Elvis Costello up on stage and they do "You Gotta Lose."
g.. Bob Dylan "Live 1975: The Bootleg Series, Vol 5" (Columbia)
I've always been a fan of Dylan's folky material, but the rock stuff never grabbed me much until this year. Just a few weeks ago I got this new CD of a live set from 1975 and it is incredible. It rocks harder than I have ever heard Dylan rock (though I must admit I am far from ever hearing all of his stuff). The version of "Isis" on here kills me. Great stuff.
h.. Elvis Costello Reissues (Rhino)
Rhino has been reissuing the Elvis Costello catalog. They had to make their discs extra special, though, because most of these had already been reissued by Rykodisc with bonus cuts. In pure Rhino style, though, they succeed by making each disc a double and finding even more material to add on including alternate takes, live material and demos.
i.. John Hartford "Steam Powered Aereo-takes" (Rounder)
These are outtakes from John Hartford's landmark album Aereo-plain. Perhaps not the best place to start to get into Hartford, but fans should definitely pick this album up.
j.. Black Sabbath "Symptom of the Universe" (Rhino)
I believe there is only one love song on this double CD set and it is sung from the point of view of the devil. Those nutty Black Sabbath kids.
Twangy Top 20
1.. Bobby Bare Jr "Young Criminals Starvation League" (Bloodshot)
2.. Gourds "Cow Fish Fowl or Pig" (Sugar Hill)
3.. Mark Erelli "The Memorial Hall Recordings" (Signature Sounds)
4.. Supersuckers "Must've Been Live" (Hi-Fi/Yep Roc)
5.. Hank Williams III "Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'" (Curb)
6.. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter "Reckless Burning" (Burn Burn Burn)
7.. Guy Clark "The Dark" (Sugar Hill)
8.. Kenny Roby "Rather Not Know" (Morebarn)
9.. Star Room Boys "This World Just Won't Leave You Alone" (Slewfoot)
10.. Kelly Willis "Easy" (Rykodisc)
11.. Greg Trooper "Between a House and a Hard Place: Live at Pine Hill Farm" (McGonigel's Mucky Duck)
12.. Will Rigby "Paradoxaholic" (Diesel Only)
13.. Neil Halsted "Sleeping on Roads" (4AD)
14.. Sadies "Stories Often Told" (Yep Roc)
15.. Jesse Dayton "Hey Nashvegas!" (Stag)
16.. Patty Griffin "1000 Kisses" (ATO)
17.. Porter Hall, TN "Welcome To Porter Hall, TN" (Slewfoot)
18.. Damnations "Where It Lands" (Joy Ride)
19.. Chuck Prophet "No Other Love" (New West)
20.. Kasey Chambers "Barricades and Brickwalls" (Warner Bros)
Steve Gardner - Topsoil/Haywire - Sun. 12-3pm
WXDU 88.7FM Durham NC and on the Net at www.wxdu.org
Fresh Dirt Webzine: www.topsoil.net/freshdirt
* steve@... **** www.topsoil.net *
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