My favorite albums of 2009:
20. Hockey – Mind Chaos
Portland band combines elements of Brit pop, rock anthems, snarling vocals, and dance beats to create a fun, refreshing album.
19. The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control
Yeah, they’ve got a formula but it’s a pretty good one. Catchy hooks, rich Spectorish production and an 80s guitar sound reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Even songs about rape and suicide are coated with sugar.
18. Cracker – Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey
One of America’s best bands of the past 15 years, Cracker is still going strong, with David Lowery’s wry observations and off-beat humor very much intact. Standout track: Turn On Tune In Drop Out With Me.
17. Willie Nile - House of a Thousand Guitars
There's no mistaking the Dylan and Springsteen influence, but never mind. Nile is a solid songwriter who has flown under the radar for years and he delivers wear-on-your-sleeve rock and roll.
16. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
To be as wordy as Andrew Bird is, you have to be at least slightly pretentious. Who cares? Bird delivers some musically lush, eclectic and beautiful songs.
15. Monsters of Folk
An unlikely "super group" with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, Jim James from My Morning Jacket and the excellent, M. Ward. Forget the dopey title and enjoy the music.
14. Rosanne Cash – The List
Some excellent guest appearances (Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy) contribute to this album of country covers, but it is Cash’s intimate vocal delivery that gives this album its poignancy.
13. James Maddock – Sunrise on Avenue C
Maddock was the voice of Wood, a group that scored a hit with the lovely “Stay You” about 10 years ago. He's landed in New York City and has put together an impressive, well-crafted album. Maddock's ragged voice (which sounds a bit like Ian Hunter) is full of heart.
12. Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
Not as good as his last album, Magic, but this is still a solid work. I’m a sucker for the opening track, "Outlaw Pete," a lush, sprawling, over-the top, western epic. I’m less impressed with Springsteen’s Grammy nominations. Grammys are dumb.
11. Lucero – 1372 Overton Park
Describing the voice of lead-singer Ben Nichols as “whiskey soaked” is so obvious that it makes more sense to pin-point what kind of whiskey. I’m thinking sour-mash bourbon. The horns on this excellent alt-country album are a nice touch.
10. A.A. Bondy – When the Devil’s Loose
The former lead singer of Verbena, one of the better Nirvana sound-alike grunge bands of the 1990s, Bondy is charting an impressive course as a singer and songwriter with this moving stripped-down recording.
9. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
Their best album in years.
8. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
I never thought I’d get so much pleasure listening to someone who sounds like death, sing about death. But if anyone else had made this album, they’d be calling him the next Bob Dylan. His live performance at the United Palace Theatre in November was a revelation.
7. Brakes – Touchdown
The lads from Brighton, England (including Hamilton of British Sea Power) have put together a wonderful recording of alternative pop-rock.
6. Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi
A tasty helping of New Orleans jazz and blues. Allen Toussaint, pianist, singer and producer extraordinaire, is surely one of the most under-appreciated musical giants of the last half-century.
5. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
Some people like U2 best for their soaring anthems. Others prefer their willingness to experiment and play with dance beats. Here, they do both. This is an album that grows with repeated listening.
4. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
What could be more self-indulgent and audacious than following up a rock opera with yet another rock opera? Who do they think they are? The Who? Well, they just about pull it off. This soaring follow-up to American Idiot is masterful, including their faithful cover of the Who’s “A Quick One While She’s Away.”
3. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Neko Case delivers well-crafted, soul-baring songs with a powerful voice and expressive phrasing. This is her best album yet.
2. Wilco – The Wilco Album
I had the pleasure of seeing them play at Keyspan Park in Coney Island on a perfect summer evening. Tweedy and company are in top form.
1. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
The North Carolina roots band has made an album of gorgeous songs with their usual harmonies and emotional resonance. There's less bluegrass than on their last album, but it's a catchier, more accessible album and an enriching experience. Terrific stuff.
- Joe Henry – Blood From Stars (deep, haunting songs from Madonna's brother-in-law)
- Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (lovely, mellow, well-crafted songs)
- M. Ward – Hold Time (hypnotic voice and acoustic guitar playing - a very good year for Mr. Ward)
- Cage the Elephant (guitar riff rock with a hip-hop influence and Brit-Pop swagger)
- Atlas Sound – Logos (eclectic, dreamy, psychedelic pop)
- The Felice Brothers – Yonder is the Clock (roots Americana as authentic as it gets)
- White Rabbits - It's Frightening (up-and-coming Brooklyn-based Indie rock outfit)
- Patterson Hood - Murdering Oscar (fine solo release from Drive-By Truckers front man)
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