10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies
Justin Townes Earle’s second album cemented his star-studded name as star in his own right and won the top spot in the first ever Bird List – by a landslide. Justin, like some of the best out there, has a difficult time translating his live show allure to a studio CD, but Midnight At The Movies does a damn good job trying. His rollicking, ‘Hillbilly Music’ (tracks like ‘Walk Out’ and ‘John Henry’) are where he grabs your attention, but it’s the slower, more personal songs (‘Mama’s Eyes’, ‘Someday I’ll Be Forgiven’) that truly separate JTE from other folk-country acts out there.
9. Sea Wolf – White Water, While Bloom
Alex Brown Church and the folks behind him, better known as Sea Wolf, are probably one the most accessible bands I promote here. I have to admit that they had a little advantage making my top 10 due to the fact that I didn’t discover their 2007 release Leaves In The River until last year, and wanted to make up for not mentioning it in my inaugural posts. This year with White Water, White Bloom, Sea Wolf continued to make listener-friendly indie-rock paved with inspiring string pieces, powerful rhythm sections, and soaring vocals.
8. Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Songs In The Night
Samantha Crain broke into the folk scene last year with a superb EP. Don’t let the fact that her debut full-length was released early this year and the hype surrounding her may have since slowed lead you astray. This is one killer album. Songs In The Night contains very mature writing and even better music created by The Midnight Shivers. It’s got a perfect mix of tempos – sing-along folk-rockers, contemplative acoustic ballads, and even a couple electric grooves. If I could pick a poster-band for the sound I want out of my Americana, this is it.
7. Middle Distance Runner – The Sun & Earth
Engine Room Recordings, 10.20.2009
Every year so far, I’ve had at least one album that made my list for one simple reason – it rocks. This year’s album that always seems to get my head bobbin’ is Middle Distance Runner’s The Sun & Earth. I stumbled across the D.C. band earlier this year thanks to a couple mind-numbing singles/EPs they released. I grabbed the full album released in October, delighted to see those tracks on it, and even more thrilled to enjoy the rest of the disc. It’s one of those albums that you seem to not remember tracks names simply because it’s 45 minutes of pulsating Rock n Roll intertwined with moments of acoustic bliss of that all melds together in you brain – in a good way.
6. Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid
I was skeptical of Dan Auerbach breaking from his bandmate to strike out on a solo mission. But I was a fool. Dan brought his funk-filled guitar licks to the studio, polished them off just a tad, and ultimately brought everything to his solo debut that The Black Keys were missing. Keep It Hid has the feel of an artist who knew the exact sound they wanted. Plus, who knew this blues-rocker could slow it down and give us a handful of touching down-tempo ditties to compliment his unique, blistering electric sound.
Dan Auerbach – When The Night Comes
Outer South doesn’t necessarily show us anything particularly new about Conor – his songs continue to be energetic – only slowing when necessary – well-written, and most noticeably perfectly delivered. Conor has a knack for isolating a line apart from the music behind it with the effect of heightening the importance of that lyric like no one else. What sets this album apart from Oberst’s earlier work is his band. Although The Mystic Valley Band played on Conor Oberst, that album was more about Conor. On Outer South, he lends prime real estate to his bandmates letting them take 7 of the 16 tracks, including tracks as early as 3 and 4. The songs that Nick Freitas, Taylor Hollingworth, and Jason Boesel wrote and provide lead vocals for aren’t my favorite off the album, but they ain’t bad, either. Hollingsworth may have the standout non-Oberst song with his Replacements-esque ‘Air Mattress.’ Outer South is yet another disc from the Omaha alt-rocker that doesn’t have a single skippable track.
Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Air Mattress
The Low Anthem’s strongest quality – as a band and especially on this album – is their unmatched instrumentation. Between only Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystokwsky, and Jocie Adams, The Low Anthem travels with a trailer-full of gear, all of which gets used on a nightly basis. Their stage progression plays out like a carousel, or literally a game of musical chairs. Most instruments can be played by more than one member, each with their own personal flair. I read a few interviews with the band prior to this write-up (check out this well-written one). In one interview, Miller says they try to push their musical limits by limiting their play on instruments they are comfortable with. He says they walk blindfolded into the instrument room; they “prefer to stumble into beauty.” Another interesting note I picked up on, Miller says that band doesn’t get too caught up in listening to a lot of contemporary music. This is obvious in the end result of their own music – you can’t seem to pick out any specific influence or even compare it to anything else you’ve heard before: completely original music, earthy and natural.