The Lists: Top 50 Songs of 2009

Posted by Payton | Posted in best of 2009, lists | Posted on 01-12-2010

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Finally, my first post of the new decade. After my ski trip, I was backed up with work, and I’ve had a lot of photos to edit. And for the second year in a row, the task of making my lists sort of drained the free-form fun out of what I do here. I’m ready to start finding new music as well as posting about some older stuff that had a hand in me starting this blog in the first place.

Truth be told, I wanted a little extra time to refine this list as it is quite large. So without further adieu, my Top 50 Songs of 2009:

50. Sunflower Rain – Ryan Adams
[purchase]
49. Dog Days Are Over – Florence and the Machine [purchase]
48. You Never Know – Wilco [purchase]
47. Sailor Song – First Aid Kit [purchase]
46. Ship Come In – Jonny Burke [purchase]
45. Give Me Time – Dawes [purchase]
44. – Brendan Benson [purchase]
43. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear [purchase]
42. Goodbye Hollywood – JET [purchase]
41. Cry - Slaid Cleaves [purchase]
40. Don’t Come Calling – Stephanie Briggs [purchase]
39. Orion & Dog – Sea Wolf [purchase]
38. Boots Boy – Langhorne Slim [purchase]
37. Brother John - Middle Distance Runner [purchase]
36. The Guitar – Guy Clark [purchase]
35. In These Arms - The Swell Season [purchase]
34. Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare – Matt & Kim [purchase]
33. Cooperstown - The Felice Brothers [purchase]
32. Bells of Harlem – Dave Rawlings Machine [purchase]
31. Eager For Your Love – Tristen [purchase]
30. Nikorette – Conor Oberst & The MVB [purchase]
29. Champion Angel – The Low Anthem [purchase]
28. Lisztomania - Phoenix [purchase]
27. Heartbroken, In Disrepair – Dan Auerbach [purchase]
26. Round Here – Middle Distance Runner [purchase]
25. Ten Women – Conor Oberst & The MVB [purchase]
24. Hurtin’ You – Ben Kweller [purchase]
23. Smith Hill – Deer Tick [purchase]
22. Tell Me True - Sarah Jarosz [purchase]
21. Cage The Songbird – The Low Anthem [purchase]
20. Ten Thousand Words – The Avett Brothers [purchase]
19. The Traitor – Sea Wolf [purchase]
18. Funeral Singers - Califone [purchase]
17. Day Is Done – Ryan Bingham [purchase]
16. Everyday - Vetiver [purchase]
15. White Limo – The Felice Brothers [purchase]
14. Sweet Disposition – The Temper Trap [purchase]
13. A Thousand Men – Joe Pug [purchase]
12. Far And Wide - The Roadside Graves [purchase]
11. Easy - Deer Tick [purchase]
10. Mama’s Eyes – Justin Townes Earle [purchase]
9. The Big Surprise - The Felice Brothers [purchase]
8. Speak of Trouble – Great Bloomers [purchase]
7. Laundry Room (live version) – The Avett Brothers [purchase]
6. Gunslinger - The Medders [purchase]
5. Take It In - Wye Oak [purchase]
4. I Got The Reason – Conor Oberst & The MVB [purchase]
3. Ticket Taker – The Low Anthem
[purchase]
2. Honeymoon – Bombadil
[purchase]

1. Ruby - Dave Rawlings Machine [purchase]

Ruby, let down your golden hair
When I’m standing at the bottom of your stairs
Ruby, I can see your TV on
But the people there, they flicker and they’re gone
So let down your golden hair for me tonight
Let down your golden hair for me to climb
Just like an old-time telegraph man
I came here with a simple job to do
‘Cause that news coming down the wire
Says that your head’s on fire
And I’m trying to get a message through to you

Ruby, you ain’t lonely yet
With your crystal and your Russian cigarette
Ruby, haven’t you heard before?
Working is the finest tower when it hasn’t got a door
So let down your golden hair for me to climb
Let down your golden hair for me tonight
Just like an old-time telegraph man
I came here with a simple job to do
‘Cause that news coming down the wire
Says that your bed’s on fire
And I’m trying to get a message through to you, Ruby

I’m that old-time telegraph man
And I came here with a simple job to do
‘Cause that news coming down the wire
Says that your world’s on fire
And I’m trying to get a message through to you

I’m that old-time telegraph man
And I came here with a simple job to do
‘Cause that news coming down the wire
Says that your world’s on fire
And I’m trying to get a message through to you
————-

The Lists: Top 20 Albums of 2009 (1-10)

Posted by Payton | Posted in best of 2009, lists | Posted on 12-22-2009

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Part II of my Top 20 Albums of 2009


10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies

Bloodshot, 3.3.2009

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.

Justin Townes Earle – They Killed John Henry
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]

9. Sea Wolf – White Water, While Bloom
Dangerbird, 9.22.2009
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.

Sea Wolf – Dew In The Grass
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][iTunes]

8. Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Songs In The Night
Ramseur, 4.28.2009

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.

Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Devils In Boston
[Direct][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]

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.

Middle Distance Runner – Round Here
[Direct][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]

6. Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid
Nonesuch, 2.10.2009
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
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][iTunes]

5. Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
Merge, 5.5.2009
I had Outer South, the second album bearing Conor Oberst’s name and the first bearing The Mystic Valley Band, in my library for a while this year before I really gave it a listen. I don’t know what held me back – maybe I was overwhelmed by the amount of tracks on it and the fact that Conor participated in another release this year – but as soon as I listened once through, I knew it was a top 5 album. This year will mark the 3rd year in a row that Conor Oberst has placed an album in the top 5 here at This Mornin’. Last year, I made the claim that his self-titled album solidified his place as the Best American Songwriter under 30, and with this release I stand by that claim – though he only has 2 more months to hold the title. He will then have wait 5 years in a distant second place until Ryan Adams turns 40.

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 – Cabbage Town
Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Air Mattress
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]
4. Deer Tick – Born On Flag Day
Partisan, 6.23.2009

Easily my most anticipated release of the year, Deer Tick’s sophomore effort obviously pleased me. But not right at first – if you read my initial reaction, you’ll see I was happy with it, but thought it paled in comparison to 2007’s War Elephant. What I grew to enjoy about the album after some time, however, was everything that sets Born On Flag Day apart from their debut. Aside from John McCauley’s grizzled vocals, this album doesn’t have the same grunge-rock feel of which we were introduced to Deer Tick. In its place as an overlying feeling on the album is a bit of a retro-vibe. Born On Flag Day boasts multiple tracks that sound straight out of a 50’s studio session outtake disc. Both vocally and musically, I’ve heard traces of The Everyly Brothers (when they tried out an electric set), The Animals, Chuck Berry, and even some Beatles when I listen to this album. John manages to get those familiar, classic rock tones from his sea-green Fender Strat, both on this album and in the band’s live show.
Deer Tick – Stung
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]
3. Bombadil – Tarpits & Canyonlands
Ramseur, 7.7.2009

I could sit here and regurgitate words that tell you how Bombadil is groundbreaking, brave, and stylistically unclassifiable, but if you’ve ever heard their music, that is all too apparent. The simple fact is, it’s fun to listen to them – and what else do you really need to know? Tarpits and Canyonlands outreaches the band’s last album in terms of accessibility and execution. Here, there are real songs, still liberally arranged with instrumental twists and turns, but in a more focused way. The guys took their time with this recording, and it shows. Most impressively, Tarpits‘ strongest parts may be the more subdued moments. The slow-building opener ‘I Am’ provides a gentle, yet ominous lead-in to an album with peaks and valleys in terms of tempo and activity, but never a dull moment.

Bombadil – I Am
Bombadil – Kuala Lumpur

[Direct][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]


2. Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend
Acony, 11.17.2009

I reserved big, comfy spot for this album in my Top 10 as soon as I learned of its release. Don’t get me wrong – I still analyzed the songs, but I already knew what we were getting. For an artist with a resume like Dave Rawlings, over a decade to hone his songwriting chops, and the likes of Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show ushering him in, A Friend of A Friend was bound to be nothing short of spectacular. The last thing I expected going in was to be most impressed by the strength of Dave’s original songs. ‘Ruby’ immediately shot to the top of my favorite songs list, while ‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Bells of Harlem’ are at once fresh and classically timeless. It’s a short and sweet album, with a perfect mix of Dave’s early co-writes, well-chosen covers, and original compositions that will no-doubt stand the test of time. Expect a further in-depth review of this one after I’ve let it simmer a little longer.

Dave Rawlings Machine – Sweet Tooth
[Direct][CD][MP3][eMusic][iTunes]


1. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
Nonesuch, 6.9.2009

Last year, I expressed my thoughts on what I believe makes a great album. Most importantly, that it need be a cohesive, focused, flowing collection of songs, none being superfluous or out of place. The Low Anthem’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin takes this idea to another level. It’s a beautiful record, start to finish, complete with ballads and rockers, an interlude, and a reprise. It flows seamlessly, taking you through ethereal hymns and turbulent gospel barn-burners. Some may argue that OMGCD was a 2008 release – the Providence-based band self-released the album in September of 2008 and were subsequently picked up by Nonesuch Records. The label then gave the record a proper release (including vinyl) in June of this year. I discovered the band just after this release and was pleased to see that their schedule crossed paths with mine and we would both be in Nashville at the same time – me for The Big Surprise Tour, them for an intimate show at The Basement. Catching a live show of theirs and meeting the band members had a big part in the placement of this album at the top of my list. Read my review.
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.

The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin
The Low Anthem – Horizon Is A Beltway
[Direct][Vinyl][CD][MP3][iTunes]

————————————————-

The Lists: Best Videos of 2009

Posted by Payton | Posted in best of 2009, lists, videos | Posted on 12-15-2009

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Here’s an unranked group of some of the best music videos from 2009. I didn’t scour the internet (or god-forbid watch MTV/CMT) for every video made this year. They are basically taken from those artists in my Top 20 Albums list (coming soon) that happened to make videos this year.

These United States – Everything Touches Everything

The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

The Avett Brothers – Slight Figure of Speech

Bombadil – So Many Ways To Die

Dan Auerbach – Heartbroken, In Disrepair

Middle Distance Runner – The Unbeliever

Sea Wolf – Wicked Blood

Brendan Benson – A Whole Lot Better

The Low Anthem Covers Dylan

Posted by Payton | Posted in free music | Posted on 10-06-2009

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If you haven’t yet checked out Providence’s The Low Anthem, what’s wrong with you? I had the pleasure of catching an intimate live show of theirs in Nashville not long after discovering their 2009 disc, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. Both the album and their live set are mesmerizing. Read my show review – with updated song links for a couple days.

The Low Anthem is making their way back from a European tour and preparing for some Fall /Winter US dates, including some with Josh Ritter. Check ‘em out when they come your way:

October 15 Providence, RI Avon Cinema
October 17 Seattle, WA Chop Suey

October 18 Portland, OR Lola’s Room at the Crystal Ballroom

October 19 Eugene, OR WOW Hall*

October 21 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall*

October 23 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour*

October 24 San Diego, CA Casbah*

October 25 Tucson, AZ Plush*

October 27 Austin, TX The Parish*

October 28 Dallas, TX Granada Theater*

October 29 Houston, TX Bronze Peacock at HOB*

October 30 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon*

See the rest here

* with Blind Pilot

Right now, simply by joining The Low Anthem’s mailing list (at the bottom, on the right), you’ll get a free download of the band covering Dylan’s Dignity. It’s done very simply and with the tone to make it sound like one of their own.

The Low Anthem @ The Basement – Nashville, TN

Posted by Payton | Posted in live show | Posted on 08-20-2009

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Although my trip east was for the Big Surprise Tour, I managed to find another show in the area while there. The Low Anthem, a band I’ve only recently become acquainted with, played an opening set for Langhorne Slim at The Basement in Nashville.

The Basement is a quaint, little venue that, although cramped and stuffy (kinda like a basement), is one hell of a place to catch a band like The Low Anthem. The dark, intimate setting is perfect for a mellow, harmony-focused three-piece.

I downloaded the band’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin a few days before the trip and immediately loved what I heard. I hadn’t, however, looked up much info on the band themselves. I was under the assumption that there were at least two primary lead singers, due to the fact that the album portrayed two very different vocal styles. To my surprise – and delight – I found that Ben Knox was the one and only lead vocalist. The polar opposites of silky, airy vocals and grungy warbles show this guy’s range. Check out these tracks for examples:

The Low Anthem – (Don’t) Tremble
The Low Anthem – The Horizon Is A Beltway

Ben is joined in the band by Jocie Adams and Jeff Prystowsky. The three of them together play a total of 65 instruments…. OK, a little exaggeration, but not much. That night at The Basement showed the band constantly trading instruments and places on stage. Ben and Jeff shared duties on both the organ and the drums. Ben and Jocie both played guitar (acoustic and electric). Jeff thumped a stand-up bass for the majority of the time, while Ben had an array of harmonicas around his neck. Jocie plays the clarinet and the crotales – I had to ask her after the show what it was. At one point, Ben stepped away from the mic to show his skills on the alto horn. But just when you thought they couldn’t possibly pull out another trick, Ben closed out a particular tune with some well-controlled cell phone to cell phone interference – that is during the song, he pulled out a phone, called another phone conveniently placed on stage, and let a couple harmony notes echo back and forth between the phones and through the mic. Skills.

The Low Anthem, however, shines brightest in their harmonies. The crowded bar was often mesmerized down to silence due to the band’s captivating 3-part vocal showcasing. Don’t beleive me? Listen…

The Low Anthem – Cage The Songbird

I haven’t even had the chance to mention that Ben’s lyrics are often as unbelievable as the band’s musical skills. I never like to get too in-depth decoding lyrics anyway, so I’ll trust that you check ‘em out for yourself.

Buy Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (vinyl available!) and please catch this band when they come your way.