Well folks, it's really hard to put these kind of top 10 lists together. It's also really hard to leave off an album that came out this year and was deserving of your attention. That's why I've decided to make my top 10 a top 11, so at least there will be ONE extra album in there that I can rave about. Besides, we like doing things in 11's around here at MoonRunners.
11. Jimbo Mathus "Confederate Buddha"
Jimbo Mathus, former singer of the Squirrel Nut Zippers-turned flat out red neck soul man, released a hell of an album this year. From top to bottom this album is soulful, strong, rocking', country as hell and lyrically thought provoking. Songs like "Shady Dealings", "Jimmy The Kid", "Cling to the Roots" and "Aces & Eights" will go down as some of my favorite tunes of the year. The sound of the record harkens back to the Stones and Muddy Waters a lot while keeping the South Eastern Swamp vibe that sets him apart. His voice is soulful yet blunt and makes for some of the best makin-whoopie music of the year. Get down on this chillrens, you won't be sorry!
10. Lonesome Wyatt & The Holy Spooks "Heartsick"
Lonesome Wyatt is a pioneer. I liken him to folks like Trent Reznor who are recording and conceptualizing wizards. All the "Those Poor Bastards" albums are sonic journeys dripping with pig-inards and outlined by incredibly smart songwriting. Wyatt seems to have an incredible work ethic. TPB put out albums and EP's all year and he still finds time to do projects with all kinds of folks. But "Heartsick" is Lonesome Wyatt in top form. Songs like "All I See Are Bones" show the musicianship and vision for this artist are WAY beyond that of the normal artist. The sound of this record is amazing, haunting and just plain intimidating. Adam Sheets described it as a cross between a Roger Waters record, Tim Burton (Danny Elfman) and Johnny Cash. He's pretty spot on. I recommend this album to anyone who is a purveyor of any of these artists. I'd love to see this album LIVE. Besides that, what other album can you get on red tape cassettes now? Pick it up there at www.thosepoorbastards.com
9. Bob Wayne "Outlaw Carnie"
Bob Wayne is one of my favorite guys out there right now. Not for the faint of heart, this is like a Charlie Daniels record if the Devil had of whipped Johnny's ass and enslaved him in Zed's basement letting the gimp go to town every couple of weeks. Zed ain't dead here. He's alive and well with his shot gun and rebel flag in hand guarding his chopper and waiting for his shipment of stolen Blu-Ray machines to arrive. And Bob is driving the truck. Seriously folks, Bob is a serious songwriter. "Road Bound", "Reptile", "Driven By Demons" and "Blood to Dust" show this beautifully. His vocal performances are always nothing short of stammering and his band (this album was produced by Hank 3's steel player/renaissance man Andy Gibson and feels like the best of Outlaw era country and bluegrass) kicks your ass on every track. Most of these tracks were previously released on bootlegs, and while those are great to own and curate, this album is a one-stop introduction to what makes Mr. Wayne awesome.
8. Wanda Jackson "The Party Ain't Over"
Yeah yeah, Jack White charms these old broads and cuts records on 'em. Good records. Great records. He sets the bar high in recording sounds, styles and his progressive spin on rock and roll, and he uses Wanda Jackson's rockabilly queen aura as his muse. "Thunder On The Mountain" rivals Dylan's original, "Busted" beats all other cuts with it's bombastic dynamics, Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" sounds as if it was written for Wanda and "Shakin' All Over" just sets the mood while ringing true of the 50's and 60's era rockabilly that made Ms. Jackson famous. The album is soaked in pink fuzz, slapped on a glittery vinyl and inserted right into your mind from the first to the last note. Enjoy, these kind of records don't come around very often.
7. Jonny Corndawg "Down On The Bikini Line"
Jonny Corndawg is one of my favorite artists out there right now. And with this release, has shown he has more pure country in his pen than most anyone who has graced Nashville. Sounding part Charlie Daniels, part Billy Joe Shaver and part early Hank Jr, this album has as much humor and charm to put a smile on Dick Cheney's face, and as much authenticity to make some of these faux Nashville outlaws hide their head in the sand. Songs like "Shaved (Like A Razor)" and "Chevy Beretta" mix hilarity with seriously poignant lines, where songs like "Fools and Sages" just say what we all want to say but don't have the balls to do it. Pick it up, you won't be bummed.
6. Carter Falco "Jumping The Sharks"
Carter isn't just an old friend and an ex-bandmate, but he's a tried and true bluesman. Long before Carter and I ever crossed paths, he was secretly writing his country songs and tucking them away. With his last release "If It Ain't One Thing" he demonstrated strong performance after strong performance and even stronger songwriting, but with "Jumping The Sharks". a drums-less stripped down true country singer-songwriter album, he has demonstrated that as his life gets more challenging, his songwriting pushes back even harder. This album reads like Carter's "Blood On The Tracks". Marred by a failed relationship, the songs have so much heart and hurt poured into them that they make most current country albums pale in comparison. Songs like "Jumping The Sharks" and "Oh My God" make me wanna crack open whiskey in the morning just to get on the same train as Mr. Falco as he's singing these beautiful heartbroken ballads. Then songs like "Tore Up From The Floor Up" show his humor and dry cynicism as he makes light of a heavy situation. This album is top shelf folks, please don't pass it up.
5. Rachel Brooke "Down In The Barnyard"
Rachel Brooke hit my radar with her first self-titled release late last year. By the time "Down In The Barnyard" was about to come out, I was eagerly anticipating this release. It didn't let me down at all. Producing and playing most of the instruments herself, Rachel demonstrates her immense talent and diversity on this album. The songwriting is top notch, her voice is eerily old-time-authentic, and the whole album has the ability to whisk you away on the country technicolor lullaby head trip that she has painted during it's near-hour long set. Rachel is just hitting her stride, but with this release is proving that we should all be keeping our eyes on her. Key tracks: "City of Shame", "Me and Rose Connelly", "Meet Me By The Apple Tree", "Mean Kind of Blues"
4. Hank 3 "Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town"
In September, Hank 3 released 3 albums, all of which are worthy of this list, but I chose to focus on the "country" album of the three. This way-expansive double disc release features one disc of Hank's expected formula of progressive roots country and a second album that reads like a cajun-blood-thirsty-acid-test version of escape from New York. Some of the tracks on the first album quickly became in my favorites of Hank's ("Day by Day", "Gutter Town", "Trooper's Hollar", "Cunt of a Bitch", "Ghost to a Ghost") and the second disc is full of surprisingly soul-saturated gems ("Fadin' Moon", "Dyin' Day", "Gutterstomp") as well as a few covers of old Nashville songsmith Eddie Pleasant ("I Promised", "Move Them Songs"). Disc one also includes a heart-felt introduction of long-overlooked Ray Lawrence Jr.
3. Danielle Colby Presents: The Farmageddon Collection
Early in the year when Adam Sheets and I started up www.GiveMeMyXXX.com and the XXX concept, one of the first things I did was to start reaching out and befriending labels, blogs, radio programs etc that covered the music in a way to link them all together on one internet source. One of the first fellows I became friends with was Darren who runs the label Farmageddon Records (www.newrootsorder.com). Farmageddon records is one of the coolest underground country record labels out there hosting releases by Rachel Brooke, Slackeye Slim, Jayke Orvis, Goddamn Gallows, Highlonesome, J.B. Beverley and more. When Darren sent this release to me, it quickly became an album I obsessed over. It must be heard if you are someone not familiar with the underground/punk country scene because this is the cream of the crop. I must say J.B. Beverley's "Disappear on Down The Line" is probably one of the most haunting songs I've ever heard and could possibly me my favorite SONG of the year, so for this alone you must pick this up. But along with this great song there are classics from Rachel, Jayke, The Calamity Cubes, Delia Rose and plenty more. But I would be doing it a disservice if I didn't mention the other gem on this album, Graham Lindsey's "Big Dark World of Hate and Lies". Buy this record TODAY at www.newrootsorder.com
1. & 2. Hellbound Glory "Damaged Goods" & Scott H. Biram "Bad Ingredients"
I cannot pick between these two records. Sorry. They must sit at the top of my list hand-in-hand. Scott's masterpiece came out first, so I had time to listen to it, fall in love with it, learn from it, and then "Damaged Goods" drops in my lap. I awaited both albums wringing my hands like a little school girl. To be honest with you, I haven't anticipated an album like I did these two albums since maybe "The Fragile" by Nine Inch Nails. Anyone that knows me well knows that's a big compliment. I knew that the underground country/blues/rock circuit was about to have two solid bombs dropped on them and I couldn't wait to memorize every moment of these records. "Bad Ingredients" is just like it's title, it's like eating a 4 course dinner in the finest steakhouse to realize your entire meal has been dosed with mescaline. It's THAT good. From the opening note of "Just Another River" to the very last drop of "Hang Your Head And Cry" Scott has staked his claim in the world of country, blues and rock and roll, and in all honesty has put bands like The Black Keys to shame. Sorry, "El Camino" was NO WHERE near "Bad Ingredients"
As for Hellbound Glory, well then right after I'd gotten comfortable with Scott's record, in comes "Damaged Goods". Like a Merle Haggard record for the apocalypse. This record is proof why Leroy Virgil will transcend the underground scene based on his writing alone. It wouldn't surprise me if this dude's songs were being covered by contemporary country artists in the years to come. The danger he exudes in his words and the inventiveness and smarts when it comes to writing traditional country music with a twist of the ugly modern world gives Mr. Virgil quite the leg up on most. Plus he's got just enough Hank Jr. to appeal to the fans of the photocopy-of-a-photocopy-of-a-photocopy of Hank Jr guys that are currently topping the charts. Either way, the band rules, the singer has a great voice and the songs are top shelf. I'd advise both of these albums as MUST-HAVE-STOCKING-STUFFERS.