Archive for the ‘best-of list’ Category

Best of 2014: Compilations and Reissues

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

So here we are. It’s the last day of 2014. And it’s also the final day of posts looking back at my personal Best of 2014 lists. Today I’ll run down my favorite reissue/compilation/archival releases.

As it happens, this is – as much as such a thing exists – my area of expertise: a significant proportion of the music I review each year is actually of the “it came out before but you probably missed it, so here it is again” type. So choosing four was exceedingly difficult. I should make special mention of the work done by four labels: The Numero Group, Real Gone Music, Rock Beat, and Omnivore Recordings. All have a near-fanatical dedication to unearthing fascinating music that previously hasn’t gotten the hearing (and/or presentation, and/or marketing push) it richly deserves. It’s no overstatement to say that their logos are effectively a trademark of quality: one can hardly go wrong picking up any of their releases.

That said, on this particular list, only one of their titles appears. And that’s a personal/sentimental favorite, for reasons that will become clear presently.

Oscar Peterson — Exclusively for my Friends
For me, this one’s all but inevitable to show up on the list. It’s Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist. It’s him and (usually) crack sidemen in the most intimate of setting, with an audience. It features renowned German attention to detail in its production values. It’s beautifully packaged. And…it’s vinyl. It’s also essential for any jazz fan.

Jethro Tull — A Passion Play: An Extended Performance
In addition to his work on solo albums and such, Steven Wilson has made a name for himself as the go-to guy when a 70s progressive rock group wants to revisit their catalog. His remix/remaster projects are the stuff of legend: check out his work for King Crimson and Caravan, for example. The four-disc set covering A Passion Play is magnificent, and might just cause you to reevaluate the album.

The Soul of Designer Records
The funny thing is, I don’t even particularity like gospel music. And make no mistake: The Soul of Designer Records is mostly just that. But from the liner notes to the brilliantly creative packaging to the music itself, this set is both an important historical document and a fine collection of music, whatever one’s spiritual bent. My prediction that the set would be nominated for a Grammy turned out to be wrong, but then I’m an unreliable predictor of such things: I would have thought Paul Revere and the Raiders would’ve gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by now. Speaking of which…

Brotherhood — The Complete Recordings
In 1967, the famed “power trio” of Drake Levin (guitar), Phil Volk (bass) and Michael Smith (drums) jumped ship from the massively popular Raiders. What happened next? They formed a group, added a keyboard player, and promptly sank into oblivion. They did cut three albums, but few knew about those, and fewer still ever heard them. I learned about Brotherhood in my early research writing about the Raiders. And working behind the scenes with Real Gone Music, I helped bring their three albums back to the world. My extensive history of the group is included in the 2CD set’s liner notes. The music isn’t exactly rock’s version of The Missing Link, but it’s solid stuff, and the group’s story is a compelling, often heartbreaking one.

Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve. Failing that, just have a safe one.

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Best of 2014: New Music, Part 2

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Yesterday I surveyed four of my favorite albums of new music from this year. There was modern psych/garage; raw Americana; punk; and classic guitar pop aka powerpop. Today I present the second half of my “top eight,” and – perhaps unsurprisingly – these four tread similar territory in musical genre-land.

American Professionals – We Make It Our Business
This group’s smart-alecky powerpop strikes me as a cross between the high-energy guitar-based rock of Cheap Trick and the large-canvas, theatrical lyricism of The Tubes circa Completion Backward Principle. Like the latter, We Make It Our Business is high-concept rock’n'roll, tightly played and arranged. In a perfect world, this music would shift millions of units. The tunes are great, and the lyrics stand up to close scrutiny (and they’ll often make you chuckle).

Gramercy Arms – The Seasons of Love
Whether one views Gramercy Arms as supergroup, side project or both, there’s no denying the strength of the songs. Fans of Ben Folds Five and Elton John are all but guaranteed to fall deeply in love with this album. Timeless pop that is informed by the song construction of such greats as Carole King and (of course) The Beatles, The Seasons of Love is long on melody and – once again on my Best of 2014 list – the lyrics are really, really strong.

The Movements – Like Elephants I and II
A dizzying, sometimes intentionally unfocused collection of songs, this paired set (I and II are ostensibly separate albums) reveals its charms gradually. But once you allow it time to burrow its way into your consciousness, for you it may (like me) stand proudly among such albums as The Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin, Radiohead‘s OK Computer and Olivia Tremor Control‘s Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle. The Like Elephants albums sound unlike any of those, but the Swedish group’s music seems to flow from a like-minded sensibility.

Sloan – Commonwealth
When I first listened to Commonwealth, everything about it – the sequencing, the overall sonic approach, the production values, the songs themselves – made me think of The Beatles‘ self-titled 1968 double LP (the so-called White Album). Future listens – and there have been many, I’m here to tell you – have only reinforced that initial impression. Sloan often sound to my ears like Belle and Sebastian, and their all-hands-on-deck songwriting presence reminds me of Teenage Fanclub circa Thirteen and Grand Prix. The individual songs are delightful when chosen at random, but this is – here’s an old-school quality for you – an album that is best enjoyed in one start-to-finish listen. It’s also my pick for the best album of new music released in 2014.

Tomorrow, I’ll present a list of my favorite reissue/compilation albums of 2014.

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Best of 2014: New Music, Part 1

Monday, December 29th, 2014

In my blog posts of last week, I surveyed some of my 2014 favorites: music-related books; DVDs; concerts; and interviews. For these last few days of the year, I’ll wrap up with a look at my favorite music of 2014, specifically new and reissued titles. Today, it’s four of my eight favorite albums of new music released in 2014.

Night Beats – Sonic Bloom
I make no apologies for the retro-mindedness that pervades my favorite new music. I’m one of those who believes that the mid-sixties gave popular music (rock in particular) its best material. And I daresay the members of Night Beats agree; everything about Sonic Bloom screams 1966. But that doesn’t mean one needs to be a garage-punk aficionado to dig them. When reaching for a modern corollary, I tend to think of Night Beats’ music as a more tuneful rethink of the sort of thing Black Angels (another favorite) create.

Jimbo Mathus – Dark Night of the Soul
I was never any sort of fan of Squirrel Nut Zippers, so I didn’t approach the solo music of Jimbo Mathus with anticipation of finding much I’d dig. But what I discovered – first on his blue vinyl EP, then onstage in and person at the 2013 Americana Fest, then on Dark Night of the Soul – was the work of a man who appreciated, understood and (most importantly) synthesized various American musical forms, creating something very much his own. Mathus’ wide-screen style suggests a more rock-minded version of The Band, with hints of Alex Chilton‘s wild devil-may-care abandon. You can hardly beat that.

The Last – Danger
Middle-aged guys playing thrashy punk? Yeah, that happens. This high-speed rock owes a debt to The Minutemen and the stop-on-a-dime pyrotechnics of Fugazi and Hüsker Dü. But piano in the mix? Didn’t see that coming. And combo organ, and vocal harmonies? Hey, that’s unexpected. Taken as a whole, their early Kinks-like presentation suggests a group that has assimilated all the best of what’s edgy and exciting about rock’n'roll. Like all the albums on this list, highly recommended.

The Paul & John – Inner Sunset
There’s always room in my collection for what I call “pop.” My definition differs from the widely understood one in that I focus more on guitar-based music with a classic songwriterly approach. And I can think of few better exemplars of the style than this duo featuring Paul Myers (also a fine author and clever Twitter user) and John Moremen (also a hotshot guitarist who’s worked with the Mystery Lawn stable of artists, Half Japanese and many others). If you like acts such as XTC and Marshall Crenshaw, you’ll swoon when you hear cuts like “Everything Comes Together.” Me, I get shivers. An outstanding LP start to finish.

Stay tuned for more of Musoscribe’s best new music of 2014.

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Best of 2014: Interviews

Friday, December 26th, 2014

As much as I enjoy discovering new music – both live and on physical recorded media – my favorite part of this Musoscribe gig is engaging interviews. I’ve been at it of many years, but every year find new and fascinating conversations with musicians whose work I admire. 2014 was no exception: every one of my interviews – whether in person, via phone or Skype – was a delight.

Below are my four favorite interviews of 2014, but I’d encourage interested readers to check out my full list of interviews, including 2014 conversations with Alex Maas of The Black Angels, gospel/bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch, Tahrah Cohen of The Machine, Yuck‘s Max Bloom, guitar legend Larry Coryell*, Keith Allison* (Paul Revere and the Raiders), writer Cary Ginell (biographer of Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann), Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of The Zombies*, Yogi Lang of German progressive rockers RPWL, Graham Parker*, Keith Emerson, Nick Montoya of The Volt Per Octaves, The Electric Prunes James Lowe, Chris Jones of 101 Runners, Mark “Flo” Volman of The Turtles, Dave Mason, Adrian Belew, Peppy Castro of The Blues Magoos, and Aaron “Woody” Wood.

Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues), Jamie Hoover, Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, Dwight Twilley, and many more.

Jason D. Williams
For many years, Williams downplayed his biological connection to Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, he’s still not crazy about discussing it. But speaking of crazy, his keyboard work can well be described using that word. A fun interview in which William lets loose with some memorable hyperbole.

The Posies
Before (and after) their work as members of a reconstituted Big Star, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer were and remain The Posies; Omnivore’s expanded reissue of their debut album gave me the opportunity to chat with the duo, long among my favorite musical acts who came about in the 1990s.

Todd Cochran
Cochran (billing himself as Bayeté) released one of the best – yet least-heard — progressive fusion records of the early 1970s. The fine archivist/curators at Omnivore reissued Worlds Around the Sun, and Todd Cochran sat down with me for a long and wide-ranging discussion about the album.

Small Faces
In conjunction with the reissue of some of their best work, plus a career-spanning set of gems and rarities, I spoke with surviving Small Faces members Kenney Jones (drums, and later of The Who) and Ian McLagan (the latter passed away last week). Both were a funny and candid.

Stay tuned for more Best-ofs.

* other faves!

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Best of 2014: Concerts

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

One of the many pleasures associated with living in the small mountain city of Asheville NC is access to great live music. I grew up in the 70s and 80s in Atlanta, where going to a concert often meant traveling to a sports arena, and watching the tiny performers from the nosebleed seats (where you’d get a “contact high” from the pot smoke).

Here in Asheville, I go to shows that have anywhere from a few dozen to just over a thousand people in the audience, and the bands are up close and personal (especially when I have a photo pass). Because my town is such a go-to destination for touring acts, I get the pleasure of seeing high profile performances in small venues. That just wouldn’t happen in other cities.

I go to a lot of shows here in town. That said, I travel to regional festivals fairly often as well. Looking back on 2014 – an especially eventful year for me all ’round – three of my four favorite concert events were festivals.

Big Ears
Designed as a relatively small-scale festival with a decided emphasis on the edgy, this Knoxville TN festival presented a long list of fascinating acts, few of whom do the festival circuit as a rule. The scale of the event meant that it felt almost like a series of house concerts. Highlights included Marc Ribot, David Greenberger, Steve Reich, Television, Dean Wareham, Rachel Grimes, and Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood.

Moogfest
This one’s a sentimental favorite: it takes place in my hometown; it honors the late, great Robert A. Moog (a man whom I was lucky enough to meet a number of times), and it features some great music. Without a doubt the highlight of 2014′s Moogfest for me was meeting and interviewing Keith Emerson, but the three-day event (all within walking distance of my home) was packed with memorable experiences.

Musical Box
For me, Genesis lost their magic not long after the departures of Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett. This Canadian tribute group recreates said magic in a most authentic fashion, both visually and aurally. It’s a total experience, and from the packed house at The Orange Peel that night, I’d say that classic 70s progressive rock still has a significant following.

Transfigurations
In celebration of ten years of success, Asheville’s Harvest Records staged a festival that leaned toward the delightfully eclectic. For me the highlights were Quilt (modern psych), The Clean (Antipodean janglepop), Reigning Sound (garage rock), and Lee Fields & the Expressions (soul). Transfigurations featured all of the best things about a festival, and none of the negatives.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make note of the Zombies show here in Asheville as well. Four decades on, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone (and their bandmates) have still got it.

More 2014 best-ofs to come.

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Best of 2014: Books

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Musoscribe isn’t strictly a music features, interviews and reviews blogzine; because I am constantly reading at least one book – and because as often as not, it’s a music-related book – I review several books each year. 2014 has been no exception (and there are three more on my desk right now for future review). These four are my favorite new music-related books of this year.

Who Killed Mister Moonlight? by David J. (Haskins)
The story of goth-rockers Bauhaus could have no better chronicler than the witty and deeply thoughtful David J. The bassist for that band (and then Love and Rockets, and then a reanimated Bauhaus) tells that story, but in some ways it’s merely the backdrop for Haskins’ larger story. Readers will come away with a better understanding of what Bauhaus was all about, and – perhaps more importantly – an appreciation for the role each member played in bringing it all together. Haskins’ unnerving forays into the occult make uncomfortable reading, but you’ll likely not be able to put the book down until you’re finished.

One Way Out by Alan Paul
There are many ways to tell a tale. Alan Paul‘s approach is perhaps not unique, but it is certainly well-suited to his subject matter. When one is dealing with a story as sprawling as that of The Allman Brothers Band, it’s inevitable that there will be at least as many perspectives as there are characters in the story. It’s a mark of Paul’s skill that he weaves those disparate (and sometimes polar opposite) perspectives together into a cohesive narrative. One Way Out might not make all camps happy (Gregg Allman wrote his own book, for example) but the author seems not to have an ax to grind; he stays out of the way and lets the key figures tell the story.

Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques by Barry Cleveland
Barry Cleveland is an innovative musician in his own right; coupling that background with his well-established writing/editing skills, his knack for research, and his insatiable curiosity, this book explores the work of Joe Meek. Pointedly not focusing on Meek’s personal problems and the more sensational and lurid aspects of his story, Cleveland instead points the reader in the direction of Meek’s undeniably forward-thinking work in the recording studio. That Meek succeeded at all seems against all odds, but the author helps the reader understand not only why he did, but how. A fascinating read.

The Evolution of Mann by Cary Ginell
Part of author Cary Ginell‘s literary mission in life seem to be to rehabilitate certain jazz figures, ones who – for one reason or another – fall more into the “popular” category. As such, his biography of flautist Herbie Mann is right in line wit those goals. Mann is often thought of as a genre-jumping opportunist, but as Ginell illustrates, Mann was an early exponent of what we now know as world music. And he was no dilettante: his forays into other genres were fueled by genuine interest. An excellent guide into the flautist’s work and deep catalog.

More best-ofs coming tomorrow.

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Best of 2014: Videos

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

With 1/1/15 mere days away, it’s time for Musoscribe’s annual best-of lists. These are – of course — wholly subjective, and reflect my tastes and interests. I viewed quite a few music-related DVDs this year, and while quite a few were excellent (and none truly awful), four stood out. As it happens, all four concern music of the past, but remain sturdily tooted in the present.

Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick Live in Iceland
I’ve written a fair amount about Anderson and Jethro Tull on this blog, and have interacted with the man in two (#1 and #2) wide-ranging interviews. This DVD documents a night on his celebrated and successful 2012 tour. I’ve written about Anderson’s strengths and limitations; this tour (and by extension, this DVD/Blu-Ray) makes the best of the former and deal creatively with the latter. Recommended. (Watch for my review of the four-disc WarChild set, coming soon.)

Money for Nothing
This fast-past documentary is tailor-made for the ADD generation: thought it’s packed with images, ideas and information, nothing stays on the screen for more than a few seconds. As such, it suits its subject matter: the rise and fall of the music video as an artistic and commercial medium – exceedingly well.

I Dream of Wires
Speaking or rise and fall, this documentary – presented in a “hardcore edition” that appends the original film with hours of fascinating bonus material – charts the history of the analog modular synthesizer. The film had a premier at a recent Moogfest here in my hometown of Asheville; it received a warm welcome. If you’re at all interested in the electronic side of music where technology and creativity meet, you’ll enjoy this. Note that because of the breadth and depth of its subject, the DVD is best digested in small portions.

The Doors – R-Evolution
These Los Angeles-based legends might not be the first 60s rock act one thinks of when considering intelligent use of the visual medium, but since both Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek had backgrounds in film, it makes sense. A passel of rare video clips show the group wriggling free of convention and creating enduring audiovisual works of their own. The quality of the clips here is nothing short of amazing.

Stay tuned for best-of lists covering 2014′s music-related books; concerts; archival and compilation releases; and new music.

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Five Years of Best-of Lists

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Way back when, I used to subscribe to Rolling Stone. I remember when The Who released their album It’s Hard; the magazine fawned all over it, giving the disc five stars. I’m a Who fanatic, but I’m here to tell you: It’s Hard was not a five-star effort.

I thought about that recently, as I was compiling my best-of-year lists for this blogzine (Those lists of reissues, new albums, music-related books and DVDs will run next week). In the immediacy of discovering music, sometimes we (and by we I of course mean I) am prone to a wee bit of hyperbole. One tries to guard against it, but sometimes the excitement causes excessive praise of the sort that time eventually proves  unwarranted.

And with that reality in mind, I decided to take a look back. I’ve been running this blog for five and a half years now, and I’ve put together end-of-year lists for each of the previous five years. And so I wondered: how would those choices hold up? Today – some two, three, four and five years on – did I still think those albums held up? Did the stand the test of time for me? Do I still listen to them?

For the most part, yes. I’ve published more than 1450 reviews, interviews and essays in this space, and most of what I initially loved, I still enjoy immensely. Here are some of my favorites:

2009

The Twilight Hours – Stereo Night. A couple of the guys from Trip Shakespeare made an unassuming yet wonderful (if little-known) album that is sure to please fans of their old band (as well as closely-related Semisonic). I’ll be interviewing one of them very soon in connection with some Trip Shakespeare reissues from Omnivore Recordings. This disc is well worth seeking out.

Pugwash – Giddy. Another stellar band that doesn’t get their due, Thomas Walsh‘s group from Ireland makes timeless pop. Omnivore (them again!) recently released a compilation in hopes of breaking the band Stateside; I’ll have a feature/interview on them soon. This 2009 album was Andy (XTC) Partridge‘s Ape label’s attempt to get the band some well-deserved notice.

2010

The Orange Peels – 2020. This album from the flagship group on Allen Clapp‘s Mystery Lawn Music remains a favorite. I like everything they’ve done before and since, but 2020 is, for me, the finest effort to date from this pop group.

Nick Curran – Reform School Girl. This one makes me sad: not long after its release, Curran was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away in 2012, far too young at 35. Reform School Girl is a barbed-wire mix of influences from Jerry Lee Lewis to The Sonics to The Shangri-Las to The Misfits. Easily one of the rockingest albums in my entire (vast) music collection. A stone classic.

Spock’s Beard – X. For me, this album is the high-water mark of the California progressive outfit’s career. With their original lead vocalist gone, they pressed their drummer into service as lead singer, and he fit the role perfectly (If that reminds you of the Genesis story, well, there you go). He’s since moved on, and while the band continues, they’ve not quite hit the heights of X since.

2011

DC Fontana – La Contessa. This group combines a sort of British take on soul jazz with a rock sensibility, reminding me a lot of Brian Auger’s Trinity with Julie Driscoll. The vocalist with the Driscoll-esque pipes and demeanor has since parted ways with the band (is this a recurring theme in today’s roundup of albums?) but some fantastic, high- energy, sexy music remains.

Dennis Coffey – Dennis Coffey. After giving birth to some of the funkiest guitar work on record in the 70s (check “Scorpio”), Coffey faded from prominence. He remained busy behind the scenes, and came roaring back with this album, one on which a bunch of guests actually make the record even better. Nothing new on record from him since, but then this would be nigh on impossible to top.

The Penguin Party – Sex Furniture Warehouse. Droll English humor applied to the concept of life as a middle aged man: that’s a winning formula in the hands of this outfit. On a par with the best work of Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and even Ray Davies.

2012

The Poster Boy – Melody. From Budapest, Hungary (no, really) comes a debut that is both reminiscent of and a near-equal in quality to the debut album from Crowded House. They have since altered their musical approach a bit, but this disc is pure pop of the highest order.

The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel. Uncannily like The Beach Boys at their peak, with shades of early 70s AM pop deftly mixed in. At the time of this release, the group was based in Charleston SC, and included several members. Leader Jason Brewer disbanded the group and relocated to Nashville. He eventually reactivated the group in a smaller configuration, and the long-delayed followup to Grand Hotel will (reportedly) see release in 2015. When it does, I’ll let you know; I stay in touch with Brewer because I know he’ll create something worth hearing.

The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky. After years of inactivity (though its members stayed busy), The dB’s roared back with what – for me – is the finest album of their career. Falling Off the Sky is adult pop, and I mean that in the very best sense of the word. Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey are some of the finest lyricists working in music today.

2013

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). The third solo album from the staggeringly active Wilson, this album reveals new charms on each successive listen. Here Wilson pays homage to his 70s progressive rock heroes, but he does so by crafting wholly original music. His follow-up is due in early 2015.

E. Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates. Is it post-rock? Is it avant-jazz? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you it’s fascinating. I’ve since gotten to know the guitarist in the group (as it happens, they’re based in Asheville) and I’ve even got the the chance to play music with him (but not this kind!). Worth seeking out for the adventurous.

Yuck – Glow and Behold. Janglepop meets shoegaze, and the results are excellent. They’re pretty ace live onstage, too, though some of the nuance of the studio is inevitably lost.

Duane Allman – Skydog. This one is staggering in its scope: six discs documenting the all-too-brief musical career of the legendary guitarist. Lots of goodies are buried within this set, including one track by a virtually unknown singer/songwriter named Bobby Lance. More on Lance in 2015.

Watch for my Best of 2014 lists, coming to this space presently.

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Best of 2013: New Music

Friday, December 27th, 2013

So far this week, I’ve taken looks at my favorite album reissue/compilations; my favorite music-related DVDs; the best concerts of 2013; and three interview subjects who passed away this year. Today I wrap up the retrospective with a rundown of my five favorite new albums for 2013. Click on the titles for a full review (except as noted).

The Bye Bye Blackbirds – We Need the Rain
To label their music intelligent powerpop sells them short; there’s a lot more depth and nuance to the band as displayed on this album, available on vinyl (always a plus in my book).

E.Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates
Easily the most challenging music on this list, it’s also among the most compelling. Avant jazz rooted in tunefulness, and – lucky me – they’re local, so I get an occasional chance to see them live onstage when they’re in town.

Jim Ruiz Set – Mount Curve Avenue
Not to take anything away from the uniformly excellent and delightful pop offerings from Bay area label Mystery Lawn Music, but this album – though a musical departure for MLM – is a real treat. Jazz-pop that smooth, catchy, quirky and clever. And fun.

Yuck – Glow & Behold
This one escaped my notice until mere days ago. When I heard it, Glow & Behold immediately jumped ahead of several other albums to make this my list. Nominally classified as shoegaze, but I don’t hear that so much. With a sound that variously recalls Aztec Camera, Teenage Fanclub and The Chills, it’s a winner. Not a weak track on the disc, but “How Does it Feel” is transcendent jangle-pop of the highest order. Look for a feature/interview with the band here on Musoscribe in February 2014.

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
Oddly enough, the hands-down best album of 2013 for me was something I didn’t even get around to reviewing. (Though I’ve covered and interviewed Steven Wilson many times in the past). For anyone who thinks King Crimson, Genesis and their ilk were (at their peaks) among the best music had to offer, I’m here to tell you that the music on this album is every bit as good. And modern, somehow.

Honorable Mentions:

Secret Friend – Time Machine
Somehow – I guess owing to the large volume of worthy music that passes over my desk – this delightful album only managed a “capsule review.” But it’s catchy pop of the highest order, and deserves more prominent coverage. I did what I could; do what you can, and listen to it.

Black Sabbath – 13
Yeah, it’s not the world’s most original idea to list this one. But as a fan of the first four albums (and a decided non-fan of the post-Ozzy Osbourne-era material), I have to say that producer Rick Rubin really got a great performance out of the three band members he engaged. The tracks have the sound, the doomy/haunted feel of the band’s music of the early 70s, and somehow it’s no nostalgia trip. 13 stands up to their best. And while it would have been nice had they been able to secure Bill Ward‘s participation, Brad Wilk does a yeoman job. I didn’t review this album in depth, either. What I did do was buy it on vinyl.

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Best of 2013: Concerts

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

I had the pleasure of attending more live music shows this year than I could count. A lot. Really. These were my favorites. Click on the titles for a full review/feature.

Cody ChesnuTT
Owing to my schedule, I passed the interview duties for this one on to my daughter, an able writer/journalist in her own right. Luckily when the concert date came ’round, I was able to attend. Though the crowd was small, ChesnuTT made a musical and emotional connection with every single person in the room. I am not exaggerating. It was that good.

Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires
Bradley has his own story to tell, and though there’s a documentary on him (I haven’t seen it yet), he gets his point across through his music. The man gives it all every night, and his band provides support of the ablest kind. A must-see, even if you (think you) don’t dig his old-school musical style.

Shuggie Otis
One of those characters about whom many would ask, “Is he still alive?” the mercurial Otis is not only alive, but well. And onstage, it’s as if he never left. Other reports suggest he’s an erratic performer, with on- and off-nights. No question, though: he was ON the night I saw him.

Elephant Stone
Third-billed on a night that also included sets from The Black Angels and The Allah-Las, this modern jangle-psych served up a set that made the old sound new again. Expect more from this lot.

Mondo Zombie Boogaloo
This three-band extravaganza included sets from The Fleshtones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Los Straitjackets. Even if I hadn’t had the twin pleasures of (a) giving Fleshtones singer/organist Peter Zaremba a pre-show ride to the nearby ABC store and (b) being invited onstage to play his Farfisa on one song, this would have still been a musical highlight of the year for me.

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