Now that we've entered 2007, I thought it would be appropriate to take a minute (or an hour) to look back on 2006. Overall, 2006 produced tons of great music and lots of new stuff for me as I've slowly drifted from jam band music into alt-country and indie rock. As always, it's difficult to settle on just ten albums and after lots of late jockeying among the contestants, I reckon I've got a list I can accept. The result: this is the year of the female vocalist for me. Three of my top four are females with female backing vocals figuring prominently in two others on the list. Another trend is also apparent: I am a certified junkie for alt-country, sad bastard, whatever you want to call it, music!
1. The Hold Steady: Boys And Girls In America
I've listened to this album every day since its release in October and it's clearly my favorite album of the year. These guys do a lot of what interests me right now: drop crunchy guitar riffs and tell interesting stories with something more underneath the surface. These songs drip with nostalgia for me, reminding me of my own personal conflicts I fought while in high school with faith, playing by the rules, and knowing when to say fuck it. All told, I connected with this album more than any other in 2006 and that's why it's my favorite of the year.
Check it out --> Hot Soft Light
2. Cat Power: The Greatest
This is indeed the greatest of the incredible female artists doing their thing in 2006. Creating imagery plays big for me and with her sultry voice and the Memphis style her band explores throughout the record (heavy on the organ and horns), Cat Power takes me to that smokey bar or lounge where a sexy siren commands the room with her voice. In other words, she kicks ass!
Check it out --> Living Proof
3. Neko Case: The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
When I picked this album up in April, quite frankly, I considered it highly overrated from all the fluffing it was receiving. After a few token listens, I filed it away and didn't pay attention to it over the summer. I revisited it in the fall and fell in love. Looking back, I was initially disappointed by her desire to distance herself from the alt-country genre, but after giving it a fair chance, there's no denying the strength of these songs. The voice is still one of the best in the business too!
Check it out --> Hold On, Hold On
4. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat
I was late to the Jenny Lewis party but I am glad I got there because it's worth it. The Rilo Kiley singer and former child star ventured on her own for the first time in this debut album and hopefully it'll lead to many more records. Because I didn't spend as much time as I would've liked with the record, I'm putting it here. I can already tell from the political and personal undertones she's kicking around that this will be a record I return to often as we enter 2007. The not one but three talented female voices kicked my ass and explains why I rate this album so high! Rise Up With Fists is probably my favorite song of the year and its video, starring a Loretta Lynnish Jenny and Sarah Silverman, ain't too shabby either:
5. National Grain: National Grain
This is country music as it was originally conceived. These cats, hailing from the ATL, bring the goods with a shit ton of twang, plentiful pedal steel, and songs of heartache, lost loves, and of course, boozing it up. If you like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, or other country legends, you'll likely dig these guys. I want to see these dudes badly in 2007.
Check it out --> Pretty Women Won't Give Me The Time Of Day
6. Ox: American Lo Fi
These guys make Americana music -- in Canada. Increasingly, America Junior and the Canucks are creating the best Americana music and these guys are no exception. Hailing from Vancouver, Ox is led by singer/songwriter Mark Browning. In American Lo Fi, they turn out a great record with things to say about politics, life on the road, and society in general. It doesn't hurt that the guitar tones and pedal steel whine present in this record is what I'm loving so much right now.
Check it out --> Country Music Promoter
7. Centro-matic: Fort Recovery
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers hailed this record the best of 2006...back in 2005 when he received an advanced copy. Although I don't put it at the top, this album is stellar as Will Johnson and company prove they can do it all. These guys will get you stumbling with raucious rockers like Patience for the Ride and then knock you the fuck out with a slow contemplative number, such as Nothin' I Ever Seen, that pulls an emotional string. I've included a rocker below.
Check it out --> For New Starts
8. Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit
This is a guilty pleasure for me because this is pop music and I don't like pop music dammit. Doh! This is my first taste of B&S yet I can understand why they have a large following and extensive catalogue: they are masters of making catchy pop songs. Consider me hooked. Song for Sunshine was probably spun more than any other song during the summer.
9. Drive-By Truckers: Blessing And A Curse
I consider DBT my favorite band these days and although I think it's a big down from their last release, The Dirty South, this is still a great fucking record and better than most anything else released in 2006. Patterson and Cooley are on their game with songs like Aftermath USA, Space City, and World of Hurt but it's the absence of a noteworthy Jason Isbell contribution that lowers this album a bit. Nonetheless, the Truckers still write some of the best songs out today and their live act is top notch. After this album and seeing them multiple times, I still have no problem saying they're the best band out there today.
Check it out --> Gravity's Gone
10. Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Letting Go
This is the chill record that I throw on when I want to escape reality. The combination of Will Oldham's and Dawn McCarthy's vocals are simple yet stunningly beautiful. Combined with the instrumentation -- ranging from bluesy electric guitar licks to a strings section -- all the elements blend harminously to create a record I like to visit often.
Check it out --> Cursed Sleep
Other records that could be on the list tomorrow or next week (in no particular order):
Gob Iron: Death Songs For The Living
Glossary: How We Handle Our Midnights
TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
Built to Spill: You In Reverse
Richard Buckner: Meadow
Other great successes of 2006:
Champion: Little Miss Sunshine
Runner-up (in a photo finish): Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (damn, I love that title)
Best Chicago Cubs suck moment:
Champion: The St. Louis Cardinals winning their first World Series in 24 years!
Runner-up: The Cubs giving Jason Marquis and his 6.02 ERA a $21 million dollar contract. Laughable!
Best TV show:
Champion: The Office -- in a landslide.
Runner-up: Friday Night Lights -- in a bit of a surprise.
Best Oat Sodas:
Champion: Young's Double Chocolate Stout -- another landslide
Runner-up: Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
Overall, it was a great 2006 yet 2007 might beat it! As for resolutions, here's a few:
1. Explore more of Cincinnati's underrated local music scene
2. Find more stellar porters and stout beers
3. Watch the Chicago Cubs continue to suck
4. Save money for my summer trip to Italy
5. Discover more kick ass music!