Monday, December 28, 2009

Ten I Love

Steve Martin Rehearsals for The Hardly Strictly Business Bluegrass Festival

A funny thing happened on the way to my usual year end list of top albums: one of my employers—the one that usually asks me for a year end critic's pick list—didn't want it this year. Well, that's not completely true—they wanted it, but they wanted to merge it with dozens of other lists to form some sort of amalgamated "super list" that didn't reflect any one critic's personal choices.

My main problem with that is that this particular publication is short on country music fans. My list merged with a couple dozen others adds up to my picks being negated by the indie folk rock duo from Queens that sell 10 albums and the German dance/pop wunderkinds who sell 20.

No thanks.

So for what it's worth, here's the list of my favorite 10 albums of 2009 (in no particular order):

Miranda Lambert, "Revolution" (Columbia Nashville)
Like her first two albums. Miranda and producers Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke crafted a major label album with indie sensibilities. There's not a clunker among the 15 songs and "The House That Built Me" is a monster track.

Steve Martin, "The Crow: New Songs For The Five String Banjo" (Rounder)
What can't this guy do?

Rosanne Cash, "The List" (EMI Manhattan)
I've been a fan for 20+ years and I knew she could pull off an album of covers before I even heard it. That said, she blew me away.

George Strait, "Twang" (MCA Nashville)—King George continues to amaze. I won't pretend that I've heard every one of his albums, but this has to be one of his best, if only for his spot on (to my ears) Spanish only version of "El Rey."

Jack Ingram, "Big Dreams & High Hopes" (Big Machine)
From "Barbie Doll" to "Seeing Stars" and everything in between, this album is solid from start to finish.

Holly Williams, "Here With Me" (Mercury Nashville)
It's too bad there wasn't a breakout hit from this album so that the world could find out what a talent Hank Jr.'s daughter is. "Three Days In Bed" is naughty and nicely done.

Radney Foster & The Confessions, "Revival" (Emergent)
One of the men that helped me fall in love with country music is still blowing me away two decades later. There are so many standouts it's hard to pick one, but I'll choose the title cut.

Keith Urban, "Defying Gravity" (Capitol Nashville)
I love everything Keith does and this is no exception.

Sam Bush, "Circles Around Me" (Sugar Hill)
OK, I'll be honest... I wrote the bio for this album. That said, this is everything you could ask for in a modern bluegrass album. "The Ballad Of Stringbean and Estelle" made me pull my Jeep over to the side of the road.

Jason Aldean, "Wide Open" (Broken Bow)
Jason is a great example of how a career can be built. He just keeps getting better and so do his albums. I won't soon forget watching 10,000 people stay right where they were during his concert in a rainstorm.

Ricky Skaggs, "Solo: Songs My Dad Loved" (Skaggs Family)
An exceedingly cool tribute to Ricky's dad, who inspired his love for music. For a guy that is as prolific as he is when it comes to albums, Ricky never ceases to amaze me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Three To Get Ready

I have a new favorite young trio: the Band Perry, which is made up of siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry.

Their first single "Hip to My Heart," which they co-wrote with Brett Beavers, is currently on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

The trio owes its unique sound to its parents. "Most dads would be rocking their kids to sleep singing 'Rock-a-bye Baby,'" Kimberly recently told me for a Billboard story. "Our dad was singing us Rolling Stones songs, and our mom loves country. They definitely cross-pollinated our musical palette."

She describes the group's sound as "modern throwback. We love tons of old country, from (Johnny) Cash to Loretta Lynn to Hank (Williams), but we also love modern music. And we live up in Appalachia, so there's a little bit of bluegrass thrown in now and then."

Kimberly, the oldest of the trio, fronted her first high school band at age 15, employing Reid, then 10, and Neil, only 8, as her roadies. Eventually the brothers formed their own band, which opened for Kimberly's. Four years ago the siblings banded together. "We always knew at some point it would be a family band," Kimberly says.

The trio toured, playing "a little bit of everything -- festivals, churches and clubs," Kimberly says. "Anywhere there was a pair of ears that would sit and listen, our dad was really dogged about getting us the opportunities to play for them."

Raised near Mobile, Alabama, the siblings moved to East Tennessee seven years ago to be closer to, but not live in, Nashville. "Our initial inspiration and songs came from outside Nashville, so to keep one foot in and one foot out was always really important to us," Kimberly says.

The trio teamed with Garth Brooks' manager, Bob Doyle, in 2008 and a year later it signed with Republic Nashville. The group's debut album, which is being produced by Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum) and Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift), is due in 2010.

Speaking of Lady Antebellum, my love affair with that band is not over just because of my newfound discovery. Both acts reaffirm my faith in music done right.