David Brown’s Top 10 Picks for 2011
Friday 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., 11 p.m.-12 a.m.
I prefer countdowns.
10. Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions
Harley riders have a saying: “if I had to explain it, you wouldn’t understand”. Same goes for Dale Watson. Birmingham-born, Bakersfield-influenced but Texas-proud, Watson comes off to some as a musical anachronism—fiercely loyal to a country-rock sound long abandoned by his contemporaries. The Sun Sessions, however, is a revelation—spontaneous combustion captured on a disc that both pays tribute to Watson’s biggest influences while expanding his appeal to a new generation of listeners. If you didn’t ‘get it’ before, you’ll get it now. (For the record: Dale rides an Indian, not a Harley.)
9. Scott H. Biram – Bad Ingredients
The dirty ol’ one-man band taps into an inner John Lee Hooker with his strongest and most gut-wrenching collection of songs to date. Rootsy, foot-stompin’ truck-drivin’ anthems that could only sound cooler if it came on an 8-Track cartridge. Unpolished, original and utterly compelling.
8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
On this album, Dallas native Annie Clark strikes a near perfect balance between her earnest Bjorkishness and a more robust pop sensibility. Just check out the song ‘Surgeon’ for a sense of where St. Vincent is headed. At once challenging and more accessible than ever, Strange Mercy is likely to wind up on many ‘best-of’ lists this year.
7. Golden Bear – Alive
Once described by music writer Michael Toland as a “psychedelic Cheap Trick”, Golden Bear’s latest is a massive leap forward for the Austin four piece. Though the band is moving much more into prog-rock territory, Golden Bear’s power pop sensibilities render ‘Alive’ both satisfyingly ambitious and instantly assessable.
6. Girl in a Coma – Exits and All The Rest
Not since the Sir Douglas Quintet in ’65 has there been this much reason to get excited about a rock band from San Antonio. It’s taken Girl in A Coma a decade of road-pounding to transcend the ‘riot grrl’ clichés imposed by reviewers, but with Exits and All the Rest, produced by Mike McCarthy (Spoon), the band shows off a new confidence and range. Alas, that same stylistic inconsistency keeps this from being ‘one for the ages,’ but this is no doubt their breakout –and one of the year’s best.
5. Gary Clark Jr. – Bright Lights EP
That five-star hype about the “21st century bluesman” you read in Rolling Stone? Balderdash. This here record owes more to ZZ Top than Z.Z. Hill, and is above all else a testament to Clark’s astonishing production work and prodigious guitar skills. Released as a teaser for a forthcoming album, this is at its core ‘classic rock’ reimagined for a younger generation. Though Clark may be no Hendrix (yet), make no mistake: he has a clear, wide-open shot at the big time now. 4 songs, no filler. First-rate.
4. Blind Pets – Sweet Tooth
With more melody and intensity than the Strange Boys (but far less media hysteria), Blind Pets is a roaring, rock and roll revelation. The trio comes across as primal yet pleasantly guileless. Citing such unlikely influences as Bobby McFerrin and Pearl Jam, the Blind Pets often sound like The Queens of the Stone Age covering the Ramones: fuzzed out and relentless… albeit without a hint of fake aggro’tude. Clearly baked in Austin—and sounding all the better for it.
3. Neon Indian – Era Extraña
Alan Palomo’s second album under the Neon Indian handle marks a giant step toward the big time. After first winning critics over with his jagged and challenging electronic soundscapes, Palomo’s now moving toward moody straight-ahead song craft in the general direction of OMD. The album’s first single, “Polish Girl”, is both instantly hummable and haunting: chill wave polished for prime time.
2. This One’s for Him – a Tribute to Guy Clark
Where many tribute albums fall flat, this one triumphs thanks to genuinely memorable and loving interpretations (like Rodney Crowell’s heartbreaking version of “That Old Time Feeling) performed as if auditioning for that most scrupulous judge, Clark himself. Featuring a who’s who of Texas talent (Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Jeff, etc.), this album succeeds by showcasing the often underappreciated breadth of Clark’s repertoire and is likely to leave even longtime fans shaking their heads in amazement at Clark’s legacy—so far.
1. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
Not just a collection of songs strung together, but a hypnotic epic you can get utterly lost in. You could imagine this ‘the missing soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.’ Or, perhaps: ‘the one album to take with you if you absolutely, positively must make it to ‘Space Station V’ by midnight.’ Admittedly, this is not a general admission trip. But if you’ve been missing that feeling of being taken for a wild ride while sitting cross-legged on the bed with your eyes closed and your hands on your headphones– the wait is over. Thank you, Trail of Dead.