Mix 2008

cimg1572Every year at this time, I make a mix disc for family and friends of the best music released over the past 12 months.  This year I’m sharing it with Local Rhythms readers.

Usually it’s a top ten, but there was so much good stuff in 2008, it’s been expanded to 15.

More proof that while the business is hurting, music is fine.

Here’s another thing worth pondering.  Despite all the talk about the death of the long-playing record, the majority of these songs were picked from well-rounded albums.

So, without further ado, my 2008 mix:

Delivered, Mark Erelli – The title song from my favorite album of 2008.  Mark Erelli changed up everything from his studio band to the record-making process itself, enlisting his fans for a “barn raising” to fund the project.  Then he made amazing music about impermeable things – family, commitment and faith in the future. “Love will remain,” sings Mark, “this you cannot change.”

River Grace, Jenee Halstead – This eastern Washington transplant was my discovery of the year. Jenee (pronounced like “Renee”) has a honey-throated voice and the storytelling ability of a soul well beyond her years.  Don’t miss her upcoming appearance at Boccelli’s. This, the title cut from her debut album, is a gem among many.

The Only Wicked Thing, Greg Copeland – Catching up with the performer, who made one record in 1982 and disappeared, was one of the joys of my year.  This song imagines Hank Williams’ last night on earth.  The album it comes from, “Diana and James,” is earthy and brilliant.

Babylon Is Falling, Pariah Beat – I’ve been scratching my head since first hearing this Upper Valley collective, trying to find a way to describe their music.  How about – Klezmericana?

Where Were You, Jackson Browne – This song is an historical document of the failure to respond in the wake of devastation, rendered with Browne’s trademark quiet rage.

Fan The Fury, Aloud – This Boston band rages, but there’s nothing quiet about them. This pointed song put to rest any questions about 2008 being an election year.

Since The Day, Stonewall – I’ve been listening to rough mixes of these songs for a long time, so it was gratifying to greet the release of my favorite power trio’s debut album, “What If?”

That’s The Way It Goes, Open Case/Breadtruck Productions – A great song full of infectious hooks that I can’t get out of my head.  This hip-hop outfit and I had a lively discussion about the genre, and I wound up being impressed by their “Rap the Vote” live show.

Strawberry Street, Lili Haydn – It was hard to pick a top song from this wonderful fusion of pop, rock and jazz.  The title cut, “Place Between Places,” is hypnotic while her re-make of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” shows why Lili’s called the Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin.

One Bite Won’t Kill You, Dr. Burma – Without a doubt, my favorite guilty pleasure is 70’s horn bands.  It doesn’t matter how obscure, I love ‘em all (does anybody remember Lighthouse?).  Dr. Burma brings it all back with their first studio album, and the title cut is the best of the lot.

Last Radio, Oneside – Banjo fury fuels this danceable ode to a dying art form.  This is one of many great tracks from this Boston-based band’s most recent collection.

Hallelujah, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – One of the few “singles” on my list, only because I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the album it came from.  This celebration of the music life arrived as part of a Paste magazine sampler.

The Longer I Run, Peter Bradley Adams – A lovely balance of longing and regret, I’ve been humming this song like a prayer of late.

America (Enough), Meg Hutchinson – Too much of something tends to become its opposite – “if there’s crowd enough, it turns back to solitude.”  Hutchinson is Thoreau with a guitar, possessing a knack for finding meaning many strange and beautiful places.

Yes We Can, will.i.am et.al. – A speech set to music that in many ways reflected the mood of the country during this turbulent year – recorded in New Hampshire, no less.

Local Rhythms – Greening the New Year

new_years_toastIt’s time again for New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve decided to make 2009 my year of being green.

I’m newly militant about separating trash and not buying anything that comes in a wax-coated carton.

No more bottled water, when a reusable carafe and a Brita filter does the trick and doesn’t add to landfills.

And when it comes to music, the smaller the carbon footprint, the bigger the chance I’ll hear it.

To put a finer point on it, the compact disc must die.

Two examples, one right, the other very wrong, illustrate my point.

Earlier this month a Boston band called the Macrotones emailed to offer me their latest album, “Wayne Manor.”

The all-instrumental record is full of lively jazz excursions infused with a Latin backbeat.  The unique sound recalls a funky version of Sun Ra’s Arkestra (there are 10 musicians credited, and they all seem to be working on every track), as well as Frank Zappa in his “Grand Wazoo” days.

The Macrotones also remind me of newer groups like Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and the album’s best track, “Book It,” pulls all the elements together, featuring sizzling trombone work from Nate Leskovic, with hypnotic percussion and twin saxophones making a tasty musical stew.

Notice how I haven’t referred to “Wayne Manor” as a CD?

The band’s email pointed me to a web site where the album and all the artwork could be found.  You’d think this would be an everyday occurrence, but strangely it was the first time a band offered to provide a review copy in this way.

Compare this to the new Lindsey Buckingham record, which I loved by the way.  “Gift Of Screws” first arrived via express mail, an advance copy registered in my name, replete with threatening language about the consequences if I shared it.

Which was beside the point, as the disc was so gummed up with DRM that only one player (thankfully, in my car) didn’t spit it out when I tried to play it.

Later a brown truck delivered yet another disk, containing artwork and credits.

That’s a lot of gas, cardboard and plastic for something I could have had in seconds via a much more environmentally friendly means of transport.

It’s wasteful and stupid, so in 2009, I’m giving priority to the Macrotones of the world.

Don’t tax the planet – It sure as heck doesn’t improve the music.

By the way, local music requires less gas:

Thursday: Guy Davis, Plainfield Grange – He’s said that growing up the only cotton he picked was his underwear off the floor, and recently Guy Davis told a journalist that the first time he heard the blues was in college, played by lily-white Vermont boys.  Still, Davis embodies the blues, channeling masters like Howlin’ Wolf and Blind Willie McTell, though he possesses his own unique style.  This intimate local performance should be a treat.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Salt hill – A Pete show in January kind of boggles the mind, but think of it this way: it will be summer all over again, The good-natured purveyor of “life, love and laughter – one song at a time” got his start playing in the Shanty, a pub run by Josh Tuohy’s mom and dad in Sunapee.  Now Josh has his own tavern, so this show is a homecoming of sorts.

Saturday: Erica Wheeler, Boccelli’s – The first of several upcoming shows features a fine singer-songwriter whose music evokes a sense of place.  One critic likened her last record, “Good Summer Rain,” to “flipping through a photo album of an Ansel Adams road trip.” Next month, Boccelli’s welcomes Mark Erelli, who made my favorite album of 2008 (Feb 6) and a great Chris O’Brien/Jenee Halstead double bill on February 28.  BOCS is a happening place.

Sunday: Wu-Tang Clan, Higher Ground – WTC is less a band than a conglomerate with a musical division. These so-called hardcore rappers also dabble in film, television and fashion.  In addition, they’ve launched a lot of other hip-hop careers, which why explain why it took them six years to make their 2007 album “8 Diagrams.”  The original collective, with the exception of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died in 2004, is still performing, though Method Man won’t be at this show.

Tuesday: Billy Rosen & Emily Lanier, Tip Top Café – There’s still jazz in White River Junction, Tonight, two of my favorites perform. Guitarist Rosen has an ever so soft touch.  After a long run with New Kind of Blue, vocalist Lanier can be heard in several different configurations, most prominently with the Emily Lanier Jazz Ensemble. With dishes like pork & ginger meatloaf with red wine demiglace, the Tip-Top’s menu is as inventive as the music.