It was another solid year for Black Rock, if not one of the best. What’s more encouraging was the balance between major label and independent releases. So in no particular order, here’s my picks:
Suspicious Package – Earl Greyhound: The long-awaited full length follow-up to Soft Targets displayed a new depth and maturity in terms of the songwriting, musicianship and styles. It doesn’t let up from start to finish and you don’t want it to end. The sessions from the album also spawned two additional releases. Ancient Futures is a three song EP containing more monster, yet slightly more experimental tracks from the Suspicious Package sessions. Live At The Calhoun School was cut at the prestigious arts school that captures the band unveiling tracks from Suspicious Package in a semi-stripped down form. To hear the songs so fresh and raw, yet undeniably powerful, blew me away. Why this New York City based power trio isn’t the biggest band in the world is a complete mystery to me.
Black Bottom – Tamar-Kali: Would the first full length release match the explosiveness of her live show? The answer was a resounding YES! It’s all there – power, rage, love, loss, political, and personal. TK is setting the new standard on Black female representation in rock n roll.
In A 1000 Years – The Family Stand: Peter Lord, V. Jeffrey Smith and Sandra St. Victor have been making one winner of an album for over 20 years now and this one is no different. Sandra’s vocal on ‘He Loves Me’ kills me every time. Peter Lord might just be the best songwriter working today. Another gem.
La Belle Epoque – California King: This was released in the last week of 2010, so I’m not sure if it’s the last great CD of 2010 or the first great album of 2011. Nevertheless, this Brooklyn-based power trio put together an extraordinary collection of songs. A band to look for 2011.
The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae: A stunning collection of sci-fi soul, funk and rock n roll. Believe the hype, she’s the real deal. I can’t wait to see when she finally does a headlining tout.
The Sea – Corinne Bailey Rae: A beautiful suite of songs that dealt with love, loss and renewal.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy – Dean Bowman: One of the best vocalists in the world gets back to his gospel roots and soars on this solo a capella CD. Think of this as the Black version of The Great American Songbook.
Nylon & Steel 1 – Kelsey Warren: Captain K took a break from Pillow Theory to deliver this awesome acoustic-based EP. I heard from good authority that Nylon & Steel 2 is going to be a bit darker in subject matter. Can’t wait for that and hopefully, a new Pillow Theory CD.
Rockjazz, Vol. 1 – Elew: The so-called purists screamed blasphemy, but the reality is that Elew follows the long running jazz tradition of taking the popular songs of the era and put a jazz spin on it. He plays ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ like he’s mad as somebody. Another one to watch out for 2011.
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook – Bettye LaVette: To call this just another covers CD would be an insult. Ms. LaVette revamps, decodes and wrings out of the emotion out in such a way that they become new songs. Like all great singers, when she sings your song, it’s not yours anymore. Her cover of ‘Wish You Were Here’ slays me. Her career ‘rediscovery’ nearly six decades after it started is a misnomer. It took us that long to catch up!
We Walk This Road – Robert Randolph & The Family Band: While it was their 4th official release, in a lot of ways, this is really their first album where they used the studio as another instrument. Hooking up with producer T-Bone Burnett, this CD both honors and expands on nearly a century of American roots music. They’re also one of America’s premier live bands.
For You/For Us/For All – SociaLybrium: Supergroups can be hit and miss. This funk-rock blowout featuring Bernie Worrell, Blackbyrd McKnight, Melvin Gibbs and J.T. Lewis hits it and hits it hard. Another band that has to be seen to be believed.
You Are Not Alone – Mavis Staples: Jeff Tweedy of Wilco produced another triumph by one of the greatest vocalists ever. If hope had a soundtrack this would be it.
Swansongs – Chocolate Genius, Inc: The good news that this album is the perfect bookend to a wonderful suite of songs that started with Black Music in 1998. The bad news is that Marc Anthony Thompson is retiring the Chocolate Genius moniker. This CD is a dignified and extraordinary exit.
The Boxer – Kele: With Bloc Party on hiatus, Kele temporarily re-located to New York to get his dance-pop groove on. The second half of this record is sublime.
Living Proof – Buddy Guy: The solo on ’74 Years Young’ proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that age ain’t nothing but a number
Airtight’s Revenge – Bilal: After nearly a decade of record company foolishness, a wiser, more focused Bilal picks up as if it never happened. He also had the best album cover of 2010.
Tales From A Revolving Door – Well thought out keyboard driven power pop/rock. Chris Harris fully understands the songs are a craft and not just hooks hammered home over and over again. He’s our most promising new songwriter.
Feed My Soul -The Holmes Brothers: Wendell Holmes’ recent bout with cancer inspired this song cycle about family, renewal, hope and love. This is American roots music at its finest.
Wake Up! – John Legend & The Roots: The best group in hip-hop teams up with one of R&B’s better singers to re-interpret socially-conscious (remember those?) from the 60’s and 70’s to great effect. An near-epic reading of Bill Withers ‘I Can’t Write Left-Handed’ alone is worth checking out this CD. The Roots also put out the best hip hop album of the year with How I Got Over.
Black Dub – Black Dub: A beautiful collision of dub, gospel, rock and pop. You couldn’t miss when you have Daniel Lanois on guitar, Daryl Johnston on bass, Brian Blade on drums and Trixie Whitley on vocals. ‘Surely’ is destined to be the next great standard. LOVE this band!
The Ladykiller – Cee-Lo: This is THE dude. This CD has everything and the kitchen sink without a shred of calculation or doubt. The best part is that the public has caught on and is going along for the ride. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Looking forward to hearing, ‘And the Grammy goes to…F**K You’! LOL
I know I forgot a ton of stuff so hit me up on what you thought I missed.
Happy New Year everyone!