2010: Surprise!

by Jason Warburg

Two thousand and ten is the year I didn’t see coming.  In the musical realm, the year seemed to this listener to cruise along uneventfully until around Labor Day, when I was starting to wonder what I’d even have to talk about in this column.  And then... TomPettyJimmyEatWorldChrissieHyndeBigBigTrainArmsOfKismetMarkMcKay and all of a sudden I had so much music I wanted to talk about that I had to make up a slew of new ridiculous award names.  Hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did, in the end…


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Sometimes The Movie Actually *Is* Better Than The Book Award

OK Go – Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky

OK Go’s Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky is 52 minutes of Prince-inspired madness, a blue-eyed funk-pop fever dream.  The music is by turns pure jubilation and utterly inscrutable.  But those videos… those videos were simply brilliant, again.

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Most Exciting News That Didn't Produce An Album Yet Award

After a decade of working apart, old friends and Jayhawks co-founders Mark Olson and Gary Louris started working together once again in 2007, producing an album as a duo, and reconvening the ‘Hawks for a couple of European dates.  That was only the precursor to 2009-2010, though, which saw in succession the release of the group’s first anthology, a brief run of deliriously well-received reunion shows in their hometown of Minneapolis, the promise of reissues of several classic albums in 2011, and… yes… a full-on reunion with fresh recording and a 2011 tour in the works.  Woo-hoo!
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Dream Come True Award

Carole King & James Taylor – Live At The Troubadour

The ultimate in baby boomer musical comfort food, this album finds two of the early 70s’ most familiar and engaging singer-songwriters harmonizing and embellishing one another’s amazing songs in a way that is both endearing and spectacular.  Three chords and two voices never sounded so good (and the accompanying tour was as good, if not better).

 

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Heartbreak As Creative Fuel Award

JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys – Fidelity!

A difficult album by an unexpected duo finds Chrissie Hynde both heartbroken and creatively re-energized.  If you didn’t think a mid-tempo love song duet could possibly hit like a sledgehammer… well, give this a listen.

 

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Dude Has Not Lost A Step (And Apparently Never Will) Award

Jeff Beck may qualify for the senior discount wherever he travels these days, but that didn’t stop him from putting out one of the highlights of the year in the suitably stirring Emotion And Commotion.  Whether he’s reinterpreting Jeff Buckley and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,  or reimagining “Over The Rainbow” with his guitar literally “singing” Judy Garland’s original vocal notes, this album demonstrates yet again that Beck is one of the musical geniuses of our age.

 

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Where Did THAT Come From? Award

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Mojo

Twenty years after he issued the last great album in a 35-year career, Tom Petty reconvened the Heartbreakers for a run at the blues, and produced one of the best albums of the year, and certainly the best thing he’s done in decades.

 

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We’re Baaaa-aaack Award

Jimmy Eat World – Invented

Bleed American
was amazing.  Futures was richer and deeper.  Chase This Light was a too-slick disappointment. And now the boys from Tempe are back to doing what they do best -- delivering emotional power-pop that manages to be both anthemic and poetic at the same time. Just a really, really, really good album.

 

Indies of the Year

Once again a slew of independent records ruled my year from top to bottom.  The new economic model may have made it tougher for these folks to actually earn a living as musicians, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting out some amazing music that you really owe it to yourself to check out.  This stuff is all so good that I couldn’t possibly rank it… everybody gets an award this time.

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Indie Americana Album of the Year

Mark McKay – Dakota Dust

Surrealistic cowboy poetry at its finest, as McKay spins dark and curious tales that move and provoke at the same time.


Runner-Up:  Memphis 59 – Ragged But Right

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Indie Power Pop Album Of The Year
Paul Collins – King Of Power Pop
As Reggie Jackson famously declared, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."  Paul Collins can do it, and did.


Runner-Up: Adrian & The Sickness – B.F.D.
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Indie Progressive Jazz Fusion Album of the Year

Jerry Jennings - Shortcut To The Center
Granted, this was the *only* progressive jazz fusion album I reviewed this year, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t spectacular -- it was.  Fusion in the most literal sense, Shortcut To The Center finds and occupies the nexus between rock, jazz, blues and pop, spinning out one absorbing instrumental after another.  Simply one of the best composed, played, produced and imagined records I heard this year.
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Independent Record of the Year

Big Big Train - Far Skies Deep Time (EP)
At 41 minutes this “EP” is about as extended as that label can possibly handle, but that’s hardly the point.  The point is that Big Big Train is simply the best progressive rock band working today, and if you are missing the fantastic material they have been pouring out for the past three years, you are missing out indeed.  Drawing the most engaging threads from classic Genesis, classic Yes, and classic Pink Floyd and weaving them into something fresh and distinctly British, BBT has come fully into its own over the course of its past three releases, adding almost-Genesis vocalist/lyricist/flautist David Longdon to the core of Greg Spawton (guitars, keys, composition) and Mike Poole (bass, production), with Nick D’Virgilio (drums / Spock’s Beard) and David Gregory (guitars / XTC) serving as “permanent guests” in the strongest lineup fielded by any prog outfit in at least 30 years.
 
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Independent Album Of The Year
Arms Of Kismet - Play For Affection
Of all the albums I expected to enjoy and ended up loving in this remarkable year, this is the one that simply captured me. Playful, literate, melodic, idiosyncratic, exotically memorable and memorably exotic. Play For Affection is postmodern pop perfection, lyrics full of sardonic wisdom over arrangements that twist and bend the pop palette into fascinating new shapes. Here there be banjos, and sitars, and moments of pure whimsy and purer insight. Original, compelling, unpredictable and flat-out superb.


Honorable Mention

Court Yard Hounds - Court Yard Hounds

Sheryl Crow - 100 Miles From Memphis

Kirk Fletcher - My Turn

Ben Folds/Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue

Doug Wamble - Doug Wamble





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