TOP 10 ALBUMS
1. Glossary — Feral Fire (Liberty and Lament)
Smart, catchy, blue-collar anthems about life’s hard-won victories, set to glorious, ringing guitars that suggest Thin Lizzy as a Southern bar band.
2. Freedy Johnston — Rain on the City (Bar None)
With his first set of new material in nearly a decade, Johnston shows he’s better than most at crafting songs that are melodic and morose.
3. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings — I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone)
Jones’ smoldering vocals and her combo’s pitch-perfect arrangements make for a modern soul classic.
4. Jesse Malin & The St. Marks Social — Love It to Life (Side One Dummy)
Former D Generation frontman has never sounded more focused as he melds his latter-day troubadour stance and punk past.
5. John Mellencamp — No Better Than This (Rounder)
Stripped-down approach and sparse production by T Bone Burnett befit no-frills stories of American dreams dying hard (“No Better Than This,” “No One Cares About Me”).
6. Old 97’s — The Grand Theatre Volume One (New West)
After two albums that represented a bit of an identity crisis, twangy Texan tunesmiths rediscover old form as alt-country’s elder statesmen.
7. Alejandro Escovedo — Street Songs of Love (Fantasy)
The veteran singer/songwriter eschews strings and chamber music in a return to full-on rock mode, and the disc’s high points — including well-placed cameos by Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter — are enough to offset its spotty second half and somewhat chintzy production.
8. Ike Reilly — Hard Luck Stories (Rock Ridge Music)
Former doorman offers up more vivid, unvarnished sketches of unsavory characters most people wouldn’t care to explore in detail, such as a pot-dealer dad and a high school coach partying with students.
9. The John Henrys — White Linen (Linus Entertainment)
Canadian roots rockers wear their influences well, taking cues from countrymen The Band as well as The Wallflowers and early Tom Petty, with a healthy dose of pedal steel added to the formula.
10. The Candles — Between the Sounds (End)
On its debut release, the New York band offers up a collection of jangly pop so shimmering that one can overlook singer Josh Lattanzi dispensing a steady stream of clichés.
THE NEXT 10 (PLUS ONE)
1. The Gaslight Anthem — American Slang (Vagrant)
2. Hacienda — Big Red & Barbacoa (Alive)
3. Johnny Cash — American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Lost Highway)
4. The Doughboys — Act Your Rage (RAM)
5. The Len Price 3 — Pictures (Wicked Cool)
6. Nick Curran & the Lowlifes — Reform School Girl (Eclecto Groove)
7. Willie Nile — The Innocent Ones (River House)
8. Backyard Tire Fire — Good To Be (Kelsey Street)
9. Tom Jones — Praise & Blame (Lost Highway)
10. Neil Young — Le Noise (Warner Bros.)
11. Drive-By Truckers — The Big To-Do (ATO)
* Most Disappointing Album of the Year: Mojo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Petty’s first proper Heartbreakers effort in eight years is almost as forgettable as the previous one (The Last DJ), as forays into blues, psychedelia and even reggae find the band straying too far from its strengths. (For a refresher course on those, fire up the new Damn the Torpedoes reissue instead.)
* Wardrobe Malfunction of the Year: Lady Gaga wore the wrong ensemble when she showed up at a New York Mets game in her underthings; if only she had donned her dress made of raw meat, she could have doubled as a stadium food vendor.
* Spinal Tap Moment of the Year, only worse: Kings of Leon aborted a July concert at a St. Louis amphitheater after three songs because pigeons rained down excrement that nearly landed in bassist Jared Followill‘s mouth. We can only assume Spinal Tap probably would have finished the show.
*Scientific Breakthrough of the Year: Scientists studying Ozzy Osbourne‘s DNA concluded his body is predisposed to handle alcohol dependence “something like six times higher” than normal. Wait till they get a hold of Keith Richards!
— By George Henn