Top 20 of 2009: 3-1

#3 – Tarpits and Canyonlands by Bombadil

The album coming in at number three on the list is one of the most stylistically diverse albums I heard this year… and one of the most fun. The members of Bombadil claim that the core of their sound has its roots in Bolivian folk music. Having never heard any Bolivian folk music before, I’ll have to take their word on this one. It is clear, though, that band culls their influences from a myriad of different sources. When it’s all mixed together, their sound is a whimsical stew that pulls from several ingredients without letting any one flavor overpower the rest.

Whimsical may be the best word to describe this record… but that’s not to suggest that it is in any way childish or immature. It’s quite the opposite. When I first reviewed the album in June, I made mention of how the ebullient music often concealed darker subject matter. The album hooked me immediately with… well… a ton of hooks and a sense of wonder that just isn’t found on many records anymore. This song, “Honeymoon” is one of those tunes that catches you off guard with a catchy beat and lays you flat with lyrics that deal with life once the Honeymoon is over.

Bombadil: Honeymoon (Buy Album)

#2 – One Foot in the Ether by The Band of Heathens

The Band of Heathens are a collective of songwriters from Texas who originally started playing together as part of a songwriter’s night at Momo’s in Austin. Ed Jurdi, Colin Brooks, and Gordy Quist each started out doing solo sets… then occasionally sitting in on each other’s sets… then adding a rhythm section and playing as songwriters in the round. A local music reporter made reference to a group of “heathens” that had started playing regular sets together and a legend was born. The guys have now released two albums as The Band of Heathens, and both can be considered essential listening for fans of intelligent, roots flavored Americana songwriting.

What makes The Band of Heathens so special is the three pronged songwriting force that almost assures the well of tunes will never run dry. The three guys share songwriting credits on this album so it’s difficult to tell exactly who is responsible for what, but it is easy to see a healthy range of styles and sounds on this record. Despite the variety, there is a strong gospel feel to most of this set including the call-and-response of “Shine a Light” and the distorted rodeo gospel of “Golden Calf.” The bottom line is that this album is full of top-notch Texas songwriting and is one of the finest releases of the year.

Band of Heathens: Shine a Light (Buy Album)

#1 – Noble Beast by Andrew Bird

No matter how much I may love his music, I always find it difficult to write about Andrew Bird. His songs just seem infinitely complex and layered, and they don’t really sound much like anything else that I listen to. After watching Andrew play a set at the Bijou Theatre in October (my wife’s anniversary present to me) I became even more convinced of the complexity of his sound. Andrew played guitar and violin. He also sang and whistled and used any number of foot pedals to record and playback loops of various instruments, whistles, and vocal lines.

All of Andrew’s various skills come into play on this album as well. Andrew is a classically trained violinist and quite the impressive whistler. I know it’s an odd combination, but the two play so well together that it’s very easy to forget how strange what you’re listening to actually is. This album is incredibly melodic and infectious, and Andrew’s whistling just seems to burrow into your head and take root. I often find myself whistling one of the melodies from this album when I’m washing the dishes or walking the dog. These songs have imprinted themselves on my brain… and that is why Noble Beast by Andrew Bird is my #1 album of 2009.

Just try to resist the urge to whistle along with this one…

Andrew Bird: Fitz and Dizzyspells (Buy Album)

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