Best of 2010: 6-4

#6 – Band of Joy by Robert Plant

Do I really need the introductory paragraph to explain who Robert Plant is?  The former Led Zeppelin front man is considered by many to be the greatest vocalist in Rock & Roll history and is widely recognized as a legend.  He threw his hat into the Americana ring in 2007 with Raising Sand, his duet album with Alison Krauss.  The results of that pairing was a handful of Grammy Awards, a few more Americana Music Awards, and almost universal praise for the pairing.

In a way, Band of Joy is an extension of Raising Sand.  Producer T-Bone Burnett is replaced by Buddy Miller, and instead of a duet partner in Krauss, Plant harmonizes primarily with Patty Griffin.  The results, however, are fairly similar as Plant continues to explore the subtleties of his voice instead of the raw power he displayed with Zeppelin.  He also once again displays his gift for interpretation as he takes songs from artists such as Low, Townes Van Zandt, Los Lobos, and Richard Thompson among others and makes them his own.  Even traditional tunes such as “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” are given the same, freshly haunting treatment as the rest of the record.

Robert Plant: Harm’s Swift Way (Buy Album)

#5 –Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons

This is sort of the reverse of the Kasey Chambers cheat.  Sigh No More, the debut from Mumford & Sons was originally released in Europe in October of 2009.  Fortunately, it carries a 2010 release date in the U.S.  I took some heat for being a latecomer to this group, but I think I’ve made amends with a Top 5 placement in this year’s list.  The album may have even placed higher if I’d immersed myself in it sooner.  I blame myself for ignoring the buzz around the London quartet for as long as I did.  I had somehow convinced myself that something with that much hype couldn’t be any good.

I was wrong.  Mumford & Sons were exactly as advertised.

This is a punchy folk/pop album that isn’t afraid to expand the genre by placing horns alongside banjos or crashing cymbals and distortion with acoustic guitars.  Another hallmark of their sound is their use of intricate harmonies that blend an early Avett Brothers energy with a Fleet Foxes style layering of voices.  Songs like “Winter Winds” and “Little Lion Man” grab you from the start while others like “White Blank Page” and “The Cave” slowly build up beautifully cathartic releases.  Grounded in folk, but not tied to any one sound, this is an album that you need to hear.

Believe the hype.  Don’t make my mistake.

Mumford & Sons: Little Lion Man (Buy Album)

#4 – The Grand Theatre by The Old 97’s

When I first started to really devour Americana and alt-country music about a decade ago, I constantly scoured various websites, magazines, and message boards looking for advice on artists who were considered “essential listening.”  When it came to essential groups, all of the usual suspects kept surfacing.  Out of those groups… Uncle Tupelo exploded, Whiskeytown imploded, The Jayhawks split, The Backsliders slid away… even Jason & The Scorchers flamed out (for 14 years… they came back).  Somehow, The Old 97’s outlasted them all and are still going strong after nearly 20 years.

The boys from Dallas released their eighth studio album this year and drew on their years of experience on the road to try to create an album that captured the energy and feel of their live shows.  The result is a mostly amped up guitar fueled album that features all the hallmarks of the classic Old 97’s sound.  You can read my full review of the album over at Country Standard Time or listen to my audio review with clips from several songs.  In the meantime… here’s “Champagne, Illinois” from the album… a song that was born when front man Rhett Miller decided to rewrite the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

Old 97’s: Champagne, Illinois (Buy Album)

2 Responses to “Best of 2010: 6-4”

  1. Lynchie from Aberdeen Says:

    For some strange reason, the “Champagne, Illinois” track reminds me of Dylan's “Desolation Row”. Thanks for the chance to hear it. All the best for 2011.

  2. finestcreativity Says:

    Mumford & Sons at Coachella 2011

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