Best of 2010: 3-1

#3 – Mylow – by Chip Robinson

If such a thing existed, Chip Robinson would be the hands-down winner of the Americana Comeback of the Year Award.  Robinson came onto the scene in the 1990’s as the front man of The Backsliders, an alt-country outfit out of Raleigh, NC.  The group released two studio albums and a live EP before disbanding in 2000.  After that, Robinson disappeared for the better part of a decade only to resurface earlier this year with the deeply personal Mylow.

Robinson recounts the lost decade on the dark, and almost industrial sounding album opener “Preface” when he tells of the “deep, dark, hole” he fell into full of drugs, alcohol, cancer, and darkness from which no one could rescue him.  The song is captivating  due to its rawness and sense of despair, but it ends with Robinson looking to find a way home.  And that’s the line this album walks so well.  All of Robinson’s clouds have a silver lining hiding somewhere, and while he deals with the missteps of his past, the album is also filled with a sense of joy for having returned with a fresh song to sing.

Chip Robinson: Preface (Buy Album)
Chip Robinson: Kutschy Rye (Buy Album)

#2 – Street Songs of Love by Alejandro Escovedo

My feelings on the music of Alejandro Escovedo have been well documented during the lifetime of this blog.  I’ve written about him more than any artist not named Scott Miller.  His 2008 CD Real Animal was the first new album I ever reviewed.  It was also my favorite album of 2008.  He produced one of my favorite albums of the past decade.  He melted faces at Tennessee Shines.  He did it again in January.

That most recent trip to Knoxville gave me the chance to actually talk to Escovedo for a while and preview several of the songs from this album a full week before he even went into the studio to record it.  I don’t know if it’s possible to love an album before you’ve heard it, but if you can… i did with this one.  Sonically, this is a continuation of Real Animal with the multifaceted Escovedo mostly playing to his rock and roll roots on full throttle rave ups like “Tender Heart,” “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” and “Faith.”  The latter features a duet with Bruce Springsteen.  The centerpiece of the album, however, is one of its slower numbers, “Down in the Bowery,”  a song Escovedo wrote for his son.

Alejandro Escovedo: Down in the Bowery (Buy Album)

#1 – Messenger by Joe Pug

My favorite album of the year is also my favorite discovery of the year, Messenger by Chicago songwriter Joe Pug.  Pug was studying to become a playwright at the University of North Carolina when he decided to turn his gift for wordplay to songwriting instead.  In fact, his debut EP Nation of Heat (available as a free download if you join his mailing list) was comprised primarily of songs that were based on ideas from a play he had been previously working on.  He embarked on a grass roots marketing and music distribution campaign to spread his songs and gain new fans, and his audience steadily grew and grew.  I first discovered his music when I learned he would be the opening act for Josh Ritter at the Bijou Theatre back in May.  I want to thank Ritter for giving me the nudge I needed to give this record a shot.

With a few exceptions, Messenger is a bare bones kind of album.  The arrangements are sparse and focus mainly on Pug’s words and gentle acoustic melodies.  Truthfully, that’s all he needs.  Whether he sings as the fallen soldier who asks to be buried away from his uniform so that God will see his face, or the gentleman stricken by the beauty of the unnamed messenger, his words draw your ears and demand your attention.  Add to that Pug’s voice which is composed of a unique nasal resonance and a strangely affecting timbre, and you have a combination of lyrics and vocals that are impossible to ignore.

In past years (last year especially) I’ve had trouble deciding on the album to place in this #1 spot.  This time it was easy.  I look forward to seeing where his career goes from here.

Joe Pug: How Good You Are (Buy Album)

One Response to “Best of 2010: 3-1”

  1. Amen! Pug would've been my number one this year too… if I'd posted my top ten. Thanks Nelson!

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