I’ve finally settled on my list of the top ten CDs of 2010. Probably unlike anyone else’s list, I give it to you here. The order of the CDs from one to ten was the toughest part, and I can’t say that I won’t want to switch some of them around immediately after posting them, but this is the way it looks to me at this moment in time.
1. Salter Cane – Sorrow
This release is fairly recent, but the power of the songs, the beauty of the performances, and overall sense and feel of the entire work is just overwhelming. Sorrow is released as having a Creative Commons License, which is to say, if you have a copy, you are free to make other copies and Salter Cane encourages you to give them away. What a wonderful concept, being about the music rather than corporate greed.
2. Simone Felice – Live From a Lonely Place
This CD is in very limited release, and that’s a shame. Felice is a one half of the duo, Duke and King, and a former member of the Felice Brothers group. Recorded at home (in the barn) just a few weeks after his open heart surgery, this retrospective collection includes songs from the earliest Felice Brother days, Duke & King favorites, and the traditional Celtic waltz Wild Mountain Thyme arranged by Simone. Naked as the day you were born, these stark recordings cut to the bone, revealing the essential brilliance of the songwriting, the poetry, like a ghost in the attic, like a wind at the door. Available exclusively at simonefelice.com as well as all live Simone Felice appearances.
3. The Vatican Cellar – The Same Crooked Worm
Just released this month, The Same Crooked Worm is a series of cathartic, cut to the bone songs dealing with loss, hope, and redemption. Essentially a duo, The Vatican Cellar uses acoustic instruments, beautiful solo and harmony vocals, and deep, brooding lyrics to convey what they wish to share, musically, with the audience. Bears repeat listenings, which given the beauty of the music, will not be a difficult assignment.
4. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Hawk
Like their previous two collaborations, this one is a gem. Maybe nobody in the music world has produced as much great, must-have music in the span of three CDs as this duo has done. Every song is a keeper, but that’s true of their other work together as well. Hawk isn’t a new CD so much as it is a continuation of what began with the inception of their musical alliance begun in 2006 with Ballad of the Broken Seas, and continued with 2008’s Sunday at Devil Dirt.
5. Thea Gilmore – Murphy’s Heart
Any year that Thea Gilmore releases a new CD, it’s going to be on my best of list. She does not record anything average, ordinary, or mediocre. Everything she puts out is a masterwork, and Murphy’s Heart is no exception. While not as extraordinary as 2002’s Songs from the Gutter, nor as breathtaking as 2008’s Liejacker, this is a great work from a great, and too much under appreciated artist.
6. Sharon Krauss – The Woody Nightshade
A dark, ethereal, brooding, but revealing CD about love missed, love found and lost, and love never achieved. Largely piano based, acoustic, with breathy but splendid vocals, The Woody Nightshade gives us a glimpse into a world we seldom find ourselves looking. As the name implies, these songs are filled with beauty and danger all at the same time, taking its name from the beautiful but poisonous plant also known as deadly nightshade or belladonna.
7. Black Dub – Black Dub
With the production values of band member, Daniel Lanois, producer of such acts as U2, The Neville Brothers, and Bob Dylan, this CD would be hard pressed to miss. Throw in the wonderful pyrotechnic vocals of Trixie Whitley and you have winner without even trying. A couple of songs are a little too hip-hop for my taste, but once the CD gets cooking, Trixie Whitley steps right up and lays claim to being one of the best female vocalists working in popular music today. Once she grabs you by the throat, there’s no letting go.
8. Richard Thompson – Dream Attic
After having put out a couple of mostly acoustic CDs in a row, Richard Thompson cuts loose on this one, laying claim to being one of the best guitar players in popular music today. Actually, one of the best ever if the truth is known. With his usual sardonic wit and wisdom, he takes us, lyrically, through a tour de force of great music, and throughout it all, his ringing, baroque-style, rock and roll guitar weaves a web from which the listener can’t escape. And doesn’t really want to.
9. Joanne Shaw Taylor – Diamonds in the Dirt
Taylor proves herself to be one of the best blues guitar slingers out there with the release of this CD. Not one of the best female player, but one of the best players, period. Her earlier CD, White Sugar, allowed her to lay claim to all the accolades that came her way. This follow up cements it all in place. This girl isn’t going away. Called “the love child of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Dusty Springfield,” she does them both proud, even if the statement was made in hyperbole. She sings, she plays, she rocks.
10. Doghouse Roses – This Broken Key
One of my favorite groups of the last couple of years returns with a new CD just in time to make the list. Paul Tasker and Iona Macdonald started playing music together in 2005. Tasker’s intricate guitar and Macdonald’s golden voice caught my ear with their initial release, 2009’s How’ve you Been (all this time)?, and I couldn’t wait to hear more. Broken Key is the perfect follow up. It trades on the strengths of what they began on the earlier release, and plows ahead into new territory that should keep them vital and interesting for the long haul.
There’s lots of other good releases out there this year, but these are the ones that have stood the test of time and repeat plays on my iPod and elsewhere. If you’re interested in some really great music, look up these releases. Cuts can be heard all over the internet, and most of the CDs are available from a myriad of sites selling CDs and downloads. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.