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20 December 2010 @ 04:11 pm
Bp's Musical Picks of 2010  
Where did 2010 go?

Happy Holidays to you! It’s my annual list (dating back to the early late ‘80s) where I detail out my favorite albums of the year. I know your year wouldn’t be complete without it! If you haven’t finished shopping for friends and loved ones (and even enemies) then here are a bunch of great gift giving ideas! Thanks to the folks who helped me compile this in one way or another, especially the label and studio folks – I truly appreciate it, as do my ears!

This year seemed strange. I don’t feel as if there were many albums that I really connected deeply with. Granted I didn’t listen to nearly as many new CDs as I have in prior years. That was mainly to do the Spring Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour which kept me listening to them all Spring including a number of live shows from the Spring tour. Then of course in the Summer it was listening to a lot of Rush Time Machine Tour audio from various shows (how awesome is technology that you can be listening to shows you attended about 24 hours after they’re over)! Also this summer I went on a two week Belinda Carlisle bender where I was listening exclusively to her material. I had her Greatest Hits for years, but apparently the time was ripe for me to discover her entire career, because it was one mention from my friend Greg T. on Facebook about “Mad About You,” and all of sudden I was building a gigantic you tube playlist of Belinda tracks I’d never heard before. Her great material goes far beyond the Greatest Hits, like 1993’s Real album. Then there was Imelda May! I fell in love with her Love Tattoo album and it was a contender for my Top 5 this year, until I realized that the album was actually released in 2008. What a fabulous record though – I urge you to check her out (she’s got a new one coming early in 2011 – keep an eye out!). Of course since I was seeing the TSO Winter Tour early in November (in addition to late December), I was spinning old live shows starting early October…so it was a year filled with catalog listening. It’s not that 2010 was a bad year for new music for me, but it definitely wasn’t as exciting as in year past.

While not on the main list since they only released 2 songs, I wanted to highlight the new Rush released in May – two brilliant tracks that exemplify why these guys are still #1 in my books and have been for the last 22 years.
Caravan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if-WrgfGxeI
Brought Up to Believe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSgiFuGOZW4

This is the first year in a long time that I haven't set aside the time to make mix CDs for the car. That might have helped create the sense that there weren't a great deal of awesome songs this year. Those mixes also usually end up helping draw me into some albums that I might like a song or two but didn't catch on at first, but through repeated listens on the mix I revisited the album and it opened up to me. But that just didn’t happen. This is also the first year that I’ve blatantly disregarded my cardinal rule of not allowing albums released in a previous year into my chart. The reason is three-fold: this album was released independently and there was very little chance that I would have heard it when it was originally released; it was by far my most listened to CD of the year and the one disc that stood up proudly and said “you’re #1 of the year has just been decided” and I love it when discs do that; and finally, it’s my list and I’ll do what I want.

1.) Menrva Realm: Angels [Ectronia Records]
Rob Evan has become my recent favorite male vocalist – he can deliver any material in such an powerful way. As the lead role of Beethoven in TSO’s Beethoven’s Last Night tour this Spring he commanded the stage every night and gave a gripping performance (sorry to gush about you, Rob, but you know the truth!). This album is a semi-concept album, rock/progressive rock in nature featuring Rob and guitarist/songwriter Ianu. (For Porcupine Tree fans, Mark Prator plays drums and Jim Morris was behind the board – P.Tree guitarist John Wesley has worked with them numerous times in the past, as has Savatage & TSO). Rob really shines on this amazing disc which for me captured a new side of his singing and Ianu’s fast fretwork and nimble agility helps propel each track. Power and finesse combine for a dynamic and emotional ride.
Key Tracks:
Runaway Train: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1drNYStdDs
Draumatized: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-BYSwvTkCA
Check them out and get one for your friends: http://www.menrvarealm.com/

2.) Hurts: Happiness [Sony UK]
Shaun Smith deserves all the credit for this one (well, he didn't actually play on the album or anything). I would never have run across these guys if he hadn't been raving about them and sent some youtube links. Great melodies, both haunting and catchy, well-crafted pop songs with more than a hint at retro '80s/'90s styles. There’s something to love on every track, it’s infectious in a non-cheesy way. I was surprised how quickly I fell for this and how much I listened to it this year.
Key Tracks:
Better Than Love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn8tBgI1BVQ
Illuminated (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2aCANYiwv0
Blood Tears & Gold: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBOEsQCdqpI

3.) David Ford: Let the Hard Times Roll [Original Signal/Fontana]
I don't know what to say about David Ford other than he is one of the best songwriters of our time. I’m going to just let him talk about this one – “Stephen” was written about a Policeman who went on a call to a house and was shot dead. Ford wrote this after hearing the man's wife speak eloquently about her husband, his death, and fighting in general, including the prominent chorus line “a piece of land’s only a piece of land.” While the Irish man’s death was not related to the long-time feuding in Europe, Ford drew some correlations. Ford explains and his feelings on writing it at the link below - well worth the click.
"Stephen, the flags are half-mast at the station, there's a cloud hanging over this town. The wind blows apology, the sun looks ashamed as he hides out behind Portadown.
And out there are children still raised on old anger, to believe there's a reason to fight. But a piece of land's only a piece of land, and you will not come home tonight.
Stephen, the uniformed visitors came, unexpectedly late yesterday. I opened the door to a man and a woman, oh I knew what they'd come here to say., I've never seen any darkness so deep as the moment I clicked off the light, and a piece of land's only a piece of land, and you will not come home tonight.
Stephen, the paper's been filled with your picture, it seems the whole world knows your name. And would you believe there was Martin McGuinness out condemning these bastards to blame. I've never seen so much orange and green come together on a thin strip of white, still a piece of land's only a piece of land, and you will not come home tonight. No, a piece of land's only a piece of land, and you will not come home tonight."
Key Tracks:
Stephen (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Air5WXp9oWE
To Hell with the World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gydn9V2chTk
Panic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35APq87HWk0
Call to Arms (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwoTBgEEUaE

4.) Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: s/t [Hollywood/UMGD]
Grace is one of rock and roll’s best female vocalists right now. The fact that she's principal songwriter, guitarist, monster on the Hammond B-3 and keys, plus a brilliant front-woman makes her a true force to be reckoned with. Her band isn't shabby either - these guys are true musicians. It's been great to watch this group grow and progress over the course of their three albums and constant touring. If this band is the future of rock and roll we are in good hands.
Key Tracks:
Oasis (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrGObBbsCk8
Tiny Light (live on Ellen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfbyamghPuA
Hot Summer Night (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wg9fx1okJw0

5.) Kerry Ellis: Anthems [Decca Records/UMGD]
It's the next best thing to a new Queen record and much better than the Queen+Paul Rodgers record a few years back. A wonderful vocal performance from Kerry Ellis on some truly bombastic songs, but it's the guitar tone and production from Brian May which solidifies it for me. This is a lot of fun to listen to.
Key Tracks:
Dangerland (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7RhWut9zzo
EPK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNcEBHiUpvw
Defying Gravity (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmQosQUQOEk

6.) Black Country Communion: s/t [J&R Adventures/Fontana]
This record hits you like a freight train from the first note. The brilliant guitar work of Joe Bonamassa - who lets loose and plays like a guitarist gone wild (he's more restrained on his solo work), the 60+ going on 20-year old voice of Glenn Hughes, and Kevin Shirley's raw, live off the floor production give this an awesome sound and vibe. Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater), on drums and keys respectively, are no slackers either.
Key Tracks:
The Great Divide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocgO6iSiU3g
One Last Soul (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVfMa61Zjmg
Black Country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zjd7qLgcj4

7.) The Dollyrots: A Little Messed Up [Blackheart Records]
"What am I thinking, it's so wrong, I'm in love with a California Beach Boy..." those lyrics totally peg me because if you replace "California Beach Boy" with "The Dollyrots" it describes me to a T. There's something really infectious with these guys and I love listening to this album. Everyone has to have a totally fun disc they rock out to and this is mine.
Key Tracks: Pour Tour Jours, California Beach Boy, My Heart Explodes
http://www.thedollyrots.com/ - it auto-starts, click the “>|” to get to California Beach Boy,

8.) Editors: In This Light and On This Evening [Faderlabel/RED]
Where did the guitars go? That was my initial thought when I first heard Editors third album, but I soon fell in love with the album even with the increased use of keyboards. They ventured into unknown territory, out of their comfort zone, and still hit a home run! Credit solid songwriting, and Tom's vocal intensity for helping bridge the gap for me that was left with the absence of their classic Rickenbacker guitar sound.
Key Tracks:
Papillon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz8UsSw6Wco
In This Light...: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR2i5tckjWc
The Boxer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbff2v5rW2A

9.) Heart: Red Velvet Car [Legacy/Sony]
This was a really slow grow for me. I've been more than a casual fan for many, many years (I still love pulling out my 12" UK singles and tourbooks every blue moon), but this album lacked guitar riffs and really melodic choruses that I was expecting. There last record, Jupiter's Darling explored that a little, but was still heavy on the riffs. This took a lot of hard work to get into, but once the wall came down I really opened up to it!
Key Tracks:
WTF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALZPauP1bUE
Wheels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN9W3EmGI1A
Sand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wz5E3504mE
Sunflower: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EemzJdqP0jo

10.) Shooter Jennings & Hierophant: Black Ribbons [Black Country Rock/Rocket Science]
Steve Roth kept posting on Facebook about this record, so much so that I had to spin it and everything I knew about Shooter was thrown out the window. This is a blistering rock album with a lot of groove, passion, and rebelliousness. Stephen King provides the voice of a renegade DJ spinning protest songs before being shut down by the gov't. The songs are great, but without Stephen the album would be further down the list, he adds so much to the atmosphere and reminds me so much of when radio was great.
Key Tracks:
Lights in the Sky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYmKlSHP7KE
Everything Else is Illusion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUrsD8maITE
God Bless Alabama: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT0nJme7vHY

11.) Keri Noble: When It Don't Come Easy [KikoSaysSo Music]
This was a slower grow than previous Keri Noble CDs. Released on her own, during the fall, this has really grown on me a lot. Soul-searching and a lot of soul comes through on this record through great arrangements and Keri's fantastic voice. Her ability to drawn you in vocally, with her piano playing, and her songwriting is stunning triple-threat.
Key Tracks:
Make Me Believe (live): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4YidgfzsAM
You’re Home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZszU3lk0fXU

12.) Kasey Chambers: Little Bird 2-CD/1-DVD [Essence Music/Liberation Records Australia]
I’m not sure if this will see the light of day here in the U.S., but did well in Australia as Kasey always does. This is one of those discs that I still need to spend more time with as it was starting to grow more only me during the last month or so (it was a September release), but it wasn’t as instant of a love as her previous material.
Key Tracks:
Little Bird: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq9On3uYI8Q
Beautiful Mess: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjKWVaGgvqc

13.) Barenaked Ladies: All In Good Time [Raisin Records/EMI]
The first album without long-time co-writer and co-vocalist Stephen Page. How would it fare? The first cut, “You Run Away,” is a candid piece from Ed Robertson about their relationship breaking down, and grips you from the first minute – it had me hook, line, and sinker – one of the best songs released in 2010.
Key Tracks:
You Run Away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh53skmT-uQ
I Have Learned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG8Nnalm5oU
Another Heartbreak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLDvpIC2Sa4

14.) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Mojo [Reprise Records/WEA]
This might be my favorite TP record since Into the Great Wide Open, which I think is a masterpiece. Recorded live in one room, old school style, you can feel the vibe running through this as the Heartbreakers meld into a tight, cohesive groove machine well-oiled by TP's direction. It's Mike Campbell's record - he shines as one of the great underrated guitarists of our time.
Key tracks:
I Should Have Known It: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_iBKacXIA4
Something Good Coming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSvlJe1mwlw
Jefferson Jericho Blues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LAA6lF6uFI

15.) Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier [Columbia/Sony]
I love Kevin Shirley as a producer and I love the live feel he's brought to numerous artists over the years. However, and maybe it's just me, this album sounds like it's being played on an old boom box inside of the cardboard box. Not sure why. That aside, it's classic Maiden with a triple-guitar attack, thundering bass and drums, and Bruce Dickinson's voice is in fine form.
Key Tracks:
Coming Home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRp9M3QWUIo
El Dorado: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coBzy-tPdws
When the Wind Blows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF7s1esAptg

16.) Joe Bonamassa: Black Rock [J&R Adventures/Fontana]
It’s a shame that Joe isn’t played on Classic Rock radio, well, it’s also a shame that the Classic Rock listener demo is happy to listen to the same 10 Zeppelin, Hendrix, Eagles songs over and over and be content. Joe’s genre is blues (where he has 7 straight #1 albums I think), but he’s really more blues rock and really should be exposed to that demographic. That’s a whole different ball of wax and a lot of promotion work goes into that for a demo that doesn’t care about new music anyway – but really, he would fit it in there perfectly alongside the other blues guitarists who are beat like a dead horse on those stations. But enough about Joe being criminally under heard by music fans across the nation, this is a great album with a lot of different textures and sounds. I have never heard Leonard Cohen’s original “Bird on a Wire,” but knowing what I have heard of Leonard I know that I like covers of his work better than his own work, and seriously, after Joe’s version, I don’t care if I ever hear anyone else do it. Joe now owns it and almost makes me weep when I hear it.
Key Tracks:
Bird on a Wire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGF5y0B1eJU
Steal your Heart Away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYbgU8LXFUM
When the Fire Hits the Sea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V135g4YrjJs

17.) Great Big Sea: Safe Upon the Shore [Great Big Sea/Red Eye]
While it's nice to hear a new GBS record, this one didn't tickle my fancy as much as normal. It's not that it's not good, it's just that it hasn't really spoken to me yet.
Key Tracks:
Hit the Ground and Run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FNfZDbmRsk
Nothing But a Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_lUknxCQu8

18.) Brooke Fraser: Flags [Wood & Bone/RedEye]
Brooke’s gone a bit more for a commercial, pop sounding record this time around (to my ears at least) and it doesn’t have the emotional impact that her previous one had on me. Still a very enjoyable listen and some great tracks, but again, while I really dig it, I don’t feel like it’s really hit me.
Key Tracks:
Who Are We Fooling (w/ Aqualung): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQfUoqfR758
Coachella: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE1w01wSzAw

19.) Jon Oliva's Pain: Festival [ARM Records/ADA]
Let's get this out of the way...I've never been a fan of Jon Oliva's voice. When he sings 'normally' it's fine and it's very rich, but all too often he goes into his Mr. Metal voice and it just is not appealing to my ears. Having said that, I like the album a lot (even more if someone else was singing) because the songs are really good. There's a lot of power and emotion.
Key Tracks:
Now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TtV7nr7HJA
I Fear You: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JS-lrX-xAA

20.) Justin Nozuka: You I Wind Land and Sea [Glassnote/RED]
Justin is a great songwriter and further develops on his sophomore release. “Woman…” is a powerhouse with a gripping outro.
Key Tracks:
Woman Put Your Weapon Down: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJ_6vMlHBvI
Grey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptaqF8072pg

Honorable Mention:
Robert Plant: Band of Joy [Rounder/UMD]
Jewel: Sweet & Wild [Valory Music/UMD]
Melissa Etheridge: Fearless Love [Island/UMGD]
Sarah Harmer: Oh Little Fire [Zoe/Rounder/UMGD]
Anais Mitchell: Hadestown [Righteous Babe Records/E1]
Shannon Curfman: What You're Getting Into [Purdy Records/E1]
The Gracious Few: s/t [Questionable Ent/EMI]
Eric Johnson: Up Close [Vortexan Music/EMI] – have only been listening to for a couple of weeks, so too early to rank
Circle II Circle: Consequence of Power [AFM Records/E1] – have only been listening to for a couple of weeks, so too early to rank

Albums I don't have yet, but I think would have made the list if I’d heard them:
Star One: Victims of the Modern Age [Inside Out Music/EMI]
Kate Rusby: Make the Light [import]

Memorable Music Moments of 2010:
My longest known friend, Rosh, from Kindergarten, finally meeting Geddy & Alex from Rush.
Rob Evan's performance of "Who Is this Child" in Hartford, from the front row, right under his nose.
Sharing 3 Rush shows with an amazing batch of Rush friends (who know who they are) and shaking hands with Ged & Alex a couple of times
Discussing TSO with West Coast member Bart Shatto in Albany
All facets of the TSO Spring tour
Emma & Alex’s singing at home, especially Emma’s handling of Cats songs (ALW would be proud)

Favorite Live Shows:

1.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 11/6 XL Center, Hartford, CT - matinee
2.) Rush - 7/23 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
3.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 11/6 XL Center, Hartford, CT - night
4.) Rush - 9/2 NYS Fair, Syracuse, NY
5.) Rush - 7/19 Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT

1.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 4/2 Bushnell Center, Hartford, CT
2.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 4/10 Palace Theater, Albany, NY
3.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 3/28 Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY
4.) Brandi Carlile - 2/4 The Egg, Albany, NY
5.) Joe Bonamassa - 4/20 The Egg, Albany, NY
6.) David Gray - 4/5 The Egg, Albany, NY
7.) Styx - 10/30 Palace Theater, Albany, NY

Favorite Live Songs of 2010 (maximum 1 per show by artist):
Who is this Child? - Trans-Siberian Orchestra, 4/2 Hartford, CT - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qe4Eo-a8KQ
Working Man - Rush, 9/2 Syracuse, NY - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnrT5KOwTv4
Mozart/Figaro - TSO, 4/2 Hartford, CT
Gutter Ballet Medley - TSO, 11/6 Hartford, CT matinee - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXkQsWEvoMg
Leave That Thing Alone - Rush, 9/2 Syracuse, NY - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgTdQywef5U
I Know You Won’t - Carrie Underwood, 3/12 Albany, NY - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SttDhF095fc
This is Who You Are/Beethoven - TSO, 3/28 Syracuse, NY - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy-eElizDKE
Oh Dear - Brandi Carlile, 2/4 Albany, NY
Music Box Blues - TSO, 11/6 Hartford, CT evening - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAWlbVUDc3c
Marathon - Rush, 7/19 Uncasville, CT
This Year’s Love - David Gray, 4/5 Albany, NY
Man in the Wilderness - Styx, 10/30 Albany, NY
Little Drummer Boy - Sara Evans, 12/9 Schenectady, NY