With the first six months of 2009 beginning to feel like a distant memory, figured it was time to continue with a tradition we started last year around this time, by taking a look at my favorite albums from the first half of the year with a little something we’ve dubbed Top 6 Of The First 6.
Maybe I’m getting old, but this list is dominated by mainly roots and Americana-tinged albums, so for those of you expecting Animal Collective somewhere here you may be sorely disappoint. So let’s get at it…
Outer South may technically be Conor Oberst’s second “solo” release in as many years, but it would be hard to call this record a true solo effort. While Oberst’s prolific songwriting tendencies may rival that of Mr. Mandy Moore, his latest effort with the Mystic Valley Band is a collaborative affair, with band members contributing and singing their own songs often making you forget you’re listening to a record that has the wordy, singer-songwriter’s name attached to it. The album itself is chocked full of breezy, ’70s influenced country and folk-rock, mixed with the aughts indie-sensibility making it hard to avoid giving them the tag of an updated version of the Traveling Wilburys.
READ ON for the rest of Jeff’s Top 6 Of The First 6…
2009 seems to be the year that Neko Case will finally get the mainstream due that she deserves. Sure, the redheaded chanteuse with the booming voice has released a number of critically lauded albums both on her own and with the indie-pop band The New Pornographers, but with the release of Middle Cyclone more people seemed to sit up and take notice of her country-inflected torch songs. Case is at her best here immediately drawing you in with her powerful vocals, and plaintive lyrics all while channeling the ghost of Patsy Cline.
While this album just barely made the cut, having been released in the last weeks of June, it’s been one of my most played in the short time that it’s been out. Deer Tick’s sophomore effort is anchored by lead singer John McCauley croaky, whiskey and cigarette-soaked vocals, as he spins tales of woe that involve broken hearts and failed relationships. The Providence-based band music effortlessly combines country laments, with the stark Nebraska-era Springsteen folk and 1950s rockabilly that would have made Buddy Holly proud.
When you release as strong of an album as Elvis Perkins did with his debut, the fear of a sophomore slump seems inevitable. While Ash Wednesday was strewn with Perkins’ sad, aching tales, his latest self-titled release is more of a complete representation of what he and his band In Dearland sound like. The combo’s “antique music” can best be summed up as equal parts ramshackle folk and Sousa marching band, making it virtually impossible at times to keep you from from tapping your feet along to songs like Hey, I Heard Your Voice In The Dresden and Doomsday with Perkins’ vivid lyrics as the guide.
Over the last couple of years I’ve become completely infatuated with The Felice Brothers and their brand of Basement Tape-era influenced Americana, catching the band a remarkable seven in that short span. With their fourth full-length, and second for Conor Oberst’s Team Love label, the band has put out their most well thought out and produced record yet. Yonder Is The Clock is filled with their now trademark homespun stories of grifters, drifters and unsavory characters that could easily inhabit their hometown in the Catskills, set to country-folk romps and barroom ballads that have you almost tasting cheap booze and smelling stale liquor.
Coming off a year when he seem to take backseat to doe-eye actress Zooey Deschanel as the Him in vintage indie-pop act She & Him (who’s album was featured in last year’s Top 6), M. Ward was back in 2009 with his latest solo release, Hold Time. The album is full of everything we’ve come to expect from Matt over the years – modern indie-rock that is completely bathed in the patina of the last fifty-plus years of pop music.
Combining his sepia drenched vocals and open tuning guitar work with guest appearances from the aforementioned Deschanel, Lucinda Williams and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, all while throwing in a brilliant reinterpretation of Buddy Holly’s Rave On and you’ve got your number one album of the first six.