1. Bright Eyes “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”: Wherein Conor Oberst’s precocious talent finally delivers on the huge potential hinted at on 2002’s “Lifted” set. A truly stunning collection of songs that truly capture a time and place, delivered with his trademark spitting passion, brilliantly understated alt-country flavoured backing, inspired lyrics, and a couple of marvelous vocal cameos from Emmylou Harris. Best bits – the whispered lullaby “Lua”; the rollicking “Train Under Water”; and the desperate beauty of “Landlocked Blues”, but really, from start to finish, this is an album to cherish from a dazzling young (23!) talent.
2. Bill Fay “Time Of The Last Persecution”: Reissued by Eclectic discs after See For Miles’ 1999 2-on-1 went out of print, this 1971 second album from little known UK singer-songwriter Bill Fay is heavy weather, for sure. A concept album of sorts, that seems to warn against complacency, apathy and time’s slow decay, its’ 14 brief tracks are all hewn from the same cloth, and as such the album has a brilliant unity of mood. Mind-blowing guitar playing by free-jazzer Ray Russell, together with sturdy accompaniment from a barely rehearsed rhythm section provide the perfect foil to Fay’s cautionary tales; this is an album to lose yourself in, and one that you will find yourself drawn to.
3. Sun Kil Moon “Tiny Cities”: Former Red House Painters’ frontman Mark Kozelek has had hardly a quiet moment since his group split. He has appeared in several Hollywood films (Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Shopgirl), toured with Alan Sparhawk (of Low) as The Gospel Retribution Choir, as well as recording several solo albums (including the superb “What’s Next To The Moon” AC/DC covers set) and a superb debut with new combo Sun Kil Moon. For the second under the SKM moniker, he again interprets another artists’ material – in this case, that of jerky, quirky US alt-rock trio Modest Mouse. Basically keeping only the lyrics, Kozelek refashions the songs in his own inimitable style, casting Isaac Brock’s oblique lyricism in a whole new light. Excellent.
4. The Phoenix Foundation “Pegasus”: Our beardy chums’ sophomore effort is a far more considered and varied affair than their excellent 2003 debut, “Horsepower”- less shy-boy indie rock, but just as curiously affecting, and probably all up, the stronger of the two. Seamlessly produced by the band with knob-twiddler supreme Lee Prebble, its’ 11 tracks run the gamut of styles; from the groovy spy-theme-that-never-was “Hitchcock”, guitarist Luke Buda’s bizarre and brilliant “Seaworld”, through to the “Dire Strokes” (tm, um, me!) zingy popcore of “Dam The River” and a brace of strong country-folk-pop songs from chief singer Samuel Flynn Scott (“Slightest Shift In The Weather” and the fabulous “Nest Egg”) for good measure. This is the sound of a band flexing its’ musical muscles, stretching its’ wings, and taking to the sky- a band so far ahead of the competition it is almost laughable.
5. The Stooges “Funhouse”: Still the benchmark for modern rock albums, and still the album that everyone tries (and fails) to replicate, this 2CD set is in effect a condensed version of Rhino Handmade’s massive 6CD “Funhouse Sessions” set from a few years back. The sound is as hard and uncompromising as granite, the band’s playing as raw and sinewy as the Ig’s battle-hardened physique; the riffs tumble out like an unstoppable force of nature, and it all sounds so natural and uncontrived. Never mind that this album is now 35 years old, and that it predates the Sex Pistols by 7 years, this is an “album of the year” this or any year. Crucial.
1.Calexico/ Iron & Wine “In The Reins” : Beautiful collaboration
2. The Users “Pictures Of Love”: Local rock like it should be - fun!
3. Matt Sweeney/ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy “Superwolf” : A real grower
4. Bob Dylan “Bootleg Series Vol 7 - No Direction Home” : The workbook of a genius (especially disc 2).
5. Nouvelle Vague S/T : Easy listening versions of songs from back in “The Day”.
1. Eliza Gilkyson - Paradise Hotel
2. Don Covay - Hot Blood/ Super Dude (2-on-1 reissue)
3. Percy Sledge - Shining Through The Rain
4. Beth Nielson Chapman - Hymns
5. Tord Gustavson Trio - Changing Places