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Mike Farley music year in review, The Alternate Routes, Stereophonics, Tommy Lee

2005: The year in review
by: Mike Farley

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Top 10 Albums of 2005

1. The Alternate Routes: Good and Reckless and True (Starpolish)
If you’ve ever experienced love at first sight (I did, and I married her), then you’ll relate to the musical equivalent of love at first listen. I remember the day clearly. It was the middle of 2005 and I had no reviews to submit to my Bullz-Eye.com editor this particular week. Then the mail came, and in it was the debut from this (yet unsigned) Connecticut based band called the Alternate Routes. Skeptical as I am with every new band I’ve never heard of, I put it in my CD player and it took about 15 seconds to hook me in. Good and Reckless and True is the best album I have heard in a long time, and one that I never get tired of. The songwriting is heartfelt, the vocals of Tim Warren are clear and emotive, and the production wizardry of Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin’s Flaming Red) is the cherry on top of the sundae. I play this record for just about everyone that steps foot in my house and the reaction is always the same: “Who IS this?” Need I say more? Go buy it, and watch as songs like “Ordinary,” “Time is a Runaway” and “The Black and the White” become part of your own musical landscape too.

Stereophonics: "...when you can’t get a CD out of your player, there is no denying its rightful place on lists like these."

2. Stereophonics: Langauge. Sex. Violence. Other? (V2)
It makes me proud to look back at my own review of Language. Sex. Violence. Other? I proclaimed, even in the early part of 2005, that this would land in my annual top 10. Even I had no idea then that this Welsh rock band would land at number 2, but when you can’t get a CD out of your player, there is no denying its rightful place on lists like these. Singer Kelly Jones has a potent and gravelly voice, and Stereophonics is simply a really great rock band with even greater songs. Does anyone remember the Alarm? How about the Plimsouls? Maybe even a bit of Nirvana. Flavors of all of the above are here, but Stereophonics still sound like no other band out there today. There isn’t a bad track on Language, but those on the fence will want to check out “Devil,” “Dakota,” and “Lolita.”

3. Nada Surf: The Weight is a Gift (Barsuk)
I am hereby presenting Nada Surf with my personal “Comeback Band of the Year” award. The Weight Is a Gift is their first release since 2002’s Let Go and is easily their best work to date. While flying under the radar over the past eight or nine years after getting out of a major label deal with Elektra, this three-piece band from New York City released their latest on indie label Barsuk, which affectionately puts a disclaimer on the cover art about these songs sticking in your head for years. Folks, that was no joke. “Concrete Bed” and “Blankest Year” are raw guitar-driven pop gems, but the anthemic “Always Love” will be the song blaring when Nada Surf steps up to the podium to accept that “comeback” award from me.

4. Marjorie Fair: Self Help Serenade (Capitol)
Marjorie Fair is a band name that is much easier on the ears than the name of its front man, Evan Slamka, but nothing about this band or its main singer and songwriter is hard on the ears. Self Help Serendade is full of dreamy alt-pop that at various times resembles Elliot Smith, Coldplay, and even early Pink Floyd. Slamka’s smooth delivery and the layers of brilliant guitar work are especially prominent in tracks like “Stand in the World” and the timeless “Empty Room.”

5. Honestly: Ghosts of a Brilliant Past (Honestly)
Sadly, this Atlanta based band recently broke up just months after the release of its EP. I say ‘sadly’ because Honestly had one of the most explosive live shows of any independent band I’ve ever seen, and because all signs had them pointed toward Matchbox Twenty-type success. If there was ever a band that was going to cut through the industry bullshit because their songs and show were too good to ignore, Honestly was it. While we wait for some form of re-incarnation, all seven of these tracks, especially “Answer” and “Stranded,” will stay in heavy rotation in my iPod.

6. Better than Ezra: Before the Robots (Artemis)
Better than Ezra is another alumnus of the 90’s modern rock movement, successfully bridging the gap to be a self-sufficient touring band. Sure, they keep riding the coattails of hits from Deluxe and Friction Baby, but Before the Robots proves that the songwriting chops of front man Kevin Griffin can still elicit feelings of nostalgia while keeping things fresh. “Daylight” and “Our Last Night” are as good as anything since “At the Stars” or “Desperately Wanting.”

7. Feist: Let It Die (Interscope)
If pop icon Rob Thomas endorses another musical artist, chances are that artist’s music is going to be easy on the ears. When I interviewed Thomas last spring, that’s exactly what happened as he described what was in his iPod. The major label debut from Canadian artist (Leslie) Feist is lo-fi, soulful, sultry and smooth all at the same time. Let It Die has uplifting pop (“Mushaboom”), heart-wrenching sad songs (“Lonely Lonely,” the title track), and loungy swing (“Leisure Suite”). There is even a hopeful, kickass version of the Bee Gees’ “Inside and Out.” Yes, I just used the words “kickass” and “Bee Gees” in the same sentence, but I challenge anyone that hears Feist’s version to disagree.

8. LUCE: Neverending (Joe’s Music)
Another artist that is independent, though the nationwide radio airplay is stirring up a buzz for this Bay area band fronted by namesake singer and songwriter Tom Luce, will likely put him in the big leagues. Neverending is the follow-up to 2001’s self-titled debut and is a chronological ride through the life of a relationship. Luce does a masterful job at matching music to mood for each “chapter” with songs that are all tailor made for AAA radio. “Fortunately I” shows off Tom’s soaring vocals and other strong tracks are the lead single, “Buy a Dog” and the funky “With a Kiss.”

9. Saul Zonana: 42 Days (20/20)
Saul Zonana is one of the most talented unsigned artists anywhere, and 42 Days is his best effort to date. With the legendary Adrian Belew (who has worked as a producer or guitarist for King Crimson, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Jars of Clay and Frank Zappa) at the helm as producer for some of the tracks, there is a magic to 42 Days that is hard to put a finger on. In addition, the ear candy of songs like “Chasing It,” “Hey Now,” and “Silver Jacket” seemingly need just one thing for Zonana to become a household name: more ears to hear it.

10. 3 Doors Down: Seventeen Days (Republic/Universal)
3 Doors Down is a band that constantly gets short-changed by critics, yet keeps churning out hit records. Seventeen Days stayed true to the formula that has brought this Mississippi based rock band so much national success. As a result, the album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, going platinum in its first month of release. Seventeen Days is hooky even by 3 Doors Down standards, and some of the best tracks are the first single, “Let Me Go,” and the equally powerful “It’s Not Me.”

Honorable Mentions

Josh Rouse: Nashville (Rykodisc)
Collective Soul: Youth (E! Music Group)
Illbreak: The Flood (Imprint)
Alana Davis: Surrender Dorothy (Tigress)
Brandi Carlile: Brandi Carlile (Columbia)
The Muckrakers: Front of the Parade (Toucan Cove)
Rogue Wave: Descended Like Vultures (Sub Pop)
Rusty Anderson: Undressing Underwater (Surf Dog)
Amos Lee: Amos Lee (Blue Note)
Aqualung: Strange and Beautiful (Sony)
Solly: Get It Wrong It’s Alright (Zounds)
Spin Doctors: Nice Talking To Me (Ruffneck)

Great Songs From Less Than Great Albums

“Hospitalized,” Classic Case
“Summer of My End,” Dezeray’s Hammer
“All About You,” Eugene Edwards
“Celebrate Our Love,” Howard Jones
“Galaxies,” Laura Veirs
“Whacha Holden,” Oranger
“Happy,” Saving Jane
“Live it Up,” Sheryl Crow
“Make Believe,” Tommy Lee
“Shocks,” Touriste
“Wait Up For Me,” Tremolo
“We May Never Know,” Woody Russell
“Anyway,” Drayton Michaels





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