2008 Year End Music Review: Mojo Flucke
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Old music critics never die; they just come up with more and more biting, cynical reinventions of the phrase “this album stinks.” Yet they persist, because every few years a truly all-time great release comes out. One wants to be there when it happens, and bear witness to the unveiling. Marah’s record knocked Mojo out upon first listen during 2008′s early days, and he’s happy to report that it remains as rich and beautiful almost a year–and a thousand plays–later. Here’s Marah and nine others worth checking out.
1. Marah: Angels of Destruction
Out of nowhere comes a roots-rock, bluesy masterpiece, an Exile on Main Street for 2008. It’s that good. Perhaps the addition of new member Christine Smith made a decent band into a great one, or maybe Marah’s finally matured into a full-flowered band and are settling in for a decade of excellence and more records to which we can look forward. The comparison to Exile‘s apt; just as that seminal Stones piece fused blues, rock, country, and folky elements in a sloppy sonic stew that, somehow, sounds perfect. Forget 2008, this might very well be the album of the decade.
2. Lettuce: Rage
Fifteen years after these seven Massachusetts maniacs formed as Berklee geeks they come out with a new funk record. The thing is, these geeks were pretty darn good back in the day playing jam-band festivals. Then the individual members proceeded to get better, scattering to the four winds to become session musicians and touring sidemen for major pop and rock acts – and bandleader Eric Krasno went on to form Soulive. In 2008, the band returned as a hard funk outfit in the 1970s style of bands like Graham Central Station, Tower of Power, and the Edgar Winter Group. The original horn section remained intact, and the group’s advanced jazz knowledge keeps it tight and slick. If you pine for old-skool funk played by people who get it and aren’t just copying the old stuff best they can, this is the record you’ve been waiting for.
3. Joe Jackson: Rain
The old hand reunites with his original bassist and drummer to play classic, introspective, semi-acoustic pop songs. It’s Joe Jackson to die for: sophisticated, catchy, and a little jazzy music of which he’s always capable, but sometimes seems to nibble around the edges and miss the mark. This album’s a bullz-eye, the album for which his old fans have pined for years.
4. Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White’s on borrowed time. The media establishment’s starting to hate him, and at some point his act will wear thin. But for now, man, his White Stripes output and this side project band (oh miracle of miracles, there’s a bass here for once) is white-hot good. Whether it’s a slow country ballad or a bashin’ rocker like “Salute Your Solution,” the Raconteurs’ latest is a must-have for your collection. That is if you’re a rock fan, and have a pulse.
5. James Hunter: The Hard Way
From busker to the big time – okay, he’s not exactly a household name, yet – this wonderfully powerful Brit soul singer loves Dion and pre-Motown Detroit soul. Not exactly a formula for finding success, but it happened: He was nominated for a Grammy for his debut. The Hard Way is his follow-up, recorded with vintage sound and production values to make the songs sound more like one of those old reissues that’s been cleaned up with 2008 technology from acetate masters or some such. It’s glorious, actually, and with acts like Amy Winehouse and others carrying the torch of old-style soul music, James Hunter has found a place in this world for performing the music he loves.
6. Beck: Odelay (Deluxe Edition)
Listen, I cringe at the thought of putting CD reissues into any top 10 of anything, including “Top 10 doorstops of the year.” This reissue, however, not only added a full second CD of bonus material, but the graphics and packaging were so good, liner notes so enlightening, that this great record became something greater in its reissue. Some people hate Beck because of his slacker demeanor, and others hate the Scientology portion of his rep. Still others just don’t get him. But when you put on the headphones and turn up the record, it’s clear he has command of the pop lexicon and can borrow any groove from any rock era and make a cool new tune out of it with arty, abstract lyrics and great rhythms. A white Prince, this kid is. Give him his due.
7. Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians I
Not always accessible and not always caring about it, MMW released something of a stream-of-consciousness record in November that may be one of the most accessible sets they’ve done. Without the heavy mixing, Radiolarians captures the band jamming out, in a New Orleans R&B mode for several tracks. There are some unstructured, free-jazzy, almost ambient tracks here that you gotta be a diehard to appreciate, but there’s also “Professor Nohair,” a Professor Longhair/Dr. John piano funk jam that has a wickedly catchy ostinato that literally etches itself into your DNA upon first play. You can’t escape it. It’s creative and cerebral instrumental rock, the antithesis of the prefab instant hip-hop-in-a-can most charting artists open up as backing tracks to their insipid vocals.
8. Black Diamond Heavies: A Touch of Someone Else’s Class
Standing in the shadows of the Black Keys and the White Stripes and following in the footsteps of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and the Flat Duo Jets, the Black Diamond Heavies are a primitive blues duo whose gimmick is a damn Rhodes-and-drum instrumental lineup with a lead singer who sounds a little R.L. Burnside and a lot Al Jourgensen. Great stuff, if you like noisy blues played on vintage analog instruments. Sounds like a tremendous formula to my ears.
9. The Caesars: Strawberry Weed
“Jerk It Out” was the Caesars’ song featured in an early 2008 iPod commercial, but sadly it’s not on this record. Nonetheless it’s a trippy, garageyy guitar-fueled festival of tasty melodies and catchy choruses. The enthusiasm and power of this rockin’ band typically exceeds the legal limit of awesome. If you like groups like Jet, the Hives, and Gringo Star, this record’s a fastball down the middle of your plate. Take a big swing at it.
10. Tommy Emmanuel: Center Stage
Steve Vai’s boutique label finally gave acoustic guitar monster Tommy Emmanuel his due, after the Aussie spent decades toiling in obscurity collecting the love of musicians and a couple of Grammy nominations but no notoriety in the mainstream. The new double-live CD shows Emmanuel for what he is: The Horowitz of the acoustic guitar and a consummate entertainer. Chances are it won’t be going platinum anytime soon, but the sound is exquisite and the performance is better. If you appreciate acoustic guitar music, this set’s a no-brainer.