Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Favorite Releases of the Year

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet
Originally published at

The term “top 10 list” has always been kind of vague for me, when it comes to independent music. Things like mainstream films and music are released at a specific date (“dropped”), and usually out for a definitive time, so it’s easier to say, “this was released at X time.”

For independent music, even when it is released “officially,” it usually makes its rounds to the listeners over a longer, extended period of time. Just because a CD is finished, it gets sent to stores (hopefully), put up on Websites to hear or buy (or both), and usually is promoted virally, which takes time.

In honor to that process, and since I usually write about music that does not follow a schedule, rather than doing a traditional “released this year” kind of deal, I am going to list the top 10 CDs I’ve listened to the most this year that have been out within a reasonable time, arbitrary to my choice. Another criteria is that I can listen to them from beginning to end, with no desire to skip a song. Note that I have not put in the addresses of the labels, but rather suggest you look at their MySpace sites to hear samples of their sounds.

CHESTY MALONE AND THE SLICE ‘EM UPS - Now We’re Gonna See What Disaster Really Means. This band is everything a horror-themed hardcore band (horrorcore?) should be. You’ve got “13 Killers,” “Trouble with Cannibals,” “Livereaters,” and even a “Beavershot.” With Anthony Allen van Hoek’s screeching guitar, Hans von Severed’s bass and Tom Murphy’s drum bringing up the bottom, and fronted by the wonderfully named and fully committed Jacqueline Blownapart aka Chesty Malone aka Dotti Douchbag aka Vikki Voltage aka (TBD), this is a wrecking ball to the brain, with fun splattered all over it.

CHOKING SUSAN – [Self-titled]. Hailing from Detroit, this heavily Ramones-influenced band is fronted by the energetic Colleen Caffeine, a mainstay on the punk scene in MC. Seven strong old school punk anthems speed by. While my fave cuts include “Falling Round and Round,” “Baby Doll,” the point-out-the-poseur anthem “Punker,” and their should-be classic “I’m Alone,” there is just one solid song after another. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see them play CBGB, and I am looking forward to their next release.

ANGELA ESTERLINGEarning Her Wings. Angela is an artist whose music is bluegrass-twinged country with a touch of pop. Along with a sweet and powerful testament to one of her idols, Johnny Cash (“Dear Johnny”; he’s also mentioned in another song), she shows she’s up for some good times with “I Feel Like Drinking,” and “Truck Driving Man” (she refers to him as her “knight in shining diesel”), she also tells of hard relationships (“Cowboy”) and I’m guessing a somewhat autobiographical tale of remembering where one comes from (“The Accordion”). Angela starts and ends with gospel inspired tunes “River Jordan” and a cover of “When I Wake Up to Sleep No More.” She is currently recording, I am very happy to say. What I especially like about this is that it’s more infused with ol’ style C&W, and not the modern, fake pop-disguised-as-country (such as the bland Faith Hill). This is more “true” Nashville.

FIRE BUGEnd of the World. I’m not usually a fan of classic rock, but this too short 3-songer is worth seeking out, especially the title cut. Juliette Tworsey’s vocals have sort of a Stevie Nicks kind of waiver to them, but with a much harder edge, which matches the music (Nicks is soft pop rock, really). I know they are recording new material as it shows up on their ‘site, so I am looking forward to a full length release at some point, hopefully sooner than later.

MARY GATCHELLIndigo Rose. I was first turned on to New Hampshire native Mary by Boston publicity maven Joe Viglione, and was instantly smitten by her voice. Having seen her play a few a few times now, confirmed that she is an exciting talent. While Mary’s songs are often about relationships (“Indigo Rose”), they are not sappy. On this CD, she covers self-strength (“Stronger Backs”, one of my fave cuts), abusive relationships (“Beautiful Girls”), fun casual hook-ups (“I’m in Like”), and even a humorous look at misguided marriages (“Green Card”). Her background is on piano and guitar jazz, which she morphs with chanteuse into both the sensual soft of “Perfect Love” to the fierce “?” (yes, that’s the name of the song). She has released a Christmas album after this, but I haven’t heard that one.

RACHEL HARRINGTONThe Bootlegger’s Daughter. Rachel has a new release, “City of Refuge,” which is also wonderful, but for now I’m putting this one first. Her old timey, Depression era sound calls out from the past into the present, with strong cuts like “Sunshine Girl,” “Halloween Leaves,” “Summer’s Gone,” and the very catchy “Shoeless Joe.” I would love to hear a duet with her and Allison Krauss, or Emmylou Harris at some time. Maybe (dare I say it) all three? On her own, though, Rachel can keep my attention. I am looking forward to actually seeing this Seattle-based singer live.

TAMARA HEYRight This Minute. While going to see another musician, Tamara was on the same bill. We were going to stay just long enough to hear a song or two but remained for the whole set because it was musical love at first hear. Afterwards, I went over and got this CD from her. With a mix of pop, country and jazz, Tamara is another that doesn’t follow a formulaic pattern in subject matter. The first and title cut of this CD just blew me away from the first time I put it on, and the rest does not disappoint. Many of the songs cover relationships, but again, her perspective is not standard. Included is a wistful realizing that a relationship is ending (“Up In the Air”), sadness in realizing a partner may be interested in someone else (the beautifully haunting “More Like Melanie”) and someone close who is battling personal substance demons (“In the Universe With Me”), supportively confronting a friend who has just come out (“Girl Talk”), standing up to another (“Angeline”), and even a bluegrass themed angst (“Pebble in My Shoe”). Tamara’s songs are powerful stuff that loses nothing in the music. She has just released a new CD, and I am sure it will be reviewed by me at some point in my “Quiet Corner” column.

PHIL MINISSALEHome to Me . Phil has an old poet’s soul that expresses itself in the form of Delta blues. His material is strong, his guitar work is superb, and his songs go the entire range from tragic to funny, from dirgy to spritely, and his personality shines through all of it. Robert Johnson meets Uncle Sun meets, well, central Long Island. He plays around a lot in the New York and Pennsylvania area, so check him out if you can.

MONTY LOVEGirls are the New Boys. This hardcore release from this two-years-gone Staten Island-based band has probably been played the most by me of any CD I have listened to in the past two years. Filled with one bon mot after another (“I’d rather look ugly than have your personality,” “This went from funny to hospital,” “Call on me and I’ll be there/This I swear/Shit, I never swear,” and so on), their songs are tight punk with a pop hook, but lose none of its power. Find their Xmas Spectacular video on YouTube from their last show to see just how exciting they can be” (yes, I was there that night). The song titles (which almost always have nothing to do with the subject matter) are also noteworthy, including “We Give Good Headache,” “When I Die (It’s Gonna Suck),” and “Rinse and Repeat.” Anyway, Monty Love the man led Monty Love the band, and both rock the shit out of this CD. There are 25 songs here, most of them pretty short, which make it seem like a mere few minutes before it’s over. Hell, I got pulled over for speeding because I was listening to it in the car (true story). The way the CD is produced is excellent, as well, as one song flows naturally into the next. I can go on and on about how great this is, but it’s time to move on to the next on the list. But first, I’m going to put it on the player.

SHE WOLVES13 Deadly Sins. While their first 5-song CD (with Laura Sativa on bass) has a special place in my heart, this full release just buuuuuuurns. Generally, I’m not a big fan of metal, but this one just works for me. It’s hard to believe it is only a trio making this glorious noise. Head wolf, Donna, is a guitar-maniac with a voice like growling steel who hurls her vocals with a piledriver force. Bassist Gyda Gash (who has since left the group) adds some nice touches with a heavy bottom and some great songs (such as “I Kill With My C*nt”). Drummer Tony WolfMann, who has pounded his skins for some of the best rockers out there, brings up the support rhythm without getting lost. He even has his own fun song, “Chainsaw,” that has a catchy hook. Actually, many of these songs do, without being overly pop and schmaltzy. Great titles, too, like “Ghost Boyfriend,” and “Vicious Tit.” Plus, there are new versions of their “Art of War” and the Ramones-like “Hundred Bucks.” I’d also like to add that the Wolves are a fun live band, so I recommend you getting out there and seeing them.

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As for the 10 worst of the year, well, just pick up any Billboard from the year and look at their best selling charts for that particular week, because they’re all pretty much interchangeable.

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