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1. Dropkick Murphys / Going Out In Style / Born & Bred
Sure, I’m a sucker for Celtic punk, but DKM out-drinks and out-fights the rest with this hoppy gem. It’s the life and death of an Irish immigrant told in 46 minutes. A vocal visit from Bruce Springsteen doesn’t hurt either.
2. Social Distortion / Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes / Epitaph
Social D may be 25 years into it, but Hard Times shows Mike Ness still gives a shit. The songs continue to be about escaping a dreary day with a hot dame in your cool car, but the punk has been buffed out with some twangy melodies and a touch of blues and rockabilly. It’s high octane, it’s go!
3. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings / Soul Time! / Daptone
Released as a Black Vinyl Friday exclusive, I expected this to be a non-cohesive slap-together of b-sides, etc, but damn if this isn’t the funkiest album they’ve come out with yet! As much as I love SJ+DK albums, they tend to leave me longing for a live show. Soul Time! does a better job at capturing that vibe.
4. HeadCat / Walk The Walk…Talk The Talk / Niji
It’s Lemmy, it’s Slim Jim Phantom, it’s Rockats guitarist, Danny B. Harvey reviving Lemmy’s retro-rock combo. Much better than their first outing, Walk The Walk has the muscle you’d expect from a Motorhead side project. A nice surprise is hearing Lemmy actually carry a tune on the softer rave-up, “I Ain’t Never.”
5. Big Harp / White Hat / Saddle Creek
Wow! This one snuck out of nowhere and bit me in the ass. Equal parts hipster lounge and honky-tonk saloon converge behind a voice that can only be described as chocolate dipped in whiskey. The ghosts of Nick Cave and Townes swim through the soft melodies and yarn-spinning lyrics that populate White Heat.
6. The Civil Wars / Barton Hollow / Sensibility
I was lucky enough to catch their first TV appearance on Leno back in January and have been hooked ever since. They share harmonies in that eerie way when identical twins share pain.
7. Imelda May / Mayhem! / Decca
Fun retro-swing / rockabilly pop from Dublin. If this style of music experiences a renaissance like blue-eyed soul has over the past couple of years, Imelda May will be its Adele.
8. Hanni el Khatib / Will The Guns Come Out / Innovative Leisure
An amalgamation of dirty blues, R&B, garage, punk and doo wop, blast out of Hanni el Khatib’s vintage Silvertone guitar and Nicky Fleming-Yaryan’s drum kit that sounds like one of those kid sets taken over by a Keith Moon-type pounder. Fans of the Wolfmother or the Black Keys take note!
9. Glen Campbell / Ghost On The Canvas / Surf Dog
A beautifully heart-breaking final album from a musical genius who knows his days (or at least mental agility) are numbered. Unlike Johnny Cash’s swan song releases, Ghost On The Canvas is a more subtle goodbye as he walks deeper into the challenges of Alzheimer’s.
10. Charles Bradley / No Time For Dreaming / Daptone
Don’t be fooled, No Time For Dreaming was not recorded in 1968. Like label mate, Sharon Jones, Bradley offers up a retro soul vibe that sounds so authentic, you can almost feel the sweat. My SXSW highlight this year was watching Bradley turn an audience of indie rock hipsters who were only there early for the headlining act into believers.
11. Garland Jeffreys / The King Of The In Between / Luna Park
New York City’s other great ’70s rock poet returns with his first album in thirteen years and proves once again that more people need to know who he is.
13. Girl In A Coma / Exits & All The Rest / Blackheart
All-female punk trio proves why Joan Jett signed them to her Blackheart label. With influences firmly planted on their sleeves, GIAC share their love for the Smiths, punk, new wave, and of course, the Runaways.
17. Noah And The Whale / Last Night On Earth / Mercury
While contemporaries like Arcade Fire draw inspiration from ’70s rock, this one feels fueled more by New Wave with its synths and drum machine. But then “Tonight’s The Kind Of Night” busts out with a Roy Bittan by way of Bob Seger piano backdrop.
18. Stephen Brower & The Silent Majority / SB/SM / Pioneers Of The New West
SB/SM has a sound so raw and immediate, you can’t help but draw a dotted line to pre-Geffen Guns ‘n Roses by way of Tom Waits. Equal parts fuzz, metal, punk, folk and outlaw country make up this tasty stew. The live-in-studio vibe is punctuated by the cough that kicks off “Ajax Mountain.”
19. R.E.M / Collapse Into Now / Warner Bros.
I love when R.E.M. lets it rock, and Collapse Into Now does it better than any of their albums in recent memory. Accelerate was a decent attempt, but it appears to have only set the stage for this one. I probably wouldn’t have said this 7 or 8 years ago, but I’m sorry to see them go.
20. The Horrible Crows / Elsie / Side One Dummy
A short folky detour for Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon finds him tapping into his inner-Nick Cave. The E-Street anthem blast might be in the back seat for this one, but the heart is still there.
21. Megadeth / Th1rt3en / Roadrunner
I haven’t cared about Megadeth since 1992′s Countdown To Distinction, but Th1rt3en came out of nowhere and floored me like those albums when Metallica gets it right.
22. Christian McBride Big Band / The Good Feeling / Mack Avenue
I don’t know why, but 2011 will go down as the year that I figured out jazz. And a huge part of that is The Good Feeling. Sure it’s big band, but I’ll be damned if Christian McBride isn’t a rock star!
23. Black Country Communion / 2 / J&R Adventures
BCC is Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater). With apologies to Plant, Page and Jones, this is likely to be the most authentic sounding “Zeppelin” reunion album we’ll ever get.
24. The Vaccines / What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? / Columbia
I am such a sucker for simple sing-along pop melodies, but these beauties are drenched in so much noise that the Jesus and Mary Chain instantly comes to mind. And that’s a good thing.
25. The Jayhawks / Mockingbird Time / Rounder
I’m kind of embarrassed to say, but it took me nearly 25 years, to finally understand all the hubbub about the Jayhawks! Simply put, this album is beautiful.
26. John Hiatt / Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Dreams / New West
This is easily John Hiatt’s best album since 2000′s Crossing Muddy Waters. It feels thicker and more sonic than I can remember a Hiatt album sounding. It’s nice that his personal reflection of 9/11, “When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” – written immediately after he personally witnessed the attack while in NYC – has found a home on this album.
27. White Denim / D / Downtown
I’m not sure I’d go as far as calling White Denim a jam band, particularly since not one song here clocks in at more than five minutes, but all the classic elements of the genre shine through on D. Plenty of psych-guitar noodling, frenetic drum slapping, and chord changes, but compacted for those of us on a tight schedule.
28. Gang Of Four / Content / Yep Roc
With Content, Gang Of Four prove they still matter 35 years later. It might not be Entertainment!, but you just can’t deny Andy Gill’s angular guitar attack, which is as strong as ever. I hope it’s not another 15 years until their next.
30. The Mahones / The Black Irish / True North
Oh look, I’ve book-ended my Top 30 with Celtic punk. Where Dropkick Murphys blow the roof off an Irish wake with fist-pumping anthems, the Mahones seem more a drunken pirate ship house-band. Plenty of nods to the Pogues throughout.