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  • 2010 in Music: Part 2 – Top Concerts of the Year

    Gen 30 2011, 23:58

    Between my work schedule, and the fact that Southern Louisiana doesn't get as many concerts as other places I've lived, I did not get to see as many concerts as in previous years. However, the quality of concerts I was able to see more than made up for the lack of quantity. Here are the individual concert sets that stood out the most this past year:

    HONORABLE MENTION

    As usual, there were more quality concert sets than there were spots in my top 10. Here were some of the concerts that fell short of my top 10 for the year, but I felt were of sufficient quality to earn a mention:

    Graham Colton
    Varisty Theatre, Baton Rouge, LA – 3/3/2010
    The first concert I saw this year turned out to be an entertaining one as Graham Colton opened the evening with an energetic acoustic set.

    Ariel Abshire
    House of Blues, Houston, TX – 11/26/2010
    This acoustic set opening for The Rocket Summer served as my introduction to Ariel Abshire, during which her strong voice left an impression on me.

    Brandon Heath
    First Baptist Church, Lafayette, LA – 11/12/2010
    I'll admit I'm not too big of a fan of Brandon Heath on CD, but Brandon and his band do a good job in concert. Here, Brandon's energy, clear vocals and interplay with his band helped to make his opening set for Jars of Clay an entertaining one.

    NEEDTOBREATHE
    Varsity Theatre, Baton Rouge, LA – 3/3/2010
    Even though the sound balance wasn't as good as the last time I saw them, NEEDTOBREATHE still put together a pretty solid set that highlighted their strengths of instrumentation and musical texturing.

    Iron & Wine
    House of Blues, New Orleans, LA – 11/20/2010
    The most fun aspect of Iron & Wine's set was to see exactly how each song was going to be completely made over from the album version. If it wasn't for excessive mumbling on Sam Beam's part, this concert could have easily placed in the top 10 for the year.

    TOP 10 CONCERTS

    10. Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers
    Varsity Theatre, Baton Rouge, LA – 3/3/2010
    This served as my introduction to Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, and immediately I noticed their acoustic rock sound that is right down my alley. Not only that, the guys showed they were great showmen. Whether it was the mock teenybopper dances during "Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts" or the band going completely unplugged on "My Old Man", there were many memorable moments throughout this brief 30-minute set. Probably the most memorable moment was a mega-medley spanning from the '50's to the '00's, with some classical tunes and even a children's song included. While they weren't the headliner this time, in my eyes, they stole the show.

    9. Nomo
    House of Blues, New Orleans, LA – 11/20/2010
    In terms of pure fun, this opening set for Iron & Wine from the afro-jazz band Nomo ranked among the year's best. It certainly helped that the music itself was catchy on its own, and the band executed it quite well. On top of that, the band members had so much energy that you couldn't help but dance along with them to the music. I'd say Sam Beam put it best during his headline set when he said, “If you weren't dancing to that, something is wrong with you.”

    8. Amanda Shaw
    Jazz Fest, New Orleans, LA – 4/29/2010
    20-year old Amanda Shaw has developed a reputation in the New Orleans area for her blazing-fast violin playing, and once again that was on display at Jazz Fest. Between her tearing it up on the violin to her energy in general, Amanda provided quite a spectacle. In a set that featured primarily covers with a few original songs sandwiched between them, Amanda included quite a few crowd-pleasers. Highlights included a speedy violin run to introduce "Johnny Can't Dance", a cover of the Charlie Daniels' Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, and Amanda giving The Clash's “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” some Cajun treatment. All of this led to a highly-entertaining violin-led romp.

    7. Jars of Clay
    First Baptist Church, Lafayette, LA – 11/12/2010
    In their fifteen-plus years in the music industry, Jars of Clay has grown to the point that you can count on them to put on a good, solid live show. Once again this was the case as Jars both sounded good and entertained the crowd at the same time. Musical highlights included the prominent use of a bass drum on “Shelter” and “Worlds Apart”, the high energy of "Dead Man (Carry Me)" and "Work", and the guys inviting Brandon Heath and his band back on stage for the encore songs "Small Rebellions" and "Two Hands." The band also showed their sense of humor in between songs, particularly when they were talking about visiting the nearby Star Wars museum, and also when they were promoting their self-titled album being released on vinyl. This all added to another solid set from the Jars. It probably would have ranked higher had they played stronger material, but it was still worth making the trip to Lafayette to catch them.

    6. Blues Traveler
    Jazz Fest, New Orleans, LA - 4/29/2010
    Blues Traveler was one of my favorite bands in high school and yet it took me 16 years from the time I first heard them to see them live for the first time. It was also easy to see why the band has such a great reputation as a live band. All of the members of the band play their instruments very well, and I especially liked how they were able to segue as many as three or four songs together while still maintaining the flow of the concert. It was also amazing to see the crowd light up when "Run-around" was played, as I don't think I had ever experienced anything quite like that previously. A few too many inaudible words kept this set from placing higher, but that notwithstanding Blues Traveler closed my day at Jazz Fest on a high note.

    5. Jennifer Knapp
    House of Blues, New Orleans, LA - 3/20/2010
    Prior to this show, the last time I had seen Jennifer Knapp live was during the Eleventh Hour tour with Jars of Clay back in the Spring of 2002. Her return to the stage this past year proved to be a welcome one, as she put on a highly entertaining acoustic set. It was just Jennifer with an acoustic guitar for this show, yet Jennifer had enough energy for an entire band. Jennifer also fired off plenty of one liners throughout the entire evening, keeping us entertained with both her music and her humor. It was also nice to see Jennifer dig up some of her old songs, including some songs that weren't even radio singles, such as "Fall Down" and "Martyrs and Thieves." At the same time, the majority of the set came from her new CD, and the concert gave a preview of what turned out to be a very good album. All in all, it was good to see Jennifer back after eight years, and it was especially good to see her playing this well.

    4. The Mynabirds
    Manship Theater, Baton Rouge, LA - 6/12/2010
    The Mynabirds may be a new band, but you may not have been able to tell that during their opening set for Josh Ritter this past June. Basically, the band did all the little things right that make a big difference in the overall presentation. Instrumentation especially stood out here, as the band thought that part out well, while even adding some "out of the ordinary" instruments, such as a kazoo. It also helped that the band sounded better as the set progressed, to the point where they were especially crisp come the end of the set. Up-tempo tracks "Wash It Out" and "Let The Record Go" were especially fun in a live setting, and the band sounded just as powerful on the slower songs as well. This was also a strong vocal performance for lead singer Laura Burhenn, both on her leads and in her harmonies with her backup singer. This all gave me a highly positive first impression of The Mynabirds, and if they're already this good after less than a year together, there's no telling how great they could be in a few more years.

    3. The Rocket Summer
    House of Blues, Houston, TX - 11/26/2010
    The Rocket Summer had been on my "want to see" list for awhile, and when I finally got my chance this past Fall, he showed why I desired to see him in the first place. On CD, The Rocket Summer's music is quite catchy, and not surprisingly, his songs go over well in a live setting. On top of that, Bryce brings a lot of energy to the stage, which certainly adds a lot to the performance. Bryce also plays a lot of instruments. He not only rotated between piano and guitar without missing a beat, but he even featured two songs that he built up using a sampler. For that, he recorded a riff on the drums, piano and multiple guitars and by the time he was finished, he had an entire instrumental track laid out. In addition to entertaining with his music, Bryce also told funny stories in between songs, with his awkwardness making the stories even funnier. It was also a nice touch for Bryce to do almost exclusively requests during the second half of his set, and I was pleasantly surprised that he included "So, In This Hour...", which is my favorite Rocket Summer song. All of this resulted in one of this year's most memorable concert sets.

    2. Switchfoot
    Varisty Theatre, Baton Rouge, LA - 10/8/2010
    This was the eighth time I've seen Switchfoot in concert, and this may have been the best I've ever seen them. That's no small feat given that they're usually pretty good in concert anyway. This was probably the crispest I've heard the band, and I felt the instrumental balance was especially good for this show. Because of that, I was able to hear just about every word lead singer Jon Foreman sang. Many of the usual highlights of a Switchfoot show returned here, whether it was the energy from the entire band, to the little tweaks the band does to the songs to make them a little different from the CD version. The band even had a few new tricks, with the most memorable being an extended bass drum outro to "Free" with Jon Foreman and Jerome Fontamillas. While the set list unsurprisingly was heavy on recent songs, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them include "Only Hope" to start the encore. That song was especially built up well, as it started with only Jon Foreman on acoustic guitar with the rest of the band making a grand entrance on the final chorus. When you put all this together you get a concert set that was certainly worthy of consideration to be my "Concert of the Year."

    1. Josh Ritter
    Manship Theater, Baton Rouge, LA - 6/12/2010
    It was a close race for my "Concert of the Year", and Josh Ritter wins that honor by a hair. The first thing that stood out about Josh's set this past summer was his energy. He started with plenty of it, and he still had a lot of it after two hours. On top of that, his band did a great job building the songs for him. They primarily did that with well-thought-out instrumentation that even went "out of the box" at the times. One of the most memorable examples of this was multiple people hitting drumsticks together at the start of "Rattling Locks." The band was also strong on the more straightforward songs, as they were tight rhythmically, helping the songs to move more energetically. Josh also entertained the crowd with funny stories in between songs, and he was able to liven up the crowd greatly by the end of the set. It was especially memorable to see practically everybody standing up and dancing on the last pre-Encore song, "To The Dogs or Whoever." Combine Josh's energy, a strong backing band, and the humorous comments between songs, and you get a concert set that is certainly worthy of being my Concert of the Year for 2010.

    Those sets highlighted what turned out to be a pretty good concert year in 2010. Here's hoping 2011 is at least as strong.
  • 2010 in Music: Part 1 - My Albums of the Year

    Gen 16 2011, 16:06

    Before we get too deep into this new year, it's time for me to look back at the music that impressed me the most this past year. In terms of new albums, I felt that 2010 was a down year. Fortunately, several strong releases in the latter half of the year kept the year from being a complete washout. Additionally, the quality of the albums at the top of my list are about on par with the top albums from the last few years. Here's a look at my top albums from this past year:

    HONORABLE MENTION:

    While these albums fell short of my top 10 albums of the year, I felt they were of sufficient quality to earn a mention here.

    Sleeping at Last - Yearbook – October, November, and December EPs
    While this technically doesn't qualify as an “album”, I still want to mention what so far has been a very strong collection of little EPs that Sleeping at Last has been releasing monthly. The bands usual strengths of instrumentation and lyrics are once again at a high level throughout the project. Should the remainder of the project be as strong, there's a good chance you will see me highlighting it in next year's “Year in Music”
    Favorite Tracks (so far): Next To Me, Bright & Early, 101010

    The Classic Crime - Vagabonds
    The Classic Crime caught my interest several years ago with their mix of swinging rhythms and a heavy rock sound. This past year, they released their most consistent album to date. While rough production and harsh vocals detract a bit, there are enough catchy songs to make this one a winner.
    Favorite Tracks: The Happy Nihilist, Everything & Nothing, Solar Powered Life

    The Rocket Summer - Of Men And Angels
    Bryce Avary has a reputation for writing up-tempo, catchy, piano-based pop-rock, and this album is essentially more of the same. You basically get one catchy song after another here, with few missteps along the way.
    Favorite Tracks:Let You Go, Of Men And Angels, Roses

    Jars of Clay - The Shelter
    Jars of Clay's foray into modern worship won't go down as their best album, but it is still a pretty solid effort. As usual, the instrumentation was a highlight here, even if it doesn't stand out as much as it did on previous albums. I also liked how the guest vocalists blend without bringing too much attention to themselves. Even though I think Jars have done better, I'll still take this album over 90% of the modern worship albums on the market.
    Favorite Tracks: Eyes Wide Open, Run In The Night (Psalm 27), Love Will Find Us

    Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
    After several well-regarded progressive folk albums, Sufjan Stevens returned to the electronic sound of his early albums, and for the most part the results are positive. Still present is the grand instrumentation and the musical twists and turns we've come to expect from Sufjan, all of which leads to one of the year's most creative albums. Several tracks that didn't quite work for me keep this one out of the top 10 for the year, but there's still a lot more to like than dislike here.
    Favorite Tracks: Too Much, Get Real Get Right, Vesuvius

    KT Tunstall - Tiger Suit
    KT Tunstall's foray into electronic-based pop turned out to be a successful one as it results in her catchiest album to date. Varied instrumentation mixing in with the electronics help to make this album stand out, from the up-tempo tracks at the beginning of the album, to the more haunting tracks towards the end. All of this results in a solid effort that just misses making my top 10 for the year.
    Favorite Tracks: Golden Frames, Difficulty, Uummannaq Song

    TOP 10 ALBUMS

    10. Anberlin - Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
    This short album shows what Anberlin continues to do well. Still present is the fast-paced rock that gets heavy at times, yet can go poppy at other times. While this album doesn't really tread any new ground for Anberlin, the tracks they have included on this album are quite strong, with “Impossible” entrenching itself in the discussion for my favorite all-time Anberlin song. This all results in a highly enjoyable listen.
    Favorite Tracks: Impossible, To The Wolves, Pray Tell

    9. Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away
    In terms of songwriting and instrumentation, Josh Ritter's latest ranks among the year's best. I liked Josh's references to literature, as he expounded on the poem “Annabel Lee” in “Another New World”, while giving a back story and a sequel to the murder ballad of Louis Collins in “Folk Bloodbath.” Rich instrumentation helped to color each of the songs, helping Josh paint a picture with both his words and music. A few songs I didn't care for knock this album's ranking down a little, but it still stands out among the year's best.
    Favorite Tracks: Southern Pacifica, Another New World, Change of Time

    8. Fair - Disappearing World
    As much as I like Aaron Sprinkle's solo work, I think the addition of a full band adds a lot to his songs, and that musical growth continues on Fair's second full album. While you won't find anything overly ground-breaking musically here, what you will find is well-thought-out instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and enough hooks to last the entire album. This adds up to one solidly-executed musical package that has often found its way into my CD player.
    Favorite Tracks: One Last Time, Disappearing World, Wayside

    7. Caedmon's Call - Raising Up the Dead
    After carving out a successful career as a staple on Christian radio for over ten years, Caedmon's Call went with an entirely different approach on this CD. First, they released it almost exclusively in digital format. On top of that, they allowed practically every member of the band to contribute to the songwriting in some way. While this led to a few awkward songs towards the end, overall this resulted in one of the band's most creative CDs, highlighted by rich instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics. Think of what Caedmon's Call typically does well and put it in an independent setting, and you essentially get the idea here.
    Favorite Tracks: God's Hometown, Streets of Gold, Sometimes a Beggar

    6. The Mynabirds - What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
    One of this year's most unique-sounding albums came from the new band led by former Georgie James member Laura Buhrenn. If you take a folk-pop band, mix it with some R&B and Gospel influence and add Buhrenn's strong vocals, that basically describes the band's sound. Not only does this album offer a unique sound, but the song quality is quite consistent, as the band tackles both the up-tempo and slower songs with equal skill. The band can go from the pounding pianos of "Let The Record Go", to the mellow "Give It Time" and execute all of it well. All of this results in the debut album that impressed me the most this past year by a wide margin.
    Favorite Tracks: LA Rain, Numbers Don't Lie, Let the Record Go

    5. Jennifer Knapp - Letting Go
    Jennifer Knapp made so much news for coming out as a lesbian that it can be easy to forget that she released a pretty good CD this past year. Letting Go basically shows off what she did well before she went on hiatus. Once again, we have a rock-centered album with some folksy tracks included, all tied together by Jennifer's honest lyrics. Songs like "Better Off" and "Inside" effectively capture Jennifer's inner thoughts and struggles, which we hear all through the album. The album is a bit short in terms of length, but it's a solid as anything Jennifer's has done in the past in terms of quality. If Jennifer keeps making music like this, let's hope we don't have to wait seven more years for a follow-up.
    Favorite Tracks: Mr. Gray, Dive In, Inside

    4. Brooke Fraser - Flags
    For me, the most pleasant surprise of this past year came from Brooke Fraser, a contemporary Christian singer from New Zealand. Even though Fraser's past music has been largely acclaimed by the critics, I could never really get into it. That changed this year with Flags, an album she claims as her biggest collaborative effort to date. That shows in the unique instrumentation throughout the album. While every song is in the folk-pop vein, Fraser is able to keep things interesting by tweaking the instrumentation on each song, as she goes as far as to use clappers on “Jack Kerouac”, while working in a saxophone on “Here's to You” towards the end of the album. Also sticking out are how some of the songs build to a climax, with “Crows & Locusts” and “Flags” especially standing out. This all adds up to an album that was not on my radar at the beginning of the year, but ended up as one of my favorites.
    Favorite Tracks: Orphans, Kingdoms, Crows & Locusts, Something In The Water

    3. Andrew Peterson - Counting Stars
    It seems like every time Andrew Peterson releases a new album, he makes this list. Once again, a well-crafted folk-pop album lands him on my top 10. As usual, Andrew's storytelling stands out, and I especially like how he references personal stories, particularly on the first two tracks (“Many Roads” and “Dancing in the Minefields.”) Andrew's instrumentation is also well-thought-out, and I actually feel it stands out more on this album than on some of his recent efforts. Also standing out are two tracks on the back half of the album (“In The Night My Hope Lives On” and “The Reckoning (How Long)”) that are crafted to the point that they build to a climax at the end of the song. The result is a well-crafted and intelligently-written album that is enjoyable from start to finish.
    Favorite Tracks: In the Night My Hope Lives On, The Reckoning (How Long), The Magic Hour

    2. House of Heroes - Suburba
    After landing the #1 spot on my top albums of 2008 with The End is Not The End, House of Heroes follow it up with another strong album. While this album isn't nearly as grand in scale as The End..., it contains many of the same elements that stood out in the former. This time, the album primarily deals with suburban topics. Like last time, there are plenty of catchy hooks, swinging rhythms, clever lyrics and well-thought-out instrumentation throughout the album. It also helps that the band once again performs power rockers and softer ballads with equal skill, and that the song quality is consistent. Whether it's the tongue-in-cheek look at middle class life in “Love is For The Middle Class”, or the musical rumble in “God Save The Foolish Kings”, there are plenty of memorable moments to make this one of the best albums of the year.
    Favorite Tracks: Relentless, God Save the Foolish Kings, Love is For the Middle Class

    1. The Reign Of Kindo - This is What Happens
    s much as I was impressed with The Reign of Kindo's last CD, Rhythm, Chord and Melody, I think this one is even better. The Reign of Kindo's unique sound combining acoustic rock and jazz, along with the tight execution of their complex rhythms and unique instruments is already appealing in itself. However, on This is What Happens, they manage to sound even tighter musically, improving what already is one of their greatest strengths. Add improved lyrics, consistent song quality, and Joseph Secchiarroli's clear vocals to the mix, and you get an album that constantly found its way into my CD player. From the frantic rhythms of “Thrill of the Fall” and “Bullets in the Air” to the more subdued “Symptom of a Stumbling” and “Blistered Hands”, there are plenty of highlights throughout an album that contains one great song after another. An album that does this many things right is certainly worthy to be my #1 album of 2010.
    Favorite Tracks: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Symptom of a Stumbling, Thrill of the Fall

    Part 2 in my "Year in Music" column will highlight the top concerts I attended this year.