William Elliott Whitmore: Animals in the Dark - On his Anti debut Whitmore reflects on life and loss and the world surrounding his Iowa horse farm on the banks of the Mississippi. The album showcases Whitmore's classic songwriting and mastery of the acoustic guitar and banjo, but adds elements such as strings, an organ and a pedal steel, giving the songs a more expansive, cultivated sound. 2009 saw this unique artist captivating audiences around the world with his haunting and timeless sound.
"Animals reinforces his reputation as one of today's most transcendent folk artists." - Kansas City Star
"There's a time-honored truthfullness to William Elliott Whitmore that can't be rehearsed and most certainly can't be faked. It's tonally apparent in the world-weary ache of his baritone voice; it's lyrically manifested in the god-fearing mannerisms of simple protagonists; and it's buried deep within the gutsy pride and righteous integrity with which the Americana singer confronts issues of moral wrongs, institutional control, and fundamental rights throughout Animals in the Dark." - The Absolute Sound
NASA: The Spirit of Apollo - A joyfully sometimes surreal musical expedition overflowing with inspired collaborations -Tom Waits growls over Kool Keith, Karen O taunts while Ol' Dirty Bastard gives shout-outs to Wu Tang and N.A.S.A from the grave, and David Byrne, Chuck D and others expound on the evils of "Money." In spite of the range of performers, the pairings make perfect sense. Live the band features dancing aliens which is always a plus.
"The Spirit of Apollo is what happens when the imagination is let out of its cage. Good things happen." - Urb
N.A.S.A.'s dope beats and wet-dream collaborations make Apollo an absolute must-have. - Alternative Press
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone - A stunning album by one of the preeminent songwriters and performers today. This is the record that finally transported Case from heroine of the underground into a deservedly larger spotlight. A riveting tour de force which has already graced many best of polls including those of Spin, Pitchfork and the top position on Amazon's "Best Music of 2009" list. The album has also received Two Grammy nominations for "Best Contemporary Folk Album" and "Best Recording Package" (for the striking album cover)
"Case has one of the most powerful sets of pipes in pop" - Rolling Stone
"Neko Case's songs are full of claws, wolves, tornadoes, birds of prey and the occasional gust of wind. But her voice is the real force of nature." - New York Times Magazine
Ramblin' Jack Elliott: A Stranger Here - The renowned troubadour steps out of the country/folk arena that has shaped his legend and examines pre-WWII blues songs in a wholly unique way. A Stranger Here proves another wonderful tome in the library of one of the great American storytellers. The album has been nominated for a Grammy in the category of "Best Traditional Blues Album" and has garnered the album's esteemed producer Joe Henry a nomination in the "Best Traditional Blues Album" category.
"Ramblin' Jack Elliott is, along with Pete Seeger, one of America's finest living folk singers. Seeing him play is a treat, but hearing him tell long, meandering stories -- he didn't get that nickname for nothing -- is transformative." - New York Times
"Both beautiful and brave in its purity" - Performing Songwriter
Bob Mould: Life and Times - A cathartic and vital album by an influential artist marks the respective anniversaries of the formation of Husker Du and Mould's lauded solo effort Workbook with an album of unflinching self-reflection. Standouts like "Wasted World" and "I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore" highlight an artist completing a cycle decades in the making, his talent undiminished, his perspective acute.
"Passion, beauty, intelligence, grace: it's all here." - Filter
"This newest collection is moody and minimalist, and it showcases Mould's introspective side. The most compelling songs evoke the speed, energy, and passionate commitment that justly made Mould an icon." - New Yorker
Jason Lytle: Yours Truly, The Commuter - Two years after Grandaddy's demise, Lytle returns with an immaculately crafted pop soundscape that mirrors both the dramatic environment of Lytle's newly-adopted Montana and the vintage twang of the Central California farmland that inspired hiss earlier work. Electronic flourishes collide with acoustic guitars and soulful piano parts, perfectly recreating Lytle's signature lo-fi-electro atmospheres.
"A richly textured work that is lovingly crafted and affectingly poignant." - Alternative Press
"A textured homage to the lush and laid-back West Coast dream life of his youth...it's like Bruce Springsteen's open highway finally reached a melancholy kid from Modesto." - Spin
Booker T: Potato Hole - The trailblazing soul man has written the most audacious chapter of his career with his first solo album in decades. Backed by the Drive-By Truckers with Booker's signature Hammond B3, the album bristles with energy and heart. The album has earned a Grammy nomination for Jones in the category of "Best Pop Instrumental Album."
"There are no chart-baiting superstar guest vocalists or gimmicks, just gut-punching, funky, loose-limbed, rock 'n' soul jams recorded in down-and-dirty sessions without an inch of fat." - Boston Globe
"Potato Hole proves as extraordinary, delirious and laugh-out-loud weird as anyone might dare hope." - Uncut
The Field: Yesterday & Today - The innovative sound artist expands his ever transfixing audio palette, continuing the oblique sampling strategy of his critically praised "From Here We Go Sublime" while building up the rhythmic architecture to startling new heights.
"Full of driving, dirty beats, crisp bells and hats that delicately pepper the high end, this sonic treasure offers plenty of infectious grooves." - DJ Times
"Yesterday & Today is gorgeous, overwhelming, lush and (mainly) wordless, and it reeks throughout of inarticulable emotion." - Prefix Magazine
Bettye LaVette: Change is Gonna Come Sessions - The soul singer extraordinaire revisits her forgotten post-Atlantic Records years as a nightclub singer and Broadway performer with a mix of classics including a heart wrenching rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child" and an acclaimed version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," which LaVette performed at the Obama Inaugural Celebration.
"There's no one more soulful than Bettye LaVette...Bettye makes great music now because of her obstacles. She has a fire in her belly and a passion that was never squashed over the years...you just hear it and feel it in everything she sings." - CNN.com
"a compelling and intimate set of songs that adroitly combine a smoky jazz club, Saturday night rent party and Sunday morning church service. " - Creative Loafing
Busdriver: Jhelli Beam - The art rap progenitor returns to jolt rap back into shape with virtuoso vocal stylings and poignant (and at times dadaist) lyricism. This record not only effortlessly trumps all previous mind-bending performances of his earlier works, but gives them new context; highlighting their dexterity with nuggets of election year paranoia and absurdist humor.
"Everything on Jhelli Beam makes sense. Every word is a picture. Every sentence pushed over the one before it the way dominos fall when they're lined up in a row....This is creativity - this is the reason for being: to preceive/ingest, and digest, and poop it out." - LA Record
"Busdriver's crazy, quick verses sprint from inside-out humor to social criticism alongside challenging beats that reward repeated listens. Exciting, odd stuff." - Chicago Tribune
Solillaquists of Sound: No More Heroes - With this release the Orlando-based hip hop quartet have accomplished the rare feat of creating a body of work that's as palatable to the public as it is groundbreaking, imaginative, and rewarding to listeners looking for something more in the soundtrack to their lives.
"authentic and raw, blending elements of dubstep, afrobeat, folk, most obviously hip-hop, but surprisingly more synth-beats infused in a background of beautiful harmonies." - 7x7 Magazine
"A lyrically potent, melodic, and danceable piece, make sure to cop one of the best records the year has to offer." - Sputnikmusic
Joe Henry: Blood From Stars - The revered solo artist and Grammy-winning producer's music spans many genres but the dominant sound on Blood From Stars is a rich blues tonality that swells into ravishing epics that jump the rails to incorporate folky jazz and bent Sinatra-esque washes of sampled strings. Henry's eleventh album is a tour de force of lush arrangements and seductive song lines. The acclaimed musician/producer was also nominated for a Grammy for his work guiding Ramblin Jack Elliott's release, A Stranger Here.
"Joe Henry is like that unexpected piece of dark chocolate at the bottom of the ice cream dish: something rich, sweet and so surprisingly good that you wonder how it escaped you before. This album captures a sensuous musicality, whether it's torch songs or avant-garde and traditional jazz, raw blues or pumped up soul escapades." - RELIX
"For connoisseurs of craft, Henry's writing is an absolute joy, drawing effortlessly on classic pop, roots, and folk traditions and alchemizing these various strains into a single, sweet sound." - American Way Magazine
Os Mutantes: Haih or Amortecedor - Still psychedelic, influential, political and playful after all these years - the near mythical has crafted triumphant return with their first record in 35 Years. Revered by luminaries such as Kurt Cobain, the Flaming Lips Devendra Banhart and Beck, the Mutantes have delivered one of the most original and enjoyable albums of the year.
"a superb, politically tinged reunion effort....their new songs remain as bold and fascinating as their old ones." - New Yorker
"Haih Or Amortecedor is rhapsodic, an endearing tribute, and a welcome addition, to one of pop music's strangest group of musicians." - Popmatters
Islands: Vapours - The ever evolving Montreal outfit returns with an album that flits back and forth between moody synthesizers and drum-machine-heavy beats and an array of intriguing sonic textures, all the while remaining firmly rooted in the classic pop sensibilities and melodic hooks the band is celebrated for.â€¨
"infectious and weird....masterful, refreshing synth-pop, served up pure and simple." - Blackbook
"one of our favorite albums of the fall. It's just some lush, pop goodness." - Paper Magazine
Rain Machine: Rain Machine - Kyp Malone's solo project features ten unflinchingly original and emotional songs mixing elements of modern jazz, blue-grass and blistering guitar driven rock into a refreshing new sound. As singer and guitarist for celebrated band TV on the Radio, Malone proved himself both a captivating and delightfully unpredictable musical force. On Rain Machine, he shows himself a singer and a lyricist of startling talents.
"Malone steps out with an emotionally open debut just as experimental and daring as his work with TVOTR." - USA Today
"The tunes sound a bit like a rain dance--tribal bells, trance-inflected refrains, the occasional howl--but one that's been fed through the post-apocalyptic fury of TV On The Radio. The result proves a compelling sonic exploration, knotty and exultant as ever." - The Onion
Dead Man's Bones: Dead Man's Bones - Initially intended as play about a monster-ghost-love-story, Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling eventually scrapped the stage show and recorded Dead Man's Bones, a refreshingly original album featuring doo-wop songs about werewolves, haunting melodies telling tales of zombies with broken hearts, and children singing the joys and pains of being alive or being dead.
"Simultaneously sweet and spooky, heart-stirring and imaginative; a wonderful requiem to our forgotten fear of the dark" - LA Weekly
"A decidedly beautiful thing" - MOJO
The Swell Season: Strict Joy - The follow up to their Oscar winning "Once" soundtrack, Strict Joy finds the duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova evoking the bittersweet aftermath of their real life romance and breakup with an album of stirring folk tinged blue eyed soul.
"a lush, lovely, heartfelt gem." - NPR
"Strict Joy is a joy from start to finish, as few bands manage to mix intimacy and sweeping songcraft with such finesse." - All Music Guide
Alec Ounsworth: Mo' Beauty - a soulful and intriguing solo endeavor from celebrated singer/songwriter Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Recorded in music-steeped New Orleans with an all star cast of local talent, the end result is a display of masterful songwriting and arguably Ounsworth's best work yet.
"Mesmerizing and profound" - The Onion
"The sharpest arrangements and best songwriting of his short career: Almost every tune on Mo Beauty equals or betters those on CYHSY's lauded 2005 debut, mixing spooky folk with frantic fun. Ounsworth's regular band may have a shaky future, but he doesn't." - Spin
Tom Waits: Glitter & Doom Live - This two disc collection perfectly documents Waits' sold out, acclaimed 2008 "Glitter and Doom" tour. The music disc features Waits' in his eclectic glory shifting seamlessly from an array of characters: carnival barker, preacher, country singer, soul balladeer; cabaret singer and storyteller. Disc Two is a selection of the comic bromides, strange musings, and unusual facts that Waits traditionally shares with his audience during the piano set.
"One of the most charismatic and straightforwardly entertaining live artists you are ever likely to see or hear. (..) Pick disc one for the uninterrupted junkyard blues and bewilderingly tender crooning: choose disc two for trivia and lies dredged from the back pages of the Fortean Times and delivered sans songs with the impeccable timing of a seasoned professional still in love with the stage and his audience." - Time Out London
"Equal parts Captain Beefheart and Louis Armstrong as he examines the full spectrum of life, from the grimly grotesque to the sweetly sentimental... It's an utter delight." - NME
* Mavis Staples: Live: Hope at the Hideout - While technically released at the end of 2008, it's worth mentioning that Mavis' blistering live album has just earned the legendary soul singer a well deserved Grammy nomination in the category of "Best Contemporary Blues Album." Mavis was previously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Grammys for her collective work with the Staples Singers.