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Best Albums of 2010: Two Views

For this year’s list of the best CDs, I thought it might be interesting to present more than one opinion of what were the year’s finest releases. In this spirit, I invited my long-time friend and fellow music junkie Larry Van Cleve of Harper Woods, MI, to join me in celebrating the best of 2010 by emailing me his list of favorites to put on the site along with my own.

 Best CDs of 2010 by Larry Van Cleve

1.) “Exile On Main Street” (Bonus Tracks Disk) – Rolling Stones. Unreleased tracks for arguably one of the great rock albums of all time. A bit too much reworking/recording on some (“Following The River”) but real classics abound. Keith’s lead vocals on “Soul Survivor” and the early version of “Tumbling Dice” called “Good Time Women” stand out. Admittedly I’m hardly unbiased on this one.

2.) “The Promise” – Bruce Springsteen. Whoa. Bruce and the E-Streeters sure made a lot of good music during the Darkness sessions that were never released. These two disks really deliver as a unified collection. Darkness is a classic, this is great listening.

3.) “Mojo” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Contender for album of the year. One of the best collections of new songs by Petty and the Heartbreakers in a while. Top notch guitar album.  Probably could be called Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and the Heartbreakers.

4.) “Band Of Joy” – Robert Plant. Not quite “Raising Sand” but lessons learned therein translate very well to this disk. Plant is on a roll and methinks a reassessment of his solo career may be in order. Interesting dark, forbidding guitar work throughout.

5.) “Midnight Souvenirs” – Peter Wolf. Great rock vocalist, good rock songs. Fun to listen to. If you liked his first solo (“Sleepless”) then you’ll appreciate this one.

6.) “Pete Yorn” – Pete Yorn. Similar comments as with Peter Wolf. Yorn is at his best with an electric band. Some of his past releases that don’t really rock don’t hold up in the same manner. Not a problem here. Knows his way around a rock song.

7.) “Pictures” - Len Price 3. Enchanted by the mod sounds of the Who, Kinks and Small Faces of the mid sixties, the Len Price 3 continue the hook laden tradition on their third album. Fun stuff.

8.) “Contra” – Vampire Weekend. Sophomore release. Their first album seemed morose and restrained, not in a good way. This one jumped out at me. Was this due to production dynamics or just better songs? These darlings of the alternative scene may have yet to hit a home run but this is a good triple.

9.) “Sea Of Cowards” – Dead Weather. Took me a few listens to get into their first album but eventually it saw heavy rotation. No such problem here, A great album with tons of Jack White atmosphere and good dark tunes. Stripes/Ranconteur fans should enjoy.

10.)“No Better Than This” – John Mellencamp. Recording at historic sites in mono earns this one kudos upfront. The ambiance of the various studios comes through strongly, none more so than the famous Sun Studios. Add to this mix top notch tunes and you have a real success. Seeing this performed live recently sealed the deal.

11.)“The Suburbs” – Arcade Fire. Every few years Arcade Fire releases an album and it becomes a part of most Top 10 lists for that year. This is no exception. Their range is wide and the hooks are plentiful. They can go symphonic as well as any band (see Kings of Leon).

12.) “Come Around Sundown” – Kings of Leon. Reigning classic arena rock band. As always there’s an epic anthemic feel to everything they do. They play on the same field as U2 or Pearl Jam and they hold their own.

13) “This Is Happening” – LCD Soundsystem. Nobody does the pop rock electronic dance music thing as well or as inventively as James Murphy. “Drunk Girls” indeed. Rumored to be the final LCD Soundsystem album but that might be in name only. The man and the band are one and the same.

Almost making the final list: “Brothers” Black Keys, “High Violet” the National, “Grinderman 2” Grinderman, “Le Noise” Neil Young and, for classical importance, Bob Dylan’s “The Witmark Demos”. And for godsakes read “Life” by Keith Richards.

Dr. J's Best CDs of 2010

01.“Mojo”. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Celebrating their 35th year together, the band has produced their best album since “Damn The Torpedoes”. Not only does “Mojo” feature a batch of great new Petty compositions that represent his best work in years, but the album also serves to spotlight Mike Campbell’s guitar mastery.

02.“The Promise”. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – This incredible 2 CD collection of songs recorded in 1977-78 for the “Darkness At The Edge Of Town” album, but never released until now, sound closer to the romantic spirit of Springsteen’s breakout “Born To Run” LP. How do you keep songs this good under wraps for over thirty years?

03.“Exile On Main St. Rarities Edition”. Rolling Stones – It’s amazing how well these tracks, leftover from the Exile On Main St. sessions over thirty-eight years ago, fit with the original album now that they’ve finally been completed. In addition, the alternate takes (“Loving Cup”, “Good Time Women”, and “Soul Survivor”) are as good as the original released versions.

04.“The Big To-Do”. Drive-By Truckers – The best Southern rock band since Lynyrd Skynyrd produces another classic album featuring guitar-heavy songs about people living on the edge of the American dream, trying to battle issues including love gone bad, manslaughter, and substance abuse.

05.“No Better Than This”. John Mellencamp – Mellencamp’s third, and best, album with producer T Bone Burnett was recorded in historical locations including the original Sun Studio. It probes so deeply into the heart of the American music tradition that it sounds like it could have been recorded over fifty years ago.

06.“Olympia (iTunes Deluxe Version)”. Bryan Ferry – Ferry’s first album of mostly new material in eight years has the rich production gloss of Roxy Music’s classic “Avalon” LP. Always a great song interpreter, the iTunes Deluxe version includes an interesting cover of John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” and some videos.

07.“The Suburbs”. Arcade Fire – The Montreal band’s newest release is a concept album dealing with issues of childhood and growing up in middle-class suburbia. Filled with great songs, “The Suburbs” combines the big, almost symphonic, production of earlier recordings with a more stripped-down approach on some of its tracks.

08.“Street Songs Of Love (iTunes version)”. Alejandro Escovedo – Alejandro’s latest release rocks harder than any of his previous albums. It was produced by Tony Visconti of David Bowie fame and features duets with Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter. The iTunes version has a six-minute bonus track.

09.“The Dark Leaves”. Matt Pond PA – I discovered this excellent East Coast alternative band after hearing their score for a fine indie film called Lebanon PA. Their latest album showcases the pleasing vocals, smart songwriting, and instrumental tightness that make them great to see in concert.

10.“Till The Light Comes (iTunes version)”. Jackie Greene – This is the most pop-sounding of any of his releases, and it contains several songs destined to become Jackie Greene classics. This guy is such a great singer, songwriter, and guitarist – it’s just criminal that he’s been unable to achieve greater recognition. The iTunes version contains a cool bonus song.

11.“Heaven Is Whenever”. The Hold Steady – There is more guitar crunch, and the production on “Heaven Is Whenever” is less glossy than on the Minneapolis band’s last release, “Stay Positive”. The great song lyrics of lead singer Craig Finn are a highlight of every Hold Steady release.

12.“Together (iTunes version)”. The New Pornographers – They sound kind of quirky in a good way - sort of like the Talking Heads did in the 70’s. The New Pornographers make interesting use of strings and horns on their unusual pop/rock songs – some of which are sung by their regular guest vocalist Neko Case. The iTunes version has three bonus tracks.

13.“American Slang”. Gaslight Anthem – This young New Jersey band wears its Bruce Springsteen influences proudly on its collective sleeve. Lead singer and songwriter Brian Fallon not only sounds a little like “The Boss”, but he also has a knack for coming up with hook-laden songs with interesting lyrics just like his main inspiration.

14.“Come Around Sundown”. Kings Of Leon – The Followill brothers’ highly anticipated follow-up to their Grammy-winning “Only by The Night” album does not disappoint. The new album unveils a bigger sound than on previous releases that reminds me a little of U2’s recent productions.

15.“Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook”. Bettye LaVette – Still going strong in her 60’s, the Michigan soul music legend tackles songs by artists including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Elton John, The Who, and Pink Floyd. Some interpretations work better than others, but it’s an album worth your time and money.

Honorable Mention:

  • “The List”. Rosanne Cash – Her career has been revitalized by the embrace of her father’s legacy.
  • Transference”. Spoon – The duo’s minimalist approach to rock is highly addictive.
  • “Soldier Of Love”. Sade – No one is better at producing sexy, romantic grooves.
  • "Finding Clyde". Finding Clyde - Impressive debut from this young indie band from Essexville, Michigan.