These are some albums that nearly missed the top twenty, or that I didn’t spend enough time with until recently.
Slaid Cleaves: Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away. Honestly, I stayed away from this one because dude’s name freaks me out. I mean, how do you even say that? It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to talk about why. In any case, this is a solid album of sweet, folky, country-ish songwriting out of Austin.
Drive-By Truckers: The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities and Rarities 2003-2008). Having been, ahem, underwhelmed by the last couple of DBT releases, I was slow to pick this one up. That said, if you are a relatively serious DBT fan, it’s well worth your time. The Truckers have said their next album, The Big To-Do, is going to be a rock album; I hope they mean it. It drops March 16, 2010. Until then….
Phospohorescent: To Willie. Phosphorescent is a scruffy Brooklyn-based dude named Matthew Houck and a rotating set of musicians. This album is Houck’s “unabashed musical love letter” to Willie Nelson. Enough said.
These albums are not in any way, shape or form bad. They are just not as good as their predecessors. Each of the mp3′s below is from one of the earlier releases.
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone. This album got a lot of love in 2009, including ending up #1 on a bunch of lists. I really like this album, but my initial response upon hearing it was “Oh, good, it sounds more like her old stuff.” I’ve been a Neko fan for more years than I care to count and, for me, she will never top what she did on 2002′s Blacklisted. If you enjoyed this year’s album, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Blacklisted.
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast. This is a good album. It’s downright fine. It’s just not as good as 2007′s Armchair Apocrypha.
M.Ward: Hold Time. Dear M(att), I used to adore you. You were my favorite Portland musician. I had a crush on you! But since the release of Hold Time this year, I no longer want you to be my boyfriend. In fact, all I have to say is “meh”. Also, I miss you.
The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love. Whoa. These guys took their whole intellectual, conceptual indie-rock album about five steps too far. They’ve been hit-or-miss for years, mostly on track-by-track, but this is a big ol’ FAIL.
Wilco: s/t. Sigh. This album was the last nail in the coffin for me for what was once one of my favorite bands. They are now producing nothing but Dad Rock (apologies to RSV and GTB).
Monsters of Folk: s/t. This is unequivocally the biggest let-down of the year and potentially also the most over-rated album of 2009. (That award went to Fleet Foxes in 2008, btw.) Note to self and others: just because you really, really want an album to be good does not make it so. This album is the collaboration of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M.Ward (see above), Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst), and some other dude. These guys started playing together in 2004/05 and it was fantastic. Since then, Jim James became Yim Yames, M.Ward became dull as shit, and Conor became able to buy beer legally. So by the time they got in the studio to record this album, what came out was an intolerable collection of drippy pap draped in the worst of the 1970′s. As someone (I think it was Aimz) said on Twitter, “Is Michael McDonald one of the Monsters of Folk?”