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Trek Light Picks: The Best Albums of 2010

by Seth Haber - Founder, CEO

Music is better in a hammockLast year’s post on my favorite albums of 2009 got a lot more traffic than I expected and amazingly I started getting asked about the 2010 edition pretty much as soon as December rolled around.  

As I said last year, music plays a big role in my life and is a big part of the Trek Light lifestyle for many of you.  Since I was listening to many of these albums while working, creating and shaping Trek Light Gear this year I'm sure there's a strong chance they’ve in some way influenced the brand whether I know it or not.  

So, here you go, the artists and albums that have been in constant rotation and stood out the most for me in 2010….

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

In Memory Of Loss - Nathaniel Rateliff

rateliff

“Like an old time revival
Shake your hands
And shake your hips.
Put up all my armor
Let me stand bare
With just two fists.”

In Memory Of Loss is a polished gem, an old jacket that gets better as it ages, a late-night slow burning cigar that forces you to stop and just be for a while.  It’s intimate, finely crafted songwriting and Nathaniel Rateliff’s delivery gives you no choice but to feel what he feels and believe every note.

“It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play” – Miles Davis

In Memory Of Loss is an album that will have you thinking as much about the production - the mixing, the arrangements, the sound - as the music being played.  And it’s not because of what’s there, it’s because of what isn’t there.   I’ve seen Nathaniel Rateliff a number of times live and all of his songs work great as a full-band production, there’s no question he and his band (formerly known as The Wheel) can rock when they want to (see below).   In any other hands, this album could have been an entirely different beast, but Brian Deck (Califone, Iron & Wine) makes In Memory Of Loss what it is by stripping it all down to the point that would make old Miles smile: the raw, empty space is so potent it becomes as much an instrument as any other.

Do yourself a favor and get this album right now.  Let it grow on you.  Listen to it while swinging in the hammock.  Listen to it with those good headphones you only break out for special albums.  Sip some whiskey and let it burn slowly – In Memory Of Loss is that new desert island album you’ve been looking for.

Standout tracks:

Brakeman 
You Should've Seen The Other Guy
Whimper And Wail

Here's Nathaniel Rateliff in a live setting, playing with a mix of his own band and Delta Spirit:



The rest of the albums on this list come in no particular order since trying to rank them is much too difficult.  I chose to highlight a few and tell you what I love about them, which is followed by a list of about 20 more albums that I loved this year.

You Are Not Alone - Mavis Staples

mavis_staples

An easy shoe-in for the Best Of 2010 list.  I fell in love with Mavis Staples after seeing her and the Staples Singers perform Respect Yourself on the amazing Wattstax documentary (if you’ve never seen the Wattstax film, you should stop reading this post and go order it right now).   I’ve got a great Staples Singers 'Best Of' collection which is hard to beat, but after going out and getting one of Mavis’ solo albums (Have A Little Faith) I wasn’t as thrilled as I expected with her later solo efforts.   As soon as I heard that she was teaming up with Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) to produce a new album, my expectations shot through the roof.  Tweedy plays a big role on the album, contributing guitar, bass and vocals as well as writing the title track, an instant classic that I assume will appear on every essential Mavis Staples collection to come.

There’s a sense of admiration that oozes out of this album and Tweedy’s greatest gift to Mavis is ultimately an amazing set of songs that, like the Johnny Cash American series of albums, draws out her youthfulness yet fits perfectly with her aged, time soaked voice.  This is a don’t miss and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we find out that this is just the first of a series of album collaborations between the two.   Get it here.


Standout Tracks:

You Are Not Alone 
Creep Along Moses
Wrote A Song For Everyone

Harlem River Blues - Justin Townes Earle

harlem_river_blues

For music lovers, just the name Justin Townes Earle wields a certain power: he carries the namesake of his musician father, Steve Earle, as well as his father’s longtime friend and mentor, the late, great Townes Van Zandt.  For that reason, Justin Townes Earle was a familiar name to me, but I hadn’t actually taken the time to listen until hearing his latest release Harlem River Blues and I instantly felt like I needed to make up for lost time.

Harlem River Blues is a love letter to New York and yet it doesn’t have the blues in the title for no reason - it’s an ode to the city, warts and all and beautifully captures that extreme love/hate relationship so many people have with New York and city life in general.

“Tired of laying in bed, listening to the water run
Ceiling's falling in, Baby's dress is covered in dust
So I don't care what it costs, Baby dust that old thing off
It's one more night in Brooklyn, Baby we're getting lost”

Part of what makes the album work so well is that just like the city itself it has a beautiful, timeless feeling to it.   The songs range from a Jerry Lewis-esque rocker ‘Move Over Mama’ to the old campfire blues sound of ‘Workin’ for the MTA’ and regardless of the sound he could be singing about modern day New York or New York in the 1940’s on any track.  Highly recommended.

Standout Tracks:

Harlem River Blues
One More Night In Brooklyn
Workin' For The MTA

 

The Wild Hunt - Tallest Man On Earth

the-tallest-man-on-earth-the-wild-hunt-album-cover

Swedish folk singer Kristian Mattsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, has the uncanny ability to sound at times both eerily familiar and utterly unique.  The recognizable part comes from his undeniable resemblance to a young, fiery Bob Dylan, both in his vocal style and impressive guitar picking.  The Dylan connection is both what drew me to his first album Shallow Grave (2008) and what caused me to shelve it sooner than I expected – it felt at times like I was listening to a Dylan impersonator and I just couldn’t settle into it.

On The Wild Hunt, Mattson creates something that truly stands alone and, better yet, he finds his own voice by stretching out and letting go of some of the vocal restraint present on his first album.  His voice and vocal styling gains a great ‘acquired taste’ feeling to it as a result and after a few listens it’s like an old friend.  The songs are beautiful, the album has a great flow and it easily deserves a spot on this list.

Take a listen:
The Wild Hunt 
Troubles Will Be Gone
King of Spain

 

Detached – Pineross

and The January Sessions - The Minor Adjustments

detached_pineross“I’m Kevin Larkin and we are Pineross” That may not sound like an odd way to start a show, but it has a way of setting the tone when it comes from a guy completely alone on stage.  Well, not completely alone if you count the old suitcase he’s sitting on which has been rigged up as a kick drum complete with a foot tambourine.  It’s fitting that Kevin seems to have a bit of a personality complex, he’s the mandolin player for the unfortunately-on-hiatus Mayhem String Band (featured on last year’s Best Albums of 2009), can just as easily pick up an accordion, harmonica or guitar (he’ll probably try to play all three at once at some point) and is as at home playing traditional Irish music as he is playing whiskey-fueled  bluegrass at a Mississippi crawfish festival. A lot has changed since Larkin’s first self-titled Pineross release back in 2006, an album that I still find myself listening to on a fairly regular basis. I thought his sound was difficult to describe then, on Detached he delves even further into uncharted territory.  You can make up words and genres – folk-hop, spaghetti-western bluegrass (??) -but at its core it’s simply American music, a melting pot best left undefined.  He’s helped on the album by a great core of musicians and it leads to a fuller sound than his previous album. Give it a listen below and support a hard working talent and an all around good guy by purchasing the album (you can download it instantly for less than $9, and I highly recommend picking up his first album as well):

I'm grouping this release along with The January Sessions because they're both solo efforts from Mayhem String Band alums.  While I may be a little biased because they both happen to be good friends of mine,  it's a true testament to their talent that both albums made my favorite list - I honestly wouldn’t include an album on this list if I didn’t think it was worthy and they're in some pretty talented company here for good reason.

The January Sessions comes courtesy of Mayhem String Band guitarist Chris Steiner.  He and fellow Oxford, MI musician Patrick McClary got together as The Minor Adjustments and released the The January Sessions over the summer.   The January Sessions is a collection of great, polished songs that are made even better thanks to the presence of some amazing guest musicians playing throughout the album, including an appearance on saxophone by the best goatee in funk - Karl Denson.   Listen below and then buy the album here.

Favorite Tracks:

Gold Hardware
Sandbridge
Wrong Direction

Rumor has it some of the songs on both of these albums may have been written while kicked back in a Trek Light hammock, see if you can figure out which ones.

 

Dog With A Rope – Quantic Presenta: Flowering Inferno

quantic

I discovered this album on NPR’s amazing First Listen series shortly before it was released and immediately started scouring the web to find out who this Quantic guy was and what else he had done that I could get my hands on.

Quantic, Quantic Soul Orchestra, Quantic Presenta: Flowering Inferno.  Turns out Quantic (Will Holland) is a chameleon of a musician/producer/DJ who has released albums under a number of different names and genres.   After releasing a number of bada$$ funky-soul records under The Quantic Soul Orchestra moniker (Pushin’ On, Stampede, and some amazing collaborations with soul singers Spanky Wilson and Alice Russell), Quantic moved down to Columbia in 2007 and began working with a number of local Colombian musicians.  On Dog With A Rope, he incorporates more of his dub-beats and production to the traditional Columbian sound, which means out with the Soul Orchestra title and in with the Flowering Inferno.

Dog With A Rope is highly recommended, even if it’s merely a gateway drug to check out the rest of Quantic’s projects and albums.  If you like Sharon Jones and throwback soul, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on all of his Soul Orchestra releases.

Standout Tracks:

Dog With A Rope 
Swing Easy
Blood From A Stone

 

Mo Beauty - Alec Ounsworth (2009)

mo_beauty

This album came out in 2009, but I didn’t catch it until this year so it would be a shame to leave it off.

Alec Ounsworth rose quickly to indie-fame as the lead singer and creative force behind Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a band that both exploded and imploded as the result of an incredible amount of attention and hype from the blogosphere.   Their first self-titled debut album is still worthy of all its praise, but after releasing a mediocre follow-up and being guilty of merely going through the motions at some of their live shows, it became somewhat apparent that Alec Ounsworth was either running out of talent, unknowingly self destructive, or he actually despised the hype and was happy to watch things fizzle out to give birth to something new.

After listening to his solo-debut, it’s obvious that it was not a lack of talent that caused CYHSY to be so short lived.  Alec Ounsworth has been compared to David Byrne by just about every music blogger and critic out there and there’s good reason for it.  Yet, when you listen to him sing it’s almost impossible to place just who he sounds like – he seems to simultaneously channel the emotion of Thom Yorke, the ‘What did he say?’ muddled drawl of Dylan and the playfulness of Byrne all at once.  Like some of the others on this list, I’d give Alec’s vocals the ‘acquired taste’ tag – but that’s the joy of listening to something that doesn’t sound like everything else you’ve already heard.  Did I mention that to make this album he moved down to New Orleans and the backing band is made up of George Porter, Jr., Stanton Moore, Steve Berlin, Robert Walter and more? 'Nuff said, go get it.

Standout Tracks:

Modern Girl (with scissors...) 
Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans)
That Is Not My Home

 

Divide & Conquer - Vandaveer (2009)

vandaveer

Another 2009 release that I missed last year so I’m including it on this list.  This album shares a lot in common with my favorite album of the year In Memory Of Loss –a beautifully sparse production that favors subtle backing instrumentals and clear, strong vocals.  While Vandaveer is essentially the one-man force of Mark Charles Heidinger, this album gets a lot of help from his former These United States bandmates (also featured on the Best Albums of 2009 post) and even more notably from the beautiful harmonies provided by Rose Guerin – I can’t imagine the album or the songs without her contributions.  This is one of those albums I could listen to over and over again and appreciate a little more each time, if you don’t know Vandaveer get this album immediately.

Standout Tracks:

A Mighty Leviathan Of Old 
Turpentine
Divide & Conquer 

Vandaveer also wins the award for making one of the coolest music videos I’ve ever seen.  Check out this one-take, one-camera masterpiece set to one of the best songs on the album:

The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

suburbs

This one likely appears on just about everyone else’s Best of 2010 lists so I won’t say much but it has to be included.  To say that expectations are through the roof when Arcade Fire releases a new album would be an understatement.   While it may not always have the power of some of the songs off their last release Neon Bible, The Suburbs is another amazing album full of memorable songs from one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.  If you’ve somehow never listened to Arcade Fire I’d be tempted to recommend listening to their albums in order, but this album is good enough that I see no reason not to just dive right in and get hooked.

Standout Tracks:

Ready To Start 
Rococo 
Month of May 

 

Living Proof – Buddy Guy

buddy_guy

Buddy Guy is a legend.  Buddy Guy is 74 years young.  And he can still make it rain fire with his guitar and open up the skies with his whisper-to-a-scream voice.

Without disparaging some of my heroes, I’ve seen a few other legends who are still ‘going strong’ in their 70’s  and 80’s and the honest truth is that they really just don’t have the chops they once used to.  They put on shows and record albums by surrounding themselves with great backing musicians who allow them to take the occasional short solo and you’re happy just to hear them still trying.  At 74, Buddy Guy is out to prove he’s still got it and with the exception of maybe one or two songs on the album, Living Proof is exactly what it should be: Fire.

Standout Tracks:

74 Years Young 
Let The Door Know Hit Ya
Guess What

 

And the rest…

These albums are no less awesome and there’s plenty that I could say about each one of them, but after getting through the 10 or so above it’s obvious it’ll be much easier if I switch over to list form.   Again, in no particular order, here are twenty-plus more albums you’ll love from 2010.   In most cases the links will take you the album page on Amazon where you can stream individual songs and check them out and buy/download them if you like.

 

Shame, ShameDr. Dog

Good ThingsAloe Blacc

Witmark Demos (1962-1964)Bob Dylan

I Learned The Hard Way – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Brothers - The Black Keys

Volume Two– She & Him

American VI: Ain’t No Grave – Johnny Cash

Have One On Me - Joanna Newsom

Sit Down, ManDas Racist (free mixtape)

Black Dirt Sessions - Deer Tick

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Recovery – Eminem

A Friend Of A Friend (2009) – Dave Rawlings Machine

History From Below – Delta Spirit

All Day – Girl Talk (free download)

The Wonder Show of the World – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Tall Hours In The Glowstream - Cotton Jones

Broken Dreams Club (EP) – Girls

How I Got Over – The Roots

Made The Harbor – Mountain Man

Mojo – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

American Ghetto – Portugal The Man

Big Echo – Morning Benders


I hope you enjoyed the 2010 edition.  Let me know what you think of the albums on the list or what your picks are that I missed. 

Here’s to a Happy New Year and lots of good music to listen to in the hammock in 2011!

Seth Haber - Founder, CEO
Seth Haber - Founder, CEO

Over a decade ago I started a small business with the goal of making the world a better place one hammock at a time. Thanks for reading and being part of this incredible community - never stop paying it forward.



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