Brice’s Soundtrack To 2009: A Review of My Favorite Music of the Year

This post I cannot claim as my own (although it is so cool I wish I could). My friend Brice, who is also the guy who makes this site go, wrote it. He is a music nut like me (but his tastes are cooler). We share a love for anything Mathew Sweet as well as Ryan Adams‘ good songs. I turned him on to Gina Villalobos and he turned me on to the best band no one has ever heard of – Patty Hurst Shifter. Anyway. Here are his 2009 music picks.


It’s that time of year again, when everyone is assembling a top ten list of “The Best” stuff of the year, be it songs, albums, books, athletes, celebrity meltdowns etc.. I guess it’s a natural human tendency to look back at this time of the year, and I feel that same pull. My problem with most of these lists however, is the use of the term “The Best.” It’s as if these cultural critics actually have the authority to tell the rest of us, by way of a top ten list, what the most important things from this year were. Why is number 6 on your list better or more important than numbers 7-10? Instead, I’d like to take a look back at some of my favorite music from 2009 in no particular order (other than the order they showed up on iTunes when I was assembling this list). Are any of these albums or songs “The Best of 2009”? Who knows…but for me, they certainly helped make this a great year for music.

WilcoWilco (The Album); Songs: “You and I”, “You Never Know”

Anyone who knows me well knows that Wilco is my favorite band in America, so it should come as no surprise that their 2009 album Wilco (The Album) made this list. The release of every new Wilco album brings with it a certain level of anxiety for me. Will they top (or at least live up to) their previous albums that I love so much? Will this finally be the album that disappoints me? Fortunately, this one didn’t let me down. While I may not have the same sheer devotion to this one as I do earlier releases, (Especially the epic double-album Being There or their last release Sky Blue Sky) it delivers on what I’ve come to expect from Jeff Tweedy and the boys: imaginative songwriting, impeccable musicianship, and plenty of hooks to keep the songs running through your head the rest of the day. Two highlights are Jeff’s duet with Leslie Feist on the simple love song “You and I”, and the easy-going rocker “You Never Know”.

Roman CandleOh Tall Tree In The Ear; Songs: “Why Modern Radio is A-OK”, “A Heartbeat”

This is the second album from this band from Chapel Hill, who seems to always strike such a great balance between smart power pop and roots-tinged rock and roll. Lead singer Skip Metheny’s voice has such a unique sound, full of energy, emotion and irreverence. If I had to make a Top Ten Songs list for this year, near the top would be “Why Modern Radio is A-OK” in which Metheny extols the virtues of mindless pop radio because at least it won’t break his heart…funny and poignant at the same time.

Roman Candle “Why Modern Radio Is A-OK” from Lake Fever Sessions on Vimeo.

Pearl JamBackspacer; Songs: “The Fixer”, “Just Breathe”

Speaking of favorite bands who I hope never disappoint me (and haven’t yet), Pearl Jam released their first album in three years. If you haven’t listened to Pearl Jam since the days when flannel shirts and Doc Martin’s were fashionable (I just had a horrible flashback to high school), this is a perfect reintroduction to one of the great rock bands of the last 25 years. “The Fixer” is classic Pearl Jam: full of big guitars, soaring choruses and lots of that energy that makes them such a compelling act. But my favorite song on the album just might be the quiet, contemplative acoustic number, “Just Breathe”:

Yes I understand that every life must end, aw huh,..
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, aw huh,..
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love,..

Some folks just have one,
Others they got none, aw huh,..

Stay with me,..
Let’s just breathe.

Mike Farris & The Roseland Rhythm RevueShout! Live; Songs: “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down”, “Green Green Grass of Home”

Mike Farris used to be the lead singer of one of my favorite rock bands of the 90s, The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. They faded into obscurity after a few albums, and Mike battled substance abuse for years before getting sober and finding religion. His 2007 release, Salvation in Lights was a collection of both original material and some of the traditional gospel songs that were an ever-present soundtrack to his childhood in the south. Shout! is a live performance of some of these songs that displays Farris’ soul, his joy and, my God, that voice. If only I could find a church that had music like this. Check out the video below of Farris doing the classic “Green Green Grass of Home” and I think you’ll get an idea of why I’m in awe of this guy.

Matthew Sweet & Susanna HoffsUnder The Covers Vol. 2; Songs: “Willin’”, “Go All the Way”, “Maggie May”, “Sugar Magnolia”

Ok, I should get this out of the way right at the beginning: I’ve had a crush on the lovely Susanna Hoffs since I was a pre-teen watching Bangles videos on MTV (remember when they used to play videos?). On top of that, I’ve been a Matthew Sweet fan ever since I heard his classic album Girlfriend for the first time. This is the second album in which the two cover some of their favorite songs (first from the 60’s, now from the 70s). So many classic, well-known songs here-“Bell Bottom Blues”, “Maggie May”, “All The Young Dudes”-but my favorites are two I wasn’t familiar with: Lowell George’s “Willin’” is one of the best road-trip songs you’ve never heard, and The Rasberries’ “Go All the Way” is one of the most perfect power pop songs ever written. This album probably got more spins in my car’s CD player than any other. Oh, and my unrequited love for Ms. Hoffs is stronger than ever.

Lowell Thompson & Crown PilotLowell Thompson & Crown Pilot; Songs: “Juliane Wait”, “Sleep” (w/Grace Potter), “Pictures”

I’ll file this one under “Favorite Musical Discovery of the Year”. While spending some time seeing family in Vermont over the summer, I read a brief review of local artist Lowell Thompson which compared him to several bands/artists I like. On a whim, I picked up this album and found a roots-rock classic. Thompson’s voice bears a striking resemblance to the lead singer of Raleigh band (and Bruce McTague favorite) Patty Hurst Shifter, which, combined with some sharp lyrics and killer hooks puts this one right in my wheelhouse. Check out his duet with Vermont’s favorite daughter, Grace Potter on “Sleep”.

Black Joe Lewis & The HoneybearsTell ‘Em What Your Name Is!; Songs: “Sugarfoot”, “Get Yo Shit”

Where the heck did these guys come from? I heard the driving rhythm and horns of “Sugarfoot” on the radio one day and decided I had to find out if the rest of the album was as good as this instant soul classic. This is some serious funk with attitude and a great sense of humor. “Get Yo Shit” is the classic story of boy meets girl, boy treats girl bad, boy has to try his damndest to sweet-talk his way back in to her heart…oh, and then there’s the police at the front door and the fact that he called her Melissa(her name is Roxie). Hilarious.

The Black CrowesBefore The Frost…Until The Freeze; Songs: “A Train Makes A Lonely Sound”, “I Ain’t Hiding”, “Good Morning Captain”

Completing the trifecta of “bands I hope never let me down” was this double album from the brothers’ Robinson. I remember hearing the driving bass drum of “I Ain’t Hiding” for the first time while driving back to R
aleigh from Vermont and thinking, with much concern, “Why are the Crowes doing a disco song?” After living with the album for a few weeks however, it became one of my favorite songs they’ve done in years. Now I can’t listen to this in the car without pounding out that bass rhythm with my left foot.

Scott Miller & The CommonwealthFor Crying Out Loud; Songs: “Iron Gate”, “She’s Still Mine”, “Claire Marie

Scott Miller is the Mark Twain of roots rock: His writing combines a razor sharp wit with real emotional gravity…oh and he and The Commonwealth will rock your face off (listen to “Claire Marie”. One of my favorite lines of the year is from his love song “She’s Still Mine”:

Girls don’t grow

out of your ribs no more.

But she’s by my side,

She’s still mine.

Joe Swank & The Zen PiratesHank Williams Died For My Sins; Songs: (Title Track), “Fool For You”, “Strutter”

Raleigh, North Carolina is known for a great local music scene, especially when it comes to alt-country (or Americana, or roots rock or whatever else you want to call it), and I think of Joe Swank as the clown-prince of this genre(he calls it “Aggressive Hillbilly Music”). This album from Swank and his merry band of men(full disclosure: they’re also friends of mine) is just so much fun to listen to; from the freight train attack of the guitars and rhythm section, to songwriting that has you laughing your ass off one minute and spilling a tear in your beer the next. The title track gets my vote for best song title of the year, and you’ve gotta love a country-rock band that closes out their album with the KISS classic “Strutter”.

Other Favorites Songs:

Patterson Hood –“Granddaddy” from Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

A fun little song from one of the lead singers of the Drive-By Truckers. Hood frequently writes about dark subjects like drinking and murder, but this one is about the joys of one day being a grandfather.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit –“Cigarettes and Wine” from Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

It’s amazing to think this former Drive-By Truckers singer is only 30. He writes with the wisdom of a man much older. Such a soulful tune.

Rosanne Cash (feat. Bruce Springsteen) – “Sea of Heartbreak” from The List

This was one of my favorite “oldies” as a kid, and it’s been covered by just about everyone (including Rosanne’s dad, Johnny). Even when I was “too cool” for country music, this song always struck me as a brilliant piece of work and it still does.

Neko Case – “People Got A Lotta Nerve” from Middle Cyclone

If you don’t know Neko Case yet, run out and get just about any of her albums, including her ‘09 release, Middle Cyclone. What an amazing talent.

Justin Townes Earle – “Can’t Hardly Wait” from Midnight at the Movies

The son of “hardcore troubadour” Steve Earle has become a talent in his own right, and this is an interesting interpretation of one of my favorite songs by The Replacements.

Hopefully you find something here you didn’t know about that you might end up falling in love with like I did. I think one of the best things about music is sharing it with others. I love turning someone else on to a band or song almost as much as I love making my own musical discoveries. So those were the songs and albums that were my soundtrack for the year 2009.What were your favorite songs? What albums spent the most time being played in your stereo(or iPod)?

Written by Bruce