Yes, 2009 is over, but it ain’t really over till the lists get published. So here’s mine.
1. U2 – No Line on the Horizon (Island) – For U2’s first album in five years, the band scotched recording sessions with producer Rick Rubin and returned to collaborative comfort blankets Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois. Ignore the wrong-step lead single “Get on Your Boots” and instead go directly to the fervent “Moment of Surrender” and ruminative Sigur Rós-like closer “Cedars of Lebanon.”
2. New York Dolls – ’Cause I Sez So (Atco) – The second album since the New York Dolls reconvened in 2006 found them reuniting with past producer Todd Rundgren and coming across as mature musicians comfortable in their musical skins. The Dolls continue to embrace their love of girl groups and Bo Diddley while mixing in elements of the blues, spaghetti westerns, Middle Eastern riffs, and a reggae reworking of their classic “Trash” that somehow all come together perfectly.
3. Chris Isaak – Mr. Lucky (Wicked Game/Reprise) – For his first album in seven years, Chris Isaak breezily sings his way through Les Paul-like ditties (“Take My Heart”), goes Bakersfield by way of New Orleans (“We’ve Got Tomorrow”) and dabbles in noirish ambience (“Cheater’s Town”). Even the duets he does with Trisha Yearwood and Michelle Branch that appear to be marketing maneuvers end up being far better than that.
4. Ben Harper & the Relentless7 – White Lies for Dark Times (Virgin) – Always looking to get out of his comfort zone, Ben Harper put aside his regular sidemen, the Innocent Criminals, and hooked up with Texas trio the Relentless7. The result is more aggressive songs that embrace everything from Slim Harpo-flavored shuffles and simmering funk, to a blending of the Buzzcocks and Jimi Hendrix Experience that works in spite of itself.
5. Rancid – Let the Dominoes Fall (Epitaph) – Green Day may lock down the commercial numbers, but Rancid continues to come closest to carrying on the legacy of the Clash. The East Bay quartet’s return after a six-year break yields a plethora of indignant leftism and raging fervor all wrapped up in a musical package encompasses two-minute punk anthems, chugging psychobilly, sprightly dub, and even some double-time two-tone ska.
6. PT Walkley – Mr. Macy Wakes Alone (Frisbie) – With this ambitious concept album based on a trio of characters that include a Manhattan trust-fund kid, her evil record company executive pop, and aspiring songwriter Calvin the Crooner, the 32-year-old Cold Spring Harbor native churns out an intriguing blend of sounds. Turn-of-the-century vaudeville, Dixieland, baroque Bowie-esque pop and mid-era Kinks all immediately spring to mind.
7. The Black Crowes – Before the Frost… (Silver Arrow) – Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson maintain the truce that resulted in last year’s stellar comeback album Warpaint. This follow-up is an unfettered string of rootsy fare that displays a focused degree of musical range that was always hinted at on prior albums including Little Feat-like shuffles, chiming country ballads and funky disco.
8. Rodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11 (ATO) – Dichotomy continues to be the operating mandate for Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, a pair of street musicians who play classical guitars while drawing inspiration from Slayer and Paco De Lucia. This outing finds them playing originals that pay homage to Jimi Hendrix, Dominican jazz pianist Michael Camilo and late Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell.
9. Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid (Nonesuch) – With his first solo outing, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach delves deep into the musical card catalog of his mind, drawing inspiration from not only the blues and folk, but psychedelia and more than a few hints of R&B. And while he plays many of the instruments himself, the Akron native surrounds himself with enough sidemen to make this more than some kind of masturbatory mad scientist exercise.
10. Dead Weather – Horehound (Third Man/Warner Brothers) – With the embers of the Raconteurs barely going cold, Jack White jumped into the creative sack with bandmate Jack Lawrence, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/organist Dean Fertita and Kills vocalist Alison Mosshart. The resulting Dead Weather ended up being a combination of skuzzy, blues-rock, space-rock freakouts and southern gothic bad-assery that actually found this artistic indulgence paying off handsomely.