Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Books of 2011

Best of the Best:

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever – Will Hermes


One of the best and most unique music histories I’ve ever read. Rather than focusing on one specific group or artist, or even one particular genre, this bio looks at all of the music happening within New York City during the years of 1973 to 1977.

These are the years that punk rock was born (The Ramones, Suicide), hip hop took off (Cool Herc, Grandmaster Flash) the first flickers of New Wave were seen (Talking Heads, Blondie), New Jersey poets Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith each hit their strides, and so much more. Will Hermes details each of these occasions, as well as the jazz loft scene, the reimagining of classical music, and the launch of disco and salsa.

Through a series of brief vignettes Hermes tells the story of bands, artists, neighborhoods, movies, graffiti culture, clubs, and scenes. Some of it was new information on material I was familiar with; other parts were a complete education. All of it was interesting and exciting.

From 1973 to 1977 New York was at its worst. Arsons, sanitation worker strikes, Son of Sam, etc. President Gerald Ford refused to provide federal funding to keep the city from financial default. Hermes makes an excellent case that the worst of times often creates the best art.

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive – Steve Earle


If Dirty Roots/Otis Ryan Productions ever gets into the fiction-writing business, it’ll be something along the lines of this great debut novel from singer/songwriter (and one of my all-time favorite artists), Steve Earle. Earle released a collection of short stories, “Doghouse Roses” back in 2001, and as I understand it, he spent the time following that effort crafting this novel.

The main character, Doc, is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams – whom he was traveling with the night Hank died. Doc’s guilt – he provided Hank his dope – drives him to the life of a junky. To make ends meet, he performs illegal abortions and patches up the random knife or bullet wound in a rough neighborhood of San Antonio.

Add a supernaturally gifted Mexican girl, a transvestite, a few thugs, an ass of a young priest, and a visit from Jackie Kennedy, swirl in the ghost of Hank – which haunts the book, not just Doc’s life – and stir with the unique voice of Steve Earle…and you’ve got a Dirty Roots approved novel.

Best of the Rest:

The Devil All the Time –
Donald Ray Pollock


I've read more fiction this year than I have since I was a kid. Typically, the only reading that can hold my interest is the writings of the Beat Generation authors, histories of Native Americans, and musical biographies. I finally found some fiction-writers who can keep me engaged this year, though.

Chief among that group; Donald Ray Pollack. Pollack worked his entire life in the Meade Paper Factory in Ohio. After 30-some years, he retired and sought an education in creative writing. A friend heard about Pollack on NPR and thought I’d appreciate his story. I did. I kept an eye open for Pollack’s debut collection of short stories, “Knockemstiff”, but came across his second release first; 2011’s “Devil All The Time”.

This is another Dirty Roots style novel. (If you’ve listened to the Dirty Roots Radio Show, you’ll understand why I keep making that reference).

Pollack’s partly-imagined and partly-based-on-the-place-he-grew-up universe is peopled by a sadistic photographer with a hobby of murder, a man who is certain he can heal his cancer-stricken, dying wife if he just pours enough blood on his prayer log out in the woods, a murderous swindler and his crippled brother who moonlight as a charismatic minister and his musician brother, and a kid trying to make sense of this world as he navigates himself through it.

It’s dark, depraved, and scary. But it’s thrilling and it’s good as hell.

(Since reading “Devil All the Time”, I’ve since read “Knockemstiff”. I prefer the format of “Devil All the Time”, but highly recommend “Knockemstiff” also. Hopefully there will be lots more to come from Donald Ray Pollack.)

33 1/3: American Recordings – Tony Tost


If you’re a hardcore music junky, you NEED to familiarize yourself with this series of books. Published by Continuum, the 33 1/3 series devotes individual books to specific albums; mostly what we’d call “classic” albums, but some of them are hip “new” classics as well.

Tony Tost delivers my favorite in the series so far (there are about 70 in the series at this point) and one of my favorite books of the entire year. I’ve read a great many biographies of Cash, and the autobiography by Cash himself. But this is the first time an author has approached this subject through the lens of Cash’s myth. Every other author has dug to unearth new facts about Cash’s life. But that was part of the beauty of Johnny Cash; you didn’t have to dig far to find facts about him. He never really hid the truth about himself.

What excites us about Johnny Cash is the myth. Is the myth partly fictionalized? Of course! But it’s still the fun and exciting part. And that’s what we all love about the Man in Black. That doesn’t take anything away from the facts about Cash, the man. It's just that we already already know that stuff.

Tost looks inside Cash's public persona and uses references from the classic (Walt Whitman) to the wild and obscure (Hasil Adkins) to illustrate the beauty and importance of the mythical man called CASH.

33 1/3: Some Girls – Cyrus R. K. Patell


Every entry in the 33 1/3 series has a completely different approach to the subject matter. It’s honestly not the approach, but the subject matter, that makes this one of my favorites of 2011.

Some Girls was perhaps the last truly great Rolling Stones record. They were still young enough that they hadn’t entered the “we’ll let things slide…they’re the Stones, after all” phase. And when this was recorded, in the late 70’s, things in the music universe and the world at large were changing rapidly. Disco was in full swing. And punk rock was out to piss on the legacies of all of the formerly great rock and roll. The Stones had a few things to prove.

There were, as always, tensions within the band, and Keef was staring down a pretty nasty drug charge. Perfect conditions for the Stones. It’s punky. It’s country. A little blues. Even a touch of disco. Best of all, it’s sleazy and raw and plays for keeps.

There isn’t much remarkable about the writing of this entry in the 33 1/3 series, but it’s a lot of good information about one helluva great album.

The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski – Oliver Benjamin & Dwayne Eutsey


This is the philosophy behind the one of the fastest-growing religions in the world; the one known as Dudeism – a religion based on the example set for us by the great Jeffrey Leowski – written by the founders of the sect.

Entertaining writing, stories about great Dudes throughout history, guest essays from various dudes and special ladies from the flock, and...most of all, loads and loads of evidence that Dudeism is the one religion that the world needs most right now.

Now…Dudeism doesn’t have to exclude any other belief system. If you’re a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, etc., you can be a Dudeist, too. It’s all about just takin’ ‘er easy.

P.S. – I’m an ordained Dudeist minister…so if ya need to get married or anything, give a brotha a call.

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Now, while there isn’t anything scientific about the above-list, here’s where any semblance of scientific credibility falls right off this list…

I get a TON of books sent to me from publishers hoping I’ll review/publicize them on my show. I get more books than I do albums, in fact. So they pile up quickly. Plus, I’m always searching for good reads on my own. So at any given time, I’ve generally got a pretty big pile of books I haven’t yet read, but fully intend to. (I’ve also got massive stacks of books I fully intend never to read…)

Anyway…there are a few books on the tippy-top of the stack I intend to read that came out this year and that I’ve heard great things about. Call this the “honorable mention” list, if you want. I haven’t actually read the following books, but I’m confident they’ll make my Best Books of 2011 list once I get to ‘em.


Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge –
Mark Yarm


This book is freakin’ huge and packed with interviews from many of the key players in the late eighties, early nineties Seattle scene. Oral histories can be boring and/or overwhelming, but if done right, can be wonderful. And if I learn even a tiny portion of what could be learned from an oral history this in-depth about a subject I’m this interested in…it’ll be the cat’s bananas.

Pulphead: Essays – John Jeremiah Sullivan


Another writer I discovered in 2011. One review of this book said that if Tom Waits wrote essays, they’d be like this guys. I’m in love from that sentence alone…

I tracked down one of the essays in this book, where Sullivan writes about going to a massive Christian rock festival. Two bits for your perusal:

"Christian Rock is a genre that exists to edify and make money off of evangelical Christians. Its message music for listeners who know the message cold,"

“Jack pulled down the step and climbed aboard. It was really happening. The interior smelled of spoiled vacations and amateur porn shoots wrapped in motel shower curtains and left in the sun. I was physically halted at the threshold for a moment. Jesus had never been in this RV.”

With sentiments like that, how can this book NOT be on my list???

A Rocket In My Pocket: The Hipster’s Guide to Rockabilly Music – Max Decharne


I’ve looked long and hard for a good, comprehensive overview of rockabilly music, and there just hasn’t been one – at least not one that didn’t fall into the cheap, thrown-together coffee table book variety – until now. I’ve flipped through this one, and it is indeed comprehensive.

As an added bonus, the publishers and author compiled a soundtrack “companion piece” to go with the book. They sent me the CD with a review copy of the book, and while I haven’t gotten through the whole book yet, the CD is a great collection of new and old, classic and obscure rockabilly.

Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson – Kevin Avery


I first became familiar with Paul Nelson through Martin Scorese’s fantastic “No Direction Home” documentary about Bob Dylan. Nelson was friends with Dylan as a young man and in the doc, he recounted hilarious stories of record collecting with Dylan and having his and friends’ records stolen by the music-hungry Dylan.

Paul Nelson became a respected writer for Rolling Stone and several other publications. And then one day he left it all to work in a video rental store.

That’s the thumbnail version of the story; I’m hoping that this book, which also includes many samples of his famous music writing, fills in the rest of the details in all of their glory.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the best books/albums/songs of 2011 - either comments on my list, or a list of your own!!! Hit me on the Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, in the comments section below, or at dirtyroots@rocketmail.com.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

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Best Songs of 2011

I’m not a big “singles” guy. Well, more accurately I used to not be. I’ve always been an “album” guy, preferring an entire record as an artistic statement, rather than a single song.

However, when your musical tastes run as far left of center as mine do – and when you enjoy digging into old crazy music as much as I do – you have to adapt.

And I’ve quickly become a singles guy. A lot of the crazy songs I play can only be found as singles. Or, those songs are often the only things from a particular artist that I care to have and share.

For instance, I’ve got a Perry Como single I play on my Dirty Roots Radio Show. I’d never buy or play an entire album – but that one song fits right in with what I do.

Having said all that, I wanted to recognize a few of my favorite singles from 2011. I should say “songs”, not “singles”. Singles are typically intentionally released by a band or record label with the intent of grabbing attention. Some of the songs here were released that way…others are just album tracks I really loved.

With only one exception, these are songs I enjoyed from bands I didn’t fully dig or records I didn’t love in their entirety.

Best of the Best

THOSE DARLINS – Be Your Bro
Those Darlins have always been one of those bands that I liked…but never really got into. I like their sound, I like their attitude, I like the whole vibe. I’ve even liked both of their records – their countryish debut and the country-ish with a little more punk added sophomore album – but for whatever reasons, they just aren’t the kinds of albums I come back to more than once.

But the first time I heard this track, I knew it was the song of the year. I, like most people, have a propensity of making grandiose statements in the excitement of a moment. (For God’s sake, I actually included a Buddy Holly tribute record on my “Best of the Year So Far” listing back in July…it had just come out and I didn’t hate it. But fear not, faithful, I’ve seen the error of my ways, repented, and that album isn’t on any of my official end-of-the-year lists. It can’t hurt anyone anymore). But this one stuck.

It’s funny. It’s smart. It’s got a killer groove. It gets in your mind and stays there. It’s easy to sing along to and you can dance to it, as the kids would say.

My favorite song of the year:



Best of the Rest

SOCIAL DISTORTION – Far Side of Nowhere
Social D included a few surprises on their latest album – and in my humble opinion, their masterpiece – “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”. One of them, “Far Side of Nowhere” showed a little sunnier and more hopeful side of SxDx than they usually present. For one reason or another, this song hit me just right and was what I needed so many times. I can’t tell you how many times I threw this song on the car’s CD player and used it as the soundtrack to a one-man lunch-hour therapy session while I drove around untangling my brain; realizing as long as I had music like this, things could be so bad.

The last time I interviewed Mike Ness, singer/guitarist of Social Distortion, I told him that since I was 13 his music had always been there for me. He thanked me for the sentiment and added, “Awesome…me too”. Perfect.



RY COODER – No Banker Left Behind
The Dirty Roots Radio Show used to be as much about songs of revolution as it was anything else. Following an on-air rant about three years or so, some friends and I were compelled to start a small non-profit organization, dedicated to helping people find unique and easy ways to make a difference. The show became part of that. When the non-profit went away, most of the over-the-top change the world attitude of the show did, too.

While I don’t intentionally not play music with a message anymore, I just don’t go out of my way to feature it.

This is one of the rare tunes – especially new tunes – that manages to be an awesome rootsy track and pack a revolutionary wallop. The government and the banks have screwed us, we all know that much. Ry Cooder is an artist whose music I’ve always wanted and intended to dig into some day – and someday I will. But for now, I found this track by accident and am loving it. He manages to take what we’re all thinking – and what we’ve all heard countless times from countless people – and present it, Dirty Roots style.



LEONARD COHEN – Show Me the Place
I wasn’t expecting any more new music from Leonard Cohen, but thank the musical gods, he proved me wrong. It’s been an exciting few years for Cohen fans. He toured for a few years, released a few live document of said tour, reissued all of his previous albums, and pulled the recording of his historic 1970 Isle of Wright Festival performance. True enough, he did most of this because the business people behind him had robbed him blind and he needed money.

I’m hoping that his new album, “Old Ideas” – to be released at the end of January 2012, was the result of some genuine inspiration generated by all of the touring and digging through his past catalog. I saw his St. Louis stop of his 2009 tour…an event many have used the word “biblical” to describe. It was. Cohen is a special artist. A special human. The kind of person you read about and think doesn’t exist anymore, if they ever did.

He does. And we’re fortunate that he shares what he does with the rest of us.



CHARLES BRADLEY – Heart of Gold
Daptone Records is one of the few modern labels that still specializes in singles – and especially one of the few who release those singles as vinyl 45s.

After his debut album, “No Time for Dreaming” came out in January – one of my favorite albums of 2011 – Bradley/Daptone issued this cover of the Neil Young classic. Just like everything Bradley has done – as well as everything Daptone has done – this is solid, old-school sounding soul.



CHARLES BRADLEY – Stay Away
As part of all the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, Spin Magazine released a tribute to the classic this past summer: "Newermind". The tribute album featured a different artist performing each song. Bradley, backed as always by the Daptone Records’ fabulous Menehan Street Band, took on “Stay Away”.

And you thought Bradley covering Neil Young was a stretch!

But Bradley transformed it into his own.



LYKKE LI – Get Some
This is the surprise song on my list; the unlikely choice. Lykee Li’s 2011 album, “Wounded Rhymes” was on many mainstream “Best of 2011” albums. It came out early in the year and all the buzz around it prompted me to give it a listen. It was another one of those “I like it, but I’ll never listen to it” things. Anytime a “mainstream” and modern release makes me feel that way it surprises me.

I caught an episode of Amoeba Music’s awesome YouTube series, “What’s In My Bag” about a month back that featured Li. In the background was a song that was completely infectious. I had to find it. Turns out it was a track from “Wounded Rhymes”. I gave the record another listen. Still liked it. Still knew I’d never listen to it again. But dagnabit if this track didn’t stick with me.



DARONDO – Get Up Off Your Butt

OK, this selection deserves a spot on the list for the guy’s story alone. This is another find that came courtesy of Amoeba’s “What’s In My Bag” series on YouTube. Mayer Hawthorne had picked up a newly reissued album by a cat named Darondo.

Darondo was a soul musician in California’s Bay Area. He was reportedly into thangs like pimpin’ (he denies it) to make extra money. He opened a show for James Brown – one time – and immediately afterward gave up music altogether. “Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions” was Darondo’s “lost album” that was finally released this year. And it’s great. This is my favorite track.



STEVE EARLE – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Showin’ some love for Record Store Day – the only official Dirty Roots Radio approved holiday! If you’re not hip to it, every year, the fine folks at the Record Store Day organization coax artists to release very limited edition albums and singles – most exclusively on vinyl, and all exclusively available at independent record shops.

This track – left off of Earle’s album of the same name (his book of the same name will be on my “Best Books of 2011” listing) – was a Record Store Day limited edition 7” vinyl release. It’s Hank Williams’ song you already know and love. And it’s Steve Earle, so you know you’re gonna love the delivery.



I'd love to hear your thoughts on the best songs/albums/books of 2011 - either comments on my list, or a list of your own!!! Hit me on the Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, in the comments section below, or at dirtyroots@rocketmail.com.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums of 2011

I'd love to hear about your favorite albums from 2011! Send them in to dirtyroots@rocketmail.com, post them on the Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, or just leave them in the comments below. Feel free to include as much or as little information as you want, rank them however you want, and include as many or as few albums as you'd like. I hope to hear from you!

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There’s nothing scientific about this list, just some thoughts on the albums that I’ve enjoyed most this year.

(Presented in no particular order…)

Best of the Best:

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming


I first saw Charles Bradley as an opening act for Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings about three years ago. There was just something about the guy. You could FEEL the blood, sweat, and tears that went into everything he did. He’d spent his life in hardscrabble jobs up to that point, doing everything from cooking in a restaurant to construction.

Fast forward a few years and at the age of 63, Bradley releases one of the best records of the year on one of my favorite labels; Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. Like all Daptone releases, this is real-deal soul, recorded on vintage equipment, without sounding retro.

Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes


There are few thrills in the world as satisfying as the anticipation of a new record from your favorite band in the world. That high is intensified when said band releases new albums as sporadically as Social Distortion. It’s always worth the wait, though. As is the case with all of their albums, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” still sounds totally like Social D but manages to have its own unique sound as well.

Prior to the release of this album, I saw SxDx live and Mike Ness indicated that the new record would sound like a combination of Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, the Ramones, and Johnny Thunders. He might have mentioned a few other influences. I knew we’d be in for a treat and they didn’t disappoint.

With the addition of keys and soulful backup singers, this earthy blues/country/punk/sleaze sound wouldn’t be out of place on some o’ them drunk ol’ Stones classics (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main St., Beggar’s Banquet). Add my feel good song of the year, “Far Side of Nowhere”; a truck stop epic, “Bakersfield”; a Hank Williams cover, “Alone and Forsaken”; and wrap it all up in a Great Depression/Dust Bowl-themed Little Golden Book style cover and you’ve got Social Distortion’s masterpiece.

Tom Waits – Bad As Me


What does one say? Dude’s the White Castle of the music world; you love him or you hate him. There’s no in between. “Bad As Me” has everything great about Tom Waits – killer songwriting; those loser/drifter/freak characters – but is more streamlined in its presentation than his last few albums. It’s weird. It’s raw. It’s beautiful. It’s Tom Waits at his absolute best.

Black Keys – El Camino


What an album. ‘Purt near perfect. You know how you kinda follow an artist from a distance, and then they make that record that pushes it over the edge for you and you finally embrace them? This is that record for me. I’ve always liked the concept of the Black Keys. I’ve always dug their sound. But it just wasn’t “there” for me.

When “Attack & Release” came out a few years ago, I was intrigued by the story of the album (it was supposed to have been made with Ike Turner), so I checked it out. I liked that one, but it still didn’t quite do “it”. Then I went back to Chulahoma – their Junior Kimbrough tribute record. I enjoyed it, being a fan of Kimbrough’s work. But, just like nearly every tribute album, regardless of how good it might be, it paled in comparison to the original work of the tributee. I listened to their last album, “Brothers”, and just as I expected, I respected it, but knew I’d never listen to it more than once.

And then, this fall came “Lonely Boy” with its skuzzy, slinky, sexy guitar riff. It had been a while since I’d been knocked flat like that by a single. Shortly thereafter I heard an early-leaked copy of “Run Right Back”, sounding similarly nasty and bluesy and garage-y. I was cautiously optimistic; I WANTED to like the Black Keys. I had TRIED to like them. This new record was showing promise, but surely it couldn’t be as good as these first two tracks were leading me to believe! Then the record came. And it was. This is the sound of a band hitting its full stride; realizing all its promise.

Spin Magazine reviewed the record and said with “El Camino” the Black Keys finally realized they weren’t old black men. I never thought they were trying to sound that way…but that IS what Dirty Roots is all about; taking what inspires you (vintage raw blues in this case) and making it relevant for you (super-funky, with perfect production from Danger Mouse, here).

As Otis Ryan Productions blogger Bill Walker said in his review of the album upon its release, “As popular music is poked and prodded to an auto-tuned sodium-free, fat-free can of Progresso,” the Black Keyes have followed the Dirty Roots recipe and come up with what Walker called, “an MSG-filled bowl of chili down at the local diner.” And everybody knows that’s what’s most fun to eat. There isn’t a bad track on this record. Best album of the year.

Best of the Rest:

Reverend John Wilkins – You Can’t Hurry God


You know that scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack is talking about how he got together with his girlfriend and he talks about how it wasn’t totally exciting…but it wasn’t boring, either….it was “just good…..but, really good”? That’s what this album – the biggest surprise of the year for me – is like. It showed up in my mail unannounced and since it was from the good folks at Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess Records, I figured I’d give it a go. It didn’t knock my dinger in the dirt, like the Black Keys did. But it wasn’t boring either. It was good…but really good.

Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over


It shouldn’t be up to an 70+ year old church lady to bear the torch of rock and roll. But Wanda Jackson apparently has broad shoulders and is up for the task. I’ve never been a big fan of Jack White as a performer, but I love what he does as producer. His latest granny project (first being the great Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose”) is one of my favorites of the year. Wanda rocks a few classics, makes a modern-day Bob Dylan standard her own…and THAT VOICE!!! She may not have the kitten purr she had 50 years ago, but she’s still got that wildcat yowl!!!

T-Model Ford & GravelRoad – Taledragger


This album would deserve to be on this list for no reason other than the fact that it exists. It also happens to be great. T-Model Ford – one of the original Fat Possum recording artists – is in his early 90s and shows no signs of stopping. Over the past four years, I’ve been blessed to interview T-Model and the guys he tours with several times and become friends with them. Hanging out with T (real name: James Lewis Carter Ford), you realize that he’s as close to someone from another planet as you’re likely to ever encounter.

As a little boy growing up in the North Mississippi Hill Country, T-Model was abused so badly by his daddy, he lost one of his nuts. He’s been shot, stabbed, and poisoned. He’s been in the penitentiary and on the chain gang. He was in jail “every weekend there for a while”. A tree fell on him and busted his hip in his middle age, and in his late 80’s he overcame a stroke and continued touring. He’s been married six times and informed me that his sixth wife became his wife because she tricked him into a trip to the courthouse. His fourth wife gave him a present of an electric guitar and amp, which pissed him off at the time; he didn’t play. When she left him he taught himself to play. He was 58.

This is the blues. It’s not BB King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, or even John Lee Hooker blues. This is self-taught, untrained, “I play the blues because there’s something inside me that has to come out” blues. The real deal. God bless T-Model Ford for still doing it. And props to my buddy Marty, as well as Stefan and the other guys in GravelRoad for helping to make it happen!

Mistakes Were Made: Five Years of Raw Blues, Damaged Livers & Questionable Business Decisions (A Broke & Hungry Records Retrospective)


If you haven’t checked out the great – and important – work that our friends at Broke & Hungry Records are doing, GET TO IT! You'll be a better person for it.

This compilation is a great place to get your feet wet. Two CDs of real-deal Mississippi Delta Blues from the north hill country. Back porch pickin' and juke joint stompin! T-Model Ford, Jimmie “Duck” Holmes, Pat Thomas, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Bill Abel, The Mississippi Marvel, and a whole lotta mo’…the gang’s all here, they’re all soundin’ great, and the white whiskey is flowin’.

James Leg – Solitary Pleasure


Imagine what Tom Waits would sound like if he gargled with razor blades and whiskey and screamed the blues from the seventh circle of the deepest pit of hell, while banging away at a Fender Rhodes…except, kinda ….churchy. James Leg (the solo identity of John Meyer of the fabulous Black Diamond Heavies) is actually a minister. He used to preach alongside his evangelist father. Lucky for us, though, his hymns are now about drinkin’, hell, temptation, jail, and crackheads. Glory!!

Pearl Jam – Vs. & Vitalogy Reissues


There’s been a lot of nostalgia for the early 90s this year, what with the anniversary reissues of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and U2’s “Achtung Baby”. None of the reminiscences hit the spot like the reissue of these two gems, though. Two of the finest albums from my coming-of-age days that transport me back, but still remain valid today.

Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive


This is the “countriest” thing Steve Earle has done in a long time and the first album of all original material since 2007’s “Washington Square Serenade”. The album came out at the same time as Steve Earle’s first novel, of the same name. Funnily enough, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (by Hank Williams) doesn’t show up on the album at all. (It was released as a limited edition 7” vinyl for Record Store Day)

It’s classic Steve Earle. Awesome story songs about oil riggers, outlaws, God, politics, and his wife. That awesome twangy Texas voice. Interesting bluegrass-ish instrumentation. Can’t go wrong.

Scott H. Biram – Bad Ingredients


To really experience Scott H. Biram you gotta see him live. When I saw him this past summer, just before the release of this record, there were two people that stood out to me. One was a very pretty, very sweet, petite young lady. She had a blonde bob haircut and looked like she was probably an office assistant somewhere. But she was covered in tattoos from the neck down and wrist up; everywhere that could be covered by a sweet little button-up business sweater. The other girl was clearly not a nice girl; she was, in every conceivable way, the antithesis of the sweet young thing. But this second girl had a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back. This concert was also the first time I tried homemade moonshine.

Bad girls with angel wings. Good girls with hidden tattoos. Homemade hooch. This album sounds like all of that. Make sense?

Jeff Bridges – Jeff Bridges


You ever see someone who has one of those completely worn, fully-broken-in, completely lived in soft brown leather jackets that looks like they’ve had it on for 30 years? Or ever notice someone’s jeans that are so soft and worn and faded that you wonder how they’re still holding together?

This album sounds like you would imagine those things feel. It sounds exactly like what you would expect from Jeff Bridges in all of his Dude-like charm. When Bruce Willis was making records, they sounded exactly like what you would expect from Bruce Willis. And while they may have been “fun”, they weren’t good. But this album sounding like a Jeff Bridges record is a very good thing. Its comfortable. Its quality. Its from the heart and its laid back. The Dude always seemed like he was a guy you could just hang with. Now we know he can play some music while we’re hangin’.

Gary Clark, Jr. – Bright Lights EP


Not much to say about this short EP release. Sounds kinda Black-Keys-ish…but it fits him well. Makes me excited to hear what’s yet to come from this young Texas bluesman. I’m not sure the last time I could say that about a young, up-and-coming blues musician. Clark does it Dirty Roots style, though. He’s respectful of his roots without being beholden to tradition.

Bottle Rockets – Not So Loud


An acoustic evening with the Bottle Rockets – the best working band on the whole damn planet. ‘Nuff said.

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound – Want More


Thank God for young bands like this releasing records like this. As with Scott H. Biram, you really need to see them live to get the full experience. I saw them a couple of weeks ago at Off Broadway in St. Louis; a whiskey-fueled, sweaty night of dancey rock-n-soul. It’s not often than a young modern band can make me wanna get up and jam. JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound bring the party.

This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African American Gospel on 45 RPM (1957-1982)


Mike McGonigal put together the fantastic “Fire In My Bones” compilation for the Tompkins Square record label a few years back. A collection of pre-war gospel gems that keeps a fire burning in my bones.

This release is a collection of more modern gospel recordings – all taken from 45’s. Most of these recordings were self-funded and self-released; those that weren’t were issued in very limited quantities on tiny independent labels. No one famous here. These are folks who sing about their faith because they have to. They need to do it as much as you need to hear it.

Kudos to McGonigal for digging up these treasures and the informative liner notes that accompany the set.

As I said...I'd love to hear your thoughts on the best albums of 2011 - either comments on my list, or a list of your own!!!

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My Best Music of 2011

BY BILL WALKER

Hey guys,

Just thought I'd share my list of favorite/top albums and songs of 2011. I'm constantly amazed at the garbage getting played on mainstream radio while all the great music is consistently hidden from the public. I'd love to hear your comments and criticisms. I've included some words about my favorite albums and songs and listed some other must-hears from 2011. P.S. My top four albums could be interchanged at any other position. The standings are as of right now.

Albums

Favorites

8) W H O K I L L -- TuneYards


Undoubtedly the most experimentally rewarding album of the year. Think Tracy Chapman experimenting with Paul Simon and adding energy. Merrill Garbus fills every moment with sounds and silences that tap your feet and open your eyes to a different world. Key tracks: You Yes You, My Country, Gangsta.

7) Jay-Z and Kanye West -- Watch the Throne


The super duo puts out the hip-hop album of the year, turning everything from a sample of Otis Redding to a line from Blades of Glory, the much-awaited album balances the obscenities of wealth associated with today's hip hop and the class of a music historian. Key tracks: Otis, Niggas in Paris, That's My Bitch, No Church in the Wild.

6) Ryan Adams -- Ashes and Fire


After getting married and sober, Adams put out a solid set of songs concluding with two of my favorites from the year. It's melancholy, joyful and unexperimental. Adams at sentimental best. Key tracks: Ashes and Fire, Lucky Now, Kindness, I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say.

5) Adele -- 21


There's not much more I can add about this album that hasn't already been said. It's as good a pop album produced in a decade. The songwriting fits Adele's style to a T and leaves you dancing with a broken heart. Key tracks: Rumour Has It, Someone Like You, Rolling in the Deep.

4) Wilco -- The Whole Love


From a band which has grown into perhaps the greatest, most talented and most proficient from America, this album touches all bases. Opening with a blazing experimental rock track and ending with a beautiful sentimental ballad, The Whole Love leaves an imprint in your heart. Key tracks: Art of Almost, I Might, The Whole Love, Born Alone, Dawned on Me, One Sunday Morning.

3) Bon Iver -- Bon Iver


Bon Iver's first release is probably my favorite album in the past 10 years. It strolls through the melancholy and heartbreak with minimalist beauty. The second full length album from Justin Vernon is hardly minimalist. It evokes the sounds of Vernon's heart, but mixes the anthemic sound of a band like Coldplay and doesn't lose the heartfelt meaning. An unforgettable record. Key tracks: Perth, Holocene, Calgary, Towers, Michicant.

2) Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues


When the Fleet Foxes floated onto the scene in 2008, their debut album was lauded as a vocally symphonic beauty. Robin Pecknold's sole was bore in the album and made him an indie star. Helplessness Blues recalls every bit of that musical perfection (in the shadows of Simon and Garfunkel) and teaches us that stardom may not be what it's cracked up to be. Key tracks: Montezuma, Helplessness Blues, Grown Ocean, Sim Sala Bim, The Plains/Bitter Dancer.

1) The Black Keys -- El Camino


The past seven albums would have made 2011 a fantastic year for music. Then came December and the Black Keys. Oh my. Has there been a single like Lonely Boy that has grabbed you that strongly? Has an album shaken you to dance with every single note and found so many ways to make you say "Damn!"? Hands down the rock album of the year. Key tracks: The Lonely Boy, Gold on the Ceiling, Dead and Gone, Little Black Submarines, Run Right Back, Hell of a Season.

Must-Listen Albums (Favorite tracks)
-Foo Fighters -- Wasting Light (Rosemary, Bridge Burning)
-Girls -- Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Honey Bunny, Vomit)
-The Strokes -- Angles (Taken for a Fool)
-Tom Waits -- Bad As Me (Chicago, Bad as Me)
-The Decemberists -- The King is Dead (Calamity Song, January Hymn, Don't Carry it All)
-Anthony David -- As Above, So Below
-Coldplay -- Mylo Xyloto (Paradise, Princess of China)
-Ha Ha Tonka -- Death of a Decade (Usual Suspects)
-Wanda Jackson -- The Party Ain't Over
-Blitzen Trapper -- American Goldwing
-Hotels & Highways -- Lost River (Train Whistle)
-Paul Simon -- So Beautiful or So What
-Cults -- Cults (Abducted, Go Outside)
-Wye Oak -- Civilian
-Alabama Shakes -- Alabama Shakes EP (Look for this group to hit it BIG) (Hold On)
-Raphael Saadiq -- Stone Rollin (Stone Rollin, Good Man)
-Gary Clark, Jr. -- Bright Lights EP (Bright Lights)
-Drake -- Take Care (Take Care)
-M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Midnight City, Splendor)
-The Roots -- Undun (The Other Side)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Submit Your Favorites of 2011!

I'm finally working on a list of my favorite albums, songs, and books of 2011. I'll post it here soon, but I'd also love your input, too! If you'd like to submit your favorites of the year, please email the list to dirtyroots@rocketmail.com, share them on the Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, or just post them in the comments section below.

There won't be anything scientific about my list - just stuff I liked for one reason or another. There's no limit to how many or how few to include in your list and you can organize them in any fashion you choose.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 Christmas Ruminations

Life is crazy. Things are hectic.

As most of you know, there’s been a lot of heavy stuff on the ol’ Miff-mind lately.

But today is Christmas.

I’m famously conflicted about Christmas. I rail about the commercialization of the whole thing. I’m exhausted by the religious people around me lamenting the war on “Merry Christmas”. On and on.

But this year, I found this little gem of a song, from one of my favorite record labels, Daptone Records:



That’s my Christmas this year. Despite everything that’s going on, we were able to provide a memorable Christmas for my daughter. I still worry about the commercialization and materialism of it all.

But she specifically asked for two very reasonable and affordable gifts that we could swing. And we worked to give her a few other special things that were just right.

As a four-year old, she’s been the most excited for this Christmas than she has for any other so far.

And she’s in heaven right now.

I was able to get a few things my wife wanted and she got me a new record player which is just perfect for me.

Kate’s looking cute in her fuzzy footie jammies, nibbling her Christmas candy, playing with all of her new toys.

The dog is dozing in the sun coming through the front window, with her new Christmas bone tucked up under her front leg.


Grandma just left for her house, following a great Christmas Eve with extended family here last night.

My wife is keeping herself busy sorting through things and putting stuff away.

And I’m just sitting on the couch with my feet snug in my new Christmas slippers, sipping my peppermint mocha coffee, taking it all in; feeling perfectly content in the satisfied glow that everyone around me exhibits.

It wasn’t materialistic. No one was greedy and no one spoiled anybody. But for the last week, there’s been an amazing focus on love.

I’ve had the last several days off work and I’ve spent them with just my daughter and I, while my wife worked. We Christmas shopped for Mommy and Grandma…we went to the movies…we ate cinnamon rolls. We had a lot of fun.

We spent Christmas Eve with our family. My dad and stepmom are on their way over to spend this afternoon.

And throughout all of this, Binky Griptite’s words have echoed through my mind, on continual loop: “Daddy’s on the couch, not thinking about his worries”.

Everyone is taken care of. Everyone had a special day. We have family. We have friends. We take care of each other. We look out for one another. My kid counts on us and knows she can. My dog loves me. We share. We laugh. There is love.

I’m just taking it all in; reminding myself, that no matter what else…There is love.

And that is all that matters.

Daddy's sitting on the couch, not thinking about his worries…

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Friday, December 16, 2011

Black Friday

I didn’t think it would happen this time

I thought I was stronger

Wiser

I didn’t think it would creep in again

I thought I’d built up that wall

Then the door closed

And I was instantly transported

Right back there

Is it her?

Is it me?

Is it just him?

Is it a bunch of ‘them’?

It dawned on me, as the door closed…

It’s Friday

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Real Life Punk Rock Blues

Trouble abounds where I’m headed today

Misery and heartbreak

Tears and blood

Unhappiness and unfairness resulting from the unnecessary Clampdown that exists only because some fat cats somewhere who sit high above the muck and have nothing to worry about say this is just “real life” Down Here (w/the Rest of Us).

As I dropped off my kid at the sitter today, she said she didn’t feel like going.

I told her she definitely didn’t want to go where I was going today.

I told her to go and play and have fun and be young.

And as she walked in, I wanted to follow her and sit and play with the other kids in the floor.

*Clampdown = The Clash
*Down Here (w/the Rest of Us) = Social Distortion




Friday, December 9, 2011

El Camino Dances With The Ghosts Of Legends

FROM GUEST BLOGGER, BILL WALKER...

Rock and Roll is America. It has been since Rocket 88 blended blues with gospel and sent the world on its side. What brings the best out of the genre is also the same with the United States. It’s the soup bowl, brought to a boil and turned into a fabulous meal. As popular music is poked and prodded to an autotuned sodium-free, fat-free can of Progresso, the Black Keys are an MSG-filled bowl of chili down at the local diner.

I’ll admit. I’m a fanboy of the Akron duo and have been since first hearing the dirty fuzz of Rubber Factory. The pure lonely storytelling grit of Stack Shot Billy built and borrowed on American music history as the country blended the heart of its immigrants into one melted pot. Even listening to that album seven years ago, I’m not certain the path I expected the Black Keys to take would have led to this.

The peak seemed to appear last year when the ultimately satisfying Brothers was after a couple of solid, yet semi-disappointing efforts (Attack and Release, Magic Potion), the Keys opened eyes outside of their fan base and inside kicked down another door.

It’s perhaps harder for artists to remain true to what they are and keep their original fans as wide-eyed devotees than anything else. Metallica failed at it. Bob Dylan failed at it. Hell, even the Beatles pushed fans away in their late years. You can argue those musicians didn’t sell-out, rather took what was their natural path. But the Black Keys’ natural path is the same dust-filled bumpy road it’s traveling on.

Not only did they not sell-out, they widened that road’s shoulders without paving it.


It’s hard to deny how high the bar has been pushed by the Black Keys with El Camino. Brothers was a phenomenal treat, though an extension of past efforts. El Camino transcends the previous work, borrows from rock legends and dances with their ghosts. From the second you drop the needle on the vinyl or push play on the iPod, you can’t turn away. It opens with Lonely Boy which may be the best rock song in a decade. It’s simple. It’s pure. It’s dirty. It’s marvelously addicting, worthy of temporary hearing loss.



Had this been left as a single, it would be the Keys’ best effort. But for 35 more minutes, the album just. Keeps. Rolling. Before you blink, it’s over and you’re left breathless. The Keys string you along like an unfaithful lover, blending a tinge of Motown in Dead and Gone, a dab of Zeppelin in Little Black Submarines, a spoonful of Cream in Stop Stop, a bit of Skynyrd in Mind Eraser.

Yet each song belongs exclusively to the Keys. Taut lyrically and simple they’re at their best on El Camino. The lonely guitar kicking off Run Right Back is followed by a guttural grind of Auerbach’s guitar and the pulse altering drum of Carney roars. Around the corner is the brilliant thumbprint of producer Danger Mouse, who flirts with Gnarls Barkley’s soulful hip hop on Sister. When it all ends, you’re left in a breathless, dizzied stare.

This may be the Black Keys’ boiling culmination, but if it’s part of their ascension to the peak, good God are we in for a treat.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - December 1st Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Duane Eddy - Rebel Rouser
Howlin' Wolf - Evil
The Readymen - Shortnin' Bread
Cake - Mahna Mahna
Scott H. Biram - I Want My Mojo Back
Bo Diddley - Cadillac
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound - I Got High
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound - Sister Ray Charles
Jimmy McGriff - The Worm
Those Darlins - Be Your Bro
The Doors - Five to One
Lightning Hopkins - Merry Christmas
Shonen Knife - Sheenah Is a Punk Rocker
Mike Ness - I Fought the Law
The Clash - -Judy's Been Working for the Drug Squad
Johnny Cash - Understand Your Man
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Genuine, Pt. 1
Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'
Reverend Horton Heat - Jingle Bells
Martha Reeves & the Vendellas - Nowhere to Run
The Sonics - Psycho
Screaming Joe Neal - Rock and Roll Deacon
Dex Romweber Duo - Jungle Drums
The Doors - Roadhouse Blues [live]
Social Distortion - Bakersfield
T-Model Ford - If I Had Wings (Part 1)
T-Model Ford - To the Left, To the Right
Tom Waits - Kiss Me
Rolling Stones - Before They Make Me Run
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Itty Bitty Pretty One
Edwin Starr - Agent Double-O-Soul
Staple Singers - Go Tell It On the Mountain
Hank Williams - Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)
Hank Williams - House of Gold
The Cramps - The Natives Are Restless
Booker T & the MGs - Winter Wonderland [Take 2]

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"When words leave off, music begins." - Heinrich Heine