Never Mind the Critics | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Never Mind the Critics

Here’s what local musicians (and other tastemakers) were listening to in 2009.

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Singer, songwriter, guitarist

The Bad Plus: For All I Care (Heads Up)

Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A

 Tribute to Doris Day (Verve)

Levon Helm: Electric Dirt (Vanguard)

Danny Barnes: Pizza Box (ATO)

Geraint Watkins: In a Bad Mood (Gold Top)

I really like that new Bad Plus record called For All I Care with Wendy Lewis. It has all of the merits of their other records, plus more; it has singing, probably even more range and stylistic indifference than their other records, and her voice is beautiful. When they do a song like "Barracuda" by Heart or "Lock, Stock and Teardrops" by Roger Miller, it's not only amusing at first blush, but it's deep and well thought out and well executed. Any of those doesn't necessarily follow from the last.

Robbie Fulks

That new Nellie McKay record, Normal as Blueberry Pie, I thought was real good. I like Doris Day's music, persona, and singing, and I like that era, that Nelson Riddle era, and I think the playing is really solid.

That new Levon Helm record, Electric Dirt, man. I think the last song on that, [singing] "I wish I could sing," whatever it's called, might be the best thing he's ever recorded as a solo artist. Jesus, yeah. He's singing so high and clear, and there's a nice variety but it all hangs together. There's a lot of subtlety in the voice arrangements and what the rhythm section is doing. Levon makes these records where stuff sounds great and it's all great players, but that little extra piece beyond that might not be in place, and here he's got that extra little piece, I think.

I think the new Danny Barnes record, Pizza Box, is his best record. It has great drumming—this guy Matt Chamberlain plays on it—and it's got songs on it, which some of Danny's records don't, so it's great to hear him back in that realm again. It's great, hard modern playing, and I think his life's work of shoving the banjo into modern contexts—taking it out of the land of the rusticity of Earl Scruggs and the heady NPR delicacy of Bela Fleck—really comes to fruition here.

Also, In a Bad Mood by Geraint Watkins. Geraint's one of the deepest living players of American (even though he's Welsh) roots music, I believe, and one of the weirdest too. And what I like about his new record is its delightful and unforced tension—a superstructure of verbal and musical cliche on top of which are all these insane little wrinkles and subtle, unexpected moves. Insanely rangy as well.

Front man and reedist for Yakuza

Helen Money: In Tune (Radium)

Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Warner Brothers/Reprise)

Keelhaul: Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity (Hydra Head)

Bruce Lamont Yakuza

Helen Money's In Tune. It's fucking amazing, the sounds she's coming up with. It's moving, it's dark, it's incredible. I'm a big fan. If I had to pick a metal record for the year I'd have to pick Mastodon's Crack the Skye. But without Keelhaul, Mastodon wouldn't exist, so their record, Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity, which came out on Hydra Head, is hands down my favorite heavy record of the year. When they get mathy they get right up to that point where you're like, "Maybe they shouldn't . . . " Then all of the sudden this amazingly crafted riff will grab you by the cojones and just take you up there. Not only are they technically proficient, the energy is over the top and they understand dynamics. I'm blown away.

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