2010 music that rocked

KentWired Staff

The music from the last year that rocked the hardest came from a lineup of familiar faces looking to explore unfamiliar territory. The artists who chose to chase a more sophisticated sound instead of simply repeating themselves, seem to have found their muse in new experiences. The artists, all at different stages in their careers (Eminem is rumored to have actually been invited to the Grammy’s this year) have been selected for this list based on the accuracy of those artistic leaps of faith and the authenticity of those genre-bending experiments. Although not always as popular as it was this year, sonic exploration can mean the difference between fleeting popularity and longevity. . . just ask Hannah Montana Sr.

Ray LaMontagne – “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise”

Released Aug. 17

It’s easy to compare Ray LaMontagne to Bob Dylan — except LaMontagne can sing his ass off.

In 1965 when Dylan released “Like A Rolling Stone,” he was starting a movement of music that was lyrically and stylistically juxtapose to the vapid expanse of sugar-coated pop songs of the day. The way Dylan’s 6-minute epic spat in the faces of his contemporaries, LaMontagne’s “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” hocks a raw, blues-rock lougie in the faces of 2010’s heavily processed chart toppers.

It’s important to note that this is LaMontagne’s first foray into the role of producer and also the first time he has released an album collaborating with The Pariah Dogs, his touring band.

“There’s something magical that happens when these musicians play together,” says Ray LaMontagne in an interview on Columbia’s website. “I’ve been wanting to capture what we’ve been doing live for a while. The chemistry is really special.”

From the deceptively sneaky bass opening of “Repo Man” to the gunshot snare spanks of the album-closing “The Devil’s in the Jukebox,” it‘s clear that LaMontagne has achieved something a little more salient than he could have on his own. It’s fuller than 2004’s “Trouble,” funkier than 2006‘s “Til the Sun Turns Black,” and more rooted than 2008‘s “Gossip in the Grain.”

“God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” was a success in 2010 because it shows artistic maturity in both musical composition and lyrical content. The album makes a lot of current releases seem unreal. While not desperate for attention with its 1950’s, Grand Ole Opry, playbill album cover, Grammy nominations for song of the year (“Beg, Steal, Borrow”) and Best Contemporary Folk Album, “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” sure seem to be turning heads in the right direction.

Listening suggestion: A long summer car trip

Heaviest lyric: “Well all of the friends that you knew in school / They used to be so cool now they just bore you / Well look at ’em now already pullin’ the plow / so quick to take to grain like some old mule” (“Beg, Steal, Borrow” Columbia Records)

Eminem – “Recovery”

Released June 22

Often, the year’s best selling album comes from a dubious source: High School Musical, Taylor Swift, Josh Groban (yes, Josh Groban in 2007) etc. This year it comes from beneath the rubble of Valium and oversized, velour-tracksuits that was Eminem’s career. More specifically, it comes from a freshly sober white boy who once rapped about eating a placenta.

Dubiousness intact, Mr. Mathers puts his heart on the line in songs like “25 to Life,” a guttural and final rejection of the fame thrust on him after rising to superstar status. If Common’s groundbreaking “Used to love H.E.R.” is the template for extended metaphor in hip-hop, Eminem certainly follows suit, albeit in the midst of his own embellishments. Where Common tried to illustrate how commercial hip-hop had become (Now I see her in commercials / she’s universal) with his metaphor for a long lost love, Eminem shows his propensity for domestic violence and wants to divorce the slut: “Why I’m married to you still / man I don’t know / but tonight I’m serving you with papers /?I’m divorcing you / Go marry someone else / and make ‘em famous and take away their freedom / like you did to me.”

Even though most guest appearance hooks fall flat, like the predictable Nate Dogg drones on “Cinderella Man” and the annoying Rihanna squeaks in “Love the Way you Lie,” Eminem’s balls-to-the-wall honesty (Fuck my last CD that sits in my trash / I’ll be goddamned if another rapper gets in my ass) and his new perspective following a 2007 overdose on Methadone capsules following the slaying of his close friend Proof (Wake up in the hospital full of tubes / plus somehow I’m pulling through / Swear when I come back I’ma be bulletproof / I’ma do it just for Proof) that make this a truly inspiring recovery.?

Listening suggestion: Your friend who thinks Eminem is too pop now.

Best comic relief: “Dick’s too short a word for my dick / Get off my antidisestablishmentarianism, you prick” (“Almost Famous” Aftermath / Shady Records)

The Black Keys – “Brothers”

Released May 18

This year, Spin named The Black Keys its Artist of the Year, Rolling Stone ranked their newest album, “Brothers,” No. 2 of 2010’s best records, and if you’ve turned on just about any HBO or Showtime series you’re likely to have heard their music during the credits. Grammy nominations include a nod for Best Alternative Album as well as nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “Tighten Up.” Also, “Black Mud” is nominated for Best Rock Instrumental performance, and ironically, drummer Patrick Carney’s brother, Michael Carney, was nominated in the best recording package category for his art direction on “Brothers.”

None of these things are responsible for this album’s appearance on this list.

Put simply, “Brothers” rocks — something that seems increasingly difficult for new artists. If you’ve been a Black Keys fan for a decent amount of time, you’ll know that, for the most part, “Thickfreakness” sounds like “Rubber Factory” sounds like “Magic Potion.” However, what 2008’s “Attack and Release” lacked in coherence, “Brothers” picks up on with surprising attention to every fuzzed out detail.

Tracks like “I’m Not the One” and “Too Afraid to Love You” help refine the hip-hop element the band explored with rap veterans Mos Def and Jim Jones on 2009’s Blackroc album. Hitting the marketing jackpot with musical appearances promoting everything from video games to low-quality Canadian lager, The Black Keys balance their newfound street credit with the highest amount of saturated commercialism per serving they can get away with on this record. With that balance askew, “Brothers” would have been just another Black Keys record.

Listening suggestion: House Party, fastfood run, late night cigarette.

Best life advice: “Mashed potatoes and cellophane / I see my life going down the drain / Hold me, baby don’t let go / pretty girls have to soften the blow” (“The Go Getter” Nonesuch Records)

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: “The Son of Chico Dusty”

Released July 6

After three years of label disagreements and slow-but-steady production, the silkier half of the decorated rap duo Outkast finally blasted his solo “eargasm.” With mentions on top album lists from practically every music news outlet that matters, (even NPR) Big Boi’s solo debut spills over with lush arrangements that border on over-production, but still manage to not overshadow his art of storytelling.

The album starts the way any good album should, with molten sex, P Funk-style guitar and whistling. Just as song hits its stride, the music fades and Big Boi brags, “Damn…That wasn‘t nothing but the intro.”

Touché. The album unfolds into big, spacey jams like the hating on haters anthem “Yo Sorrow” and the already overplayed, talkbox-tinged “Shutterbug.”

Big Boi has always been considered the more traditional MC of Outkast, but true to 2010’s theme of maturity, he really puts his imagination on the front line.

Sir Lucious Left Foot booms thick, 808’s into the trunk of your Cadillac. It makes girls dance. It even explains the apathy of today’s media saturated youth: “‘Cause they used to fantasy and that’s what they do to dream / Call it fiction addiction ’cause the truth is a heavy thing” (“Yo Sorrow”).

Listening suggestion: At the club or in the shower.

On Politics: “And who you votin’ for, Republican or Democratic? /

Don’t say it doesn’t matter cause that’s how they stole the last one /

Assassin’s bullet might be waitin’ for Obama /

Do you think they’ll have a brother before Billy’s baby mama?/ (“Daddy Fat Sax”)?

John Legend and the Roots – “Wake Up”

Released September 21

After years spent trying to prove to fans that he was an “Evolver,” John Legend has gone back to his roots to take you to church, the ballots and possibly down whatever dark, wet alley that conceived James Brown’s “In the Jungle Groove.”

There aren’t too many artists that could get away with funk, gospel, blues, reggae, and old school R&B. There are even fewer that could get away with an album of covers. On this record, the socially conscious lyricism of the ‘60s and ‘70s reverberates from John Legend’s throat with renewed meaning, and The Roots provide the air-tight backing track that has become their signature.

The two came together (according to Wake Up!’s liner notes) to, “…reinvigorate newfound political activism and optimism.” Regardless of whether or not that happens, the perfect mix of raw and still-poignant covers like “My Generation” and slower more introspective tracks like “I Can’t Write Left Handed” will give any listener the perfect soundtrack for fighting the man.

Listening suggestion: When you’re broke as hell.

Sure indicators of poverty: “Yeah, so many hard times / Sleeping on motel floors / eating SPAM, Oreos and drinking Thunderbird baby” (“Hard Times” GOOD / Sony / Columbia)?

2010 Honorable Mentions:

Cee-Lo Green

“The Lady Killer” (Elektra / Roadrunner)

-“Fuck You” is hands-down the best single of the year. The rest of the album sounds like a more modern “Psychedelic Soul.” In other words, Gnarls without so much Barkley.

Derek Trucks Band

“Roadsongs” (Sony BMG)

– Two nights in Chicago turned into the second live album from the best living slide guitarist and his world-class band. Listen to Butch’s son fuse genres and slide right out of that Allman Brothers mold. Served fresh by a fancy-shirted virtuoso with a side of jam to taste.


“Congratulations” (Columbia)

– The second album from the quirky, psych-rockers (mostly) eschewed the commercially perfect pop gems of 2007’s “Oracular Spectacular” in favor of more diverse endeavors: like making a video where they cuddle with a dinosaur in the desert (“Congratulations”).