the top albums of 2009

It tells you something. When the top four selling albums of 2009 according to iTunes turn out to be 2008 releases (records by Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and the first Twilight soundtrack), you start suspecting that this hasn’t exactly been the most remarkable year for contemporary music.

But there were delights – often smaller, less obvious ones. In fact, when compiling an annual critic’s pick list of the best albums of the year, there were enough leftovers to make the list an even 20. Among those missing the final cut were fine recordings by Son Volt, St. Vincent, Elvis Costello, David Sylvian, John Doe and the Sadies, Heartless Bastards, PJ Harvey and John Parish, The Flatlanders and Lyle Lovett.

But here is what was won out – an extraordinary pack I’m proud to call my Top 10 album list for 2009. And for once, the picks are presented in no particular order. They all stand on the same high ground.

allen toussaint: the bright mississippi

allen toussaint: the bright mississippi

+ Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi – On this Joe Henry-produced recording, the roots, blues and jazz elegance of the mighty Toussaint’s piano voice are placed front and center. Inspiration from his native New Orleans still abounds. But so does an instrumental tone that can only come from a learned pop elder.

bela fleck: throw down your heart

bela fleck: throw down your heart

+ Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart – In tracing the roots of the banjo back to African shores, Fleck has designed a world music overview of often stunning depth. With help from such African pioneers as Toumani Diabate, Vusi Mahlasela and Oumou Sangare, Fleck’s search for musical heritage becomes a joyous cultural adventure.

nels cline: coward

nels cline: coward

+ Nels Cline: Coward A one-man-band guitar escapade with acoustic moments that recall such master composer/stylists as Ralph Towner (Prayer Wheel), jagged electric jaunts reminiscent of Thurston Moore (the aptly named Thurston Road) and a compositional sweep that is nothing short of orchestral.

rosanne cash: the list

rosanne cash: the list

+ Rosanne Cash: The List – The story goes that the 12 songs on this album were pulled from a much larger list compiled by Cash’s storied father as a primer of essential music for any aspiring country singer. The younger Cash takes on the lesson with an honest, unforced vocal command and an endearing sense of country-pop faith.

jon hassell: last night the moon...

jon hassell: last night the moon...

+ Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street Trumpeter Hassell’s newest  “fourth world music” venture embraces fascinating ambience. The trumpet speaks in short, often abrupt outbursts colored by violin and electronics. The resulting music is indefinably warm and wondrous.

wilco: wilco (the album)

wilco: wilco (the album)

+ Wilco: Wilco (the album) Match a library of pop smarts, from Jeff Tweedy’s world weary meditations to nicely aloof ensemble rockers, with the cunning musicianship of drummer (and University of Kentucky) alum Glenn Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline and you have Wilco’s loosest and most blissfully summery album to date.

hem: twelfth night

hem: twelfth night

+ Hem: Twelfth Night – This is a stylistic but not geographic departure for Brooklyn folk-popsters Hem. Instead of more song oriented fare, the ensemble goes Celtic to provide a merry soundtrack for last summer’s Central Park production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A delightful, time-tripping pop surprise.

joe henry: blood from stars

joe henry: blood from stars

+ Joe Henry: Blood From Stars – Producer Henry turns back to his own music to combine the rootsy authority of T Bone Burnett, the pop circus surrealism of Tom Waits and a lyrical romantic streak all his own. He then augments the mix with a nocturnal, noir-like jazz accent. Needless to say, nothing last year sounded as original as Blood From Stars.

steve earle: townes

steve earle: townes

+ Steve Earle: Townes The roots Earle shares with the mentoring Texas songsmith Townes Van Zandt are vast. But the magic of Townes is that it ultimately sounds very much like an Earle album, with Van Zandt’s torn characters done up with regal but ragged devotion by his one time protégé.

u2: no line on the horizon

u2: no line on the horizon

+ U2: No Line on the Horizon – Put it against The Unforgettable Fire or even All That You Can’t Leave Behind and it pales. But on its own, No Line offers rock ‘n’ roll empowered by its own righteousness. Bono still sings like a zealot, The Edge still possesses a monstrously lean guitar attack and songs like Breathe still rock like mad.

PA GOP CHAIRMAN GLEASON STATEMENT ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA OFFICE OPENING IN HARRISBURG.

States News Service March 6, 2012 HARRISBURG, PA — The following information was released by the Pennsylvania Republican Party: organizingforamericanow.net organizing for america

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason released the following statement regarding President Obama’s newest campaign office in Harrisburg:

“No number of offices, yard signs or even Presidential visits will fool voters into believing that President Obama has helped economic growth in Pennsylvania or keep rising gas prices from skyrocketing. As President Obama continues to bring his massive, billion-dollar campaign to Pennsylvania to disguise his failed policies, we’ll be ready to work with a broad coalition of voters who are anxious to hold him accountable for his failed record at the polls this year.” Chairman Gleason continued, “I’m sure that Senator Casey will be leaning on President Obama’s billion dollar campaign this year as he struggles to defend their joint record of disappointment. After all, Bob Casey and Barack Obama have been best friends in Washington, D.C. agreeing 98% of the time- why wouldn’t they help each other this year? Casey has led the charge for the more taxes and more spending agenda. It’s thanks to the failed Obama-Casey energy policies that Pennsylvanians are struggling with paying for gas that is nearly $4.00 a gallon. web site organizing for america

“To get our Commonwealth and our country back on the right track after the disastrous tenure of President Obama and Senator Casey, we look forward to delivering Pennsylvania for the Republican presidential nominee as well as Steve Welch for U.S. Senate.” Download our infographic here.

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