UNCLE JEFF's 2010 Top Albums

Jay    Charles    Ed    Henry    Conor   Dave   Kevin home

Ten Reasons to Work at a Record Store

1. The Alps- Le Voyage (Type Records). Italian and Euro Prog, all clean and Analog Blissful. This record keeps growing on me every time I listen to it. It's got Pink Floyd Ummagumma-era guitar flourishes crossed with the Ghostbox experimental mentality. All excellently recorded and magically separated. This one puts you at the park in the dappled sunrays on a bed of eider-down. And it's legal. Let the Sons of Prog reign supreme! My number one album song of the year has to be 'Le Voyage', a 9 minute epic slice of Heaven.

Here's a review from Boomkat which almost does it justice: "Still comprised of the core threesome of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (Tarentel), Alexis Georgopoulos (ARP) and Scott Hewicker (Troll), The Alps return to Type in full force for their fourth sprawling long player. Buoyed by the praise lavished upon its predecessor ‘III’, the band were adamant that ‘Le Voyage’ would be bigger, brighter and better than anything in their catalogue to date, and we can report that they have been successful in their quest. The sun-bleached European movie soundtrack sentiment that underpinned their previous records is still here in full force, but it comes rolled up in something defiantly more psychedelic, and in turn more unpredictable. Sewn together by vignettes which bring to mind Delia Derbyshire’s Radiophonic hiccups or Luc Ferrari’s tape collage, the band have put together an album which genuinely takes you on a journey. Surely it can’t be a mistake calling the album ‘Le Voyage’ then, a title which simultaneously brings to mind the work of Serge Gainsbourg and Alejandro Jordorowsky – something deeply visual but effortlessly beautiful.

With propulsive, break heavy rhythms sure to appeal to any diggers out there and a blissful, sunny outlook to wipe the frown from the faces of all you dour experimental types, ‘Le Voyage’ is a crack of light in a dark room. A mysterious record, it is punctuated by the same energy that gave us space rock and psychedelia, and while the band are quick to demonstrate their wide-ranging musical knowledge, there is something incredibly unique about their sound. This is not a lazy soundtrack to a film which might never be made, rather ‘Le Voyage’ is a journey for the listener and one you will want to take over and over again." Convinced?

2. Emeralds- Does It Look Like I'm Here (Editions Mego) I don't need to ramble here. This is actually a pop record disguised as advanced Frippertronics-meets-the-noisy-set. With melodies you can actually hum. Our boys from Cleveland can do no wrong (other than maybe releasing too may limited run side projects). It's ok if Ed doesn't need this. We forgive him.

3. Sufjan Stevens- All Delighted People EP (or at 60 min, is it an LP) (Asthmatic Kitty). It is wonderfully inventive, beyond anybody working out there today, and Djohariah, is a 17 minute genre-bending epic of utter beauty. We've already discussed this to death. Someday you'll get it...

4. Mark McGuire- Must Not Have Meant That Much (CDr, self released, limited to 90 copies, go download it!). Lapping softly picked guitars blend into layers of warm digital synthi-ness, mutating and shifting so that it's never boring, always beautiful and subtly psychedelic. There are children's voices buried so low in the mix that when you recognize you've been on the merry-go-round a while, it's already over. I want to hear this 33 minute slice of bliss when I make the transition to the bright white light. Whoever remembers to play it for me in the nursing home gets all my LPs. It's his best work yet, hypnotic, pastoral, warm and experimental, melodic and subliminal. Did I leave anything out?

5. Arp- The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound). Minimal Prog? Is that an oxymoron? This one has a great cover, and it's very reminiscent of Rodelius. Cluster and our other Krauty pals. There are references to Another Green World era Eno even, but there is something new and vibrant that brings to the form. AND lorts of Arp keyboards, fittingly enough. The Autobahn calls...

Here's part of a review from Dusted hits this on the head: "In the long run, however, the meticulously paced Arp sounds like no one else; he just manages to convince you that you’re in familiar territory by soundtracking a parade of his own influences. Forget about kosmische: this is earthbound music, and its abstractions are rooted in musical neoclassicism and indirectly informed by conceptual art. The cyclical time of Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never is the opposite of Georgopoulos’s ruthless linear plotting and sense of restraint. As on In Light, the synthesizers on The Soft Wave sound live, not sequenced, and never bloat into drone (though the roiling “Catch Wave” is the closest Arp has come to this style), which gives another shade of meaning to the album’s slow builds. " This is type record Charles needs to be playing for his new-age chicks in his parents back-yard.

6. Barn Owl- The Conjurer (Rootstrata). I said I wouldn't do it, but I'm listening to this right now and there is no way to avoid it. This is the best merger of John Fahey and Doom to come out of the drone-ster slums. Conjurer came out late Nov 2009, but the vinyl sold out immediately and we had to wait for the discovery until the Spring 2010 CD release. Atmosphere, Ennio Morricone, etherial chanting, harmoniums and acoustic guitars drenched in reverb. And the squalls of radioactive dust! The end is near. Get the sage burners going....

7. Mono- Hymn to the Immortal Wind (Temporary Residence, Ltd.) Slow on the uptake, this was technically released Oct. 2009, but made it to my turntable only recently, in fine swirly aquamarine and inky transparent vinyl. This is Mono's masterpiece, fusing spacious desert westerns with classical and epic PROG Rock. There, I said it. If there was one welcome trend from 2010, it's been the rehabilitation of Prog by those pointy toed hipsters.

8. Solvent- Subject to Shift (Ghostly International). Pop IDM with the programming that Charles adores, used properly! It's all just simple little melodies. They used to play this stuff on 1190. Super-saccarine pop-IDM that mixes "Tainted Love" era '80s crap with Speedy J. and comes out clean. You listening, Charles?

9. Caleb Klauder- Western Country (West Sound Records). We had him in the studio live, and this guy's the real deal. Kicking up a storm in the Americana/Revivalist circles, Caleb Klauder is a rough as dry singer playing modern honky-tonk. With lots of tasty songwriting and a Townes Van-Zandt vibe. No black leather here.

10. Alasdair Roberts- Too Long In This Condition (Drag City). It's really a Fairport Convention record (sans Sandy Denny), transported to Scotland, but it is also Alasdair Roberts most accomplished to date. Guess hanging out with Will Oldham has taught hinm how to capture the loose and improv feel in the recording process, and this one would be a real treasure to experience live in a Scottish pub in the Hinterlands by a peat fire with some good highland scotch. Humm, guess what Uncle Jeff is gonna do to help him finish this book-report?

Reissues - Rediscoveries - Re-Re-Ree

1. To Scratch Your Heart (Early Recordings From Instanbul) (Honest Jon's Records)

2. Bob Dylan- The Witmark Demos (1962-1964) (Columbia/Legacy)

3. Hank Williams- Nashville Sessions (Doxy)

4. Mortika- Recordings from a Greek Underworld (Mississippi/Canary Records)

5. Pop Electronique (Les Sons electroniques de Cecil Leuter) (Vadim Music, France). Wacked out Space-Age Batchelor Music with Moogs way up in front and the kind of drumming that only someone sneaking into the Future and taking back a bin of drum and bass records coulda coughed up in 1965. What was in the water at the BBC studios in France?

6. Willkommen im Weltraum- Nostalgia for an age yet to come (Weltraum) I wish I coulda bought one of these for each and every one of you, but it's Russian, limited, silkscreened with silver and gold inks on black paper, awesome, and it's gone... It's where I first heard of Cecil Leuter for you fans of the Pop Electronique lifestyle.

Single of the Year
Cee Lo- F**k You / Instrumental mix. The 12" single of the year, a reason to drag yourself out on Record Store day. This is the catchiest song of the year, insidious in it's worm-hole accuracy in targeting the those pop loving neurons that have been so carefully submerged in the quest for ultra-uberness. Go ahead and make fun of Father Time dancing in his Depends with the neon flickering. Tomorrow never knows. Write something this good and you won't have to work at Walmart.


UNCLE JEFF's 2009 Top Albums

Webmaster Jay Charles    Ed    Henry    Conor home

When I realized that half my bandmates don't even own a CD player I knew it was over. The days of the cohesive album are for old farts. Here's my top ten for 2009, a year with some interesting developments and omissions. The best songs helped weight some of the best albums. Where's the beef? Let the salvos begin.

1. In sheer weight, mass and volume, the 4 LP set on Honest Jon's called "Open Strings" is one of the finest box set art packages in years. The premise is simple, two LPs of stellar unearthed Turkish, Egyptian, Iraqi and Iranian 78's recorded in the 20's and '30s (that's 1920 and 1930 for you futurists) and two LPs of modern experimentalists recordings in response and repose, featuring the usual cast of characters Sir Richard Bishop, Paul Metzger and Six Organs of Admittance for starters. The early recordings on oud, santour and fiddle are austere and beautiful; the new responses are measured and modal. Best song: "Surfin' UAE" by Rick Tomleson.

2. Mark McGuire "Solo Acoustic Guitar Volume Two" VDSQ which stands for Vin Du Select Qualitite is another limited LP release capsulating the moment's shape of acoustic finger-styling in 2009. Mark McGuire is the guitarist from the gauze-noise-new-age band Emeralds and his acoustic guitarwerks use looping, repetition and expansion just like his band does, but it's all the more interesting and warm when played on a steel six-string. "Front Porch Blues" is the standout track. The label is releasing a series of modern acoustic guitar players, and the Joshua Emery Blatchley (Volume One) release is also highly recommended. Put your James Blackshaw records away...

3. Josephine Foster "Graphic As A Star" on the Fire Records imprint is another sparkling experimental gem from this under-rated songstress. Featuring some of the sparest and direct recordings in her cannon (some tracks are lone voice) the surprise here is that for folks like me that put poetry next to opera on the shelf, this is like a lonesome cowgirl singing in a cabin by the fire and the recording on vinyl is amazing for its' presence and immediacy. The songs are built around Emily Dickenson's poetry, 'Foster-ized' by her oratorio and some unique and simple uke and guitar. "I Could Bring You Jewels -Had I A Mind To" is representative of some of the great short gems on this disc. The birds in the background were surely singing in response to Miss Foster's beautiful voice. For those who still think Joni Mitchell's pinnacle was "Blue", here's one like it.

5. Alela Diane "To Be Still" on Rough Trade is yet another example of "the girls rule" in 2009. Here is another disc of simple joys, with great and inviting melodies in a pastoral folk setting including the title track. In a year with other excellent discs by Samantha Crain, Espers and the above Josephine Foster, the ladies have given us quite a treat.

4. Richmond Fontaine "We Used to Think the Freeway Was A River" (Arena Rock Records) is another fine release by Willy Vlautin and the boys. Here is the most complex and layered 'Americana' Richmond Fontaine have recorded, sounding at times like the National and Nitzsche-era Neil Young solo production, all the richer for it. There's even a hint of Springsteen in the anthemic rockers on the disc ("You Can Move Back Here"), but as good as novelist Vlautin is with words, it's the simplest track "Watch Out" with only two short stanzas repeated, that cuts the deepest.

6. Patterson Hood's solo release "Murdering Oscar" on Ruth St. Records finds our Drive-By Trucker pal in fine form as a chronicler of the edges of suburban middle-class (and lower). His wry "Screwtopia" asks the question "SUV or mini-van..." and it makes a lot of sense. This release is a tie with the DBT's "The Fine Print" on New West which features the tracks that didn't make the albums, mostly recorded between 2003 & 2005. It makes for a fine case of having folks outside the band sequence the releases (or just stick 'em up as unlabeled mp3s) in that some of these tracks like Jason Isbels "TVA" are so good you can't believe they didn't make the cut.

7. Om came out with their most sobering release this year in "God Is Good" on Drag City. The vinyl has amazing clarity and ominism. "It's all one long tune" Neil Young has said, and in this case that may be true. The standout "Cremation Ghat I" mixes doom & gloom with sitars. Sign me up. This is stoner metal for the thinking man.

8. Emeralds eponymous "Emeralds" release came out on Wagon/Gneiss Things in limited LP fashion on swirly-green fissured and crackled vinyl late in the year. This band is extremely prolific and loose with it's recordings. There are probably 60 various cassettes, CDRs, EPs and splinter fragments circulating on the net, and it is a joy to watch the band's trajectory getting more cohesive, melodic, experimental and beautiful, all at the same time. Emeralds weaves warm and gauzy analog synths, mutated guitar and droning pulse-beats into something new and mesmerizing. Kid's these days... they say the darndest things, with their Dad's old-school New Age and Kraut records somehow being transmuted into an indie-psych-hipster amalgam.

9. Magnolia Electric Co's "Josephine" on Secretly Canadian was worth the wait. Front man Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia) has been playing some of these songs live since 2005, and must have been saving them until a cohesive album showed itself on the 'horizon' to cite one of his more frequent lyrical metaphors used. Some of the re-workings are for the better, some more cluttered and careful (as illustrated on the demo version of "Josephine" found on an excellent 45 with another great song "Rider.Shadow.Wolf" left off the release). A favorite live song "Whip-Poor Will" lost it's poignant trumpet solo but keeps it's feel with lines like "Some of us aren't doing well/At the Southern Cross Hotel..." In an alternate universe, this would be all over FM radio.

10. Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard put out a solid project with Atlantic called "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone" using the paraphrased 'lyrics' of Jack Kerouac to tell the story of his dissolution writing the novel "Big Sur". Haven't seen the movie yet. The stand-out title track is the best song of the year. Somehow simple chords can be made fresh again in the hands of two professional worksman-like writers. This one is a late-starter, that rewards more and more on repeated listenings.

REISSUES of the Year: Get two honorable mentions. The first is well worth seeking out, Peter Walker's "Rainy Day Raga" orignally released in 1966 on Vanguard (now on Harte Records), features proto-raga guitar filtered through Walker's role as the musical "choreographer" for Timothy Leary's New York Academic experiments (aw, go ahead and call 'em parties). There are some amazingly advanced modal folk romps here, including the standout "Norwegian Mood" which lightly references some Mop-tops across the pond. This one was going for $50 bucks on eBay, so even better to see it re-issued.

Another stellar effort from the Sundazed crew is the vinyl re-issue of the lost gem by the Holy Modal Rounders "Good Taste Is Timeless". This one came out in 1971, and as a budding folkster entering high-school in the early seventies, somehow this came across our desk and bluegrass and folk music were never the same again. The standouts are "Spring of '65 and "The Whole World Oughta Go On A Vacation". Good advice, indeed... -Uncle Jeff


UNCLE JEFF's 2008 Top Albums

Webmaster Jay Doc Martin Vagabond Danny home

1. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever (Jagjagwar)
2. Hank Williams- The Unreleased Recordings (Time Life)
3. Ilyas Ahmed- Vertigo of Dawn (Time Lag)
4. Neil Young- Live At Canterbury House 1968 (Reprise)
5. Willy Vlautin & Paul Brainard- Northline (Soundtrack CD with Novel-Harper Perennial)
6. Stephen Malmus and the Jicks- Real Emotional Trash (Matador)
7. Josephine Foster- This Coming Gladness (Bo Weevil)
8. Paul Westerberg- 49 (mp3 release)
9. Suarasama- Fajar Di Atas Awan (Drag City)
10. Fleet Foxes- Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
11. Hank III- Damn Right Rebel Proud (The *clean* version, Sidewalk)
12. Whiskeytown- Strangers Almanac Reissoue (Lost Highway)
13. Drive-By Truckers- Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)
14. Blue Mountain -Midnight in Mississippi (Broadmoor)
15. Bootleg Soundboard of the Year: Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter @ the Fox Theatre

Best Show of 2008- Boris, at the Marquis in Denver. Mind melting!


UNCLE JEFF's Top 20 for 2007

1. Adam Franklin- Bolts of Melody (Hi-Speed Soul)
How could this one slip through the cracks of the general public? The great frontman of long-lamented Swervedriver returns with his most fully realized release to date. Rumors of a new tour are true, and this time around Swervedriver just might get it's due. In the mean-time, we get a psychedelic/country slab of brilliance, with Sid Barrett and Arthur Lee looking on from above.

2. Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter- Like Love Lust & the Open Hearts of the Soul (Barsuk)
Yes, she is beautiful. And she smells like Ivory Snow. But that's not the issue- this is a fully realised record illustrating everything that has come before, Folk-Rock wise... There is the dusky sadness and mythic achievement of Sandy Denny, and the swirling modal guitar-ness of Quicksilver Messenger Service, all tied up with a Whiskeytown bow. Good stuff.

3. Richmond Fontaine- Thirteen Cities (El Cortez)
One a year, not a bad batting string. Willy Vlautin and the boys continue to evolve and entertain. Hanging out in the Calexico slums of Wavelab in Tuscon brought a Mariachi feel to some of the songs. And the collaborations with Mssrs. Burns and Convertino were a natural. Get the EP with videos and extra tracks as well.

4. Alasdair Roberts- The Amber Gathers (Drag City)
The long-haired guru of Radio 1190 with the Barbarian countenance said "Get your ass down to the Larimer Lounge" for a show by this Scottish cohort. Mesmerizing conversion occurred, with wild-assed bagpipe tunings and a high lonesome voice conveying the step-child of Bert Jans and Will Oldham. "Pretty Polly" was a light-weight in comparison.

5. The Moe Greene Specials- The Open Road (Again) (Sonic Rendezvous)
We love you Moe Greene Specials! Where else does the intersection of Spaghetti Western and REM collide. The new one has vocals, and it seems like a logical conclusion. Sexy Italian/French counterpoint vocals add to the mystery. Where's the movie?

6. Ennio Morricone- Morricone In the Brain (Cherry Red Records)
With Karlheim Stockhausen's passing, the Master who remains is Morricone. Here is a smattering of 1970's madness that covers the gamut from whistling goofiness, to proto-minimalistic pattern music. The way this sticks together depends on your susceptibility to suggestion. The Master suggests you submit to his mayhem.

7. Delmore Brothers- Volume 2 (JSP 4 CD Box Set)
I've got those Brown's Ferry Blues, with slap-back reverb! The later years of this close-harmony brother's duo are filled with some interesting proto-rock, although they'd be the first to deny it. The British JSP label has done it again, compiling all the later output of the Delmore Brothers in a 4 CD set that will take a couple evenings to digest. Ther are a number of un-heard gems here, awaiting the ol' Model-T to wend down the holler to the ol' cabin.

8. Chuckanut Drive- The Crooked Mile Home (Ragtown Records)
Saw 'em at the Sunset Lounge in Seattle, and the fact that a young band from Bellingham was doing Country Rock that Buck Owens would be proud of was quite a surprise. Hearing this disc, the band challenges the realm of Gram Parsons and his progeny. Mama tried.

9. Apples In Stereo- New Magnetic Wonder (Simian Records)
Nepotism be damned. So what if Milkman & nme are still waiting for the royalty checks to roll in :-) This is a great release featuring the power-pop that made the Apples famous, updated with a psychedelic scheen that puts one foot in the past and one mellotron in the future.

10. Hyakkei- Standing Still in a Moving Scene (Human Highway)
Fearless Ed Post (of Radio 1190’s ‘Under the Mattress’) and ‘Route 78 West’s’ Uncle Jeff stumbled into a show by the Japanese instrumental band Hyakkei at this year’s SXSW in Austin. It was a lucky accident, as this 3-piece band had the whole crowd mesmerized with its tight and fresh take on post-rock-jazz-surf. This is what Tortoise might sound like if they could write short, concise songs with solid melodies and cut out some of the wankery. There is a driving feel to the faster tracks, and the drumming is propelling and quite inventive, all the while leaving space for excellent guitar melodics. The one acoustic track (12 ‘elements’) is an interesting side-step.

11. Neil Young- Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise w/DVD)

12. Wilco- Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
"Dad-rock" said a few reviews. And if your Dad listened to Television and Can, you have a cool Dad! The guitar interplay on this record, courtesy of Nels Cline, moves Jeff Tweedy's vision into the stratosphere. We have one of our great song-writers battling with an equal foe of the six-string. This one took a couple of listens for the average listener. But the results were verified by four out of five doctors. No prescription necessary.

13. Six Organs of Admittance- Shelter From the Ash (Drag City)
Where Ben Chasny finally gets it right and makes a great folk/psych stew of yummy goodness, using all the tricks in his impressive guitar arsenal. This one merges the Eastern modal raga-esque feel with the timeless quality of Fairport and Pentangle, with production and atmospherics that plant it firmly in the present.

14. Sir Richard Bishop- While My Guitar Violently Bleeds (Locust)
Worship at the bastard altar of Django Rheinhart and John Fahey. The greatest living guitarist, Sir Richard delivers a couple of magic modal masterpieces, and a slab of electronic mayhem. The Drag City release "Polythiestic Fragments" is tame by comparison.

15. Tinariwen- Aman Iman: Water Is Life (World Village)
Easily the best concert of 2007.

16. Steve Earle- Washington Square Serenade (New West)
Old Farts rule! How Steve Earle continues to keep it fresh is beyond me, but this time around, it's the build from the ground up with hip-hop beats that makes this one interesting. And the great songwriting. A National Treasure...

17. Stephen Stills- Just Roll Tape (Eyewall/Rhino)
Back in 1968, Mr. Stills had a hundred bucks in his pocket, and he asked the engineer to keep the tape rolling when he was working on a Judy Collins LP. Sweet Judy Blue-Eyes, indeed! The reel-to-reel languished in the vaults for 30 years, only to be released by the good folks at Rhino in its lo-fi glory. This is one for the archivists, but the casual listener will hear these early demos and recognize real talent captured without artifice. All is forgiven.

18. Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Bros.- Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 (Amoeba Records)
Hidden in the vaults for nearly 30 years, this one proves that the Burrito Brothers *could* play live and the shadow they cast still reverberates in the Alt-Americana scene today. Essentially two nearly identical live sets, there's some choice Gram Parshons singing on thi, and a great booklet with stories of how the tapes came to light.

19. Iron & Wine- The Shepherds Dog (Sub Pop)

20. Magnolia Electric Co.- Sojourner (Secretly Canadian Box Set)
Too much to digest for the casual fan, this box set has a tour movie, an amulet, and 4 CDs recorded in different studios over the last few years all housed in balsa-wood. Precious? Probably not, but the complete oevure of Jason Molina is represented, from the swampy reverbed Sun Sessions to lo-fi home demos and the Albini produce gems in between. Loads of new material for the fanatics and believers.


UNCLE JEFF's Top 10 for 2006

1. WEBB PIERCE - The Complete 4-Star and Pacemaker Recordings (Acrobat)

2. OAKLEY HALL - Gypsum Strings (Brah)

3. MOE GREENE SPECIALS - The Moe Green Specials (Green Cookie)

4. GRAHAM LINDSEY - Hell Under the Skullbones (Spacebar Recordings)

5. HANK WILLIAMS III- Straight to Hell (Bruc Records)

6. AMERICAN PRIMITIVE - Vol. II (Revenant)

7. LOOMER - Songs of the Wild West Island (Newtone Records)

8. RYAN ADAMS - 29 (Lost Highway)

9. BUD ISAACS - Bud's Bounce (Bear Family)

10. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS - A Blessing and A Curse (New West)


UNCLE JEFF's Dose - The Top 10 for 2005

1. MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO. - Trials and Errors (Secretly Canadian)
If you didn't already buy it, it's gone... The live predecessor for 'What Comes After The Blues' released later this year, this live disc reveals the Crazy Horse/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Band axis of front man Jason Molina's take on sensitive indie singer-songwriter. It's a great capsule of the abilities and power of a band that plays together 360 days a year, and the Larimer Lounge show in April was another testimonial, if you need it.

2. SON VOLT - Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Columbia Legacy)
It's not that common that a band comes back late-career with their best effort. The new Son Volt line-up, and what evidently must have been inspiration from taking some time off, is really evident on this release. Okemah is where Woody Guthrie was born (mentioned in 'Bandages and Scars'), and the Melody of Riot is referenced in the song 'Atmosphere'. Jay Farrar and company have crafted an excellently recorded 'first-take' vibe that plays to Son Volt's strengths, but ultimately, it's the songwriting this time around that makes it great. 'Medication' is a modal eastern-raga that fits in well with the new psych-folk guard. 'Gramophone' is about old 78's and vinyl, which sits well with the 'Route 78 West' boys- with the line "legends in sound survive", indeed.

3. RICHMOND FONTAINE - The Fitzgerald (El Cortez/Union)
Darker than previous Richmond Fontaine CDs, and that's saying something… Main writer Willy Vlautin is one of the best observers of society's fringes ever to sing about what he's learned, and the reminder is always there of how close we all are to that edge, with one or two missteps. "The Fitzgerald" abandons the pedal steel and alt-country leanings of the last two records, and mines a dark folk vein similar to Nick Cave's best work. The continued fascination with gambling, desert towns and decline appears in 'Casino Lights', featuring a surprising sea-chanty-style melody reminiscent of an Old Spice commercial. 'Black Road' is the rocker of the album, a scary place we've all been on road trips, trying to escape. The best track, 'Exit 149B' sports a great melody, with a jazzy shuffle that somehow conjures up the movie soundtrack from Midnight Cowboy. Willy Vlautin's short-story writing skills are showcased in 'The Janitor', a song about rescue, hope and repair. England's literate music magazines Uncut, and Mojo, both gave "The Fitzgerald" five stars. Find out why.

4. BOARDS OF CANADA - The Campfire Headphase (Warp)
It IS Americana... When digital processing seeks to recreate the warbly and scratchy aesthetic of old 78s, electronic-style, you know there's something happening here. Guitars sweeten the mix of this melodic and evocative release. Nice.

5. SIR RICHARD BISHOP - Improvika (Locust Music)
Where the bastard step-children of John Fahey take it to the next level. You can tell that Sir Richard has listened to a ton of Arabic and world music, but it's the uniquely American folk take on what he's processed that makes this a great release. Reportedly all improvised, it doesn't get any better than this. Especially if you're a guitar player. Six strings never sounded this far out and close at the same time.

6. DANIEL LANOIS - Belladonna (Anti)
Not yer average pedal-steel record. In fact, it isn't Country at all, but that's really irrelevant with this great instrumental release. Lanois takes up where he left off with Brian Eno's "Apollo" and delivers an beautiful, spacious and thoughtful melodic rumination on the solace of bending strings.

7. KID LOCO - The Graffiti Artist (Mettray Reformatory Pictures)
Though this came out in late 2004 it didn't receive wide release or attention, even at the sub-indie level. And it's a great piece of work, that rises above "soundtrack" to become a unique listening experience of its own. The integration of modal Turkish/Arabic influences and slothful white-boy hip hop shuffle is Kid Loco's trademark sound. In this case, he makes his claim for a new section in the record bins. This one is rich in melodies and facets that reward the listener with a warm cocoon of sound.

8. CURRITUCK CO. - Ghost Man on Second (TMU)
"Sooner or later, it all gets strange..." The Ghost of John Fahey (again) trips out in a cabin in the woods, in 2005. With a 20 minute harmonium track to boot. "American Primitive"- what the hell is that? Technology is held at bay for a day, but there's nothing backwards about this. The 2 CDs could have been pared down to a single disc, but the sprawl makes for interesting wreckage. There's some first rate folk guitar excursions by Kevin Barker and Otto Hauser woven into a cohesive whole that builds on modal repetition and off-worldly atmospherics. Sit by the woodstove and watch the colors.

9. CARY SWINNEY - Big Shots (Johnson Grass Records)
Out of left field comes this great singer-songwriter Americana disc with literate ruminations on important subjects like Dan Blocker's home town ("A Hero On A Square") and the state of Country music today ("Living in My Head"). Taking the fine points of old Jerry Jeff Walker and distilling something new out of the genre, this one's a keeper. There's even a Darkstar-ish freak out hidden bonus track at the end for those that like that sort of thing.

10. JOSEPHINE FOSTER - Hazel Eyes I Will Lead You (Locust Music)
Where the magick of the antiquarian age meshes with the folk sensibilities of the future. Yeah right. This one is a unique listening experience that evokes frickin' Elves and medieval fairies of yore, with Foster's classic voice most reminiscent of the Good Witch Linda from the Wizard of Oz. But that's a good thing, 'cause this is some inventive and original stuff here! The seductive melodies and ethereal vocals might be an acquired taste for some, but this one is enchanting and rewarding for those with an open mind.


UNCLE JEFF's Top Ten for 2004 "Go buy 'em all. Do it today..." Cheaper by the Dozen

1. Blue Sky Boys- Sunny Side of Life (Bear Family Box Set)
It doesn't get any better than this. After years of waiting, Bear Family Records out of Germany releases the most comprehensive set of classic Blue Sky Boys close-harmony, Appalachian-style. A beautiful and educational hard-cover book is included in the 5 CD set. Well worth the money!

2. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter- Oh My Girl (Barsuk)
What a magical earthly disc! Where did this come from? There's a hint of Sandy Denny and Beth Orton in her voice, but Jesse Sykes spins circles around them with this brooding mix of Americana, Gothic Style... Phil Wanscher from Whiskeytown adds just the right dose of deep tremoloed Spaghetti Western guitar to the batch.

3. Red Cloud- New CD (title?)
I've had the advance for months, and it never leaves the car. It's hard to come up with music this powerful, inventive and genre bending as these Denver heroes have. Catch them live and you WILL be converted.

4. Ennio Morricone- The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Capitol Reissue)
Ten new unreleased Morricone gems from the vaults added to the greatest soundtrack ever. No talkng while you eat your popcorn.

5. Drive By Truckers- The Dirty South (New West)
Patterson Hood is a Red-Necked Intellectual. And that's a good thing. DBT keeps getting deeper into the archtypical Southern thang. Also worth a mention is Hood's solo release of home demos "Killers and Stars".

6. Hayden- Elk Lake Serenade (Badman)
The indie-singer-songwriter is alive and well... This Canadian troubador has the melodic gifts and vision to bridge the spectrum between Neil Young and the Velvet Underground, folky-style. The ghost song '1939' makes the hair on your arms stand up, it's that spooky.

7. Tinariwen- Amassakoul (World Village)
Sometimes you hear something on the radio so good you have to stop the car to find out what it is. Tinariwen is a mutagenic cousin of trance/blues- you could dub it Modal Arabic Desert Blues. It even feels Country Western. The ghost of Peter Green can be heard in these mercurical melodic riffs.

8. Japancakes- Waking Hours (Warm Electronic Recordings)
Pastoral prog-rock pedal steel never sounded this good! It's a great record for sleeping, dreaming or dinner with the folks. John Neff rules.

9. Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop)
This band keeps getting better. Live, they are warm and trancendent- it's like going to church in the Country. This is the record the Doctor ordered for these troubled times. Make sure you get the release with the bonus disc of outtakes for one of Sam Beam's greatest songs "Hickory". Or better yet, get on the internet and download the dozens of unavailable gems.

10. M83- Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (Groom)
I bought this French band's first import release, and then the pricey EP. Now you can get it all in one place, and more... The cousins of Air are darker, louder heavier and more mysterious. This release blows away everybody who gets to hear it. Timeless and somewhat referential to My Bloody Valentine, but with keyboards instead of guitars. This is an original electronic masterpiece.


11. Jim Lauderdale- Head for the Hills (Dualtone)
It's a driving record that stayed in rotation all year, through canoe trips and backward rambles in the hills of NC and West Virginia. Not a bad song on the disc, and some pretty inventive melodies. Lyrics by Robert Hunter, and they're Ripple-o-rific.

12. Langtry- As Upon the Road Thereto (Soft Abuse)
A guitarist's guitarist in the psych-folk-blues vein, Patrick McKinney is also the instrumental colorist for Iron & Wine. On his own, this record is inventive, technically challenging, and beautiful. The ghost of Robbie Basho lives... Anybody got any live tapes?

13. Jimmy Reed- Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall (Vee Jay SCAD Remaster)
"Bright Lights, Big City"... it's all the same groove, but what a groove these old "live" tracks are from this unique blues-shuffle master. The new release adds a whole 'nother LP's worth of gems. See where Neil Young stole his groove-shuffle beat and sound.


UNCLE JEFF's 2003 Top Ten      In Order of Critical Importance and Mass

- GILLIAN WELCH- Soul Journey (Acony) With the best song of the year 'Look At Miss Ohio'...

- RICHMOND FONTAINE- Post to Wire (El Cortez - www.richmondfontaine.com)
  The instrumental 'Valediction' is worth the price of admission alone...

- FOR A FEW GUITARS MORE- A Tribute to Morricone's Spaghetti Western Themes
  (Dancing Bear) A Surf-Spaghetti-Western slice o' heaven...

- KINSKI- Airs Above Your Station (Sub Pop) With the psych-shaking 'Semaphore'
  instrumental that proves it *hasn't* all been done before...

- SONGS:OHIA- The Magnolia Electric Co. (Secretly Canadian) Jason Molina serves up an
  archtypical Southern Gothic meets Crazy Horse brew...

- THE SADIES- Stories Often Told (Yep Rock - www.yeproc.com) A live show at the Fox
  made a convert to their Band-Psych-Spaghetti broth...

- LUCINDA WILLIAMS- World Without Tears (Lost Highway) And we all thought she couldn't
  get better and emotionally direct...

  3 Colored-platter-vinyl slabs of pure ambient headspace...

- NEIL YOUNG- Greendale (Reprise) The Old Man comes back from mid-90's limbo with a
  final masterpiece of Jimmy Reed dosed Americana...

- HALDEN WOFFORD & The Highbeams- Grade A Country Music (www.hibeams.com)
  Local Favorites make good on their live Honky-Tonk promise...

...and a bootleg that should have been released by a real record label years ago, finally surfacing in all it's sonic glory 34 years after the fact:

- PINK FLOYD- Outer Zabriskie (Rome Nov/Dec 1969) The Rick Wright instrumental 'Violent
  Sequence' became 'Us And Them' three years later...

"The Rest of the Story" (Honorable Mentions)

- CALEXICO- 'Feast of Wire'- Get the import version for Calexico's treatment of the
  minutemen's "Corona".

- SCOTT MILLER and the Commonwealth- 'Upside Downside' (Sugar Hill) -A surprise for how
  good the songwriting is.  Real nice roots Americana a la Slaid Cleaves.

- GRAHAM LINDSEY- 'Famous Anonymous Wilderness' (Catamount) -As good as young Dylan
  circa '64

- DRIVE BY TRUCKERS- 'Decoration Day' (New West) -These guys keep getting better at that   Southern thang.  What was that plane that went down in '77?


UNCLE JEFF's 2002 TOP TEN (including a few late releases from last year)  "So many releases, so little time..."

Fontenelle- F (Kranky) "Pattern music for the post-rock, post-Miles 70's funk crowd, and so well improvised... Used to be 1/2 of Jessamine"

F.S.O.L.- The Isness (Hypnotic) "Hard to peg, this is a classic in the Pink Floyd Dark Side meets the kitchen sink of Electonica in a sitar washed acidy prog-rock kinda way. And these guys weren't there! Threw the hip electronic crowd for a loop."

Ulrich Schnauss- Far Away Trains Passing By (City Centre Offices) "Arm-chair techno for the adults who aren't ready to hang it all up quite yet. More melodic than BOC. So much beauty in the world."

Richard Buckner- Impasse (Overcoat) " Misunderstood by the staunch folky-folks, this one is Buckner's masterpiece. Bringing it all home, the distorted organ and art-indie attack makes this one of this year's best in any genre. And there's even a little Fleetwood Mac back-beat thrown in for the pop-lovers."

Richmond Fontaine- Winnemucca (El Cortez Records) "Best record of the year, says Route 78 West. This one has the song-writing goods, and the production to match. In a perfect world this woulda reached more folks with its references to imperfect lives and the salvation to be found on the road. Timeless..."

Sons of the Pioneers- Symphonies of the Sage (Bloodshot) "Bloodshot strikes again with its Soundies sub-label. This one is comprised of 1950-51 never released radio transcriptions, and features the classic line-up playing live in a way few musicians could even hope to match today. Lot's of unfamiliar gems of hot, swinging cowboy music."

Manual- Until Tomorow (Morr Music) "More arm-chair techno for the 9-to-5-er who thinks that 4-on-the-floor techno shoulda died a timely death in 1993, when it was already past it's prime. Warning: this one has pretty guitars mixed in with it's warm bed o' static."

Boards of Canada- Geogaddi (Warp) "Yeah, it's not their best, but it's better than most!"

Hank Williams III- Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' (Curb) "Though he tries to deny it, this is the real deal. His grandad woulda been proud. Route 78 West's second runner-up in the pedal steel beauty contest."

Windy & Carl- Introspection (Blueflea) "Last minute 3CD bonus package of 45's, alt mixes, live and unreleased material for the bliss-needing ol' shoegazer in you. Bed time listening doesn't get any better than this."