Monday, January 13, 2014

TnJ BEST of 2013


10) SARAH JAROSZ – Build Me Up from Bones

This Texan folkie continues to impress with her third album, which wields some heavyweight guest stars (Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile, Darrell Scott, Aofie O’Donovan), though I get the feeling Jarosz could carry the whole album on her own.  Lyrics like, “Kick the moon and watch it shatter / I don’t mind if it don’t matter,” tickle me to death.

HIGH POINTS: Over the Edge; Mile on the Moon; Dark Road

09) GARLAND JEFFREYS – Truth Serum

Always nice to see a name from yesteryear pop up with a release worth recording, as opposed to just going through the motions for a paycheck.  “Truth Serum” finds the 70-year old cooking up an unusual, but wholly competent, blend of roots, rock, and reggae.  This is melting pot music at its best from a man comfortable in his own shoes.

HIGH POINTS: Dragons to Slay; Collide the Generations; It’s What I Am


Their first album of all-original material strikes a chord with me, possibly due to the production assistance of Jim James (My Morning Jacket).  They’re definitely no longer relegated to the “heritage and nostalgia” bin, and if they’ve got more like this in them, I hope they take the ball and run with it.  Can’t wait to see PHJB live after this one.

HIGH POINTS: Rattlin’ Bones; Sugar Plum; Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong

07) ROBERT RANDOLPH and the FAMILY BAND – Lickety Split

One of the most dynamic family bands since Sly and the Family Stone, RRFB notch their best studio album yet.  Guest appearances from Trombone Shorty and Carlos Santana sweeten the deal, but fans of pedal steel are already in, since Randolph continues to be one of the brightest talents in that arena.  Put this on and get your booty movin’.

HIGH POINTS:  Born Again; Brand New Wayo (featuring Carlos Santana); Welcome Home

06) the MAVERICKS – In Time

Is Tex-Mex-Fusion a genre?  How about Gypsy-Cubano-Cowboy?  Are they an army of one?  Who cares?  “In Time” is a spectacular comeback album for the Mavericks.  Raul Malo still weaves painfully beautiful vocals and the band comes rested and refreshed from a 10-year break.  They’re difficult to classify but this window into another dimension hits all the right notes.  One of the best live bands I saw this year (see below).

HIGH POINTS:  Come Unto Me; Dance in the Moonlight; (Call Me) When You Get to Heaven

05) the HANDSOME FAMILY - Wilderness

Another difficult-to-classify entry into the field, this Albuquerque husband-and-wife duo seem secure in their uniqueness, being equal parts psychedelia, folk, and goth-pop.  Imagine Alice in Wonderland on Quaaludes and you might begin to approximate the idea.  Lyrically vacillating between dark and whimsical, they are a walking contradiction that somehow works.

HIGH POINTS:  Frogs, Lizard, Octopus

04) BONERAMA – Shake It Baby

Only New Orleans could’ve spawned a band this brass-heavy.  However, rather than follow the time-worn tread of traditional Dixieland Jazz, Mark Mullins and Craig Klein have fashioned a unique hard-rock/funk sound out of the ether.  After several albums of plying their craft, we can no longer dismiss them as novelty, nor as a mere cover/bar band.  Bonerama are making some of the most interesting music in a city whose music is legend.

HIGH POINTS:  Indian Red; Close the Door; What You See; Swamped In

03) the BLACK LILLIES – Runaway Freeway Blues

This is a country band you are likely never to hear on a country radio station.  They’re too interesting.  Too psychedelic.  Too damn good.  Think of them working the same alt-country anvils which birthed Uncle Tupelo (and their offspring Wilco and Son Volt) or Lucinda Williams, turn up the harmonies, and submerge yourself in the clever storytelling.  You are unlikely to hear a country band this good again, until the next Black Lillies album comes out.

HIGH POINTS:  Gold and Roses; the Fall; Ruby; Ramblin’ Boy; Baby Doe


Aside from some muddy production which is possibly intentional, TTB just keeps recording better and better songs.  If this soul stew gets any better, they’re going to earn a place in history, even if it’s only as the best 11-piece band of all time.  An object lesson in “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” this band is groovier than Susan Tedeschi, catchier than the Derek Trucks Band, and more powerful than a locomotive.  I don’t know what took this husband-and-wife team so long to collaborate musically, but they should do us all favor and keep it up as long as possible.

HIGH POINTS:  the Storm; Misunderstood; All That I Need; Made Up Mind; Part of Me

01) BUDDY GUY – Rhythm & Blues

This is a rare album so impressive I can hardly describe how good it is without using every clichéd hyperbole in the book, but every once in a while an artist just pulls out all the stops and goes balls to the wall with an amazing tour-de-force which bumps them up to the next level.  This isn’t just the best Buddy Guy album you’ve heard in decades, it might be the best blues album ever recorded.  Seriously, if no one else ever releases another blues album in the history of the world, at least we have this.  Released by RCA on Buddy Guy’s 77th birthday, “Rhythm & Blues” is a crowning achievement in a most distinguished career.

HIGH POINTS:  Whiskey Ghost; Meet Me in Chicago; Blues Don’t Care (w/ Gary Clark, Jr.); Best in Town; the Devil’s Daughter; Too Damn Bad


10) NONONO – Pumpin Blood

Goofy.  Silly.  Infectious.  Fun.

09) HANK3 – Hurtin for Certain

Just plain wrong in all the right ways.


Well-constructed and memorable harmonies.

07) BUDDY GUY – Whiskey Ghost

As addictive and haunting as the title implies.

06) PORTUGAL. the MAN – Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue

Good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

05) the POLYPHONIC SPREE – You Don’t Know Me

Meticulous, perfectly-crafted pomp-pop.

04) SERENA RYDER – Stompa

Best Adele substitute all year.  Hooky with a vengeance.

03) JOHN FOGERTY – Mystic Highway

Anyone who may doubt he still has it, just listen.

02) PHOSPHORESCENT – Ride On/Right On

Retro-rock at its finest.  If everyone still made rock this solid, it wouldn’t be a defunct genre.

01) the MAVERICKS – Come Unto Me

I’ve probably heard this one a hundred times and it still gets my blood pumping.  These guys get “Comeback of the Year,” for sure.



Nothing that’s gonna turn the kids on here, just fine examples of styles fallen out of fashion.   

HIGH POINTS: Voodoo Queen; a Minor Bit Blue; Ophelia

ANTHONY LEON & the CHAIN – Hell to Pay

Hardest-hitting country-rock in all the land.  Light one up and get lost in the grooves.   

HIGH POINTS: Death & Taxes; the Devil’s at Reds; Down in Lonely


An education in obscure instrumentation, like a world tour without leaving your living room.   

HIGH POINTS: Hundreds of Ships; Mama Sweet Mama; Doppio Machiatto



Though it seems he would prefer people not notice, this is David Grisman’s kid’s bluegrass band.


Closest thing to Little Feat-esque swamp rock I’ve heard in years, and that includes the most recent Little Feat album.

VALERIE JUNE – Pushin’ Against a Stone

Old-school R&B with an edge.  Thoughtful lyrics, carefully arranged songs.  She is already a tunesmith of the highest order.

RUSTY WRIGHT BAND – This, That & the Other Thing

If you think nobody bothers generating a great guitar tone anymore, give this one a listen.  Gritty blues rock that hits you like a 90-pound hammer.


As funky as their name implies, with an abstract, spacey twinge that makes their sound unique, butts bouncing all the while.



Always a “who’s who” of consummate guitar work.  The real shame is this festival only happens every 3 years.

Special note: have you seen this Quinn Sullivan kid?  I only saw him on the “Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013” DVD, but if he’s this confident at 14, I expect he’ll be wowing us on stage for decades to come.


GRATEFUL DEAD – Sunshine Daydream

Actually watching Jerry play (circa 1972) is even more mind-blowing than hearing him play.  The granddaddy of all jambands at the height of their power.


AVETT BROTHERS – The only problem I had watching them live is I wish they would stretch out on the solos more, but easily one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.  Arrangements and harmonies are incredibly tight.  I also saw global folk phenoms Mumford & Sons live this year, and Avett Brothers were just plain better.

ALABAMA SHAKES – They just don’t make ‘em like this no more.  Solid, loud, rockin’, soulful rhythm & blues.  They’re off to a great start and have a nice foundation to build on in the future.  Brittany Howard revealed in an interview what may make them stand above the rest: they only do originals.

the BLACK LILLIES – Psychedelic backwoods, foot-stompin’ country at its finest.  Cruz Contreras (whom you may remember from Robinella) has a boatload of finely crafted songs, and the whole combo just seethes with raw, uncut talent.  They may come off a little dark to some, but I think it adds nice flavor.

GRACE POTTER & the NOCTURNALS – Holy smoke, if Grace Potter was any more of a fireball they’d have to shut the place down for safety reasons.  I saw GPN open for Tedeschi Trucks Band and, even though TTB was totally awesome, GPN blew them out of the water.  Unrivaled energy and showmanship.

the MAVERICKS – I had heard they were great, but I had no idea.  If every band could take a 10 year break and come back this strong, I’d recommend they all do it.  This tour involved, I think, an 11-piece band and this well-oiled machine churned out a swirly, festive, fragrant, powerful wall of sound singular and sublime.

PRIMUS – The band I’ve seen live more than any other returned with a 3D visual / quad-sound tripfest for the faithful.  Nobody does smirky and quirky better than Les Claypool, joined here by Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane (the latter has since joined up with RatDog), the atmosphere was thick and getting thicker, like diving to the bottom of the ocean.

TROMBONE SHORTY & ORLEANS AVENUE – He seems poised to inherit the crown of New Orleans funk music, if the Meters ever give it up.  In a live setting, this combo is much like their albums – effortlessly veering through jazz, funk, blues, Dixieland, soul – but only live do you really feel that pervasive, explosive jubilance this outfit carries with them.

TRUTH & SALVAGE CO. – It’s easy to see why they were tapped early in their collective existence to tour with the Black Crowes, as their musicianship and swagger also implies a hearty fondness for good, old-fashioned rock-n-roll.  It can’t be easy forging your band’s identity with several lead singers / songwriters in the fold, but it can be done, and I hope they persevere into the stratosphere.

WIDESPREAD PANIC – Like the Terminator, they can’t be bargained with, they can’t be reasoned with, and they absolutely will not stop.  Jimmy Herring seems to be finding his “voice” within the context of this venerable jam band quite nicely.  In these times, rock has almost gone extinct.  This is solid rock.  They seem content to stay in that groove and I am content to follow along for the ride as long as it lasts.

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND – Certainly not the most technically proficient band on the planet, nor the most prolific songwriters, but their contagious enthusiasm makes up for a lot.  As the saying goes, they’re “ragged but right,” and YMSB continues to work the magic only they can to send us straight into orbit, shimmying and shakin’ ‘til it falls clean off.  Possibly the most frenetic and frenzied string band ever. 

Here's some pics from YMSB/Deadly Gentlemen 3/13/13 Sunshine Theater, Albuquerque, NM (photo credit - Andrew Kastner /

 This was a great show, and you can download the soundboard recording at

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