Seven albums from 2010 that deserved more attention
Each year, it seems the pile of ignored records that deserved better fates grows larger and larger, while the ability to cut through the clutter gets tougher. Here are seven noteworthy albums from outside the pop music world that have spent too much time under the radar and deserve a good listen.
7. Shelby Lynne, "Tears, Lies & Alibis" Stripped down, emotionally raw and uniquely tender, Lynne stepped further away from the record industry machinery to go indie on very limited budget. Financial restrictions can be a blessing -- "Tears, Lies & Alibis" has the sound of friends gathering to play a pile of fine new songs, from the raucous "Rains Came" to the old-school country of "Old No. 7" to the potential pop hit "Loser Dreamer." It's what country music should be.
6. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, "I Speak Fula" Sub Pop ventured into international waters for the first time with Mali's Bassekou Kouyate, a master of West Africa's lute-like ngoni. Exquisite interplay on string instruments, the grounded vocals of Amy Sacko and a truckload of guest artists give the album an invigorating melodic energy -- the residue, one figures, of his performances with Western artists such as U2 and Carlos Santana.
5. Various Artists, "Roots of Chichas 2"
Chicha is Peru's twist on cumbia. In the land of sequels, this set is the Peruvian roots music equivalent of "The Godfather II" -- a great followup to a superb original. The 16 tracks come from 11 bands recording between 1968 and 1981, more urban than its predecessor, which focused on the pure roots of the music. With the rhythms rooted, the melodies and improvisations dart off in multiple directions. Los Illusionistas "Colegiala" has a layer of Afrobeat funkiness; Manzanita y su Conjunto's "El Hueleguiso," in modern gringo terms, is a marriage of Santana and Vampire Weekend with an air of early Grateful Dead; Los Riberenos' "Silbando," from the 1960s, demonstrates how Cuban music mixed with cumbia created chicha.
4. PickPocket Ensemble, "Memory"
The sixth album from the San Francisco quintet balances the music of Parisian cafes with ragtime and jigs, a sensual throwback to a time when Europe was defined by borders, currency, language and indigenous music. They cross boundaries at will, fully fleshing out the idea that modern chamber music can remain rooted culturally and be simultaneously buoyant and striking. Some smart DJ will take this record and give it a Gotan Project/Bajofondo treatment.
3. Holy Miranda, "The Magician's Private Library"
Released by XL at the end of February, Holy Miranda's debut album is an otherworldly gem that's as appropriate for a folkie as it is for a fan of Feist, Dead Can Dance or Pink Floyd. The hype was strong before the album's release -- public radio, Vanity Fair and the New York Times were among the first boosters -- but by early summer the music had disappeared. "Private Library" is a mammoth effort, an album beautifully constructed layer by layer that's as delightful taken as a whole or track by track.
2. Ebo Taylor, "Love and Death"
In a year that saw Fela's profile rise significantly -- yes, a Broadway show can still do that -- 74-year-old Ebo Taylor, a legendary Afrobeat songwriter-singer-producer-guitarist from Ghana, released his first internationally distributed album. Backed by Berlin's Afrobeat Academy, the grooves are as smooth as they are relentless, especially on the track "Love and Death."
1. Black Prairie, "Feast of the Hunters' Moon"
Chris Funk of the Decemberists gathered a couple of bandmates and members of the Portland, OR, music scene to explore the roots of certain folk musics and bluegrass with an emphasis on the square-necked Dobro guitar. Decemberists bassist Nate Query and accordionist Jenny Coley joined with violinist Annalisa Tornfelt and guitarist Jon Neufeld to form the string band, playing mostly original compositions, heavy on instrumentals that tap into swing, cabaret, Appalachia and torch songs. "Feast of the Hunters' Moon" is as unique a record as was released in 2010.