2009’s Music So Far + DMB’s “GrooGrux King…”

July 26, 2009


It’s not yet August and I’ve already begun thinking about some of what will make my year end best of 2009 music list. The reason? There has been a surprisingly large amount of great new music this year already. If there is as much great material in the last half of the year it’s going to be hard to narrow and rank ten singles and ten albums. As for films, there’s plenty of room on my list for those since the greats usually hold out until the year’s almost up. But music? I’ve raved over Patterson Hoods “Murdering Oscar and Other Love Songs” as well as the new albums by Phoenix, Passion Pit and Morrissey.  Earlier in the year, two of my all-time favorite bands released albums that were okay for me then but have steadily grown better and better the more I hear them – U2’s “No Line on the Horizon” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Working on a Dream.” Two of my favorite ‘00 bands have released live album DVD combos– The Hold Steady and The Drive By Truckers. Green Day put out another great rock opera album. Neko Case released her second flawless album in a row. Steve Earle released a hauntingly good Townes Van Zandt covers record and his son Justin Townes Earl released a great county music album himself. The lead singer of My Morning Jacket, Yim Yames, took time from recording his first solo album to release a George Harrison covers album that is sheer beauty (not to mention the first ever George Harrison single disc career overview, “Let it Roll,” came out this year as well). Mos Def made his return to pure, low-key but high-talent hip hop with “The Ecstatic.” Jay Z and Lupe Fiasco released great hip hop singles to tease their up-coming fall and winter albums. I discovered the indie band “Grizzly Bear” through a performance they gave on David Letterman and found their pop-collage art rock album “Veckameist” to echo Steely Dan and Paul McCartney just enough to bring the listener in through familiarity to discover the most creative and original pop album in years. I’m still digging those Passion Pit and Phoenix albums as well.

You like James Brown? No one really makes jam-heavy, funked out R&B anymore, right? Wrong. “Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears” left Nashville and went national with their tight, funk rhythms’ and hardcore R&B in “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is.”  On tour with my favorite current rock band The Gaslight Anthem is British folk rock and singer-songwriter Frank Turner, formerly of the punk band The Milkmen now his own solo act trying to prove modern male singer-songwriter acoustic music doesn’t have to suck. Death Cab for Cutie released “The Open Door”  EP with 4 new songs as good as anything that was on last years “Narrow Stairs.” Wilco, who have never make a bad album, made their most accessible and enjoyable album in ten years with “Wilco (The Album).” A columnist for Paste magazine said not voting for a Wilco album in a top ten list in the 00’s is like passing on a Stones or Beatles album in the late ‘60 and early ‘70s and she may be right.

Then, biggest of all for me so far this year has to be “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” by the Dave Matthews Band. Now, I’m not a DMB fanatic. I don’t swap bootlegs and jam to 11 minute alternate takes of “Rapunzel” or anything. In fact, although I’ve always recognized them as good I’ve sometimes thought maybe they were a bit over-rated as to how hardcore of a following they seem to have, like Phish or something. I take it back. I loved “Broken Stuff” back in 2001 because the lyrics and songwriting were so fantastic and the religious observations are always a sell for me. I love some of their live albums for the great multi-layered band Matthews has to show off. But I love every thing about “GrooGrux.” Every song. From the sad sax notes that lead in on the intro (sad in that great DMB sax player LeRoi Moore died in an ATV accident before this album came out) to the sax outro at the end of the very last song.  “Shake Me Like a Monkey” is the best pure, energetic rock song DMB has ever released. “Funny the Way it Is,” and “Dive In” (among others) offer biting, relevant social commentary. The religious observations are back and poignant in “Lying in the Hands of God,” and “Time Bomb.” “Alligator Pie” is pure funk and fun. Every single song is good. I actually had a stack of coupons (I know, I’m cheap) while I was on vacation at a record store and stocked up on a few physical CDs (instead of free or discount downloads per usual) and I’m glad this was one of those because I love the artwork and the booklet/liner notes. I stared at the art and listened to the entire thing through at least twice and it’s been years since I’ve done that with any album. Get this album. There’s not a single wasted moment on it. It’s currently my front runner, but who knows what can happen musically in 5 months.

That’s all for now.


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