2010’s Top Albums

 2010-albums.jpgAnother year, another 12 months of fine releases that have crossed the desks of the staff here at Honest Tune Magazine. Some of those even managed to make it into regular rotation, and, subesequently, earned a spot on the team’s "Best of …" lists, as you will see below. Join us in celebrating a great year of music in 2010 and the promise of an even better 2011!

Tom Speed – Editor-In-Chief

7_walkers.jpg1. 7 Walkers : 7 Walkers – When Papa Mali and Bill Kreutzman invited Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to their musical expedition, the result was the construction of a supernatural alter-world that serves as the bayou brethren to the mythos he created with the Dead. Exceedingly funky, soulful and spine-tingling, the debut album from what promises to be more of a full-time band than a part-time side project seems to be sowing the seeds for something truly remarkable.

2. Arcade Fire : The Suburbs It’s apropos that this sprawling slice of indie pop rock should carry the title it does.

3. Dr. Dog : Shame, Shame – Just joyous in its exuberance. Hard to resist.

4. The Black Crowes : Croweology – Sure, these are “old” songs redone. But the vigor with which these chestnuts are rendered shows how sturdy the Crowes catalog is and how deft the current lineup is.

5. Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs : God Willin & The Creek Don’t Rise – With his newly monikered backing band providing a punch, Lamontagne seems to be catching his stride with this collection of swaying ballads, and, more impressively, gritty rockers.

6. Robert Plant : Band of Joy – Building from Raising Sand, his collaboration with Allison Kraus, Plant continues to mine the depths of Americana with a genuine reverence that lends added importance to the collection and proves that Percy is just fine, indeed, with life without Led Zep.

7. Honey Island Swamp Band : Good To You – Straddling the line between soulful funk and country rock, Good To You cranks out good time tunes from the Crescent City, carrying the torch for forbearers like the Subdudes and Radiators.

8. Anders Osborne : American Patchwork – Backed by the Stanton Moore Trio, Osborne’s latest is both ferocious and profound.  

9. Backyard Tire Fire : Good To Be – Ed Anderson and company make  it seem so effortless to populate album after album with infectious, hook-laden American rock music.

10. Alejandro Escovedo : Street Songs of Love Another batch of tunes co-written with Chuck Prophet and full of heart and smarts. The fact that the guest spot by Bruce Springsteen isn’t even a highlight speaks volumes.

Josh Mintz – Managing Editor 

mumford__sons_sigh_no_more.jpg1. Mumford & Sons : Sigh No More – Call it indie, call it folk, call it bluegrass … whatever you call it, another word is greatness. This UK group really announced their presence with authority on their debut album. Their vocal harmonies, punk-rock banjo, kick drum … it all blends together into sonic perfection.

2. Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs : God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise – Remarkably, it’ the most un-Ray Lamontagne songs – the ones with full band, or horns, or pedal steel – that work best here. "Repo Man" is possibly the best song of 2010.

3. The Black Keys : Brothers – While not vintage Black Keys, the album shows a mature progression toward a more "friendly" sound that’s accessible to a larger audience. But, the guitars and drums are still there in force, and that’s what matters.

4. ALO : Man of the World – Maybe the best album of 2010 for just chillin’, Man of the World takes ALO’s breezy Cali sound to darker places at times, and retains their ‘70s vibe at others.

5. Robert Plant : Band of Joy – Another chapter in the book of Plant. He put together a fabulous band that put out an album that’s textbook Robert Plant at times, and a complete departure others. But, it works like a champ.

6. 30db : One Man Show – Out of pain comes greatness. With a shared impetus (divorce), Umphrey’s McGee’s Brendan Bayliss and Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin joined forces on 30db, writing one of the best "supergroup" albums to come out in years. With North Mississippi Allstar Cody Dickinson on drums, the disc is one of those rare albums that has both great songwriting and stellar musicianship.

7. Nas & Damian Marley : Distant Relatives – Mix the dancehall reggae of a Marley with one of best rappers of the past few decades, and you get Distant Relatives, a tour-de-force of beats. Marley’s patois and Nas’ lyrics blend to make a great disc.

8. 7 Walkers : 7 Walkers – When the swampy guitar sounds of Papa Mali blend with the legendary Bill Kreutzmann and with the songwriting mastery of Robert Hunter, ow can this record be anything but good?

9. JJ Grey & Mofro : Georgia Warhorse – JJ Grey is a guy who certainly sticks to formula; there’s no new ground broken on Georgia Warhorse. But if it ain’t broke… Grey still has unparalleled vocals, and with guest appearances by Derek Trucks and Toots Hibbert, the album’s pure win.

10. The Black Crowes : Croweology –  It’s almost a cop-out to list this here as it’s mostly a reformatted greatest hits set, but it’s just so damn good it had to make the list.

Jamie Lee – CD/DVD Reviews Editor 

national_high_violet.jpg1. The National : High Violet – The National’s career has been much like their music; a slow burn. This, their fifth full-length, sees that burn stoked to a flame.

2. Yeasayer : Odd Blood The Brooklyn trio was only flirting on its debut, All Our Cymbals, and on Odd Blood, Yeasayer shows depth with catchy, synthful, heady compositions that explode from the ether.

3. Minus the Bear : Omni – Minus the Bear are another indie outfit that discovered the synthesizer in 2010, giving cascading textures to its elastic rock and delivering insta-classics like “My Time” and “Summer Angel.”

4. Breathe Owl Breathe : Magic Central – This trio revels in lyrical and instrumental economy, their enchanting compositions warm like a winter coat. It is easy to shake off the cold with a cover-to-cover delight like Magic Central

5. Bobby Bare Jr.: A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head – Backed by members of My Morning Jacket, Bobby Bare Jr.’s compositions spring to life with zeal. Whether pining away on “Don’t Go to Chattanooga” or humoring a crazy night out in Atlanta, Georgia, on "Rock and Roll Halloween,” this is his best yet.

6. Kylesa : Spiral Shadow – More prog than metal, the ever-evolving quintet from Savannah, Georgia, delight with a pallet of effects that make this another impressive, genre-bending album.

7. Frontier Ruckus : Deadmalls & Nightfalls – Frontier Ruckus have a way with words and a striking approach to clever instrumentation that opens up like a spring flower. With each listen of Deadmalls & Nightfalls, the depth becomes clearer and the renderings of frontman Mathew Milla’s surroundings emerge in delightful detail.

8. Sam Quinn : The Fake that Sunk a Thousand Ships – Sam Quinn’s unmistakable warble was the yin to Jill Andrews yang in The Everybodyfields, and he and his songs fare just as well on his own. The Fake that Sunk a Thousand Ships is hauntingly brittle; an emotive jaunt that inspires with profound lyricism and stripped-down instrumentation.

9. Robert Plant : Band of Joy – Robert Plant is quite comfortable revisiting classic compositions by other artists, a trend begun with the Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand and continued with Band of Joy. Plant may not be able to match his achievements fronting Led Zeppelin, but he is capping off his career far and beyond anyone’s expectations.

10. Band of Horses : Infinite Arms – Band of Horses deliver another classic with Infinite Arms, their third and most polished album to date. The plodding “Compliments,” the spry “Laredo,” and the airy title track are showstoppers.

Fred Adams – Features Editor

croweology.jpg1. The Black Crowes : Croweology – It is rare that an album of previously recorded material should ever rank as the best release of the year, especially if the songs are re-done by the original artists. That said, the music on Croweology hardly seems rehashed, and instead plays as one of the most rich, lush, beautiful pieces of music ever produced. The Robinson brothers may have disbanded, for now, but they certainly left their mark on the way out.

2. Truth & Salvage Co. : Truth & Salvage Co. – Easily my favorite album of original material released in 2010, Truth & Salvage Co. touches places in ones heart, mind and soul that few bands could ever reach. Though the group wears many influences on their collective sleeves, the stellar musicianship alone makes this a record that should be in everyone’s collection. Factor in the extraordinary songs, written by in four unique voices, and the end result is a collection of some of the best driving tunes around. If you have yet to experience Truth & Salvage Co., forget any preconceived notations, and give the album a chance. You’ll be delighted you did.

3. Robert Plant : Band of Joy – Following up on the multi-Grammy winning Raising Sand would have been a difficult task for any artist, even for the greatest singer in the history of rock.  While so many artists his age spend their waning years rehashing days gone by, Plant’s Band of Joy takes a different approach, taking material from others and turning it on upside down, breathing new life in these older tracks. Still pushing boundaries and challenging himself after all these years, Plant continues taking listeners to the mythical land of Valhalla. On Band of Joy, Plant and friends keep that light shining brightly.

4. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals : Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – Oozing sex appeal has rarely sounded so good, or half as fun, as Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Not all of Grace’s fans would agree, as many have called this release over-produced and slick. Comparisons to her past work aside, this album no doubt has helped to extend to shining star that is Grace, and exposed Potter to throngs of new fans that had never previously been exposed to the temptress. Set aside what the album is not, and revel in what it is – a great time in the career of a great band, packed with hits that are sure to appeal to audiences far and wide.

5. Mike Farris and the Cumberland Saints, The Night the Cumberland Came Alive – Per his norm, The Night the Cumberland Came Alive finds Farris turning blues, folk, country and gospel roots into present day revival filled with passionate love, not to mention some of the finest musicianship around. While sharing the stage with Ketch Secor and Gill Landry (Old Crow Medicine Show), Byron House (Band of Joy), The McCrary Sisters, Derrek Phillips and Eric Holt (Roseland Rhythm Revue), Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart & The Superlatives), and the incomparable Sam Bush, it is Farris who remains the focal point of the project, filling the room with more inspiration than any preacher could ever deliver.

6. JJ Grey & Mofro : Georgia Warhorse – Florida soul man JJ Grey stepped up his game on his latest release, bringing his idol Toots Hibbert and guitar guru Derek Trucks along for the ride. Having dropped the trademark harmonica and deep organ sounds in favor of a brass section on his last album, Georgia Warhorse is a return to what Mofro does best – mixing country, blues, rock, and gospel to produce their own unique blend of swampy soul that can easily be called JJ’s finest effort to date.

7. Jeff Beck : Emotion & Commotion  – It is hard to deny the perfectionism that is Jeff Beck. Currently in the midst of his most creative period in decades, Emotion & Commotion finds Beck at times joined by beautiful female voices, including Joss Stone and Imelda May, while still saving his best for the innovative instrumental madness that has long been his trademark.

8. Elton John and Leon Russell : The Union – Another classic effort delivered by producer T Bone Burnett, The Union harkens back to early ’70s era Elton, as the piano legend is joined by his idol Leon Russell and an amazing studio band (particularly the rhythm section that includes bassist Dennis Crouch and drummers Jay Bellerose and Jim Kiltner). The result is the finest album either artist has produced in decades.

9. Patty Griffin : Downtown Church – Featuring friends Buddy and Julie Miller, Emmylou Harris, Mike Farris, the McCrary Sisters and more, all backed by a group of Nashville’s finest session players, this is a different kind of gospel album. Downtown Church showcases many songs that have influenced contemporary music, yet breathes new life in to timeless classic on what is perhaps Griffin’s best album to date.

10. Cee Lo Green : The Lady KillerOn the strength of “Fuck You,” Cee Lo deserves a record of the year nod. While I am not usually a “singles” kind of guy, the undeniable feel-good groove of this song alone will forever stand as one of this year’s most memorable

David Shehi – Live Music Editor

aaron_dugan_theory.jpg1. Aaron Dugan : Theory of Everything – In his initial release with this current backing band, Aaron Dugan, the man partially responsible for developing the definitive sound of Matisyahu’s early work, has taken his unique guitar styling in a direction that, when coupled with the vocal work of Amy Carrigan, is pure mastery. It is an album that is over before one realizes that it has even gotten underway, because it is so easy to become lost in it. It literally contains something for everyone. It is subtle, energetic, reggae, jazz, and shoegaze – sometimes within the same song. Track listing was deliberate and it makes the album a journey evidenced by a guest appearance by Matisyahu for the beautifully chaotic dub-reggae number “Street Sweep,” which follows a pure dreamscape track led by Carrigan and underlying vocals by Dugan, “I’m On The Ocean.”  By pulling in some of New York’s finest musical talent, this album, produced by John Siket (Phish’s Siket Disc), is overlooked to the disadvantage and mistake of the one who is overlooking.

2. Fistful of Mercy : As I Call You Down – With indiscernible vocal harmonies from vocalists that are well-known (Joseph Arthur and Ben Harper) coupled with folk-riddled lyrics and layered instrumentation, this long awaited release from the supergroup delivers on what were already high expectations. Elementally diverse, it has just enough haunting to make it heartfelt, enough honky-tonk to keep it fun, and enough froth to get radio play. It doesn’t hurt that George Harrison seems to make a life reprisal through the efforts of his son, Dhani, on various verses on the album. Add that to the frailty and pain that Ben Harper delivers, how can it be a miss?      

3. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals : Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – If Grace Potter needed a coming out party, she has it here with this self-titled offering. The sultry soul contained on this album is a force with which to be reckoned. Though it is lacking in theme, it is not lacking in arrangement. It is poignant and embraceable with enough pop resonance that it has significant crossover appeal. However, nothing has been sacrificed. Rather, what shines through is a continually maturing group of musicians who have grown into each other. This along with Potter’s omnipresence and hearty songwriting throughout, make it an album that has been one of the greatest additions to my repertoire, though perhaps an overplayed one at this point.     

4. Kings of Leon : Come Around Sundown – In contrast to their previous albums, youth is slowly leaving the aging Followills. Come Around Sundown is an album that one simply cannot envision being recorded in the garage and that sound has all but been abandoned here. Though it borders on antithesis, it is not annoying in so doing. The sounds that Sundown brings are less gritty and hungry and more anthem like and large with a base in dream-pop. From big and radio friendly “The End” to the wrenching “Mary,” it is cohesively written and played. There is genuine mood and integrity in the tracks that separate Kings of Leon from other media darlings. Frankly, their quest to define a new sound is a journey that I enjoy taking with them because it shows a band that has not grown stagnant under the duress of massive success and critical acclaim.  

5. Railroad Earth : Railroad Earth – This album is the perfect fit for any day of the week, but particularly for a sunny day on a highway without a set time for arrival at your destination. Without straying too far from their base, Railroad Earth keeps things interesting and exploratory with changes that are subtle enough to make this an album that is universally acceptable listening, regardless of who is riding shotgun – even though there is an 11 minute completely instrumental track and a song that is eerily reminiscent of Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River.” It’s okay, just don’t tell anybody and they won’t bitch about this album being played on family trips.

6. Brock Butler : Lately Here Though  – This is perhaps one of the most natural albums that I have ever heard. From opening intro to closing note, there is just something that makes it so easily listenable. Nothing seems forced, and the candid lyrical showcase is remarkable. It is a consistently thought-provoking piece that can be listened to over and over again without becoming stale. It can be played as background music to conversation or at high volume on a late night road trip. It is honest, insightful, and something with which anyone can identify. It is not what many would expect from the Perpetual Groove frontman, but serves to do nothing but validate him and them as a musician and band that has ability, particularly in the way of songwriting, that many in the jam world simply do not possess.

7. Martin Sexton : Sugarcoating – This is lyrical mastery at its finest. Martin Sexton’s vocal range on this album is chillingly grand, and his integration of twang-like instrumental facets only increases its spinal value. His honesty is something to be strived for and the gratitude that it spawns in the soul is something of which music and people in general are far too lacking. It is records like this that supplement any mood. It is a never ending therapy session for $14.99.    

8. Neil Young : Le Noise – There is nothing really exceptional about the content in the lyrics here, but the music, though solo, serves as the catalyst and is what gives this album a sense of urgency. Sonically, it is deep and seedy- perfect for 2010. This is not to say that the lyrics cannot stand on their own. The lyrically driven numbers offset the anxiety in provocative and somewhat depressing ballad moments that only Neil Young can carry. Lyrics, sung by Young, like “daddy won’t ever come home” are stomach-churning. When I am emotionally moved like this album moves me, I know that I love it even though I may not like it. I could do without the self-absorbed bio number “Hitchhiker,” but it is Neil Young, and we all knew that self-centeredness would make an appearance.   

9. M.I.A. : Maya If this is the direction music is going, let me be the first to say that I am not pleased. However, there is something that is undeniably and infuriatingly danceable about this album. It is assaultive and really takes no prisoners. It is violent and abrasive. It is all that I despise, but it is also like a dog that is so ugly that it is cute. “Born Free” rattles the mind but also depicts an element of truth. Perhaps what is most likeable about it is that it unfortunately may also be prophetically accurate in its depiction of a world that seems to sometimes apocalyptically hinge.   

10. Otis Redding : Live on the Sunset Strip – I was brought up on Otis. There has never been a voice like his since his time. It is a voice that can equally convey tenderness, pain, and soul. But what is most impressive about this album is that it provides more than its share of evidence to attest to the fact that Mr. Redding could both command and conduct the live manifestation of his gems much more than Live in London and Paris did. It is Redding on his own turf doing his emotionally honest thing in front of his folk.  When I listen to this album and close my eyes, almost immediate transportation to that day in that smoke filled club takes place, and it is a good setting to visit.

Honorable Mention: Keller and the Keels : Thief  – Keller cannot not make my list. The guy just does what he does, but this time he did it with the backing of Larry and Jenny Keel. Though completely made up of covers, they are so uniquely done that they become Keller tunes almost immediately. It is just a fun album. How can a Keller bluegrass version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” not be? The highlight, though not all that fun, is definitely “Mountains of the Moon,” something that was standard in Keller’s solo performances in the earlier portion of the decade, but is entirely new with the backing of The Keels.

Tim Newby – Senior Writer

neil_le_noise.jpg1. Neil Young : Le Noise – Teaming with legendary producer Daniel Lanois for this solo outing, Le Noise is a Crazy Horse album without the Horse. Outfitted with little more than a guitar and some odd loop-effects, Young finds the same murky atmospherics that he has tread with his band. Their absence though, only magnifies the intensity of what is Neil Young’s best album since 1990’s Ragged Glory, if not one of his best ever.

2. Dr. Dog : Shame, Shame Shame, Shame is the perfect culmination of Dr. Dog’s previous five albums.  Building on the ‘60s Beatlesque pop-rock sound that dominated their earlier albums, Shame, Shame finds Dr. Dog developing a grittier, fuller sound that serves them perfectly.

3. Anders Osborne : American Patchwork – A deeply personal album, American Patchwork perfectly captures the unbridled energy and balls-to-the-wall thrash of Osborne’s live shows.  The album is a journey through all the heartache and pain that Osborne has seen in the past few years, and it is quite simply the best album he has ever released.

4. Hacienda : Big Red & Barbacoa – The second album from Hacienda is soulful rock ‘n roll that instantly calls to mind the soaring harmonies of the Beach Boys, but with a deep swinging groove ripped from Muscle Shoals, and a ragged, rocking feel, that is delivered with fuzzed-out guitar and a roof-rattling backbeat. Rock ‘n roll, indeed.

5. Mumford & Sons : Sigh No More – Like the Avett Brothers and the Felice Brothers, Mumford and Sons put a modern up-tempo spin on Appalachian Americana music.

6. The Black Keys : Brothers – The Black Keys continue to get better with each release. Finding a way to top 2008’s Attack & Release, Brothers shows that their time spent with producer Danger Mouse was well spent.  While Brothers has a more back-to-basics feel than their last, it is those subtle Danger Mouse inspired moments that help this be a truly great album.

7. Los Lobos : Tin Can Trust – Another masterpiece from Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust has less full-on rock and more restrained authority. But this suits the veteran band just fine; like wine, they seem to be getting better with age. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas offer potent guitar lines, but now with a hushed power. Steve Berlin’s sax seems to be dropped in at just the right moment every time. And has there ever been a more comforting rhythm section then bassist Conrad Lozano and drummer Louie Perez?

8. Surfer Blood : Astro Coast A sun-kissed, day-glo version of Pavement’s legendary debut, Slanted and Enchanted, Astro Coast, the debut from Surfer Blood, relies heavily on its jangly guitars and muscular riffs to deliver rock-solid blasts of indie-pop. 

9. Delta Spirit : History from Below – A simple pleasure of an album, that finds Delta Spirit doing what they do best, creating ragged, laid-back, SoCal influenced, country-tinged rock. 

10. Caleb Stine : I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This – Falling somewhere between the renegade cowboy poetry of Townes Van Zandt and the sweet, rough-and-tumble sound of Neil Young’s Harvest, I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This, Stine’s fifth full-length, is a collection of ten-unflinchingly direct songs in which the uncommonly-gifted songwriter continues to tell the story of his exploration in what he calls, “an evolving and eroding America.”  In these uncertain times, this is a vital album.

Dave Stallard – Contributor

joe_pug_messenger.jpg1. Joe Pug : Messenger I initially reviewed this record as the first great release of 2010. In my mind, it is the release of 2010. Pug might very well become the standard against which songwriters of this generation are judged.

2. Dangermuffin : MoonscapesThis eclectic release from these South Carolina folk rockers ebbs and flows from trippy jams to beachgrass with sublime ease. I didn’t stop listening to it for a good two months. If it weren’t for Pug, this was my favorite record of the year.

3. Thrift Store Cowboys : Light FighterThis record is as good as Texas alt-country gets. This Lubbock-based outfit writes songs that sting and bite, like your favorite whiskey or woman.

4. James Justin & Co. : Southern Son, So Far – James Justin Burke establishes himself as a rising voice in the Southeastern music scene with Southern Son, So Far. Comfortable with both a folkie, grassy twang or effects laden rock and roll, JJ & Co. – along with Dangermuffin – are putting the Folly Beach, S.C., scene on the map.

5. Various : Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John PrinePrine has long been my favorite songwriter. This homage features spot on interpretations by Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, Deer Tick, and Justin Townes Earle, among others.

6. Various : Twistable, Turnable Man:  A Musical Tribute to The Songs of Shel Silverstein The second compilation/tribute record on my list. Silverstein was an always quirky, often brilliant songwriter. The tracks on this record – offered by Bobby Bare, Jr., Andrew Bird, John Prine, and more – remind us of that.

7. Shooter Jennings & Hierophant : Black Ribbons – This concept album takes place the night before the “fascicrats” take control of the public airwaves. Hierophant, the band they don’t want you to hear, will be the last free music to play on the air. A brilliant premise, and one that might not be as far away as we think.

8. Glossary : Feral Fire – Down home and unapologetic, Glossary is pure gritty, crunchy rock and roll. This Tennessee rock outfit has flown below the radar for far too long. With Feral Fire, they earned the recognition and attention their poignant songwriting and fierce playing deserve.

9. Dave Eggar : Kingston Morning – Eggar is a classically trained cellist – with degrees from Berklee and Harvard – who has eschewed the world of symphonies for the world of folk and rock and roll. Kingston Morning, nominated for a Grammy, is both Jamaican dance hall and Appalachian Highlands and is a work of sheer genius.

10. Folk Soul Revival : Words Off a Tongue – Folk Soul Revival is my favorite bunch of local boys (almost) done good. Their latest record showcases their tight harmonies and the band’s ability to nimbly walk the tightrope between Appalachian folk, rough and tumble country, and modern folk.

Sarah Tollie – Contributor

200px-hanson-shout-it-out.jpg1. Hanson : Shout It Out – From the Blues Brothers-inspired first song and video, “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” to the many infectious – but sometimes excessive – horn sections, Hanson’s ninth studio effort, Shout It Out, will definitely make you sing and dance. And, when you’re sure that no one’s looking, it might just compel you to give 1997’s “MmmBop” a second listen.

2. Tokio Hotel : Humanoid City Live – Fret not, that’s no typo: This Teutonic quartet, while having yet to visit Japan, makes a considerable, sci-fi themed, bilingual splash in Milan. Recorded on April 12, Humanoid City Live covers all of the concert necessities – screaming fans, rocking music, and of course, blaring vuvuzelas thrown in for good measure.

3. Alex Band : We’ve All Been There This former The Calling frontman has certainly “been there.” But on his haunting solo debut, We’ve All Been There, Band is back with a soaring, orchestral set of songs that, unsurprisingly, but intimately, chronicle his major-to-indie-label shift, divorce, and moments of newfound romance.  

4. Michelle Branch : Everything Comes and Goes
Pop-country crooner Michelle Branch has also had her fair share of label woes this year, but without them, there would be no Everything Comes and Goes. This brief, six-track set finds Branch returning to her vulnerable, girl-and-her-guitar roots and proves that, sometimes, less is certainly more.

5. Hesta Prynn : Can We Go Wrong – Former Northern State-er (and presumably, Hawthorne reader) Hesta Prynn mixes funk, synth, and trip-hop on Can We Go Wrong, her first solo effort. It’s an undeniably catchy mix – and one that will leave you wanting more. Luckily, Miss Prynn is set to release a full-length album in 2011.

6. Holly Miranda : The Magician’s Private Library – Likened to Cat Power and labeled as the “female Jeff Buckley” by several music critics, Holly Miranda has evidently benefitted from these comparisons (fans include Kanye West and tour mates Tegan and Sara). But with The Magician’s Private Library, it’s evident that Miranda would succeed without them: from the slow satisfaction of “Waves” to the delicious tension of “Slow Burn Treason,” her breathy vocals invite repeated listens.

7. Robyn : Body Talk Pt. 1 – Ever the ambitious one, Swedish electro-pop pixie Robyn decided to release 3 albums at once. The first effort, Body Talk Pt. 1, is decidedly her best, featuring the spunky “Fembot” and electro gem, “Dancing on my Own.”

8. Robyn : Body Talk Pt. 2 – Robyn’s second effort closely trails her first with its lead single, “Hang with Me,” a slick, poppy tale of life-on-the road. Third single, “Indestructible,” experiments with violins and bouts of bad love.

9. Robyn : Body Talk Pt. 3 – That ambition is fully realized in Robyn’s last installment, the full-length, all-encompassing Body Talk Pt. 3. In addition four successful singles, tracks include, most notably, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do,” a five-minute-plus robotic, self-deprecating dedication to bad habits and bad situations. No worries, Robyn: We’re listening.

10. Jessica Harp : A Woman Needs – It’s been a bittersweet release – and year—for former Wrecker, Jessica Harp. After parting ways with her record label and effectively, her career as a performer, she has assumed the role of professional songwriter. But A Woman Needs provides a fitting end, so to speak: from the poppy Keith Urban-assisted title track and single, “Boy Like Me,” to the more traditional “Homemade Love” and aptly-titled “Letting Go,” Harp leaves with a twang.