Non-Jazz Favorites for 2010

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by Mark Saleski

Sometimes, a writer can feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of releases that come along during the year. Look at those piles of CDs! It’s a fraction of what shows up on my desk over a 12-month timespan. As I said in my list of Jazz Favorites for 2010, my ears considered the year to be a great one for music. There was almost too much to listen to. Almost.

Just like my jazz list, the items that follow are in no special order, the exception being that the recording of the year comes last. Is that album “better,” than the others? No, it’s just that I found myself listening to it more than any other. As for the genres represented, there’s a lot of roots music here, from blues to soul. There’s also some singer/songwriter-isms, world pop, and good ‘ole rock and roll.

Maya Beiser – Provenance

Even though I sort of hate the “world music” designation, I have to say that this is this year’s coolest world music recording. Maya Beiser cello work is inspiring and the conglomeration of music from Israel, Iran, Turkey, Andalusia, and Morocco will have your jaw dropping with its beauty and grace. Oh, and then there’s the Led Zeppelin cover.

Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep

Ms. Merchant pulls off a stunning coup here. She takes what sounds like a potential mess (lyrics by poets, music by over a hundred guess artits) and makes what just might be the best thing she’s ever done as a solo artist.

Debbie Miller – Fake Love

A smartly-delivered folkish program that’s good at both the cute and the serious. It also made me remember when I thought all things were possible

The Ramblers – Getting There

There was a point during the year when it seemed like just about all of the cool new music was coming from Brooklyn. Though I’m sure I’ve missed 20 or 30 others, The Ramblers are at the top of my list of cool Brooklyn artists. In this era of electronically molded “product,” Jeremiah Birnbaum and company make you realize that it never got any better than a single guitar plugged into a single amplifier.

Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs

Yes, Peter Wolf of J. Geils fame is still around and making records. In this case, a fantastic record that distills his love of country music and blues. There are duets with Neko Case, Shelby Lynne, and the great Merle Haggard. Tremendous stuff.

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

All of these years have passed since John “Cougar” hit the rock scene, but it seems that Mr. Mellencamp is finally settling into his true self. The writing is direct, raw, and hard to forget.

Eden Brent – Ain’t Got No Troubles

You’ve probably never heard of Eden Brent and that’s a cryin’ shame. She’s a great talent in the blues world. Channeling the spirit of her mentor the late piano wonder Abie “Boogaloo” Ames, Brent sings and plays up a soulful and naughty blues storm.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds

Fronted by the charming Arleigh Kincheloe, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds pack a mean, sweaty rock & soul wallop. With horns, harmonica, and guitar, they’re just as comfortable with some butt-shakin’ ska as they are laying down a blues shout. You will play this at unhealthful volume levels.

Ronnie Earl – Spread The Love

Ronnie Earl is my favorite blues guitar player. His style isn’t the firebreathing, too-many-notes-per hour style favored by the more rock-oriented players, but one that traffics in heart-rending honesty and soul. Spread The Love is in many ways a throwback to some of his early records, such as I Like It When It Rains.

Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig

Bringing back the tradition of black string bands, the Carolina Chocolate Drops runs through a foot-stomping set of blues, country, and old-timey music. It’s just too much fun.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise

People who know me me might be shocked to not see this one at the top of list. The thing is, as much as I loved The Promise (and the Darkness On The Edge of Town remaster, the Making of Darkness, the Paramout Theatre recreation and the Houston Bootleg), I know that it might be a fan-only kind of thing. Still, it’s pretty amazing to listen to the songs that didn’t make it on the original release of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Redwing Blackbird – That River Skinned A Bear

Disclaimer: I know these guys. They’re friends of mine. Still, would I lie to you? No, I’ll put my reputation on the line right here when I say that Redwing Blackbird makes music that will wrap itself around you, or at the very least, offer you a friendly pat on the back.

Favorite Non-Jazz Album of the Year

Danielle Ate The Sandwich – Two Bedroom Apartment

And to think I almost didn’t listen to this album. A piece of publicity email (with download link) was forwarded to me and my curmudgeonly, anti-technology self just didn’t feel like downloading anything. But there was just something about that name that made me chuckle at my growsing. It’s a good thing, because Danielle Ate The Sandwich, mostly just a girl and her ukulele, provided me with some of the most fun, endearing, and sincere moments I’ve had this year.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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