(the following is as published in today’s edition of the Columbia Free Times)
Here, then, are the ten albums I listened to and liked the most in 2010:
The Spring Standards, Would Things Be Different (Self-released)
This group’s unusual live show lineup (no drummer, percussion divided between three members on stage) doesn’t come across on recordings, of course, but the gorgeous melodies, vocal harmonies, and slightly offbeat arrangements shine on classic-sounding pop songs such as “Bells and Whistles.”
Mandolin Orange, Quiet Little Room (self-released): Understated but not austere, the delicate acoustic folk-pop of this Chapel Hill duo is a perfect complement to your own quiet little room.
Will Kimbrough, Wings (Daphne): Sideman to Todd Snider and Jimmy Buffett, Kimbrough is an excellent songwriter on his own, and this collection of odes to family harmony hits all the right notes.
Matt Urmy, Sweet Lonesome (self-released): A poet, healer, and singer-songwriter rolled into one, Urmy invokes everything from Tom Waits to black gospel, honky-tonk country, and more on this remarkably soulful set.
Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti): Speaking of remarkable soul, Bettye Lavette’s late-career resurgence has been nothing short of that. This latest collection was inspired by her version of “Love Reign O’er Me” from the Kennedy Center Honors, that’s included here along with classics from a wide range of other Brits, done the way only Lavette can—with sass, savvy, and plenty of soul.
Brighter Things, Before We Land (self-released): Singer-songwriter Steven Jackson left the touring troubadour life behind to raise a family, but this project saw him utilize some ace studio musicians to create a ‘band’ to play some new songs featuring his heartfelt, huge vocal presence.
The Acorn, No Ghost (Bella Union/Paper Bag): A laid-back but not morose set of atmospheric indie-folk pop that easily ingratiates itself with repeated listens.
Michael Trent, The Winner (self-released)
Charleston, South Carolina’s coolest musical couple, Cary Anne Hearst and Michael Trent are a two-person music making machine with albums under her name, the Shovels & Rope group name, and this one under Trent’s. Closest to their jubilant live shows of anything they’ve released up to now, the tracks range from the loose-limbed Americana of the title cut to the incisive songwriting of “All Those Words.”
Band of Horses, These Infinite Arms (Columbia): More easygoing than “Funeral” fans were expecting, this is a grown-up record, made by guys who have grown up making records.
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig: This is not exactly authentic old-time music, but it is what three very contemporary and very talented musicians can do within that frame of reference. After their first album I wondered if this group could transcend the stereotypes and genre restraints; one listen to the Blu Cantrell cover here, “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” and the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’