By Steve Newton
In a fucked-up music world where turntables pass for musical instruments, thuggish recording “artists” are judged by how many bullets they’ve taken, and the week’s top seller is directly related to whichever surgically altered and heavily made-up tart has the skankiest video, it’s no wonder I’m such a cranky bugger when the year-end review rolls around.
The Allman Brothers Band Hittin’ the Note Youthful slide-guitar specialist Derek Trucks is about as close as you’ll get to a replacement for Duane Allman. Having Gov’t Mule mainstay Warren Haynes handling the six-string chores on the other side of the stereo doesn’t hurt, either. The bluesy, groove-driven disc was dedicated to famed Allmans (and Skynyrd) producer Tom Dowd.
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings BARK The follow-up to Blackie’s Juno Award–winning double disc, Kings of Love, finds Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson in equally fine form. There’s only one song written by the band’s mentor and ongoing inspiration, Willie P. Bennett, but the 12 originals show the trio to be a roots-rock outfit extraordinaire.
The Jayhawks Rainy Day Music Although it contains half a dozen potential jangle-rock classics, I wasn’t sure whether the latest offering from the Gary Louris–led ’Hawks would make this year’s Top 10 until I saw my six-year-old, Tess, twirling joyfully to the whimsical strains of “Save It for a Rainy Day”. When two-year-old Daniel Roy joined in, there wasn’t any doubt.
John Mellencamp Trouble No More It was a commercial disaster for the once-platinum pride of Indiana, but Mellencamp’s bare-bones foray into soulful blues—with nods to Robert Johnson, Son House, and Willie Dixon—proves that he’s much more than a “Jack and Diane”–style heartland rocker.
Ronnie Earl I Feel Like Goin’ On Stony Plain Records scored a major coup by signing the American blues-guitar great, whose mostly instrumental debut for the Edmonton-based label features startling originals dedicated to John Lee Hooker and the homeless people of Boston.
The Hellacopters By the Grace of God There were a lot of things wrong with music in the ’70s, but these rowdy Swedish longhairs revive everything that was right-on about guitar-rock in the era of mag wheels and 8-track tapes.
Fountains of Wayne Welcome Interstate Managers Guitar-based quartet led by singer-songwriter-guitarists Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger deliciously plows the melodic power-pop line between the Cars and Weezer. “Hackensack” has to be the catchiest ditty of 2003.
Martin Barre Stage Left On his third solo album, the highly underrated guitarist from Jethro Tull delivers 13 original instrumentals that showcase his technical dexterity and wide-open musical tastes. In the liner notes, each song gets a wee picture and short history of that track’s featured instrument—be it a bouzouki, mandolin, or the Gibson Les Paul Junior Barre also used way back when on “Aqualung”.
David Bowie Reality The Thin White Duke’s 26th studio album, coproduced by noted knob-twiddler Tony Visconti, is Bowie’s most enjoyable recording in years. The only track that doesn’t shine is the overblown cover of George Harrison’s “Try Some, Buy Some”.
Gov’t Mule The Deepest End Recorded live last May in New Orleans, The Deepest End finds Gov’t Mule—guitarist Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abst, and keyboardist Danny Louis—churning out spine-tingling blues rock in the company of more than a dozen of the world’s top bassists. Not all at the same time, of course. Although George Porter Jr., Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, and Metallica’s Jason Newsted do mix it up on “Thorazine Shuffle”, as seen in the exceptional three-hour DVD that’s included.