Thursday, February 20, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #8 - "Lightning Bolt," Jake Bugg

Yes, that's right - for me, this song's life began with Gatorade commercial.  This one was on HEAVY rotation when it first came out; you could not watch a sporting event without seeing it multiple times.  After several times wondering "WHAT IS THAT SONG?," I finally Googled "Gatorade commerical lightning bolt" (it seemed likely that was the song's name), and lo and behold, this popped up:

It's one of those songs that can easily be described as "timeless," because there probably isn't an era since rock 'n roll began that it wouldn't fit, and wouldn't sound great.  It's also a classic driving song, one of those that just screams to be turned up as high as the dial (and the eardrums) will allow.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #8 - "Lightning Bolt," Jake Bugg.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #9 - "Best Years of My Life," Pistol Annies

"Hankering" is such a great word.  I'm not exactly sure why it appeals to me so much, but it's one of the words that I try to work into a conversation, or online dialogue, as often as I can.

The fact that "hankering" is used in "Best Years of My Life," however, is not why it made the Top Ten.  It made the Top Ten because it's a truly great song by one of the truly great groups - and I mean, really really great - of the entire decade.

For the uninitiated, Pistol Annies is comprised of, from left to right in the video, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert.  In total, the trio released twelve albums during the decade of the 2010s: three Pistol Annies albums, four solo albums by Lambert, three solo albums by Monroe, and two solo albums by Presley.  Two of those albums (Presley's "American Middle Class" and Pistol Annies' "Interstate Gospel") made my Top 30 of the Decade, and if I expanded that list to 50, Lambert's "Platinum" and Monroe's "The Blade" would have joined them.

In short, they're great.  As in, great on an historical scale.  They are at the vanguard of the new wave of women country artists that have scorched the musical world with their boldness, their brilliance, in recent years.  Although you may not know it, since country radio is still loathe to give them the spotlight they deserve.

"Best Years of My Life" is a great place to begin diving into their catalog.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #9 - "Best Years of My Life," Pistol Annies.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #10 - "When the Master Calls the Roll," Rosanne Cash

To kick off the Top Ten - THE TOP TEN! - we have, without a doubt, the best Civil War ballad that's been written in the 21st Century.  And one with a fascinating back story - after all, it's not every day that an artist collaborates on a song with her husband and her ex-husband.

The song began as a collaboration between John Leventhal (Cash's husband) and Rodney Crowell (Cash's ex-husband) even before Rosanne herself entered the picture, with Leventhal giving the melody to Crowell for potential use on one of his albums with Emmylou Harris.

But let's let Ms. Cash tell the story:

We kept the first four lines that Rodney had—it was an actual 19th century personals ad. I wanted to keep that and then turn the rest of it into the Civil War song, where she found him through a personals ad. It’s based on two of my own ancestors. I researched them and we wrote it together. He came over to my house, we wrote part of it at the table, and then we wrote part of it by email.

So maybe it's also the best song ever (at least partly) written by email?  I can't really answer that question, since I have no idea how many songs have been written by email.  There can't be that many, right?  By the way, for a more complete picture of how the song was written, please check out the excellent interview with Cash and Leventhal by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, here.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #10 - "When the Master Calls the Roll," Rosanne Cash.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Drive-By Truckers: Fighting the Good Fight

"The Unraveling," the twelfth studio album from Drive-By Truckers, is not a party record.  You don't really need to play it to figure that out; all you have to do is read some of the song titles: "Armageddon's Back in Town," "Heroin Again," "Babies in Cages," "Awaiting Resurrection."  None of those titles bring to mind a bunch of hoopin' and hollerin', beer or two in hand, while dancing on the top of a table all night.

The song titles are not false advertising, as evidenced by a sampling of these lyrics from "Heroin Again":

Insinuate a fever dream
Instigate a requiem
A deafening explosion of shame
An orgasm inside your brain
Silly young men
Why you using heroin
Thought you knew better than that

Or these, from "Babies in Cages":

And are we so divided
That we can't at least agree
This ain't the country that
Our granddads fought for us to be?
Babies in cages

"The Unraveling" is hardly DBT's first foray into the realm of the political.  For more than two decades, Patterson Hood has been exploring the contradictions he encountered during the course of his days growing up and becoming an adult in Alabama - a phenomenon he's often called "the duality of the Southern thing."  The difference is that in the band's earlier days, a song like "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (one of whom was George Wallace) might be bracketed by obvious party anthems like "Dead, Drunk & Naked" and "Let There Be Rock," and a song like "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" (about the murder of Bryan Harvey and his family) would be immediately followed by "3 Dimes Down," possibly the greatest party song that Mike Cooley ever wrote (and I'll let you look up what that one is all about).  Even the band's 2016 "American Band," which delved more deeply into current day politics than any previous DBT record, feels light as air in comparison to the new record.  

The album's centerpiece, and the song that will be talked about the most, is "Thoughts and Prayers." In this era of mass shootings in common public gathering areas, those simple words have taken on a much different meaning.  Rather than a sincere (if ultimately inadequate) expression of sympathy and sorrow, they're now viewed by many as a symbol of a generation's inability (or lack of will) to take any meaningful action to stop something that everyone agrees is a horrible societal development.  Patterson Hood leaves no doubt as to which side of the argument he is on:

When my children's eyes look at me and they ask me to explain
It hurts me that I have to look away
The powers that be are in for shame and comeuppance
When Generation Lockdown has their day
They'll throw the bums all out and drain the swamp for real
Perp walk then down the Capitol steps and show them how it feels
Tramp the dirt down, Jesus, you can pray the rod they'll spare
Stick it up your ass with your useless thoughts and prayers

It's one thing for an individual to make a statement like this.  But when an artist whose livelihood depends in large part on the support of a demographic which quite likely (and accurately) will take this song as an affront to the very existence of that demographic, that's something very different.  There's a lot at stake for a band to be writing and playing songs like this, and while DBT never has (and never likely will) reach the heights of popularity of a group like the Dixie Chicks, we all saw what happened to them when a certain line was crossed.  Even a group as popular as they were at the time saw their audience change dramatically, pre- and post-comments about George W. Bush.

The album's sound matches its material.  Having gone through numerous personnel changes over the years, since 2014 DBT's sonic approach has been focused primarily on a guitar-pronged attack (sometimes two, and sometimes three, when sometimes keyboardist Jay Gonzalez picks up his ax).  That's true here as well, but there's also the added element of the sound mix, which feels constricted throughout, and almost claustrophobic - another signal that "The Unraveling" is a very different record than those which preceded it.

"The Unraveling" is relentless and unforgiving.  Might it have benefited from a bit of lightness, amidst all the darkness?  Perhaps.  But there's no questioning that "The Unraveling" is Drive-By Truckers' bravest album.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

For Posterity: The Albums of 2019

  • Colorado - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • White Noise/White Lines - Kelsey Waldon
  • Desert Dove - Michaela Anne
  • Wildcard - Miranda Lambert
  • Closer Than Together - The Avett Brothers
  • Ride Me Back Home - Willie Nelson
  • While I'm Livin' - Tanya Tucker
  • In the Morse Code of Brake Lights - The New Pornographers
  • The Walk - Bonnie Bishop
  • Llego Navidad - Los Lobos
  • Sound and Fury - Sturgill Simpson
  • The Highwomen - The Highwomen
  • When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? - Billie Eilish
  • Jaime - Brittany Howard
  • Norman Fucking Rockwell - Lana del Rey
  • Texas - Rodney Crowell
  • Okie - Vince Gill
  • The Center Won't Hold - Sleater-Kinney
  • Texas Piano Man - Robert Ellis
  • American Love Song - Ryan Bingham
  • Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
  • Black Pumas - Black Pumas
  • Mint Condition - Caroline Spence
  • Titanic Rising - Weyes Blood
  • Western Stars - Bruce Springsteen
  • I Am Easy to Find - The National
  • Father of the Bride - Vampire Weekend
  • My Songs - Sting
  • there is no Other - Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi
  • Walk Through Fire - Yola
  • What It Is - Hayes Carll
  • Fever Breaks - Josh Ritter
  • The Delta Sweete Revisited - Mercury Rev
  • Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 - Todd Snider
  • Absolute Zero - Bruce Hornsby
  • When You're Ready - Molly Tuttle
  • Jade Bird - Jade Bird
  • On the Line - Jenny Lewis
  • Patty Griffin - Patty Griffin
  • Girl - Maren Morris
  • Remind Me Tomorrow - Sharon Van Etten
  • Quiet Signs - Jessica Pratt
  • Songs for Judy - Neil Young
  • Teal Album - Weezer

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #11 - "New York Banker," Todd Snider

His Wikipedia page describes Todd Snider as "an American singer-songwriter with a musical style that combines American, alt-country and folk. 

Well, this one is a rocker, plain and simple. 

The song is the perfect musical companion to the films Margin Call and The Big Short, which in very different ways tell the story of the 2008 market collapse.  Here, that collapse reaches all the way to a high school teacher, down in Arkansas.  And the story doesn't have a happy ending.

It's one of the catchiest refrains you'll hear - listen to this song a few times, and I promise you won't be able to get the phrase "Good things happen to bad people" out of your head.  The year it was released, that phrase was the perfect description of someone who unfortunately spilled over into my life from time to time, so the song had particular resonance. 

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #11 - "New York Banker," Todd Snider.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #12 - "South Dakota," James McMurtry

As befits a man whose mother was an English professor and whose father is the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Larry McMurtry, James McMurtry knows how to spin a musical yarn.

The lyrics of "South Dakota" read like they could be an outline for a well-filmed, well-directed but somewhat depressing film about a young man who comes home from the war, tries to make a go at life in South Dakota, but following one calamity after another, reluctantly re-ups for one more tour overseas.  Close with the tight shot of the protagonist getting on the plane, shaking his head.  Fade to black.

There ain't much between the pole and South Dakota
And barbed wire won't stop the wind
I won't get nothing here but broke and older
I might as well re-up again

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #12 - "South Dakota," James McMurtry.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #13 - "Runaway," Kanye West

Oxford defines genius as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability."

Oxford defines insane as "in a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behavior or social interaction."

Pick which definition you think best suits Kanye West.  I'd say that in any given moment, both could apply.

Throughout this century, Kanye has been impossible to ignore.  But for the first decade of the century, while his behavior - his antics - were impossible to ignore, I missed his music.  It was only when I heard "My Dark Twisted Fantasy" playing in my son's room, shortly after its release, that the genius part of the equation became impossible to ignore.

For me, this song will always be Kanye doing his best in coming to grips with the contradictions that have defined his public life.  And if one song can define an artist's work, this is his masterpiece.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #13 - "Runaway," Kanye West.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #14 - "The Jacket," Ashley McBryde

One of the reasons that I'm determined to keep better notes this year - not quite a diary, but just a set of notes on various things that happen - is that I want to begin making better note of how I discover new musical artists.  I can't quite remember how I discovered Ashley McBryde; maybe it was American Songwriter, and maybe it was Robert Christgau (who gave her 2018 album a B+; I liked it more than that).  The point is, I want to remember.

None of which has anything in particular to do with this song.  You may not have known that I'm a sucker for sentimental songs like this, and this is a great one.  There's little I can add to the story - just listen.

And here is the recorded version, from the album:

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #14 - "The Jacket," Ashley McBryde.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"Me" (Elton John, 2019)

Not even the world's most popular celebrity lives their life in full public view.  However, the degree to which the story of Elton John's life, as he recounts it in "Me," felt familiar - and sometimes intimately so - says a lot about just how much of his life has been an open book.

At one point while reading Elton's hugely entertaining autobiography, I commented to my wife that one thing which made it so great was that Elton "has no fucks to give." At this stage of his life, he's completely comfortable putting it all out there, and he doesn't particularly care if some of his life's episodes make him look foolish, selfish, or just plain dumb.  That was all part of the journey, and he owns it all, and always with self-deprecating humor.  His ability to laugh or roll his eyes at the earlier versions of himself is the key to the book's success.  At no point does he seek forgiveness for his bad behavior; and if one seeks to judge him, he really doesn't give a shit.  It's all part of the story of Elton John, and the reader is better off for this approach.

Elton John has been one of the most important musical figures in my own life, one in which music has played an important, and even formative role.  He wasn't my first musical hero - that would be some combination of The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater and Dionne Warwick (which is a story unto itself) - but he was my musical hero during my early teenage years, those years that for many form the musical blueprint of one's life.  I now own thousands of albums across various media, but the first album I bought with my own money was an Elton John album ("Honky Chateau").  And while it's true that the legacy of subsequent musical heroes has surpassed that of Elton's, it's also true that his place in the Hall of Fame is richly deserved, and true that few artists have surpassed the accomplishments of the richest three year period of his career - from 1972 through the end of 1975.  During that period, he released six albums that ranged from very good to great - the aforementioned "Honky Chateau," "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Caribou," "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy," and "Rock of the Westies."  That's approaching Beatles territory, right there.

There are so many stories that one could point to as being highlights of the book - Elton meeting the Laurel Canyon musical royalty shortly after his legendary performances at the Troubador in 1970, his experiences with the Watford football club, his interactions with the royal family, his accounting of the disastrous decision at Wembley in 1975 to follow incredibly well-received sets from The Eagles and The Beach Boys by playing all 10 "Captain Fantastic" songs in order, with few having ever heard them before, his complicated relationship with his mother - but the one I'll share is what he thought after seeing and hearing The Sex Pistols for the first time:
I was in bed alone at Woodside one Sunday morning, half watching television, when a guy with bright orange hair suddenly appeared on the screen and called Rod Stewart a useless old fucker.  I hadn't really been paying attention, but now I was suddenly riveted: someone slagging Rod off was clearly too good to miss.  His name was Johnny Rotten, he was wearing the most amazing clothes and I thought he was hilarious - like a cross between an angry young man and a bitchy old queen, really acidic and witty.  He was being interviewed about the burgeoning punk scene in London by a woman named Janet Street-Porter.  I liked her, too; she was gobby and bold.  In absolute fairness to Rod, Johnny Rotten appeared to hate everything - I was fairly certain he thought I too was a useless old fucker.  Nevertheless, I made a mental note to ring Rod later, just to make sure he knew about it.  'Hello, Phyllis [Elton's pet name for Stewart], did you see the TV this morning?  This new band were on called the Sex Pistols and, you'll never believe this, they said you were a useless old fucker.  Those were their exact words: Rod Stewart is a useless old fucker.  Isn't that terrible?  How awful for you.' 
I didn't really care what they thought of me.  I loved punk.  I loved its energy; attitude and style, and I loved that my old friend Marc Bolan immediately claimed he invented it twenty years ago; that was just the most Marc response imaginable.  I didn't feel shocked by punk - I'd lived through the scandal and social upheaval that rock 'n roll provoked in the fifties, so I was virtually immune to the idea of music causing outrage - and I didn't feel threatened or obsolete by it either.
From that passage, you can appreciate the humor, the candor, and above all the clarity that Elton had about where his own career fit into the larger spectrum of rock 'n roll history.  Even then, he knew that his time in the zeitgeist was over, but as subsequent albums proved, he didn't try to change what he was.

A passage on the book's last page provides a blueprint for how Elton has looked at his life: "I live and have lived an extraordinary life, and I honestly wouldn't change it, even the parts I regret, because I'm incredibly happy with how it has turned out."

With "Me" and the film "Rocket Man," Elton is back in the spotlight in a way he hasn't been for a long time.  Here's hoping that a new generation of fans will discover his work.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #15 - "Burn" and "It's Quiet Uptown," Hamilton (Original Broadway Soundtrack)

"Hamilton: An American Musical" was the greatest cultural event of the 2010s.  It was also, perhaps, the most unexpected cultural event of the 2010s.  Back at the turn of the decade, one certainly could have gotten good odds for a prediction along the lines of "Yeah, I'm thinking a Broadway musical about one of the founding know, the guy who wrote some of The Federalist Papers, shot by Aaron Burr, that guy...that will definitely be the sensation that people talk about for decades!"

The only word to describe the show is remarkable.  There are an incredible number of great songs in the musical; the pace never really lags at any time.  And while it's understandable that the cost and the limited number of venues have made it difficult for many people to see it live, if such an opportunity arises everyone should avail themselves of it.  As great an experience listening to the soundtrack album is, it pales in comparison to seeing the show performed live.

Because it's my list, when the issue of declaring these two songs being in a tie came up, I ruled in my favor and went with both.  And I'm going with both because they represent the emotional heart of the story.  They both appear in the second act, and they chronicle how things fell apart between Alexander and Eliza; and how, under the most tragic circumstances, they came back together.

First, "Burn":

I'm erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted
When you broke her heart
You have torn it all apart
I'm watching it burn
Watching it burn
The world has no right to my heart
The world has no place in our bed
They don't get to know what I said
I'm burning the memories
Burning the letters that might have redeemed you
You forfeit all rights to my heart
You forfeit the place in our bed
You'll sleep in your office instead
With only the memories of when you were mine
I hope that you burn

And then, "It's Quiet Uptown":

There are moments when the words don't reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza's side
She takes his hand

It's quiet uptown

So...where to begin?  Thank you Alexander and Eliza Hamilton for being who you were, thank you Ron Chernow for writing the definitive biography, thank you Lin Manuel Miranda for deciding to read the book on vacation, and then turning your substantial genius to this work.  Thank you to the incredible cast, not just the original cast with so many leading lights, but also the wonderful cast we were privileged to see in Chicago, in October 2018.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #15 - "Burn" and "It's Quiet Uptown," from Hamilton: An American Musical: Original Broadway Soundtrack.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #16 - "We Take Care of Our Own," Bruce Springsteen

"Wrecking Ball" is probably Bruce Springsteen's most political album, even more so than "The Rising."  In his autobiography he called it "a shot of anger at the injustice that continues on and his widened with deregulation, dysfunctional regulatory agencies and capitalism gone wild at the expense of hardworking Americans."

"We Take Care of Our Own," much like "Born in the U.S.A." nearly three decades prior, was a widely misunderstood song - if you focus only on the chorus, it's hard to hear it as anything but an uplifting song.  But when you dive deeper into the verses, it's pretty clear that what Bruce is really saying is that all too often, we don't take care of our own.

It's a song that fits right in to any reasonable collection of his best. 

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #16 - "We Take Care of Our Own," Bruce Springsteen.

A Dangerous Man (Robert Crais, 2019)

My introduction to Robert Crais came courtesy of my late Aunt Lenore.  She was always a voracious reader, but after retiring she became whatever status is beyond that - I can't even think of an appropriate word.  I'm pretty sure there were times when she could finish three novels in a day.  For the most part, she read crime novels, and after a while she simply ran out of room to store them.  She'd put together boxes of paperbacks, letting me take whatever I wanted, sometimes making a suggestion or two.  And that was how I ended up with "L.A. Requiem,"  the 8th Crais novel to feature his star protagonists, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

Little did I know that not only was "Requiem" Robert Crais' masterpiece, but also one of the great crime novels of the past 50 years.  In a way, it was also a turning point for Crais, as if he realized that it was going to be really difficult to ever top - particularly if he didn't take a break from Elvis and Joe.  So he did, writing a couple of standalone novels which introduced new characters before resuming the saga of Elvis and Joe.  After that, the Elvis/Joe novels were a bit different.  Some have been billed as "Elvis Cole novels" and some as "Joe Pike novels," but since they all included both characters, Crais seems to have settled on "Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels," although in some Cole gets more "page time," and in others it's Pike.

Pike is the lead in "A Dangerous Man," and the story begins with him.  He's making a deposit at the bank, and as Isabel Roland - the teller who handled his transaction - walks out for an early lunch, she is forced into a van by two kidnappers.  Pike overcomes the kidnappers, ensures they are arrested, and makes sure Isabel makes it home safely.  Upon their release on bail, the kidnappers are murdered, Isabel vanishes, and the game is afoot.  The story is full of dangerous men - Hicks, Riley, Ronson, Stanley, "the Cowboys" - but none are so dangerous as Pike and Cole.  Over the course of the story, they begin to unravel the mystery of Isabel, and why she would be of interest to so many dangerous men.  John Chen, LAPD criminalist (and neurotic) extraordinaire, plays a part in the story, as do various members of the LAPD, LA Sheriff's Office, and US Marshals.

As always the book is tightly written, and as always the book is suspenseful.  It's a good and fun read, but it also feels slightly as if Crais was going through the motions - he's gone the "Elvis and Joe save damsel in distress" route on more than one occasion, and it's unclear whether this entry adds anything to their history and lore that we didn't already know.  You'll never hear me complaining about a novel written by Robert Crais and featuring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.  But I don't think "A Dangerous Man" represents top tier Crais, or top tier Elvis & Joe.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #17 - "Cinco Minutos Con Vos," Elvis Costello and The Roots

During the course of a career that is now in its fifth decade, Elvis Costello has covered a lot of musical ground.  He hit the boards as an "angry young man" - never quite punk, but clearly influenced by punk.  He's made a country album, he's collaborated and made an entire album with Burt Bacharach, he's written songs with Paul McCartney, and he's made an album with The Roots.

La Marisoul is the featured performer here along with Costello, and this song has exactly the type of mysterious vibe that I love to hear.  The arrangement is all tension; you think that the tempo will pick up, but it never does - and the song is all the stronger for staying its course.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #17 - "Cinco Minutos Con Vos," Elvis Costello and The Roots.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #18 - "The World Is On Fire," American Aquarium

Someone, I think it was Greil Marcus, once wrote something along the lines that difficult political times result in the best art, as expressions of protest and dissent.

Where they fit into the spectrum of American history is for future historians to decide, but these are some challenging times, no doubt.  And they've resulted in some great music, this song being one of the primary examples.  There are allusions to President Trump, although he's never mentioned by name.

Ultimately, the key lines are the ones that leave the listener with hope - and can be applied universally to the picture the singer paints, which is one of good vs. evil.

The road is heavy and the road is long
And we've only begun to fight
We just can't give in, we just can't give up
We must go boldly into the darkness
And be the light.

Top 50 Songs of the Decade, #18 - "The World Is On Fire," American Aquarium.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Jeff's Top 30 Albums of the 2010s

This list started coming together late last summer, when I'd decided to give the ole blog a reboot.  I don't have a database of my album purchases per se, but I've manually digitized every purchased CD since the early 2010s, which makes it easy to sort by year.  Working from that, I then consulted the key year-end polls from the decade, just to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.

That led to a working list of about 50-60 albums.  There were a handful that I knew would be at or near the top, but trying to delineate, say, between #25 and #26, was more of a chore.  When it came down to brass tacks, I went with the one that I listened to more often. 

Without further ado:

1. Drive-By Truckers: American Band
2. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN
3. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
4. Hamilton: Original Broadway Soundtrack
5. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
6. James McMurtry: Complicated Game
7. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel
8. Beyonce: Lemonade
9. Counting Crows: Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)
10. Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
11. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
12. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
13. Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans
14. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color
15. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
16. Rosanne Cash: She Remembers Everything
17. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love
18. Future Islands: Singles
19. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride
20. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly
21. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell
22. Bettye Lavette: Things Have Changed
23. Jack White: Blunderbuss
24. John Hiatt: The Open Road
25. Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class
26. Old 97's: Most Messed Up
27. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
28. The Highwomen: The Highwomen
29. David Bowie: Blackstar
30. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

It's rare that a band's eleventh album is their best - hell, it's rare that bands exist long enough to record eleven albums.  But there's no other conclusion to reach than to go with DBT for the #1 spot.  English Oceans was a step forward for the band, particularly for Mike Cooley.  But American Band went well beyond that - a remarkably poignant, cogent and hard-hitting statement about the world, and far more political than anything they'd recorded before.

Some other quick thoughts:

- Without a doubt, Kendrick Lamar is the Artist of the Decade.   Good kid, m.A.A.d city just missed the cut, and there are many (at least one of my two sons, for example) who consider it his best.

- At the dawn of the decade, it would probably have been fair to say that the most unlikely type of album showing up on my list would be an Original Broadway Soundtrack.  But there's just no questioning the brilliance of Hamilton.  If you haven't seen it, by all means try to get there - wherever "there" might be.

- Pretty good decade for Vampire Weekend, especially when you consider that they took most of it off.  I was never sold on 2010's Contra, which always felt too fussy to me, but a lot of people think it's their best, and it's showing up on a lot of "Best of Decade" lists.  For me, Modern Vampires demonstrated a musical and lyrical depth that they're unlikely to top again.

- James McMurtry is proof that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree - the stories he tells on Complicated Game would fit right in on one of his father's story collections.

More to come...