I should start off by saying that I probably bought fewer albums in 2009 than I have in any year since 1977. And if it wasn't for a certain friend (she knows who she is), I might not have had a favorite album this year. But, here goes:
1. "Oh My God Charlie Darwin," The Low Anthem. I guess I would call this my "Fleet Foxes" of 2009. Beautiful, haunting songs, and then all of a sudden they decide to channel Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. Great stuff.
2. "I and Love and You," The Avett Brothers. Country alt-pop from a couple of guys who have been around for a while, but I'd never heard of. Produced by Rick Rubin, the songs are direct, catchy, and in several instances, thought-provoking. We'll be seeing them in April, when they visit Sacramento.
3. "Wait for Me," Moby. He's done a lot of good stuff since the epochal "Play," but this was the first album since then that made me think that someday, he might match it. "Study War" is as good a song as he's ever recorded.
4. "Cuz I Sed So," New York Dolls. A New York Dolls album produced by Todd Rundgren? The last time that happened, I was 14 years old and still listening to AM radio. I don't know what's gotten into David Johansen - maybe all those years as Buster Poindexter really did re-energize his creative batteries.
5. "The List," Rosanne Cash. "The List," of course, referring to the list of 100 essential songs that her father wrote for her when she joined him on tour back in the 1970s. I'd love to hear more, and I'd love to hear her work with another producer (John Leventhal's work still comes across as too soft to me), but this is just more proof that she's among the best of her generation.
6. "Together Through Life," Bob Dylan. After three consecutive masterpieces, Dylan delivers a solid, very good but not great album. And that's OK - after all, there was a time when a very good album would have been hailed as the next coming.
7. "Working on a Dream," Bruce Springsteen. He never really embraced this on tour, which I think confirms everyone's suspicion (except Rolling Stone, of course, which said that it was his best album since "Born to Run") that is was a throwaway. But think of it as his "Yesterday and Today," and you can enjoy it on its own terms - a fun album, recorded on tour, by an artist who at this point in his life deserves to do whatever he damn well pleases. Docked a notch for "Surprise, Surprise," the worst song he's ever put on an album.
8. "Electric Dirt," Levon Helm. Yeah, there's a lot of old white guys on this list. I should probably do something about that in 2010. But this was really good - way better than anything Robbie Robertson has put out since The Last Waltz.
9. "For Emma, Forever Ago," Bon Iver. Yeah, I know this came out in 2008, but it took me that long to finally "get it." I still think it was a bit overrated, but I've come to enjoy and appreciate it a lot.
10. "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane," Elvis Costello. When he made a country album in 1981, he was laughed out of the building. Now, he's got the chops to pull it off.
The jury's still out on Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" and Neil Young's "Fork in the Road," but they both contain songs that I've actively enjoyed.
And that's all she wrote, folks! In terms of my Top 25 of the Decade, the only ones on this list that could have cracked it were #1, 2, and 3.