New Heathens

My Favorites, 2010

Friends, it's that time of year when jackpeckers with soapboxes reveal their "year end lists" of favorite so-forths and whatnots. Here I'd like to take a crack at the question, "What were your favorite new musical discoveries this year?"

I'll volunteer upfront that this is utterly biased and in no way scientific. For the past few years the bulk of what I've listened to for pleasure isn't what's popular or even what makes it onto cool radio stations like WFUV. It's all local bands and friends (often one in the same). To my ears I can rarely detect any dip in quality between what I hear played to ten people at the Lakeside Lounge or Banjo Jim's and the musical guests on Saturday Night Live and Letterman.

Most of the time I think the stuff I see and hear in my nooks is way, way better.

Herewith, the top stuff that rocked my socks in 2010, in no particular order:

Jahn Xavier and the Bowerytones: watching this dude perform is like lighting a stick of dynamite in your hand and not knowing whether the fuse is wet, or powder dry. A veteran rocker, Xavier packs so much barely-bridled energy into his performances that you get captivated wondering if he's going to explode. His gut-bucket voice is so big he can belt over an electric band without a microphone, and the cat throws down on guitar. His songs are ballsy, bad-ass and raucous and he shouts like a soul singer, finishing his sets 30 pounds of sweat lighter.

Sammo: I'd known this one-man-band was wickedly clever and talented when at open mics he would fuse Led Zeppelin riffs with the lyrics to LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out." But when I did a gig with him recently and swapped him for his 2008 CD "Vagabondage," I was gobsmacked by the dude's songwriting. He's one of the most ambitious artists in New York as far as packing his songs with hooks, but he's so rooted in dobro blues and gospel harmonies that he creates concise, catchy, dazzling sounds. He's no lyrical slouch either. "Put them roses down, step away from the girl," he repeats on one track. "The hallelujahs of a Heathen ought to count tenfold," he bellows on his masterful, "Easy to be a Heathen." Hearing that song, I felt what I imagine Bruce Springsteen did when he first heard Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl." You beat me at my own game, sucker.

Li'l Mo (with Drina Seay): Overshadowed by her clever songwriting and crystal-perfect voice is the fact that Li'l Mo is a guitar hero. This little lady can do anything she wants to with six strings from country fingerpicking to boss rockabilly that's amazing to not only hear, but watch her sing over. She's found a perfect duet partner of late in the sweet Drina Seay with whose voice hers blends like a sister.

Mary Battiata: I had the pleasure of playing a song circle with Mary courtesy of Li'l Mo. First the yearn of the tune, "Like A Wheel" became entrenched in my brain and then I got hooked by the desire in her track, "Ten Feet High." Her voice is like a wine that compliments musical expressions that range from the sweetest love to the most all-consuming lust.

Spanking Charlene: A perrenial favorite and group of dear friends who I've yammered on about at length here. Their rocking is renowned - they recently recorded with E Street Bander and Sopranos cast member "Little" Steven Van Zandt after they put the knee-high bootheel to hundreds of comers in a global "battle of the bands" contest. This year, vocalist Charlene McPherson and guitarist Mo Goldner's acoustic "Sad Bastard" sets at Banjo Jim's were just as impressive in their sensitivity, vulnerability and emotional wallop. Yes, it's true. Charlene will kick your ass, and then she'll make you cry.

Chip Robinson: Another dude I've yammered plenty about. Despite the fact that this guy is a notorious sharpshooter when the bullseye is on his foot, the poetry in his lyrics and the soulful musicality he exudes are nothing short of awesome. They're on full display on his latest, Mylow.

The Izzys: As I've said before, pound-for-pound (foot-for-foot?) this is my favorite band in New York City. The guitar crossfire of Mike Storey and Jack Dawson, both of them as tall as point-guards, is reminiscent of Keef and Ronnie while the out-of-control roll of drummer Tim Kuhl and bassist Aaron Redlin is reminiscent of the year 1969. If 1969 was seven feet tall.

Joe Flood: I raved about his record "New Kind Of Blue" earlier. It's songwriting and musicianship at it's best.

Andrew Grimm: A longtime buddy and leader of the Baltimore band JuneStar, Grimm just put out a record called, "Lower Your Arms," which might be the best in his fine catalogue. The instruments are crisp, the tunes are great and Grimm's voice finally soars beyond the Jay Farrar comparisons that once dogged him. Grimm also recently quit his job teaching high school English to become a full time musician, so please help support this talented dude in his endeavors.

Jason D. Williams: Got a tip from the great one, Keith Christopher, to check out this berzerk piano-tickler one night and I had to crank both my eyelids and my jaw shut after his maniacal set. Legend has it that Williams, who was adopted and raised in the deep south, is the illigitimate son of Jerry Lee Lewis. To watch him pound a piano, literally tear the instrument apart while tossing his hair and hollering into a microphone, is an experience that is, in a word, killer.

Bunch of stuff to look forward to in 2011 like a new, rootsy record from the Demolition String Band plus a new 'un from the always money Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass Kickin' Team. One could dream of that long-anticipated solo record from Keith "The Velvet Tornado" Christopher.

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  1. Nice list, thanks! I’m always looking for new music ideas. I absolutely love the sound of Li’l Mo. She should definitely be on SNL. Way back when, I saw Luke Temple (another New Yorker) play in Seattle. I thought he was quite amazing, but haven’t heard boo about him since. Have you?

  2. Hey brother, awesome, go-to bloggage…

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