As per previous years, Lonesome Onry and Mean isn't going to bother with running down all this year's major-label releases. Ranking the relative merits of Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert is the Houston Chronicle's job, we suppose.
Seeing major players like Robert Plant, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp atop the annual Americana charts, meanwhile, just kinda soured our stomach a bit. Big fish in a small bowl; yawn... So here's LOM's annual list of little guys and girls, up-and-comers, and over-the-hillers who stayed in heavy rotation on our player in 2010.
11. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More: No one was more surprised than LOM as this odd English freak-folk outfit raced up the Billboard pop music charts in 2010. Of course we were blown away by "Little Lion Man" and all that it summed up about love and loss and screwing things up in four minutes, but there's way more than one hit single to this smarty-pants British outfit. Boo on those who are already declaring that Mumford's 15 minutes are up. The proof will be in the next album. "I really fucked it up this time / didn't I, my dear?"
10. Richard Julian, Girls Need Attention: A sleeping off-radar monster, this jazzy, smart, funny album by Norah Jones sideman Julian is totally Americana without sounding anything like the usual Americana offerings. And did we mention this guy is smart? "Get your drunk ass up."
9. Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Raising the Bar: We seldom have a blues record grab us and hold on, but this one has been on repeat since it dropped in May. Great songs, soulful singing, wicked Chicago picking, nothing but legit. This is how you do 21st century blues. "Had to find myself a part-time love."
8. Hacienda, Big Red and Barbacoa: Two albums into a career that is going to be huge, these young San Antonio rockers are still experimenting with styles and sounds, working out their own thing. Any band that can take its cues from the Sir Douglas Quintet, Sunny and the Sunliners, Black Keys, and Brian Wilson is A-Okay by us. "Whose heart are you breakin' now?"
7. Kim Richey, Wreck Your Wheels: A supreme example of a headphone record recalling Cowboy Junkies, Wreck Your Wheels is so quiet you almost have to strain to catch what's going on. As a writer and interpreter, Richey never disappoints. The definition of musical and lyrical subtlety, this is what so-called adult contemporary radio should sound like. "I've forgotten how / Is it too late now / To let you in?"
6. Erik Koskinen, Keep It To Yourself: Our best off-the-radar find of 2010. We get introduced to lots of people who then hand us a demo disc scribbled on in black Sharpie. Most of them go in the dumpster. We were intrigued by Koskinen's demo, and blown away by the expanded final product. A bunch of sly, memorable songs a la early James McMurtry. "If you'd known I was gonna be this way / you wouldn't be here just learnin' the hard way. "
5. Mike Stinson, The Jukebox In Your Heart: While some of Jukebox is funny and catchy as hell -- "Stop The Bar," "I Will Live To Drink Again" and Houston Press song of the year "Got No One To Drink With Anymore" -- other tracks like "Slip My Mind" and "Walk Away" are the bluest of blue, the downest of down. Stinson has a Bukowski streak that takes the scalpel, slices open the head, and probes the lonely, cancerous spots in the psyche with brutal terseness and elegance of phrase. "If you're gonna leave/ Slip my mind for me."
4. Ray Wylie Hubbard, A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C.): Hubbard cuts straight to the bone with these bluesy, unforgettable no-place-but-Texas rockers. By the time he's let us out of the storm cellar on "Tornado Ripe," we're afraid for our lives, entirely cognizant that it can all be destroyed on a whim. And as always with Hubbard, there's yin and there's yang. "We come out of that hole in the ground / and all directions of the compass was death and kindlin'."
3. Shinyribs, Well After Awhile: Roots music meets unhinged garage psychedelia. Kevin Russell's side project swerves all over the Americana road like a rusted, smoke-spewing Lone Star beer truck with a busted GPS. The ultimate in country cool with a surly gospel twist, Well After Awhile is as soulful as yo' momma's meatloaf. "You can get more/ At the poor people's store."
2. Charlie Terrell & the Murdered Johns, Alabama Steam Punk Blues: Artist, playwright, songwriter, singer, Charlie Terrell is a sicker version of another sick Alabaman, Paul Thorn, all mixed up in Southern religious confusion and carnal desire. From the opening boogie "Bottle Flies" through a wicked cover of John Prine's "Onomatopoeia" to a Zeppelin-ish "Redneck Gigolo" and the sinister full-tilt boogie of "Straight Shooter on a Crooked Road," Alabama Steam Punk Blues is as nasty and murky as a Pentecostal preacher at a peep show or a right-wing, gay-bashing senator with his foot under the bathroom stall in an airport. "The bottle flies/ The baby cries/ I can't stand lookin' in your lovin' eyes."
1. Shelby Lynne, Tears, Lies and Alibis: Minimal and direct, nothing gets in the way of one of the finest American voices and her slap-you-in-the-face lyrics. Boozy and intimate, the simplicity of "Something to Be Said About Airstreams," "Old Dog," "Like A Fool" and the monumental "Old No. 7" make for musical moments that are as emotionally riveting as anything that came out in 2010. Why wasn't "Why Didn't You Call Me" a huge pop hit? And why doesn't Shelby Lynne produce more records? "But baby, oh baby/ I'm goin', yes, goin' crazy/ Please help me, make it a double Old No. 7/ Did you happen to forget I would die if you left me / Did you cease to recall any love for me at all?"