It’s been a busy year for local musicians. In professional and home studios, in town and farther afield, they’ve been cranking out a wealth of tunes. And while it might be hard to classify Asheville’s sound (“eclectic” doesn’t bring us any closer, does it?), no one could argue that there isn’t something out there for pretty much every taste.
With that in mind, Xpress staffers loaded up their play lists with everything from intergalactic funk and Appalachian reggae to Gothic Americana and jammy rock. Here’s our take on the year in CDs:
Ting by Seth Kauffman
In the DIY fashion that is becoming increasingly prominent among indie musicians, multi-instrumentalist Kauffman wrote, produced, engineered, recorded, produced and played everything on his disc. The 11 tracks have a homegrown feel, but don’t expect hippie jams. Ting harkens back to ’70s funk, ’60s Motown and vintage Spanish themes, while also reaching forward with futuristic grooves and pared-down world rhythms. Great for a serious listen or to drop in the party mix. Track not to miss: Blues-funk-infused “Jug Hustler Blues.”
— Alli Marshall
Fire One by Telepath
The multicultural downtempo sound of Telepath’s debut album evokes the spirit of a Buddha Bar compilation or Thievery Corporation mix (fittingly, since Telepath is represented by Thievery Corporation’s Outernational Music outfit). The tracks are undergirded by laid-back island beats and Fela-esque horn lines, and there are sequences that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bollywood film — even otherworldly sounds find their way into the mix. Writer/performer/producer Michael Christie — along with the aid of several guest musicians — makes music that will get your head nodding, if not your feet moving. Of course, it depends on how kinetic you’d like your dub experience to be, but Telepath offers up quite a few danceable tracks on this disc.
— Mannie Dalton
Big Top Soda Pop by Mad Tea Party
Even to those of us immersed in the Asheville music scene for a couple of decades, MTP leader Ami Worthen seemed just a little bit off-kilter. (Maybe more than a little bit.) Ukulele, Ami? Kazoos? Must you? But she heard things we didn’t, and sucked us down along one of those strange vision tunnels into which artists and sleepy little Alices happily tumble. This latest effort is full of warm harmonies, jaunty instrumental excursions, nuttiness and moments of pure glory. This party isn’t half mad.
— Cecil Bothwell
Folklife: Live at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival by Ras Alan
Being a grouch, I was prepared to dislike Ras Alan on principle. I don’t care much for cultural hybrids — “Celtic” music, for instance, or Anglo Buddhists who affect Tibetan names, or Eminem — but Alan’s obvious humility and good nature as a performer won me over. He had me at “irie.”
Recorded during his closing performance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the “reggaebilly” singer’s Folklife is by turns joyful and reflective, trimmed with punchy guitar and mandolin work and Alan’s eminently likeable voice. It’s not virtuosic: The harmonies occasionally wander off-pitch, and the instrumental work is spare. But, polished or not, it’s hard to imagine more pleasant listening than “So Much Betta,” a sweet-toned critique of TV culture, or the gentle moral nudge that is “Golden Rule,” and its Neil Young-by-way-of-Kingston melody.
— Kent Priestley
AgroLola by AgroLola
For a certain kind of listener, only a specific kind of rock will do. It must be rough, turbulent and filled with a kind of desperate passion that can’t be captured by a tune you could hum in the shower. AgroLola’s self-titled debut doesn’t include any songs you’d cheerfully whistle on a quiet walk on a sunny spring day, but it does contain a fair number of songs that would be the ideal soundtrack for trashing your apartment. Heavy on the throbbing rhythm of garage rock, the album is 10 tracks of guitar-fueled vitriol, spiked with just a hint of Theremin to provide the melancholy self-awareness of indie rock. Track not to miss: “Rufus,” a slow and spacy take on the familiar post-grunge formula.
— Steve Shanafelt
Down to the Bone by Peace Jones
Ghostbaby Records producer Paul DeCirce finds his stride in this full-length funk-infused effort. DeCirce’s influences are readily apparent, from Arrested Development hip-hop and Blues Traveler harmonica to Violent Femmes-style politicking, Victor Wooten-style bass-slapping and ’70s-era film scores with flute and wah-wah. And, overall, the blend works. At first listen, Bone is a party-fueled, booty-shaking soundtrack, but delve deeper and it becomes apparent that Peace Jones has a deeper message hidden between those funk basslines and flute riffs.
— Alli Marshall
What You Will by the Ahleuchatistas
Insurgent jazz/rock trio the Ahleuchatistas stretches its bare-bones setup of drums, bass and guitar to immeasurable lengths in its third album, What You Will. Featuring 14 tracks with provocative, unapologetic names like “Remember Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib,” “Ho Chi Minh is Gonna Win” and “What Are You Gonna Do?” the album serves up a strong dose of all-instrumental, improvisational sound. Punctuated by hard, fast explosions juxtaposed against ethereal, quivering transitions, the group’s tightly woven groove is at once rhythmically combustible and intellectually synchronized.
— Rebecca Bowe
Hymns to the Darkness by Jeff Zentner
A recent Asheville arrival, Jeff Zentner plays with Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based gothic-country act Creech Holler. On this solo outing, he weaves his whispery vocals into spare instrumentation to sing of “Fire and Memory,” “The Color of Clouds at Night” and “Secret Blood” — three song titles that evoke the hidden weight lurking in these slight and gentle performances. It’s a sleepy winter soundtrack; even this unseasonably warm December, it’ll leave you expecting frost on the windows and fog on your breath.
— Jon Elliston
Olde Towne Lullabies by Marty Lewis
The Sons of Ralph are known for their unique sound, fluent in bluegrass traditions but conversant in rock, country and Cajun musics. Member Marty Lewis’s first solo effort has some of that same eclectic feel. Many of his songs have a sort of rootsy Neil Young-Americana sound which, though pleasant to listen to, might get a little old, especially on a 16-track disk. Fortunately, just when you least expect it, Lewis veers off in a totally different direction, jumping into a funk-infused or left-of-center rock ‘n’ roll tune. And throughout, Lewis’s unique voice (like his own Appalachian heritage, earnest and true) harkens back to an earlier time.
— Lisa Watters
Place by Fifth House
“Play that funky music, white boy,” came to mind more than once while listening to this solid rock collection. Fifth House cranks out the sort of music that garage bands have aimed for since the electrification of guitars — in this case, to good effect. A tight first album bodes well for the future of a funk quartet whose audiences can’t imaginably stay seated. Think Average White Band or Allman Brothers and you’re in the right neighborhood. Their next local show is Hannah Flanagan’s, Jan. 5.
— Cecil Bothwell
Under the Rug by Lewis
Lewis, the project of guitarist Matt Call, is a bit of an anomaly in Asheville. The trio plays the sort of pop favored by college radio stations. Rug, their current EP, turns up tight, well-produced songs reminiscent simultaneously of The Cure (if they were polished for a commercial audience) and ’90s alt-rock (Soundgarden with better vocals or a more polite Stone Temple Pilots). And yet, with darkly ambient background noise, synth-y drums and lyrics that evoke loneliness and loves lost, Lewis manages to be wholly modern. If Rug gets fleshed out as a full-length disc with some of the crowd-pleasing covers Lewis plays live, it will be a well-realized effort.
— Alli Marshall