It was a very good year for new music in WNC, and by the time you read this, WNCW will have the results of its Best 100 Albums of 2009.
The year started strong with the sophomore release from local singer/songwriter/bearded fashionite/erstwhile Band of Horses bandmate Tyler Ramsey. Ramsey’s long contributed to other bands, but A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea affords fans an all-too rare glimpse inside the mind of the multi-instrumentalist. Though Ramsey is known for his forays into Piedmont-style blues guitar, Dream turned out pop hooks, Beach Boys’ influences and psychedelic-tinged lyrics.
Also experimenting with disparate influences and blended sounds, steel drum-meets-jazz artist Jonathan Scales and Tex-Mex-klezmer singer/songwriter Miriam Allen released Plot/Scheme and La Capitana, respectively. For Scales, this disc was his second in less than two years: He admitted to Xpress that “…now that I have this one out, I’m OK for a couple years.”
2008 proved a good year not just for experimental albums but also for pop—a genre increasingly flexing its muscle (and catchy refrains) in the region. Recently-relocated from Brooklyn, N.Y., Arizona embraced its new hometown with the tribute “Swimming Hole” on the Echo Mountain release Glowing Bird. The album melds rock roots with pop sensibility. Though less danceable, First Set Fire to the Stars by Night’s Bright Colors (masterminded by Jason Smith) also weaves made-for-indie-film-soundtrack pop lyrics with gorgeous, shoe-gaze melody lines and techy instrumentation. The independent release is both a tribute to Smith’s songwriting prowess and his DIY production and marketing skill.
Two of Asheville’s reigning songwriters released stellar albums.
Valorie Miller‘s Autumn Eyes, a well-rounded, tightly-crafted album, offers both a poetic view of the aging process along with rocking tributes to local culture. And Malcolm Holcombe‘s Gamblin’ House earned praise this year from many outlets, including the No. 1 album of 2008 from one of Billboard’s critics: “Crafty and handsomely-crafted songs from a wise and wizened North Carolina singer/songwriter,” writes Wayne Robins.
WNC was graced with fantastic albums from dirty-tonk kings The Trainwreks, haunting alt-country band Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed, fresh bluegrass from Dehlia Low, more fun from Mad Tea Party, the progressive, unique sound of the Galen Kipar Project, world music from Free Planet Radio and a whole lot more (apologies that we can’t get everyone!).
We also saw some killer shows from national acts with new releases, including Lucinda Williams, David Byrne, Kathy Mattea, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jolie Holland and many others.
Here’s to ‘09. Support live and local music in the new year.