Best of Indiana: Roots-Rock in 2010

At Rockforward, we live right in the middle of Indiana,  and fan our reach outward from Indianapolis.  Here’s the best of what we heard this year from (mostly) Hoosier roots-rock artists.

2010 Local Roots Rock/Americana Album of the Year
Cara Jean Wahlers/”Goodnight Charlotte”How did this quiet, intelligent, duet-like release from an acoustic guitar player and cello player get to the top of my roots-rock/Americana list full of worthy candidates?  Especially coming from a guy (me) who unabashedly enjoys the gritty side of loud guitars, drums and a sweet Hammond B-3?  It happened because this is a deserving place for “Goodnight Charlotte”, as Wahlers’ and Grover Parido’s cello quietly cuts into your heart with hauntingly beautiful music and lyrics that evoke black and white movies.
Other Faves:
Bobbie Lancaster (self-titled) – Thoughtful, sexy, fun and a terrific debut record.

Scott Kellogg – “Silver in Their Veins” – Kinda like imagining Pink Floyd as modern American rockers.

Rusty Bladen – “Homegrown Treasures” –  Live album that brings the Saturday night solo rock and roll show to your CD player/hard drive – though you’ll have to go the actual show to get “Brown-Eyed Girl”.  Songs about living a life in the middle of a place that  changes slowly.

Jethro Easyfields – “Bloodletting” – This dude keeps surprising with his chameleon-like Americana sound.  His best music yet, and that’s saying something, because his dense back catalog (much of it web-only MP3’s) of bluesy, swampy, Dr. John-meets-Petty-on-weed looms large.

Best Non-Local Roots-Rock Album
Paul Thorn /”Pimps & Preachers” – The musician in the John Hiatt mold of a truthful, soulful, storytelling writer. He brings a seen-it-all voice to the songs, and can make them rock.  Thorn will also create goosebumps with only his acoustic guitar and lyrics. Gumbo blues mixed with moments of straight ahead rock and roll, and usually with a lyric that twists and turns its way into your ear.  The title cut is a great slice of Thorn’s ironic take on what is right and wrong.
Other Faves: Alejandro Escovedo – “Street Songs of Love”; Tom Petty – “Mojo”; Justin Townes Earle, -“Harlem River Blues”; Mic Harrison and The High Score – “Great Commotion”; Kid Rock – “Born Free”; Jamey Johnson – “The Guitar Song”; The Gaslight Anthem –  “American Slang”; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (self-titled).

My Favorite Interview of 2010:
Charlie Daniels We talked via cellphone as he sat in his tour bus outside an Oklahoma concert hall. The country music legend gave thoughtful answers, was unfailingly polite and it felt like an interview with someone who knew his place in country music was secure. Was he political? Not party-specific; more idea-based.  He talked good and bad about both sides, despite his reputation as a right wing-leaning fiddle player.  But we mostly talked music and concerts. Daniels has been on the road for almost 50 years.  He just has knowledge, man.  It was like interviewing Willie Nelson’s younger, non-stoner brother. When it was all done, he said “Thanks” and remarked he was “going to go exercise”.

Other faves:
Rev. Peyton – Southern Indiana good’ol boy in the best sense of the phrase.  He was on his way to Ithaca, New York show, and his stories of the road helped to explain just how much the Big Damn Band travels.  Unrelentless desire to become a long-term player in the music world.

Former (and returning?) Mellencamp guitar player Larry Crane – From home in Florida, Crane dropped the scoop about a classic Mellencamp band lineup reunion.  Nothing yet has happened, but the “non-denial-denials” from the offical JM folks makes me think it will – and I predict sometime before 2011 ends.

Truth and Salvage Co.’s Tim Jones – The former Bloomington-based leader of Old Pike is now a transplanted California man, and his spirit came through cell phone radio waves, talking love of music, love of playing gigs and loving his band.

Best Roots Rock Show:
Truth & Salvage Co. at Birdy’s
Without question, my favorite show of 2010. Small club opportunity for Indy to see the crazy-talented band of players who channel the rural rock and woodsy harmonies of The Band more than any other influence.  The boys slide in some pre-“Hotel California” Eagles sounds and have a healthy tendency to play Black Crowes-influenced weedy rock and roll.  The unmistakeable connection between musicians on stage pushed the Birdy’s show to become musically magical.  It certainly proved truthful, and translated into the best show of the year.
Other Faves:
The Gaslight Anthem at The Vogue – Faster, louder and an identical split between the brash punk sound and the Springsteen influence.  Just as advertised, right? The show had a grittiness that turned the punk rock boys in the pit into lunatics.

Elizabeth Cook at Stadium Tavern – Multiple Indy appearances.  The road from Loretta Lynn to Elizabeth Cook is a beautiful one.

John Mellencamp at Hinkle Fieldhouse – Engaged in his material and creating a theatre vibe in the classic old brick building, Mellencamp showed his new material grows in stature and strength on stage.

Todd Snider at Hillbilly Haiku in Bloomington with Dan Baird – the great Snider with the guitar-playing singer from the Georgia Satellites.  Are you kidding me?  Baird rocked when he came through Indy with Will Hoge in 2009.  He makes the list again in 2010.

The Elms at Radio Radio – Their final show, on the last day of July, for the now-disbanded group. Bombastic in length (more than four hours) with a hint of melodrama (one of singer Owen Thomas’ weaknesses – and strengths) , the combination of a rapt audience, four guys who create a heartfelt heartland rock sound for the 21st century, and the emotional weight of the evening made the show unforgetable.

Best Roots Rock Album That You Probably Didn’t Hear:
Southside Johnny/”Pills and Ammo” The 2010 record from the “other” Jersey guy (sorry Jon Bon Jovi) makes a case for the legend that is Asbury Park music. Southside Johnny Lyon has been playing music for more than 40 years. He’s to be applauded for making an album like this – full of retro vibe and new energy.  Southside and the Jukes consistency as a live act is their foundation and Lyon has remained true to his don’t-mess-with-me, “ah, fuggedaboutit” stage persona. This is his best album since the glory days.  Warm production, vocal shouts and the freakin’ Jukes horns.  Nice.
Other Forgotten Faves: Peter Wolf – “Midnight Souvenirs”, John Prine – “In Person & On Stage”; John Hiatt – “The Open Road”

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