Best of 2011 – The Dead Hearts, Seger, Huey and a Hoosier guitar player

(Originally appeared in NUVO Newsweekly Year-end Wrap Up)

Here’s the question I get more than any other about bands and music: What do they sound like? And when I write about musicians and their music, I relay influences I hear without making it seem like a singer or a band is only that.

It’s also my job to figure out what might make them unique; why we should care about them. For 2011, what resonated was the wide swath of sound encompassed by roots music in Indianapolis, whether we call it Americana, alt-country, folk or simply American rock and roll.

I leaned on some of my favorite moments of the year. New music and concerts that resonated by pushing ahead while respecting what came before. That’s when roots-rock music is, at its best.

Best New Local Band: The Dead Hearts
Brandon Perry and his buddies put together a group of Indiana guys playing crunchy Midwest and Memphis rock and roll. They made the Q95 Next Big Thing contest, and have a look and sound that harkens back to power pop crossed with Fogerty. This is unapologetic, Petty rock.

Best Local Album: Tim Grimm – Wilderness Songs and Bad Man Ballads
Part compilation album, part new material, Grimm’s new album invites you in with his warm, conversational, roughly gorgeous voice. He keeps you listening because the songs richly describe the details of the characters who live there.

Lucky to See Them Here: Civil Wars at the Earth House
Huge. That is what they are. The success they have had this year, both critical and commercial, was on display on a sweaty July night when the duo poured beautiful harmonies into the old church. They played late in the year at a larger venue (the Egyptian Room), but this is the show that the fans will talk about in reverential terms in 10 years. It was a magical and memorable night of music for the soul.

Two Unexpectedly Great Live Shows: REO Speedwagon at Rib America and Huey Lewis at Clowes Hall
The Champaign, Ill., boys of REO turned Rib America into a sing-along that was propelled by a surprising classic rock energy from Kevin Cronin and his band. They pulled out some old stuff (“Son of a Poor Man”) that felt good, and celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Hi Infidelity album with multiple cuts from that smash. Great sound, great energy and one of the nicest surprises from an old rock band this year. Lewis, on the other hand, has partially reinvented his band as a Stax/Memphis soul and rock group. Mixing his hits with the soulful sound of the South, Lewis thrilled a Clowes Hall crowd, looked good and proved how you can maintain your integrity as a performer 20 years after your most recent hit song.

Guitar Player Taking it National: Thom Daugherty
Fresh from the breakup of The Elms, Daugherty has done some production work and caught on as a sideman/guitarist with the uber-hot The Band Perry. As the DVD/album “The Last Band on Earth” shows, the guitarist and his crunchy chords were a large part of the legacy of The Elms. He has taken that start and vaulted himself to a place that takes him on a cross-country trek, meeting some of his heroes and allowing him to play for more people than The Elms ever did.

Last Time Around For Two Legends: George Jones at the Murat, and Glen Campbell at the Palladium
Campbell is wrapping up his career with a tour and battling Alzheimer’s disease, while George is simply an old guy who has lived nine lives. Both revisited their hits for audiences that sensed they were watching history.

Maybe Not The Last Time: Bob Seger at Conseco Fieldhouse
His show in May was a greatest hits extravaganza, but how could it not be, with his ubiquitous radio status? He forgot the words to “Turn the Page” and laughed it off. That’s because the other two and a half hours were filled with the rock and roll soundtrack of the lives of any rock fan between the ages of 35 and 60. Seger tours without a flashy stage set up – no big screens, no lasers, no fire bombs. He just brings the band and rock and rolls like it’s 1980. God bless Bob Seger. He’s back out on the road and putting a new album together.

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