OK, I admit it. I'm cheating a little bit this year. There's actually eleven CDs in my Top Ten. Hey, I went to Ohio State - if the Big Ten can have eleven teams, I can have eleven in my top ten. Actually, two of the albums are kind of a set, so it sorta works.

I was a little light on entries this year, so I pepped 'em up with links to YouTube so you can hear something to go along with each entry. Some are videos (a couple have ads, sorry), and some are basically audio-only (with still shots to go along). Definitely check out the clips for the #1 album. They're terrific live performances from Later with Jools Holland, and they really give you a feel for the sound of the album.

Enjoy the list.


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Don Van Vliet, aka "Captain Beefheart"

I'd like my music to be free, because where I got it from, you don't have to pay for it - Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, was an artist who doggedly followed his own path. Initially combining his Howlin' Wolf-esque roar with off-kilter blues, Captain Beefheart recorded a dozen albums with varying lineups of his Magic Band. By 1969's Trout Mask Replica, the Captain was folding avant-garde jazz, poetry and rock in with the blues and the result is both astonishingly weird and occasionally brilliant. After an ill-advised two album attempt to be more mainstream and an excellent album recorded on a tour with Frank Zappa (Bongo Fury), Beefheart took a break from the music business. When he returned, Beefheart delivered the three best albums of his career (1978's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), 1980's Doc At The Radar Station and 1982's Ice Cream For Crow) and retired to be a painter shortly after that. These last three are Beefheart at his best: bizarre, totally unlike anything else, but still compelling. In what seems like a perfect metaphor for Beeheart's career, the video for "Ice Cream For Crow" was rejected by MTV for being "too weird", but was later accepted into the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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Alex Chilton

I never travel far without a little Big Star - The Replacements (from "Alex Chilton")

Alex Chilton had his biggest commercial success at 16 years old singing lead vocals on The Box Tops' #1 hit "The Letter", but his biggest impact was with cult favorites Big Star. Big Star released a pair of influential power-pop albums (#1 Record and Radio City) that got critical raves and almost no sales due to problems with the band's label. A third release (Third / Sister Lovers) eventually followed, but that was essentially a Chilton solo album. Big Star reunited in 1993 for occasional tours and recorded In Space which had flashes of the band's original brilliance, but couldn't quite match it. Original bassist Andy Hummel (who didn't participate in the reunion) also passed away four months after Chilton.

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Chris Sievey, aka "Frank Sidebottom"

I sent Little Frank to get me a visa / He came back an hour later with a pepperoni pizza / I said 'you stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid puppet' / He said 'I'd like to help you Frank, but I'm cardboard. - Frank Sidebottom, "Timperley Blues" (sung to the tune of "Summertime Blues")

British comedian Chris Sievey, as his character Frank Sidebottom, recorded a bunch of singles and albums in which Frank would sing original songs and covers with new lyrics covering Frank's obessions (soccer, Timperley, Queen, and Paul McCartney). He'd sing 'em in a silly, nasally voice, wear a large, papier-mâché head, argue & duet with his puppet friend, Little Frank, and hide his "superstardom" from his mum. What's not to like?


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Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Damn The Torpedoes
Deluxe Edition

Damn The Torpedoes was Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' commercial breakthrough and one of those "classic albums" that's worthy of the tag. "Refugee", "Here Comes My Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That" were the singles, but "Century City" is just as good, and "Even The Losers" and "Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)" are maybe even better. One of Tom Petty's essential albums, and maybe his best.

The Deluxe Edition adds a second disc with four genuine rarities. "Nowhere" is an outtake from the original album, and would have made a worthy addition. The original recording of "Surrender" is here (it was re-recorded in 2000 for Anthology: Through The Years). This version isn't all that different from the 2000 remake, but it's a great song either way. There's also an alternate take of "Refugee" and the demo of "Casa Dega", but neither is all that different from the official release. The other songs are B-sides already released on the Playback box set and live tracks from last year's The Live Anthology.

If you're a Petty fan and don't already have Damn The Torpedoes, definitely get this version (although I can't imagine any fans who wouldn't already have it). For a casual fan, it's probably not worth the upgrade. For a big fan, yeah, it's worth it.

YouTube: "Century City".

tracks: "Refugee", "Here Comes My Girl", "Even The Losers", "Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)", "Century City", "Don't Do Me Like That", "You Tell Me", "What Are You Doin' In My Life?", "Louisiana Rain"

bonus tracks: "Nowhere", "Surrender", "Casa Dega", "It's Rainin' Again", "Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)" [live], "Don't Do Me Like That" [live], "Somethin' Else" [live], "Casa Dega" [demo], "Refugee" [alternate take]

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The Who
Live At Leeds
Super Deluxe Edition

The Who toured Tommy for most of 1969 and intended to release a live album following the tour. Faced with hundreds of concert tapes to go though, the band decided to simplify things and just play two concerts in Feburary of 1970 to use for the live album - Leeds University on the 14th and Hull City Hall on the 15th. The story goes that the band though the Hull performance was superior, but the bass tracks weren't recorded properly, so Leeds was used instead and ended up becoming one of the most celebrated live albums ever recorded. Over the years, the original album has been re-released and expanded. In 1995, nine songs were added to the original six. In 2001, the complete concert was released, although the Tommy section was pulled out into a separate CD. Now in 2010, we get the "Super Deluxe" edition. Live At Leeds is the same 2001 version, but the treat is the addition of the complete Hull concert. Turns out that only a handful of songs were missing the bass, so the bass was "flown-in" from Leeds and the results are amazing. But is it better? Hard to say, but it is pretty amazing.

The package comes in a 12 by 12 box with the 4 CDs, a reproduction of the original vinyl copy of the album and the "Summertime Blues" 45, a new book about the shows with lots of previously unreleased photos from the concerts, and a copy of the famous "Maximum R&B" poster. Strangely, the infamous inserts like the copy of The Who's contract for Woodstock that show up on eBay (usually marked as an "amazing find!") are not included (although there are pictures in the book).

As with a lot of these types of deluxe reissues, it's really aimed at the hard-core fans. If you're a big Who fan, you'll love this.

tracks (Live At Leeds): "Heaven And Hell", "I Can't Explain", "Fortune Teller", "Tattoo", "Young Man Blues", "Substitute", "Happy Jack", "I'm A Boy", "A Quick One While He's Away", "Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over", "My Generation", "Magic Bus", "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

tracks (Live At Hull): "Heaven And Hell", "I Can't Explain", "Fortune Teller", "Tattoo", "Young Man Blues", "Substitute", "Happy Jack", "I'm A Boy", "A Quick One While He's Away", "Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over", "My Generation", "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

tracks (Live At Hull - original LP [vinyl]): "Young Man Blues", "Substitute", "Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over", "My Generation", "Magic Bus"

tracks (Summertime Blues - reproduction of the original 45 [vinyl]): "Summertime Blues", "Heaven And Hell"


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The Best Of Doves: The Places Between

The Places Between is an excellent summation of Doves' anthemic, dreamy pop, and adds a new song ("Andalucía") that's quite worthy of being on a "best of" album. The deluxe 2CD edition adds a disc of rarities and other new songs which is almost as impressive as the main CD. The three new songs on the bonus disc ("Blue Water", "The Drifter" and "The Last Son") could easily have slotted into the main album. A terrific compilation that serves as a great starting point for new listeners. And go for the deluxe edition. The extra material is worth it.

YouTube: "Andalucía"

tracks: "There Goes The Fear", "Black And White Town", "Snowden" [Rich Costey Mix], "Here It Comes", "Words", "Kingdom Of Rust", "Sea Song", "Pounding", "10:03", "Catch The Sun", "Jetstream", "The Man Who Told Everything" [Summer Version], "Andalucía", "Caught By The River", "The Cedar Room",

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Blue Water", "Eleven Miles Out", "Rise", "Darker", "Push Me On", "Willow's Song" [Bury Version], "Valley", "Northenden", "M62 Song", "The Drifter", "Friday's Dust", "Almost Forgot Myself" [demo], "Your Shadow Lay Across My Life", "The Last Son", "The Sulphur Man", "At The Tower" [instrumental], "Reprise", "Ambition", "Firesuite" [Noise Version]


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Honestly, I never thought the Asia reunion would actually result in a new studio album, let alone two. 2008's Phoenix is a good album, although "proggier" than the original Asia albums. Omega actually gets Asia's sound back in line with their initial albums, and the result is a suprisingly good album. If you still like Asia and Alpha, this is definitely worth picking up. "Through My Veins", "Holy War", "Listen, Children", and "Don't Wanna Lose You Now" wouldn't have made the cut on Asia, but they'd be among the best songs on any other Asia release.

YouTube: "Through My Veins".

tracks: "Finger On The Trigger", "Through My Veins", "Holy War", "Ever Yours (Semper Fidelis)", "Listen, Children", "End Of The World", "Light The Way", "Emily", "I'm Still The Same", "There Was A Time", "I Believe", "Don't Wanna Lose You Now"

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Broken Bells
Broken Bells

Broken Bells is The Shins' singer/guitarist James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse, and the results are a mix of The Shins' alternative pop with tape loops, squeaking synths and the occasional string arrangement. The opening track, "The High Road" is instantly catchy and will pull you into the rest of the album. Very different, but very familiar all at the same time. A terrific debut.

YouTube: "The High Road".

tracks: "The High Road", "Vaporize", "Your Head Is On Fire", "The Ghost Inside", "Sailing To Nowhere", "Trap Doors", "Citizen", "October", "Mongrel Heart", "The Mall And The Misery"

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Peter Gabriel
Scratch My Back

I was a big fan of Gabriel's early albums, but have been less impressed with his recent work. On Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel recorded twelve covers accompanied only by an orchestra. The concept too interesting to miss out on, but in general it's a big disappointment. The arrangements really don't work well for most of the material. Gabriel's recorded pretty much every song as a slow, dramatic ballad (which gets a little tiring over a whole album), and some of these songs really call out for a more upbeat arrangement. A couple of the songs work really well however. "The Power Of The Heart" is a terrific version of a non-album Lou Reed song from 2008, and Gabriel's version is far superior to the original. The other is a cover of The Magentic Fields' "The Book Of Love". I'm not familiar with the original, but Gabriel's version makes we want to go check it out.

Scratch My Back was originally intended to be the first half of a two-album project. The second half was intended to be an album called I'll Scratch Yours in which the artists covered would "return the favor" and cover a Peter Gabriel song. The return covers are being released individually as single B-sides through iTunes (and probably other outlets as well).

tracks: "Heroes" [David Bowie], "The Boy In The Bubble" [Paul Simon], "Mirrorball" [Elbow], "Flume" [Bon Iver], "Listening Wind" [Talking Heads], "The Power Of The Heart" [Lou Reed], "My Body Is A Cage" [Arcade Fire], "The Book Of Love" [The Magnetic Fields], "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" [Randy Newman], "Après Moi" [Regina Spektor], "Philadelphia" [Neil Young], "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" [Radiohead]

bonus tracks:

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With Sigur Rós on hiatus, lead singer Jónsi has released his first solo album, Go. The album's style is reminiscent of the last Sigur Rós album, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, mixing moody, dreamy, and poppier songs. Most of Go is in English, but you'd be hard pressed to sort out the lyrics. Jónsi might as well be singing in Icelandic. In general, the album isn't as good as a Sigur Rós album, although the title track "Go Do" is excellent. Worth hearing for a Sigur Rós fan, but one of the band's albums (Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, (), or Takk…) would be a much better introduction.

YouTube: "Go Do".

tracks: "Go Do", "Animal Arithmetic", "Tornado", "Boy Lilikoi", "Sinking Friendships", "Kolniður", "Around Us", "Grow Till Tall", "Hengilás"

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Richard Thompson
Dream Attic

Dream Attic is an album of new Richard Thompson songs, but recorded live, although you don't hear much of the audience. Given how good Thompson is live, the results are slightly disappointing. Thompson only really lets fly with guitar on the epic closer "If Love Whispers Your Name". The rest of the album is a slightly mixed bag. "Big Sun Falling In The River" is a classic Thompson rocker, and "Here Comes Geordie" a playful poke what really sounds like Sting (although Thompson denies this). Unfortunately, some of the songs just don't quite hit Thompson's usual standard. However, this is still worth a listen. "If Love Whispers Your Name" is a Thompson classic, and the good far outweighs the mediocre.

There's also a deluxe edition that includes a second CD with the acoustic demos for the album in the same running order as the original album. The demos are interesting listen, but the best songs on the electric version are also the best songs on the acoustic.

tracks: "The Money Shuffle", "Among The Gorse, Among The Grey", "Haul Me Up", "Burning Man", "Here Comes Geordie", "Demons In Her Dancing Shoes", "Crimescene", "Big Sun Falling In The River", "Stumble On", "Sidney Wells", "A Brother Slips Away", "Bad Again", "If Love Whispers Your Name"

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Neil Young
Le Noise

Le Noise captures Neil Young solo, but this is not a gentle, acoustic album like Harvest Moon. Most of the album features Young blasting out songs solo on his electric guitar. Overall, it's interesting listening, but I really miss a backing band on here. The songs and the sound cry out for Crazy Horse. Along with the blasts of power guitar, you also get two acoustic songs, "Love And War" and "Peaceful Valley Boulevard", which are more what I'd expect from an album with Young solo. The highlight though is the seemingly autobiographical "Hitchhiker" with lyrics that trace Neil's career. An interesting experiment from an artist who's made a career out of surprises.

YouTube: "Hitchhiker".

tracks: "Walk With Me", "Sign Of Love", "Someone's Gonna Rescue You", "Love And War", "Angry World", "Hitchhiker", "Peaceful Valley Boulevard", "Rumblin'"


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Franz Nicolay
Luck And Courage

Franz Nicolay's second solo album picks up pretty much where his superb debut, Major General leaves off, except that this album is a more in the style of the mellower songs on Major General with the banjo playing a bigger role in the album's sound. It's quite a good album, and songs like the horn-driven "My Criminal Uncle" and the dramatic opener "Felix & Adelita" are two of the big highlights. If anything, this is an even more eclectic album, although I still prefer Major General. Still, a very worthy followup. If you liked the first album, you should definitely try this as well.

YouTube: "Felix & Adelita".

tracks: "Felix & Adelita", "Have Mercy", "This Is Not A Pipe", "My Criminal Uncle", "Z For Zachariah", "Job 35:10", "James Ensor Remembered", "Anchorage (New Moon Baby)", "The Last Words Of Gene Autry", "Luck And Courage"

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End Times
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Tomorrow Morning

When End Times release was announced, it was described as the second part of a trilogy starting with 2009's Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs Of Desire. Released later in 2010, Tomorrow Morning, finished off the trilogy. Hombre Lobo was "songs of desire", End Times deals with divorce and Tomorrow Morning talks about recovery and finding someone new.

As you might expect, the tone of End Times is mostly subdued although it's not all ballads. "Gone Man", "Mansions Of Los Feliz", and "Paradise Blues" are upbeat songs with fairly bleak lyrics. The real standout on the album is the delicate and moving "Little Bird" ("Tell me my heart somehow, dear God, it's gonna mend").

Tomorrow Morning is still a fairly subdued album, but the tone is way more upbeat. Of course, given E's lyrical history, he's got to mix things up. "Baby Loves Me" mixes lyrics about how everyone is against him with a chorus proclaiming "My baby loves me / and she's smarter than you". Overall, the album's sound reminds me more of the band's debut Beautiful Freak than anything they've done in a while. The best tracks here are "I Like The Way This Is Going" - a charmer about a new relationship and the soulful "That's Not Her Way". The album still sounds like Eels, but the lyrics are the most upbeat in the band's catalog.

Definitely worth picking both up - they're really a set.

End Times:

tracks: "The Beginning", "Gone Man", "In My Younger Days", "Mansions Of Los Feliz", "A Line In The Dirt", "End Times", "Apple Trees", "Paradise Blues", "Nowadays", "Unhinged", "High And Lonesome", "I Need A Mother", "Little Bird", "On My Feet"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "The Man Who Didn't Know He'd Lost His Mind", "Some Friend", "Walking Cloud", "$200 Tattoo"

Tomorrow Morning:

tracks: "In Gratitude For This Magnificent Day", "I'm A Hummingbird", "The Morning", "Baby Loves Me", "Spectacular Girl", "What I Have To Offer", "This Is Where It Gets Good", "After The Earthquake", "Oh So Lovely", "The Man", "Looking Up", "That's Not Her Way", "I Like The Way This Is Going", "Mystery Of Life"

bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Swimming Lesson", "St. Elizabeth Story", "Let's Ruin Julie's Birthday", "For You"

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The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem comes on like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and the rootsy punk of Social Distortion. It opens with catchy rockers like "American Slang", "Stay Lucky" and "Bring It On", but the album really gets interesting when you get to "The Diamond Church Street Choir". It sounds like vintage Springsteen, and the album starts to mix things up a little bit after that. Definitely worth checking out.

tracks: "American Slang", "Stay Lucky", "Bring It On", "The Diamond Church Street Choir", "The Queen Of Lower Chelsea", "Orphans", "Boxer", "Old Haunts", "The Spirit Of Jazz", "We Did It When We Were Young"

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Paul Weller
Wake Up The Nation

Wake Up The Nation follows in the footsteps of his last album, 22 Dreams, with another widly diverse set. However, Wake Up The Nation has a much more rock 'n' roll feel as compared to the largely pastoral 22 Dreams. The album comes out swinging with a pair of rockers, but after the soulful "No Tears To Cry", you hit one of the album's highlights "Fast Car / Slow Traffic" - one of two songs featuring the return of Bruce Foxton, who played bass in The Jam with Weller. While there is a lot more rock on this album (like "Find The Torch, Burn The Plans", "Wake Up The Nation" and "Two Fat Ladies"), this is another adventurous set. The strangest song on the album is the eccentric "Trees", which dramatically switches styles 5 times in just over in 4 minutes. It's bizarre for Weller, but it's a lot of fun. Overall, it's nice to see that the adventurism was not a one-off for 22 Dreams.

tracks: "Moonshine", "Wake Up The Nation", "No Tears To Cry", "Fast Car / Slow Traffic", "Andromeda", "In Amsterdam", "She Speaks", "Find The Torch, Burn The Plans", "Aim High", "Trees", "Grasp And Still Connect", "Whatever Next", "7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name", "Up The Dosage", "Pieces Of A Dream", "Two Fat Ladies"

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Teenage Fanclub

Back in 2005, I wrote about the last Teenage Fanclub album, Man-Made:

Man-Made is Teenage Fanclub's first new studio album in five years, and it was definitely worth the wait. There aren't a lot of surprises here - Teenage Fanclub still has the crystalline harmonies, the chiming guitars (with a little bite to 'em), and tons and tons of Big Star-influenced hooks. The highlights include the classic TFC power-pop of "Slow Fade", the delicate "Only With You", and the insistent opener "It's All In My Mind". Superb.

Shadows falls into much the same pattern. It's been five years, TFC's sound is pretty much the same, and it's a great album. "Baby Lee" and "When I Still Have Thee" are the gems on this album, although "The Back Of My Mind", "Sometimes I Don't Believe In Anything" and "Dark Clouds" are excellent as well. Early on in their career, Teenage Fanclub slowly evolved from a sloppy, grungy band into a pure pop band inspired heavily by Big Star. While it's true they've stopped evolving, they've settled into something pretty amazing. Looking forward to that 2015 album.

YouTube: "Baby Lee".

tracks: "Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything", "Baby Lee", "The Fall", "Into The City", "Dark Clouds", "The Past", "Shock And Awe", "When I Still Have Thee", "Live With The Seasons", "Sweet Days Waiting", "The Back Of My Mind", "Today Never Ends"

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Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
Propellor Time

Propellor Time picks up leftovers from the first two Venus 3 albums, but it sure doesn't feel like an outtakes collection. The lovely "Ordinary Millionaire" and the Byrdsy "Sickie Boy" are two of Robyn Hitchcock's best-ever songs. "Evolove" closes the set with a stronger statement than normal for Hitchcock ("What you call God / I call evolution"). The moody title track and R.E.M.-ish "The Afterlight" are also big highlights. It's funny - this is supposed to be the leftovers, but it's easily the best of the Venus 3 albums.

tracks: "Star Of Venus", "The Afterlight", "Luckiness", "Ordinary Millionaire", "John In The Air", "Propellor Time", "Primitive", "Sickie Boy", "Born On The Wind", "Evolove"

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Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Mojo shows a whole different side of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. The sound is way bluesier than any other Petty album, and there are a lot more extended jams for the band to stretch out. "Running Man's Bible", "Let Yourself Go", and especially "Lover's Touch" are Chicago-style electric blues, but it's not all pure blues. "First Flash Of Freedom" sounds like it could be The Allman Brothers, and "I Should Have Known It" could have fit on an early Led Zeppelin album. Additionally, "Something Good Coming" is a terrific bluesy ballad that would have fit on any Petty album. There are a couple of weaker tracks on here, but overall the album's terrific and definitely better than 2006's Highway Companion.

tracks: "Jefferson Jericho Blues", "First Flash Of Freedom", "Running Man's Bible", "The Trip To Pirate's Cove", "Candy", "No Reason To Cry", "I Should Have Known It", "U.S. 41", "Takin' My Time", "Let Yourself Go", "Don't Pull Me Over", "Lover's Touch", "High In The Morning", "Something Good Coming", "Good Enough"

bonus track (iTunes Edition): "Little Girl Blues"

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The Hotrats
Turn Ons

While Supergrass bassist Mick Quinn was recovering from an injury, guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey toured as Diamond Hoo Ha Men (eventually naming the following Supergrass album with Quinn Diamond Hoo Ha). Supergrass has since split, but Gaz and Danny are back, this time as The Hotrats. The band's debut album, Turn Ons is a collection of covers, but it's a diverse set of covers ranging from The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd to Gang Of Four, Sex Pistols and even the Beastie Boys. Normally, I wouldn't really consider a covers album for the top 10, but Turn Ons is absolutely amazing. It's back-to-basics garage rock and the results are just irresistible. Heck, even the cover of the annoying "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" is a blast. Give this a listen, and keep an eye out for their debut single, which was a killer version of The Beatles' "Drive My Car".

tracks: "I Can't Stand It" [The Velvet Underground], "Big Sky" [The Kinks], "The Crystal Ship" [The Doors], "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" [Beastie Boys], "Damaged Goods" [Gang Of Four], "Love Is The Drug" [Roxy Music], "Bike" [Pink Floyd], "Pump It Up" [Elvis Costello & The Attractions], "The Lovecats" [The Cure], "Queen Bitch" [David Bowie], "E.M.I." [Sex Pistols], "Up The Junction" [Squeeze]

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The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever

In early 2010, keyboard player Franz Nicolay explained why he left The Hold Steady. He said…

[The Hold Steady] have their one big idea -- making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock -- and the last two records were about as good as I felt like I could do with that idea.

As it turns out, I have a huge soft spot for literate, wordy lyrics and anthemic rock, so I'm still on board. Surprisingly though, Heaven Is Whenever is actually a little more varied album than the last two, and the results are spectacular. The best song on the album ("We Can Get Together") is a ballad, and a tribute to the power of music to bring people together ("Heaven is whenever / we can get together / sit down on your floor / and listen to your records"). There's also a callback to the character driven songs from the first albums - "The Weekenders" is a sequel to the story in "Chips Ahoy" (from Boys And Girls In America) with the protagonist wondering if his girl still has the ability to see the future. The album closer, "A Slight Discomfort", is an epic with a long, dramatic ending loaded with pounding drums and lush strings. I was concerned that Franz Nicolay's departure was going to take the spark out of The Hold Steady, but I was pleasantly disappointed. Heaven Is Whenever is terrific.

tracks: "The Sweet Part Of The City", "Soft In The Center", "The Weekenders", "The Smidge", "Rock Problems", "We Can Get Together", "Hurricane J", "Barely Breathing", "Our Whole Lives", "A Slight Discomfort"

bonus tracks (iTunes Edition): "Touchless", "Ascension Blues"

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Manic Street Preachers
Postcards From A Young Man

If 2009's Journal For Plague Lovers was a sequel of sorts to The Holy Bible, then Postcards From A Young Man is the sequel to Everything Must Go. The album takes its cues from Everything's hit, "A Design For Life" - power chord anthems with the occasional string arrangement or choir to fill out the sound. The Manics get a little help along the way: Ian McCulloch (Echo & The Bunnymen) sings on "Some Kind Of Nothingness", Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses) plays bass on "A Billion Balconies…" and John Cale contribues "keyboards and noise" to "Auto-Intoxication". Lead singer James Dean Bradfield told the NME "We're going for big radio hits on this one", and the band delivers. Pretty much every song on here is ready for rock radio - songs that grab you immediately with big sing-along choruses. If Manic Street Preachers were known in the US, this would be a huge hit here. Like Teenage Fanclub's Shadows, there's not a lot of surprises or twists and turns on Postcards From A Young Man. But the songs are too good for it not to be the top pick for the year.

tracks: "(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love", "Postcards From A Young Man", "Some Kind Of Nothingness", "The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)", "Hazelton Avenue", "Auto-Intoxication", "Golden Platitudes", "I Think I Found It", "A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun", "All We Make Is Entertainment", "The Future Has Been Here 4ever", "Don't Be Evil"


Just click on the album cover to see that year's review.