I'm not paid nearly enough to attempt to encapsulate "the best" of the music of the decade now passed (depending on when you read this), so instead I'll focus on the songs and the situations that meant something to me. In absolutely no particular order (other than maybe the playlist to your right might make for good sequential listening...), I give you my Moments of the Aughts.
"Not That Cool" by Will Hoge
I'd known about Will for years, having seen him around town in various band/solo configurations (plus having worked in the same building with his dad Peyton for a number of years). But it wasn't until I was driving through the southern Illinois countryside listening to this song on a pre-release of his major label debut Blackbird On A Lonely Wire that I got the gut-punch that told me this guy was the real deal. I remain a huge fan.
"Vertigo" by U2
Yeah, I'm a late-comer to the party, but this was the decade where I learned to love U2. Sure, I was around for all the '80s stuff, but for whatever reason, that era of U2 just irritated me. Then the '90s stuff just pissed me off, because here was a band that went from being a smidge self-righteous to fully self-centered. But with All That You Can't Leave Behind, I saw and heard a U2 that took a step back, saying "OK, we just spent the better part of 15 years believing our own press. We're going to get back to making rock 'n' roll now." And then, in the wake of 9/11, the Irish foursome became the prototype of an American band, and the back half of the Elevation Tour helped to salve the wounds. They were one of us. This particular track I loathed when it first came out, thinking I'd heard them do it (or something very much like it) a dozen times over the years. It took a road trip with "my buddy Ed" to Lynchburg, Tenn. for a freelance job for us both to realize what a kick-ass song "Vertigo" is. Yes, they've careened a bit back into the ethereal navel-gazing mode with the last record, but I'm way more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt now than I was 10 years ago. Plus, Bono walked over my head this year. (hey, T-Veg, remember that time...?)
"What Do I Do Now" by Sam & Ruby
I knew I wasn't gonna be alone when Sam & Ruby's debut took my breath away. I didn't know the Associated Press was going to name it the No. 1 album of 2009, but I couldn't agree more. As much as I frequently lament the lack of truly outstanding material emerging from the morass that is the music business today, Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu have forged a partnership that has generated the sexiest mind-moving record you'll hear this year. Or, at this rate, any other.
"Paranoia in B Major" by The Avett Brothers
Gonna refer you back to the Record Store Day post from earlier this year. Again, 'twas wonderful to see a young band get their licks in in front of a young, appreciative crowd that sang along with every word, especially on this song.
"Chief" by Patty Griffin
In 2000, I got the simultaneous pleasure/consternation of seeing Patty Griffin play in front of the biggest crowds of her career opening for the Dixie Chicks. A dozen times, I watched arenas full of people meet one of the greatest singer-songwriters of her generation and have absolutely no clue what to do with her. No matter...the people who need to know Patty Griffin know Patty Griffin. And they (we) love her. Hearing "Chief" for the first time on a pre-release of 1000 Kisses, then hearing it again in the confines of the Belcourt Theatre and the Ryman Auditorium over the course of the following couple of years just underscored what a truly talented artist she is. (And just wait until you hear the upcoming Downtown Church, if you haven't already...it's spectacular.)
"Hey Pretty" by Poe
It was the early days of The Rage (back when it was pamphlet-size, yet had plenty of room/resources for people to, you know, write things?), Poe dropped her second full-length album titled Haunted, which had the story points of being recorded completely digitally and was a tie-in with her brother Mark Danielewski's novel House of Leaves. I didn't really care about all that. I just knew that it sounded freakin' awesome throughout, living up to its title in many spots, with Poe's voice able to send chills in the midst of defiance. I remember laying on the floor of my office spinning the record over and over again, soaking it in. Still a favorite. (What is it about me and loving bands that only make two records?)
"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
Yeah, here's the surprise entry. Because if you know me, you know I hate American Idol. Wait, hate isn't good enough. LOATHE it. I think it's the embodiment of everything that's wrong with both the music biz and television today, and I can't wait for it to run its course. That said, I freakin' love this song, wrote as much in a one-shot magazine piece I did, and was reminded why in a recent "All Songs Considered" episode wrapping up the decade. Big production, big vocals, big hooks...it's a reminder of what pop music should be. And yes, I'm only slightly embarrassed by liking it so much.
"Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys
I remember having lunch with the Garza brothers at La Hacienda on Nolensville road sometime in 1998. They were all in their teens (in Ringo's case, just barely), and their dad had moved them from San Angelo, Texas to Nashville, in hopes of them becoming country stars. That didn't pan out, but as they grew into their own as musicians and fully embraced their rock side, a powerful power trio emerged. It was really cool to watch their career take off back in '03 via this song.
"Work" by Jars of Clay
And here's another set of musicians I've known since they were in their teens...well, one of 'em anyway. I've watched Jars of Clay have explosive success and ridiculously high expectations placed on them, and make some head-scratchingly interesting musical choices, and still watch them reinvent and redefine themselves over a decade and a half. For me, "Work" represented an unleashing for Jars, and I first heard it in two contexts in the same night, both at Nettwerk's space just off Music Row. First, as an acoustic move, the likes of which I'd heard them do dozens of times over the years, and it didn't really take. It was when their short performance was over, and they pumped the recorded version through the speaker that I realized this record was going to be a monster of a different color. It was Jars rocking out in a fashion I'd been hoping for for years.
"Killing Him" by Amy LaVere
Memphis girl. Plays a stand-up double bass that's way bigger than she is. Indescribable voice. Played this song during an XM Radio "in the round" event at AMA '08 that also featured Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider and Lyle Lovett. Yes, she sang this song while standing next to LYLE FREAKIN' LOVETT. Love it, love her.
"Diablo Rojo" by Rodrigo y Gabriela
All the years I've been doing this (whatever "this" as it relates to my "career" is), I still can't write while listening to music, unless the music is instrumental sans lyrics. I somehow got on a bit of a flamenco kick a few years ago, and really wanted to find something new and different from that world. Enter Rod y Gab, former punk rock kids turned flamenco masters. Their runs will leave you breathless.
"Radio Nowhere" by Bruce Springsteen
"57 Channels And Nothing On" for the iTunes/BitTorrent generation. When are people going to realize that radio can still work? But for it to do so, it has to be relentlessly local, that it has to not only reflect but be woven deeply into the community it serves? Worldwide exposure on the Internet is great, but it doesn't do you any good when the people "out there" don't affect what you're doing (read: patronize your advertisers) "right here."
"Worry Too Much" by Buddy Miller
Buddy's Universal United House of Prayer record was a staple for me when it came out, a moving, touching, cautionary gospel record in an age when "Christian music" has lost its identity (right alongside most of American Christianity). This cover of Mark Heard's classic came to mind when I heard that Buddy had suffered a heart attack while out on the road with Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin, and even though I don't know the man all that well, I can't explain how happy I was to see him shuffle into Expo Design Center a few weeks later, only hours back in town, scraggily bearded but grateful to still be around. So say we all, Buddy.
"Mexican Wine" by Fountains of Wayne
Like I said before, I'm a sucker for hooks. And while "Stacy's Mom" got FoW a fair spate of national attention (and former VP Al Gore showing up at an Exit/In show got them notice on the local level), it was this opener of the Welcome Interstate Managers record that really sucked me in. I love the fuzzy jangle detailing 21st Century "circle of life," leading in to the big crunchy guitar-and-snare attack that makes power pop so damn fun.
"Ego" by Fugitive Glue
Speaking of power pop and Nashville, FuGlu is a four-man 2GBD project from some of Music City's finest session/side men. The cool thing is everybody involved (Eliot Houser, Craig Wright, Michael Webb and Rick Plant) is pretty much interchangeable from both an instrumental and vocal standpoint; everybody plays everything and sings to boot. The fact that it's a song about ego as played by a band without a lot of individual egos about who does what makes it even sweeter. (And if you get a chance, head over to the band's MySpace page and spin the seminal classic, "Everybody Sucks But Us.")
"Don't Let Me Down" by Go Jane Go
I wrote about my friend Kristy West and her band Go Jane Go a couple of years ago here. I like that it's pop/punk that's a little raggedy. It's Kristy flexing her muscles as a songwriter, performer, recording artist and frontwoman. Is it going to make her a superstar? Likely not. But it's great to see people expand their artistic skills, to get into position to get into position should the right break come their way. Plus, it's just fun.
"Joining A Fan Club" by Jellyfish
Yeah, this isn't from the Aughts. It's just barely from the '90s. But it represents one of the first musical obsessions I developed when I moved here early in the previous previous decade, and it's a record that I return to again and again when the mundanity of music without filters starts to get to me.
"Going In The Right Direction" by Robert Randolph & The Family Band
When a local publicist approached me to write a story about a New York kid coming out of the "sacred steel" tradition of the House of God church, I was skeptical at best. And then I heard RR&tFB's live, pre-label release Live At The Wetlands. And when I was able to peel myself off the back wall I was blown to, I jumped at the chance to interview this pedal steel whiz kid. The cooler thing was, months later, when I would run into him again at Nashville River Stages mere moments before he took the stage, he remembered my name and asked how my folks were doing, a subject that came up in our previous interview. Oh, yeah...this was after he'd basically been awake for the previous 48 hours, having played in Australia opening for Dave Mathews Band (I think), flown across the planet, got on a bus in New York and riding down to Nashville. Great guy, even better music.
"Everything Will Never Be OK" by Fiction Plane
Musical nepotism frequently doesn't work out all that well. But I was OK with Fiction Plane opening for The Police on their reunion tour a couple of years ago, because at least FP had given it a go as a baby band, attempting as best they could to minimize the familial connection found via frontman Joe Sumner. Still, when I saw the band at Nashville's famed Exit/In, the parallels with Joe's single-pseudonymed pater familias was ridiculously evident.
"Love Isn't Made" by Jon Foreman
I've talked to Jon Foreman as he's been in a number of different roles over the past few years: frontman for Switchfoot (his most well-known role), partner in the collective Fiction Family and solo artist releasing a series of four, season-themed EPs. This track from the Spring EP vaulted its way back into my consciousness via a random iTunes "genius" playlist as I was driving across Nashville on a recent Friday night, the fog of human interaction uncertainty obscuring a lot of things. The chorus/mantra "don't let the panic bring you down" didn't so much snap me from my reverie as reassure me that I was far from alone in feeling the way I did at that very moment. Identification is a powerful tool.
"Red Morning Light" by Kings of Leon
2009 found the Followill boys finally getting the Stateside success they'd long craved, and of course, they spat at it sideways (see also: Nathan's recent "mom jeans" comment.) But this moment from the beginning of their debut record always reminds me of seeing them for the first time at the old 12th and Porter and walking away thinking "These guys are barely competent on their instruments, but there's something there." Three years later, they're opening for U2 on the Vertigo Tour, and I got to witness some incredible rock 'n' roll behavior over dinner at Fleming's in an interview just before the tour kicked off.
"American Dirt" by Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State
Matthew Ryan is a gritty genius. I have this very vivid memory of sitting in a shopping mall somewhere in Alabama, transcribing an interview and quickly writing a feature on Ryan in the days right after 9/11. The interview happened before that horrible day, but the feelings conveyed therein (and found frequently in his work over the years) were prescient. Life is hard. Living in America is hard. And it's not going to get any easier, and we might as well admit it. This comes from his "band project" Vs. The Silver State, and I love how bad he makes me feel in the midst of listening to his songs.
"The Wrong Thing To Do" by Mudcrutch
Mudcrutch is Tom Petty's pre-Heartbreakers band from his teenage years in Florida, and when they got back together in 2008, they basically put out the best Heartbreakers album we'd heard in years. Though that project, I got to interview guitarist Tom Leadon and keyboardist Benmont Tench, and they were both espousing the idea that you should never put too much of your past away, because it might come back and be better than you expected. Plus, every guy can relate to the chorus "I got a woman waiting/at the top of the stairs/it's the wrong thing to do/but I don't care..."
"Horseshoes & Hand Grenades" by Trent Summar & The New Row Mob
In the summer of 2001, Trent Summer had a song out talking about creating his own Jungle Room, so I asked him when was the last time he'd been to Graceland. He had to sheepishly admit that, at that point, he'd never been. I got a great lede out of it, and I've been a big appreciator of Trent's talents ever since. He's one of those guys who writes killer country hooks and can deliver a high-energy show like nobody's business, but it just hasn't happened for him in the way he deserves. Here's hoping he will keep plugging away.
"Jesus On The Mainline" by Ollabelle
A ramshackle post-9/11 NYC bar choir turned recording group turned out a spiritually laced debut record, devoid of the posturing and politics of the "Christian music business," making it my favorite "gospel record" of 2004.
"Every Little Thing About You" by Raul Malo
True story: Walking up 2nd Avenue late at night, sometime early in the decade. The "world famous" pink NashTrash bus passes and all of a sudden I hear "Hey, it's Raul Malo!" and people start waving. At me. Nevermind that I've got about 10 inches in height on the man. But I wish I had that voice. Loved the Mavericks, love his solo stuff.
"Get Rhythm" by Reverend Horton Heat
OK, for good or ill, when you exit a three-year relationship, you should have some sort of positive take-aways. For me, it was seeing and adopting music that I normally wouldn't have. The psycho-rockabilly of The Rev is one thing that I wouldn't have sought out on my own, but I do have an appreciation for now. (Plus, I've got that whole "West Texas oil field brat" thing in common with Jim Heath, so we actually had a couple pretty good conversations.)
"Rock & Roll" by The Clutters
Big, crashy, Farfisa-laced, crunchy-chorded rock 'n' roll. The Clutters' first record was absolutely sublime in its primality. Very fond memories of nights at The Basement and Exit/In etching these grooves into my memory.
"I Believe In A Thing Called Love" by The Darkness
From the sublime to the ridiculous. The Darkness was a camera flash of spandex metal that broke up the emo fabric that balled up most of the decade. Saw them first at a converted church in Atlanta (where members of Aerosmith and Cheap Trick had hung around after their shed show the night before just to see this batch of lunatic Brits), and then later at the Muni here in Nashville. I interviewed the brothers Hawkins, separately, the day after they picked up one of Great Britain's biggest songwriting awards. And just like that, they were gone...
"Still Learning How To Fly" by Rodney Crowell
Crowell is still one of the greatest hybrids in the business: part journalist, part storyteller, part protest singer, part troublemaker. His four-album arc this decade (The Houston Kid, Fate's Right Hand, The Outsider and Sex and Gasoline) are as vivid a portrait of one-man's life (not necessarily always autobiographical, but frequently) as you're going to find committed to bits.
"100 Days, 100 Nights" by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
If you're not stirred by the soul-shaking talents of Ms. Jones and her cadre of Dap-Kings, then I weep for your past, present and future. Finally got the chance to interview her (and Dap-Kings bandleader Binky Griptite), on the dusty plains of Zilker Park during the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival, and she's every bit the firebrand off-stage as she is on it. Go see them next time they're in your town...you will not regret it.
"Zombieland" by T Bone Burnett
It feels like T Bone finally got his long overdue reception as "big-time producer" this decade, with the O Brother soundtrack blowing up at the beginning, and the Plant/Krauss combo and Costello/Sugarcanes collabo rounding out the end. But my favorite thing was his solo record The True False Identity, a record he admitted to me he was worried if Nashville would "get." I don't know about the rest of the city, but speaking for myself (and by extension, the thousand or so at the spectacular show at City Hall), I get it. And I continue to use the line "Machines always do just what you tell them to do/As long as you do what they say" as one of my .sig files to this day.
"Whine Whine Twang Twang" by The Doyle & Debbie Show
I have nothing more to add that is either relevant or true.
"Up To The Roof" by Blue Man Group with Tracy Bonham
Some people can look at the azure aesthetes/PVC-weilding percussionists of BMG and think "one trick pony." But their "rock record" The Complex was every bit as original and thrilling as their stage show, and the tour supporting it was equally impressive. (Google "Words On The Left" and see if you can make any sense of it.) I somehow ended up with front-row seats for the spectacle at TPAC, and it was the most visually stunning night of rock 'n' roll I've ever experienced. And Tracy Bonham's contribution to this track is my favorite part of a record I still pull out of the stacks frequently.
"Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males" by Todd Snider
Todd sure likes his list songs. And I can relate, considering this is the decade I veered away from some (not all) of the characteristics of this song's antagonists and toward some (not all) of the characteristics of its protagonists. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
"The Highway's Coming" by Tommy Womack
And we finish with some of the most sage words ever committed to tape (or whatever digital thingamjig passes for tape these days): "Leave the banjo...take the sausage." Tommy's another one of those troubadours whose talents I've admired from afar and have enjoyed conversations with when I get the chance. And you have to love interview subjects who aren't afraid to get quippy, as Tommy was when I asked him in 2002: When did rock ‘n’ roll become a dirty word? His answer: "About 12 years ago, I seem to remember the party where they declared it a dirty word, and it was a weird new world the next day." This track is both an ode to the Golden Rule and to circular logic, every bit of which we're gonna need as we cross the threshold into this new decade.
Which really doesn't start until this time next year, but I'll leave that argument to the numerically anal-retentive. Me, I like fives and zeros, so Happy New Decade, ever'body...