If I had to pick a common thread running through the Compact Capsules favorite releases of 2006, it’s the soul factor. Maybe it was relocating my kid 2000-plus miles to Austin. Memphis was only supposed to be an on-the-way stop on the interstate circus to A-town, but we hit it after 20 straight hours of driving and visions of Highway 61 and the crossroads had me thinking we blow off the interstate for a trip down the Delta. Since that Memphis “taste”, I’m hooked. Suffice to say soul is the lure. In no particular order, let’s get down to business.
James Hunter, People Gonna Talk (Rounder)
Screw the countless Cooke comparisons, sounding like some early 1960s Memphis artifact, echoes of Charlie Rich circa his Smash and early Columbia R&B and soul shakers spew from the grooves of Brit-based Hunter’s stunning Stateside debut.
Hacienda Brothers, What’s Wrong With Right (Proper American)
Brown-eyed soul songs, country shuffles, even a slice of Ennio Morricone-styled tunage, this is music buoyed by wads of bottom-heavy twang, tangy pedal steel, and flecks of Tex-Mex accordion. El puro Western soul says it all.
Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador)
Mixing Memphis, as in Al Green’s legendary backing band, with Marshall, as in Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power, The Greatest plays like a mesmerizing modern day version of Dusty in Memphis.
Josh Ritter, The Animal Years (V2)
All the buzz about singer/songwriter Ritter comes to fruition on this winning major label debut which even with its sonic boost still retains the lyrical and melodic smarts that made him an indie darling.
Brothers & Sisters, self-titled (Calla Lily)
Hints of everything from Gram Parsons to Neil Young to the Beach Boys to the Mamas & Papas augment the trippy Southern California haze hanging over this irresistible debut from these Austin-based newcomers. And I dare anyone to find a more feel good song this year than “One Night” from this album.
Paul Burch, East to West (Bloodshot)
Nashville-based Burch’s economical pop consistently finds an appealing balance between throwback country and hillbilly rock ‘n’ roll. East to West delivers the pop country goods in relaxed, but always spirited fashion.
James Luther Dickinson, Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger (Memphis International)
Arguably the mayor of Memphis music, producer, sideman and all-around raconteur Dickinson checks in with a dandy of solo release that’s high on the grit and soul factor. The song pickings are a smorgasbord of tasty vittles that’ve been stuck in Dickinson’s craw, or as he puts it, “the jukebox of my mind,” for way too long.
Scott H. Biram – Graveyard Shift (Bloodshot)
There’s enough manic guitar stomp on one-man racket squad Biram’s Graveyard Shift to ignite any barroom. The twist is unlike past endeavors he tempers it with a “soft” side delivering a handful of “sentimental” songs which wash down as good as anything heard this year. Who else can mix motherfucker with sentimentality? Biram can.
Candi Staton, His Hands (Honest Jons)
Label it the comeback of the year. Nashville may have been the locale, but His Hands from this ’70s soul diva is all Muscle Shoals with a most potent country unpinning.
Cornell Hurd Band – Texas By Night (Behemoth)
The best kept C&W honky tonk big band secret in the land delivers its most accomplished release to date.
Chris Smither – Leave the Light On (Signature Sounds)
Simply put, comfort food for the ears.
Tim Easton – Ammunition (New West)
Easton takes another giant leap as a songwriter on one of those diamond in the rough releases that all too often falls through the cracks.
Dave Insley – Here With You Tonight (dir-RM)
There’s nothing flashy about Insley’s brand of country and it’s that straightforward approach that makes Here With You Tonight so appealing.
Deadstring Brothers – Starving Winter Report (Bloodshot)
Detroit-based Deadstring Brothers have a serious Stones slant to their loose and righteous rockers. Heck, leadoff track “Sacred Heart” by its lonesome is worth the price of admission.
And the rest of the pickings:
Other albums hitting the sweet spot included Neko Case with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti), Tony Gilkyson with Goodbye Guitar (Rolling Sea), Angela Desveaux with Wandering Eyes (Thrill Jockey), Bobby Bare Jr with The Longest Meow (Bloodshot), and Kris Delmhorst with Strange Conversation (Signature Sounds). Debut of the year goes to Eilen Jewell with Boundary County.
FAVORIITE REISSUES OF 2006:
1 Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys – Legends of Country Music (Legacy)
2 Waylon Jennings – Nashville Rebel (RCA/Legacy)
3 Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label (Numero Group)
4 Thee Midniters – In Thee Midnite Hour!!! (Norton)
5 Hasil Adkins – Peanut Butter Rock & Roll (Norton) (late 2005)
Oh yeah, best 2002 album that I didn’t discover until 2006 goes to The Reigning Sound with Time Bomb High School (In the Red).
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6-9 pm on 90.3, WRIU-FM. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at email@example.com.)