Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2010

It’s that time again! Following are my Top 25 Albums of 2010. Like ’em or not, these are the albums I’ve personally enjoyed and listened to most often in the past year. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, download mp3s…

*Honorable mention to Florence + the Machine’s Lungs, which would have been #2 on this list had it been released this year.

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2010

25. Sheila Nicholls: Songs from the Bardo

…I was so excited to see Sheila Nicholls name on a new press release!…genre-hopping…moody experience…Sheila’s lovely vocals drive every song

Sheila Nicholls – Bardo (mp3)*
Sheila Nicholls – Natural Law (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

24. The Concretes: WYWH

…sultry and atmospheric…blends mellow electro-pop melodies with ambient beats beneath new lead singer Lisa Milberg’s whisper soft vocals

The Concretes – All Day (mp3)*
The Concretes – Good Evening (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

23. Heart: Red Velvet Car

…a step back from the pop-rock endeavors of recent decades in favor of a multi-instrumental style…perfect display of Ann’s astounding vocal power and Nancy’s searing guitar riffs.

Buy @ Amazon

22. Warner Nuzova: Russian Music for Cello & Piano

…The deep resonance of Warner’s cello is juxtaposed and intertwined with the emotive peels of Nuzova’s piano, resulting in a sound full of somber beauty and classical romance.

Buy @ Amazon

21. Screaming Females: Castle Talk

…loud, exhilarating, wailing punk rockers…a spectacular cacophony of ferocious growls, frenzied shrieks, scorching guitar licks and tempestuous rhythm

Screaming Females – I Don’t Mind It (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

20. Brooke Fraser: Flags

…a collection of subtle folk-influenced melodies and pretty, infectious pop fleshed out with innovative arrangements and all wrapped up in Brooke’s warm voice

Buy @ Amazon

19. Agent Ribbons: Chateau Crone

…churns atmospheric retro pop-rock with modern rock riffs, handclap percussion, and girl group harmony. The result is somewhere between The Zombies and The Shangri-Las.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Creed Bratton: Bounce Back

…With the help of his backing band The 3DVB’s and his The Office co-star Ed Helms, Creed has made an unusual, funny, funky, and all around awesome album.

Creed Bratton – Rubber Tree (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

17. Robert Plant: Band of Joy

…an almost perfect marriage of Robert Plant’s psychedelic sway and Buddy Miller’s freight train of rocked up Americana

Buy @ Amazon

16. Danielle Ate the Sandwich: Two Bedroom Apartment

…The combination of that kind of sweetly self-deprecating humor and Danielle’s clear, warm voice along with some very pretty acoustic melodies make this album a charmer.

Buy @ Amazon

15. Robert Stallman: The Nightingale in Love

…Whether you’re a classical aficionado or simply enjoy pretty instrumental music, this lovely album is definitely one to try…Simply put, The Nightingale in Love is beautiful. So very beautiful.

Buy @ Amazon

14. Sade: Soldier of Love

…an album everyone should hear…strong artistic integrity combined with an exquisitely exotic voice and elegant melodies give Sade’s music a rare grace and beauty.

Buy @ Amazon

13. Katharine McPhee: Unbroken

…an excellent mix of infectious pop melodies and singer-songwriter acoustics…Her multi-faceted voice effortlessly flows from impressive Divaesque acrobatics to a warmer, relaxed charm reminiscent of classic Carole King.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Loreena McKennitt: The Wind that Shakes the Barley

…brimming with a heady mix of Celtic and folk instrumentation…Loreena’s supernatural soprano is on gorgeous display

Buy @ Amazon

11. The Bird & The Bee: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates

…tribute to 1980s pop icons Hall & Oates is no parody, instead this is a sincere and happy homage to one of my favorite guilty pleasure bands…the perfect soundtrack for summer.

Buy @ Amazon

10. Sing Me To Sleep: Indie Lullabies

…a wide variety of charming, serene covers by various indie acts…The entire Sing Me To Sleep album flows together to create a lovely, gentle mood.

Dean & Britta – Making Me Smile (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

9. The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang

…one of the most excellent, enjoyable rock albums I’ve heard in years…infectious but substantial rock – settled delciously somewhere between arena and roots.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Allison Crowe: Spiral

…Her voice flawlessly flows between the most pristine soprano and gut-wrenching, full-bodied wails…I hear Allison Crowe sing, and I remember the effect music is supposed to have on you.

Buy @ Amazon

7. The Innocence Mission: My Room in Trees

…pristinely pretty…Sparse arrangements are coupled with poetic lyrics full of scenic imagery and bittersweet emotion – all carried by the lovely soprano of Karen Peris.

The Innocence Mission – God is Love (mp3)*
The Innocence Mission – Happy Mondays (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

6. Moreland & Arbuckle: Flood

…If Moreland & Arbuckle’s upcoming album Flood is any indication, 2010 is gonna be a great year for music…this mix of Delta blues, folk, country, soul, and rock is one wild ride.

Buy @ Amazon

5. She & Him: Volume Two

…another collection of airy, retro-styled pop songs fleshed out with folk instrumenation…a breezy pop soundtrack for summer.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Kate Miller-Heidke: Curiouser

…like a collaboration between Kate Bush and Lady Gaga. Mainstream pop fans will definitely enjoy this disc, as will those searching for catchy tunes with lyrical substance.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Janelle Monáe: The Archandroid

…Conceptually and musically, this multi-facted, genre-mashing masterpiece has everything you could want in an album and then some. And Janelle’s supernatural vocal range is as chameleonic as the songs she sings.

Buy @ Amazon

2. Xavier Rudd: Koonyum Sun

…Xavier Rudd is my favorite artist, full stop…yet another breathtaking masterpiece that’s sure to land Xavier Rudd at the top of my year end list again.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Anaïs Mitchell: Hadestown

…transforms the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a post-apocalyptic American fable with Depression era style and indie-folk sensibility. This gorgeous, exciting project reminds me why I love music so much and why I love writing about music so much.”

Anaïs Mitchell – Flowers (mp3)*
Anaïs Mitchell & Bon Iver – Wait for Me (mp3)*

Buy @ Amazon

*all mp3s hosted by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps

Creed Bratton: Bounce Back

Bounce Back is the upcoming release by singer-songwriter and actor Creed Bratton. The former lead guitarist of The Grassroots, Creed is probably best known now for his quirky character on The Office. Whether you heard his previous self-titled album or not, I recommend checking out Bounce Back. With the help of his backing band The 3DVB’s and his The Office co-star Ed Helms, Creed has made an unusual, funny, funky, and all around awesome album. The promo he sent me included the note “Hi Victoria, Hope you dig it!” Indeed I do.

The catchy single “Rubber Tree” (which I posted last December) features Ed Helms on banjo and is a good representation of the album’s blend of folk, pop, and rock.

A psychedelic cover of “Let’s Get Lost” follows. After hearing Creed croon the Chet Baker tune during our phone conversation two years ago, I kinda wish he’d recorded a straightforward jazz rendition. But this trippy, pedal steeled duet with singer Tara Holloway is pretty awesome.

“Love Me Like You Dance” is a fun Hawaiian Honky-Tonk ditty, while tracks like “Then I Think of You” and “Matters Like This” are more sincere ballads.

The vocals and instrumentation on the album are seriously good, but the lyrics are often pure comedy. My personal favorite lines are “You’re a warm piece of jerky” from the Alejandro Escovedo meets Talking Heads guitar grinder “Change that Channel” and “You had crimson jeans covered in spam” in the wonderfully nonsensical finale “My Heart’s an Open Book.”

But it’s the bizarre, bluesy Western stomper “Driving the Drags” that really steals the show.

Creed Bratton – Rubber Tree (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

The album’s release date has been pushed back to March. It will then be available for purchase at the following links.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton Official Site

Mp3 Menagerie: Creed Bratton, The J. Davis Trio, The New Loud

Creed Bratton – Rubber Tree (mp3) *

If you didn’t know that The Office‘s Creed Bratton is also a musician, you obviously didn’t read my review of his self-titled album or my interview with him last year. This song is from Creed’s upcoming album, which he is finishing up now and plans to release in February, 2010.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton Official Site

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The J. Davis Trio – Breezay (mp3) *
The J. Davis Trio – Court is Now in Session (mp3) *
The J. Davis Trio – These Things Happen (mp3) *

The J. Davis Trio blends garage-jazz akin to The Bad Plus with hip-hop beats and vocals.

Buy @ Amazon

The J Davis Trio

The J. Davis Trio Myspace

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The New Loud – Don’t Dance (mp3) *
The New Loud – Heaven (mp3) *

The New Loud’s upcoming EP Can’t Stop Not Knowing (set for release February 23, 2010) lives up to the band’s name with over the top indie-rock and pop noise.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

The New Loud

The New Loud Myspace

*all mp3s hosted by & posted w/ permission of artists or their PR reps

CD Review: Creed Bratton

It was admittedly difficult for me to listen to Creed Bratton’s new self-titled album impartially since I love his character on The Office so much and he was very kind during our phone conversation, but I think most of the songs on the CD sound like something you’d hear on NPR’s Mountain Stage or on a Tom Petty release. It’s not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out if you like folk, blues-rock, and Americana.

Many of the songs on the album – including the opening tracks “Going Under” and “All The Faces” – have a mellow Americana sound. Creed plays acoustic guitar while producer and songwriting collaborator Jon Tiven provides electric guitars, organ, electric and acoustic pianos, sitar, harmonica, tenor sax, and percussion.

“Cry Cry Cry” is the stand out, thanks to a soul-funk arrangement and the backing wails of Bekka Bramlett (daughter of Bonnie). It was a pleasant surprise to see Jonell Mosser‘s name also listed in the liner notes. My generation probably knows her best for her soundtrack work in the 1990s (such as Boys on the Side & Hope Floats), but Mosser is a respected songwriter and session singer.

There’s a nice cover of P.F. Sloan’s “This Precious Time” – which The Grass Roots also recorded – followed by the twangy original “Quagmire”. I think the latter may be a parody of country ballads, but lyrics like “stuck in the mud of your love” and “like a Botox patient whose lips start to swell” are sung with such sincerity that it’s difficult to tell if they are meant to be satirical.

“Did You Call” and “We Were All Ready” take a turn into Southern blues-rock, which is much more complimentary to Creed’s voice than the softer acoustic tracks. His isn’t the kind of voice that belts out a tune, but it has a nice tone and is well suited to this style of music. The album concludes with a cover of Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover”.

Creed Bratton – Cry Cry Cry (mp3 expired)

My interview with Creed

Creed Bratton Official Site

Buy @ CDBaby

Buy mp3s @ Amazon

Creed Bratton

Interview: Creed Bratton of The Office

On the American version of The Office, the character of Creed has gradually emerged as a hilariously amoral eccentric through cryptic revelations scattered throughout the series. An ambiguously oriented but certainly promiscuous and occasionally homeless kleptomaniac, the fictional Creed has been a member (and leader) of several cults and can catch a fish with his bare hands. In real life, Creed Bratton calls himself a “slasher” – an actor/musician whose new self-titled album features a mix of folk, blues-rock, and Americana. Bratton enjoyed a successful music career in the 1960s and ’70s as lead guitarist of The Grass Roots, best known for their songs “Midnight Confessions,” “Lets Live For Today,” and “Where Were You When I Needed You.” Creed was also my first phone interview and is obviously a very patient man.

Creed Bratton was born William Charles Schneider, later going by Chuck Ertmoed when his widowed mother remarried. After two years of touring in Europe and Africa in the late 1960s with his band The Young Californians, the man who would become Creed says he found himself in Athens with a broken heart and a vision of success in his “third eye.” A random drunken encounter with “a couple on their way to teach English to Cretans” led to a hungover Chuck Ertmoed discovering “Creed Bratton” circled among several names scribbled on a table cloth. And thus the cult figure was created.

Later Creed returned to California and started a group called The 13th Floor. Meanwhile, producers Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan created a band to capitalize on the folk-rock trend of that era’s popular music scene. When the first incarnation of The Grass Roots disintegrated, Sloan recruited The 13th Floor to take their place. When asked if he felt like his band was packaged like The Monkees, Creed said “not at first.” He initially enjoyed the band’s new found fame while they still exercised creative freedom – particularly when recording his favorite Grass Roots album Feelings. But as the band moved away from their folk-rock roots into a more commercial sound for songs like “Midnight Confessions,” Bratton began to feel “disgruntled” and “unhappy.” Then came the unpleasant surprise that the band had recorded a song without him, which Bratton points to as the time when he “really felt like a Monkee.” Rather than lose his artistic integrity, he left The Grass Roots to pursue a solo career.

During his tenure with The Grass Roots, Creed led a wild and exciting life. He toured with The Doors, Creedance Clearwater Revival, and Janis Joplin. But he says Jimi Hendrix had the most distinctive talent at the time, the only one he knew for certain would be a legend. He calls Moby Grape both his best and worst concert experience, because his band had to follow their jaw dropping “fear of God” performance.

Creed confirmed the outlandish stories about his habit of running naked through small towns beside the band’s tour bus, the infamous acid trip that caused him to drop his pants on stage as he ranted about the meaning of life, and the notorious shark incident. He described in detail how the intoxicated band caught a shark from their hotel window, hoisting their catch up until the creature jumped into their room, and the shocking Psycho-like scene the next morning as he pulled back the shower curtain to find three bloody sharks in the bathtub.

Despite such decadent experiences, Creed says he feels much more successful now than he ever did then. Decades spent struggling as an actor and a musician did nothing to diminish his love of either art, and he is now fully able to enjoy both pursuits. He credits producer and collaborator Jon Tiven for getting him back into the studio as well as for his contributions in the writing and recording of the new album. It was Tiven who introduced him to powerhouse session singers Jonell Mosser and Bekka Bramlett.

Creed was unable to choose just one favorite track from the new disc, though he did narrow it down to “Dream Lover,” “Cry Cry Cry,” “My Baby is a Cadillac,” and “All The Faces.” The latter was written in just ten minutes and originally featured on Coarsegold. He calls it the only song he’s written that “felt finished.” Though he hopes to book some live shows to promote the album, his schedule may not allow for that any time soon.

We also covered the typical “favorite questions.” Creed cites Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Coltrane, and my beloved Chet Baker as some of his musical influences. Creed said he would love to record a “crooner album” and then sang a bit of Baker’s “Let’s Get Lost.” which was probably the most memorable part of our conversation. The most disturbing segment followed, though, as he named Coldplay as a band that really gets him off?! I think I’ve made my feelings on Chris Martin’s band known over the years, but to each his own. But in addition to our shared love of Chet Baker, I wholeheartedly agree with Creed’s affection for Alison Krauss and Michael Bublé.

Bratton is an avid reader – most recently enjoying Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen and Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – and names the François Truffaut classic Jules & Jim as his favorite film. After calling HBO’s Deadwood and The Sopranos his favorite television show, he seemed to slide in and out of character for the remaining portions of the interview. I was unfamiliar with the short-lived and critically reviled HBO series John from Cincinnati, so I did not catch on to Creed’s joke about relating to the show until he said he could “also levitate.”

I didn’t want to bombard him with questions about The Office, but couldn’t resist a few. He was as friendly and gracious when discussing the show as he had been during the rest of the interview. He said that even though he “never stopped preparing for the opportunity,” he still feels “lucky” to be where he is and doesn’t view himself as a celebrity. He talked about how much fun the other actors on the show are to work with and the difficult task of getting through a scene without laughing. He briefly mentioned the creator’s desire to differentiate the show from its British counterpart and the low ratings they suffered in the beginning. I’m sure I’m one of many who had forgotten that the hit show was almost canceled after the first season. I can’t imagine American television without it now.

When I inquired about any similarities he has with his bizarre character, Creed gave me his “standard answer” that he “would be in jail” if he were really like that. Now I try not to judge people, and Creed vehemently denies being anything like the lecherous weirdo he plays on the show. But he did pause when I asked if he’d ever belonged to or led a cult, and suddenly called me “Jane” after almost an hour of using my real name. So draw your own conclusions. He did own up to having been employed as “a hit man for the Government” and when asked how it felt to kill people, he simply replied: “Hey, it’s a living…well, not for them”.

Oh, and if anyone from TMZ reads this interview: Creed may not remember your name, but he knows you have bugged his phone and are hiding in the bushes outside his house. I would run if I were you.

Creed Bratton CD Review