Best of 2006
by Peter Jesperson

1. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
This record is just so damn great it makes me happy. Happy for me and for the world at large - that we are all fortunate enough to continue to get such vital music from a guy who's been so important to us for so long. This album combines elements from the last two and (much as I love them both) makes a more concise and effective whole. Every song's a winner and Bob's singing is especially strong here - committed and filled with spirit.

2. Dan Kelly And The Alpha Males - Drowning In The Fountain Of Youth

A new rock n' roll Powerhouse from Melbourne, Australia with clearly audible, vast potential. On this, their 2nd album, Dan's singing is more confident and less hidden, there are a striking number of old soul moves in the arrangements and its sound is so detailed that I'm still hearing new stuff one-hundred plays in. So imaginatively and meticulously mixed, it's a GAS on headphones! Reference points might be late 60s Kinks, 70s Rolling Stones, Pavement, Supergrass and (uncle) Paul Kelly but, make no mistake, Dan and the boys are true originals. Coming from the 'everything-but-the-kitchen-sink' school of rock (production-wise), at times 'Drowning' reminds me of 10cc records - completely overboard yet somehow not too much. And, like Dan's first album, there's enough sexual innuendo to rival Mick Jagger. The double-whammy of  "I Will Release Myself (Unto You)" into "Fire And Theft" is about the most imaginative and inspiring 12.5 minutes of rock music I heard all year.

3. M. Ward - Post-War

Speaking of original, M. (Matt) Ward has a sound all his own, like some crazy combination of Louis Armstrong and John Fahey, warm and relaxed while maintaining a certain precision, centered around a voice that you instantly believe. The songs - for instance "Chinese Translation," the title track and a fabulous Daniel Johnston cover -  are consistently great. A solid album from top to bottom.

4. Golden Smog - Another Fine Day

While there are excellent contributions from Danny Murphy and Jeff Tweedy, this is primarily a Gary Louris/Kraig Johnson record - and I ain't complainin'! A 'side project' that's better than many artists' concentrated career efforts. It feels as if there's no reaching for the brass ring, no pressure from managers or record labels - this is music made for the sheer love of making music ... by some of the finest musicians in rock today. Not as cohesive or as strong as Smog's definitive Weird Tales but I love it just the same.

5. Jenny Lewis - Rabbit Fur Coat

A staggering talent delivers a wonderful solo debut. The voice is what really takes the cake - for my money, Jenny Lewis (along with the Eisley girls) is among the greatest rock singers of the last quarter century - it's pure vocal heaven. The fact that she's also a brilliant lyricist and musician is almost unfair. Though, let's call a spade a spade: as great as this album is, the songs Jenny cowrites with Blake Sennett in their band Rilo Kiley are a cut above.

6. Alabama 3 - Outlaw

The copyright on this record is 2005 but I didn't really get it until '06 and fell SO head-over-heels-in-love, it had to be part of this parade. Their music is a highly unconventional blend of rock, electronica, gospel, country, blues and leftist politics that is intelligent, humorous and frequently sinister (witness their first album's "Woke Up This Morning" being used as the opening theme song of The Sopranos).  This UK collective's membership can reportedly vary from four to a dozen or more onstage and most of the composing is democratically credited to Alabama 3 but the frontman and focal point is raspy-voiced singer Rob Spragg, aka Larry Love. I've been digesting their catalog over the last year and like all of it very much but Outlaw, their fourth studio album, is the strongest and features one song in particular that shoulda been a global smash hit - "How Can I Protect You (In This Crazy World)," a kind of sad yet uplifting track that Jennifer perfectly describes as a modern day "She's Leaving Home.

7. Centro-Matic - Fort Recovery

Completely unpretentious, like a more arty Neil & Crazy Horse, Centro-matic record and perform with supreme majesty and unwavering vision. They are true ensemble players, featuring the staggeringly prolific writer/vocalist/guitar player Will Johnson ... and Matt Pence - arguably the greatest drummer in the business today. As unique a rock band as I have ever heard and Fort Recovery is another brilliant installment. Every record these guys make belongs in any serious record collection.

8. The Slip - Eisenhower

I was first introduced to The Slip in late '05 when I heard a rough draft of this record just a few days before seeing them live and was completely taken by storm. Their technical expertise literally shocked me and songs like "Children Of December" and "If One Of Us Should Fall" drilled themselves into my brain and have been in regular rotation ever since. Even my then four year old boy, Autry, became obsessed with the latter and insisted on hearing it repeatedly. A trio from the U.S. northeast, they've been around for a decade making instrumental, jazzy, rock records but have somehow magically transformed themselves into something utterly new. This is their first foray into poppier vocal music, while still maintaining their expert musicianship. An inviting, fresh type of progressive rock.

9. Robert Love - Ghost Flight

The debut solo album by Robert Love aka Larry Love, real name Robb Spragg, lead singer of the above mentioned Alabama 3. This has a more alt-country slant but displays a vision not entirely separate from the band:  great songs done with soul and intelligence.  Man, this guy's a great singer. I find opener "Below The Wire" particularly moving (in a similar fashion to the above-mentioned "How Can I Protect You"). I take great solace in the reassurance of its chorus line, "You realize the net below the wire." And he does a killer version of Dylan's "Trying To Get To Heaven."

10. Dion - Bronx In Blue

One of the greatest American vocalists of the last half-century delivers his best record in years.

11. James Hunter - People Gonna Talk

This new British soul singer does right by Sam Cooke and the like. An infinitely listenable nod to a past era that is much more than nostalgia. My pal, fellow record hound George Fontaine (Sr.), turned me onto this one (thanks George!).

12. Stoney - The Scene and The Unseen

Mark Stoney, who wrote, produced and played almost everything on the record himself, is another new artist with an imagination a thousand miles wide. Oh so British in its sound, among other things it manages to simultaneously remind one of Bowie's Hunky Dory and Low periods.

13. Freddie Stevenson - Body On The Line

In December of 2004, my old friend, John Perry (former lead guitarist and founding member of renowned British rock band The Only Ones) sent me an e-mail telling me about Freddie Stevenson, a Scottish gentleman living in London. John said he considered Freddie to be the best writer he'd encountered since Peter Perrett (writer/singer of T.O.O.). When I received the first four demos, I was absolutely blown away. Freddie's music is delicate and beautiful, a kind of folk-rock that's a bit north of Donovan and a little west of Paul Simon. The album is expertly produced by the distinguished Mr. Perry who also lends his ever-tasteful guitar playing to the affair. Self-released, you can find it at or on iTunes.

14. Stardust Five

An Australian major label indulgence, The Stardust Five (like Golden Smog) is a bit of a 'supergroup' who aren't competing, they're simply playing music for the fun of it. The lineup features two of my absolute favorite guys - Paul Kelly and his nephew Dan Kelly. An informal side project that's a ball.

15. Jet - Shine On

Like Oasis with stronger material and two great singers ... or, if you will, The Beatles meet AC/DC! Most of it ROCKS like nobody's business but the quieter songs are wonderful too.

16. Tom Petty - Highway Companion

Solid and thoughtful. Accumulated many spins towards the end of the year as I was reviewing things for this 'Best Of' list. One of Tom's finest, latter-day recordings.

17. Rhett Miller - The Believer

Top-notch tunesmith and frontman for the Old 97's. Rhett turns in solo album #2, a fab new collection of songs, including the dynamite glam-rocker "Ain't That Strange." I just love this man.

18. Ray Davies - Other People's Lives

The long awaited debut solo record from the Kinks leader and one of my all-time heroes. A well done set worth picking up for the song "After the Fall" alone.

19. The Last Town Chorus - Wire Waltz

The talented and tenacious New Yorker Megan Hickey, she of the ethereal voice and lap steel, makes a fantastic debut album.

20. Kasey Chambers - Carnival

This one hit me late in the year but has been getting regular airplay ever since.

21. Third Creature - Unorthodox Garage

22. Jack Logan & MNR - Fundamentally Live at The 40 Watt Club

23. Jack Logan - The Vicinity Of My Mind

Three Jack Logan records in a year?! What a gas! Unorthodox Garage in particular really hit home, featuring longtime sidekicks Kelly Keneipp and Aaron Phillips as well as gifted musician/arranger, Nikki Keneipp.

24. The Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not

Reckless, enthusiastic, fun and extremely well written rock n' roll songs.

25. The Black Keys - Magic Potion

Heavy, mid-western Blues-Rock.

26. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

Another record worth the price of admission for one song alone - the ubiquitous "Crazy," a brilliant and timeless single.

27. Paul Westerberg - Open Season

Twelve songs from the animated film Open Season (all but a Talking Heads cut written by Paul, eight performed by him; two covered by the band Deathray, one by Pete Yorn). As it seems everyone agrees, it's good to hear Paul with some production behind him again. The album contains two especially great tracks: "Meet Me In The Meadow" and "Love You In The Fall," the latter has the best singing I've heard him do since All Shook Down. Also of particularly exciting note, Tommy Stinson does his first ever full-on harmony vocal with Paul on "Right To Arm Bears."

28. Liz Durrett - The Mezzanine
- hushed and gorgeous. Again produced by her uncle, Vic Chesnutt

29. The Teddy Bears - Soft Machine
- the song "Cobrastyle" was certainly one of my most played songs of the year.

30. Tommy Keene - Crashing The Ether

A man we see and hear from far too little, this is one of Tommy's strongest in years.

Other records I loved:

Roseanne Cash - Black Cadillac

Keene Brothers - Blues And Boogie Shoes (Tommy Keene with Robert Pollard)

Uncle Monk - authentic old timey bluegrass from Tommy (Ramone) Erdelyi and Claudia Tienan.

1986 - Nihlism Is Nothing To Worry About

Charlie Burton & The Dorothy Lynch Mob - Salad

The Sleepy Jackson - Personality

In A Category All By Itself

The Beatles - LOVE CD & Live Cirque Du Soleil Performance
To hear this music remixed, mashed up and reinvented is mindblowing. George Martin's new string arrangement for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is superb. The Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was so artistically well done, it felt like something The Beatles themselves would have participated in had they still been around. A joyous celebration that becomes a work of art in its own right.

The inevitable Eisley mention

Yes, I'm obsessed with this band. At a glance, it may seem like kid's stuff but if you listen closely, the rewards are monumental. Stacy and Sherri DuPree might be my favorite singers on earth right now. Their output in '06 was slim due to continued heavy touring early in the year and preparing for and recording their new album in the fall (pant, pant, pant ...) but there were the following tidbits:

- 2 cuts on the Final Noise EP (sharing space with Simon Dawes and Timmy Curran) - "Escaping Song" & "They All Surrounded Me" - both lead vocals by Stacy, both things they've been doing live for a while and both great.

- Chauntelle Dupree demo - "One More Day With You" - until this, Chauntelle was the big sister who played guitar in Eisley but didn't sing. This was apparently done at a workshop spearheaded by the Hanson boys. There's an ache in her vocal that is gripping and bodes well for future work as a singer.

- "Ian Is So Amazingly Beautiful" - apparently written at the behest of one Ian Grushka, bassist of the band New Found Glory, this is a silly little ditty but the singing still gives me goosebumps. Was available as a free download on their MySpace site, it has since been taken down but is probably find-able if you look hard enough.

Special Mentions:

Neil Young - Living With War
Frankly, I didn't like the album all the way through and I didn't find myself playing it very often but I love that Neil took this stand.

Melissa Mathes - a 23 year old singer from Milwaukee, now living in Nashville. Her demos were among my most played things of the entire year. Her singing and writing are phenomenal.

Inara George - between the new work she did under her own name and side projects George Is Jones (as yet unreleased) and The Bird And The Bee (out Jan '07), I spent many, many hours in 2006 listening to Inara George and watching her onstage. A very modern pop singer-songwriter with the occasional jazzy slant and a beautiful voice. Maybe 2007 will see her come to prominence.

The Drams - I don't usually allow myself to write about anything that I directly work on but, once in a while, I have to make an exception. The Drams came to life almost accidentally when Texas punk-country group Slobberbone broke up and brainy leader-writer-guitarist-singer Brent Best found himself with a solo set booked in between some rock bands at SXSW '05. He decided he'd better have help playing his new songs and recruited some pals; guitarist Jess Barr and drummer Tony Harper from Slobberbone, along with keyboardist/singer Chad Stockslager and bassist/singer Keith Killoren from Dallas band Budapest One. The chemistry was so good instantly that they decided to become a permanent band. The record they made, Jubilee Dive, is one of the projects I'm most proud of having been affiliated with in my thirty-five years of being in this crazy rock n' roll business. Reference points are Minneapolis rockers The Replacements and Soul Asylum, Big Star, Neil Young and The Band, which these five guys take as a jumping off point to enormous heights. I was a huge Slobberbone fan but I positively adore The Drams. I don't know if I've ever experienced a situation like this, where an already great band reinvents themselves so completely and becomes infinitely better than what they had been before.Jubilee Dive belongs in any self respecting music fanatic's record collection. And it was Jennifer's #1 album of 2006 by a mile!


SVT - No Regrets

Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live At The Fillmore East March 6 & 7, 1970

R.E.M. - And I Feel Fine ... The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982 - 1987

Wire - Live at The Roxy, London - April 1st & 2nd 1977/Live at CBGB Theatre, New York - July 18th 1978

Gram Parsons - The Complete Reprise Sessions

The Sex Pistols - Spunk

Ricky Nelson - Greatest Hits

Luna - Best Of

Rory Gallagher - Big Guns - The Very Best Of

The Replacements - Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? - The Best Of

The Suburbs - High Fidelity Boys - Live 1979

Terry Reid - River (w/two bonus tracks in gatefold sleeve)

Stereolab - Serene Velocity


(all shows in L.A. except where noted)

Eisley - Great American Music Hall, San Francisco CA 4/24, House of Blues 4/26, Venura Theater, Venture CA 4/28

The Drams - Sons Of Herman Hall - Dallas 1/21, 3 shows during SXSW, El Cid 9/22

Melissa Mathes & band - The Basement - Nashville, TN 9/26 & 11/14

Marah - Dallas - Sons Of Herman Hall 1/21, The Echo 1/26

Jenny Lewis - Hotel Café 1/29, Vista Theater 2/2, The Orpheum 4/1, Spaceland 6/29

Tegan And Sara - The Wiltern 1/31

Liz Durrett - Tangier 2/7

Inara George - Tangier - solo 2/7, 6/20 & 8/8, w/Bird & The Bee - 6/15, 6/22 & 7/28

Benji Hughes - Tangier 2/7, El Cid 8/25

Supergrass - The Avalon 2/22

Robert Pollard (w/Dave Philips & Tommy Keene!) - Knitting Factotry 2/24

Ben Weaver - Largo 3/2

Ben Lee - Silent Movie Theater 3/8, Gibson Amphitheater 7/13, Park West - Chicago IL 11/6, The Fine Line - Minneapolis 11/7

Kris Kristofferson - Troubadour 3/8 & two performances at SXSW

Tim O'Reagan - SXSW 3/17, The Avalon 9/13

IV Thieves - House of Blues 3/21, SXSW, Spaceland 4/1, The 7th Street Entry - Minneapolis 11/8

1986 - SXSW 3/15, Troubadour 9/1

Elvis Perkins - On The Roxx 3/22

Lucinda Williams - The El Rey 3/31

Tim Easton - The El Rey 3/31, Hotel Café 4/5 & 5/18

Freddie Stevenson & John Perry - Tangier 4/17

Gary Louris & Mark Olson - Troubadour 5/1 & 2

Drive-By Truckers - House Of Blues 5/3, Conan O'Brien 6/6, Greek Theater 6/14, Sunset Junction 8/27, venue? Boston MA 9/19, Pearl Street - Northampton, MA 9/20

Son Volt/Jay Farrar - House Of Blues 5/3, Bug Music Xmas Party 12/5, Troubadour 12/5

Caleb Sweazy - Tangier 5/11 & 8/15

Tommy Keene - Spaceland 6/9

The Randall Bramblet Band - The 40 Watt - Athens GA 7/22

The Sleepy Jackson - Troubadour 7/26 & Amoeba Records in-store 7/27

The Melismatics - Molly Malone's 8/16 & 11/15

Alice Cooper - The Late Late Show 8/16

Paul Kelly - Largo 8/17

Centro-matic - Troubadour 9/5

Golden Smog - The Avalon - 9/13

Bob Dylan - The L.A. Forum 10/20

Pierre de Reeder - Hotel Café 12/13