Best Albums of 2007 (7 through 5!)

January 16, 2008 at 4:34 am (Best-of lists, cool band alert, reviews, rock and roll)

7. Richard Hawley, Lady’s Bridge.
I’m baffled; I don’t know how Richard Hawley does it. He makes 3 records and an ep, and somehow manages to make each one better than the amazing record that preceded it. His 2006 disc, Cole’s Corner was just a landmark achievement in music, so how do you follow it? You put out a record in 2007 that is every bit that former disc’s equal, if not better.

Like Cole’s Corner, the title of Hawley’s 2007 album refers to a location in his native Sheffield in England. In this case, Lady’s Bridge is the bridge that separated the middle and upper-class sections of that city from the working class and poor (where Hawley hailed from). That’s one of the main themes that runs through the record, along with the familiar terrain of love and loss and redemption.

Hawley is another tough artist for me to rate, so I always over-penalize him. There’s literally no one else out there who sounds remotely like him. His ability to effortlessly blend styles and idioms from Elvis to Buddy Holly to Frank Sinatra to Roy Orbison and make it all his own is remarkable (his rather stunning voice doesn’t hurt matters, obviously.) Honestly, the only musical comparison I have for Hawley is the Chairman himself. Sinatra had an amazing run of records in the middle of the 1960’s and created this incredibly enduring block of music that will survive for as long as folks have ears for popular music. Hawley is in that same company; by my count he’s released about 40 songs in his solo career, and there isn’t a clunker in the lot of them. I have this nagging feeling that in 25 years, folks will be discussing Mr. Hawley as one of the most important artists of the 21st century. No need to wait that long to find that out for yourself.

“Tonight The Streets Are Ours”
“The Sun Refused To Shine”

6. The Len Price 3, Rentacrowd.
So I’m watching latenight cable a few months ago, not really paying attention whatsoever…and there’s this ad for Southern Comfort liquor that comes on. Whatever, right? Except there’s an amazing song in the commercial that sounds like The Pretty Things, circa 1967, except it isn’t them. A little google-fu reveals that the band with the song in the commercial is called the Len Price 3.

After picking up and giving the record a whole lot of spins, I realized that this was gonna be a fairly divisive pick for my best-of list. Let’s face it, these guys ought to be sending royalties to The Who, The Creation, and The Action. There’s nothing original about them, really, except the originality to choose really kick-ass influences. For some folks, they’ll hear a Len Price 3 song and think “This is too retro/unhip/derivative” and they’ll skulk off to listen to their indie rock and miss the whole point.

For other folks though, this album will be bliss. You know who you are–you’re the one whose pulse quickens when you hear the opening guitar chord of “The Kids Are Alright”. You’re the one who was nearly frugging in the aisle of the theater the first time you saw Rushmore and heard “Making Time”. You’re the guy who sees a band with a Rickenbacker guitar and Danelectro bass and knows that you can give yourself over to them utterly, and that said band won’t disappoint.

So yeah, it’d be easy (and rather missing the point) to dismiss The Len Price 3 as some version of The Rutles focused on The Who. I’m here to tell you that these three blokes write incredibly infectious, instantly memorable rock and roll songs with a timeless quality about them. If they occasionally do rip off their forebears (and yeah, the title track could be sued for sounding too much like “Substitute”), they redeem themselves by coming up with brilliant original songs like “Sailor’s Sweetheart”, or “Julia Jones” or “No Good” or “Turn It Around” that are thoroughly unique creations that stand on their own. (One listening tip: the album has a very trebly mix; to get the full wonderfulness of the Len Price 3 to come over, play this record freaking loud!)

“Julia Jones”
“If I Ain’t Got You”
“With Your Love”(Video)
“Sailor’s Sweetheart”(Video)
“Rentacrowd”(Video; warned you about that whole “Substitute” thing…)

5. The Dexateens, Hardwire Healing
From what I gather, The Dexateens have always sort of lived in the shadow of like-minded Alabamans The Drive By Truckers–the former as sort of the rowdy, devil-take-us snotty little brothers of the latter. I’d heard the previous Dexateens album a few times and while it was kinda fun, I thought it was kinda forgettable.

Color me impressed then by Hardwire Healing. Possessing just the right amount of their previous piss and vinegar, but abetted by a batch of killer songs and genius co-production of ex-Sugar drummer David Barbe and DB Trucker Patterson Hood…well this is a monster of a record, out-striping Jack White while tapping into a sensibility somewhere between Skynyrd, Exile-era Rolling Stones, and The Black Crowes. These Tuscaloosa lads can roar and stomp like the furies on songs like “Naked Ground” and “Makers Mound”, but they can also handle a deft and perfect melody like on the transcendent “Neil Armstrong”.

…and then there’s “Nadine”. Nothing on the record up to the point of this song (it’s track 10 of 12) prepares the senses for this sucker, perhaps the most nakedly beautiful song anyone recorded this year. It’ll rip your guts out, so just be ready for it. Right after “Nadine”, though, these fellas come up with what might be the niftiest song on their record with “Outside The Loop”. Showing a dynamic sense that they never foreshadowed before this disc showed up, they make “Loop” into a funky tour-de-force of rhythmic flow and dynamic grooves that sounds, god help me, like the kind of song Mick and Keith used to write in the early ’70’s…only the Dexateens make it completely their own.

I’m sure it’ll draw the ire of the numerous fans of the Drive By Truckers, but with Hardwire Healing, their upstart apprentices have made a record the former band would die for. The student has become the teacher, and all that mumbo-jumbo; The Dexateens are one of the great bands in the country right now.

“Neil Armstrong”
“Naked Ground”
“Outside The Loop”

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