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14. Lee Fields and the ExpressionsMy World: Dust off your soul shoes because you’re about to get slapped in the face with some. Four years in the making and My World finally surfaces.  Lee Fields is 100% pasteurized, cold on ice, but easy to drink heated up soul. And he sings it. The funk and soul community gave Fields the honorary “legendary” status due to his solid series of soul, rare 7’ singles (and one LP) recorded and released on his own labels in the 1970s. Truth & Soul, a New York label/production group decided to showcase his talents with a brand new album of deep beating soul ballads that will show those that believe in soul what soul really is. Truth & Soul rose from South Fire’s ashes in 2004 and the label wanted to record a soul record modeled after the perfect funk and soul of bands like The Moments, The Delfonics, and the Stylistics had created, but with a more modern twist. Lee Fields and the Expressions have created a unique and personal sound that holds a candle to the bands that they set out to emulate, however, they’ve created in the process, a sound that goes way beyond carbon copying music from the 70s. Although the formula may have remained the same, the style has been adapted a bit for younger ears whose debut to soul began with one Ms. Winehouse instead of Otis. With the original “James Brown” sound, and thirty years of retrospection that has colored this cross-generational melding of the odds, it comes out classic to produce an album of damn straight soul music with one of the legends who made it all possible. www.myspace.com/leefields

15. M. WardHold Time: With just a hint of sunshine in his melodies M. Ward impressed a lot of folks at his SXSW showcase. This is his first album since teaming up with Zoey Deschanel on the She and Him project last year. He still carries a raspy, warm voice, that floats you along with pure Americana that’s comforting and arranged immaculately. Deschanel assists on the track “Never Had Nobody Like You” and he piles strings and timpani into “To Save Me,” which feels more like a rock period piece with some wiggle to it. He sings beautifully sad songs about mortality and the feelings of loneliness, one of his greatest gifts as a singer/songwriter. The Portland based singer/songwriter and guitarist is definitely gaining the most mainstream attention he’s had yet with the release of this album. He definitely is more expansive with lyrical themes on this, his sixth album, but in some ways loses his defining trait that simple, eloquent songs can transcend time regardless. The title track contains a stings and piano combo which is a beautiful ballad and in some ways channels “The Long and Winding Road.” Ward makes time stand still with a few old songs and age-old subjects along with hosting some indie-famous guest stars. The arrangements are bigger with the same folk/American/rock n’ roll/roots music flowing through. Ward has the uncanny ability to keep his voice at a lo-fi tone even when the music gets moving. “Never Had Nobody Like You,” alludes to The Dark Side of the Moon while he stomps away in a glam-rock duet with Deschanel on “Till There Was You. “Stars of Leo” include cascading guitars, imaginative verses and layered percussion making it amazing ear candy.  www.mwardmusic.com

16. Deerhunter–: MicroCastle: Out of Atlanta, GA comes Deerhunter; playing shows with the Black Lips and Block Party, as well as, a shit-ton of festivals and get-togethers that prove them worthy of the Top Twenty list. Deerhunter is first and foremost about creating damn good music, but secondly they also happen to have a visionary front man in Bradford Cox that puts that whole indie rock culture of lacking a dynamic front man argument to rest.  Cox is known almost as well for his diatribes as he is for his band. That’s saying something. Musically, Deerhunter is all post-punk era; finding inspiration from the Fall to the drive of the rhythm of the Factory Records first debut and sophomore albums. But don’t be fooled, they aren’t looking to emulate anyone or play copycat, they bring their own unique sound to the game and they bring it hard and fast. It’s a fest of a noisy underground avante-guard distorted structure that works in their favor and keeps them performing constantly. www.myspace.com/deerhunter

17. Ruthie FosterThe Truth According to Ruthie Foster: The truth is Ruthie Foster is phenomenal, just like it states in the title of her last album from 2007. She brings the stunning sound of blues to Austin with a voice that is captivating and lyrics that speak the truth about the rollercoaster of life and how throughout it, one must stay true to oneself. She takes a strike at the pains and joys of love and emphasizes the strength it takes to weather the storm. This album is amazing. That is the truth. Foster’s voice is so electrifying that her album proves impossible to resist replaying over and over again. Featuring uplifting vocals, a brassy band, and a set of world-class players on the album is brought together beautifully. Foster has grown since her last release The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster where she had given up her acoustic folksy roots for more of a blues inspired sound. The Truth is Ruthie all grown up, and comfortable in her bluesy acquaintance showcasing her voice in a more powerful manner that’s universal. “Nickel and Nail” is raw roots and punchy with “Dues Paid in Full” purporting strength in lyrics and slipping in a bit of a strut. “I Really Love You” is achingly romantic backed by a bubbling reggae beat that would seem to be in juxtaposition, but works amazingly well. “Stone Love” is fierce in its beats and fiery with its lyrics. The album even makes room for a remake of Patti Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy,” evoking a classic, but with a spin that’s all Foster. Foster’s vocals dip and swing and saunter throughout gospel sounds to contemporary folk to R&B and close you out with the hard-hitting blues that she can produce seemingly with ease. Her sound has been compared all over the map to the greats from Aretha to good ol’ Janis and even to Ella, but she creates a feast that’s overwhelming and incomparable to any of the above artists bringing a unique twist all her own to her recordings.  www.ruthiefoster.com

18, Ray LaMontagneGossip in the Grain: He’s got a voice that channels Joe Cocker and a raspiness way beyond his years. His voice is phenomenal, making any song worth the listen. From his more upbeat pop-ish tunes to his deeply personal and emotional ballads, he can function well acoustically with no band, but on this album includes a full band including a horn section that puts a little more rock in roll behind him and a little more groove in his step. It’s just damn hard not to feel something when this man puts his voice to a mic. He keeps things rootsy and Americana dealing with musical atmospheres that revel in their love for soul and pure folk music. He never goes over the top like some of his predecessors and puts on a relatively subdued show, not speaking much to the audience, but instead letting the music do that for him.  He resides on a farm in Maine with his wife and two sons and reportedly after hearing a Stephen Stills song, he decided to quit the 9-5 drag at a factory and pursue a career in music. Good move. He has since released three albums, Trouble, Till the Sun Turns Black and his latest Gossip in the Grain. He has a devoted following and multiple hits winning awards for his music and packing his shows. www.raylamontange.comkmikm

19.  Department of EaglesIn Ear Park: Graceful, inward-looking pop is created eloquently by this group that began in 2000 when NYC assigned two freshman, Fred Nicolause and Daniel Rossen as roommates. They began making music together, collecting samples and turning them into songs using pirated software and a microphone from their neighbor Chris Taylor who ironically, years later, would become Daniel’s band mate in Grizzly Bear and DoE’s producer and engineer. However it happened (they claim it was an accident) the group was discovered by a California label and the material recorded during this time was combined with later sessions to form their debut album in 2003, The Cold Nose, which garnered some attention, but more so an enthusiastic audience and was heavily praised by the music critics. By 2004, Daniel had joined the group Grizzly Bear as singer/guitarist and songwriter and began the grueling tour schedule. In the meantime, Fred began the 9-5 slam and saved some cash. Both, however, continued to record ideas and exchange emails working on new material much of which felt much too personal for Grizzly Bear content. Between tours and on weekends in the studio, they finally, slowly accumulated the bits and pieces and by 2007 an album began shaping up. December rolled around and they began their work on their album adding Chris Taylor as producer/engineer and the man behind the electric bass and horns. Nat Baldwin drove down from Maine to play double bass and Chris Bear, (Grizzly Bear) contributed heavily to the percussion aspect of the album. The general focus was to take the album to a songwriting dynamic that had reached intensity between Daniel and Fred and combine it with a band. By May 2008 the album was complete with a collection of songs including much of the material that Daniel brought drawing on his childhood memories focusing on those especially with his father who passed away in 2007. Fred’s contributions were also those that related to similar themes of nostalgia and mortality, giving the album a true focus and a mournful feel. But don’t be fooled, the album also has moments filled with joy with lush production, concise songwriting and a four-year process in the making. www.departmentofeagles.com

20. Jessica Lea MayfieldWith Blasphemy So Heartfelt: This eighteen-year-old out of Kent, Ohio was picked up by Dan Auerbach’s label and for damn good reason. She puts a face to folk rock that you haven’t seen before. It’s indie. It’s ambient. It’s damn good. She just got done playing Stubbs, July 21st and the show was definitely noteworthy. She’s best known for writing dark, emotional songs with a wistful minimalist style that draws both from country and rock roots. Mayfield is no stranger to performing. She first began performing with her family’s bluegrass band One Way Rider at the age of 8 and toured around the country. Around age 11, Mayfield picked up the guitar and that was the beginning of the beginning where she became a bona fied songwriter and guitarist. She’d often go with her brother David to open mike nights covering songs from the Foo Fighters and to this day credits Dave Grohl as one of her major influences. She got her big break at a bar in Kent where she played for tips and pizza every Monday. She was playing her own songs that she had just written after a break up with her first love and it was in that space that she realized she could channel her sadness using music. At age 15, she recorded her first album, White Lies in her brother’s bedroom, printing 100 copies of a recording that was dark and sad. Somehow, at some point, one of those copies fell into the hands of Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and after an introduction they hit the studio laying the groundwork for her debut album, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. Released in late September 2008, the album took two years to record in Auerbach’s home studio featuring Mayfield on acoustic guitar and vocals, Auerbach on a variety of instrumentation and Mayfield’s brother, David, on upright bass.  Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy (from Dr. Dog) provided vocal harmonies on the track “I’m not Lonely Anymore.”  Auebach describes the recording process as exciting to work with such a young talent stating, “I think she’s dark and moody in a mysterious way not unlike Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.” And then came the buzz. Pitchfork Media gave it a high rating, online mag Blurt gave it the best album of the year and granted Mayfield Best New Artist of 2008 with additional promotion as some of the tracks have been featured on popular television shows. It’s a beautiful, masterful, heartfelt album that’s a must listen for sure. www.myspace.com/jessicaleamayfield

A few others not to be missed:

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It’s Blitz!
  • David Byrne and Brian Eno: Everything that Happens Will Happen Today
  • Port O’Brien: All We Could Do Is Sing
  • Deertick: Born on Flagday
  • The Decemberists: Hazards of Love
  • Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
  • St. Vincent: Actor
  • Metric: Fantasies
  • Danger Mouse and Sparkle Horse: Dark Night of the Soul
  • Heartless Bastards: The Mountain
  • Sonic Youth: The Eternal
  • Regina Spector: Far
  • The Antlers: Hospice
  • Doves: Kingdom of Rust
  • U2: No Line on the Horizon
  • Bob Dylan: Together Through Life
  • Chris Brecht: The Great Ride
  • Mos Def: The Estastic
  • The Calm Blue Sea: Self-Titled
  • White Rabbits: It’s Frightening
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