The Record Review

The Place For Honest Record Reviews

The Record Review’s Best of 2009

Amidst the bland mainstream scene that has unfortunately dominated the 2000s, the decade’s final year has been one of significant musical surprise. 2009 gave listeners some truly amazing records, ones that belong in each and every record collection out there. This is The Record Review’s list of the best albums of 2009, arranged in no particular order. If you’re still looking for that last minute holiday gift, either for yourself or somebody else, picking up one of these gems would certainly be a fine idea.

Before we get this thing rolling, The Record Review would just like to thank each and every one of its readers for dropping by over the last year. Have a happy holiday season and we’ll see you next year.

Okay, ready? Without further delay, The Record Review’s Best of 2009:


The Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze (Silver Arrow) Fresh off the road from the support tour for their 2008 release Warpaint, the Black Crowes hunkered down at Levon Helm’s studio in upstate New York, invited a couple hundred of their closest fans and recorded a double album of new material that is equal parts rock, country, bluegrass and folk and all add up to one staggeringly good showing for the veteran band. Highlights include: “Good Morning Captain,” “Been a Long Time (Waiting On Love),” “Shady Grove,” “What Is Home,” “Shine Along,” “Greenhorn” and “So Many Times”  Buy Now



The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros) Always keeping things inspired and interesting, The Flaming Lips topped even themselves with their twelfth studio release. Reaching back into their neo-psychedelic past, Wayne Coyne and Co. turn in a collection of songs that are as haunting as there are melodic. Easily the band’s best album since 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Highlights include: “Evil,” “If,” “I Can Be a Frog” and “Watching the Planets”  Buy Now





Neil Young – Dreamin’ Man Live 1992 (Reprise) A collection of live performances of Harvest Moon songs culled from Young’s 1992 tour, Dreamin’ Man proves to be a truly unique recording and the best release to date in the artist’s “Archive Series.” Gone is all the lush instrumentation and gentle backing vocals, leaving only Young, an acoustic guitar and the occasional piano and harmonica to handle the expressing.  Highlights include: “Harvest Moon,” “You and Me,” “Such a Woman” and “War of Man”  Buy Now



Phish – Joy (JEMP Records) After a five-year hiatus, Phish returns in spite of their previous claim that they would not and turn in one of the best albums in their catalog. Joy finds the band as spry and invigorated as on 1988’s Junta but with a little more wisdom sprinkled into the mix. One of the year’s biggest surprises, given the lackluster nature of their last effort, 2004’s Undermind. If Phish remain together and continue to make albums, this will be a tough one to top. Highlights include: “Backwards Down the Number Line,” “Kill Devil Falls,” “Time Turns Elastic” and “Ocelot”  Buy Now



Wilco – Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch) After Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it’s hard to imagine Wilco could release an album that would have as much impact. Wilco (The Album) comes mighty close, in not approach but in quality. Merging together all the various stylistic avenues they’ve ventured down over the last decade and a half, Wilco turns in a collection of songs that are equal parts catchy and creative. The input of Jay Bennett is still sorely missed, but this is the best the band has done since his departure. Highlights include: “Wilco (The Song),” “Bull Black Nova,” “I’ll Fight” and “You Never Know”  Buy Now



John Frusciante – The Empyrean (Record Collection) Perhaps the most prolific artist of the last twenty years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist releases his eighth solo album in as many years and it proves to be amongst the best (no small feat considering the high-watermark made by 2001’s To Record Only Water For Ten Days). Featuring a slue of guest musicians, The Empyrean is expectedly eclectic and always impressive. One can only hope that Frusciante has been recording more material of this caliber while The Peppers have been on hiatus. Highlights include: “Song to the Siren,” “Unreachable,” “Enough of Me” and “After the Ending”  Buy Now



Van Morrison – Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Listen to the Lion Records) In honor of the 40th anniversary of his classic Astral Weeks record, Van Morrison performed said album in its entirety for two nights at the renown Hollywood Bowl. Just as with its studio counterpart, Hollywood Bowl is thoroughly mesmerizing and shows that Van Morrison is still an essential in-concert experience. Staying true to the original record, Morrison also opted not to flesh out the remaining running time with additional material. Highlights include: “Beside You,” “Slim Slow Slider,” “The Way Young Lovers Do” and “Sweet Thing”  Buy Now



Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (Domino/EMI) Surviving all the hype surrounding them with their previous album, Arctic Monkeys quietly turned in Humbug in late August, resulting in the surprise success of the year. Going against a somewhat popular belief, Humbug shows that Arctic Monkeys are a band that surpasses most of its colleagues in terms of songwriting and performance ability. Every track here is essential to the others, making this one of the only real albums releases this year. Highlights include: “My Propeller,” “Potion Approaching,” “Dance Little Liar” and “Secret Door”  Buy Now



Bob Dylan – Together Through Life (Columbia) On his 33rd album, Bob Dylan still manages to keep things interesting. His voice is still profoundly unique, his words still flow with poetic wonder and his music remains impressively perfect without ever showing a hint of sterility. What else is there to say? This is just another fine example of Dylan doing his thing. Here’s to the hope that he continues the trend well into the next decade. Or two. Highlights include: “Beyond Here Lies Nothin,” “My Wife’s Home Town,” “Jolene” and “This Dream of You”  Buy Now



Jason Isbell – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Lightning Rod Records) His second album after amicably leaving Drive-By Truckers in 2007, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is perhaps the year’s most melodic record, brimming with beautiful sounds and masterful lyrics. Quietly appearing in February, the album is a prime example of how to expertly merge country, rock and even pop elements to come up with a near masterpiece. Highlights include: “Seven-Mile Island,” “Sunstroke,” “Cigarettes and Wine” and “Streetlights”  Buy Now





Honorable Mention:

Truth & Salvage Co – The Truth & Salvage Co. EP (Silver Arrow) Released as a sampler of their forthcoming album (due out March 2010) and distributed primarily at live dates on the Black Crowes tour their served as opening act for, The Truth & Salvage Co. EP shows the Atlanta natives to be extremely adept at crafting melodic, heartfelt songs that echo all the best elements of their influences without stealing from them. If this EP is anything to go by, the full-length album is going to be an early contender for next year’s list. Highlights: “Call Back” and “Jump the Ship”  Buy Now



To purchase any of the above titles, please click the “Buy Now” link within each summary.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Black Crowes, Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phish: Twenty-Odd Years Later

phish-joy-thumb-400x400-878Phish – Joy
September 8, 2009
JEMP Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

Typically, when a band reconvenes after publicly hanging it up and going their separate ways for a number of years, the magic just isn’t there. Usually, there is a distinct reason the band chose to end their run in the first place and more often than not that reason proves valid. In the case of Phish, the four members had decided that they had run out of creative gas after fifteen years and wanted to individually move into different projects. This was pretty apparent by giving a listen to either of the band’s last two studio releases, 2002’s Round Room and 2004’s Undermind. While both contain some truly excellent additions to the Phish catalog, both albums simmer rather than boil and never really reach the high standard the band had established for itself from its inception in the late 1980s.

Therefore, when Phish announced in mid-2009 that they were getting back together for a Summer tour and a new studio release, there was a certain amount of apprehension about the whole deal. Although the guys had been successful in their solo endeavours (particularly singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio, who continued to sell out theaters nationwide with the various incarnations of his touring band), none had matched the artistic or commercial success they had under the Phish banner. Plus, several members of the band had expressed their utter frustration and lack of motivation within the group and made it quite clear that the band would not reunite in the future. After all, they had already taken a two-year hiatus from late 2000 through New Year’s Eve 2002, so the fact that they closed up shop a mere two years later indicated that the spark that lit the fire was simply not there anymore. Everything seemed to add up to one big cash grab for all those involved. Continue reading

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Black Crowes Reawakened

tbcfrostThe Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze
August 31, 2009
Silver Arrow Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

The Black Crowes have long been established as one of rock and roll’s pre-eminent live acts. Over the last 20 years, they have pushed boundaries on stages across the world, refusing to play their hits, choosing to instead melt faces with soaring guitar duels, earthy jams, outtakes from album sessions,  B-sides to singles, new originals, re-worked originals, or a myriad assortment of well-chosen and expertly executed covers. The unfortunate thing is, like a majority of bands who are vitally potent on stage, that vitality does not always translate onto record.

In the case of the Black Crowes, the studio catalog has been spotty at best. Discounting The Lost Crowes (a rarities collection released in 2006 comprised from unreleased sessions recorded from 1993-1997), the Crowes’ recorded output the past 10 years has ranged from tentative but earnest (last year’s “comeback” Warpaint) to non-cohesive experimentation (2001’s Lions), to a downright awful parody of themselves (1999’s By Your Side). Even a live album (2002’s Live), which should have been the Crowes’ “ace in the hole,” failed to impress, mostly due to conservative song selection light on the jamming which defines their live experience, a sub-par line-up, and a very murky mix (very much a victim of the “Loudness War,” it is almost unlistenable). Continue reading

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Black Crowes, Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What Once Was Trash is Now a Treasure

D2CD13Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities
September 1, 2009
New West Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

The Drive-By Truckers’ latest entry is the “odds and ends” compilation that doesn’t sound like just that – a bunch of random songs thrown together with no symmetry or continuity. Thankfully, from the opening salvo of “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues”, The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities sounds like a Drive-By Truckers album. Which is to say, if you haven’t liked the band thus far, then nothing on this collection will change your mind. The Truckers have suffered from being pigeon-holed and stereotyped – in a time when glitz and glamor triumph over substance and content, the band has persevered over the past 13 years, releasing gritty, honest and relevant music. The Fine Print draws from those 13 years, and what a musical story it tells. Continue reading

August 29, 2009 Posted by | classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment