1. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator – The debut album from the spectacular husband-wife due Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Revelator is everything one would expect, and more. Trucks’ uncanny agility on slide weaves magically with Tedeschi’s smoky, emotional vocals. When combined with an 11-member ensemble that includes Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, the result is a powerful, joyous recording that calls you back again and again.
2. Brantley Gilbert - Half Way to Heaven, Remixed, Remastered, Reactivated – An album that received fairly little attention, other than from Brantley’s fanatical underground fans, upon it’s initial release became an entirely different beast in the hands of producer extraordinaire Dan Huff. The songs, which were already potential hits, are now anthems that will be sung for decades to come. “Country Must Be Country Wide,” has become Brantley’s first Billboard #1. The song gives lead instrumentalist Jess Franklin (guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals to go along with a co-producer credit) the chance to shine, recalling his former band Tishamingo at their best, only this time fronted by an undeniable superstar, Brantley Gilbert. While most of the attention this album has received has come from country radio, that label is very deceiving. Half Way to Heaven is actually one bad ass, Southern outlaw rock record that deserves an overdue spin in your local music player.
3. Vince Gill - Guitar Slinger – One would think a man with 20 Grammy Awards would have a hard time topping himself. And yet Gill’s Guitar Slinger is arguably his finest work to date, highlighted by virtuoso guitar, filled with classic elegance. The real treat here, however, is how masterfully Gill blends flat out rock, harking back to the one and only Elvis, even with some of his vocals. If Gill’s name does not come to mind when you think of the best pickers on the planet, Guitar Slinger should be looked at as an introduction, or perhaps a reminder, to just how skilled this former Pure Prairie League member remains to this day. A true master, still at his best.
4. Warren Haynes Presents – The Benefit Concert Vol. 4 – Warren Haynes’ Xmas Jam in Asheville is known to feature numerous highlights each year. The fourth installment in his Benefit Concert CDs comes from 2002, a year filed with excitement. Jerry Joseph, “The Kind of Place” and “Climb to Safety,” and Robert Randolph, “Looking Out My Window” and “Shake Your Hips,” are standouts on disc one. CD two contains the show’s finest moments, namely songs from a Bob Weir & Friends set that sent the crowd in to a frenzy, then closing with three tracks from Gov't Mule’s Deep End lineup.
5. Dani Wilde – Shine – A relative unknown Canadian songwriter, Dani Wilde is a force to be reckoned with. An artist in total control, Wilde plays guitar with classic Claptonesque precision. Her true magic, however, is heard in her voice. Many of the tracks on Shine evoke the emotions of a church of music, in much the way as Chris Robinson or Mike Farris. “How Do You Do It” is perhaps the finest example, an angelic voice, straight from Motown, wrapped with gospel keys wrapping blankets of melody around a voice that seems a divine gift from above.
6. Galactic – The Other Side of Midnight, Live in New Orleans – If you are a fan of Galactic, then you already know The Other Side of Midnight is undeniably the group’s musical masterpiece. Recorded at legendary Tipitina’s in October 2010, the disc features the band performing tighter than ever, particularly when asking another performer on stage. Guests include Cyril Neville on an outright nasty version of the classic Meters’ “Gossip,” Trombone Shorty, and Corey Henry from the Rebirth Brass Band, members of the Royal Family doing New Orleans proud.
7. Booker T Jones – The Road from Memphis – Backed by a band featuring members of The Roots, along with Motown guitar Dennis Coffey, the legendary Booker T. Jones delivers his best release since 1962’s Green Onions. The former child prodigy is joined at times by guests ranging from Sharon Jones to Lou Reed to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Throughout, the disc calls to mind the funk/soul sounds that Jones and his organ helped create, the sounds that propelled Stax Records to fame.
8. Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong – The second release from the California roots-based rock band Dawes, one of few groups on the national scene keeping the Laurel Canyon sound alive. Nothing Is Wrong shows a band continuing to evolve, honing their skills while writing world class music. Perhaps not original, but a walk through days gone by in Southern California, grooving to perfect harmonies of fine 70’s pop rock, does one’s soul good, reminding of good times good done, and others yet to come.
9. Chris Cornell – Songbook- Preparing to hit the road for an acoustic tour, Chris Cornell recorded a striped down batch of material that includes classic tracks from his former bands Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog. Though he stays true to the essence of the original song, Cornell’s soft, clear vocal deliver provides a new insight to the author’s original mindset when penning the material years ago. When Cornell covers Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” the listener can not only hear, but also feel, the sincerity of the emotion in his voice, and guitar, making this song alone worth the cost of the disc.
10. Warren Haynes Band – Man in Motion – Stepping away fro Gov’t Mule for most of the year did not mean there would be no new CD from the hardest working man in the music business, Mr. Warren Haynes. This seemed to be the logical time for Warren let his funk and soul side shine, something he occasionally displays with Mule or the Allman Brothers, though never prominently. With a band that includes bassist George Porter Jr., keyboardist Ivan Neville, former Faces piano player Ian McLagan, and saxophonist Ron Holloway, Warren uses his guitar more sparingly than usual, allowing more time to sing from deep in his soul. When he does cut lose on that Gibson guitar, the licks are as heartfelt and passionate as they come.
11. David Bromberg – Use Me – Bromberg’s emergence from a 17 year recording hiatus was greeted with huge critical acclaim. For his follow-up, Use Me, Bromberg decided to take a completely different approach and ask some of his favorite musicians to compose or select songs tailored to his distinctive style. Amongst the finest taking this master up on his offer were Los Lobos (“The Long Goodbye”), Vince Gill (“Lookout Mountain Girl”), Levon Helm “”Tongue” and “Bring it With You When You Come”), and Widespread Panic (“Old Neighborhood”). Though some may look at this as another cover album, most lovers of fine music will find Bromberg’s uniquely tasty picking to add just enough juice to the mix to take the material to extremely new heights, all the while remaining true to the brilliance of the original. An interesting journey, for sure.