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21 Favorite Albums of 2010:  12-16

12. Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame

Dr. Dog's music has always found a comfortable groove somewhere between The Band's rootsy-rock and The Beatles' more psychedelic moments.  Nothing on Shame, Shame, does anything to change that reputation, but why change a formula that works?  What has changed over time is the band's confidence on stage and willingness to commit that live, raw sound to tape as opposed to the more carefully-crafted studio creations that characterized their early records.  Indeed Shame, Shame follows that progression, featuring loud electric guitars, bouncy basslines and a swagger that translates directly to the stage - but the songs are the key.  At the same time ragged, poignant, anthemic - it's an album that begs to be played amongst friends, loudly.

Dr. Dog - Shadow People


13. Sharon Van Etten - Epic

Last year, Sharon Van Etten's Because I Was In Love was more or less an afterthought for me.  My mistake.  From the first time I heard Epic, though, I was hooked and instantly fell in love with Van Etten's intensely emotional songs and soaring voice.  I've called her songs "moody odes to love and loss [that] are best consumed late at night with a bottle of something strong" - but I'm now convinced there isn't necessarily a certain time or mood for these songs.  As music fans we so often find our pleasure in the pain of the artists, and this is surely one of those times - but as personal as these songs are, Sharon Van Etten turns the pain into something beautiful, something we can all relate to.

Sharon Van Etten - Don't Do It



14. The Head And The Heart - Self-Titled

The Head And The Heart's debut album kind of snuck up on me - after hearing a song or two a few months ago, it didn't fully hit me until a recent trip to Seattle (the band's hometown).  Since rediscovering it, the record has firmly taken root and earned its place on this list.  Folky, Beatles-esque pop is right in my wheelhouse so it's really no surprise that this makes the list.  The songs reflect the fact that the band is made up of a group of recent transplants to Seattle, touching on themes of exploration, the meaning of home and friendship.  On "Down In The Valley" they "I am on my way back to where I started" as the song builds on a shuffling beat and rolling piano.  One of many beautiful moments on this fantastic, and promising debut album.

The Head And The Heart - Down In The Valley


15. Delta Spirit - History From Below

Delta Spirit's sophomore effort History From Below was a long time coming, and one of my most eagerly-awaited albums of the year.  Following 2007's breakthrough Ode To Sunshine the band toured incessantly, building an increasingly rabid fanbase.  History From Below delivered on all of the expectations - expanding the scope of Matt Vasquez's songwriting and the band's guitar-driven sound.  The album blends social commentary with pure sun-soaked pop, ragged edges with swelling singalong choruses.  Still, the bands live show will blow away every studio cut - but that's more of a testament to their impressive live prowess than any shortcomings of the album.

Delta Spirit - Bushwick Blues


Joe Pug - Messenger

Joe Pug's Nation Of Heat EP was my first introduction to the singer-songwriter and his set at Newport Folk 2009 was one of the highlights of the festival for me - a single man on stage with just a guitar, harmonica and a few great songs.  His full-length debut Messenger features a fuller sound, adding electric guitar, pedal steel and a rhythm section.  His songs of relationships and personal struggles are delivered with the same plainspoken honesty - "How Good You Are" a tribute to his father, "Not So Sure" a reflection on a failed relationship, "Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)" an affecting plea sung from the perspective of a fallen soldier.  Messenger is a fantastic album from an exciting young songwriter - looking forward to hearing a lot more from Joe Pug.

Joe Pug - Messenger


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