21 December 2010

2010:: Favorite Artist of the Year

(photo stolen from Dino Perrucci)

I’ve enjoyed the last few years picking my “band” or “artist” of the year. 2008 was the year of Apollo Sunshine while last year Portugal. The Man took the honor of digging deepest into my soul. Here was last year's bands of the decade retrospective.

As with last year, this year’s pick could easily have been the Big PH, but that would be boring, and, time permitting, I plan on doing a separate year-end post on those guys. Even crossing them off the list, there are a few great choices in there, bands that impressed me on CD and blew me away live.

When it comes down to it, though, I think I have to go with Jim James. James, of course, is the front man of My Morning Jacket, which didn’t even have an album out this year. Still, during a weeklong stretch in late October, James and his band were the story in NYC and my life, when I got to see them at the Ed Sullivan Theater (my first time in that theater) in a special Letterman online show and then 4 (out of 5) nights at Terminal 5, absolutely destroying each of their studio albums and then heaping amazing cover after amazing cover into encores like forkfuls of pie after a Thanksgiving feast. It was as impressive a week of music as I’ve seen a band put on. Not just “A game” but a different game altogether. My old review-writing self would have expounded on the treat it was to see a band climb through its own history, and then re-envision their past with the knowledge and talent of today. “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger...” Have you ever seen a band do that before? It was awe inspiring. It was also, loud, rocking fist-pumping fun.

It’s a rare thing to *want* to schlep to Terminal 5 multiple nights in a row, to need to get there at all costs. This year has been a lot of “maybe I won’t go out tonight” kind of nights for me, it would have been easy to fold ‘em for one of those T5 shows, but I didn’t consider it for a minute. I would have hit all 5 if I hadn’t forced The Big Squeeze to go to at least one (the night they played “It Still Moves,” which may have been the best of ‘em all). The night they played “Z” was one of the best shows I saw all year, not only because of the main album set but because they killed a cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, A Quick One While He’s Away by the Who. Wow! Still gives me the sweats thinking about it.

Still, one week in October doesn’t make an “artist of the year” for me and there’s a reason why I say Jim James and not My Morning Jacket. The reason was the Newport Folk Festival this summer. This was my 3rd time hitting the historic festival, and, of course, I’ve been to dozens of other music festivals from New Orleans Jazzfest to Bonnaroo to Austin City Limits to festivals that don’t even exist anymore. I have never, not ever, seen a festival dominated like Newport Folk was dominated by Jim James this past August. The guy was just everywhere, as a headliner, as a guest, as a stealth ensemble artist. Quite frankly, if you were an old-timer who didn’t know James or his music, I feel like you may have missed one of the all time great front-to-back festival appearances happening right under your nose. And to dominate not any old festival but the Newport F’in Folk Festival is impressive. James played an incredible solo set (as Yim Yames) which wasn’t really a solo set, then he magically transformed a set billed as Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore into an intimate, under-the-radar Appalachian Waltz show in the small tent and also had an awesome extended guest sit-in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, transforming them into his back-up band by sheer talent and will. Here are some videos from the festival:

Gideon from the Yim Yames set:

St. James Infirmary from the Pres. Hall set:

As you can see, not only was he Michael Jordaning the crap out of that weekend, he was looking like one cool customer while doing so. So for that week in October and that weekend in August, Jim James was my personal artist of the year.

Some more links:

1 comment:

Theresa said...

Well played. It's a risky move picking an artist who's "band" released no new album in 2010, but I would agree that Jim James really rose this year as a musician, showing his range of interests and talents playing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (St. James Infirmary sends chills) and John Prine (is it wrong if I prefer James' version) to name a few and still managing to blow minds with the Jacket. It's people like James who keep those of us crazy music fanatics excited and coming back to Terminal 5 five nights in a single week. Here's to 2011!