T.J. Simon's List of The Best Albums of 2001

This page last updated on January 24, 2002.

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Ike Reilly
Salesmen and Racists
(Republic/Universal)

Ike Reilly is a Chicago-based rocker who sings fairly hard-edged songs with witty vocals and salty language. The influence of Bob Dylan's electric work pervades Salesmen and Racists, particularly on the tracks Crave and My Wasted Friends, which puts a cleverly different spin on the Irish drinking song. Put a Little Love in It sounds like a modern day John Lennon mutation and Duty Free evokes The Ramones sung with clear, understandable lyrics. Paul Westerberg and Everclear also come to mind as more contemporary comparisons to Reilly's sound. His best song to date is Last Time, the lead track on this perfect album.

Full Review of Ike Reilly - Salesmen and Racists

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire
The Swimming Hour
(Ryko)

From the violinist behind Kelly Hogan, Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers comes The Swimming Hour, an eclectic mix of styles and flavors evocative of Phil Spector, David Byrne, The Flaming Lips, and Ben Folds Five. The current Bowl of Fire line-up is enhanced by the addition of vocalist Nora O'Connor, who perfectly complements Andrew Bird's voice on most of the tracks, including the radio-friendly 11:11 and Two-Way Action. And when Bird is not singing a duet with O'Connor on these original pop gems, he utilizes his own violin as his vocal partner, creating a symphonic mood, plucking it as a guitar, and making it smoke like a square-dance hoedown.

Full Review of Andrew Bird - The Swimming Hour

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Ryan Adams
Gold
(Lost Highway)

Ryan Adams is the former frontman of the disbanded alt-country outfit Whiskeytown. He evokes memories of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Mick Jagger throughout this 70-minute masterpiece. The standout song is the radio single New York, New York, which became the unintentional tribute to the September 11 heroes and victims for the indie-pop community, due to an amazing music video filmed in the shadow of the twin towers days before their collapse. Catch him in concert while you can. There will be stadiums in his future.

Full Review of Ryan Adams - Gold

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Webb Brothers
Maroon
(Atlantic/WEA)

The sons of singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb explore slacker angst over lush harmonies, complex orchestration, and mature songwriting. Romantic failures abound, springing to life in songs such as I Can't Believe You're Gone in which a man is totally blindsided by the loss of his girl. Here, the flawless harmonies of the Webb Brothers flow over a driving drumbeat, spacey organ, and loopy guitar effects. Likewise, All the Cocaine in the World is a haunting 90-second mini-song in the harmonic tradition of The Beach Boys that explores a possible remedy for vanished love.

Full Review of The Webb Brothers - Maroon

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Pete Yorn
Musicforthemorningafter
(Sony/Columbia)

The hype machine for this rock and roll singer-songwriter began rolling before he had a single album to his name. This was based on the strength of songs that had appeared on the soundtracks to Dawson's Creek and Me, Myself & Irene. Now, Pete Yorn is MTV's newest cover boy (well, MTV2, but who's counting?), and his disc and tour proved him to be a rocker of great substance and ability. Life on a Chain and Strange Condition are the cuts that shine the brightest. Believe the hype.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Kelly Hogan
Because It Feels Good
(Bloodshot)

The star of Because It Feels Good is Kelly Hogan's angelic voice, which is prominently featured throughout this near-perfect album of obscure covers and emotional originals. Andrew Bird and Andy Hopkins of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire (see #2) provide the subtle, understated musical arrangements. For this release, Hogan revels in torch songs and quiet, introspective ballads straying from the country that has been her trademark the last few years. Hogan is frequently invited onstage to sing with various bands touring through Chicago, and this album will make you realize why that is the case. Sample No, Bobby Don't for a taste of perfection.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Weezer
Weezer
(UNI/Geffen)

To eliminate confusion in the marketplace, we as a nation should all agree to forever refer to Weezer's latest effort as "The Green Album" in order to differentiate it from the band's 1994 self-titled release. (Who do these guys think they are? Seal?) This CD is a perfect example of success through brevity. Every song on this 28-minute LP is just terrific, particularly the radio single Island in the Sun. Just because you can fit 79 minutes of music onto a CD doesn't mean that you should.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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The Strokes
Is This It
(BMG/RCA)

This young New York band has been praised as the savior of rock-n-roll. The last time I heard hype like this was when Nirvana broke through in 1991. With Julian Casablancas leading the charge on 11 (12 in Europe) high-octane, fast tracks, The Strokes' music has been aptly compared to Iggy Pop or The Velvet Underground. The garage rock hit Last Nite is certainly the best song on this spectacular debut, but one good record does not a savior make.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Will Hoge
Carousel
(Atlantic)

Will Hoge adopts the swagger of Springsteen and the vocals of Thin Lizzie in this freshman effort from Nashville's newest rock and roll star. There isn't a bad song on this tight disc. Check out the cuts She Don't Care and Let Me Be Lonely for a taste of his upbeat, up-tempo style and infectious, accessible melodies. Remember his name. You heard it here first.

Full Review of Will Hoge - Carousel

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash
Walk Alone
(Ultimatum)

The San Diego alt-country band Bastard Songs of Johnny Cash reportedly uses The Man in Black's name with his blessing. The group's latest disc Walk Alone is a collection of original country road tunes sounding quite a bit like Dwight Yoakam and BR549, which should be enough to make the old man proud. Texas Son and the title track define the band better than any music critic ever could.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Old 97's
Satellite Rides
(WEA/Elektra)

With each album, Old 97's gravitates farther from its country roots into the realm of pop music. The same transformation agreed with Wilco, and it fits this Dallas-based outfit like a glove. King of All of the World and Up the Devil's Pay are the standout tracks, with Question being the most romantic ballad recorded in this young century.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Ben Folds
Rockin' the Suburbs
(Epic)

After cutting loose two talented members of his trio, piano-man Ben Folds is now able to broaden his horizons with the inclusion of guitars and more creative arrangements. Yet, the cynical humor remains the same. The title track is a masterpiece indictment of faux rock angst, and the rest of the disc will be music to the ears of fans and converts alike. My favorite track: Still Fighting It.

Full Review of Ben Folds - Rockin' the Suburbs

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Starch Martins
Dressing Up the Failure
(White Rose)

The power-pop tradition is kept alive by Iowa's own Starch Martins, whose latest album Dressing Up the Failure draws upon the finest traditions of pop music's past and present with a sound similar to Del Amitri and Barenaked Ladies. The band's leader singer/songwriter/guitarist Dick Prall recruited a large cast of musicians to complement him, adding a mix of guitars, keyboards, vibes, percussion, and pedal steel. His sister also sings with him on Stay Little Baby, a catchy, cello-enhanced song as good as anything on the radio today.

Full Review of Starch Martins - Dressing Up the Failure

 

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The Derailers
Here Come The Derailers
(Sony/Columbia)

The Derailers is best described as another neo-traditionalist, country music ensemble that, much like BR549, is trying to break into the mainstream. In the process, the band has made a damn fine album with Here Come The Derailers. The mood is light and fun with songs such as Bar Exam and There Goes the Bride. Twang, country swing, retro-pop, and rockabilly are all represented on this slick, enjoyable disc.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Los Straitjackets
Sing Along With
(Yep Roc)

Los Straitjackets' Sing Along With is a fun, enjoyable album that doesn't merit much music-geek analysis. The world's finest Mexican-wrestling masked, instrumental, surf-guitar band has discovered a new gimmick: singers. The masked men break their silence with guest vocalists including Big Sandy, El Vez, and Dave Alvin cranking out flawless 1950s rock standards including Treat Her Right, End of the World, and King Creole (in Spanish!). The only instrumental on the CD features labelmate Nick Lowe on "lead bass."

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Neko Case
Canadian Amp
(Lady Pilot/Bloodshot)

This eight-song album purportedly was recorded entirely in Neko Case's living room, yet these conditions do nothing to harm the angelic voice of Tacoma, Washington's greatest export. On this CD, Case moves away from the country-folk sound of her previous releases and embraces a more sparse and moody feel. Original numbers are mixed with covers of songs penned by Neil Young (Dreaming Man), Hank Williams (Alone and Forsaken), and several obscure Canadian artists. Case's voice continues to be a dead ringer for 1950s Capitol Records rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson, and here Case sounds better than ever.

 

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BR549
This Is BR549
(Sony/Columbia)

Can the band formerly known as BR549 survive a name change and a more radio-friendly sound? You bet. The country neo-traditionalist boys from Nashville have created what they hope will be their breakthrough album: something that will appeal to the suburban cowboys as well as the loyal fans that used to watch them play for tips in a Tennessee boot shop. While this CD pales in comparison to the group's self-titled debut masterpiece, it's full of good, old-fashioned, twangy fun. Sony Records mistakenly pushed the bland Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal as the breakthrough radio single. If they wanted to really propel these boys onto the Garth circuit, they'd have focused on the brilliant tracks The Game and A Little Good News instead.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Bill Kirchen
Tied to the Wheel
(Hightone)

Someone once asked Bill Kirchen if the songs he plays are authentic American truck driving songs. Kirchen assured the man that he was certain they were authentic "because I wrote them." You may be familiar with Kirchen from his days backing up Commander Cody (Hot Rod Lincoln) as part of The Lost Planet Airmen. He has also toured and recorded as Nick Lowe's lead guitarist. In this 2001 CD, he sticks with the formula that has always worked: authentic American truck driving music. Listening to this disc in your VW Beetle will make you feel as if it has 18 wheels. In addition to his original songs, Kirchen covers tunes by Bob Dylan and Blackie Farrell.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Spiritualized
Let It Come Down
(Arista)

Collaborations of rock groups and symphony orchestras are normally reserved for bands one step away from the county fair circuit. Yet, Jason Pierce (recording as J. Spaceman a nod to his days with experimental rockers Spacemen 3) pulls off the impossible in this audacious and beautiful release. The music is a dreamy mix of strings, horns, gospel choirs, and acoustic guitars wrapped around Pierce's everyman voice. At times, Spiritualized evokes memories of Pink Floyd. Not every song on this psychedelic CD is a winner, but a few, including Stop Your Crying, are capable of taking the listener away to another place where pop music can be composed like Mozart without falling prey to schmaltz. Also, check out the video to Stop Your Crying to gauge the massive scope of this ambitious musical project.

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

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Paging Raymond
Please. Quiet. Recording.
(Bulbous Melon)

Paging Raymond is a mandolin and acoustic guitar-based pop group from Indianapolis that recalls the music of Ryan Adams, Counting Crows, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Throughout Please. Quiet. Recording., melodies, harmonies, and intelligent lyrics blend together to form a tasty, ear-candy treat. Be sure to check out the mature, introspective ballad Pine Street as evidence that this band could be the next big thing.

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