If you’ve spent any time listening to KDHX (I assume you have), you know there are a lot of great programs on the schedule. As far as adjectives go, “great” has probably been devalued through overuse. It’s no longer enough to call something “good.” In these days of vocabaulary deflation, it’s either “great” or nothing at all. You can define “a great program” as you choose. For me, I like programs where the host consistently plays compelling songs in interesting combinations, mixing musical elements (styles, rhythms, tones, etc.) the way artists mix colors to create a painting that is a whole — and wholly satisfying. I realize that description is so broad as to be almost useless. Surely every program host on KDHX does just that, or tries to, during his or her alloted timeslot. Still, some seem to have ”the knack”: they just seem to do it better than others.
That said, taste is a very personal thing. Based on my musical biases, I am predisposed to like some programs more than others based solely on the types of music played on them. For example, I (like many, I am sure) am a great fan of John Wendland’s Memphis to Manchester and Steve Pick’s Sound Salvation. Both programs and the men who host them are easy and obvious examples of my formula for “a great program”: compelling tunes played in interesting combinations. (In this respect, John and Steve are the poster boys for “What’s Best About Community Radio,” and I hereby suggest they immediately form a band called The Poster Boys.) I could cite a dozen other examples as, no doubt, could you.
But when I reflect on the KDHX program schedule (something I do occasionally, but not too often; it’s not good to dwell), I am constantly impressed by the distinct charm of The Musical Merry-Go-Round hosted by Grandpa Paul Stark. A long-time fan of his Ska’s The Limit, I was surprised when I first heard he was moving to Saturday mornings to present a family radio show, one that played childern’s music for grown-ups and vice versa. While I do not tune in every Saturday morning to hear what Grandpa Paul is spinning on The Musical Merry-Go-Round, whenever I do listen, I am always impressed by the care he puts into each show. His visits with the woman from the St. Louis Public Library (I’ve misplaced her name) to discuss children’s books are always pitched just right — always both fun and informative, never just “cute.” And his interviews with his musical guests combine surprise and delight. (Did anyone else hear the harp duo that plays Metallica tunes?!) Many program hosts boast they play things you can’t hear anywhere else on the radio, and that’s generally true. But Grandpa Paul does more than just that. Through his program, he succeeds in creating a hipper Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a place where parents and their kids can hang out together. That’s not just a radio show: that’s an achievement.
I just saw on the KDHX site’s home page that the Boulder Acoustic Society will be his guests on January 2nd — an excellent way to start the new year. I remember when their CD first showed up on the station’s New Release shelf. I had not heard of them before, much less heard their music. While they’re jazzier than what I usually play on Down Yonder – that’s an observation, not a criticism — the music was good, so I gave them a few spins. I did not know that they were coming to St. Louis, but Grandpa Paul did, and he had the foresight to get them to drop by KDHX on their way through town.
If you’re already hip to what Grandpa Paul is doing on The Musical Merry-Go-Round, you know what I’m talking about. If not, I encourage you to check it out when it airs live on Saturday mornings or listen to the archived shows on its KDHX page. And if you enjoy what you hear of the Boulder Acoustic Society, you can catch them live when they perform at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, 3301 Lemp, on Friday, January 8th. Tell ‘em Grandpa Paul sent you.
2009 was not that different from past years in that I was completely immersed in music. The main problem in trying to present a radio program like Memphis to Manchester (which airs every Thursday, 7 to 10 a.m. CT on 88.1 and streaming at KDHX.org), a show one hopes make listeners feel something – exhilaration, anger, joy, sorrow, sexiness, humor, groove or some combination, thereof – is that you realize that the more music one becomes exposed to, the more one realizes how much more there is out there to discover.
It’s a rewarding journey, something I’ve never grown tired of, but I find myself just as often going back to discover artists and musical styles I’ve missed than I do to find new artists. This is my longwinded way of saying that I’ve only heard a small fraction of artists’ new 2009 releases that I’ve intended to hear.
The amount of music being produced is so vast that I won’t even pretend to say that I can produce a list of top 10 2009 releases which doesn’t omit or overlook so many worthwhile releases that came out in 2009.
My criteria for the releases I’ve heard that made my top 10 list is simple – if I think I will still care about and be moved by the release ten years from now, it will be considered for my top 10. I’ll let the critics debate the merits & impact of a band like Animal Collective, for instance. Music is so subjective. But I do think the Allen Toussaint release (my choice for best release of the year) or the melody of a Neko Case song like “Magpie To The Morning” will still resonate to me years from now while I’m not convinced that a band like Animal Collective will. I might be wrong. Who knows? And my top 10 release if prepared a week from now would probably differ from this list. Nothing scientific going on here.
Top 10 Albums of 2009
- Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi – Nonesuch
- Buddy & Julie Miller – Written In Chalk – New West
- Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career – 4AD
- Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens – What Have You Done, My Brother? – Daptone
- Leonard Cohen – Live In London – Columbia
- Neko Case – Middle Cyclone – Anti-
- Visqueen – Message To Garcia – Local 638
- Chuck Prophet – Let Freedom Ring – Yep Roc
- The Swell Season – Strict Joy – Anti-
- Grace Basement – Gunmetal Gray – Undertow
More Best of 2009 after the jump.
It’s always difficult to narrow down the dozens of great albums released every year to just ten, but it sure is a lot of fun! I hope you agree that the following releases deserve your attention.
10. Slaid Cleaves – Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away
The Portland, Maine area native is stunning on the track “Cry” (which he also performed here at KDHX this year), and shows off his amusing side on “Tumbleweed Stew”.
9. John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again
John reprises his role from 1973, covering classic songs from Buck Owens, Rick Nelson, and a version of “Haunted House” that will knock you out!
8. Mark Knopfler – Get Lucky
Still going strong at 60, Mark delivers once again. “So Far From The Clyde” is a standout track, telling the story of a ship built in the shipyards of the River Clyde in Scotland, meeting it’s final fate as it is broken down into scrap in the far away land of India.
7. Trigger 5 – Heartbreak and Regret
Classic traditional country always has a home on the Interstate, and this album does not disappoint. “One Last Dance” is one of the best songs I have heard in the last 10 years.
6. The Band Of Heathens – One Foot In The Ether
These guys straddle the line between blues, rock, country, and americana, and they do it WELL. This is just their 2nd studio album, and I look forward to hearing alot more from them in the future.
See my top 5 albums after the jump.
Lots of great releases this year, it was hard to narrow the list down to 10. There are some very clever musicians out there, producing some very smart music for families. Here’s the Best of the Best:
KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round 2009 Top 10 Favorite Family Releases from Grandfather Paul Stark
- They Might Be Giants-Here Comes Science-Disney Sound
- Peter Himmelman-My Trampoline-Minivan Records
- Ziggy Marley- Family Time-Tuff Gong Worldwide
- Los Lobos-Los Lobos Goes Disney-Walt Disney Records
- Recess Monkey-Field Trip-Monkey Mama
- Rocknoceros-Pink-Rockno Records
- Milkshake-Great Day-Milkshake Music
- Dan Zanes & Friends-76 Trombones-Festival Five Rec.
- Various Artists-Putumayo Picnic Playground-Putumayo World Music
- Sippy Cups-Time Machine-Snacker Disc
Next Five 2009 Honorable Mentions
Billy Jonas-Happy Accidents-Bang-A-Bucket Music
Lunch Money-Dizzy-Squirrel Mechanic Records
Ben Rudnick and Friends-A Frog Named Sam-Bartlett Ave. Records
Eric Herman & The Invisible Band-What A Ride-Butter-Dog Records
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Family-Go Wagaloo-Smithsonian Folkways
- Grandfather Stark
1/3/09 Miss Jubilee and The Humdingers
1/10/09 Cowboy Randy Erwin
1/17/09 Jim Meyer from St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
1/24/09 Hot Club of Cowtown
1/31/09 Brave Combo
2/7/09 Village Green Preservation Society
2/14/09 Forbidden Fruitsnacks
2/21/09 Bob Case
2/28/09 Choro Guys
See the rest of the list after the jump.
When KDHX asked me to provide my favorite 10 albums for 2009, outside of my tie for the top 2 (I just couldn’t name one my #2), I was flummoxed. You see, doing a show every week offers me access to so much more music than ever before and that makes it much more difficult to really ‘hear’ full albums. To try to be fair to all artists, it’s a challenge to really absorb the depth of my favorites. I’ll listen, find a song I can play on my show and move on without really getting into the quirks, sequencing, themes, duds and growers on one album. While the breadth of my listening grows exponentially, the depth of my knowledge of individual albums has suffered accordingly. So, I spent several days trying to listen to full albums to attempt to come up with a list of what I truly enjoyed in 2009. Without further ado …
10. Jill Andrews – Jill Andrews EP (Self Released)
I made it a rule not to include reissues (or I’d have had 10 Beatles albums in my Top 10) but I don’t have the same rule for EPs. Jill Andrews, former co-songwriter in the everybodyfields, an americana group from Tennessee, put out a solo EP late this year, her first. It’s called Jill Andrews and the songs are beautiful. And while her last album with the everybodyfields, Nothing is Okay, was heartbreaking in its description of a breakup, this one shows a lot of optimism in what’s become of her life since. Jill has recently gotten married and had her first child and the happiness shows through on songs like “Sweetest in the Morning” and “Worth Keeping”. This one may have been higher had I heard it prior to December.
9. Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend (ATO Records)
Often pigeonholed as “the other Raconteur”, Brendan Benson shouldn’t be taken lightly. He has a knack for a great power pop song and on this, his 4th album, he doesn’t disappoint. Strong songs such as “Eyes on the Horizon” and “Garbage Day” lead the way.
8. Telekinesis! – Telekinesis! (Merge Records)
The debut album from Telekinesis! is power pop at its finest. Listen to “Coast of Carolina” if you want to hear quite possibly the best song of 2009.
7. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4AD)
No word describes Scotland’s Camera Obscura better than sweet. Sweet melodies, harmonies and vocals from the undersized Tracyanne Campbell (I couldn’t see her from the floor at Off Broadway) make me think of early REM with intelligible lyrics and a female voice. While there’s no “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” (from their previous album, Let’s Get Out of this Country), there are many great songs including “French Navy”, “Swans” and “Honey in the Sun”. A favorite of many KDHX programmers with good reason.
6. The Drums – Summertime (EP) (Twenty Seven Records)
Had this been a full release rather than an EP and maintained the quality that these 6 songs carry, this EP would have surely been in the running for my top 3. The songs are that strong. I didn’t hear this band’s EP until November but I wish I’d heard it in April because this is windows down, 75 degree day, turn it up music. “Saddest Summer” and “Let’s Go Surfing” combine the Go-Gos fun with current indie pop to create the closest thing out there to a contemporary Beach Boys.
This Christmas Eve morning on Memphis to Manchester on 88.1 I had the pleasure of airing a recitation from A Christmas Carol, featuring the voice of Anne Tkach and the guitar of Andy Ploof (who are my band mates in Rough Shop). It’s pretty special, so I wanted to share it with online followers of KDHX.
My thanks to Anne and Andy (and fellow KDHX programmer Roy Kasten for recording the piece), and happiest of holiday wishes to you and yours.
“Scrooge Converted” (Anne Tkach and Andy Ploof)
Waking up and opening presents just received its soundtrack for this Christmas morning. For Sound Salvation this Friday from 7 – 10 a.m. CT, I’ll be teaming up with Cat Pick, host of Emotional Rescue (88.1′s Monday drive time show). Together, we’ll be delving into our extensive selection of holiday favorites, obscurities, novelties and sublimities for three hours of music meant to add yuletide spirit and cheer to your Christmas morning.
We’ve hosted separate radio shows on KDHX off and on for 21 years, but, outside of the occasional membership drive appearances wherein Cat might support me, or I’d support Cat, we’ve never teamed together to produce a joint effort of musical entertainment over the airwaves. Faced with the thought that it would be a lot more fun to be together than apart on Christmas morning, we both decided to share our love of holiday music with the KDHX audience.
This will not be a formulaic, rote selection of familiar chestnuts and uninteresting contemporary rock or pop. Instead, Cat and I will draw from 75 years of holiday music, where Doris Day, the Pogues, the Temptations, Aimee Mann, the Flaming Lips, Louis Armstrong, King Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosanne Cash, the Jackson Five, Buck Owens, Rough Shop, Gentleman Auction House, and, of course, Darlene Love are typical artists who may appear. There’s a wealth of incredible music which only gets played at this time of year, and we promise that only the best will be chosen to make your spirits bright this December 25. Tune in to 88.1 at 7 a.m. CT on Christmas morning or stream the show live at KDHX.org.