PRINT December 2009

Music: Best of 2009

Bonny Billy

Led Kaapana, Kuumbwa Theater (currently Kuumbwa Jazz Center), Santa Cruz, CA, 1994. Photo: David Cornwell.


THE EDITORS of this publication asked me to compile a list. They asked that I not be too esoteric, and I will try. . . . However, as most people are coming to realize, we as individuals are finding greater connections to smaller things; things smaller in scope and more specific to our tangible and imagined communities. I find that the music that transports me often has a community of admirers bound together only by the love of that music. When I take a look at the dominant music news and discover that, essentially, Bruce Springsteen = Radiohead = Yeah Yeah Yeahs = Madonna = Arcade Fire = Bat for Lashes, it compels me to turn away from the lot.

1 Led Kaapana at the Kona pub in Hawaii Kai I was in Hawaii with my mom. She wanted to hear some hard-core Hawaiian jamz, so I found this. I had no idea how great Led is at singing, at playing the guitar, at bringing the love.

2 Kanye West on the radio, “Love Lockdown” I don’t know my Kanye, beyond having to hear a particular song about fifty times over the course of two days when I was on a farm in North Carolina once. But I know my radio. I love my radio. Sometimes it doesn’t push my buttons; rarely does it push ’em hard. This song came on late one night and I really felt justified.

3 3 by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra Listening to this record from beginning to end helps put thoughts and emotions from past-present-future in order, not unlike a great church service. Not unlike riding in the back of a car at night with nothing to worry about but one’s own thoughts for once.

4 The Howling Hex Over the course of a few shows in the South, I was happily reminded and reeducated (through the work of Neil Hagerty) about the power of music to transform itself and its audience.

Brandon Flowers (center) of the Killers, on set during the video shoot for their song “Spaceman,” Las Vegas, 2009. Photo: Ben Rowland.

5 “Spaceman” My acknowledged guilty pleasure. A song by the Killers that reminds me, of, duh, “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes,” the movies Dark Star and Sunshine, and other sentimental sci-fi favorites.

6 Larry Jon Wilson, self-titled record What should be flaws are effortlessly dismissed in this diamond of music wed to human-being-ness.

Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans, 2009.

7 Rebirth Brass Band, Super Sunday We “happened” (thanks, God!) to be in New Orleans for this immersion in awesome: the Super Sunday parade with Mardi Gras Indian chants and second-line bands out to blow our minds through our ears and INTO our backsides.

8 Blue building, Mount Vernon, KY We went to see country singer Gene Watson at Renfro Valley; the show was . . . OK. Afterward, we wandered a few doors down into a blue metal shell of a building to see a local patchwork band tear through country and gospel covers. It was great and fun. It felt like home.

9 Leonard Cohen Most likely, he has been seen in concert by more people this year than any other. We caught the tour in Dublin. It is not LC’s live performing that keeps his works dear to me, by a long stretch, but it cannot hurt the world that he has put so much energy into traveling it these days.

10 St. Stephen Church, Louisville, KY A friend who plays in the house band at this church made me feel welcome to come to a service. I happened in on a Sunday when the youth choir was being featured. I learned that the modern gospel-songwriting scene is pretty competitive. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more vital or exciting musical performance in years.

Bonny Billy makes songs and records. You can get his Funtown Comedown (made with The Picket Line) LP, or the recent 7” record featuring “Stay” and “People Living,” at good places for getting music all over. S/he maintains an open heart.