PRINT December 2010

Music: Best of 2010

Eszter Balint

1 Scout Niblett, The Calcination of Scout Niblett (Drag City) This album doesn’t add any frills, change the pace just because it’s time, or release (never mind please) the listener in any way. Most striking is Niblett’s way with the guitar. It is pure intent, zero fat: raw, primitive, and soulful.

2 Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog at Le Poisson Rouge, New York Full disclosure: I was a guest member of this band for over a year. Ribot, Shahzad Ismaily, and Ches Smith made something happen here, made something matter, and I’m not sure if I just mean music. As in all their shows, they jumped off a musical cliff, and the danger was palpable. An exhilarating performance.

3 Yossi Gutmann at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, New York In over an hour of classical solo performance, on a single-voiced instrument, no less, it would be tempting to try to seduce the audience with impassioned gestures and flourishes. This is something Israeli violist Yossi Gutmann refused to ever engage in. He simply let his love of the music shine through his understated playing and through the little spaces between the notes.

4 Chris Cochrane and the Natalie Merchant at Fontana’s, New York Cochrane’s jagged guitar playing is fully committed and fully his own. At this show, he was burning and shrieking with a band that drove right alongside him and toward your gullet, and made you wonder why anyone ever needed more than a trio to make a point.

5 Adele Bertei and the Raybeats at the Bowery Electric, New York As she hopped and bounced around onstage this night, Adele seemed not a day older nor any less energetic than the girl I remember watching, a bit scared, as a kid, back in her Contortions days. OK, a little less pissed off, maybe—but just as much of a dynamite stick.

6 Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone (Anti-) Miss Staples locking in with the groove of that vintage, early Staples recordings sound. Hard to argue with that.

7 Marcellus Hall, The First Line (Glacial Pace) This one is not even out yet, but I got a sneak peek of some tracks. Hall’s music has a gutbucket approach, and the stories he tells could be no one else’s. Words and phrases of the English language are this man’s playthings, and he jumps in the sandbox and has a blast turning his toys on their heads.

8 Nina Violet Violet—who didn’t actually have a release this year—sings and writes songs like a grown-up. I mean that in the best sense—when you are wise enough to have no use for affectation of any sort, you just deliver a bullshit-free, direct line to the listener.

9 Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here (XL) Scott-Heron’s ravaged voice and frank delivery are the glue that binds together elements of folk, blues, vérité-style spoken interludes, and that thing they used to call trip-hop—though the term suggests something dated, which this isn’t. I picture a man standing in the rubble of his life, pulling out some items he cares about, and reporting his achingly personal observations without a hint of sentimentality.

10 Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in a commercial during the Winter Olympics By now Lou Reed can be, like so many things in life, that person(a) who fades into the background, whom we take for granted, maybe even ridicule now and then in moments of boredom. But hearing this 1972 song again, I was jolted back into appreciating just how great he could be. “Perfect Day” is kind of the perfect song: simple but epic, gritty but elegant, fragile but tough, funny and sad and honest.

Singer, songwriter, and violinist Eszter Balint has recorded two albums to date, Flicker (Scratchie , 1999) and Mud (Bar/None, 2004). She is currently working on a third. Balint has also been an actor, starring in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and featured in Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge (1996).