Kevin McClatchy is the Lee Strasberg of the rust belt, an actor and acting teacher based in Columbus, Ohio, and another in the string of smart, opinionated McClatchy men. Here’s his list:
10. Deadstring Brothers — Silver Mountain An eleventh-hour discovery, so I'm still all tingly and infatuated. Sure they sound like the Rolling Stones — I mean, they really sound like the Stones — but this is one blast of a record. All the songs have the potential to lodge in your head for days at a time. And in case you ever wondered what a Mick Jagger-Jonette Napolitano rocker might sound like, listen to "Ain't No Hidin' Love."
9. Jeremy Fisher — Goodbye Blue Monday Like my two older brothers, I love the hand-clap. And this dude uses the hand clap to great effect. And he's a really good writer — sharp and catchy without any cutesy or pretense. "Cigarette" is a song that, if you aren't singing along by the end, call an EMT. And how many guys can pull off a Paul Simon-Indigo Girls hybrid like "Scar That Never Heals" and come out smelling like a rose.
8. White Stripes — Icky Thump I just love this band. Not that I believe they're the saviors of rock and roll or anything. There is no savior, by the way, just keepers of flames of varying degrees of heat. The White Stripes just bring it — a kitchen-sink rock revival that has great songs and an underlying sense of mischief. Plus they threw in bagpipes ... I'm so easy. Indispensable track: "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)"
7. Dropkick Murphys — The Meanest of Times Hardcore Murphys fans will bitch and moan but this is their best album yet. There have been greater individual moments on previous efforts but this one has nary a stinker in the bunch. There is something to grab onto on every track. Previously, whenever lead howler Al Barr would scream for several songs in a row, it started to kinda suck. On The Meanest of Times, the Murphs hit us with blasts of Irish punk that rolls a little with its rock. Killers are "Loyal to No One", "(F)lannigan's Ball" and "Famous For Nothing." And, holy mother o' Gawd — the acoustic version of "Forever" is as beautiful a song as you will ever hear from, well, anyone.
6. The Shins — Wincing The Night Away I'll have to give credit to Trip for this one. I was skeptical. I was one of the few people not mooning over The Shins after hearing them in Garden State. But Trip, plucky as ever, sent me this record. And I couldn't get past it on the iPod for a month and a half. The mood swings, pop arrangements, the harmonies, the friggin' falsetto stuff. It all clicked in. It feels like the 80's and tomorrow at the same time. That, my friends, is cool. Indispensable track: "Turn On Me"
5. Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade Sometimes it all comes down to context. A friend of mine — a life-long Earle devotee — hated this record. "He's just singing all these songs about New York. Who cares?" I do! I care. Steve Earle's gift for painting a vivid snapshot or evoking a sharply felt emotion shines through nearly every track. I've walked where he's walked and felt what he's felt in NYC. Sure, he gets a little kooky a few times (Red is The Color, Jericho Road) but so what? He is a national treasure and no one else can sound as simultaneously muscular and vulnerable as he can. And the duet with the wife is spectacular.
4. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible This is a big record. The sounds and the themes and the idealism and ... Yeah, this record aims high, man. And it scores a direct hit. "Keep The Car Running" is an instant classic. So is "Intervention". Orchestral layers get all tangled up with messy, emotional ... hell, I don't know ... other stuff. The lyrics are haunting and make you want to sing along very passionately (and badly, in my case). The coolest song might be the one that isn't full of drama — "No Cars Go".
3. Jesse Malin — Glitter in the Gutter When I first heard this man sing a few years ago, my initial response was "Wow. Adenoids." But occasional vocal jackassery aside, I love Jesse Malin. He's so retro and out of fashion and downright earnest that he's irresistible. And there is no other record with more songs that my wife and I sang along to this year ... for extended periods of time. Glitter in the Gutter is a celebration of "The Struggle" — for love, happiness, truth, whatever. "Broken Radio" the sweet and scruffy duet with Springsteen got a lot of attention but the real stand-out ballad is "Aftermath". And the hooks and cool lyrics and rattling guitars keep coming at you from all directions — from "In The Modern World" to Don't Let Them Take You Down (Beautiful Day!)" to "Tomorrow, Tonight." Best line — "Count me in like Dee Dee Ramone."
2. Bruce Springsteen – Magic Man, I'll be honest — I didn't see this coming. I mean, I love Bruce and have for many moons through most of his creative wanderings. But this return to classic form — with a deeper melancholy thrown in for good measure — is a stunning record. It really is. I completely dig every song — even the rambling I'll-probably-only-listen-to-this-song-twice-ever "Devil's Arcade". "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" sounds like a song Bruce has probably wanted to do forever — you can imagine his hero Roy Orbison singing it. I'd go on about certain songs but if you're not with me at this point, what's the use? Oh, and there is nothing more heartbreaking and eloquent than "Gypsy Biker" — listen to it next to "Shut Out The Lights" and pray for peace.
1. Ike Reilly Assassination — We Belong To The Staggering Evening I was starting to worry that I had lost the ability to have my socks legitimately and immediately knocked off by hearing something for the first time. Then I heard "When Irish Eyes Are Burning". Then I heard "Valentine's Day In Juarez". Then "8 More Days Till The Fourth of July." For completely blowing my doors off on the first go, We Belong To The Staggering Evening is the album of the year. Ike Reilly would have you believe he is a drug-scarred, confrontational poet with a pure rock and roll heart. I'll buy it. Take equal parts Jim Carroll, Replacements, Clash, a pinch o' Dylan, a sprig of Iggy and a hint of Peter Case and blend well. For the love of God, what else do you need?