Best of Albums
1. Black Keys - "Brothers" - May 18
The Black Keys sound nothing like 2010. They are musical loners in a world of popeaters, yuppies and hipsters. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys are the only true rock n' rollers on the scene. Their distorted 1970s-style blues-rock passes up toe-tapping for foot-stomping in their sixth release, "Brothers." The Black Keys take the minimalist approach with just two members, but their delivery is anything but. Auerbach sings like Bad Company's Paul Rodgers, and Patrick Carney's supporting musicianship do not disappoint. The Black Keys turn the volume up to 12, resulting in much-needed disassociation from the status quo.
2. Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs" - Aug. 2
With two formidable albums already under their belts ("Funeral" and "Neon Bible"), "The Suburbs" solidifies The Arcade Fire's position as one of the best groups in music at this time. Although the indie rock group hails from Quebec, lead man Win Butler and brother Will grew up in a Houston, Texas, suburb, an experience that influenced much of this album. As the members of the Arcade Fire move into their 30s, it only seems fitting that they are examining an imminent return to the domesticated suburbanite life they tried so hard to get away from as youths. "The Suburbs" received a much deserved nomination for the Grammy's Album of the Year.
3. Cee Lo Green - "The Lady Killer" - Nov. 5
"I'm often asked, what do I do for a living? And I answer, I do what I want. Spontaneity is the spice of life," says Cee Lo Green on "The Lady Killer." The most eccentric artist to ever grace the world of hip-hop is finally earning his due with his recently released third album. Known by the popular public as the voice behind Gnarls Barkley, Green has been in the business for nearly two decades. "The Lady Killer "perfectly merges modernity with old-school Motown and Stax sounds. Green is an amazingly soulful singer and listeners can feel his every word. If you can't get down with Cee Lo, well, forget you.
4. Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Genuine Negro Jig" - Feb. 16
Favorites of the High Country (they formed in Boone at the Black Banjo Gathering), the Carolina Chocolate Drops have garnered national attention with their fourth release, "Genuine Negro Jig." The Chocolate Drops are a rarity, an African-American string band, playing mostly traditional and bluegrass-styled music. The group employs a bare-bones approach, showing that all you need to make an excellent album are a few simple instruments and die-hard enthusiasm for the art.
5. Jamey Johnson - "The Guitar Song" - Sept. 14
Johnson is playing country music as it was always meant to be. "The Guitar Song" may be the only country music album released this year that will be listenable 20 years from now. At 25 songs, clocking in at an hour and 45 minutes, Johnson is making a statement that has not gone unnoticed. Romantic, nostalgic, introspective and comical, he seems to cover every emotion in the double album, meant to move from dark to light from beginning to end. It's hard to believe this is the same guy that wrote "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk."
6. Gorillaz - "Plastic Beach" - March 3
What could have been a short-lived novelty act, the Gorillaz have outlived their expected expiration date with the listening public. A collaboration between Damon Albarn, former leader of British rock-band Blur, and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett has extended its stay with its extremely unconventional, hip-hop pop third album. It's a band of cartoon characters, and you never know who is going to show up on their albums
7. Vampire Weekend - Contra - Jan. 12
Reminiscent of Paul Simon's "Graceland," "Contra" is one of the sunniest albums of the year.
8. Railroad Earth - "Railroad Earth" - Oct. 12
Surprisingly, this jam band comes not from Appalachia, but from New Jersey. The group impressed the crowd at the 2010 Music on the Mountaintop in Boone with their inimitable style, a mish-mash of rock n' roll, jazz, Celtic and mostly bluegrass.
9. LCD Soundsystem - "This is Happening" - May 18
You won't stop moving when listening to what might be last album from this act, eclectic dance punk featuring multi-instrumentalist James Murphy.
10. Dierks Bentley - "Up on the Ridge" - June 8
While not a full-on bluegrass album, "Up on the Ridge" features an impressive cast of characters and excellent song choices.
Best of Musicians
1. Lady Gaga
Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga's impact on pop music is absolutely undeniable. 2009's "Fame Monster" and the Monster Ball Tour, which seems to be never-ending, along with avant-garde music videos, have cemented her in the worldwide spotlight. Anyone who says Gaga isn't talented has much to contest: She is an accomplished pianist, songwriter and singer. Gaga can do it all. She is the biggest selling artist of the year and there's a reason behind it.
What could have been a short-lived novelty act, the Gorillaz continue to outlive their expected expiration date with the listening public. A collaboration between Damon Albarn, former leader of the British-rock band Blur, and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, the Golliaz have extended their stay with is extremely unconventional hip-hop style. Employing guests like Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from the Clash and Lou Reed doesn't hurt. Their third album, "Plastic Beach," was released in March 2010.
3. Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend could pass for the happiest band on the planet, sounding like they came straight out of the funhouse. Their intriguingly ambiguous lyrics are spit out in staccato rhythms or coaxed out in slow meandering ribbons of sound. Vampire Weekend is a western band with world music influences, picking up where Paul Simon's "Graceland" left off. This band has plenty of zaniness to deliver, with its second album, "Contra," released at the beginning of 2010.
4. Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert got her start on one of those silly singing competition shows, but is one of the winners our ears should be thankful for. 2010 was a landmark year for the country singer. Her third album, "Revolution," not only nominated for and winning numerous awards, is her most successful effort yet. Although she's gotten some help from the Nashville machine, Lambert is not run-of-the-mill. She is the modern-day Loretta Lynn, bringing a genuine cattiness and female rebellion back to country that has been missing for far too long.
5. Railroad Earth
Playing a mish-mash of rock n' roll, jazz, Celtic and bluegrass, Railroad Earth is a jam band hybrid picking up steam on the touring circuit. Response to their performance at the 2010 Music on the Mountaintop in Boone was impressive, revealing why they are the band on favorite lists this year. Storytelling, songwriting and musical improvisation are the greatest talents of the group, sure to carry them on a long-lasting journey, picking up many followers along the way.