Justin Townes Earle—Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot Records) The son of Steve knocks it out of the park as Earle nods to his influences while placing his own stamp on the material. A relaxed recording that can remind you of Lyle Lovett and Van Morrison at the same time.
Jimi Hendrix—West Coast Seattle Boy (Legacy/ Experience Hendrix) Just when you thought the vaults had been exhausted, this four-disc set of rare and unreleased material appears. The boxed set follows Hendrix’s career from sideman to solo artist.
Old 97s—The Grand Theatre Volume 1 (New West Records) The quartet that has hung together for nearly 20 years sounds rejuvenated on its strongest release in years. Volume 2 is scheduled to be released in early 2011.
Junior Wells—Live In Boston 1966 (Delmark Records) Recorded shortly after the release of his legendary album Hoodoo Man Blues, this searing live set includes eight minutes of dialogue between Wells and the audience that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the club.
Shawn Mullins—Light You Up (Vanguard Records) On his 11th studio release, the stalwart singer/ songwriter offers his most adventurous recording to date. Mullins’ songs are given a more moody, textured treatment than on previous releases.
Elton John & Leon Russell—The Union (Decca) Some mega-star duets sound stiff and contrived, but not this one. The album sounds like the two legends are playing for their own enjoyment and not for Top-40 recognition.
Darrell Scott—A Crooked Road (Full Light Records) A writer that has penned songs for (and with) The Dixie Chicks, Guy Clark and Joan Baez, among many others, steps to the forefront on this release. Even more impressive is the fact that Scott played every instrument on this double-disc set.
Derek Hoke—Goodbye Rock N Roll (Electric Western Records) Released via download in 2009, the CD version hit stores in 2010. During a short set that clocks in around 30 minutes, Hoke displays his updated take on retro country music.
Raul Malo—Sinners & Saints (Fantasy) Self-produced and recorded at home, Malo offers his finest solo release to date. The former Mavericks front-man still manages to effectively tie the multicultural sounds of his youth to modern Americana music like a latter-day Doug Sahm or Freddy Fender.
John Mellencamp—No Better Than This (Rounder Records) A bare-bones effort (recorded in mono around a single mic) produced by T-Bone Burnett, Mellencamp records in historic places including Sun Studios and the Texas hotel where Robert Johnson once recorded. Guitarists Andy York and Marc Ribot add texture to the disc’s 13 tracks.
A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (by Paul Myers, Jawbone Press) Surprisingly little has been written about the legendary artist and producer, but Myers makes up for lost time with his detailed account of Rundgren’s life and music.
A Very Irregular Head—The Life Of Syd Barrett (by Rob Chapman, Da Capo Press) Perhaps rock’s most intriguing figure gets his due in this fascinating biography. Chapman follows Barrett’s life from his youth to his Pink Floyd days to the reclusive years that led up to his 2006 death.
When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening To Van Morrison (by Greil Marcus, Public Affairs Books) A longtime Morrison fan, Marcus pens this account that is more musical analysis and less biography. It’s an interesting read in that Marcus basically dismisses Morrison’s entire ‘80s and ‘90s catalog while focusing on releases before and since.
The Eagles: An American Band (by Andrew Vaughan, Sterling Publishing) Basically a scrapbook devoted to the kings of California rock with a number of rare photos. Those searching for a detailed biography should look elsewhere, but longtime fans will find this to be a treasure chest.
Vinyl Lives (by James P. Goss, Aventine Press) Independent record stores are revered places to music lovers, but little has been written about them over the years. Vinyl Lives tells the story of a number of indie stores across the U.S.
Life (by Keith Richards with James Fox, Little, Brown & Company) The long-awaited autobiography of the indestructible Stones’ guitarist hit stores in late 2010. The book didn’t disappoint, and many readers devoured Richards’ account in quick fashion.
Shelter From The Storm: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Years (by Sid Griffin, Jawbone Press) Though multiple accounts of Dylan’s 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Tour exist, readers never tire of reliving the experience. Griffin’s book interviews a number of the tour’s participants, giving us a behind-the-scenes document that chronicles this magical time.
Austin City Limits: 35 Years In Photographs (University of Texas Press) Featuring the photos of ACL house photographer Scott Newton, the book includes a foreword by John Mayer. 35 Years In Photographs captures the diverse artists that have come to define the show’s platform.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.