CREDIT FOR MARIE MORESHEAD PHOTO: MEREDITH PERDUE
I can hear the snarky comments already: "What?!? Rustic Overtones put out an album this year and Pfeifle hasn't fallen all over himself naming it #1? The sky is green!" But this isn't 1999. It's 2009. And it isn't all that strange for a phenomenal album to hit Portland's city streets anymore.
The New Way Out is a phenomenal album — layered and interesting and well made and lots of superlatives. But my standards for this list haven't changed: albums are ranked by originality, musicianship, how long something from the disc lasts in my head, the number of plays they got on the iPod, whether they contain a truly outstanding song, and some consideration for production value and the quality of the listening experience. On many of these scores, Rustic excel, but the disc just hasn't caught my ear, it's not in my head, and I've barely gone back to revisit it since I reviewed it. I appreciate it more than I like it. Maybe it's me.
The Cambiata's self-titled disc, on the other hand, is so far under my skin I haven't stopped listening to it since it came out nearly a year ago. It is a tragedy this band couldn't stay together. I don't know any other way to describe it. But that much talent can be volatile, and maybe it was too much to hope they would continue. Twenty years ago someone would have swooped in and been their manager and made them a bunch of money, but the music business isn't what it used to be.
Or maybe it is. The era of the song is returning, where singles are king and albums are for "artists." This year, for the first time in my 10 years covering the city, the number of EPs released nearly eclipsed the number of albums, and many of the area's most talented bands decided to record and promote five tight songs at a time, rather than release one big album and have no budget for new material for 18 months.
Which is why it's all the more impressive that Marie Moreshead, barely into her 20s, tops the list of local EPs for 2009. She's somehow managed to be a musician's songwriter and a break-your-heart starlet-in-waiting all at once, and her team-ups with Pete Kilpatrick show she knows how to keep good company.
It was a year for new names, new possibilities, and new beginnings. The Port City Music Hall has been a breath of fresh air, everything it promised it would be, bringing a steady stream of regional and national acts through town to take the load off the shoulders of our local peeps. It's like the town, with the Maine State Pier renewed and renewed vigor from our standbys, remembered all of a sudden how to get really excited for music — Wilco! Sufjan! Califone! Phish! KRS-One! De La Soul! (er, well, forget that last one) — and that couldn't help but bleed down to our own local faves.
While the total depth and variety might have been a tick under the outstanding 2008, there's no doubt that the overall quality of 2009's releases was still very strong, and, as usual, I struggled with having to leave great, great records off these lists. But it's a good problem to have.