Top 19 Albums from Athens, GA of 2001
by Jeff Montgomery
For some reason, far too many folks refer to the Athens music scene in past tense, as if its alpha and omega was the early '80s when a bunch of New Wave bands such as R.E.M. and The B-52's came crawling from the South. While it might have received the most attention during those days and spawned the pseudo-documentary of the scene in Athens, GA - Inside/Out, Athens - I'm happy to report - is far from dormant today.
It's been nearly 15 years since Inside/Out attempted to capture the stories of a handful of bands. Today, there's somewhere around 400 bands and musicians producing music in the city -- pretty impressive for a college town boasting of somewhere around 100,000 people (including students).
Granted, some of the music is swill. But most of it is good, and one could argue that a higher percentage than normal is pretty damn great. So here are some thoughts on 19 of the best albums that came out this year from Athens artists, in no particular order, along with some thoughts from other Ink 19 reviews when those albums were reviewed by other Inksters.
The most famous Athens musical export released their second album as a trio. It was a shimmering, lush work that in many ways recalled the musical density of their debut, Murmur. Not bad for a band in their third decade of performing. "Aging like fine wine, pop-rock icons R.E.M. continue to abide by their trademark sweet natured sound on Reveal." - Kiran Aditham. http://www.remhq.com
2) Widespread Panic, Don't Tell the Band (Sanctuary Records)
As one of the jam bands that has taken over some of the post-Grateful Dead vacuum, Panic has proven that their sound isn't entirely reliant on a live vibe. Their newest record adds a bit of an edge to their sound and even includes a cover of fIREHOSE's "Sometimes." http://www.widespreadpanic.com
3) Love Tractor, The Sky at Night (Razor and Tie Records)
Another seminal early '80s Athens band that still kicks around, Love Tractor released its first record since those early days. The largely instrumental work is as soothing as it is familiar, sounding updated but at the same time not dated. Even ex-R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry makes an appearance on the record. http://www.razorandtie.com
The Drive-By Truckers brand of Southern redneck, rock and roll, and grit n' spit reaches its zenith (thus far) with this sprawling soundtrack to the Lynyrd Skynyrd story. Years in the making, Southern Rock Opera doesn't rely on clichés and yet pulls in even those skeptical about the subject matter. "The Drive By Truckers examine the moments of our history and perform a grand and fair accounting of what went on. By doing so -- and by virtue of rocking LAMF -- they have made the album of the year." - James Mann. http://www.drivebytruckers.com
5) Vic Chesnutt, Left to His Own Devices (spinART Records)
Vic's spinART debut featured demos and rarities from one of the premier songwriters and wordsmiths of our time. People, there's a reason that Sweet Relief II featured big names covering his songs on a tribute to him. http://www.spinartrecords.com
The slowly burgeoning Athens hip-hop scene got a shot in the arm from this Timbaland-produced debut, which throws a little Southern style into the big beat production. "The disk is enjoyable enough, but I won't waste any superlatives on it. Timbaland, however, would've done himself, Sparxxx, the listening public, and his new label a big favor, if he just would've taken total control of this project. Too bad he didn't." - Bill Campbell. http://www.bubbasparxxx.com
7) Jason Roman, Timshel (Polyglot Records)
The former singer of Deacon Brody released his debut solo effort - a surprisingly sparse, quiet and emotive record. Reflective and beautiful, the album was well served by Roman's somewhat haunting vocals coupled with the quiet instrumentation. http://www.jasonroman.com
8) Slackdaddy, Supercell (Roundtable Records)
Rock/funk/jam hybrid Slackdaddy produced a powerful record with a little bit for everyone. More rock than funk, the band still knows how to lay down a groove in a song and expand a song without driving it into boredom territory. http://www.slackdaddy.com
Lead singer/guitarist Bill Mallonee has seen his band whipped around in the music industry blender over the years probably more than anyone else in Athens. But the normally folksy rock band produced a surprisingly Brit-pop influenced new record, which leans heavily on The Kinks, Beatles, and Monkees sounds that Mallonee listened to in his youth. http://www.billandvol.com
10) Randall Bramblett, No More Mr. Lucky (New West Records)
11) Bloodkin, Bloodkin Community Gospel Rehab (self-released)
Daniel Hutchens and Bloodkin have been playing their blend of Americana roots rock even before it was hip. Rehab doesn't steer far from the course of their normal musical style - a good thing since they do it so well. http://www.bloodkin.net
The former member of Sugar and Mercyland, now a producer and part-owner of recording studio Chase Park Transduction, finally released his long-awaited debut solo record after three years of tinkering. It features various members of something like 20 bands and is all over the musical map. Best description I've heard: "sludgy psychedelic soft-impact blues pop." http://www.backburnerrecords.com
13) Of Montreal, Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (Kindercore Records)
One of the Elephant 6 collective, Of Montreal's simple, childlike pop sounds recall Brian Wilson at times and LSD-inspired visions at others. But either way, it's sing-along pop about people and places that automatically makes you smiley smiling. http://www.ofmontreal.net
14) Jucifer, The Lambs EP (Velocette Records)
The normally bone-crushing sound of this boy/girl duo was tempered a bit for their new EP, a preview of next year's anticipated full-length. Essentially a concept EP with a suite of several songs called "Lambs," the disc runs the gamut of beautiful to haunting to intense in its seven-song span. http://www.velocetterecords.com
15) Now It's Overhead, Now It's Overhead (Saddle Creek Records)
Take members of Lona, Azure Ray, and Drip and mix into a group that produces a mellow, atmospheric record with a touch of melancholy. There's a hint of electronics and a gorgeous mix of vocals to go along with it. "The music makes you feel transported, but it's to a place you've always wanted to be." - Marcel Feldmar. http://www.saddle-creek.com
Employing electronic sounds and homemade instruments has served this band well with their sophomore release. There are the pop melodies that reside on the surface, but underneath are layers of carefully constructed songs that surface only with repeated listenings. http://www.empirestatic.com
17) Kevn Kinney, The Flower and the Knife (Capricorn Records)
Personally, I've always preferred Drivin' N' Cryin' frontman Kinney's solo work to the straight-ahead rock of his full band. His smoky, rough voice is well-suited to the acoustic blues, folk, and country roads that he winds down on these efforts. This record includes reinterpretations of DNC's "Scarred But Smarter" and "Straight To Hell." http://www.kevnkinney.com
18) Lona, To The Nth (self-released)
One of the most diverse Athens bands around, Lona has been known to go from Rolling Stones-esque rock to rap to country in the span of one show. And somehow make it work. While they stick more towards the rock/country spectrum on their debut, the tight musicianship and memorable vocals make it a stellar listen.
19) Slang, The Bellwether Project (Terminus Records)
A collaboration between Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and Layng Martine III, this largely instrumental album instantly imbeds tracks in your brain. Electronic at times and funky at others, it has an organic feel that appeals to a wide variety of listeners. No wonder that NPR and American Express used tracks from it so quickly. http://www.slang1.com.