As you may have noticed, we were excited to be St. Louis music fans this year. And there is no more substantial document of the sound of this city in 2011 than the music released by its bands and artists. It is not an exaggeration to guess that the releases in the metro area number in the thousands, and while we did not hear every one, we heard a hell of a lot of them. So in an effort to jog the memory of existing fans and introduce some excellent music to others, we will be telling you about our favorite 40 St. Louis records of 2011 in no particular order.
Rum Drum Ramblers | Mean Scene
The backward-glancing trio Rum Drum Ramblers is most commonly thought of as a blues band, and certainly, the young men in the group seek to revive a certain strand of acoustic, prewar blues music. But after listening to its second album, Mean Scene, one could argue that the Ramblers is a soul band; just listen for a few minutes to guitarist and singer Mat Wilson's sweet, husky voice and feel the easy rhythm of the best early R&B singers. Or perhaps it's best to describe it as a country act: There's so much twang-bangin' and swift-pickin' on "Nothin' New" that Buck Owens is probably tipping his ten-gallon hat to these fellows from the great beyond. But then, terming the Rum Drum Ramblers as country (or blues or soul) would ignore the jazzy underpinnings that Joey Glynn pumps out of his sonorous upright bass and the forceful blowing of its guest horn players. Better yet to put genre tags aside and let the Ramblers interpretation of American folk idioms fan you like a humid breeze.
It's easy to pair the Ramblers with the similarly styled Pokey LaFarge -- after all, Glynn and harmonica player Ryan Koenig make up two-thirds of LaFarge's South City Three. But where LaFarge is a passionate performer, he is never ruffled; his gentlemanly demeanor doesn't allow for it. The Ramblers don't mind if a little sawdust gets mixed in with its whiskey, and that looseness spreads a freewheeling flavor over the dozen tracks on Scene. Trash-can percussion and second-line horns adorn the lazy shuffle of "Get Behind the Wheel," and the electric fuzz of "All the Little Days" proves that the band doesn't play it straight even when plugged in. In fact, the only constant across these songs is that Wilson's intuitive guitar playing -- bluesy, jazzy, soulful and twangy -- is tough to pin down. He's a stylist who has ingested decades' worth of popular (and unpopular) music, and he and his equally flexible bandmates spit these influences back out in familiar but thrilling fashion. --Christian Schaeffer Homespun: March 10, 2011
Humanoids | Self titled
We in St. Louis have always known that our pop-punk Humanoids were a first-rate band. With two albums, a few 7" and tons of touring under their belts, it was only a matter of time before our little treasure received national attention. Word-of-mouth recommendations reached Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake and Fiorello now promotes the Humanoids on his label Paper and Plastick. The self-titled album came out this autumn and it was just in time-- we fans have been waiting for far too long to get a copy of songs that we've learned and loved from the high-energy live shows. The new album is offered to stream or download for free at freemusicfirst.org, and it's so good that you'll feel guilty for not having to pay for it.
Key Track: "Future Perfect"-- it's a song that you hear once and then you know it forever. And the catchy chorus makes it an instant sing-along hit.
Place You're Most Likely to Hear the Artist: The Silver Ballroom. At this South Side punk rock pinball bar the drinks are cheap, the owners/employees are amazing and the juke box is full of both punk classics and our favorite local bands.
Listen: You can stream (and download) the whole damn album for free here --Jamie Lees