The economy is a rollercoaster of woe leaving many of us worrying about unemployment and the growing possibility of a crippling substance abuse problem or mental breakdown. But it's Thanksgiving, the day of gratitude. Rather than drown in self-pity, I've decided to focus on the positive. Because for all the shitty news this year has offered — and, yes, it's been a formidable shit-storm — 2008 has provided its fair share of rewards, especially for music fans.
The White House will finally rock again. God-damn, people, Barack Obama is the President-elect! He calls Stevie Wonder his "musical hero," used Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" to energize him through the hellish political season, digs Miles Davis and is down with Jay-Z. Now, that's cool. Obama's inauguration bash could be the musical event of 2009. I can't wait. Teen hack Hillary Duff, post-grunge clowns 3 Doors Down and American Idol joker Ruben Studdard played Dubya's 2004 inaugural party. I'm pretty sure that Obama's will be decidedly better.
Beach Boys replace Pavement as indie kids' most imitated band. For far too long, abrasive guitar sounds and out-of-tune vocal yelps were all the rage in the indie world. Now it's gorgeous vocal harmonies and organic instrumentation that recalls The Band if they had a prog jones. Yes, we're talking to you, Fleet Foxes, chief purveyors of the new rustic indie aesthetic.
Old-school hard rock rules again. Metallica's Death Magnetic, AC/DC's Black Ice and the most highly anticipated album of all time, Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, all streeted in recent months and offered a much-needed rush of fist-pumping, head-banging euphoria. Believe it or not, you can actually turn the dial to 98Rock these days and occasionally catch a killer new tune — something that most of us had previously not experienced since the days of early grunge. Fuck yeah!
Tampa Bay's vibrant Americana scene just keeps getting more awesome. Have Gun, Will Travel, Rebekah Pulley, Will Quinlan and Ronny Elliott, all released excellent full-lengths this year that I'd put up against anything on the national Americana chart. And blues guitar hero-turned-Americana artist Damon Fowler inked a deal with venerable label Blind Pig, which will issue his national debut Sugar Shack Jan. 27.
The Ritz, Dave's Aqua Lounge enrich music venue roster. The newly refurbished Ritz in Ybor City is positioning itself as a major music club, bringing hipster hotshots Of Montreal to its classic confines Dec. 8. Over in St. Petersburg, Dave's Aqua Lounge has gone from a dive bar that hosts sleep-inducing jams to a dive bar that books terrifically twisted roots acts like Joe Buck, Black Diamond Heavies and Delta blues badass T-Model Ford, who will transform the smoky den into a pleasingly nasty juke joint on Dec. 12.
My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges. A mesmerizing mix of space-country, future funk and sophisticated rock, Evil Urges is genre-hoppers My Morning Jacket's best album to date, which means it's better than probably anything we'll hear in 2008. The band experiments with fresh sonics but never at the expense of the songs, resulting in a record that's as smart as it is soulful and fun.
Radiohead, Kanye West, Roger Waters and Al Green at the Ford Amphitheatre; Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Neil Diamond at the St. Pete Times Forum. There's nothing like a monster rock show (and fat flask tucked down your jean leg) to flush all those pesky fiscal worries out of mind for a few hours. Back in the good ol' bad days, major acts would routinely skip Tampa in favor of Orlando and Miami. Not so much anymore. (Well, except Madonna, but who wants to see Skeletor skank it up anyway?) Everyone from those wonderful weirdos Radiohead to Schmaltz King Neil Diamond has paid us a most welcome visit this year, with AC/DC headed to The St. Pete Times Forum on Dec. 21. Yeah, they better play "Mistress for Christmas."
The "Louisiana Stage" at Tropical Heatwave WMNF outdid itself with this year's "Louisiana Stage." Pint-sized singing and fiddling sensation Amanda Shaw, slide guitar hero Sonny Landreth and Big Easy brass band Soul Rebels kept the New Orleans party vibe going strong from before sunset until long past midnight. Rather than the typical hippie set, the event managed to draw a decidedly younger crowd, especially from the hip-hop and horn outfit Soul Rebels.
Britney Spears brought sexy back. She can't sing, can barely dance and has the IQ of a piece of broccoli. But watching her get all flabby was just too depressing. Seeing her look hot (and half naked) again in the "Womanizer" video makes the world seem just a little less awful.