By Joshua Miller Special to Published Dec 28, 2010 at 8:07 AM

As 2010 comes to a close, it's impossible not to think about the unbelievable
musical year I've had. There were so many great releases on the local and national levels and plenty of concert opportunities that there were few moments that I wasn't getting consumed by music.

I put together a list of my favorite albums from this year, although the rankings are pretty general as many hold equal worth for me. In addition, I decided to put together a list of some of my best concert experiences. I'm sure I probably missed some albums and incredibly with all the concerts I did get to there were still ones I wished I had gotten to.

Among the memories, I won't soon forget getting to Summerfest 10 days and 10 nights or getting the privilege of meeting (and interviewing) a number of these bands. I thought last year was a pretty great year but this year has it beat by miles.

Best albums of 2010

  1. Delta Spirit -- History From Below / The Waits Room EP
  2. Blitzen Trapper -- Destroyer of the Void
  3. Dr. Dog -- Shame, Shame
  4. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers -- Mojo
  5. Mark Olson (of The Jayhawks) -- Many Colored Kite
  6. The Morning Benders -- Echo
  7. Samantha Crain -- You (Understood)
  8. AM -- Future Sons and Daughters
  9. Junip -- Fields
  10. Damien Jurado -- Saint Bartlett
  11. Strand of Oaks -- Pope Killdragon
  12. Black Keys -- Brothers
  13. Phosphorescent -- Here's to Taking It Easy
  14. Sharon Van Etten -- Epic
  15. Nathaniel Rateliff -- In Memory of Loss
  16. Juniper Tar -- Howl Street EP
  17. Conrad Plymouth EP
  18. Fistful of Mercy -- As I Call You Down
  19. Midlake -- The Courage of Others
  20. The New Pornographers -- Together
  21. Frontier Rockus -- Deadmalls and Nightfalls
  22. The Mynabirds -- What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
  23. Avi Buffalo
  24. Black Mountain -- Wilderness Heart
  25. Jaill -- That's How We Burn
  26. Backyard Tire Fire -- Good to Be
  27. Drive-by Truckers -- The Big to Do
  28. Maps & Atlases -- Perch Patchwork
  29. Tallest Man on Earth -- The Wild Hunt / Sometimes the Blues is a Passing Bird EP
  30. JT & the Clouds -- Caledonia
  31. Local Natives -- Gorilla Manor
  32. Darker My Love -- Alive As You Are
  33. Yellow Ostrich -- The Mistress
  34. Megafaun -- Heretofore
  35. Spoon -- Transference
  36. Stornoway -- Beachcomber's Windowsill
  37. Band of Horses -- Infinite Arms
  38. Matt Pond PA -- The Dark Leaves
  39. These United States -- What Lasts
  40. The National -- High Violet
  41. Radar Bros. -- The Illustrated Garden
  42. Breathe Owl Breathe -- Magic Central
  43. Mt. Desolation
  44. Rogue Wave -- Permalight
  45. Justin Townes Earle -- Harlem River Blues
  46. Common Loon -- The Long Dream of Birds
  47. Matt Costa -- Mobile Chateau
  48. Harlem -- Hippies
  49. Devo -- Something for Everyone
  50. Johnny and Jenny -- I'm Having Fun Now

Top concerts

1. Muzzle of Bees Fifth Anniversary Showcase at Cactus Club -- Muzzle of Bees pulled all the stops with this one, providing quite a marathon of great Wisconsin and national bands. Each band brought their unique styles and emotions and it seemed like the night would last forever. This was my first times seeing Conrad Plymouth and Strand of Oaks. As it turns out, it proved to be the first of several visits by Strand of Oaks this year and a bit of a home away from home for Tim Showalter with the response he's received.

2. The Flaming Lips at Riverside Theater -- This was definitely an overload of the senses as the Flaming Lips showed why they're such a great band live. To read more about my thoughts about this show, check out my review I did here.

3. Delta Spirit w/ Darker My Love and The Fling at Turner Hall Ballroom -- I had been really looking forward to this one, not only for Delta Spirit but the two openers as well. It fully lived up to expectations as all three bands put on great shows especially Delta Spirit. Delta Spirit was on fire on stage and never let up. That's how good rock and roll's done.

4. Heidi Spencer/Strand of Oaks/The Loom/Samantha Crain at Cactus Club -- This was above and beyond the highlight of my Radio Summer Camp
experience. From locally rising singer Heidi Spencer to Oklahoma's Samantha Crain, there was plenty of great music and emotion to go around. Heidi Spencer and Strand of Oaks provided a moving set of their material while The Loom provided a rich multi-instrument experience. While everyone put on unbelievably great performances, I definitely won't forget the emotionally charged performance by Samantha Crain anytime soon. Between emotionally soaring like a dove and a hawk (a complimenting touch of sweetness and toughness) and joyfully joking around with the Cactus Club crowd, Crain really gave the crowd a very memorable show.

5. Bad Company at Northern Lights Theater -- It's pretty obvious by now that Bad Company is one of my favorite classic rock bands, so getting to see Paul Rodgers and the rest of the band was an unforgettable experience; truly a rock and roll fantasy. Rodgers is getting up there in years but he sounds as good as he ever has.

6. Farm Aid 25 at Miller Park -- There was plenty of good music to come by at Farm Aid so I can overlook that not everyone catered to my tastes. It was something I've never experienced up to that point and hope to do something like it soon.

7. Damien Jurado with Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, and Conrad Plymouth at The Mad Planet -- Damien Jurado has come a ways from where he started and he showed that he's clearly comfortable where he is right now. There's good reason. With his new album, Jurado really shines as the songs really showcase his talent and ability to make powerfully meaning songs. Jurado featured many of these songs during the set and provided a set that was quite moving. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and Conrad Plymouth were great bonuses as well.

8. The Avett Brothers at Riverside Theater -- The Avett Brothers definitely brought their energetic live swagger to their Riverside show and rolled out song after song that had the crowd cheering and in some cases dancing.

9. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros w/ Dawes at The Pabst Theater -- When you see Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, prepare for a rock
and roll revival. The band was loose and lively, giving the crowd an unforgettable experience. It also was my first time seeing Dawes.

10. The Heavy at Turner Hall/Summerfest -- Led by lead singer Kelvin Swaby, The Heavy fired into their catalog and brought a great energy with their genre-spanning sound, first at Summerfest and later at Turner Hall. The band has a diverse selection of songs which provided for the band to flex their muscle, all of which the crowd ate up.

11. The Tallest Man on Earth w/ Nathaniel Rateliff at The Pabst Theater -- These are two amazing songwriters and it was great to see The Pabst was able to pair them together on a bill. Most of the time it was just voices and guitars but these guys sure know how to use them.

12. Mark Olson w/ Backyard Tire Fire (acoustic) at Club Garibaldi -- Mark Olson is best known as a member of the Jawhawks but his excellent new album shows that he has plenty of talent himself. It was an intimate chance to see Olson and also Backyard Tire Fire and both provided an evening of great music.

13. Meat Puppets at Club Garibaldi -- The Meat Puppets are coming back to Club Garibaldi at the end of the month and there's good reason. The band brought their cow-punk infused style of rock and roll to the Garibalidi crowd last spring and offered a nice helping of songs from their fabled history.

14. Dr. Dog at Turner Hall -- There are plenty of opportunities live when you have two singers and Dr. Dog took full advantage of it as they featured a great show, featuring songs by each singer and which always contains infectious harmonies. The band offered more off their new album the second time around, which was a real treat.

15. Dawes at Turner Hall -- While their opening gig earlier this year went a bit over my head as I was there mostly for Edward Sharpe, this time I was more familiar with the band and that definitely helped. This time Dawes brought much more energy and that resulted in a great night of rock and roll.

16. The New Pornographers at The Pabst Theater -- The New Pornographers certainly have star power in their singing ranks and at their Pabst show it was on full display.

17. Rogue Wave with Midlake and Peter Wolf Crier at Turner Hall -- While this was my second time seeing Rogue Wave and Midlake it was too good of pairing to miss. I thought Rogue Wave's Verge show was pretty good but their Turner show blew it out of the water. With Midlake there wasn't much new but I'm not complaining as Midlake is pretty good live. I really liked Peter Wolf Crier's opening set, as well.

18. TIE: Jeff Beck at Summerfest / B.B. King at Summerfest -- There was no shortage of amazing guitar playing at Summerfest with these guys on hand. Both still are able to amaze with what they can do with the instrument, whether it's the blues or rock and roll.

19. JT & the Clouds at Cactus Club -- This concert probably qualifies as one of the surprises of the year. I went in primarily to see the Vega Star (who I should say put on a great show themselves) but JT & the Clouds really impressed me with their soulful, Chicago-based rock and roll. With catchy songs like "Caledonia," I knew I had to get their new album. Live, the band puts on a pretty lively and fun concert.

20. Devo at Summerfest -- This concert gave me the chance to relive my high school Devo obsessions. I knew pretty much every song and the band played and they still sounded pretty good. The stage show was pure Devo greatness.

21. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with ZZ Top at Summerfest -- Yes I know, another Tom Petty placement. But Petty always delivers and getting to hear the new songs was a real treat. ZZ Top also provided a pretty good opener and got to hear most of the songs I was hoping to.

22. John the Savage at Summerfest -- There are many local bands I could name that put on amazing shows but I usually prefer not to play favorites. However, I would have to include John the Savage's Summerfest show close to the top for sure. They put on a very energetic show, complete with singer Michael Skorcz taking the accordion into the crowd and later crowd surfing.

23. Larry and His Flask and Gringo Star at The Mad Planet -- I really like Gringo Star's last album and the band performance at the Cream City Festival really got me interested in the band. Their Mad Planet show didn't quite live up to it but they still put on a pretty good show. Perhaps that was because opener Larry and His Flask put on one of the most energetic concerts I've been to. While Larry and His Flask play a fast-paced bluegrass-punk that might not entirely reinvent the wheel, it's really live where the band especially shines. It wasn't long before the band members were leaping off the stage with instruments among the small crowd that came. That included band member Jeshua Marshall who was playing the double bass. He frequently stepped off the stage with the instrument and stood only inches from crowd members where he began to go wild on it, playing with a lot of energy and swinging it around erratically. At one point almost all the band was on among the crowd and we were all sitting in a big circle. They truly made the crowd feel part of the show and I won't forget that anytime soon.

24. Levon Helm at Summerfest -- It was great to see Levon Helm and his band playing songs from his fabled time in The Band and be able to do a great job in getting close to the lively nature of the originals. He hasn't lost a step as a drummer and still is clearly having a blast on his drum set.

25. Band of Horses at The Rave -- While the hot weather made The Rave feel like a sauna, it wasn't enough to ruin a great performance by Band of Horses for me. The band played a number of songs from their latest as well as older ones from previous albums. Among the highlights for me was the band covering Electric Light Orchestra and playing their own songs like "Compliments."

Memorable openers of 2010

  1. 1. AM opening for Josh Rouse
  2. The Fling and Darker My Love opening for Delta Spirit
  3. Backyard Tire Fire opening for Mark Olson
  4. David Wax Museum opening for the Old 97s
  5. Maps & Atlases opening for Frightened Rabbit
  6. Larry and His Flask opening for Gringo Star
  7. The Duchess & Duke/The Dodos opening for The New Pornographers
  8. Band of Skulls opening for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  9. The Moondoggies opening for Dawes
  10. JT & The Clouds opening for The Vega Star