The Shy--Three on a Tree (www.theshy.com): Michigan trio with a most spirited holiday EP of three original tunes by Larry Decker, Mike Sackey and Bob Livernois.
The roots rock band (although they've dabbled in electronic sounds in their long history, too) is augmented by Phillip J. Hale's top flight piano and organ work, though it's the songs and performances that stand out more than anything. "That's Not Really Christmas" is the most cutting, with its "less Santa and a little more JC" hook, but there's nothing frumpy about it. The opener, "Hey Santa!," gives the fat man his due, anyway, and Three on a Tree is an EP worth having and giving. (Make sure that when you look up the Shy, you don't get the California group the Shys, who seem to be sucking up a lot of the search engine action.)
Eden Brent--Ain't Got No Troubles (Yellow Dog): Exciting vocalist with a tough piano style, full of blues feeling, and a great variety of songs. In an age where bands fall into playing the blues as a way of finding their niche because their rock is so unidistinguished and predictable ("we need a Jimi Hendrix cover!"), Brent can play a scorching "Let's Boogie-Woogie" one minute and evoke an authentic singer (Ann Peebles or Billie Holiday) the next.
Richard Thompson--Dream Attic (Shout! Factory): Since this is a whole new batch of Thompson tunes performed live, you've got to go through the album a few times to get a feel for it. At first, I wished for what would probably have been a more detailed effort were it recorded in the studio. Yet, as he's done since those first five albums with Fairport Convention so long ago, Thompson's power and subtlety come to the fore in songs like "Demons In Her Dancing Shoes" and the closing "If Love Whispers Your Name." At 61, he remains one of the greatest guitarists in the world and a strong singer, and Dream Attic advances RT's song catalog yet again.
Dr. John & the Lower 911--Tribal (429 Records): It's telling how Dr. John's righteous anger yet humorous approach to the tragic legacy of Hurricane Katrina continues to fuel his work. His hometown of New Orleans provides more than just a sense of pride to him. Dr. John is on a roll, sounding so sharp and energized, with songs as hard-hitting as "Big Gap" (as in billionaires and corporations that get away with paying zilch in taxes) and as infectious as "Jinky Jink." Dr. John's induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame next year will not come a moment too soon.
Syl Johnson--Complete Mythology (Numero Group): Syl Johnson is one under-appreciated treasure, and the gods of obscure soul anthologies--the Numero Group, which usually concentrates of various artists collections--comes through with a stunning four disc set covering Johnson's work from the late '50s to the early '70s. Most of it is as funky as Johnson wants to be, merging the searing voice of Sam Moore with grooves not unlike James Brown or Dyke & the Blazers. Johnson's later work for Hi Records was all I knew before--thanks to Bonnie Raitt covering "About to Make Me Leave Home"--and it's a trip to finally get to hear his often incredible, earlier stuff. Complete Mythology is perhaps the compilation of 2010.