The Top 10 Albums Of 2009, From 'World Cafe'

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Long ago, I abandoned the pretense that my year-end Top 10 list held the weight of either objectivity or universality. There are critics and taste-makers who apply their scope of knowledge to a broad-based list that attempts to encompass the absolute best in every genre. Instead, I've learned to go with the music that moved me most.

At any given point in 2009, my Top 10 list would inevitably look different, so consider this a snapshot — and otherwise subject to change at any time. Some picks won't be new to most readers, but here's hoping you find something that might have passed you by otherwise.

The Top 10 Albums Of 2009, From 'World Cafe'

Phoenix art

1. Phoenix

  • Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  • Song: 1901

At long last, this French critics' darling broke through in 2009, which speaks well of everyone. Phoenix's fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, practically burst with catchy, ubiquitous hits -- "1901," "Lisztomania," et al -- that found an audience both on radio and in memorable TV ads.

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  • "1901"
  • Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  • Artist: Phoenix
  • Label: Glassnote
  • Released: 2009
 
The Avett Brothers art

2. The Avett Brothers

  • Album: I and Love and You
  • Song: Laundry Room

The Avett Brothers' Seth and Scott Avett have taken the long, slow way to stardom, opting for endless tours and the cultivation of a hardcore fan base. But the band's 2009 success wouldn't have been possible without I and Love and You, a major-label debut that felt unusually packed with great songs. It helps that the disc shows off the band's remarkable versatility, too.

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  • "Laundry Room"
  • Album: I and Love and You
  • Artist: The Avett Brothers
  • Label: Sony
  • Released: 2009
 
Black Joe Lewis art

3. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

  • Album: Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
  • Song: I'm Broke

I'll admit that I've grown a little weary of the retro-soul revival thing. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Mayer Hawthorne and the like all know how to re-create the magic, as Raphael Saadiq did last year. But Lewis' Tell 'Em What Your Name Is stayed with me the most. Rough, a little raw and decidedly real, it never felt like an exercise in nostalgia. Live, the group brings it like a frat-house band in 1962.

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  • "I'm Broke"
  • Album: Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
  • Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
  • Label: Lost Highway
  • Released: 2009
 
Wilco art

4. Wilco

  • Album: Wilco (The Album)
  • Song: Bull Black Nova

Whatever mystique surrounds any given Wilco project -- internal turmoil, record-label grievances and so on -- it always comes down to songs, doesn't it? Wilco released a stellar batch of them this year, as part of a masterpiece that felt both ambitious and lived-in.

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  • "Bull Black Nova"
  • Album: Wilco (The Album)
  • Artist: Wilco
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 
Eels art

5. Eels

  • Album: Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
  • Song: That Look You Give That Guy

Some fans of Eels -- and of enigmatic frontman Mark Everett, a.k.a. E -- dismissed Hombre Lobo as an exercise in water-treading. But this is a tremendous batch of heartfelt music, from the spooky rock of "Fresh Blood" to the yearning ballad "The Look You Give That Guy." (As an added bonus, the band isn't waiting long to release a follow-up: End Times comes out Jan. 19.)

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  • "That Look You Give That Guy"
  • Album: Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
  • Artist: Eels
  • Label: Vagrant
  • Released: 2009
 
Dan Auerbach art

6. Dan Auerbach

  • Album: Keep It Hid
  • Song: Heartbroken, In Disrepair

Regular World Café listeners know that I'm a major fan of The Black Keys, but this solo album from member Dan Auerbach wasn't a Black Keys record. On Keep It Hid, Auerbach explores a broad swath of musical territory without abandoning the bluesy rock that won him all those fans in the first place.

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  • "Heartbroken, In Disrepair"
  • Album: Keep It Hid
  • Artist: Dan Auerbach
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 
The Clientele art

7. The Clientele

  • Album: Bonfires on the Heath
  • Song: Bonfires on the Heath

The Clientele's Bonfires on the Heath was my album for the fall of 2009. And why not? You can feel the mist and smell the leaves just by pressing play. Singer Alasdair Maclean has said that this will be the last Clientele album, so now is a great time to savor his timeless voice and vision.

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  • "Bonfires on the Heath"
  • Album: Bonfires on the Heath
  • Artist: The Clientele
  • Released: 2009
 
Allen Toussaint art

8. Allen Toussaint

  • Album: Bright Mississippi
  • Song: Bright Mississippi

This is really a vote for all of Joe Henry's 2009 productions, from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott's A Stranger Here to Henry's own solo album, Blood From Stars. Working with essentially the same cast of musicians, Henry produced three distinct records, on which the playing mattered as much as the songs. Taking Allen Toussaint out of his comfort zone to produce a jazz album was a chance worth taking, as these lovely songs demonstrate.

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  • "Bright Mississippi"
  • Album: Bright Mississippi
  • Artist: Allen Toussaint
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 
Silversun Pickups art

9. Silversun Pickups

  • Album: Swoon
  • Song: Growing Old Is Getting Old

As much as I loved Silversun Pickups' debut album, I prefer this year's Swoon. To me, this band sounds like L.A. in the mid-2000s; I love the hazy guitars, the keening voice and the way the whole thing flirts with the mainstream while still sounding adventurous.

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  • "Growing Old Is Getting Old"
  • Album: Swoon
  • Artist: Silversun Pickups
  • Label: Dangerbird
  • Released: 2009
 
Staff Benda Bilili

10. Staff Benda Bilili

  • Album: Tres Tres Fort
  • Song: Je T'Aime

This year produced more "authentic" -- and maybe even better played -- African albums than Staff Benda Billili's Tres Tres Fort. But none were made with the warmth of this project, from a ragtag bunch of polio victims who recorded outdoors at the zoo in Kinshasa. The rhythm section holds it down in support of the group's amazing 18-year-old player of the one-string "lute" (also known as a tin can with a bow). I can't see these guys touring with their motorized, Mad Max-style tricycles, so maybe a trip to Congo is in order.

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  • "Je T'Aime"
  • Album: Tres Tres Fort
  • Artist: Staff Benda Bilili
  • Label: Crammed Disc
  • Released: 2009
 

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Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

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  • Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  • Artist: Phoenix
  • Label: Glassnote
  • Released: 2009
 

I and Love and You

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  • Album: I and Love and You
  • Artist: The Avett Brothers
  • Label: Sony
  • Released: 2009
 

Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!

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  • Album: Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
  • Artist: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
  • Label: Lost Highway
  • Released: 2009
 

Wilco (The Album)

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  • Album: Wilco (The Album)
  • Artist: Wilco
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 

Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire

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  • Album: Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
  • Artist: Eels
  • Label: Vagrant
  • Released: 2009
 

Keep It Hid

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  • Album: Keep It Hid
  • Artist: Dan Auerbach
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 

Bonfires on the Heath

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  • Album: Bonfires on the Heath
  • Artist: The Clientele
  • Released: 2009
 

Swoon

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  • Album: Swoon
  • Artist: Silversun Pickups
  • Label: Dangerbird
  • Released: 2009
 

Tres Tres Fort

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  • Album: Tres Tres Fort
  • Artist: Staff Benda Bilili
  • Label: Crammed Disc
  • Released: 2009
 

Bright Mississippi

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  • Album: Bright Mississippi
  • Artist: Allen Toussaint
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2009
 

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