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Great performances could be found on some intimate stages and in unusual places.

Notable Music

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Picking a year's worth of favorite live shows and CDs is a dicey personal exercise that can draw reactions ranging from "You got that right" to "Who is this jerk?" But plunging ahead, I give you some of the musical highlights of my year. For the live shows, my list may not be your list, because I generally avoid big venues in favor of the up-close-and-personal. As far as CDs go, I tend to pick independent releases over the high-profile product so some of these are a trifle obscure. But whatever your personal taste in music, here's hoping you had as much fun listening to tunes this year as I did. Slaid Cleaves, March 2, Poe's Pub — Cleaves is at last getting some popular acclaim to match the critical praise he's received for years. His musical word pictures take a back seat to no one. Team him up with his old pal and Richmond-based guitarist Charles Arthur and you're assured an evening of memorable music. Gatemouth Brown, June 8, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens — Gate may be in his 70s, but he can still cut loose, and this night he was smoking. Dale Watson, June 20, Poe's Pub — With his great old-school country voice, Watson tells it like it is, whether you like it or not. Aztex, July 13, Jumpin' at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Sculpture Garden — Joel Guzman, Sara Fox and the band came up from Texas with a mix of Latin and Caribbean rhythms that was highly musical. Aztex actually got a fair portion of a traditionally be-there-to-be-seen crowd dancing, and that's no easy task. Slobberbone/Drive-By Truckers, Aug. 15, Poe's Pub — This was a loud and proud Tuesday night blowout, courtesy of two of the toughest bands running the barroom circuit these days. Playing its first Richmond show, Slobberbone made a roomful of new fans as frontman Brent Best showed he writes great tunes and sings with a vengeance. As for the Truckers, how much more can I rave about this bunch? Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and the guys flat rock with an in-your-face-Southern-attitude that you'll either love or hate. Maybe they aren't for everyone, but I can't get enough of the band's irreverent humor or its soulful passion. Janet Martin Band, Sept. 26, Canal Club — Even though they had not played together for a year or so, the band fell back in a groove like they'd been on the road reading each other's musical minds for months. This short set recorded for a WCVE television show was a joy to behold. Big Lazy, Sept. 27, Poe's Pub — This Brooklyn trio's mysterious instrumental journey is always an aural pleasure. Taking a tack that's totally refreshing and mesmerizing, these guys deserve some breaks because there's no one mixing up moods and melodies quite like this. Deanna Bogart, Oct. 4, Babe's — Many who came to this show had not seen this hard-charging pianist before, but from the start, Deanna made them sit up and take notice. Mixing r&b and rock, this Washington, D.C.-based musician played with the authority and the stage presence of the old pro she is. Here's hoping she's back in Richmond soon and she won't be such a well-kept secret in these parts. Robert Earl Keene Jr., Oct. 8, Mayo Island — This was my favorite show of the year. Funny and caustic and looking like he just rolled out of the rack in his bus, Keene and his Texas band cooked with a raw precision that didn't let up. Keene's tales of lovers and losers are unique and always a treat, and they manage to get a rise out of a surprising wide range of listeners. Maybe Mayo Island isn't a small venue, but standing by the stage, it felt like a Saturday night out in a rowdy Austin bar. I couldn't hear for two days after the show, but that was a small price to pay. Susan Greenbaum, Nov. 3, Babe's — Susan was in fine form this night bursting with self-effacing enthusiasm about the new fans she's made and the nationwide attention her music is receiving. Of course, with her talent she deserves whatever attention comes her way. Hunch here is that this is only the warm-up. Todd Snider, Nov. 30, Canal Club — Snider is one of my favorite songwriters and wiseguys on today's music scene. This night, barefoot and solo, he cast his low-key stoner spell over a small but appreciative crowd. Stephen Bennett, Dec. 1, First Unitarian Church — Bennett's acoustic guitar wizardry ranges from waltzes to upbeat country blues to a surprising turn on "My Girl." Fast and funny, his percussive, fingerpicking and slide styles are jaw-dropping. My recorded music favorites fall heavily into a noncommercial grouping that excludes rap, modern country, jazz of any kind, and bands with more fashion concerns and dance moves than soul. There is some fine music out there that is woefully underexposed, but that doesn't make it any less worthy. Favorite CD of the Year — Shelby Lynn's "I Am Shelby Lynn" is as powerful a musical statement as I've heard in a while. Sweet and sorrowful, Lynn bares her burdens on this one. Traditional soul/r&b fans should particularly like this. Roots and Rock — Emmylou Harris' "Red Dirt Girl," Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "One Endless Night," Slaid Cleaves' "Broke Down," Slobberbone's "Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today," Todd Snider's "Happy To Be Here," Drive-By Truckers' "Alabama Ass Whuppin'," Last Train Home's "True North," Used Carlotta's "reckless wheels," Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love's "Audible Sigh," the Mayflies' "The Pity List" and Marianne Faithful's "Vagabond Ways." Folk — Ramblin' Jack Elliott's "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" and Eva Cassidy's "Time After Time." Bluegrass — Nickel Creek's "Nickel Creek," Seldom Scene's "Scene It All" and Sam Bush's "Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride." Blues/R&B — Irma Thomas' "My Heart's In Memphis" and "Anson Funderburgh's "Change In My

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