It's been a good year for the South Florida music scene. Talented upstart artists who were expected to break out exceeded expectations. Already established acts released stellar projects as well. There's a lot of good music coming out of the region (enough to make any local audiophile proud), so here's the rundown on the top 10 releases from locals this year.
Jacob Jeffries Band
Miami's best music albums of 2008
When a band dubs its latest offering Wonderful, it's either being incredibly presumptuous or has reason to be confident. In the case of the Jacob Jeffries Band, it's the latter. That's for good reason, because judging from their effusive melodies, clever wordplay, and a host of critical kudos, we think wonderful is indeed the word for this outstanding offering. It's obvious at the outset that Jeffries (born Jacob Groten) borrows from the best. The Ben Folds/Billy Joel references are especially evident, owing to the bandleader's unabashed exuberance and pure pop pastiche. The talented Broward County native pounds the keys with the best of them, wrapping his arrangements in an elaborate flourish that brings to mind hints of ELO, Elton John, and Steely Dan. Such displays of reverence for old-school forebears is all the more impressive given that Jeffries is barely out of his teens. But if Wonderful is any indication, he is more than capable of emulating his idols.
The title of this 24-year-old singer-songwriter's widely admired album is an apt description of what she does in song. Like Regina Spektor and Nellie McKay, with whom the lass has much in common, Goodrich mines the American songbook and creates inventive songs that speak to the inner 12-year-old in all of us. She employs an array of musical toys in all of her songs, and in the end comes up with a concoction fit for a play date. And if using toys to tinker with the heart and soul doesn't sound like something you'd dig listening to, then, my friend, your ears must be made of tin.
When "Out Here Grindin'" leaked this past May, it set a record for the most guests on a track since USA for Africa dropped "We Are the World" in '85. That Khaled and his crew were in it to win it for nobody but themselves didn't hurt; hell, it probably even helped. After all, there are few better incentives than a big payday. Okay, so Khaled grinded with only Akon, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Lil Boosie, Trick Daddy, Ace Hood, and Plies. But when you add that The Game, T-Pain, Bun B, Nas, Kanye West, Fabolous, Fat Joe, Sean Paul, Brisco, Busta Rhymes, Pitbull, Casely, and Flo Rida also appear on this South Florida superstar DJ's third dose of drop-top classics, We Global becomes a matter of fact. Take that, you charity cases!
Through These Walls
Forget the fact she's only 21 and her album cover pictures her as a vapid pop poser. A Berklee School of Music grad and a multi-instrumental wunderkind — she plays piano, drums, guitar, bass, and sax — Boca Raton-based Hilary McRae introduces herself to the world in grand fashion on Through These Walls. The impressive debut displays an obvious reverence for various female forebears — Carole King, Laura Nyro, and Carly Simon among them — but her horn-stoked arrangements and soulful singing hint that McRae could be a future legend as well. That's especially evident on "Every Day (When Will You Be Mine)," "Consider Me Gone," "Like You Never Loved Me," and "Better Off Alone," all of which emit a brassy confidence that belies her tender years. Her signing to Hear Music (home to megastars Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor) positions her among the elite while affirming she's a formidable contender.
By now, no South Floridian who has left the house in the past decade needs an introduction to the Spam Allstars. From their long-running residency at Little Havana's Hoy Como Ayer through shows at every venue in the region — inside, outside, and otherwise — the ragtag assemblage of ace músicos has given everyone ample opportunity to get with it. But with the internationally released Introducing, our big secret gets the chance to officially go global and gives the world a chance to get hip. Not that the Allstars haven't already hit wherever the getting's been good; hell, there's a reason the group is called the hardest-gigging band in the business, just as there's a reason that the same folks who deliver Rough Guides chose to put out the band's music. This patented blend of rad Latin, mad funk, trad soul, and free jazz belongs to the world.
Like his Port of Miami, Rick Ross's Trilla debuted at number one on Billboard's pop charts and proved beyond the shadow of anyone's doubt that the Boss would be riding heavy for some time to come. And though the 15-track throwdown didn't have a hit as massive as "Hustlin'," it did deliver a succession of singles that packed enough wallop to bring this album to gold status. Radio jams such as "Speedin'" and "Here I Am" drew the most attention, but it was "Luxury Tax" and the tough-guy trade-off among Ross, Lil Wayne, Trick Daddy, and Young Jeezy that gave the Bossman enough bragging rights to back up all of his boasts.
By the Numbers
Embarking on an album of covers is risky business for a band that has essentially made its mark based on inventiveness. For the Postmarks, however, By the Numbers shows more clever musicianship and composition prowess than anyone could have expected. The trio of indie-pop darlings reinterprets ditties by the Ramones, Bob Marley, and the Pointer Sisters in a respectful and courageous fashion, and does it surprisingly well. Standouts include a reworking of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba" and Blondie's "11:59," both of which showcase lead singer Tim Yehezkely's alluring vocals and Chris Moll and Jon Wilkins's aptitude as two of the best composers in South Florida.
These Are the Days
Albert Castiglia practically bleeds the blues. And no wonder — after learning from masters such as Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, and Ronnie Earl, Castiglia has earned his reputation as a standout showman and exceptional guitarist whose captivating live performances leave audiences howling for more. Luckily for all of us, Castiglia has been able to translate his talents to disc, and his third album, These Are the Days, is proof. He contributes five originals to the mix, including the ominous opener "Bad Year Blues," while longtime colleague Graham Wood Drout of Iko Iko loans the title track, a backwoods ballad that finds Castiglia effectively stretching his parameters. A take on Bob Dylan's otherwise obscure "Catfish" seems an unlikely choice, but a good stock of standards keeps the consistency intact. It's a brilliant showcase for his emotive vocals, sizzling slide guitar, and firebrand arrangements. These Are the Days is every bit the memorable encounter its title implies.
The New PlanetsWe 'R' Us(self-released)
Forget the self-serving title. We 'R' Us is one of the finest debuts by a local band in recent memory. Fueled by effusive grooves, resilient melodies, and supple hooks, it places the New Planets in their own orbit while drawing favorable comparisons to national names — including Fountains of Wayne, Rilo Kiley, and Death Cab for Cutie. Being a versatile bunch, the New Planets also integrate elements of roots, retro, and Brit rock into their reliable pop core. With ease, they ricochet from the spiraling rhythms of "Washing Machine" and the effusive allure of "I Need Some Space" to the darker depths of "Memo's," the swampy tangle of "Overdose on Me," and the down-home twang of "I Want Cuba!" Punctuating rhythms and cooing harmonies enhance the songs' accessibility, and when they proclaim, "We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain" on opener "Train of Thoughts," success seems assured.
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Shawn Snyder could be Adam Duritz's lost little brother, what with his turnip hairdo and mournful musings. That said, Snyder's confessional style is clearly borne from his own heartbreaking circumstance, making him a troubled troubadour armed with an acoustic guitar and sinewy tales of longing and desire. On Romantic's Requiem, his fine second album, the ruminating acoustic blues of Jack Johnson and Ben Harper come to mind, while the skittish and playful melodies of John Mayer and Dave Matthews are recalled in the kinetic strum of "Wendy" and "Déjà Vu." Still, the ache and intensity that accompany these bittersweet narratives never seem misdirected, and given its thoughtful perspective, Romantic's Requiem makes for a truly soulful soliloquy.