Power to the People

The best local albums of 2008

It's been a good year for the music scene of South Florida. 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 this region at the moment (enough to make any local audiophile proud), so here's the rundown on the top ten releases from South Florida musicians this year.

Jacob Jeffries Band

Wonderful (Warner/BMI)

When a band dubs its latest offering Wonderful, it's either incredibly presumptuous or have reason to be confident. In the case of the Jacob Jeffries Band, we'll opt for the latter. That's for good reason, because judging from their effusive melodies, clever wordplay, and a host of critical kudos, "wonderful" is indeed an apt description 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 Jeffries' 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 also brings to mind hints of ELO, Elton John, and Steely Dan. Such displays of reverence for old school forebears is all the more impressive, considering Jacobs is just barely out of his teens. But if Wonderful is any indication, he's more than capable of emulating his idols.

Rachel Goodrich

Tinker Toys (Yellow Bear)

The title of this 24-year-old singer/songwriter's widely-admired album is as apt a description of what she does in song as anything most music critics could come up with. 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 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.

DJ Khaled

We Global (Koch)

When "Out Here Grindin'" leaked, back in 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. OK, so Khaled only managed to grind with 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!

Hilary McRae

Through These Walls (Hear Music)

Forget the fact that she's only 21 and her album cover pictures her as a vapid pop poseur. 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, Carly Simon, among them — but her horn-stoked arrangements and soulful singing hints 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) position her among the elite, while affirming that she's a formidable contender.

Spam Allstars

Introducing... (Music Network)

By now no one in South Florida who's even left the house over the last 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 musicos 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 they're 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.

Rick Ross

Trilla (Slip-n-Slide/Def Jam)

Like his Port of Miami, Rick Ross' 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 while 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 like "Speedin'" and "Here I Am" drew the most attention, but it was "Luxury Tax" and the tough guy tradeoff between Ross, Lil Wayne, Trick Daddy, and Young Jeezy that gave the Bossman enough bragging rights to back up all his boasts.

The Postmarks

By the Numbers (Unfiltered)

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 reinterpret ditties by the Ramones, Bob Marley, and the Pointer Sisters in a respectful and courageous fashion and do 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' aptitude as two of the best composers in South Florida at the moment.

Albert Castiglia

These Are the Days (Blues Leaf)

Albert Castiglia practically bleeds the Blues. And no wonder; after learning from such masters 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 his audiences howling for more. Lucky for all of us, Castiglia's been able to translate his talents to disc, and his third album, These Are The Days, provides proof. He contributes five originals to the mix, including the ominous opener "Bad Year Blues," while longtime colleague Graham Wood Trout 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 Planets

We 'R' Us (self-released)

Forget the self-serving title. We 'R' Us is one of the finest debuts by a South Florida 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 — Fountains of Wayne, Rilo Kiley, and Death Cab For Cutie included. Being a versatile bunch, the New Planets also integrate elements of roots, retro, and Brit rock into their reliable pop core. They ricochet from the spiraling rhythms of "Washing Machine" and the effusive allure of "I Need Some Space," to the darker depths of "Memos," the swampy tangle of "Overdose on Me," and the down-home twang of "I Want Cuba!" with ease. 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.

Shawn Snyder

Romantic's Requiem (self-released)

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 born from his own heart-wrenched circumstances, 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.

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