Our Town

From blues to kiddie core, the year 2001 was an odyssey in local music. Backbeat writers remember the best.

Homegrown artists have a tendency to get lost in the encyclopedic shuffle of year-end lists, such as the sprawling one Westword published two weeks ago. Here we revisit more than thirty albums from Denver-area artists who give life, and sound, to our city, many of which stand up against works by national performers. Thanks for the melodies -- and the memories. Now, the list, please!

Marie Beer
The Garden
When performing her fragile, hushed and heartfelt tunes live, Marie Beer at times has trouble connecting with a fickle Denver crowd whose attention span is depleted by chatter and the copious consumption of her namesake beverage. Free from such distractions, The Garden blossoms, especially on the soulful "Sundown" and the riveting (and far from celebratory) "Happy Birthday." -- Patrick Casey

David Booker
Now Booking
David Booker, Denver's busiest bluesman, cut this set of vintage R&B covers as a promo aimed at keeping his gig book filled. But the sparsely produced disc is proof that his gifts as a slicked-back singer, song interpreter and showman supreme are unmatched. Familiar standards and obscure gems (by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Ace, Count Basie and others) are all done to soulful, winking perfection by "The Captain" and his equally seasoned trio. Now Booking is a can't-miss collection that will win over listeners as well as talent buyers. -- Marty Jones

The Czars
The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People

(Bella Union)
Ugly Americans is more like it. While Europe has thoroughly embraced the Czars, the Denver standouts continue to get a lukewarm reception locally. It's a tragic notion, considering that The Beautiful People's melancholic, understated sound proves to be the perfect vehicle for John Grant's soothing, soaring vocals. If Grant's gorgeous duet with Paula Frazer on the stellar track "Lullaby 6000" doesn't finally catch the ears of listeners in the Rocky Mountain region, nothing will. -- Casey

The Return of Sidd Finch
(Nashinal League)
The Dialektix crew -- MCs Jarvis and MEST-one, plus DJs Ty Tek, Kombat and Bussey -- serves, scratches and spits its way through one of the most able and clever hip-hop albums to emerge from the Mile High City in ages. At 25 tracks long, The Return of Sidd Finch is full of the requisite pop-culture references and self-serving rhymes; highlights, though, are found in the daring tandem rapping by the two men on the mike. Over beds that range from mid-tempo to just plain slammin', the music on this album is designed to give you a severe case of pimp lash. -- Laura Bond

The Dinnermints
Begun as a self-effacing spinoff of artsy ambient duo the Twins, the Dinnermints nevertheless make "pop trash" delicious. Influenced by everything from Kabuki theater to the fuzzy distortion of '60s-era garage pop, the Mints' Carnival is a quick, hooky EP full of get-'em-up rhythms and vocalist/guitarist Sara Mesmer's stream-of-consciousness choruses. It's an infectious midway of sounds, all right, one you'll want to revisit again and again. -- Bond

The Deluge of Soundtracks & Other Voices From the World's Silent Majority
(Infinite 7)
Humor and experimentation are showcased in The Deluge of Soundtracks, the fifth release by Elan noise-muckers Michael Serviolo and Chris Steele. Blending electronic, noise, rock, world music and more into unexpected feats of symphonic mindfuck, the pair makes aural hygiene actually sound fun. Available only through the Internet (mp3.com/elantheband), the long-player finds two polymeric tricksters at the top of their game. -- John La Briola

Michael Engberg
Bula Learns to Dance
(Many Hats Recordings)
Acoustic guitarist Michael Engberg was inspired to record Bula Learns to Dance by a friend's young daughter, who began dancing as soon as she could walk. The CD might well cause the same sort of response in those who sample the sixteen lilting songs offered here. A clean, concise instrumental offering that flits from Renaissance sounds to jug-band thumping ("Freight Train Melody"), Bula is a soaring homage to the power of the pick. Engberg's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- a song that few players are able to resist -- is both melancholic and hopeful, just like the moment that Dorothy returns from Oz to a black-and-white world. Acoustic fans would be wise to follow the yellow brick road into Engberg's realm. -- Bond

Bataan Faigao and Wendy Woo
(Sky Trail Studio)
When Jane Faigao, mother of guitarist/songwriter Wendy Woo and wife of poet Bataan Faigao, died of breast cancer last year, her talented loved ones wanted to memorialize her through music. The resulting Ecolalia, which marries Faigao's spare verse with Woo's vocals and music, is the kind of album that comes from a true place, a repository of pain, longing and love that provides a source for moving art. And while knowing the album's background makes the music hit that much harder, it's not a requirement: With guest appearances from United Dope Front's Ben Senterfit (on saxophone) and cellist Hannah Alkire, Ecolalia is a lovely, meditative album where poetry and music intermingle effortlessly. -- Bond

Janet Feder
Speak Puppet
The only female inductee in the boys' club of ReR Records, Janet Feder perfects avant-folk with a finger-picking arsenal of bent metal and roach clips. Classically contorted (and a scale-climbing daredevil to boot), Feder takes listeners on a "prepared" freefall from heights unknown using simple acoustics and tactile dexterity. On Speak Puppet, she hits slide variations, pastoral narratives and all mesmerizing points in between. -- La Briola

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