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

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.

1. Phoenix

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.

2. The Avett Brothers

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.

3. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

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.

4. Wilco

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.

5. Eels

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.)

6. Dan Auerbach

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.

7. The Clientele

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.

8. Allen Toussaint

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.

9. Silversun Pickups

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.

10. Staff Benda Bilili

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.

Copyright 2009 XPN

David Dye is a longtime Philadelphia radio personality whose music enthusiasm has captivated listeners of World Cafe® since 1991. World Cafe is produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania.