While I may not have several hours of network TV time to work with, I’ve reached the conclusion that there’s room for at least one more annual awards show. With that belief, it’s time for the inaugural “Golden Penny Awards” where I recognize excellence and significant musical accomplishments over the past 12 months. While the hardware is only virtual, the honors should at least manage slightly more credibility than the Grammy’s and way more than the Rock & Roll Hall of Shame.
Of course no awards show would be complete without a special musical guest, so to kick things off we’ll begin with my unofficial “Band I Really Gotta See” award winner: it’s those Always-On-Tour guys … please welcome Wayland
“Trenches” — Pop Evil
Hard to imagine a song that I felt more perfectly defined a genre/niche than what this Michigan band managed to do with their first single from “Onyx”. If you want to know what “Active Rock” sounds like, here’s your answer.
Three top 5 singles, a strong second half of what was basically a two-album set that was partially revealed in late 2012, appearances around the world, multiple Golden Gods nominations and wins, a comic book (err … graphic novel) series. It was a pretty epic run for Stone Sour, one that we can only the focus back toward Slipknot manages to even halfway touch. At this point, Stone Sour is not only the better band, but the FAR better band as far as I’m concerned.
“Lift Me Up” — Five Finger Death Punch f. Rob Halford
Hard to go wrong when you combine one of the very best bands of today with a figure so iconic that he’s often known simply as “The Metal God”. Still, for as good as the concept sounds on paper, it had to deliver the goods. And from the moment the song premiered in May “Lift Me Up” did just that. A surprisingly positive track given the often angry/pained lyrics associated with the band, 5FDP and Halford combined to give us all one for the ages.
When Disturbed went on “hiatus” (or whatever it is), no one was sure exactly where the members would turn up nor what their work might sound like. In the case of frontman DD, the answer was not only performing & producing the rock solid debut album from Device but also a turn behind the knobs for simply the best album Trivium has managed in their decade-plus career. That gives the recent first-time father two albums in the top ten of my year-end list, actually one of two producers to manage that feat this year. Worth noting that this was actually the closest category this year, with a narrow win for Draiman over Johnny K (aka John Karkazis), who worked on the albums of Pop Evil and Megadeth this year, both of which also landed in my personal top ten. The link between the pair becomes even stronger when I note that Johnny K produced the first three Disturbed albums and that Draiman appeared as a guest vocalist on a track on the Megadeth album.
Volbeat – (Denmark)
Another award that was closer than most but perhaps for a less than obvious reason. There isn’t much doubt that Volbeat had a tremendous year regardless of location, a strong album that produced multiple hit singles is hard to beat. The decision I lingered over was whether they have reached the point of transcending their Danish origins and become so familiar to U.S. audiences that they don’t really feel like a band that’s from outside the U.S. anymore. At the 11th hour I decided that there’s still enough of an international flavor to them that they’re a fitting recipient of the honor this year. Decidedly honorable mentions should be duly noted for Airbourne (Australia) and Bleeker Ridge (Canada), standouts that are still clearly bigger elsewhere than they are in the U.S. at this point.
The Pretty Reckless
This award requires a bit of explanation. It goes to the artist/band that I believe is poised to break through to the next level in the coming year. Every year might not have such a clear standout honoree but the latter months of 2013 definitely showed momentum for one band in particular. While The Pretty Reckless isn’t new — “Make Me Wanna Die” was a hit in 2010 — the band never really seemed to get as much respect or notice for their music as they did for having actress/model/musician (notice which label is last amongst those?) Taylor Momsen as their front person. I believe the forthcoming (early 2014) album Going To Hell will change that. The three tracks that have been revealed thus far show a considerably harder edge than what we’ve heard in the past, it’s music that stands up to the considerable attitude that Momsen has always possessed. A warm response to the first official single “Heaven Knows” will let them ring in the new year with momentum, the second single could be the one that pushes them clearly into a whole new strata.
Alter Bridge – Fortress
The only award that was announced prior to showtime is for an album that truly left me both speechless AND raving like a madman after my first listen. I’ve become much more song & singles oriented over the decades, this was simply a magical experience from start to finish. It’s the rarest of finds these days: an album without a clear weak point, a complete work that simply doesn’t let you down and leaves you wanting even more. Having the best rock vocalist in the world today certainly helps matters but it’s the complete picture here that makes this album stand out beyond just Myles Kennedy’s always stellar efforts. Mssrs. Tremonti, Phillips and Marshall combined with Kennedy managed to create something that seems likely to stand strong for many years to come.
With that we conclude the inaugural Golden Penny Awards. I want to thank not only the winners but all the nominees and all the contenders. It’s you that made 2013 such a rockin’ year and you’re the reason I’m already looking forward to next year’s show.
Thank you all … and good night … We love you Cleveland !