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Top Artist Of The Year
Kendra's Picks
The former front man of Toad The Wet Sprocket has been busy. In 2004, he released the long - awaited Mutual Admiration Society CD, which was recorded with Nickel Creek a few years ago. To support that release, the group hit the road and provided one of the best live shows of the year. Phillips was also signed to Lost Highway Records this past year and put out his third solo CD titled, Winter Pays For Summer, a favorite of mine. And as if that weren't enough, his constant touring makes it easy to see him live throughout the year. Touring solo this past fall and with a band this spring to support the new CD, WayCool got to see Phillips more times than we care to admit.
2. Josh Rouse  
Anyone who puts out fantastic albums every year deserves to be on the Top 7 list. This year, Rouse released Nashville and toured Europe and the U.S. behind it. The last show of his U.S. Nashville tour was incredible and appears at the top of my Top 7 concert list. And now he's working on a new CD to be released on his new record label, Bedroom Classics.
3. Ben Gibbard  
Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service and a solo career, I don't know how he has time to sleep with all of that going on, but as long as the music keeps coming, that's good enough for me. Transatlantacism is an incredible CD and another DCFC release is due out this month. The Postal Service may be a side project, but we still love it. With the Iron & Wine cover of 'Such Great Heights' on the Garden State soundtrack, plus appearances on the Wicker Park soundtrack, Ben is everywhere (including The OC) and I'm not complaining.
4. Dick Prall  
It's hard being an independant musician, but Prall keeps trucking along. With the release of his third album titled, fizzlebuzzie, Prall has resurfaced and is once again making waves in the Midwest. WayCool raved about the CD a couple of months ago, so there's no need to do that again. Let's just say that you're missing out if you haven't gotten this record yet. Playing sold-out CD release shows and supporting the likes of Glen Phillips, The Clarks and Matt Wertz, Prall has been busy. We hope it stays that way.
5. Daniel Tashian (The Bees)  

Tashian may not be on your radar, but he should be. As the multi-instrumentalist for Josh Rouse, Tashian is technically proficient and entertaining on stage. He's also the co-writer on a couple of my favorite songs from 'Nashville,' including 'Winter In The Hamptons.' But his career also includes his own band, The Bees. Their 2004 release, Starry Gazy Pie, is a great compilation that I highly recommend picking up. Chock full of catchy songs, it's definitely worth the $10 price tag. The band is also in the midst of recording a new CD. That's plenty to keep a guy busy, but Tashian keeps going. He recently released a solo CD on his website which is available for free download. Go and get these songs and support independent music (www.tashian.com/dav/lovetest)

6. Ilya Toshinsky  
A banjo player on the Top 7 list? Yep. It's shocking, I know, but totally deserved. Many know Toshinsky as the guitar and banjo player for the band Bering Strait. He's a founding member and a key instrumentalist in the band, but recently decided to take a break from the band and explore new projects. He co-wrote and appeared on Eliot Morris's solo CD that I discovered in 2004, and he recorded tracks for Morris's upcoming Universal release. He also produced the latest offering by Moses Mayfield (formerly The Stewart Mayfield Project). And doesn't every musician need their own studio? He has one in Nashville to keep him busy at the producer's helm. There are rumors of more side projects coming up, so keep your eyes and ears open for more from him.
7. Chris Thile  
If a banjo player can be on the list, then so can a mandolin player. Thile has done it all this past year.  He was a part of the Mutual Admiration Society collaboration with Nickel Creek and Glen Phillips, showcasing his mando talents.  He also released Deceiver, his fourth solo CD.  While the CD received mixed reviews, I have to admire Thile's ability to play every instrument on it as well as his role as arranger and producer. In addition, you can also hear his mandolin on recent releases by Charlie Daniels, Jeff Coffin, and Keith Urbane.  And as if that wasn't enough, he somehow found time to venture back to the studio for Nickel Creek's latest CD, Why Should The Fire Die? set to be released in August. But, he didn't spend all his time making CDs; he also did a lot of touring in 2004, including the MAS shows, Nickel Creek and a tour with Edgar Meyer. Yep, he's talented.
Kathy's Picks
1. Glen Phillips  
For me, Phillips tops the list because he is the ultimate triple threat - is an influential lyricist, has a heart breaking voice and is a stellar live performer. Add to that, Phillips is one of most gracious human beings I've ever met. This year, he released a highly anticipated solo CD that exceeded my expectations (with one tiny exception). In between recording sessions, Phillips hit the road both as a solo acoustic artist and full - on rock star. He brought the rock with such talents as Nickel Creek, Pete Thomas (drummer for Elvis Costello) and John Paul Jones (yes, the guy from Led Zepplin) during the MAS tour. After WayCool's interview with Phillips earlier this year, it solidified the fact that he is one of the most intriguing and talented folks in the music business today.
2. Josh Rouse  
Another year, another amazing CD with such a solid batch of songs that it's quite easy to take his talent for granted. While the mass market may underappreciate Rouse, it just takes one listen to his new CD, Nashville, to ensure loyalty from this fan. His live performances are always memorable due to Rouse's unique brand of showmanship enhanded by his multi-talented band mates. I look forward to what this man will create in 2006.
3. Dick Prall  
If you read WayCool's review of Prall's 2005 independent CD release titled, fizzlebuzzie, you won't be surprised that his name showed up on this Top 7 list. I had the pleasure of hearing this collection of songs from their infancy, as solo acoustic pieces and as full rock anthems. Like Phillips, Prall has the ability, as live performer, to hold an audience enraptured in the music while demonstrating his appreciation of their attention. Keeping my fingers crossed that the music business catches on soon so that Prall can continue to create wonderfully relevant music for years to come.
4. Eliot Morris  
It's hard to believe that Morris was totally unknown to me until this year. Thanks to some auspicious opening slots for Phillips and Matt Nathanson, WayCool was, gratefully, turned onto this new talent from Alabama. Morris has a rich, warm voice and writes songs with insightful and passionate lyrics. He shows a sincere appreciation for his fans who are expected to grow exponentially in number as he hits the road with James Taylor, Marc Broussard and Glen Phillips this summer. WayCool is impatiently awaiting his first major label release, due in early 2006, but will happily enjoy hearing the new material at his live shows until then.
5. Ben Gibbard  
Admittedly, I was slow to jump on the Ben Gibbard bandwagon due to his/his band's recent coronation as the "it" band. Because how often does the mass market embrace actual talent? Well, they've done it successfully in Gibbard's case. His music tends to sneak up on you, sonically not overly complex, but lyrically phenomenal. I can't count the number of times each day that one of his songs (either a Death Cab or Postal Service tune) runs through my head making me smile. Looking forward to the next CD, I will run, not walk, to the nearest CD store for my copy.
6. Ilya Toshinsky  
As Kendra summed up, Toshinsky is an immensely talented banjo and guitar player who is genuinely passionate about making music, either his own or collaborating with others. Studying and playing music from a very early age, Toshinsky is doing what he loves as evidenced by the huge, infectious smile spread across his face when he is onstage. Recently taking a step away from his band, Bering Strait, to devote more time to his own projects, Toshinsky is sure to succeed in whatever he aims to do.
7. Brendan Benson  
Benson is a breath of fresh, frenetic air in the music business. He released another amazing CD, The Alternative To Love, overflowing with really unique songs. His songwriting leans toward story telling with a twist; unexpected character studies that always satisfy. Not content to simply craft the songs, Benson also played the majority of instruments on the CD. Not sure if it's fair that one person possess so much talent, but at least I can enjoy his gifts on a daily basis.