Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2011

I guess I lose what little blogger cred that I have if I don't post an end-of-the-year "Best Of" list before 2012. I'm getting it in just under the wire. These are my favorite albums on this day, the 31st of December, in the year of our lord 2011, and it is subject to change whenever I feel like it. Seriously, it's been a great year for music, and it was really difficult for me to make this list. Feel free to heap praise on me or call me a pretentious overbearing wretch.

1. Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO (and Other American Stories)
Such a solid country/alt country album. I saw Carll live twice this year which possibly (probably) biased this decision, but this was also the album I listen to the most in 2011. Country rockers, ballads, duets, trios, humor, slobber-into-your-beer heart-breakers, and even a Christmas song. This album has it all. See my review of his Boston show on April 23 for a song-by-song rundown. You were fallin' like the Alamo, drinkin' fast and talkin' slow, lookin' like it's time to go home.

Buy: KMAG YOYO (& other American stories)

2. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
Franky T. and his band put on my favorite show of 2011, which I never got around to reviewing (sorry). Asides from that killer show, this album was a huge leap in songwriting from a guy who was already pretty damn good at it. Lots of proud references to his homeland of England on this record, including a gorgeous a capella anthem, which he totally nailed at the Boston gig. Now who’d've thought, after all, something as simple as rock n’ roll would save us all?

I Am Disappeared.mp3
Buy: England Keep My Bones

3. Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
Gillian Welch doesn't make a lot of records, but when she does they are stellar recordings. This album can be described as a neo-traditional country with elements of bluegrass and lots and lots of killer guitar playing from Welch and her co-writer/partner-in-crime Dave Rawlings. Check out this video from their appearance on Conan. That's the way that it ends, though there was a time when you and I were friends.

Scarlet Town.mp3
Buy: The Harrow & The Harvest

4. Deer Tick - Divine Providence
Loud, fun, drunken rock and roll. It's seems so easy, yet so many bands fuck it up. Then there's Deer Tick, the miscreants out of Providence, Rhode Island. I saw these juvenile delinquents at the Daytrotter Barnstormer tour in Maine, just before hurricane Irene, in a small, hot and sweaty hall. So fun, just like this album. We're full grown men, we act like kids. We'll face the music next time we roll in.

Let's All go to the Bar.mp3
Buy: Divine Providence

5. Chuck Ragan - Covering Ground
This is an album of folk music that only someone with the intensity of Chuck Ragan can deliver. The instrumentation is mostly acoustic guitar with backing fiddle and occasional harmonica. The loose theme throughout the record is Ragan's experience as a touring musician on the road. Some may say I'm a nomad by fate,
tempered from the road right after being forged in flames.
"Meet You in the Middle" is a standout track which features Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem on vocals.

Nothing Left to Prove.mp3
Buy: Covering Ground

6. Austin Lucas - A New Home In the Old World
Lucas does it again with a stellar country/alt country album with elements of bluegrass, rock, and even some hints of classic gospel music, with diverse instrumentation from fiddle to pedal-steel. The musicianship shines on this album, which is not a surprise when you learn that members of Lucero and Magnolia Electric Co. severed as the backing band during recording. The lyrics are just as good, with this former punk rocker finding his songwriting groove. More than mere highways rest between you and I, and that lonesome Nevada county line.

Run Around.mp3
Buy: A New Home In The Old World

7. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Here We Rest
Here We Rest is a slight departure from his previous two solo albums in that it is more of a singer/songwriter type of album as opposed to the blues-based country rock that permeates his previous releases. For example, "Alabama Pines" is an homage or even a love song to his home state, which really shows Isbell's growth as a songwriter. Check out their Letterman appearance from November 4 with the song Codeine. If there's two things that I hate, it's having to cook and trying to date.

Go It Alone.mp3
Buy: Here We Rest

8. Robyn Ludwick - Out of These Blues
My colleague over at A Truer Sound introduced me to this album early in 2011, and I kept coming back to it. Robyn Ludwick's voice and music slightly resembles Lucinda Williams, only a little softer and sweeter with a Texas drawl. Ludwick sings about being down and out, broken hearted, and homesick. This album was produced by Gurf Morlix, one of the best in the business. Don't be hard on yourself, son, I knew you were leavin'. You always wanted to climb to the top of the world.

Fight Song.mp3
Buy: Out of These Blues

9. J. Mascis - Several Shades of Why
Raise your hand if you have ever had hearing damage after J. Mascis's band Dinosaur Jr. blasted you into next week at one of their live shows. (Aimz raises hand.) So you would think that a solo acoustic album by the god of the Jazzmaster may not be so good. You would be WRONG! It all comes down to songwriting, and Mascis excels at it. This record showcases Mascic's unique voice and stellar lyrics make this one of the sleeper albums of 2011. And I know in my mind, I know I should be grateful. But it's hard for me, I'm done so easily.

Is It Done.mp3
Buy: Several Shades of Why

10. Todd Snider - Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller
If you own zero Todd Snider albums you should get this one. If you own every Todd Snider album you should get this one. Here Snider captures his live show on a two disc set, where he plays most of his classics and tells stories behind some of the songs. It's almost a greatest hits style of album, only live and with intermittent story breaks. His live show in Boston in February played out like the record. Snider is the best in the business at this brand of hippie folk rock and storytelling. This record highlights Snider's wacky sense of humor, but even the serious, poignant songs will make you play the album again and again. That last song was such a touching little number about athleticism and hallucinogenic drugs. You don't really hear enough of that in folk music anymore. I'm just doing what I can.

KK Rider Story.mp3
Don't it Make You Wanna Dance.mp3
Buy: Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller


toomuchcountry said...

I had what I think was an interesting coincidence this year. I was in the audience for 2 sho-nuff live albums released in 2011: Todd's The Storyteller recorded in Nashville in 2010 and Guy Clark's Songs and Stories recorded in Nashville in 2009.

Jeff said...

Proving only that I am older than dirt, is it just me, or does that Robyn Ludwick album cover borrow from or pay homage to Jackson Browne's "Late For The Sky" LP?