Time for the lists. I have strong feelings about lists, sometimes. I could get all academic about it – why list your favourites when your favourites are probably going to change in a couple weeks? What constitutes ‘the best’ when what you like is determined by the colour of your shirt, how cold your feet are, or how many times you played Iron Maiden in class in the last week? Oh well, there were some pretty strong tendencies towards repetition this year, so I might as well write’em down.
I’ll throw my top ten into three sections, once a week, just to keep you all breathlessly waiting for my top three, arriving in mid-December. Ha. Anyone who reads my entries already knows what I’m going to pick, right? I’m nothing if not predictable.
Here we go:
10. Various, Toronto Bound: Alberta Artists at the 2013 Folk Alliance
Folk Alliance is happening in Toronto next year, and efforts are underway to ship a busload of Albertan singers there. Toronto Bound, a compilation of twenty songs by local artists, is one of the ways the group is raising money to go. Produced by local radio personality Tom Coxworth and one of Calgary’s gazillion folk clubs, the Bow Valley, it’s a nice little package of the best singer-songwriters from the area. It includes local torch sweetheart (and the hilarious) Brooke Wylie, Calgary scene regulars Dave McCann, Steve Pineo, and Cam Penner, and Alberta stalwarts Ralph Boyd Johnson, Maria Dunn, and John Wort Hannam. If you’ve been away from Alberta for the last decade (ahem...) and need to catch up on the local scene, Toronto Bound is a good way to start.
9. Rose Cousins, We Have Made a Spark
A good breakup album. Sorry, Rose, you probably hear this all the time. It’s a good breakup album even if you’re not breaking up. She makes you wonder why you pick at each other the way you do, or why you’ve felt lonely despite not getting any alone time in the last five weeks. Cousins peeks into the ugly sides that you’d kept so well-hidden until you started dropping the pieces of your relationship along the side of the road.
Not in the mood for digging into your deepest flaws? Put it on after a long and loud day and calm down. I like the slow chug of “The Shell” and the rhythmic irregularity of the phrases in “The Darkness”. And the ambiguity of the character she draws in “The Shell” nicely embraces contradictory feelings we can’t outwardly reconcile: “It gets so hard to talk to you/You’ve covered in this shell you grew/It’s like you do and don’t want me around.” Things cheer up by the end; you walk away feeling like there’s some hope.
8. Scott MacLeod, Right as Rain
MacLeod is right there with Cousins, exploring the toughiness of good ol’relationships. Really, if the world were ending right now, or in 22 days, all we’d be thinking about is “does he like me?” or “Can I get a date with her before we all disintegrate?” But he’s doing it with a bit of anger rather than quiet contemplation. Good for you, S. I like it. Singin’ hard, complaining, sorting it all out. What are you doing with your art? Hm? I want an answer at Christmas.
If you want any evidence that maturity and practice makes a good songwriter, MacLeod is it. This is not to say his other two albums aren’t good, more that this is really good. The songs are tight, they oscillate between the giddly cheerful and the downright grumpy, sometimes in the same song, and the side players pull everything together in a solid package.
7. Junior Brown, Volume Ten
Uh, how did I miss this guy before now? Okay, so some of the songs *could* border on cheese (“Phantom of the Opry”?) (actually, that one is awesome), but if that puts you off, why not get off on Brown’s guitar playing. Because you will. Check this one out (look at what he’s playing while he sings):
Am I the only one who hasn’t seen it? It’s got over a million views and I just found out about him last month. I wish I’d gone to see him play live in Toronto...I won’t admit publicly what I was doing that night instead, but I regret it now.
Anyway, get Volume Ten. It’s just an EP, but it’s worth getting the autographed copy through his website, or digging around for a slightly cheaper download if you’re impatient. The closing instrumental, “Almost to Tulsa”, is one of those songs that gets the genre-mixed-up title of western swing meets surf guitar with a dash of some slightly be-boppy piano, showcasing Brown’s kick-ass technique. Meanwhile, songs like “Hang Up and Drive”, a humorous chiding for texting behind the wheel, and “I’m Headed Back to Austin Tonight” remind me of those raunchy nights seeing Ray Condo and the Ricochets during my undergrad. Nostalgia. That’s what it’s all about.