Here’s my top ten. I always feel the need to do a little introduction, since I’m aware of how rapidly my (our) tastes change. That said, I still return to my top three from last year all the time; I believe they’ll always remain personal favourites, and markers of what happened to me in 2012.
It’d be cool if I could write something else though, like my top ten books from this year. Ok, I’ll list a couple since you asked: Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven; Andy Russell’s The Canadian Cowboy; Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Americanah; Shandi Mitchell’s Under This Unbroken Sky; and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. If you want to get totally screwed up by a crazy book this holiday, read Life After Life ... it still sits on my mind. It’s like Inglourious Basterds meets Downton Abbey meets Groundhog Day. I’m not kidding. (I realize most of these books weren’t released in 2013, but I read them all this year.)
To the tunes:
10. Courtyard Hounds, Amelita
I’m not super crazy about this album, but for some reason I’m putting it on the top ten. In fact, I’m disturbed by its content. I had hoped such accomplished singers and songwriters would go beyond the “please call me back” “please don’t end our relationship” “oh no, we’re packing our house up and saying goodbye” songs, but nope. I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to lyrics, but these ones really stood out, and really bothered me. Lines like “I got music to get me high” ?? Erp. Still, Maguire and Robison cut the thematic dullness with their specialty: playing awesomely. They know how to arrange songs so that their gentle voices are balanced by their respective instruments. Songs like “Phoebe” showcase the girls’ roots and ultimate strength with its bluegrassy melody and sister harmonies.
9. Various Artists, Look Out Kansas City
I think I like the concept and execution of this album more than its content (no, seriously, I do like some of the music on my top ten). To me, it’s what the Calgary roots scene is about: Suh-port. Club owners and programmers getting together to fundraise so that local musicians can zip down to Folk Alliance in Kansas City next year. This album is everything teeny and independent about a local folk scene at the same time that it’s an enormous effort to generate national and international attention for well-deserving artists. Returning for another year, the Bow Valley’s fundraiser is just one of those heart-warming things. Like buying a knitted tea cozy at the church bazaar, but cooler.
8. Liam Fitzgerald and The Rainieros, Last Call!
Even though I spent most of the year listening to music released long before 2013, I do like the fact that artists have been resurrecting old styles and not dressing them up too much. It seems to be a mini-trend; I hope it catches on more. These guys do the honky tonk thing nicely. Straightforward songs, classic themes; it’s a slightly fresh take on an old sound, but still familiar.
7. JR Shore, State Theatre
My dad and I bonded over this album, which is reason enough to put it in the top ten. It came out at the beginning of this year, but I still put it on and am still amazed at Shore’s songwriting. Even though his originals are combined with a set of covers that include John Prine, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young songs, Shore doesn’t overwhelm with too much – instead, this package perfectly demonstrates the vastness of his talent.
6. Tim Hus, Western Star
While Tim has long been a solid songwriter with entertaining tales of the life and work of regular Canadians, his partnership with producer Harry Stinson takes Western Star, were it a reality show performance, to the “next level”. Whatever that is. It’s good, anyway. Bam, through different regions. Bam again, through different occupations. Hus doesn’t let you get bored. He alternates funny with sentimental, straightforward with poetic. Plus, he’s the hardest working musician I have ever talked to. Go get a bit of sleep this year, Tim. You deserve it.
On a more serious note...
I always feel like top tens are a bit disingenuous for me, because they imply that I’ve spent all year listening to new material when I really don’t. I listen to old stuff way more. So I’d like to throw in a song that better represents my listening habits and my personal connection to them.
This song is not only a sort of mental return home for me, in that I grew up with Billy Joel on the record player, but also a summation of this year. You may listen to it and figure I’m sad as hell. Yep, sometimes I am. This year, I cried harder than I’ve ever cried, for all the losses I went through, and for the losses of those closest to me that I felt acutely. I guess I hoped too for my own Billy Joel, as he is in this track: someone to confide and collapse into. He says what I’m thinking, about one in particular, better than I could, so I’ll let him do it. I’ll also send this to my dear people who I know have suffered greatly this year. You know who you are. Let’s hope for better times in 2014.
Don’t worry, I’ll be more cheerful in the Top Five.