Compiling a list of my favorite albums of the year is always a welcomed exercise, because it forces me to go back through all the albums that moved me, got me dancing, or changed my perspective over the last 12 months.
I know there is no way that this is a perfect list, so please offer suggestions of records that you dug this year, and help a brother out!
1. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest
Don't call it a comeback. After 8 quiet years of touring and occasional collaborations, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings reward us with our patience with one of their best albums to date.
2. Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi - Rome
I've been a fan of Danger Mouse since I first heard The Grey Album back around the turn of the century. I'm always interested in what he's involved with whether it was Gnarls Barkley or the Black Keys. This might be my favorite album he's been involved with. This mostly instrumental "soundtrack" also featuring incredible collabs with Jack White and Norah Jones. After years of Ms. Jones creeping onto my radar, this is the record where I can officially put her in the "cool" category.
3. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Five years since the spralling half new/half old triple album, Orphans, it's great to hear a short and concise album of all new material from one of my heroes and a true American icon.
4. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
For whatever reason I was never a fan of Ryan Adams. Sure, I dug Whiskeytown (especially Strangers Almanac), but whether it was his image or, more likely, no one sitting me down and forcing me to listen I let each of his many releases come and go with little or no fanfare. But one listen to the opening track Dirty Rain, with its great piano work from Benmont Tench, and I was born again a believer in Mr. Adams.
5. Kills - Blood Pressure
I've been a mild fan of the Kills and singer Alison Mosshart's work with Dead Weather, but this record solidified my love of this band. Much more diverse on further exploration than the dirty garage rock greatness that first piqued my ears.
6. Kurt Vile - Smoke Rings For My Halo
I jumped on board with Kurt Vile's unique vision with 2009's Childish Prodigy, and this record takes his approach into even deeper terrain.
7. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams - v/a
More goodness involving Jack White and Norah Jones. This compilation was curated by none other than Bob Dylan. Originally Dylan was asked to do a whole album of lost Hank Williams songs, but possibly overwhelmed by the responsibility, he opted to get his friends involved. And what friends he has! We get to hear Jack, Norah, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, Levon Helm and Mr. Dylan himself (and more) finishing Hank Williams' unfinished songs.
8. Adele - 21
Maybe it's because I worked at a record store for 3 years, or maybe it's because I'm a musician myself and I've learned the hard way that hype doesn't usually mean a thing. But in Adele's case, her songs sell themselves. What a voice, what a talent. It's great to see a good one break through.
9. Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers - Starlite Hotel
I've been a fan of Zoe Muth since we first shared a Seattle stage a few years back. Her 2009 self-titled debut and her latest prove to anyone doubtful that real country music can still be made by a youngster in 2011 that there is hope.
10. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes and I have a curious history. Between Robin Pecknold being a brief bassist for me in my old band, Dolour, as well as growing up and collaborating with various past and present members and witnessing their rise right in front of my eyes. With their first full-length and EP garning all the attention that it did, it was hard to for me to listen to the music objectively. But with this year's Helplessness Blues I can say that Pecknold and the boys are truely offering a much-needed injection of beautiful music to the current popular landscape. And I'm proud to say I knew them when.
The Beach Boys - Smile Sessions
I would not be true to my late teens/early twenties obsession with Brian Wilson if I didn't mention that it is amazing to finally hear these tracks that I have poured over in bootleg form over the years finally cleaned up and presented. I had assumed we'd have to wait for Mr. Wilson's passing to finally be able to feast on these nuggets of genius, but it's really a testament to how far Brian has come that we finally saw the release of this music that he once said would never, and should never, be released.