Ten (or Eleven) Overlooked Albums of 2013

My post on picks for essential albums of the year was completed on the same day as the blogger compilation list was featured and a quick scrolling noted that there were many worthwhile recordings that were absent from all our lists.  And many substantial 2013 releases, such as Kim Richey and my own Patty Griffin's Silver Bell and the Motel Mirrors, were included only on a single list. 

So, to give some space and credit to endearing records that made no one's list, here, in no particular order,  are some that need to find an audience. Not meant to be reviews or even mini-reviews, but rather to bring some attention to artists/albums that are more than deserving of wider attention.

As Willie Sugarcapps is a Nashville supergroup made of local, veteran talent, Blue Yonder is West Virginia's. They are comprised of singer-songwriter John Lilly, two-time national flat picking champion Robert Shaffer and Will Carter. Taking strands of early country music – from swing to honky-tonk, bluegrass and rockabillly – the band weaves them together in an authentic, down home style. Lilly has a half dozen albums or so out under his own name, Shaffer is, perhaps, the best flatpicker next to Tony Rice and as with Jake Silver in Aoife O'Donovan's band, Will Carter's subtle jazz bass lines constantly drive the band into swing mode.

Linda Thompson's  Won't Be Long Now grows on you. Due to an illness she has recorded and performed sporadically over the past 25 years or so, and is only her 4th release since 1985. But I hope those who are mesmerized by her voice on her duo albums with Richard will seek out her solo work. She has an unforgettable voice. One of my most memorable musical moments was seeing her close a show (some ten years ago) with "The Dimming of the Day" with son Teddy on guitar.

I would wager good money that Robyn Hitchcock has made more albums since he began any other artist around. That may be a reason he is taken for granted. He is also a bit on an acquired taste and a lot of folks simply do not get his wit or his psyche. Love From London further explores his soft psychedelia. A lover of both the Beatles and Dylan, he will perform entire albums, beginning to end, of their work on a moment's notice. Few, if any, artists have written as many songs  or knows as many songs by others. His mini-tours with writer/producer/A&R man Joe Boyd are once in a lifetime experiences.

I first saw Henry Wagons two years ago at an Ausssie event at the AMA. He was a wild man from the outback fit to be tied. So it came a bit of a surprise that his seven track EP that was recorded with friends live to tape at the United Record Pressing plant in Nashville is not just subdued by comparison, but introspective as well.  Mixing a couple of standards ("Lonesome, 'Onry & Mean") with originals, it deserves way more than it seems to be getting. Memorable. It is the 9th in a series of live albums recorded at the plant from 453 Music.

Lucy Wainwright Roche has taken her time to escape the large shadows of her parents and half-brother and half-sister. It has also taken some time to "grow" as a songwriter. Her earlier efforts seemed juvenile, but There's A Last Time To Everything shrugs off the past and demonstrates maturity. Still, a product of her generation her insights into human behavior and predicaments indicate an emerging sensibility into adulthood with echoes of Lena Dunham.

Diana Jones has been touring and recording many songs about Appalachia for many years. Her Museum of Appalachian Recordings was just recently released in the US (following a UK release) that arrived too late to be potentially included in my other list. This album seems a culmination of her still evolving career. As this magazine siad about her: “There is a Spartan simplicity to every song; but Diana Jones’s voice [is a] beautiful, crystal clear, warm sound that the majority of Nashville studios would be hard pressed to recreate. Diana Jones and indeed Appalachian music has never sounded finer as she does on this astonishing labour of love.” Alas, this record is yet another example of great recordings going unheard, unbought, so by necessity they are "labors of love."

Laura Cantrell's No Way From Here just arrived from my UK source and continues her fine recordings and Thrift Shop sensibility. Have no idea when, if ever, there will be a US release. Where is our Bob Harris when we need one?

Don Dixon's High Filthy & Borderline is a treasure from an eclectic singer-songwriter better known for who he has produced. As with Daniel Lanois' records, Dixon's name on his own gets only a modicum of attention. I got a sneak peak of what was to come when I heard Dix play the songs live before the album was out. He prefaced "My Felon Girlfriend" as the least song on the album, well it is not. It has a musical hook that you cannot get out of your head.

Rokia Traoré's Beautiful Africa is another wonder from the Mali artist I first heard in 2000 at the time Wanita was released. But with the new record her musical style is more  western blues and rock than her earlier African folky recordings. Interesting enough, she was inspired when she first heard  an old Gretsch, and the newer sound clicked. Expand your horizons, check out the international scene, Africa and South America primarily.

Songs For Slim began as a series of very limited 45rpm vinyl discs to raise money for Bob "Slim" Dunlop (who replaced Bob Stinson in The Replacements) due to an illness. They auctioned on eBay and raised $16,000. (Only in America do people like Slim and Walter White have to raise money for medical expenses.) This 2 CD set contains all of the vinyl tracks, plus ten additional covers of Slim's songs. Not to be missed.

Another compilation, that slipped under everyone's radar is a bit of a misnomer. Music From Boardwalk Empire, Volume 2 is listed as a soundtrack to the HBO series. Except that it is not. It contains songs from that era done by a wide array of artists, Neko Case, Patti Smith, Rufus Wainwright and 17 others, in their own way. It is a bit uneven, but offering intriguing essential takes nonetheless. 

And a New Year's addition of The Stray Birds' 4 song EP of covers, The Echo Sessions featuring songs they have been doing in their live sets, including Townes' unperformed "Loretta" and Susanna Clark's wonderful "I'll Be Your San Antonio Rose":

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Their 2012 release was one of my most played albums of 2013.

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Comment by Ron Myhr on January 2, 2014 at 7:44am

Laura Cantrell's No Way There From Here is being released in the US in January.  From her website:

Folks, mark your calendars for the US release of "No Way There From Here," available in the US on January 28th. We're celebrating with a show January 29th at Joe's Pub and a Nashville show in early February at The Basement‎

Comment by Thomas G. Payne on January 3, 2014 at 6:05am

Anders Osborne's Peace album should be on someones top 10 list.

Comment by Peter Jesperson on January 3, 2014 at 10:21am

Hi Amos,

Loved your piece here on overlooked albums (and also love Laura, Don and Robyn's records!). I was especially pleased to see the Songs For Slim benefit record on your list. I worked on the project and, outside of the tragic circumstances, it was a very gratifying experience. To have had so many talented musicians, producers and engineers donate their services was incredibly humbling. To clarify though, so far we have raised almost $200,000.00 dollars for Slim's care and medical expenses and it's still going strong. Slim is still paralyzed on his left side and unable to swallow. He will need around the clock care for the rest of his life so this money is essential and the family is deeply appreciative. Thanks for your support and kind words! Peter J.

Comment by Amos Perrine on January 3, 2014 at 12:09pm

Peter,  I got the $16,000 figure from the Songs For Slim website and that was the amount attributed to the auctions. Please suggest wording to change the post. And I, like many others, am glad such a substantial sum has been raised. I have told folks for years that artists have no health care, no retirement plan, no 401(k).

Comment by Pete on January 3, 2014 at 1:25pm

Great to see someone who has his own notion of musical quality, seemingly unaffected by popularity or those the record companies promote.  There's so much "manic Americana" these days that it really gives me pause.  And many of the "Top 50" lists feature bands that write poorly (but feature catchy hooks) that I stopped reading them.  I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  Somehow, music criticism has gone the way of academic evaluation, that is, we're suffering from severe grade inflation.  Thanks for shining a light on some worthy artists.  I'd add Willie Nile's fine "American Ride" for consideration. Namaste. 

Comment by Chip Saam on January 6, 2014 at 12:20pm

I agree with Thomas G. Payne, the Anders Osborne album was fantastic and overlooked.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.