I’ve had a long list running since the summer and found it being added it to at least monthly as 2013 has seen some inspiring new music as well as a treasure or two from the vaults of history. Given the ferocity of the competition I decided to go for a Big Tune differentiator ie no matter how good the quality of the performance there had to be a number of truly excellent songs in there to get it over the line.
1 Sara Petite – Circus Comes To Town
Funded on kickstarter, the record is the first Sara has released since losing her partner (and drummer in the Sugar Daddies) John Kuhlken in the summer of 2011. His/her loss runs deep through the songs on Circus Comes To Town but is tempered with her irrepressible sense of fun and love of music and life. There are times when this record will have you reaching for a hankie – or clearing your throat ref consciously if you’re British – and times when it’ll have you smiling. Big song count starts at 3 or 4 and grows with each listen.
2 The Barefoot Movement – Figures Of The Year
I wrote on the new discoveries page how I came across this young string band. The record – their second - showed up in the mail a few months after the kickstarter closed. It didn’t disappoint with a lot of originals a few traditional tunes and a Blind Melon cover. The big songs Lay It All Down On Me, River Song, Second Time Around, Thunder – but no filler. The enthusiasm shines through every cut.
3 Phosphorescent – Muchacho
One of the early releases of 2013 but one that fell on the player and sounded like I knew every song already. Everyone has probably heard Songs For Zula by now – not so much a Big Tune as a Beast – but having seen the, play twice this year especially there’s not a weak song here.
4 Matraca Berg – Love’s Truck Stop
I managed to vote for a record of Matraca’s (South Of Heaven) that she didn’t actually release a few years ago so voting for this one twice – on the back of a 2013 release date in the US – keeps up the tradition. As you’d expect the song quality is high but Black Ribbons, Magdalene and the 1-2 sledgehammer that is My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again & Sad Magnolia is awesome (they are track 8 and 9 FFS).
5 Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo – Dear River
Another fourth album, Dear River has a watery theme running through it. Combination of the folkie and the gothic the title track, Everywhen and In The Winter I Returned resonated round these parts. The band playing gets better every record.
6 Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Mr Shires has been quite prolific since leaving the Drive By Truckers with live records filling the gaps between the studio efforts. Southeastern is his best album to date and features a host of good songs and some excellent performances, and it might have featured higher up the list if I hadn’t seem him playing as a duo with Amanda Shires a couple of weeks ago and realised the recording simply UNDER PERFORMS. It’s not often you can say that about what is the bookies favourite to top the ND poll but there it is. Number 6 not a number but a human being.
7 Lanterns On The Lake – Until The Colours Run
Following their 2011 debut Gracious Tides Take Me Hone was always a tough ask for the NE England group, but they pulled it off. The icy vocals, the harmonies and the spare instrumentation are all there as well as some fine songs of which Another Tale From Another English Town, The Buffalo Days and the title track edge ahead of a very strong group. Not well known in ND land but they should be.
8 Neko Case – The Worse Things Get …
Although I liked this record a lot it was only this Friday when I saw Neko and band play it at La Boule Noire that the penny really dropped and listening to the record on the way home on the bus was like it hearing it first time through. Calling Cards, Nearly Midnight and closer Ragtime are all special. But definitely see her live and then listen again.
9 Veronica Falls - Waiting For Something To Happen
Another sophomore album and another one that steps up to an imposing predecessor. Songs to dance and sing along to with the title track having earned its status as earworm of the year.
10 Steve Earle & The Dukes & Duchesses – The Low Highway
Over the years I’ve found Earle’s records inconsistent with high spots but also prone to a bit of filler. Not The Low Highway. Calico County, After Mardi Gras, the mighty Invisible and Remember Me, which as an older parent I found especially moving all pass the big tune hurdle with ease. Stonking live show to boot.
Best Of The Rest
A baker’s dozen of which 12 are snapped below and a 13th Bella Hardy’s Battleplan I have only as a download but is well worth a few $$ of anyone’s money.
The timeless for which the year is irrelevant