Best Music of 2011 – A very subjective list
By Doug Heselgrave
As a music fan, I have always loved reading the inevitable best of lists that every journalist feels compelled (or is explicitly asked) to write, but I hate writing them myself because deep inside I know that my opinions are just that – opinions – and that – as such – they’re wildly unreliable. Over the last twenty years, I ‘ve developed biases and they tend to obfuscate my hearing. I had an unopened copy of one of the records on my best of list this year – The Barr Brothers –for months and months before a second copy of their CD was given to me by a friend, and I finally listened to it and fell immediately in love with their sound. How many other great CDs are languishing in boxes in my garage? It’s a thought that has been waking me up very early in the last week or so, but so far I’ve resisted going into that Pandora’s box of undiscovered sounds. But, it’s woken me up to the fact that at nearly fifty years of age, the bands I’ve loved for years and the styles of music that have guided me through life aren’t necessarily that relevant to many people anymore.
I’m going to try and be more open in 2012. (my first and only resolution for the new year) It’s something we should all try our best to do. Just this morning as I was listening to Lukas Nelson again with my cousin, he asked to switch the music and put on some songs from yelawolf, a young rapper signed to Eminem’s record label, and despite my back being firmly out of place as the music began to roll, I had to admit that what I heard was witty, creative and experimental. It was true cutting edge music from an artist that I wouldn’t have given the time of day if the CD had dropped through my mailbox unannounced. So, in a spirit of bias and limited vision, here is the list of songs and records that moved me the most this year.
1. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest – I’m sure this will be on many lists this year, but Gillian and David have proven with this one that seven years is not too long to wait for musical perfection. This one continues to sound better every time I play it.
2. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic – Like Gillian Welch, Mr. Lowe doesn’t put out many records these days, but this one is a real diamond. Great, understated songs played by a wonderful, intuitive band. This record is one of the surprises of the year. A must hear.
3. Shiloh Lindsey – Western Violence and Brief Sensuality – A blistering singer and songwriter from Vancouver is responsible for the best country record released anywhere in 2011. Full stop. ‘nuff said.
4. Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean – A great experimental record from Sam Beam’s Iron and Wine. Just when everyone thought that the success of the Twilight soundtracks had steered him into solo acoustic territory for good, he surprised everyone with this blistering sonic masterpiece.
5. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real – The first full length album from Lukas Nelson demonstrated how far he’s come in the last few years. Alternating between blues inflected southern style rockers and gorgeous ballads, Nelson’s an artist to watch.
6. Barr Brothers – self-titled – This Montreal band combines aspects of country, folk, prog rock and desert blues and makes it all work beautifully. The surprise record of the year. Simply gorgeous.
7. Slide to Freedom – 20,000 miles – The third album from Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt’s blues-Indian classical fusion band sees the band finding its own unique sound. A great album and a fabulous live act.
8. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What – A great album from the veteran singer-songwriter. Witty tunes with killer rhythms make this a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.
9. Deep Dark Woods – The Place I left Behind – The prairie band’s third album continues to explore deep roots music traditions while demonstrating a more contemporary songwriting style. Band, Neil Young and Grateful Dead fans will find lots to enjoy on this one.
10. Alison Krauss and Union Station – Paper Airplane – Alison and her bandmates continue to be one of the classiest acts in modern country music. This beautifully played set of originals and covers has rarely left my CD player since it came out last spring.
11. Bruce Cockburn – Small Source of Comfort – The Canadian folk music institution’s newest album is one of his best in years. A great balance of topical songs and sensitive instrumentals have made this one of my favourites of the year.
12. Tom Waits – Bad As Me – There are no whirring turntables, scratchy nails or found sounds on this one – just great, wheezy down in the mud (some dry, some fresh) rootsy tracks from one of the planet’s greatest assets.
Best Songs – in no particular order
- Lukas Nelson – The sound of your memory
- Betty Soo and Doug Cox – Lie to Me
- Shiloh Lindsey – Head in My Grave (this is what Lucinda should sound like)
- Gillian Welch – the Way it Goes
- Iron and Wine – Tree by the River
- Alison Krauss – Dimming of the Day (Has a sadder song been sung this year?)
- Slide to Freedom – Spooky (The Zombies tune driven by a freaky sitar melody)
- Barr Brothers – Let there be Horses (perhaps the best vocal performance of the year. This duet featuring Brad Barr and Emma Baxter gives me chills)
- Deep Dark Woods – The Place I left Behind
- Catherine MacLellan – Snowbird (I know, I know, but Catherine’s soaring version of this Anne Murray standard written by her grandfather is just so so good)
11. Nick Lowe – I read a lot (the best post-breakup song of the year)
Bombino – Agadez – The craze for desert music continues with this great record from a young guitar player from the Sahara region
Kiran Ahluwalia – Ahm Zameen – Common Ground – The third record from this cutting edge Indo-Canadian ghazal singer is her best yet.
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Rise Again – Lee Perry has been very prolific in recent years, but this collaboration with Bill Laswell is one of his better CDs of the last decade. Killer vintage reggae stylings from two of the masters of the form.
Bob Marley and the Wailers – Live Forever – This 2 CD set that captures Bob Marley’s last concert is both a powerful musical statement that reminds old fans of just how incendiary a performer and spiritual force he was and a sad reminder of all he might have achieved had he not been cut down by cancer at the age of thirty-six.
Grateful Dead – The Road Trips Series – Has anyone put out more live albums than the Grateful Dead? For the converted, this budget priced series of double and triple CD sets was reason to celebrate four times a year. This series has recently come to an end to be replaced by ‘Dave’s Picks’ a new archival release series from David Lemieux, keeper of the Grateful Dead’s vault.
The listening Sofa
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
Sign up for free updates