Best of 2011
Welcome to the Best of 2011! Each year I listen to as much music as I can stand and filter out the best so you don’t have to. My concept is not only to pick out the best, but also create a mix that is an enjoyable listen. Usually the first disc is more rock and soul while the second disc leans toward altcountry and songwriters. I tend not to include two of my favorite genres, world and jazz, and try to address this separately through my World Soul series. Anyway, since some of you have expressed interest in having a little more background about the picks, I thought I’d add a few notes regarding this year’s selections.
Track 1 “Not Fade Away” Florence + The Machine
This is from a fine Buddy Holly tribute produced by Paul McCartney and reflects an influence of my daughter Katie’s taste in music. Florence had a great album “Lungs” a couple years ago and can be heard in that commercial with the woman rock climber. This tribute album has some very creative interpretations of the great Buddy Holly (including CeLo doing You’re So Square and a crazy Paul McCartney take on It’s So Easy) who would have turned 75 this year.
Track 2 “Rolling In the Deep” Adele
Adele was the breakout pop artist of the year, another favorite of Katie’s. I find her music unclassifiable and the fact that she is covering Bonnie Raitt songs in concert makes her that more legit.
Track 3 “California (Hustle and Flow) Social Distortion
Social Distortion has been around since the 70’s as a hardcore punk band, but I find them moving more in Springsteen country here.
Track 4 “Dazzling Blue” Paul Simon
This album sort of snuck in, and is his best album since Graceland. Anybody who knows me will appreciate the reference to the Montauk Highway.
Track 5 “Breath In Breath Out” Carrie Newcomer
Carrie unfortunately gets confused with Carrie Underwood the American Idol winner, but is another talented folkie out of New England. Here she takes a world turn at Indian music, a genre rich for exploration. (Check out the Bollywood soundtracks by Vijay Anand on Luka Bop).
Track 6 “Down By the Water” The Decemberists
One of the best albums of the year, these northwest nerds get help from Gillian Welch and Peter Buck to make the best REM album in years.
Track 7 “Seeing Black” Lucinda Williams
A happy marriage hasn’t deterred Lu from taking some sharp edged cracks at someone who did her wrong.
Track 8 “She Walks In So Many Ways” The Jayhawks
The Jayhawks reformed after 16 years apart and this represents their classic sound. We saw them at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and at their best they sound like a cross between Tom Petty and the Byrds. Rainy Day Music is my favorite of their albums.
Track 9 “Weekend” Smith Westerns
A Brit Pop band from Chicago in the spirit of Big Star.
Track 10 “Time Spent In Los Angeles” Dawes
Although not so much in this track, most of the album is a dead ringer for the 70’s LA sound of the Eagles and Jackson Browne.
Track 11 “No Strings” Mayer Hawthorne
My favorite of the neo-soul nerds, this Detroit guy has all the Motown hooks and then some.
Track 12 “Welcome To the Jungle” Etta James
Comatose with dementia and leukemia, we’ll be seeing her obit soon. Nevertheless, she still sounds great on this final album, doing a great cover of the Guns and Roses classic.
Track 13 “Tongue” David Bromberg
David re-emerged last year after quitting performing to become a master violin maker. This album has him paired with many greats and sounds like his best work from the 70s. His wife is the bass player for a great group, The Angel Band.
Track 14 “Daddy Knows What Boys Want” Rob Lytle
I found this track cruising through itunes and bought the album (it’s all good). Anybody with a 15 year old daughter will know where I’m coming from.
Track 15 “Thirty Second Lover” Steve Cropper
A great all-star tribute to the 5 Royales by the Booker T. guitarist. Great duets with Lucinda and Stevie Winwood and that great Memphis guitar. Steve has also put out a couple albums with Felix Cavaliere (The Young Rascals) the last few years that are worth your attention.
Track 16 “Shell Games” Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst is one of those guys, like Brett Dennen who can’t help put out great stuff every year. New Dylan is too easy a tag.
Track 17 “When the Night Was Young” Robbie Robertson
A nostalgic look back by the leader of the Band with the help of friends like Eric Clapton. I’ve always agreed with Levon Helm that he should have shared the song writing credit with the rest of the group (what has he really done since he left?) but this album is one of his best solo efforts.
Track 18 “Midnight In Harlem” Tedeschi Trucks Band
A sublime culmination of a longtime husband wife team. A great blues singer in the Bonnie Raitt tradition and one of the best guitar players working today.
Track 19 “Holding On to Black Metal” My Morning Jacket
Sounds like a soundtrack to a Quarantino film (always good). One of the best under-the-radar bands in the country, although this sounds nothing like most of their music.
Track 1 “Harlan County Line” Dave Alvin
Everything Dave Alvin has done for the last 25 years is worth hearing. His two bands, The Guilty Men and The Guilty Women are guilty pleasures to say the least. This album he reunites with his brother Phil from the Blasters.
Track 2 “Got You Covered” Blackie and The Rodeo Kings
Kings and Queens is the concept as this Canadian supergroup (including guitar ace Colin Linden) teams up with the queens of altcountry.
Track 3 “Looking For a Place” Eliza Gilkyson
Starting off with a great rhyme for derrire, Eliza again proves she is no second rate Lucinda. She’s an unabashed socialist with an advanced degree from the school of hard knocks. An Austin institution.
Track 4 “That’s Where I’m Going” Eilen Jewell
Not only the queen of the minor key, she is the queen of honky tonk, with the most underrated band in the land. Out of Boston, she sounds Texas all the way.
Track 5 “I Gotta Go” Robert Earl Keen
I love REK. He is a younger contemporary of Willie, Guy, Rodney, Steve, Townes, etc. but he still puts on a live show that makes them look tired. (Except of course for Townes, RIP} I have seen him put on a great show many a times at Hardly Strictly and his albums are all solid.
Track 6 “I’ve Been Gone” Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers
Laid back and cool as ice, this band rocks. Mariachi horns and a rocking rhythm section, this could be the best bar band in the country.
Track 7 “Dirty Rain” Ryan Adams
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Adams since Whiskytown and think this is his best album in 10 years. I’m sensitive to the criticism that he doesn’t edit his songs, he is too prolific, he can’t decide if he is punk or country, but he is a major talent and this album just reinforces it.
Track 8 “Magic” Kris Delmhorst
Another artist from Signature Records. (You could buy every disc they issue and not be disappointed). This is from her tribute album to the Cars. She is married to Jeff Foucault who is worth discovering too.
Track 9 “City of Refuge” Abigal Washburn
One of the best shows I saw this year with Katie at Amoeba Records, she is married to Bela Flek and has a PHD in Chinese studies which comes up in her music. Played in a band called Uncle Earl produced by the bass player in Led Zeppelin.
Track 10 “Windows are Rolled Down” Amos Lee
Another candidate for best album of the year. Has a great feel and some great duets including Lucinda Williiams.
Track 11 “Wood and Stone” Tara Nevins
Great jam band sound from Tara, lead singer of Donna the Buffalo, always in the pocket, another great band from upstate NY.
Track 12 “Doin’ It On My Own” Jim Lauderdale
Another great collaboration with Robert Hunter with a great bluegrass band.
Track 13 “River’s Gonna Rise” Warren Haynes
We saw Warren replace Jerry in the Dead and weren’t impressed. Not a big fan of Govt. Mule either. I like this song however.
Track 14 “Mesabi” Tom Russell
I am the biggest Tom Russell fan (except for that funeral director in Iowa who records all his concerts). Lately I think he sounds a little pompous in some of his songs, but check out his catalog. He is the best American songwriter working today.
Track 15 “If I Had Wings” Matraca Berg
Under the radar Nashville songwriter who is totally awesome.
Track 16 “Codeine” Jason Isabel
Former member of The Drive By Truckers, a legend in his own right. We saw him back up Justin Townes Earle in my favorite show of the year.
Track 17 “20 Years” The Civil Wars
Up and coming folk. The next Gillian Welch.
Track 18 “Poor House” Great American Taxi
Solid track from a great American jam band, spinned off from Leftover Salmon, who sound more like the Grateful Dead then most of their own spinoffs.
Track 19 “Checkout Time” Nick Lowe
Wry observation on growing old. Another gem from the Jesus of Cool.
Track 20 “Another Like Her” Hayes Carll
I love Hayes Carll. He’s like John Prine on mescaline.