My 2012 Top Ten, Part II
This set is somewhat interchangeable for me. See what I mean about lists? Numbers are arbitrary, at least for the middle group. I’m dead serious about my top three though. Oh, the anticipation.
6. Ian Tyson, Raven Singer
Not much to add to what I’ve already said about Tyson and the latest disc. He keeps me interested in Western music, and, more importantly, reminds us all that it’s a dynamic genre that isn’t stuck in the continual regurgitation of “Streets of Laredos” and “Strawberry Roans”. He brings an old tradition into the present day, singing about real, living people in and of the West.
If you’re a songwriter, don’t feel too bad about the fact that you’ll never be as good as he is. Just keep trying to get better; that’s what he does. And that’s why he’s the best.
5. Calexico, Algiers
I’m not emotionally connected to Calexico’s work, and I find this odd because I like the band so much. Might just be that they tend not to write many personal songs, or maybe I am attracted to their songs on an intellectual/musical level. So, same goes for Algiers. When I got it, I put it on and thought yep, this is what I like. Solid Calexico.
Then it got to track 4, “Fortune Teller”, and frankly, I fell apart. I had forgotten that in the summer, I spent a day watching this video over and over again:
I think I might be emotionally attached to a Calexico song!
“Fortune Teller” is also compositionally interesting. Here’s how I hear it: the last line of each verse is repeated at the beginning of the next one, creating cohesion among the sections. That kind of thing is smart, and hard to do without seeming like you’re forcing a compositional trick on the song. Other people might hear it as the repetition of the last line of the verse to finish it off before moving on to the next one, but for me, the break imposed by the “ooh” sections means that the next verse’s beginning is enabled by the reappearance of the last line. It’s another one of those songs where the lyrics hit me hard. In fact, last night I had it on repeat on the way home and I kept getting teary. Though that may have been because I drank a lot to celebrate my last lecture of the semester.
It’s a good Calexico album. More, I guess, mainstream: standard song lengths, more pop-oriented arrangements; different from their last couple releases. So if you don’t know the band and need a way in, Algiers is a good place to start.
4. Lindi Ortega, Cigarettes and Truck Stops
If there’s one thing I despise, it is girls who sing in baby voices. Stop it! When I got Little Red Boots, I was worried, because Ortega’s voice veered dangerously close to that baby voice thing. But the great songs and her avoidance of the downright cutesy alleviated my fears. Cigarettes and Truck Stops is even better. Her voice is stronger and the songs are well-written; there’s a little more anger and confidence here. The first (title) track is a sweet, breathless call out to a true love, although its mellowness doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the album. By the second track, “The Day You Die”, Ortega is telling her lover to eff off through a series of rather brutal metaphors.
Songs like “Don’t Wanna Hear It” and “Demons Don’t Get Me Down” use the echo and frantic energy of goth country, while others like “High” move into ethereal territory. A good mix that keeps you paying attention.
The album gets dirty and flirty; might accidentally inspire you to wink at your bus driver, so be careful. She also sounds a lot like Dolly Parton, with the same early, shallow vibrato (this is not a bad thing, even though it might read like it), a comparison she’s likely familiar with, and alludes to in the title track: “I’d hear Dolly singin’/You and I were islands in the stream”. Might seem confusing, but it all works.