My 2012 Top Ten, Part III
The final three. I said in previous posts that I’m not always interested in the emotional content of my top ten; sometimes a well-crafted song will win out over anything else. This group, though, appeals to both sides of me, hence my objective/subjective stances in #3 and #1.
It can be hard to come up with ten roots albums. This year in particular was a rough one for me, and I listened to a lot of darker, heavier music, and, on the flip side, a lot of old, croony western material, and also the ridiculous collection of songs I adored in my early teen years. But nobody asked for my top ten 70s-hard-rock-metal-slash-cowboy-meets-The-Bangles list of 2012.
I say this because I think my choices here, even though not explicitly from those other genres, capture my predominant feelings this year: frustration, helplessness, anger, hope, disappointment, hope, disappointment, hope, disappointment, resignation, and then some romantic, sentimental longing and hope again.
Wow, that was hard to write. I hope some of you at least agree with my choices in the objective sense. I should clarify that I wrote this three weeks ago, before my newsfeed was inundated with the same three in other top ten lists. Nice to see these three on lists by writers I admire. Not that I’m ever swayed by popular opinion…
3. Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur
Objectively: Edwards has courageously leapt away from her normal rootsy sound on this album, dangerous territory if your fans want more of the same, and she’s done it well. She kept enough of her old self that the new pop-oriented sound isn’t…disorienting. There’s maturity in every sense of Voyageur: a careful attention to detail in the turns of phrase or vocal ornaments; a wiser, maybe world-weary view on life’s shittier moments; a nicely developed voice that is singing beautiful melodies.
Subjectively: I seem to remember KE likening an album of personal songs to accidentally stepping in dog poop and having to walk around with it on your shoe all day. It’s okay to get personal because that’s what audiences love. The best part of her getting personal is that she’s saying things that many of us North American women in our 30s are afraid to. Or we don’t realize we can talk about the crushing disappointment that comes after getting through life’s significant milestones. But she’s doing it, and even if she regrets it now, I think she’s helped many of us out.
Best Track: “Change the Sheets”
2. Dwight Yoakam, 3 Pears
It was tough choosing between Dwight and KE for the number two spot, but I’m thinking that Dwight’s going to have a pretty solid spot in my playlist for the long-term. Here’s where a bit of my teen years come in: I used to make mix tapes of his songs and sing along for hours. This is a loud, yummy album, with great songwriting and thick arrangements. Yoakam’s voice is strong, overtaking even the beefy orchestral sections, but the best moment for me is the last quiet line of “Waterfalls” – it’s far easier to sing well when you’re projecting; much harder when you’re holding back.
The album’s full of tasty numbers (I’m not hungry writing this review, but now that I think about it, the album is good enough to eat): the opener, “Take Hold of My Hand”, shows off the chance for a straightforward melody to become downright dreamy once he starts singing. “Missing Heart” is my weak spot on 3 Pears. Even though it doesn’t end properly, another pet peeve of mine, it’s okay in this context. It’s not supposed to end. The first thing that caught me was the pairing of the steel guitar with his voice, but if there’s anything that captures my emotional state of late, it’s the lyrics of this song.
3 Pears even includes a cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke”, that classic tune that persists in keeping us girls in the only two available categories: good wife or honky tonk party girl. Sigh.
Best Track: “Missing Heart”
(Honourable Mention: “Take Hold of My Hand”)
1. Corb Lund, Cabin Fever
I swear, I’m not his PR girl. I just really like this guy. I promise this will be the last I write about him for awhile. It’s not too often that an artist comes along and impresses me in every way: exceptional songwriting and smart lyrics; he’s thoughtful and well-read; he carefully thinks about the art of what he does instead of throwing it into the world, hoping it will work.
Objectively: It’s hard to dabble in several genres and not only be successful in all of them, but also come out with an aesthetically satisfying album. He even gives you options: want spontaneous, acoustic versions of the song? Listen to the unplugged “Cabin” side. Feel like you want something heavier? Go for the “Fever” side. Cabin Fever is a good reminder that the art of the album isn’t gone yet. And he’s destroyed any teaching confidence I had by summing up topics like syncopation, or disco (yes, disco), in ten seconds or less on his songwriting videos.
If you go see him live, listen to his music, especially when he tells you to listen. He wants you to hear his band. We know you’re having an awesome time. I’ve stepped in the results of your awesome time at the last two shows. But stop yelling for a few minutes and listen to the really good stuff.
Corb brings me home, and sometimes I need that and sometimes it’s hard to get there. I don’t mean wishing for a horse with a little nostalgic sniff, though I suppose that’s there too. I mean home in all the complicated, contradictory ways, the place that I resist and return to, that is full of expectation and…oh god am I going to say it?…the blues. He doesn’t always unabashedly embrace home, he challenges it, and hard. He escapes for awhile, and returns. I leave for longer, then escape back to it.
And I put him on, so he can bring me home. Thanks, C.
Best Track: “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner” Wow. Totally brilliant.
(Honourable mention: I still have a pretty soft spot for “September”)