While my take on the year comes next week, let’s first hear what the No Depression photographers have to say. Just as they had a devil of a time selecting a single perfomance of the year, it was difficult to narrow down their favorite albums to a single one each. But, after an appropriate amount of agonizing, they did. Here now are their selections — some household names, some not so well-known, quite a diverse bunch all in all. If you have not already, I urge you to check them out.
Chris Griffy: Mary Gauthier – Rifles and Rosary Beads
I once read that presidents who are veterans are traditionally more hesitant to commit military force to conflicts than those who weren’t. Listening to this album, on which Gauthier helped combat veterans and their spouses talk about war and its aftermath in their own words, I can see why that’s the case. With the guiding hand of one of Americana’s best lyricists, those closest to war’s effects meld patriotic pride with unspeakable pain, unconditional love with hopeless despair, and sacrifice with cynicism in a way that is difficult to listen to at times, but is too important not to. This is the album that will endure as, unfortunately, war never goes out of style. With each new conflict this album will be there to remind us of the costs.
Boom Baker: John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Let’s face it, some days we need John Prine in our lives. Here he sings about love and forgiveness, amuses us with “Egg & Daughter Night,” only to face the inevitable end, “When I Get To Heaven,” but with humor and nostalgia. Prine could carry this entire album as a solo project, but here he discerningly shared his talent with his touring band, co-writer Pat Mclaughlin, producer Dave Cobb, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile. Prine is one of the preeminent songwriters still plowing fields of excellent storytelling. After 47 years of writing and recording, he’s certainly a national treasure.
Kevin Smith: Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis – Wild, Wild, Wild
This album seemingly came out of nowhere and merged the always fabulous Lewis with an alt-country legend. It blends honky-tonk, rockabilly, and great country duets. It features more great songs written by Fulks, many specifically about Lewis’ life, and a group of first-class musicians including Merle Haggard’s guitarist Redd Volkaert. A hands-down winner.
Carol Graham: Becky Warren – Undesirable
I have been waiting patiently since 2004 for the return of Becky Warren. This year my wish finally came true in the form of some cleverly camouflaged blues under the guise of rock, jazz, and Americana. This is an album with a social conscience, reaching deep into the issues of homelessness. The lyrics are the saddest you will ever hear, but the album also delivers hope and sheer joy, with hints of an early Lucinda Williams. You will dance along to the jazz beats of “Carmen” — definitely my song of the year — and sing along to “We’re All We Got” with the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray. Warren has come of age and has become a force to be reckoned with.
C. Elliott: Neko Case – Hell-On
In curating various artists, including Beth Ditto, Neko Case shows us that she continues to reinvent herself as an edgy, melodic, emotionally resonant singer-songwriter. Despite losing her home to a fire, she has prevailed and is better than ever.
Steve Ford: Gurrumul – Djarimirri (Child Of The Rainbow)
Recorded shortly before his death last year, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu saved his best for last. The album fuses Gurrumul’s otherworldly take on Aboriginal tradition with Western classical music. The orchestrations – owing an obvious debt to Philip Glass and other minimalists – were written by his longtime friend, collaborator, and musical director, Michael Hohnen. From one of the oldest cultures on Earth, Gurrumul and Hohnen created something timeless.
Todd Gunsher: Phil Cook – People Are My Drug
Has Durham, North Carolina, become our Austin? It is beginning to feel that way. Along with playing with/in Hiss Golden Messenger, this Durhamite’s second solo album steers more to soul and gospel, or should I say they they inhabit him, infuse him. The first line of Cook’s website quotes Tennessee Williams and is an apt descpition of this beautiful album: “We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”
Peter Dervin: Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey To Lubbock
Alvin, from Downey, California, and Gilmore, from Lubbock, Texas, finally got together and made an album of original songs and some wonderful covers. Early in the year, and before the album’s release, the two of them came to Seattle for a most intimate concert. Trading songs and stories, it was a wonderful evening. Later in the year they were were joined The Guilty Ones for an extensive tour, and stopping in Seattle for two shows, one each at The Tractor Tavern and The Triple Door.
Now, the photos.
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