raisin’ hell: that end of the year list thing-y
First off…just a brief word about raisins. About fifteen years or so ago I found myself seriously overweight from lack of any physical activity, extensive and endless business travel and a life of expense account meals and drinks. I went on the Atkins Diet and lost eighty-five pounds in less than ten months, and in the process I gave up eating things like fruit, bread, pasta, rice and just a ton of stuff. But one thing I really missed were raisins. As a child, my mom always would pack a small box of Sun-Maid into my lunch bag and I guess it was a comfort food. I’ve been off the Atkins thing for a few years but stayed away from raisins until last month, when one morning I added a handful to a bowl of hot oatmeal, along with a spoonful of brown sugar. It was amazing. I must have had it a dozen times since then. Today I reached for another handful and discovered there were none in the pantry. No prob…I substituted dried pitted tart Montmorency cherries instead. But they didn’t taste so good. My point? I’m not really sure but guess what…it’s time for that end of the year list thing-y!!!
Those of us who blog for a living (those last four words are akin to “jumbo shrimp”…there is no money in this) whether it be about music, film, art, books, poetry, photography, video games, politics or whatever might float that boat of yours, seem to have this pathetic need in December to somehow wrap it all up with the obligatory year end list. Most folks choose to do a sort of rundown…”here is my list of the best new mystery writers from 2011”…while others come up with unique and elaborate scoring systems to rank with some sort of heft, weight and authority “the absolute best (insert your favorite thing) of the year”. For myself, I shall take a different path because…well…just because.
(And anyway, I’ve learned that unless I put Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, “Americana”, “naked” or about a half dozen other names or buzzwords into the title, nobody reads this stuff anyway.)
So…in absolutely no particular order:
Spotify: I’ve been waiting years for this streaming service to enter the US marketplace and it’s where I now go to listen to much of the new music I read or hear about. The connection with Facebook is a huge plus, allowing me to see and listen to my friend’s playlists, easily share and send music and of course the best thing is that it’s free. Got to put up with advertising, but it’s not too intrusive. Needs better searching capabilities and recommendations, but new apps are coming soon to address some of the shortfalls.
“Heritage” Americana Artists: C’mon…you gotta be happy that the Jayhawks are back recording, writing and performing together again. Their catalog has been cleaned up, a great box set came out last year featuring all kind of gems and rarities, the old first album even got re-released and the new album is great. And praise to the rest of them who put out new stuff: Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, John Hiatt, Neil Young and Buddy Miller.
The Outer Limits: When the world was in Austin for SXSW, I logged onto a blog called Couch By Couch West and found a video upload from Boston’s Marissa Nadler. A goth-y fingerpicking singer-songwriter, I fell in love with much of her music and performing. I’ve done two posts about her, shared her videos here and she continues to fascinate me. Just as important, her music has led me to discover a folk music scene from Maine to Philadelphia that, while steeped in the traditional also pushes the limits. My hat goes off to Arborea’s release Red Planet, the entire past catalog from Philly’s The Espers and of course the latest release from Meg Baird, Seasons on Earth.
The Wild, The Innocent and The Death Of Clarence Clemons: As sad as this was, his passing was my gateway to get back into Bruce and the E Street Band after a few decades of tuning them out. What an amazing body of work.
McGarrigle/Wainwright/Roche/Thompson Family Circus: I guess it begins with Kate’s death and the release of the McGarrigal box set Tell My Sister, which also took me to the BBC box set from Richard and Linda Thompson. God I love them, him and her. Daughter Kami Thompson’s recent Love Lies is somewhat a family affair and that leads me to also mention Lucy Wainwright Roche’s Lucy. Beautifully done. The kids are alright.
Australia: Why Kasey Chamber’s Storybook isn’t getting more attention and praise is a mystery to me, because she is in great form here. Cover songs and duets..damn she’s good. She out-Americanas’ the Americans. From the same territory but totally different generation and genre, I just got to mention brother and sister Angus and Julia Stone although they didn’t bring out anything new this past year except a song in the new Twilight film. Yeah….really. And finally, Jordie Lane’s new Blood Thinner is mighty impressive.
Signature Sounds/Red House Music: These two labels have certainly stepped up and brought out some of the best music in the past year. The list is inconclusive, but here’s just a few: Crooked Still, Joy Kills Sorrow, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, Jeffrey Foucault, Chris Smither. Kris Delmhurst, Lori McKenna, Pieta Brown, Eliza Gilkyson, Wailin’ Jennys, Dale Watson, A Nod To Bob II, Danny Schmidt…can I just get a job please?
Tom Waits and Shelby Lynne and Jim Lauderdale: Yes and Yes and Yes.
Great Bands and Solo Artists Under The Age of Sixty: Really folks…it’s a big wide world out here. Go find it. Vandaveer, Threadbare Brother, Red Sky July, Red Heart the Ticker, Mark W. Lennon, A.A. Bondy, Deer Tick, The Deep Dark Woods, Zee Avi, Ashley Brooke Toussant, Betty Soo and Doug Cox, Grand Hallway, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, Daniel Martin Moore, Daniel Romano, Ivan and Alyosha, Wye Oak, The Head and The Heart, Fleet Foxes, Decemberists, Maggie Bjorklund, Band of Heathens, Jason Isbell, Bobby Long, Amos Lee, The Civil Wars, Old Californio, Jonathan Wilson, Vespers and Dylan LeBlanc.
A Steve Earle Production: Ana Egge’s Bad Blood. He produces, he plays, he sings…but she is the real treat here.
Women Who Knocked Me Out: Tara Nevins, Robyn Ludwick, Abigail Washburn, Brandi Carlile, Jill Andrews and Rachel Harrington
Men with Nose Hair: Jeff Bridges, Gurf Morlix, Kelly Pardekooper, Slaid Cleves and Todd Snider
Killer Collaborations: Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers’ Heirloom Music, and for something completely different…Jesse Lege, Joel Savoy and the Cajun Country Revival will kick your ass.
Cheap Music: Noisetrade consistently offers a great option to name your own price (even if it’s zero) and its a great place to discover new music from both new and established acts. And Amazon’s download store is just a ball of confusion in how they price. I’ve seen new releases there for as low as $2.99 on some days, and the label and artist still get paid in full. How do they do it? Volume.
Great Free Samplers: Bloodshot Records offers them up over on Amazon. This year’s Valentine’s Day one was really good.
Local Coffee Houses: If you can’t afford a $100 ticket to a stadium gig and don’t like smoky bars or Unitarian Churches, head over and support your local coffee house and the folks who perform there for the love of music and maybe a small round of applause and appreciation. I want to thank and acknowledge Flour Fusion in Lake Elsinore for fightin’ the fight and presenting folks like Brandon Thomas De La Cruz, Ashlee Morton, Holly Pulliam, Davie Gayle and all the rest of the great artists in Southwest California.
Next Year: Kathleen Edwards and Leonard Cohen are my January “can’t waits”. Hem also has finished a new one…finally.
And oh yeah….thanks for letting me hang out here Kyla and Kim. And forgive me for sometimes…raisin’ hell.