I listened to 100+ new albums this year, and these are the ones that, to butcher Shania Twain, doth impress me much. I’ll keep my write-ups short to limit further wordicide and to let you listen to the playlists in peace. If you like the one or two songs I’ve selected, chances are you’ll like the album. I hope they bring you as much enjoyment as they have for me.
1. TOM RUSSELL – Mesabi
If a magazine writer was assigned a feature on drugs in America, s/he would come back with a series of profiles and stories showing the vicious circles involved; how we define ourselves through the heroes we create, what can happen when our applause fades, how invasive drugs are in our communities, our families .. even our sports (Jai Alai
). Most troubadours create representational characters but Russell doesn’t need the luxury of changing names and places to fit a rhyme scheme. The stories on Mesabi
are all true – making Russell a singer-journalist – well-told and deftly punctuated by U.S.-Mexico border band Calexico. [16 UK dates
announced for January]
2. OVER THE RHINE – The Long Surrender
Well-written, deceptively simple songs about learning to deal with the varied kinds of grief life brings. Songs for the times, and for the ages. Earlier Tincanland post HERE.
3. GHOSTPOET – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
Sounds like hip hop, feels like blues. Earlier Tincanland post HERE
/%20 4. DEEP DARK WOODS – The Place I Left Behind A masterpiece from the band I’ve spent the most time listening to the past few years. Think The Band meets Otis Redding meets Howling Wolf meets The Grateful Dead. ”We only listen to the good stuff,” says singer and lead writer Ryan Boldt (interview HERE), who is one of life’s natural, thoughtful wanderers. Three-part harmonies, Hammond organ, that Rickenbacher sound and Boldt’s low, slow voice mesh seamlessly for something you’ve never heard before. UK tour anon.
5. JOE LOVANO / US FIVE – Bird Songs
Did Charlie Parker need any further interpreting or exploring? Until now, the answer appeared to be no. Forty minutes with rising bass star Esperanza Spalding is an added bonus.
6. BILL CALLAHAN – Apocalypse
Oh to have the music vocabulary to write about this album. It is a slow-paced, mellow song circle with lots going on musically, but quietly. All is secondary to Callahan’s warm seductive voice, though, as he half-narrates, half-sings thoughts, observations and wry asides that might well be diary entries. It has the casual, somewhat idiosyncratic feel of that. Most ‘serious’ albums scream ‘PAY ATTENTION, THIS IS ART.’ Callahan has the confidence to speak quietly and still engage you.
7. CHARLES BRADLEY – No Time For Dreaming
A hard question from a soul singer unsigned until his 60’s: Why is it so hard to make it in America? [if you are black, Hispanic, poor, female….] Earlier Tincanland post HERE.
8. GILLIAN WELCH – The Harrow & The Harvest
Pairings that look good on paper often underwhelm the ears, much as star pairings often leave Wimbledon early. Not so with Welch and life+musical partner Dave Rawlings, and crediting this album solely to Welch is a case for the mislabelling police. It is the class of folk this year; as soulful, rootsy and delightful as Kate Wolf. And it is a credit to them both.
9. RICHARD BUCKNER – Our Blood
Meticulously crafted and cared for genre-less songs. ”Decidedly cohesive, in turns lush and ghostly, with musical and lyrical themes that wind delightfully through the album to reward patient listeners.” Who said that? Oh, yeah, I did HERE
(bonus video interview).
10. DECEMBERISTS – The King is Dead
There has been much speculation about a sudden change of direction to jangly pop after a series of concept albums, but surely the band’s loyal fans – and they are loyal – know Colin Meloy isn’t going REM-lite (Peter Buck guests), Americana (Gillian Welch guests) or HITS radio (it is catchy stuff). No, here is a band stretching it’s wings a bit – and still producing one of the year’s best albums. Superior songs well-played; it rocks. There’s maybe a handful of bands out there who can make an album so good and make it seem so effortless.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS (no particular order) to: Diana Jones, Gregg Allman, Aaron Neville (links are to earlier posts & playlist), Amanda Shires, Deer Tick, Greencards, Sean Rowe, Black Joe Lewis, JP Soars, Betty Wright & The Roots, Glossary, Adam Cohen (one UK show), Feist, Marissa Nadler, Austin Lucas (UK dates announced), Richmond Fontaine.
FAVE NEWCOMERS: Gary Clark Jr, an Austin bluesman being passed the torch of Stevie Ray and Jimi, and Alabama Shakes, a rock band fronted by a soul singer [UK tour].
AND 4 BONUS SONGS: Natalie Zukerman – Little Bird, Marcia Ball – This Used To Be Paradise, Reverieme – Get To Know Me, and Centro-matic – All the Talkers