Rather than put this particular list in any order of preference or to only choose a certain amount of albums, i’m just going to list the albums that have really struck me as my favourites of 2011 and let you be the judge. All i will say is that i think it’s been a pretty good year for music, especially at a roots and small, indie label level and i personally hope this trend continues into 2012 and beyond. It’s further proof that if you are making good music and bringing it to your live shows, word of mouth still counts for a lot. To be taken to the bands website to purchase the albums just click on their name. Please note, i’m not trying to review these albums here, there are far better places across the net to find those and i will often copy and paste quotes from them, but hopefully by listing my own personal favourites it helps spread the word that little bit further. Please, if you like any of these suggestions, go and buy the album or go and see them play if they come through your town and really help support them as well as your local promoters. Anyway, here goes and in no particular order my 2011 picks are….
An album that gripped me on the very first listen. Sarabeth’s voice is crystal clear and each word clearly defined, it reminds me of Karen Carpenter’s in many ways, perhaps some Aimee Mann too. Having spent a few years drinking too much, getting arrested. spending time in jail and then the the death of her father, all that sadness, grief and regret all seems to spill out into this album. There’s heartbreaking ballads like the title track through to Crazy Horse influenced songs like Wooden and Exit Ghost. If i was really pushed into saying what my album of the year is, i think i would say this one. It’s certainly the album i’ve listened to the most, that’s for sure. ‘I knew I was sad /I recognised it was bad/but now looking back/I see my mind, it was cracked’ are the lyrics to the beginning of the title track and they get me every time. Put simply, a stunning album.
With Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan having both released solo albums as well as an album together under their real names they seem to have now settled on The Milk Carton Kids which incidentally is a name of one of their songs. Kenneth’s facebook status at time of writing reads Home = 98 Away = 247 #NightsInMyOwnBed2011 which goes to show how hard these two work and they’ve already got a headline tour booked for January! It would seem all that hard work is paying off having just finished a tour supporting Over The Rhine and i’m hoping they get some European dates in 2012 too. Quite simply one of the best albums i’ve heard in a very long time and i think 2012 is going to be a very big year for these. Check them out.
You have to have a pretty cold heart not to be moved by this incredible album. Mike Ferrio’s previous band, Tandy came to an end after his great friend and band member Drew Glackin tragically passed away aged just 44. Good Luck Mountain is an attempt to deal with this tragic event and to say it succeeds majestically would be an understatement. As Mike said himself “When Drew died it really took the paint off me. I couldn’t seem to do anything but think about it and grieve. I missed singing and laughing with Drew. It was a big silence. After a while I began to be able to hear his voice and his laughter again and after a while the songs started coming” Do yourself a favour and buy this album immediately, your life will be so much better for it.
Taking bluegrass to a whole, new level. While we all love to hear the old classics you can start to hear them being played by a million different bluegrass bands too often so it’s brilliantly refreshing to hear a band write and play their own songs in this style and ones that can sit proudly alongside the old ones. This is their debut album and you’d think they’d been at it for years. Talent.
A late contender for album of the year in my opinion. Represents everything that’s great about Americana, brilliantly written songs about girls, love, heartache and everyday, small town life played with heart and soul. As well as the usual cd/mp3 option there is also vinyl which is limited to just 200 copies which i highly recommend. This band are going places and are worth keeping your eye on.
‘The meandering green 74’ Oldsmobile resident travels through the deserts of the waning west and teetering bordertowns. He finds refuge among the roadside vendors and immigrant folktales on his way to the home of his youth in the Salton Sea‘
Certainly the most atmospheric pieces of music i heard this year are these two gems. Essentially the same person (J.W.S) but two different concept albums which were created somewhere out in the desert of New Mexico. Having been delivered to me wrapped in a map of that area and a note written in orange crayon, nothing could have prepared for what i was about to hear. I’m not anywhere near a descriptive enough writer to express how good these two albums are. I say albums, i suppose they could be the A and B sides of one album but the mixture of sounds, anything from field recordings to synths, all with a slight cosmic, tripped out country tinge to it all, they mess with your head somewhat, they scare me a little bit if i’m honest but if you follow the concept then that’s not surprising. If you want to listen to something a little bit different, totally unique, a little bit creepy but but also incredibly beautiful then i HIGHLY recommend these two albums. Just stunning! (Word reaches The Lonesome Drifter that these are both available for free for a very limited time only over at the website. However, i still say pay the few $’ he’s asking and receive the real thing)
‘ A townman’s roadtrip from driveway highway to highway driveway. Sun rising and sun setting euphoria as he wanders across the lost western expanse of the Sonoran desert on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s gas strewn trails‘
An absolutely classic that never received the plaudits it really deserves. A variety of styles throughout the album which i think works tremendously well but given that she grew up in Israel, Holland, Paris and now resides in New York it’s no surprise there’s elements of Jewish folk and something rather ‘French’ sounding throughout it all, whatever that means. However, it’s her dreamy voice which stands out and no matter what kind of day you have had, this album and her voice always makes it much better.
Given that i played their debut EP ’The North Farm Sessions’ to death i thought i was perhaps expecting too much of their debut album, Kite, but if anything i wasn’t expecting enough! Produced by Adrian McNally (The Unthanks) it’s a fine, fine debut with a perfect mixture of their own songs and a couple of covers with Lucy leaning towards the more traditional sounding songs and Jonny a little more contemporary but together they have released one of the years best albums in any genre. 2012 is going to be their year. Watch this space.
An album i first came across over at Songsillinois.net and he sums it up nicely saying there is a certain James McMurtry similarity going on here but i think also some Springsteen too. Really deep, powerful songs that i think John Conquest of Third Coast Music summed up perfectly, writing “Bell’s mature talent makes a good case for the argument that people shouldn’t start writing songs until they’ve been around long enough to know what the fuck they’re talking about.” Can’t argue with that really.
An album that get’s better with every listen. Eilen has come a long, long way since here excellent debut, Boundary County but i think this latest album really highlights her diversity. Backed magnificently by one of the best bands you will ever hear there is everything from surf to rockabilly but of course inside it all is still the country girl shimmering away as good as anyone. Queen of any key if you ask me. A must have album.
I could try and come across as all cool and hip and say i’ve been into The Shivers since blah blah blah but i won’t, because i haven’t. In fact i only knew of them a couple of months ago when instead of agreeing to pay £28 to go see Gillian Welch i paid £5 to go see these and i came away with the vinyl, a new favourite band and a night that will live long in the memory. Everyone should dig The Shivers because they are as honest as they come and they hit that spot not only once or twice but in pretty much every song they create. Dig, dig, DIG!
Lush, country/folk ballads as good as anything i’ve heard this year. It also features the immense talents of Eric Heywood (Ray Lamontagne,Son Volt) on pedal steel, it’s delicately played alongside Jeffrey’s guitar and soothing, husky voice making for an exceptional album that i think many readers of this blog will love. Go get it now!
A concept album about a boxer who is living with the guilt of once throwing a fight, based on a true meeting with the boxer in question by all accounts. All that aside, it really is a masterpiece of an album and one i’ve gone back to time and time again since it’s release earlier in the year. With Matthew Boulter’s incredible voice leading the way this band can do no wrong for me. When i had the pleasure of booking them to play my hometown, they played like they were in an arena of 50,000 people instead of the 45 or so who were in attendance so for that alone they are in my list but that’s not the main reason they are. This great album has everything. Soaring vocals, full on rock at times, beautiful, well crafted ballads but most of all every time i play it i smile from ear to ear, it’s just one of those albums that does that.
Israel is someone who i think is going to break through into the mainstream very, very soon. This Steve Shelley produced album kind of follows on from his debut, New York Town with it’s Country/Rock swagger. Songs of temptation and redemption counteract one another perfectly with many foot stompers and big choruses to sing along to. Much of the music press compared him to The Rolling Stones in country mode mixed with some Ryan Adams. I’d say that pretty much sums it up. Great album and a must see live band. Take your ear plugs!
When it comes to UK Americana, ukericana? they don’t come much better than Case Hardin. Reviewers across the music press said things like ‘Self-confident and unafraid to experiment, Every Dirty Mirror touches base with a range of sounds found in the post-Uncle Tupelo soundscape’ and ‘echoes Dylans Desire period in both scope and atmosphere and marks out Gow as one of our finest storytelling songwriters.’ Not a bad track on the the album. Highly recommended.
Featuring contributions from Terry Lonergan, Nathan Bowles (Black Twig Pickers; Pelt), Hans Chew (D. Charles Speer & the Helix), Matt Cunitz (Brightblack Morning Light), Tom Heyman (The Court & Spark), and others, Poor Moon represents both an elaboration and inversion of previous Hiss Golden Messenger efforts, proposing an America at perpetual sundown, wracked by devotion, wrecked by celebration. Named in homage to the Canned Heat track penned by the immortal Blind Owl, Poor Moon conjures the unsteady experience of soul at home in the wild, and it stands as a captivating document of Southern songcraft. Paradise of Bachelors
Both share a taste for a rather languid tempo, that of small-town life and the more tender, bittersweet emotions; and theirs is a pairing that’s complementary, Hopkins colouring in the spaces around Anderson’s wearied voice, guitar and woozy accordion. BBC
An album that seeks to explore the folksinger’s contradictory status as an outsider, often recording and touring alone, a situation seemingly at odds with folk’s suggestion of community. The result is a record fraught with geographic dissatisfaction, heartbreak, ghosts, isolation and drunkenness. Sitting uncomfortably somewhere between auto-biography and allegory the songs take in real life events and fantastical narrative concerning relationships, the dangers of being eaten by the dead and the difficulties of communicating when at sea. Armellodie Records
Having now released numerous albums and all of them received really well across the music press, it’s still surprising that Danny Schmidt is not a household name. Talent oozes from every single part of this man. Writes a song as good as anyone around, plays the guitar like he was born with it in his arms and sings beautifully with his slightly whispered tone. If you don’t yet know Danny Schmidt,please correct that wrong asap because your world will be all the better for it.
There are many more great albums i heard this year but these are the ones that really stood out for me.I will also be playing a track from each one of these album on my radio show THIS Saturday from 10am (UK Time) on Radio23.org and a podcast will be available to download afterwards from my blog. Hope you enjoy and hopefully you may have found something you’ve never heard before and you then also spread the word.
My tip for next year is concept albums, they’re going to be everywhere. Happy 2012!