Here we go, finishing up 2011 with my second half special (PART 1 was movies only, sorry music fans) of "no future in the past." 2012 is shaping up to be quite a musical year, with Leonard Cohen and Justin Townes Earle dropping new discs in the coming weeks, Flogging Molly hitting my local digs for a St. Patrick's Day show and who knows what could be in store for the Rolling Stones 50th anniversary as a band and Bob Dylan's 50th anniversary as a Columbia recording artist. But...first thing is first, We check back in with the year that was, with a Top-10 and a few "other awards" type list at the end. Hope your ears enjoyed the year as much as mine did...
10. Demolished Thoughts - Thurston Moore
This album is a bit more bittersweet from when I first reviewed it in "new tune tuesday" (found HERE) now knowing that Sonic Youth may never be again (stupid divorce) but it's still a good, unique album worth checking out. Check out the link a couple sentences up to check out a more in-depth look at the album and on Moore/Sonic Youth in general.
Key Tracks: "Orchard Street," "Benediction," "In Silver Rain with a Paper Key"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, MP3. Also note: The iTunes release has a bonus track, a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Train is Bound for Glory.” Which, in honesty, doesn’t seem as interesting as the rest of the LP.
9. Don't Explain - Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
Blues and Americana again? Well, have you HEARD the version of Tom Waits' "Chocolate Jesus" found on this disc? It alone is worth the price of admission. This mixture of a bonafide blues queen and young guitar star set the stage for this emotionally charged, somewhat obscure, album. Lots of top notch covers, and in the end, if you dig the blues, it's an album you'll dig.
Key Tracks: "Sinner's Prayer," "Chocolate Jesus," "I'd Rather Go Blind," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "Your Heart is as Black as Night," "Ain't No Way"
Available on: CD, Mp3
8. Metals - Feist
Well when originally released earlier this year, she got over-shadowed (not by much might I add) by a release that garnered 'release of the week' (and here in this list as 'compilation of the year'), my originally positive review (found HERE) of 'Metals' still stands, it's a somewhat quit, introspective disc, and doesn't have anything that will chart as high as "1234," and that's a good thing, this is Feist in a more introspective, "artist's art" type pop album. This is my favorite "pop" disc of the year, wonderful singing and writing, great pop production (take note Black Keys producers) and it's near 50 minute running time goes briskly, that's what I call a good album.
Key Tracks: "The Bad in each Other," "How Come You Never Go There," "Caught a Long Wind," "Comfort Me," "Bittersweet Melodies"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3
7. Harrow and the Harvest - Gillian Welch
Americana music seems to be pretty heavy on this years best of list for me, and here we go again. It's also another album that got sort of over-shadowed when I initially reviewed it (found HERE), and as the year end comes to us, it makes itself on the list, while the release that garnered my 'release of the week' then didn't even garner compilation of the year. Well, that's 'the way it goes' (pun intended on this albums opening track's name) in music sometimes. Welch is one of the most highly applauded Americana singers of her generation, and rightfully so, this album continues that trend and I look forward to her next collaboration with Dave Rawlings, who produced this disc.
Key Tracks: "Scarlet Town," "Hard Times," "Dark Turn of Mind," "The Way it Goes, "Six White Horses," "The Way the Whole Thing Ends"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3
6. The Whole Love - Wilco
This album has grown on me a lot since I first reviewed it HERE, it sort of got shafted in that I gave it a positive review but it got over-shadowed by the onslaught of Nirvana releases that week. Since then, after multiple revisit listens, I must say this stands alongside 'Sky Blue Sky' as Wilco's best work since 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' I listened to this whole album repeatedly on a long plane flight a few months back and it grew on me, it's still not perfect, and I still prefer 'Sky Blue Sky,' but it's a good album that's more than worth checking out.
Key Tracks: "Dawned on Me," "Born Alone," "I Might," "One Sunday Morning"
Available on: CD, Deluxe Version CD, Vinyl, Mp3
5. Barton Hollow - The Civil Wars
They sort of came out of nowhere for me this year, sort of a Mumford & Sons for 2011. I enjoy this album quite a lot, and it's one that you you might not always be in the mood for (it is rather introspective and slow at times) but when you ARE in the mood, there's not a bad track on the disc. Their harmonizations are top-notch, reminiscent of The Swell Season, their melodies are catchy, their lyrics are well done. I can't complain about well, much of anything on this LP. I'd also recommend picking up a 45" single that features some covers, including an incredibly well down and original take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance me to the End of Love." But as far as this album of originals goes, well crafted Americana folk.
Key Tracks: "20 Years," "I Got this Friend," "C'est La Mort," "To Whom it May Concern," "Poison & Wine," "Barton Hollow," "Birds of a Feather"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3
4. Blessed - Lucinda Williams
She's been called America's best songwriter of her generation, she's been called "a unique singing voice at best," she's replied to critics of her voice with quotes such as "I'd rather be a female Bob Dylan than a pop singer with no depth," and she continually lives up to those reputations, this album included. Her voice isn't what most would call good singing, but she uses it as a great instrument in bringing her tales to tape. 'Blessed' isn't going to make anyone forgot how great 'Car Wheels on the Gravel Road' was, but it's likely to make people remember how great Williams is. She can rock out and bring an amazingly catchy melody to her melancholy, or strip down the sound and her vocals, looking not to break hearts, but be a voice for the already broken ones. The 'kitchen tapes' demos are fun, so I recommend the deluxe edition.
Key Tracks: "Blessed," "Born to be Loved," "Copenhagen," "Seeing Black," "Ugly Truth"
Available on: CD, Deluxe 2-CD Edition featuring "Kitchen Tapes" Demos, Vinyl, Mp3
3. Eleven Eleven - Dave Alvin
This, from the man who helped pioneer roots rock, is for the folks who like their rock mixed as a alt-rock country flavor with a shot of blues to help it go done with the right amount of rough. This album flat out rocks for those who like some electric guitar blues backing some great storytelling as told by a unique voice. Justified fans might recognize Alvin from his brief cameo in season 2 playing in a little bar venue, and if you liked that bit, you'll like this album. This album is made for road trips, and when you're listening to it while not on one, will make you want to go hit the road, whiskey in tow. This isn't shocking, as word is Alvin wrote the album while touring on the road, and it is justifiably (pun fully intended) showcased in the tracks. Mostly more intense, there are a few tracks that are softer, echoing some of the folk type stuff Alvin has been doing in recent years, but this is mostly a callback to the bluesy rock Alvin made a name for himself with in the Blasters. The sound is of a "sounds brand new and old at the same time" production, in many ways echoing the production on Bob Dylan's 2006 masterpiece 'Modern Times,' which is nothing but a good thing.
Key Tracks: "Harlan County Line," "Johnny Ace is Dead," "Murrietta's Head," "Run Conejo Run," "No Worries Mija"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3
2. Middle Brother- Middle Brother
Deer Tick's John McCauley headlines this quasi-almost-super-group's debut self-titled LP. This is a rock album for rock fans, ragged and dirty at face value, with drinking and heartbreak in the middle, and vulnerable in the back when needed. As far as fairly straight (with the right mix of indie alt-country-rock-scruff) "rock" albums go, this is the best new disc of the year for me, highly recommended. Drinking, stinking, love and loss and that teen angst youth vs Mom/Dad theme are at the heart of this rather distinct album. Plus, a cover of "Portland" of all Replacements tracks to cover? You gotta love it.
Key Tracks: "Daydreaming," "Blue eyes," "Middle Brother," "Me Me Me," "Portland," "Million Dollar Bill"
Available on: CD, Vinyl, Mp3, iTunes download with Bonus Track
1. Bad as Me - Tom Waits
It shouldn't be a shock finding this album so high up, after all back when I first reviewed it (found in the "new tune tuesday" HERE) I not only raved and gave it 'release of the week' status, but called it "album of the year." Ultimately when compiling this list, that's exactly what it gets, and the only fault I could find on a top of 2011 list of your own is this release not making it at all, now that would be a shame. Waits is incredibly consistent, and this is his strongest studio album since 1999's 'Mule Variations,' masterfully running through a mix and match of the wide variety of musical styles and themes he's been playing with since the 1980's. You can read the afore-mentioned review for more, but if you haven't already gotten it, well, your loss. The bonus CD is worth it, by the way, if for nothing else than the 'Orphans: Bawlers'-esque track "Tell Me."
Key Tracks: "Chicago," "Get Lost, "Back in the Crowd," "Bad as Me," "Last Leaf," "Hell Broke Luce," "New Year's Eve"
Available on: CD, Deluxe-2CD Edition, Vinyl, Mp3
A few last Hawk's, er, thoughts on 2011 music...
Best Compilation Album:
The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams - various
An album in it's gestation period for almost as long as Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy, okay, let's be honest, nothing lasts in gestation THAT long (not even a Kubrick picture) but it took a while for this Dylan-led project to see the light of day. It was worth the wait, as across 12 brisk songs, various singer-songwriters of different styles and backgrounds from Dylan himself to Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow and Alan Jackson and more, come together through one thing: their mutual love and admiration for Williams music. Plus, when else would you get to share writing credits with one of the greatest writers in music history? The "lot notebooks" are just that, literal notebooks of songs, unfinished and finished, and song ideas from Williams that never made it to a recording studio before his early death. Here we have only 12 of over 50 songs, so we can hope for more in the future. I go more in-depth in the "New Tune Tuesday" where it took home 'release of the week' honors, which can be found HERE
Key Tracks: "I'm so Happy I Found You" (Lucinda Williams), "How Many Times Have You Broken my Heart?" (Norah Jones), "The Love that Faded" (Bob Dylan), "You Know that I Know" (Jack White)
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download
Best Re-Release/Archival/Special Edition Album:
Free Again: The 1970's Sessions - Alex Chilton
Alex Chilton is a highly influential name in rock history, in his time with Big Star he created some of the best rock albums of the era, and yet, you've probably never heard of him. Here we find Chilton at the age of 18, yes just 18, yet he had already achieved "teeny bopper musician" fame for a few years with the Box Tops. Here though, we find him in his time in between the Box Tops and Big Star, an 18 year old cash register, fronting a million-seller band and pushed into marriage. Not anymore, no, here he was "free again." Maybe my FAVORITE release of the year, but alas, not "new," but here it is. NOT AVAILABLE on MP3 download (I thank your ghost Alex, RIP) but only on vinyl (I was glad to find one of the 1,000 pressed clear vinyls) but also in CD form, with about twice as many tracks as the vinyl, including demo's, different mixes and unreleased tracks. Awesome stuff, children by the million indeed, I'm in love...with these songs.
Key Tracks: "Free Again," "I Wish I Could Meet Elvis," "All We Ever Got from them was Pain," "Come on Honey," "All I Really Want is Money," "If You Would Marry me Babe," "It Isn't Always that Easy"
Available on: Special Edition Clear 1,000 pressed Vinyl, CD
Best Live Album:
Ramble at the Ryman - Levon Helm
You can read my in-depth words on both the album itself as well as Levon Helm's musical history back in this oldie but goodie "New Tune Tuesday" HERE, where it took home 'release of the week" honors, so I won't add much. Just that as a fan of Americana music with the right amount of rock n' roll sensibilities, this is tough stuff to beat. A killer band with one of rock's great voices singing some of it's greatest songs, old and older. A almost perfect live mix of the soundboard and open air mic's just adds to the overall presentation.
Key Tracks: "Ophelia," "A Train Robbery," "The Weight," "Back to Memphis," "Baby Scratch my Back," "Wide River to Cross"
Available on: Vinyl, CD, DVD, MP3 Download
Best Concert Video/DVD/Blu-Ray:
Live at the Paramount - Nirvana
For those that followed my "new tune tuesday" reports, you might remember back when this (found HERE) was the only DVD/Blu Ray release to take home 'release of the week' honors. While the blu ray release did have some slight problems in audio/video sync,w which have yet to be fixed, I still stand by this release (though for now you might want to pick up the perfectly fine DVD in the meantime) being a representative of Nirvana at the peak of their powers, just at the initial cusp of huge fame, still having a blast. The 16mm (my favorite look for live concerts, beautiful unique color palettes mixed with a deep depth of field) footage is truly fantastic and will be the only Nirvana disc you'll ever find on Blu ray. Or at least, from source footage, this is the only Nirvana release that SHOULD be released as high definition.
Key Tracks: "Jesus Don't want me for a Sunbeam," "Drain You," "School," "Been a Son," "Polly," "Sliver"
Available On: Blu-Ray, DVD, CD (only in Super Deluxe 'Nevermind 20th Anniversary' package)
Best Musically Related Documentary:
George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Martin Scorsese
Scorsese did it not only once, but twice this year, not only at the helm for his first 3D picture (and freshest film in almost a decade) in Hugo, but was also in charge of the best rock-dock since 2005's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, not shockingly also helmed by Scorsese. Truth be told, most credit deserves to go to (on both of these films) editor David Tedeschi (notice how quick Scorsese credits this man in ANY interview or speech about either of those documentaries) for his work on the film. Just as Thelma is his woman behind the Avid on his dramatic films, Tedeschi handles these documentaries masterfully. The footage seen drives the story so well, you almost go "how did they get that?" George will always be my favorite Beatle, this cements it further. It makes the Imagine documentary look archaic by comparison.
I have to give a runner-up shout out to "Color me Obsessed," which you can read my more thorough review of HERE for it's rather brave and unconventional approach, but in the end, timeless songs backed by great footage put together by true masters of storytelling still can't be beat by the unconventional approach.
And that's that...until next year anyways...