|
|
|
Mineral Daily News-Tribune - Keyser, WV
  • Jay N. Miller: Top 10 albums of 2011 offer abundance of variety

  • Traditionally, we end each year with a list of the year’s best albums, a top 10 of the year’s music. 2011 seemed like a good year for songwriting with a plethora of compelling works from individual styles.

    • email print
  • Traditionally, we end each year with a list of the year’s best albums, a top 10 of the year’s music.
    As always, we hasten to add this is a personal list derived from those albums we were able to hear –– we don’t get everything, and, thus, if a favorite work you heard isn’t on this list, it might be because we simply didn’t hear it.
    On the other hand, one of the great joys of this type of writing is being able to tell people about excellent music they might not otherwise know about. On occasion, we get exposed to something that is stunning for its beauty and impact.
    These are strange days for albums, as most of us have known them. Younger fans tend to listen to music mostly on ear buds and computer speakers, and they download single songs as opposed to an artist’s complete album. But the best albums are still a unique listening experience, able to fully transport you, for 45 minutes or more, into an artist’s vision. That doesn’t necessarily mean all good albums have a unified theme, but the best ones do evoke a mood and a feeling, immersing you in a certain sensibility.
    2011 seemed like a good year for songwriting with a plethora of compelling works from individual styles. And it might just be my own preferences, but it also seemed like a good year for basic rock ’n’ roll and stripped down Americana, as well as a surprising surfeit of hot new jazz.
    THE TOP 10 ALBUMS
    “The Long Surrender” by Over The Rhine (GSD)
    If there was one album by someone I hadn’t known that really blew me away, this was it. The Ohio husband-wife team of vocalist Karin Bergquist and pianist/guitarist Linford Detweiler has been putting out their own records for years now but remain mostly under the mainstream media radar.
    Bergquist’s soaring vocals are framed by Detweiler’s arresting melodies and arrangements. Not quite rock, jazz or folk, the music has elements of both, and Detweiler’s exceptional piano work contains more than a trace of classical grandeur even amidst the stripped down formats.
    Producer Joe Henry gives it all an exquisite sheen, and the memorable lyrics are front and center. (“Infamous Love Song” is my song of the year, with its line “I still sing the bebop apocalypse” my favorite image – whatever it means.) This music is so affecting that you will end up hunting down all those previous Over the Rhine albums.
    “Steady as She Goes” by Hot Tuna (Red House Records)
    I’ll confess to not being a big Hot Tuna fan before, but this superb collection of tunes from the band led by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casidy is a riveting trip through acoustic rock, blues, folk and country. It is compelling rock as well as a trip through rock’s roots, and producer Larry Campbell presents Kaukonen’s guitar and vocals better than ever. Again, this will prompt you to dig out more Kaukonen or Hot Tuna records, because this is clearly an artist at the top of his game.
    Page 2 of 4 - “Welding Burns” by Rod Picott (Welding Rod Music)
    Rod Picott is a terrific short story writer who just happens to pursue his craft musically, with a rich baritone and a gift for melody. This CD veers between folk-rock and swamp-rock, but the gritty authenticity of his characters as they struggle through life and love with tenacity and heart makes this a stunning work.
    “Eleven Eleven” by Dave Alvin (Yep Roc Records)
    The former co-leader of The Blasters continues his recent run of outstanding albums, and depicts the difficult course of staying relevant and engaged as the years pile up. Alvin’s music examines loss and mortality, and the role of an aging rocker, but never without his usual verve and spirit. There are also sharply-drawn character sketches here, and you come away wishing you’d known some of these folks. And no one has ever provided music history in such engaging terms as Alvin, with this CD including a look at Johnny Ace’s tragic demise.
    “Here We Rest” by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (Lightning Rod Records)
    The former singer/guitarist from Drive-By Truckers delivers his best solo work yet. The music is more refined and even approaches mainstream arena rock, but Isbell’s singular vision and haunting eye for people and places is better than ever. Call it roots-rock, or alt-country/soul, with some of Isbell’s spine-tingling vocals like “Alabama Pines” and “Heart on a String,” but perhaps Dave Alvin’s definition of his music works here too: American music.”
    “The David Mayfield Parade” by David Mayfield Parade (Big Game Records)
    David Mayfield may be best known as brother, and often bandleader for his sister, Jessica Lea Mayfield, but the singer-songwriter is a stellar performer himself. The Avett Brothers are guest performers on this CD, and we can risk being too clever and call this the best Avett Brothers record of the year, because the prime elements they share are all there: simple, direct songs with sterling, mostly acoustic-based arrangements, and vocals drenched in soul. Mayfield’s music is not as eerie and haunting as his sister’s, and probably rocks a bit harder than the Avetts, but the emotional wallop is definitely there.
    “Barn Doors and Concrete Floors” by Israel Nash Gripka (www.israelgripka.com)
    Can’t say we know much about this artist, but it looks like this CD was recorded in Harvard, Mass. The obvious touchstones are the Felice Brothers, or perhaps the vintage era of The Band. Gripka evokes that feeling so effectively you keep wondering when Rick Danko or Levon Helm are going to show up. This music rocks pretty hard by spell, but the emphasis is on the various stringed instruments and Gripka’s literate lyrics. With an easy-rolling sound that just grows on you with repeated listening, Gripka deserves to be among the top ranks of Americana artists.
    Page 3 of 4 - “Revelation Road” by Shelby Lynne (Everso Records)
    2011 was a tough year for female pop vocalists, as we lost Amy Winehouse, and Adele was sidelined by throat surgery. But if you’re wondering where the next big female singing star might be, take a look at this sterling effort from Lynne. She goes way beyond her country roots with a set of songs that plumb rock, pop and soul with effortless grace. The title cut is as good as anything Dusty Springfield ever recorded, and at other spots Lynne can sound as pure as Stevie Nicks or as gritty and damaged as Winehouse. This is a major step forward, and trumps anything Lynne has ever recorded.
    “Circuital” by My Morning Jacket (ATO)
    The album where Jim James and company prove grandiosity in the pursuit of rock ’n’ roll is no vice. All the Louisville band does here is create their own epic soundscape, equal parts arena rock majesty, psychedelic moods and soaring arrangements. It also made for one of the most memorable concerts of last summer, where James really did some major league guitar shredding. It is a little off-center, so the key is how much it grows on you with repeated spins, but no one else is doing this kind of thing so well.
    “Indigo Dreams” by The BoDeans (www.bodeans.com)
    Has any group ever done guitar-rock as well as Milwaukee’s BoDeans? They churn out those infectious, even Beatlesque melodies time after time, and the absolutely uncanny way Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann’s voices harmonize is an American rock treasure. The title comes from “Paved in Gold,” a song about the way we all deal with fading dreams and readjusted goals. The tune “Sad Eyes” boldly examines the pull old songs have on us through the years, while reprising some favorite lines. “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” has a visceral appeal, as it excoriates hypocrisy. A mature, seasoned band at its creative peak.
    BEST JAZZ ALBUMS
    “Hues of a Different Blue” by Rufus Reid & Out Front (Motema Records)
    Veteran bassist/composer Rufus Reid leads his trio in a delightful collection of tunes, with assorted guests –– formats range from duo to septet –– and the energy level never flags. There are lots of flavors to savor here, and guitarist guest Toninho Horta is an ace.
    “Live at Small’s” by Bruce Barth Trio (Smallslive)
    Pianist Barth leads his trio through a lively set of mostly originals, tuneful and infectious postbop. This CD gives you the intimate feel of being there and also boasts superb sound quality.
    “Out of This World” by Ted Rosenthal Trio (Playscape Recordings)
    Page 4 of 4 - New York pianist Rosenthal sticks to standards from the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen here, but he has such an exceptional sense of touch and adds so much feeling that these old tunes sound fresher than ever.
    “Family” by The 3 Cohens (Anzic Records)
    Go ahead and call them the first family of contemporary jazz: trumpeter Avashai Cohen, tenor sax star Anat Cohen, and soprano saxman Yuval Cohen won’t blink. This collection of songs jumps along so vividly it could be the soundtrack for a James Bond movie, and pianist Aaron Goldberg shines, too. Jazz immortal Jon Hendricks sings on a couple of cuts, adding to the luster.
    “I Feel You” by Herb Alpert & Lani Hall (Concord Jazz)
    They are not re-inventing the wheel on this set of mostly pop hits, but Mr. & Mrs. Alpert surely deliver some dazzlingly re-imagined versions of these familiar songs, like “Moondance” and “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Lani Hall has a marvelous alto voice, and Alpert gets a chance to show his real jazz chops, on what is very much a fun album.

    Comments are currently unavailable on this article

      Events Calendar