by Kelcy Salisbury
Well, it's that time of year. Time to look back at what happened, what we wish had happened, what didn't happen and most importantly, who released the best music. So here, just in time for your Christmas shopping, are the best albums that I heard amongst the many that were released this year. Keep in mind, that these will lean toward my favorite types of music (although my taste is fairly eclectic) and as a "real" person with a full time job and a life that doesn't involve occupying things, I didn't get to listen to every new album that came out, let alone all the ones I wanted to hear. So if your favorite new album isn't on here it doesn't mean I hate it (although I probably do, especially if you're a Deer Tick fan), I may just have been busy trying to keep my lights on.
Without further ado: The list, first the honorable mentions, followed by my personal top ten.
This album will top many lists, and while I liked it and found it compelling in places it just didn't grab my attention and hold it throughout the way some of his earlier work (Sirens Of The Ditch) did. Still a worthy effort. Don't miss these tracks: Codeine, Passing Through, Alabama Pines and Go It Alone.
Could have easily made the top ten, but something had to get cut, and unfortunately for Mike, this album was one of the cuts. It's a solid country album with some incredibly clever songwriting. Don't miss Oldsmobile, Fools of Us All, Walking Into Walls and Nothing Left To Lose.
Much like Isbell's offering, I loved parts of this album but it didn't grab me as a body of work the way some of his earlier albums did. Can't miss songs are I Gotta Go, The Road Goes On and On, and Play A Train Song.
If I'd found this album a little earlier in the year it probably would have made the top ten. I find something more to like on every listen. The thing that makes this album stand out from the rest of the "honorable mentions" is that I felt like it needed and deserved to be heard as a whole. Perfectly laid out and beautifully arranged.
And now the top ten. The order of these (especially the top 5) could change depending on the day and my mood but each and every one of these albums can stand on it's own merits and would be a worthy addition to any collection.
This one may come as a surprise to some, but as I said before, my taste is fairly eclectic. I never expected to like this album and didn't even give it a thought until it was suggested to me by a friend whose taste I trust (you know who you are, I hope you're not upset it didn't get a higher position). James brings a ton of vocal ability to the table, pair that with solid songwriting and great instrumental work and you have one fine album.
I already reviewed this album in an earlier piece and I won't rehash that. I'll simply say that this album does a great job of combining working class concerns and social consciousness with hip hop beats with blues and country elements.
8. Adele: 21
Anyone that has the kind of pipes this girl possesses stands a decent chance of making a good song or two. This young lady has made an entire album of great songs. Her vocals are clearly the highlight, but the instrumentation is solid throughout. The only reason this offering didn't land higher on my list is that the songs are (thematically anyway) somewhat interchangable. As someone (I don't recall who) stated on Twitter, Adele's ex-boyfriend deserves a Grammy for inspiring this album.
The album that Cody had always wanted to make finally got made, and what an all star cast of musicians made it! Every song is a cover of a song by an Oklahoma born or based songwriter but The Departed make these songs their own. If I hadn't known better I'd have been easily convinced that these songs were originals. From the opening snippet of a voicemail from the legendary Randy Crouch to the rollicking take on Stand Up, this album is a pure slice of heavenly heartland rock n roll.
The lesser known half of the Braun Brothers have been steadily working towards this album and it's been well worth the work and the wait. The whole thing hangs together thematically from the heartbreaking story of the title track to the rocking Saint Lucy's Eyes. There is a story here and it takes all 11 tracks to tell.
Adams finally returns with an album worthy of his prodigous talent and reputation. Sobriety and a stable personal life have been good to the former Whiskeytown frontman and it shows. His songwriting is better than ever. His vocals are a perfect fit for the music and the music is pretty excellent. I had pretty well written off Adams as a waste of talent over the past few years but he proved me wrong in a big way and I'm glad for it.
The "Red Dirt Chinese Democracy" is here and it was worth the long wait. Stoney's sound has evolved over the years. Layers of lush instrumentation wash over his pitch-perfect vocals. Much credit is due to the influence of Mando Saenz who co-wrote the majority of the album but at the end of the day it is Stoney's name on the finished product and what a finished product it is.
Perhaps best known as Jason Isbell's girlfriend, Ms Shires deserves to be known as one of the finest musicians and songwriters on the planet. Elements of folk and bluegrass permeate this outstanding album. One listen to When You Need A Train It Never Comes and you'll be hooked.
The only criticism I heard of this album was that it was traditional country that didn't break new ground. In today's world, truly traditional country music is ground breaking in itself, so I don't see the problem. What I heard was the best country songwriter on the planet today providing socially conscious, thought provoking lyrics over the best traditional country sounding band you're ever likely to hear. Roger Ray's steel guitar work has only improved over the years, Brad Rice adds a new dimension to his drumming with heavy use of brushes instead of sticks, while Noah Jefferies and Jeremy Watkins provide outstanding fiddle work and Grant Tracy keeps the whole thing moving along with his bass work. This is simply the best offering yet from a band that never fails to deliver great country music for people who like country music.
It comes as no surprise to anyone who's read my prior writings that this album tops the list. There isn't much I can say about it I haven't already, so I'll just say that even after taking the time to seriously think about it and listen to tons of new music there was nothing I heard all year that grabbed and held my attention any more than this album. If you already own it, congratulations, and if you don't, do yourself a favor and buy it for yourself for a Christmas present.
Well, that's all for this year folks. I hope you enjoy the article and most of all I hope you enjoy the music.