Friday, December 13, 2013

Top Twentysomething Albums of 2013

It's that time of the year again.

As I did in 20102011, and 2012, I'm providing my top twenty albums that came out this year. After the top twenty, there's a list of albums that deserve honorable mention. 

If there are other albums that you think should be in the mix, please let me know in the comments section. 

1. Jason Isbell, Southeastern

If you know me or follow my Music Friday posts regularly, this selection is no surprise. Isbell garnered all kinds of publicity this year for getting sober and producing probably his best record to date. Compared to his other albums, Southeastern is a more low-key affair. This opus represents some of his best songwriting to date. I'd argue that "Elephant," a tune that presents a husband's thoughts about his wife is dying from cancer, is the song of the year. The song should be studied in poetry classes. 

Here's a stanza from "Elephant": "But I'd sing her class country songs, and she'd get high and sing along./ She don't have a voice to sing with now./ We burn these joints in effigy and cry about what we used to be,/ And try to ignore the elephant somehow, somehow." In a darkly humorous moment in "Different Days," the persona reflects on a troubled young lady before him: "Ten years ago I might have seen you dancing in a different light/ and offered up my help in different ways,/ but those were different days." In "Songs That She Sang in Shower," he works in references to Monty Python's "Bring Out Your Dead" and Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." And finally in "Relatively Easy," Isbell reminds us, "You should know, compared to people on a global scale,/ Our kind has had it relatively easy,/ And here with you there's always something to look forward to./ My angry heart beats relatively easy." There are good reasons why American Songwriter magazine ranked Southeastern as the number one album of 2013.   

Favorite songs: "Stockholm," "Different Days," "Songs That She Sang in the Shower," "Relatively Easy," and "Elephant." 

2. Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt

Maybe I'm starved for a new Pearl Jam album or just hankering for a strong offering of hard rock, but Lightning Bolt gets me going. The boys from Seattle provide an excellent mix of uptempo, mid-paced, and slower tunes. "Future Days" is probably the most romantic Pearl Jam song I know of. It took me by surprise. Many of the other songs have sociopolitical messages if you're listening. Favorite songs: "Swallowed Whole," "Future Days," "Infallible," "Getaway," and "Mind Your Manners." 

3. Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In

I was fond of Ms. Rose's previous release, Own Side Now, but she created a more complete album with this one. Just outstanding. It's classified as country, I guess. She certainly has country influences. Her mom writes songs for Taylor Swift, if you consider Taylor Swift "country." From inspecting married obsolescence in "Pink Champagne" to getting vampy in "Old Numbers," there are solid tunes throughout. Favorite songs: "I Was Cruel," "Waitin'," "Only a Clown," "Everywhere I Go," and "Menagerie." 

4. Blitzen Trapper, VII

One way to describe Blitzen Trapper's sound is funky alt-country. I really like it. I was a big fan of the band's previous release, American Goldwing, which for whatever reasons got panned by some critics. VII may overtake that album as my favorite Blitzen Trapper release. Favorite songs: "Shine On," "Thirsty Man," "Neck Tatts, Cadillacs," and "Drive On Up." 

5. Eels, Wonderful, Glorious

I've been of fan of Mr. Everett's work for some time now after discovering the concept-album trilogy of Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning. Wonderful, Glorious provides a buffet of earwormish grooves. If you were smart and bought the deluxe CD, you get a bonus disc with extra studio tunes (three of the four are excellent) and live performances of past material. Favorite songs: "Stick Together," "Kind of Fuzzy," "Peach Blossom," "Bombs Away," and "Open My Present." 

6. Anders Osborne, Peace

This is the only album I have by this fine gentleman. Yet. I'll be acquiring more sometime. He's a hell of a guitar player. For those of us in the middle-aged crowd, his song "47" will strike a chord. In contrast to the darkly humorous album cover, the lyrics are reflective and smart. Favorite songs: "My Son," "Peace," "47," "Five Bullets," and "Windows." 

7. J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Essential Tremors

I discovered this band through one of the finer music blogs out there, HearYa. This band has all kinds of energy. It's mainly guitar-based rock that might make you get up to wiggle your ass or bang your head a bit. As the opening song says, "All hail, heavy bells." Favorite songs: "Tear Jerk," "Sweat Shock," "Hard Times," and "Heavy Bells." 

8. Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up From Bones

Well, doesn't Ms. Jarosz look all sassy and determined on that album cover? She's one of the finest musicians out there right now. Her previous releases were strongly bluegrass, but this one ventures in some interesting directions while keeping to the core. If you do not know about this artist, you need to. Favorite songs: "1,000 Things," "Fuel the Fire,"  "The Book of Right-On," and "Over the Edge." 

9. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind

Excellent guitar work and a lead singer with soulful, bluesy voice complemented by eleven other band members--it's that simple. Well, I suspect it's not simple with thirteen people in a band, but it's a damn good album. Favorite songs: "The Storm," "Whiskey Legs," "Misunderstood," and "Made Up Mind." 

10. JJ Grey & Mofro, This River

Mr. Grey, who was recently featured in Oxford American magazine, keeps churning out solid albums, and I keep buying 'em. His swamp-soul-blues-rock is too hard to resist. One of the shining moments on the album is "The Ballad of Larry Webb." Favorite songs: "Harp and Drums," "Somebody Else," "Standing on the Edge," and "Your Lady, She's Shady." 

11. Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork

Of the Queens... albums I have (only have three), I like this one the best. "If I Had a Tail" is one of the better songs of the year. "It's how you look, not how you feel. A city of glass with no heart." Favorite songs: "My God Is the Sun," "Smooth Sailing," "I Appear Missing," and "Keep Your Eyes Pealed." 

12. North Mississippi All Stars, World Boogie Is Coming

As I think I noted when the album came out and I featured a song from the album and an interview with the band, this is one of my favorite NMA albums, one that basically gets back to the roots of what they're doing and why they're doing it. The album reformulates some older material, but it's mainly new songs. Favorite songs: "Boogie," "Shimmy," "Goin' to Brownsville," and "Goat Meat." 

13. Ha Ha Tonka, Lessons

These fellows from southern Missouri put out another fine album. I think it's the band's fourth. The lead singer continued his literary bent with "Colorful Kids." He's clear he's read his fair share of Mark Twain based on those lyrics and from "The Humorist," my favorite song on Death of a Decade. Overall, if you liked the band's previous work, you'll also like this. Favorite songs: "The Past Has Arms," "Rewrite Our Lives," "Lessons," and "Staring At the End of Our Lives." 

14. Deer Tick, Negativity

First off, that's a great album cover. More importantly, it's an important follow-up album to Divine Providence, which was artistically scattered and seemed as if they recorded it while under the influence." Negativity is a cohesive and pleasing album. Favorite songs: "The Dream's in the Ditch," "Pot of Gold," "Mr. Sticks," and "The Rock." 

15. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, Carnival

Ms. Struthers is a new artist to me, and I'm glad I found her. Her work is straightforward, old-timey bluegrass. Favorite songs: "Party Line," "Listen With Your Heart," "Sourwood Tree," and "Jack of Diamonds." 

16. Amanda Shires, Down Fell the Doves

I was a huge fan of her last album. In fact, it was my top album of 2011. Down Fell the Doves is a good one, but I'm just not as smitten with it as I was with Carrying Lightning. Solid songs all around this disc. Favorite songs: "Wasted and Rollin'," "A Song for Leonard Cohen," "Bulletproof," "Devastate," and "Like a Bird." 

17. Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple

Mount Moriah produces some great music. I still haven't figured out who the lead singer's voice reminds me of. I can't place it for whatever reason. This band reminds me of a number of alternative bands that came out in the 90s that had female lead singers. And that's a compliment. Favorite songs: "Those Girls," "Rosemary," "Eureka Springs," and "Bright Light."

18. Dawes, Stories Don't End

2013 brought us the third album from Dawes. This band helps me when I need a "adult contemporary" fix of sorts. Or are they considered "alternative"? Who the hell knows. Anyway, it's a strong offering, one that possibly equals the quality of Nothing Is Wrong. Favorite songs: "From the Right Angle," "Someone Will," "Just Beneath the Surface," and "From a Window Seat." 

19. The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow

The neo-psychadelic outfit went less experimental with this offering. If you want to get all groovy, this is your album. Favorite songs: "War on Holiday," "I Hear Colors (Chromaeasthesia)," "Evil Things," and "Holland." 

20. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Lickety Split

Robert Randolph and his band keep on doing their thing--solid ballads and good-time, uptempo tunes. He hits on an important topic in "Welcome Home." And the album has two songs where there's a collaboration with Carlos Santana and one song with Trombone Shorty. Favorite songs: "Welcome Home," "Take the Party" with Trombone Shorty, "Brand New Wayo" with Carlos Santana, and "Amped Up." 

Honorable Mentions

Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion

Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite, Get Up!

James Cotton, Cotton Mouth Man

Josh Ritter, The Beast in Its Tracks

Pokey LaFarge, self-titled

Son Volt, Honky Tonk

Southern Hospitality, Easy Livin'

Trombone Shorty, Say That to Say This


bimdude said...

Dear Mr Nasty,
You have introduced me to some amazing Music over the last few years (I have no idea how long you've been doing your Albums of the year?)
I dare say you may like a newish artist hear in Melbourne Australia who is a very strong song writer. Her name is Courtney Barnett. I like her stuff but am only guessing she may tweak your eardrums also.
Anyhow thanks for the best blog I read and I look forward to more of the same in 2014

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Dear bimdude:

Thanks for reading the blog and your kind comments about PlannedOb. Also, thanks for calling my attention to Courtney Barnett. I will check her out.