Sunday, December 4, 2011

Best Records of 2011

And I do mean records.  2011 will be remembered, at least by me, as the year that virtually every new release I wanted was available on vinyl in addition to those other formats.  I love it.  Wanna stop piracy?  Release it all on vinyl.  One negative that has not been corrected by many of the labels is the failure to provide a download code. C'mon you money grubbing whores at the majors...those of us buying the new vinyl are your core customers so how about a little respect.
OK, enough of that.  2011 was for an OK year in music.  There were some really good releases but not as many as in years least to these ears.  What I did like I enjoyed immensely with some great music coming from both new and established artists.  What follows is a list of records that did it for me in a bid way in 2011.  These are in no particular order and I am leaving what I think is the top album for the end.  So here goes nothing...

I know, I know this is chock full of the same old blues classics but you know what?  Johnny Winter is playing and singing better than he has in years.  This is a legend ripping through some of his favorites along with some top notch guests.  You can't go wrong with this one if you like the blues at all.  Good time, beer drinking rockin' blues.

John Hiatt has been making great records for decades.  All of them are good, some of them are great.  This one falls in the latter category.  This is the best thing he has done since Slow Turning.

Austin Lucas doesn't look much like a country singer, but he sure as hell sounds like one.  The best high-lonesome sound I have heard in years.  Real Country Music!

Speaking of real country doesn't get much more real than this one.  The self described "scumbag country" band returns with their finest work yet.  Ever so slightly less in your face than last year's Old Highs and New Lows, Damaged Good benefits from the approach.  The song writing and performances are top notch.  You can trash all those Jason Aldean records...Hellbound Glory is the real deal my friends.

The hardest working man in rock & roll serves up his first solo project since the mid-90's.  Warren turns to the soul music he loves and gives it a little kick.  I haven't enjoyed a Mule record this much since Life Before Insanity.

I never much cared for The Decemberists.  That is until I heard The King is Dead.  With an REM meets Neil Young sound, The Decemberists take it in a much more accessible direction which is a very good thing.  This was my favorite album for most of the first half of the year and it is still right up there.  Love it, love it, love it.

By now you know the story.  Glen Campbell has early Alzheimer's and he wanted to make one last record and go out on the road before he can't anymore.  If this is his goodbye record he is going to be remembered for creating a classic.  A tremendous record from start to finish that rivals and often surpasses his best work from the late 60's and early 70's.  A shining example of how great music is timeless and ageless.

This one took a bit to grow on me.  I didn't dislike it at just wasn't doing it for me.  More than a few folks whose opinions on music I respect said I need to give it a few more spins.  How right they were.  This record has grown on me to the point it is on my year end list.  Both Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are undeniable talents who have left me a bit cold on previous efforts.  This material fits them both quite well and all the Delaney & Bonnie comparisons are not that far off.  A very, very good listen.

Matt Schofield is a British Blues guitarist who has made quite a name for himself on the other side of the pond over the last couple of years.  He reminds me quite a bit of Robben Ford in his playing.  Definitely more polished than raw with some great vocals and never less than impressive playing.  I hope he gets over here this year for a couple of shows.

I know is voice is shot now but it wasn't too bad when this was recorded back in 2008.  I don't care about that.  The shear joy that jumps out of the grooves is worth the price of admission.  Levon Helm is an American classic!

They may not be the most traditional bluegrass outfit but they can sure play their asses off as this live document attests.  The best of the young bluegrass/newgrass/jamgrass bands.

Any record that starts off with a killer (pun intended) murder cut has to be good and this one is.  Cruz Contreras and the rest of the Black Lillies have turned in one of the best Americana releases of the year.  Tall trees is like some kind of bluegrass meets the Allman's with a kick of gospel mash up and it works really, really well.  I've been playing this since it ended up in my ReviewShine inbox.  I'm still playing in December.

And last but not least my favorite album of the year....

Former Hot Water Music vocalist Chuck Ragan has been leading the folk-punk charge for a bit now and he has released what may be the perfect example of this genre (whatever the hell folk-punk means).  A stripped down guitar/fiddle/bass sound to go along with his gruff but honest vocals singing songs of the road has kept me playing this over and over since it came out.  Think Springsteen rocking out with acoustics and no E. Street band with a little high lonesome sound thrown in for good measure.  A couple of cuts with Brian Fallon doesn't hurt either.  An instant classic.

So there it is,  my faves for 2011.  It wasn't the best year ever but there were some really great releases.  Let's hope 2012 is another good one.

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