It’s been an extraordinary year for music.We welcomed the return of some pop giants. There were some Nashville cats, and lots of swell girl groups.A nice year for dreamers . I’m a working man, so I needed to use my free time to immerse myself in this music. There’s never enough time, but I need to proceed. If I love it , put a number on it. Let’s get started!
1] Prefab Sprout -“Crimson/ Red”-The return of one of our greatest songwriters. Yes, the buzzing internet rumors were true. ..
“High on the list of impossible things..”
All played and sung by Paddy McAloon himself and very well produced by Paddy and Calum Malcolm. And music lovers, this is a gem. Killer melodies, terrific guitars, harmonica, and songs that make you cry. Highlights abound. “The Best Jewel Thief in the World” is an obvious take on songwriting.”Adolescence” is an ode to youthful romance.
“Adolescence crimson red , fireworks in side your head” …
“Devil came a calling” and “Billy” remind me of songs like “Faron Young” from “Steve McQueen”.
“I’m in love with Susan Bill, yes I’m in love with Susan
Her smile is like a fairground I’m basking in the glow…”
The lovely “The songs of Danny Galway” is Paddy’s tribute to the great Jimmy Webb.
“The old Magician” sounds like one about Paddy himself. It has a sweet harmonica solo.
All these songs are superb. Tunes that pull at the heartstrings. His poetry is still there. And perhaps the most remarkable thing is his voice sounds exactly the same. His high and low noted are still as youthful sounding as the good old day.
In interviews, Paddy claims that these are old songs from his song book. Can you just imagine how many more great tunes exist? I hope the reaction to this album inspires to share more of them with us. And soon! Speaking of reaction, there is an inspiring review of this album by Sondre Lerche, a great artist himself. It is worth reading. Find it at the Talkhouse site where artists review other artists.
The best album of the year by far. And an emotional high.
… “You roar right out of nowheresville , to find the beating heart…”
Welcome back Paddy.
2] The Heavy Blinkers- “Health”-
..”You don’t need a pillow to sleep on the riverbed
as long as you have your health… “
That is part of the opening chorus to this glorious album. I have always cherished the Heavy Blinkers music. I thought they were long gone. Now 10 years after their last one, “The night and I are still so young” I discovered they were back with “Health”. The sole member , Jason Michael MacIssac has worked on this album since the break. And what an album it is. My friends this is a Masterpiece. Jason has been joined by 3 main singers, Jenn Grant, Melanie Stone, and Stewart Legere with some special guests. There are strings ,horns,harp, glockenspiel, mandolin etc. Not exactly sure of the concept , but the songs are so gorgeous. Shades of Bacharach and Brian Wilson are just some of the influences .The strings on ” Child of the Radio” and “God Bless Hazel”are so sublime. The gentle bossa nova of “Call it a day” with it’s knockout chorus-
“..This song will beat your heart like a cannonball..”
The moment on”Silence your Drum” when Jenn Grant sings “Could you not have brought a harp instead ” and the music swells. Or Jenn Grant’s vocals on “Crystal Clear” , which reminds me of Dusty Springfield. A note on Jenn Grant. Not familiar with her , but I intend to for sure. And with her Jason has found a singer that sounds a bit like Ruth Minnikin, who sang on the early albums.
About those guest singers. Sean O Hagen of High Llamas on “I should be sleeping” which reminds of that very group. And a stroke of genius on “It sound better than it sounds” none other than the great Sondre Lerche , with swirling strings just pushing the pop perfection.What a song!
There are references to soldiers and war, songs about the Ice Capades and riverboats. All written by Mr. MacIssac, and all great. An epic work. An album you can return to time after time and find something to warm your heart. I would place this right next to “Smile” on my shelf. It is that good.
3]Camera Obscura- “Desire Lines”-
A short string intro and we are off and running. Another session with one of pop’s most endearing vocalists, Tracyanne Campbell. She composed every tune and they are perfectly suited to the mournful lilt in her voice. There is the ache in “William’s Heart “
“…If it’s a single man or a single malt
that I take in my arms when I’m feeling low..”
In one of the albums best , “New Year’s Resolution”, her resolution is to “write something of value”. It’s infectious chorus was stuck in my head for days :
“…I’ve been cool with you
the sooner you admit it I will too…”
There is the upbeat rocking “Do it again” and ballad “Fifth in line to the throne”,and one of her best vocals in “I missed your party” with it’s background horns.
“…Bourbon won’t kill it so I’ll just have to will it…”
Great lyrics, the band is perfectly suited to the songs, and Tracyanne’s wounded voice ,like Patsy Cline or classic torch singers equals a well conceived collection of tunes.
The title song name drops “Badlands”, “We could send letters”, and “The Heart is a lonely Hunter”. A very cool album indeed. Now pass that bourbon.
Check out her Springsteen tee shirt in the video.
4] Crackerboots – “Crackerboots” -
I’ve made it no secret that I adore the music of Swan Dive and am a big fan of Bill DeMain. So when Mr DeMain tells me has a new side project, I’m all ears. I don’t have a lot of information, but I do know that Crackerboots consists of Bill and Melissa Mathes with backing musicians. And it is wonderful. A cool jazzy trip with lots of sax, flute,and vibes. Melissa is perfect for this group. She is sassy in “You’ll figure it out ‘, teasing in “Please don’t rush me” and just plain sexy throughout. So many nice moments, some that are pure Bill DeMain:
the interlude in “Please don’t rush me ” where the music slows down, and Melissa sings “Nice and slow” . Or “Be a good boy and you might get lucky…”.
In “Little Hipster” where she sings “wants me like cherry pie ” ,or “You’re cool as a cuke’
The steel guitar and campfire humming in “Green River Valley”
The Mancini sounding background music on “This is it”- and the swell scat section
“He wears his glasses like Michael Caine ” in “Josh”
My favorite song , and one of the best songs of the year ,is “Paris might not wait”. When she sings “While we’re still young” especially when she goes up on “young” the second time I get chills.
I am quite sure the horns and steel guitar are played by Jim Hoke. They really add to the atmosphere. But is Melissa Mathes voice that is the star here. And here is what I discovered about here when I was looking for a video. She is the singer in Nashville’s Luella and the Sun, a blues/ rock band I have read about in the Nashville Scene. I watched a couple of their videos and I could not believe it was the same woman. She has a gritty sound that fits their music. What a talent! Can’t wait till they have an album.
This is such a great album. I suggest enjoying it with an old fashioned . I just hope it’s not a one time deal.
I am not sure how to get this release. If interested, let me know and I will find out for you.
Here is a 3 song live clip :
5] Foxygen- “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”
So I’m driving home from work blasting WXRT’s Big Beat show and on comes this song that just grabs me.
“I met your daughter the other day Well that was weird
She had rhinoceros -shaped earrings in her ears…”
The opening trumpet, the lazy vocals were all arresting. Then after singing ‘That’s news to me ,that’s news to ” the song changed direction to a more upbeat section and then back again.It all leads to a sing-along ending with “I’m happy she’s happy”. Well I was very happy because I knew I was onto something. I waited to hear who it was.
The group was Foxygen which is 2 musicians from San Francisco, Sam France and Jonathan Rado. Both are happy to share their record collection with us. Let’s see, there is Dylan, Donavon, Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Prince, Sly, Tony Bennett , etc. The music mashes these influences, mixes in weird dream like lyrics and somehow it is all magic.
Just some of the fun:
“I’m taking to my grandma who lost her arm in the war ” from “No Destruction”
“I left my love in San Francisco , that’s okay I was born in L. A.” in “San Francisco”
The ” Under my Thumb ” break in “On Blue Mountain”
“I caught you sipping milkshakes in the parlor of the hotel” from “No Destruction “.
The songs change tempos and keys constantly. The vocals can veer from the bored Lou Reed to a Prince falsetto. There can be several changes in one song. Believe me, this album made me dizzy at times. And that’s a good thing.
My fave is “San Francisco ” sounding like Ray Davies . The outstanding swirling guitars midway through “Oh Yeah” that leads to a Sly like dance workout.
The album ends with the Beatles flavored finale, “Oh no 2″, which actually states “even though it’s just a dream, I still don’t know what it means.” After some Lennon sounding “Oh no”‘s it all ends with “If you believe in love, everything you see is love. so try to be what God wants you to be ” with a ragtime piano in the background. Perhaps that’s the message of this album. As wild as it can be, music can lead us to love .
6] And the Professors – “Our Postmortem “-
One of the finds of the year, I have to thank fellow Audities member, Matt Whitby ,for leading me to this beauty. It is worth keeping in tough with these internet groups for perks like finding hidden gems. Matt wrote me that he found this group because he liked the Honeydogs. I never heard them myself. So the music of Adam Levy was new to me. He is something.
And the Professors is a 10 member ensemble that plays what could be referred to as orchestral rock, but there is so much more going on. The music fuses classical, jazz,and film scores into the mix. Adam initially worked with cellist Rebecca Arons on building the songs around intricate string arrangements. The group has members of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, as well as 2 fine female singers, Bethany Larson and Aby Wolf, as well as a rock section.
The music is outstanding .From the drama of “We are” , the jazzy “Watching” , the tender “L’etoile du nord” to “Turn of the Century Recycling Blues” which sounds like Randy Newman.
” and the professors they don’t make confessions
they don’t care about market crashes or hunting fascists
they don’t feel your pain or your assets
they just tell you how it is…”
Perhaps the standout moment for me is “That’s how we died.” The gorgeous string opening and the melody full of minor keys leads to an emotional finish.One of the best songs I’ve hear all year.
The strings really drive these tunes. The melodies are haunting, and Adam can sings them well, adding lots of meaning to this thought provoking group. This is well worth finding.
If Charles Ives was a young man today, this could be his band.
Thank you Mr. Whitby for the excellent tip.
7] Caitlin Rose – ‘The Stand-In”-
Shout out to Russ ,my brother in law who lives in Nashville [lucky guy]. Several years ago he called this one. Played me some songs from her debut, and said it was his favorite new artist.
Here she is in my top 10.
She has classic movie star looks on the cover and she can match that with a classic voice. A guitar charge opens the set on the excellent “No one to call’ ,which proves she’s not just a country queen. Then the next couple tunes establish that yes, she can sell a country tune as good as anyone. There are 2 songs co-written by Gary Louris [Jayhawks]. I love “Only a clown” with it’s lyrics that disdain the fact that you can ” put your record on, let the band play a song, all about love and believing” because “it’s only a clown that’s leaving.”
“don’t make me pay, just cause I tried living for today ” – ” Golden Boy”
the classic ballad “Everywhere I go “-“No matter where I go , there you are”.
The dixieland spiked closer “Old Numbers” that show another side of her talents.
The weepy “When I’m gone”- “I’m always running from the scene of the crime”
She can sing like an angel, has some grit when she rocks, and some torch in that jazz closer.
My favorite is “I was cruel”. It’s quiet ending and exquisite chorus shows off a major talent. Her soaring choruses are one of the charms of this album.
I love her. And I believe she is just getting started. Watch her become a huge star.
Just check out her cover of The National’s “Pink Rabbits”.[second video] .She puts a whole new spin on this song. How cool is this girl?
8] Edwyn collins- “Understated”
“I’m so happy to be alive” [from "Forsooth" ]. As a lifelong fan since the beginning ,I am happy you are alive, Edwyn. It is hard to listen to current music from h im without remembering that he almost died from a brain hemorrhage in 2005, and had to re-learn how to speak. This is his second album since all that happened , and his songwriting and singing are both sharp. This record makes a personal statement and stands on it’s own .
So much here points out how wonderful it is to be alive and working :
“What the heck I’m living now” – “31 years”
“It’s a reason to live for” “It’s a reason”
” Just understand I’ve lost some ground”- “Down the line”
“I’m living in the now living and working
I’m breathing in the now working and breathing”- “In the now”
“People they walk in the street they talk in the street
How are you doing sir ? What a nice day sir”- “Cary on ,Carry on “
All these lyrics could come quite sappy if the music wasn’t such a delightful mix of his usual rock and Northern Soul. I really enjoy his weary vocals on “Down the line” with it’s country piano. And his voice on the title track , “Understated “reminds me of Orange Juice.
“As the story unfolds I’m a singer of sorts”
The album ends with a simple and poignant cover of Rod McKuen’s “Love’s been good to me”. Only Edwyn could pull that off . It brought a tear to my eye several times while I was preparing this.
Edwyn has his own label, AED, he is recording Roddy Frame and Vic Goddard . It’s almost like Postcard is back. yes, he is truly “working and breathing”.
9] Mikal Cronin – “Mc 2″
Here’s a guy who recently got his BFA in music. He can play all kinds of instruments. He was first noticed as a guitar shredder in Ty Seagall ‘s band. And now he has made one heck of a guitar pop record.
Mikal plays almost the entire album by himself. There is some guest violin and Ty Seagull contributes 2 guitar solos. But this is Mikal with some gorgeous piano , awesome guitar, and lots of sweet singing. The first track, “Weight” sets the pace with a classical piano opening. There are a couple verses of harmony vocals, before the songs heads to a falsetto repeat of “Take me from myself” and the key changes to a lovely guitar and then a quiet acoustic finale. Impressive for sure. The entire album is well crafted, with solos carefully placed, and a nice mix of pretty and edgy. “Shout it out” has a very catchy chorus, and “Am I wrong” is reminiscent of early Who .
A highlight is the solo track, “Don’t let me go”. Just Mikal on acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. It leads to a vulnerable sounding “You’re all I know” which sticks with you. The closer, “Piano Mantra” starts with quiet piano chords, soon joined by violin. This soon picks up the beat with drums and all of a sudden a psych guitar emerges, till it goes back to quiet for the album finish. A well thought out and executed collection of pop pleasure. Can’t wait for the next one.
10] Dear Georgiana- “Dear Georgiana”-
This was the find of the year. Seeing a tweet by Elizabeth Ziman, [of the fab Elizabeth and the Catapult] , singing the praises of this music I researched and watched a couple videos. Needless to say it was love at first listen. Dear Georgiana is essentially the work of Lauren Belthrop from Alabama, and she is a talent to behold. Her voice is rich and the music stylish. And she writes terrific pop tunes. From the torch opener , “Don’t let me go”, the haunting “Over You”, to the incredible catchy “I wanna be in love “.
“..cause it will happen when you’re not looking..”.
Lauren is my favorite new pop voice for sure. I love the cha-cha beat of “Young Girl” and her quiet , sad ” Where did we go wrong”. “..Looking back on our splendor in the grass..”. I get chills when she sings “I’m going crazy”. My absolute favorite is “Please don’t tell me a lie”. Her falsetto on “It’s ok to be scared” is gorgeous. I’m so enchanted with this woman I listened to her early group, The Bandana Splits. Lots of fun.
Here are the two videos that got me hooked. Watch the change in album covers and outfits in “I wanna be in Love”. And “Over you” is done in a single take . No cuts. Do watch these, and be sure to check out this great album.
11] The Silver Seas – “Alaska”
Another gem from this insanely great pop band from Nashville. They are led by Daniel Tashian, who I consider to be one of our most gifted vocalists. Warm and honey soaked, Daniel makes tunes like “I’m the one” and “Roxy” special. Add some tasty jazz guitar on standout track “A night on the town” as well as “Wolfie”. Somebody’s been listening to Wes Montgomery. Then there’s Daniel’s lovely high notes on “Karaoke star”. So nice! The album ends with some superb wordless vocals on “Wild honey”. Leaves you wanting more like a great pop album should.
12] Of Montreal – “Lousy with Sylvianbriar “
An unexpected treat from Kevin Barnes and Co. A sweet blast of 80’s folk, psych pop. Have they been listening to Foxygen? Oblique song titles such as “Raindrop in my Skull” and “Amphibian Days”. Who can resist lyrics like ‘All of my friends are falling apart, But not me I’m in control”. Catch this cool video of Kevin and Rebecca Cash singing a tune at home.
13] Ron Sexsmith – “Forever Endeavour’
A graceful set from one of our best melancholy singers. Well produced by Mitchell Froom, this album has brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. “Autumn Light” which is a bonus track is one of my favorite songs of the year. Watch a live take of it.
14] Valerie June -“Pushin’ against a Stone”
From “Humboldt , Tennessee, this extraordinary artist was a huge find. First saw her perform “Workin Woman Blues ” on Letterman, and I rose out of my chair and knew I was onto something. She was standing , playing the heck out of an acoustic guitar singing a blues song .Great voice comfortable with blues, gospel, and country.Dan Auerbach [Black Keys] does some production work. In her own words, she describes her music as “Organic moonshine roots music”. Major new artist.
15] Yo La Tengo- ‘Fade”
Strong set from these veterans who always delight. This one does accent their mellow side, but there is still plenty of guitar shredding from Ira. Produced in Chicago by John McEntire [Sea and Cake], who adds an elegant touch with horns and strings. This band simply brings it. Check out Ira’s guitar , especially at 4 minutes in.
16]Flaming Lips – “The Terror’
One of my favorite bands going down a bleak path. Continuing after the noisy “Embryonic” ,only more depressing. But in the midst of the darkness lies a beating heart . There are melodies and choruses. Even an emotional tune like “Try to explain”. Took a while , but I’ve grown to love it.
Watch the sustained darkness on “Turning Violent” erupt at about 3:15
17] Okkervil River-” The Silver Gymnasium”
The cover calls it “A Pageant of New England” ,as deep thinker Will Sheff takes us back to his school days in Meriden , New Hampshire, and his band lovingly provides the soundtrack. You can expect emotionally charged anthems that tell great stories. Thrill to “On a Balcony” and “Stay Young” and my favorite “Where the spirit left us” with some of Will’s best vocals. The band is simply amazing giving these songs their proper lift. But Will is the star, who opens up his past on this album of soaring pop with big hooks. If you visit the band site you can take a tour of his school. You van also click on Will’s name and see his literary efforts, of which his elegy on Lou Reed was the best I’ve seen.
Listen to the stellar chorus in “Pink Slips” ,then watch Will sing his heart out in the actual silver gymnasium .
18] Lucy Wainwright Roche- “There’s a last time for everything”
Gorgeous album featuring Lucy’s crystal clear voice. She wrote all the songs except for one cover, and there is much to admire. I love the way her voice blends with Colin Meloy’s on “Seek and Hide”
“I fell in love last year, It’s not a thing I do a lot..”
There is the pop lilt of “Last time” and the quiet “Look busy” with just bass and piano backing, and the wordless chorus on “Canterbury Song” . There is a moving duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter on “A quiet one”
“So place me here in this minute of Let’s see..”
The album ends with the heartbreaking “Under the gun”
“What do people under the gun know Tell how to hurt so it won’t show ..”
Now about that cover. If you grade artists by their choice of covers then Lucy gets an A+ because she does an incredible job on Robyn’s “Call your girlfriend”. She picks up on the drama of this song with a quiet intensity and a subtle background chorus. Stunning!
All of these well produced songs [in Nashville- where else?] are so well sung. And that’s the deal with her. I believe Lucy has the best voice in her extended family[ Roche , Wainwright, McGarrigle] .That’s saying something, she’s got the talent . So clear and beautiful, she is capable of making you smile or bring a tear to your eye.
19] Elvis Costello and the Roots – “Wise up ghost”
Born in the back rooms of Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Show, a partnership between Elvis and Questlove was formed and a decision to create some music together. Now I’m a big Costello fan. And I look forward to seeing The Roots on late night tv . Their intro music for guests are legendary. So I was terribly excited about this release. And what are the results of their union? Well, it’s not hip hop. nor is it rock, but more like a hybrid of styles. It is a dark, noir filled collection of slow moving night time tunes. The snap of Questlove’s drums ,rumble of Mark’s bass, and precision of Kirk’s guitar, punctuated by jazzy horns.
I will be honest, and say I was thrown at first. But like all good music, the more I listened , the more the grooves settled in and I Loved it. And there is much to rave about:
The walking drums on “Walk us uptown”
The funky bass and piano on “Refuse to be saved”
The groovy horns on “Wake me up” – “Wake me up , with a slap or a kiss”
Elvis in full ballad voice for “Tripwire” with Diane Birch on backing vocals.
“Come the Meantimes” a cool blend of rock and soul with just guitar bass and drums, and it’s repeated “Right Now Right Now”– “Gather some stones and make them atone” .Kirk shows off some mean guitar here.
Then there are two tracks together that really send me. “Cinco Minutos Convos” trades vocals with La Marisoul, a remarkable Latin singer ,that sends makes this song a revelation. Immediately following is a blast of very sweet “Lovers Rock” horns and Elvis in his best falsetto. Both tracks illustrate just how potent the meeting of these musical minds can be
Throughout, there is much mutual admiration displayed. As the excellent liner noted state, Questlove is a Costello fan. And the Roots are very well grounded here. Elvis sings, they play.And since the cover states this is Number one, I trust we can expect some more magicin the future.
For a real treat, go to youtube and check out the MSR studio sessions showcasing these tunes live. Here are a couple:
20] David Bowie- “The Next Day”
” Here I am Not quite Dying” ,sung in the title song by the Thin White Duke. Yes, to make this year even better we have the return of David Bowie. The recording of the album was a well kept secret, and in the early days of the new year a single and video was dropped with the forecast of an album to follow. The song aptly titled “Where are we now “, an ethereal beauty featuring a lovely fragile vocal. I sat and watched that video and was stunned. When he sings “The moment you know, you know you know ” in the chorus is so effective.
The real surprise was just how good the entire album was. Drums crack, guitars snarl, saxes honk, and David finds his falsetto. The highlights :
The guitars and background “Sha la la’s” in “Valentines Day” featuring David’s best pop vocal in ages.
“The stars are never far away”, “They watch us from behind their shades” from the rocking “The stars are out tonight”- “They burn you with their radiant smiles.”
Earl Slick’s heavy guitar on “You will set the world on Fire”- “I can hear the nation cry”
The dramatic ballad “You feel so lonely you could die”
The decadent menace of “Heat” – “My father ran the prison”
One of my favorite performances is on “I’d rather be high” . David’s in rare form and having some fun.
“I’d rather be high I’d rather be flying
“I’d rather be dead or out of my head…”
The excellent bonus track, “I’ll take you there “.
Mojo refers to it as “the album that fell from nowhere”. Who knows if we’ll ever get a collection so well put together again. For a long time David Bowie ruled my musical universe. It is good to have him back again.
21] She and Him – “Volume 3″- Zooey gets better with each release
22]Lucius – “Wildewoman”- “I’m your dolly stuffed with extra baggage ‘- more girl group splendor. When family members give you a tip, you listen.
23] William Tyler- “Impossible Truth”- Gorgeous Americana tone poems for solo guitar . From Nashville.
24] Dawes -“Stories don’t end” – Excellent California rock.
25] Tristen – “Caves”- Bewitching Nashville chanteuse.
26] Jim James- ‘Regions of light and sound of God- Epic pop from a man on a spiritual quest.
27] They might be giants- “Nanobots”- Smart and fun, they continue to make very catchy pop.
28] Vampire Weekend- “Modern Vampires of the city “- Never really gotten into them, but this one received so much praise I recently got it. Would probably be even higher if I had it sooner , because after a few listens it’s addictive. Sounds like they focused on making a great pop album, and that it is. Early fave is the harpsichord laced “Step ” .Can’t wait to listen some more.
29] Haiku Salut- “Tricolore “- Lovely instrumental trio who describe their music as “Baroque-Pop- Folktronic – Neo Classical -Something- Or- Other”. They also claim to be influenced by the author Haruku Murakami, which accounts for the melancholy tones. The music by these ladies is very beautiful, featuring Accordions, Spanish guitar, melodicas, etc. Watch them play the heartbreaking “Los Elefantes” . This is worth finding.
30] Paul McCartney- “New” -Sounding as young as ever, Paul can still rock. He was committed to making a great album and it is. “Save us ” is a rousing opener, and “New” is a pop gem with Paul doing some swell wordless “Ooohs .” “Queenie Eye” is a standout featuring Paul on everything but drums. Just listen to this guy sing. Great! Spot the stars in the “Queenie” video.
Some more: Neko Case, Alela Diane , Jules Shear [so nice to hear from him], The 88, The Pastels [always cool], The National, Christopher Owens, Lisa Mychols, Julia Holter, and Cortney Barnett, The Tor Guides
Album of special merit: Van Dyke Parks- “Song Cycled”
Intoxicating collection from Van Dyke Parks, a real musicologist. Entertaining us with his usual eclectic blend of hymns, calypsos, traditional tunes, and a couple new versions of old Van Dyke songs. “The Parting Hand” is taken from the Sacred Harp Society Hymnal from 1835.”Aquarium” is a Saint-Saens composition played by the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, a group Van Dyke cherishes. “The All Golden” is taken from his debut album, “Song Cycle”. This is a stripped down version with just Van Dyke on vocals and keyboards.It’s lovely. The album comes with a wonderful set of composer notes and art work for each song. It is a most impressive package. Just watch this amazing legendary musician play ‘The All Golden”.
Album of special merit- Glen Campbell- “See you there”
This recording was made during the “Ghost on the Canvas sessions. What we get are classic Glen Campbell tunes with just a small band backing. No orchestras , just a stripped down session. It’s wonderful. There is something special listening to “Gentle on my mind” by an older , wiser Glen. And that is the essence of this set. Classics like “Wichita Lineman ” and “Galveston ” take on new meaning with just a voice and minimum backing. Glen sounds great and it warms me to listen to this. Two tracks are a revelation. “Postcard from Paris” is a Jimmy Webb tune Glen has never recorded. Add it to huge list of their Webb covers Glen has added his magic to. Gives me chills. Then there is the spiritual “Waiting on the comin’ of my Lord”. There is something especially poignant hearing a man with declining health doing this number. For the finale, Glen returns to this same spiritual ,this time with the backing of a mariachi band. “Jesus take my hand and guide me through the promised land” Glen sings after a mariachi overture. And that just might be the last we will hear from Glen , which makes it a fitting song awaiting death.
Hopefully Glen, we’ll someday “See you there”
Songs of the Year:
1] Foxygen – “San Francisco”
2]Prefab Sprout- “Adolescence”
3]And the Professors- “That’s how we died”- riveting !
4] The Heavy Blinkers- ‘Child of the Radio” -shades of Dusty Springfield
5] Julia Holter- “Hello Stranger”- Haunting cover reducing it to only voice and minimum keyboards-
6]Ron Sexsmith- “Autumn Light”- breaks my heart each time it plays
7]David Bowie- “Where are we now” – remarkable return
8Cracker boots- ‘Paris might not not wait’- Sophisticated pop- that crafty Bill DeMain and sultry Melissa Mathes
9]The Silver Seas- A Night on the Town”- Daniel Tashian simply has the best voice- and that guitar- Wow!
10] Camera Obscura- “New Year’s Resolution”
11]Courtney Barnett- “Avant Gardener” – Her deadpan delivery is a hook -“I feel like Uma Thurman post-overdosing…”
12- Jimmy Webb and Keith Urban- “Where’s the playground Suzie”- Deeply affecting song that features some of Jimmy’s strongest vocals. Keith sounds great as well. The utterly sad lyric “If I don’t stay around” is classic Webb. Watch Glen Campbell and Jimmy perform it from 1988;
13] Glen Campbell – “Postcard from Paris”- Yet another Jimmy Webb tune that Glen adds his magic to. Doesn’t get much better.
14] The Tor Guides- “All about the loving”- A sweet pop confection .Can’t get enough of it.
15] Dear Georgiana- “Please don’t tell me a lie” – Perhaps my favorite new vocal find of the year, Lauren Balthrop sings this so well. So vulnerable. Listen to her sing “it’s ok to be scared”, and her wordless finish. Awesome talent.
16] Lucy Wainwright Roche- “Call your girlfriend” – She brings a quiet intensity to this Robyn cover.
17] Yo La Tengo- “Cornelia and Jane” “Ohm” seems to be the favorite, but I prefer this song. Ira’s sensitive guitar and Georgia’s tender vocals, and subtle horns. Musicians in total control of their gifts.
18] Edwyn Collins- “31 Years”- A touch of autobiography from a musician I have cherished his entire career . ” 31 Years of Rock and Roll” he sings, and he still sounds great.
19] Electric Soft Parade- “The sun never sets around here”- Nice touch of the Beatles. Need to check out their album.
20] Neko Case- “Man”- Heard this a lot on local WXRT and never tired of it.
21- The 88- “I saw the light that day”- great title to a swell tune.
Special mention: The Living Sisters -“Run for cover” Real nice 6 track covers EP. “Que Sera Sera”is awesome.
I need to check out:
Avett Brothers, Bill Callahan, Anna Calvi, Laura Viers, Sam Phillips, Phosphorescent, State of the Union [2nd album], Josh Rouse, Eleanor Friedberger, Kurt Vile , Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Elle Macho
Looking forward to :
Eleni Mandell, Beck, Angel Olson, Dum Dum Girls, Lily Allen, Elizabeth and the Catapult, St Vincent, Laura Cantrell, Real Estate, Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Hold Steady, The War on Drugs, The Cloud Nothings, Lykke Li, The Roots, Old 97’s, Gruff Rhys, The Strypes, Neil Young [covers album], Ben Watt, Stars in Coma, Rumer, Luella and the Suns, Sharon Van Etton, The Haden Triplettes, Plush, Pearlfishers, NRBQ, Suzy Bogguss, Lake Street Dive, Roddy Frame [yeah!] , The New Mendicants
I can dream can’t I ?-
Swan Dive- I have read that Bill and Molly were recording . That is great news. Can’t wait.
Gary Clark [Danny Wilson} -We got a new Prefab Sprout. Roddy Frame, Ben Watt, and The Pearfishers are releasing new music this year. So please, Gary. Consider it. I know I’m not alone in hoping for something new from this gifted musician.
The Kinks [God save the Kinks!]
Concerts: Wilco – Solid Sound Festival – June 21st- An all covers set taken from fan requests. Wild set list included covers from Big Star, Pavement,Yo La Tengo, The Kinks, Nick Lowe, and Television plus many more. They even covered Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. I wasn’t there, but do own a download , and it is a musical treat from the first note to the last. What an incredible band.
An Evening with Todd Rundgren – SPACE in Evanston, Illinois on August 28th. An intimate club date that was really like the “30 Years Of Todd” tours he was doing. He was in great spirits and terrific voice. Did a little bit of everything but the highlight for me had to be “Determination”. What a rush. Also “Drive”, “Lost Horizon”, “Hawking”, and the finale “A dream goes on forever”. An outstanding night of Todd.
Mojo Magazine : A monthly musical fix I would be lost without. The creative cd’s are a bonus.
Pitchfork, Popmatters, Stereogum, Paste, No Depression etc. On line stops that are essential to my constant musical searches. There are others such as Uncut [love the depth of their Playlists], and NME . It was at No Depression where I found out about the Heavy Blinkers release. First heard about the Prefab Sprout at Sondre Lerche’s twitter messages,
Matinee Records, Darla Records, Ray Gianchetti and Kool Kat Music [his weekly messages are so cool] for working hard on spreading the love of pop. Also, I recently found my way to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio messages. That is where I found the fab Tor Guides.
Whatever it takes to find the musical gems that are out there. It is a full time hobby searching for and finding them. Just like writing this list. I know, I take forever. But I take it seriously. I listen carefully and go from there.
Hope you find something new from the list. If you do, please let me know. It is such fun to share the music. I welcome the feedback.
Now I need to move onto 2014. Glancing at my “looking forward to” section it is shaping up to be a wonderful year.
‘Music pourin’ out on singles
Finds a home on someone’s stereo…”
“Singles” by Rupert Holmes