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Albums of the Year: 2011

December 27th, 2011 6 comments

With Christmas out of the way, and the year almost over, it’s time I finally get around to compiling my Top 20 albums of the year of 2011 (in fact, there are 21 entries). Each album is represented on the mix with a song, and each entry has a link to the artist’s homepage or other outlet where the album can be ordered from. Because this list is intended not only to show off my impeccable taste, but also to showcase artists, all data files in the mix have been downscaled to 128kbps. This is not really a chart, but we’ll be counting down from roughly 20th to first. Other than the top 5, all rankings have a margin of error of a couple of places. The playlist of the mix counts up, from #1 to #21.

21. Michael Kiwanuka – Tell Me A Tale EP
This is supposed to be a Top 20 of albums, but I am breaking a rule by making it 21 and including this three-track EP. If Michael Kiwanuka’s debut, due for 2012, includes just three tracks as good as those on this EP, it will be a contender for next year’s list. The Ugandan-born, British-based  singer recalls the sounds of mid-’70s soul, with flutes, strings and rhythm guitar, and lovely melodies. And still, the sound is contemporary, with a jazz saxophone getting all funky on lead track Tell Me A Tale. Homepage
Michael Kiwanuka – I Need Your Company

20. Maria Taylor – Overlook
It is been a while since Taylor’s great debut albums, 11:11 and Lynn Teeter Flower, both of which were consistently excellent. Overlook is more like an old friend coming to visit; at first, the conversation is animated and a little exciting, then you settle down on the couch with a bottle of wine and just enjoy each other’s company, even if the level of communication is more comfortable than inspiring. In this way, Maria Taylor is a most welcome visitor. HOMEPAGE
Maria Taylor – Happenstance

19. Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – Bright Examples
Arlo’s daughter (and therefore Woody’s granddaughter) and her husband channel Fleetwood Mac, The Magic Numbers and a dash of Emmylou Harris on their second country-folk album. This is by no means edgy stuff, but it’s pretty much perfect over a cup of strongly brewed coffee on a Sunday morning. And sometimes that all we can ask of music. BUY ALBUM
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – Seven Sisters

18. Säkert! – På Engelska
Or otherwise known as Hello Saferide. It’s a bit confusing: Swedish singer Annika Norlin is otherwise better known by the moniker Hello Saferide, by which she became something of an indie darling a few years ago. In 2007 and again in 2010 she recorded Swedish-language albums as Säkert! (which apparently is Swedish for “yeah, right”), selected tracks of which she then re-recorded in English, maintaining the Säkert! name. And just to mess with us, and rob the album of any commercial prospect, the album’s title is rendered in Swedish. It has no tracks as instantly catchy as The Quiz or High School Stalker, but this is an engaging set, with Norlin’s personality and appealingly idiosyncratic lyrics the real star. HOMEPAGE
Säkert!  – The Lakes We Skate On

17. Lori McKenna – Lorraine
Lori McKenna is better known as a songwriter for the likes of Alison Krauss, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Faith Hill than she is as a performer. That’s a shame, because her performance is preferable to the corporate gloss of a LeeAnne Rimes. The strength here reside in McKenna’s emotional honesty as she introspects on her life and relationships (touchingly also with her late mother, also named Lorraine). BUY ALBUM
Lori McKenna – You Get A Love Song

16. Ralph Stanley – A Mother’s Prayer
Some 64 years after making his first record, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley releases an album of Christian music that will make even the most hardened atheists wish, at least momentarily, that they had religion. His once smooth but now worn octogenarian voice might betray Stanley’s age, but he has the confidence to do four of the present 14 tracks a cappella style, including a rousing version of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘John The Revelator’. HOMEPAGE
Ralph Stanley – I’ll Not Be Afraid

15. OK Sweetheart – Home
One of two self-released albums in this lot, which suggests that there is much talent that is going unrecognised. Thank goodness for the Internet, through which fans can spread the word. So I got to hear of OK Sweetheart – the moniker singer Erin Austin operates under – and this very lovely debut album, which calls to mind Regina Spektor in a calm mood. HOMEPAGE
OK Sweetheart – We’ve Got Love

14. Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer
After a dozen beautifully crafted albums, the acclaim awarded by the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Michael Bublé (hey, you would take it), and a memorable surname, the Canadian singer still is no superstar. Long Player Late Bloomer won’t change the injustice, even if it is another quite excellent album. Here Sexsmith scores his mostly downbeat lyrics with upbeat guitar, keyboard and strings, all gorgeously arranged. Sexsmith has an extraordinary warm sound (and, indeed, warm voice), which provides for a most welcome antidote to the autotuned stylings of current mainstream pop. BUY ALBUM (incl. special editions)
Ron Sexsmith – Michael And His Dad

13. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes And Keys
There’s nothing new here; Death Cab pretty much do what they’ve been doing since 2003’s excellent Transatlanticism (and Underneath The Sycamore sounds to me a bit like that album’s New Year), with the layered, textured arrangements and polished production which form little indie-pop symphonies. And like that album, the best track comes right at the end: Stay Young, Go Dancing.  Like the band’s previous three albums, Codes And Keys is best heard through headphones while tuning out, letting the texture of the sounds and Gibbard’s gentle singing cascade over the listener. HOMEPAGE
Death Cab For Cutie – Stay Young, Go Dancing

12. Buddy Miller – The Majestic Silver Strings
It takes two minutes and 10 seconds before the gentle opener Cattle Call launches any vocals. From then, things pick up, with a succession of guest vocalists, including Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Lee Ann Womack, and Miller’s wife Julie. Even Marc Ribot, like Buddy Miller a great session guitarist, chips in on a couple of numbers. And that’s how The Majestic Silver Strings sounds: a great studio romp with friends popping in and out to sing new material and lots of covers of lesser-known songs by country greats such as Lefty Frizzell and George Jones. It’s great fun and musically pleasing, even when the concept fails (cf. Roger Miller’s Dang Me!). And for an album featuring four highly rated session guitarists — Bill Frissell and Greg Leisz also feature – there is a commendable absence of guitar solo wankery. One for those who enjoy the A History of Country series. BUY ALBUM
Buddy Miller feat Julie Miller – God’s Wing’ed Horse

11. The Pierces – Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge
You have to love an indie-pop band that can sound vaguely like TLC, as The Pierces did on 2007’s Lights On, and who can riff on the Pet Shop Boys as they did on Boring (“Menage a trois? Boring”), from the same album. On their fourth album they play it a bit more straight – and more commercially viable. The sensibility is here is catchy indie-pop: imagine The Cardigans passing through Nashville (with a nod to The Mamas and the Papas, especially on Kissing You Goodbye). It’s unfailingly engaging. I love the cover design which gives the appearance of a well-worn LP sleeve. HOMEPAGE
The Pierces – Glorious

10. Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen
A man of gloomy outlook and plaintive voice, Josh T. Pearson is not likely to cheer you up. There is so much sadness and anger here, Last Of The Country Gentlemen might well be Pearson’s primal whisper. With four of the seven melancholy songs longer than ten minutes, this is an intimidating album. But becoming immersed in it, the genius of this exceptionally powerful set will reveal itself. BUY ALBUM
Josh T. Pearson – Thou Art Loosed

9. Tom Rhodes – Better Son
Screw old the system of musicians being at the arbitrary mercy of record companies; Tom Rhodes sells his self-financed albums on the Internet and at live gigs. His sophomore album of alt.country should by rights sell enough to pay the singer’s bills and more. In sound and in merit, it recalls one of the best albums of 2010, Ryan Bingham’s Junky Star. Bourbon-voiced Rhodes must have had confidence in his set of songs: he keeps the album’s best track, the title number, for the finale.  BUY ALBUM
Tom Rhodes – Better Son

8. Alison Krauss and Union Station – Paper Airplane
It took Alison Krauss seven years to record a new album that didn’t feature grizzled old Robert Plant, and the result feels like a long, warm hug by somebody who really loves you — and you might need that hug after Dan Tyminski’s angry vocals on Dust Bowl Children. Crystal-voiced Krauss and her band of maestros on mandolin, fiddle and banjo offer little that is new, but with such great material performed so beautifully rendered, who needs innovation? HOMEPAGE
Alison Krauss & Union Station – My Opening Farewell

7. Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender
Understated, warm and gorgeously slow-burning, Over The Rhine’s The Long Surrender gets under the listener’s skin with its raw, introspective lyrics delivered by Karen Bergquist in her torchsong-folk voice (from which the overhyped and overrated Adele could learn) to a sensitive but textured production by Joe Henry. The production was funded by fans and supporters of the Cincinnatti group, and alt-country legend Lucinda Williams pops in for two songs. HOMEPAGE
Over The Rhine – Sharpest Blade

6. Amos Lee – The Mission Bell
It’s hard to pin a genre on Amos Lee, but on The Mission Bell he is emphatically in the alt-country camp. Produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns, The Mission Bell channels The Band, without really reaching their depth (as if many ever do), and then descends to the pedestrianism of Jack Johnson. It’s an uneven album, to be sure. But when it works, it is quite impressive. The songs deal with songs of discovery and redemption, and Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson (who provides an elementary maths lesson) drop in for duets. BUY ALBUM
Amos Lee – El Camino

5. Nicole Atkins – Mondo Amore
Nicole Atkins’ excellent 2007 album Neptune City drew from eclectic influences; on Mondo Amore she cast her net even wider and, counter-intuitively, arrives at a more coherent sound. The result is an energising, self-produced album (by force, her former label unaccountably dropped this wonderful talent) which details, with no exaggerated bitterness, her break-up with a boyfriend. On the lovely Hotel Plaster (which might have been a Richard Hawley song), Atkins sings: My pain could learn to play the violin, but it might not bring you back. But at least we’d have a pretty soundtrack.” And that’s just what we got. HOMEPAGE
Nicole Atkins – Cry Cry Cry

4. Zahara – Loliwe
A surprise hit, this is South Africa’s top-selling album of the year. In a musical scene in which her best shot at stardom was to do dance music of vocal jazz, 24-year-old Bulelwa Mkutukana took her acoustic guitar to create a bi-lingual album that references the great South African female singers of past and present – legends such as Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Busi Mhlongo, Letta  Mbulu and, especially, Brenda Fassie, but also contemporaries such as Judith Sephuma and Simphiwe Dana. And yet she manages to sound fresh and entirely relevant. BUY ALBUM
Zahara – Ndize

3. Wilco – The Whole Love
Alas, poor Wilco, you shall never satisfy all your fans. Nobody can say they hate The Whole Love, but lots of people pronounced themselves a little disappointed. These are the hazards of being masters at different styles. On The Whole Love, Wilco offer a duo of opening tracks that should satisfy the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot fans of distorted sounds, and then go on to keep Sky Blue Sky devotees like me happy (and I firmly believe that one day Sky Blue Sky will be regarded as an all-time classic rock album). The sequencing is risky: the first half is not easy to navigate; it takes repeated listens to really appreciate them. The superb Born Alone rings in a series of instantly catchy numbers – but by then the casual listener might have switched off already. BUY ALBUM
Wilco – Born Alone

2. Brandi Carlile – Live At Benaroya Hall
Brandi Carlile should be a massive star, but if she was, she probably would have to make compromises. So it’s just as well that she’s big enough to get Elton John duetting with her on an album, to appear on Austin City Limits and to record a live album with orchestra, but retaining some artistic control. Not having to compromise means having your backing singers perform “the creepiest and most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard” on your live album, and it means that you can close the set with a couple of cover versions. Of those, bloody Hallelujah is so overworked, I can’t work up interest in Carlile’s version; Alphaville’s Forever Young is a surprising choice; nicely executed, but hardly going out on a high note – the set would have climaxed well with the final original, Pride And Joy. The original songs are performed with power where appropriate and restraint when necessary, with barely a dud note. The orchestra adds little to most songs, and on some tracks keeps quiet altogether, but gets going on the two stompers, The Story and – the album’s revelation – Dreams. HOMEPAGE
Brandi Carlile – Dreams

1. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest
Gillian Welch’s first album in eight years is mesmerising. It draws the listener into its world of mystery and melancholy, modern Americana and old Appalachian sounds. Welch’s clear and expressive voice, supported by collaborator Dave Rawlings’ close harmonies, glides effortlessly over the lovely sparse arrangements, which pay a respectful tribute to country’s rich legacy. This album is a monument to the majesty of restraint and simplicity. BUY ALBUM
Gillian Welch – Tennessee
Gillian Welch – Hard Times
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Previous Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year: 2007

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is the final part of the series of my favourite top ten albums of every year through the ’00s. And to celebrate it, I accidentally wrote 11 reviews. So these are a top 11 then. There is still a link up to my top 20 albums of 2008, which covers that year, and I’ll post a similar mix of my top 20 for 2009 once I have decided which they are. As before, I’m sad to leave out some fine albums from ’07, including efforts by Josh Ritter, Kate Walsh, Laura Gibson, Rilo Kiley, Jens Lekman, Maria Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Feist, Billie the Vision & the Dancers, A Fine Frenzy, The National, Brooke Fraser, Foo Fighters, Over The Rhine, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse, Iron & Wine, Miranda Lambert, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles, Common, Tim McGraw, The Shins, Abra Moore…

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

The Wilco cognoscenti are rather too ready to dismiss the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. This is an uncomplicated album, and does what its creators set out to do admirably. Here, Jeff Tweedy and chums eschew cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album. Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The highlight here is Impossible Germany, with Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline duelling on a magnificent guitar solo, an integral part of the song’s lyrics, that borrows from Gary Moore (check out Thin Lizzy’s Sarah) and Carlos Santana.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Impossible Germany.mp3

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Brandi Carlile – The Story

The name Brandi Carlile suggests a fake-breasted airhead straight outta the Playboy Mansion. As the reader may have guessed by dint of her inclusion on this list, that notion is way of the mark. Carlile is a hugely talented writer and singer of solid rock and country-rock songs. I liked her eponymous 2005 debut, which was rather more rootsy than this set. Here Carlile straddles genres, veering from rock (My Song) to folk-pop (Turpentine) to country (“Have You Ever”). Her distinctive voice can whisper softly and soar ferociously (hear the climactic Joplinesque roar on the title track). The lyrics booklet reveals that Carlile wrote some of the songs as a teenager in 2000 or earlier, hinting at a precocious talent.
Brandi Carlile – The Story.mp3

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Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is something of a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under the cover of earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs tend to start softly before building up to a multi-layered, orgasmic crescendo. The melodies are pretty — even twee, in the way Belle & Sebastian are twee — and Svanängen’s high and slight voice is appealing enough, within the context of his music. But I have no idea whether the lyrics are any good; I’ve never really listened to them; I rather have the bedroom symphonies wash over me.
Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits.mp3
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Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

Neptune City came out at a time when Amy Winehouse, another artists borrowing from pop’s rich legacy, was absolutely everywhere. I prefer Atkins’ eclectic references over Winehouse’s mannered soul pastiche. Neptune City is, in places, like Petula Clark covering Blondie through an ABBA filter — glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins does torchsong soul (“The Way It Is”), or goes into ’80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or the rousing “Brooklyn On Fire”, which featured here). Elsewhere there are hints of Phil Spector’s production and Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell. It should be a total retro mess, but it isn’t. It sounds entirely modern. Neptune City may not be an entirely cohesive album, but it is rather fabulous.
Nicole Atkins – Love Surreal.mp3

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Holmes Brothers – State Of Grace

Some time ago I posted the Holmes’ Brothers gospel-blues style cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me (HERE) from this album. That track was my introduction to the Holmes Brothers, who had released nine albums before this one, starting in 1991 — more than three decades after the two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, started in the music business. The third member, drummer Popsy Dixon, hooked up with them in the mid-’60s. But they did not become the Holmes Brothers until 1979, having spent the interim as a covers bar-band. Covering blues, soul, gospel, country and even a spot of bluegrass, State Of Grace is warm and often surprising, especially in the Virginian group’s interpretation of other people’s songs, which include tracks by Lyle Lovett (twice), Credence Clearwater Revival, Nick Lowe, Hank Williams Sr and Johnny Mathis. Guesting here with the three brothers are Joan Osborne (who championed the Holmes Brothers in the 1990s), The Band’s Levon Helms and Rosanne Cash. Featured here is the Hank Williams song, featuring Cash.
The Holmes Brothers (with Rosanne Cash) – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.mp3

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

I can’t claim to be much of an Animal Collective fan. I’m sure I would be if I had the patience to get into them. I was not going to have patience either with this solo album by Collective’s drummer Noah Lennox. But I was attracted to it by the cover art and a glowing Pitchfork review. For some reason I ended up playing Person Pitch on loop, and was entranced by it. The critics in their reviews invariably referenced Brian Wilson, and coming a couple of years after SmiLE (another album I got into by playing it on loop) was released, that is neither surprising nor inaccurate. Person Pitch is a glorious psychedelic trip, especially the epic Bros, that owes a tip of the hat also to the Beatles.

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Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

It is this album’s misfortune to be chronologically sandwiched between Hawley’s two masterpieces, 2005’s Coles Corner and this year’s Truelove’s Gutter, two of the decades finest albums. Lady’s Bridge may not quite reach the heights of those masterpieces, but it gets damn close. It is a very, very good album, with no weak point. It is mostly a sad collection. The gorgeous opener, Valentine, will move the vulnerable listener to tears, or close to it, especially when the strings swell and the drums emphasise the anguish. A couple of rockabilly songs and the upbeat Tonight The Streets Are Ours lighten the mood before suitably gloomy (and very lovely) songs called Our Darkness and The Sun Refused To Shine close the set.

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Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night

Where Missy Higgins full debut album The Sound Of White (with its astonishing title track) was mostly plaintive in sound; On A Clear Night is more accessible and upbeat. Higgins invests her intelligent lyrics with evocative vocals. The Sound Of White dealt much with trauma and depression; On A Clear Night is frequently life affirming, talking of escape, healing and self-assertion. Thankfully Higgins’ toned down her distinctive Australian accent which previously came perilously close to making her sound like an Aussie wicketkeeper. This is the kind of album that may at first seem slight, but its depth reveals itself after repeated listens. Crowded House’s Neil Finn makes an appearance on the album, contributing guitar to Peachy and backing vocals to the lovely Going North. That’s what it says on the booklet; I can barely hear the guy.
Missy Higgins – Going North.mp3

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Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

In 2005, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake. It is a grower which requires a few spins before its full beauty reveals itself. Songs that at first do not seem much creep into the ear slowly, and then take root. It is a richly textured, and cohesive album. Connor Oberst’s poetic lyrics are delivered here with greater self-assurance and less of a quiver than on preceding albums. At times, the album overreaches in its ambitions, and another spoken intro on the first track is simply pretentious. For this album Oberst roped in guests such as the marvellous Maria Taylor, Gillian Welch and Rilo Kiley’s Jason Boesel (whose backing vocals on the excellent “If The Brakeman Turns My Way” provide an album highlight).
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

Rosie Thomas’ fourth album is her most consistent. It’s for albums like these that the hackneyed phrase “achingly beautiful” was invented for. On These Friends Of Mine, she is supported by her friends Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens. The lyrical thread running through the album is love and New York, sometimes both together. Recorded as live, the album is engagingly intimate. The sparse, moving “Why Waste More Time?” is preceded by an appealingly giggly count-in. The cover version of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, nice though it is, seems redundant, but Tomas’ interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” captures the intense delicacy of the original. The highlight, however, is “Much Farther To Go”, a love song in which the arrangement, harmonies and lyrics coalesce to create an evocative hymn to deep yearning (like Nicole Atkins’ Brooklyn’s On Fire, it featured here).
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3

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Colbie Caillat – Coco

Like Lily Allen and Kate Nash before her, Colbie Caillat launched herself into the pop charts on the strength of Internet buzz. Releasing her music first on MySpace, she was soon picked up by the music blog community. Her debut album, titled rather cornily after her childhood nickname, is breezy folk-pop of the sort usually associated, by way of deceptive shorthand, with the rather more boring Jack Johnson. In sound Caillat is much closer to Tristan Prettyman, her fellow Californian who burst on to the scene equally unexpectedly in 2005. This is summer music, agreeably laid-back yet effervescent, and, crucially, not banal.
Colbie Caillat – Battle.mp3

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My top 10 albums for 2008 (not a vintage year) were:
Jay Brannan – Goddamned
Ron Sexsmith – Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Tift Merritt – Another Country
The Weepies – Hideaway
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Ben Folds – Way To Normal
Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories…
Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark

Full post here

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More Albums of the Year

Songs of Adultery

March 6th, 2009 7 comments

The theme song for infidelity, Your Cheating Heart, will feature in another instalment, so we will have to do with this bunch of adulterers (all but one men) and the people they’ve hurt (all but one of them women).

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Hello Saferide – Last Bitter Song.mp3

hellosaferide4Annika Norlin has been cheated on with a thin blonde “with a peanut for a brain and volleyballs for chest”. Worse yet, the dude did the dirty deed “with Miss Non-Bitterness” in her apartment. But, bastard dumped, Annika is getting over it by way of carthasis: “Now, this will be the last bitter song. It will be my last, real bitter song about you.” She will find new themes: “From now on, I’ll write about flowers and butterflies, chickens and kittens and shit.” And she’ll “try to find someone who knows I exist”. Which is the best kind of therapy. And, look, it’s working: “I’m feeling cheerful already. I’d like to break his neck, if I may. But most, I’d like to cut off that hair, and cut off that head, and cut off those volleyballs, and I hope she gets her heart broken, and I hope she turns bitter, really really bitter – like me.”

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Jim Reeves – He’ll Have To Go.mp3

jimreevesOh, what a set-up. Jim is on the phone with his woman, who presently is in the company of another man. Reeves has her on the phone, establishing a sense of intimacy and communicating instant forgiveness: “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone, let’s pretend that we’re together all alone. I’ll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low”. And then he goes for the jugular: “And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go.” He wants an answer now though: “Though love is blind, make up your mind. I’ve got to know – should I hang up or will you tell him he’ll have to go?” No whining, nor sulking, nor recriminations. Make up your mind, woman, and when you do, of course he’ll have to go.

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Nicole Atkins – Kill The Headlight.mp3

nicole-atkinsJim Reeves is willing to trust again, but that commodity is extinct when Nicole’s man cheats on her. “I know you and you are bound to stray. It’s a foul of men – they swear that they’ll never hurt you again, then give their best shots”, but if that is to no avail, “my heart you won’t have it again, so just don’t try.” The relationship will not be healed and it will be over. There won’t be a point in trying to mend it: “Don’t pull over, just kill the headlights.”

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Carrie Underwood – Before He Cheats.mp3

underwoodWhere Nicole Atkins won’t give second chances, Carrie Underwood doesn’t even let it get as far as that. Acting merely on suspicion, she gets her revenge in before the act. “Right now, she’s probably up singing some white-trash version of Shania karaoke. Right now, she’s probably saying, ‘I’m drunk’, and he’s thinking that he’s gonna get lucky. Right now, he’s probably dabbing on three dollars worth of that bathroom cologne.” So, just in case her imagination corresponds with reality, Carrie has “dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel-drive, carved my name into his leather seat. I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights, slashed a hole in all four tires.” That should teach him to even think of cheating. He also might forget about keeping pet rabbits.

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Kelis – Caught Out There.mp3

kelisIt is fair to presume that the beautiful Kelis will not take back the perfidious scoundrel who cheated on her. She is not well disposed towards him, as the line “I hate you so much right now” may suggest. But, from Kelis’ side of the story, one empathises with her. What she didn’t do for him? “Held you when you were sick, even sucked your dick” (which, if both ministrations were performed simultaneously, would require soundtracking by Marvin Gaye’s last big hit). Now it’s revenge time on the lying swine. Going one better on Carrie, “I’ll set your truck to flames, and watch it blow up.” Then comes the taunt: “Tell me: How you go’n see her now?” Aaaaaaarrrrgh!!!!!

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Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – Ooh Baby Baby.mp3

smokey-go-goSmokey is the prince of broken hearts. And here, the heartache is of his own making. He cheated and got dumped. “I did you wrong. My heart went out to play, but in the game I lost you. What a price to pay! Hey I’m crying.” Now he tearfully wants her back: “I’m just about at the end of my rope, but I can’t stop trying. I can’t give up hope, ’cause I feel that one day I’ll hold you near, whisper ‘I still love you’.” In the interim, “until that day is here – I’m crying.” Would you take him back?

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Mindy Smith – Jolene.mp3

mindy-smithI could have chosen any number of versions of Jolene, from Dolly Parton’s original to the delightful Strawberry Switchblade version. It is heartbreaking how the singer humbles herself before the beautiful Jolene, with her ivory skin, emerald eyes and smile “like a breath of spring”. She knows she has lost her man, who keeps saying Jolene’s name in his sleep. Her only hope is that Jolene might dump him, and so she appeals for her rival’s mercy (and, possibly, self-sacrifice). There’s some point-missing going on: “You could have your choice of men, but I could never love again. He’s the only one for me, Jolene. I had to have this talk with you. My happiness depends on you .”

But what if Jolene truly loves the man too. She might well attract another one, but will it be mutual love? Perhaps she won’t ever be able to love again too. And might the singer not be deluding herself that being with a man who doesn’t love her will be an arrangement conducive to “happiness”? The poor sap has no say in the matter, of course. He is being traded like a piece of meat whose feelings are immaterial. But then, being a man, he might appreciate not being forced to make a liver-curdlingly difficult decision.

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Shirley Brown – Woman To Woman.mp3

Barbara Mason – From His Woman To You.mp3

sbrownShirley phones Barbara to warn her off her “old man”. “It’s only fair that I let you know that the man you’re in love with – he’s mine.” Not only does she pay for his clothes and car, but she “loves that man”. And, like Jolene, Barbara is being asked to end it for the sake of her lover’s wife. “Woman to woman, if you’ve ever been in love, then you know how I feel. And, woman to woman, now, if you were in my shoes, wouldn’t you have done the same thing too.” So she warns: “I ain’t gonna let you break up my happy home.”

bmason1Happy? Really? Barbara responds to that in her own song, and it doesn’t look like Shirley’s begging and threats have had any effect, as the title already proclaims. She might not be above to satisfy his material needs, but she can give what he really wants: “I can give him love”. As far as Barbara is concerned, the nameless sap has already made his choice and his bed: “He spent last night with me, where he wanted to be.” So the guy has the choice between a woman with whom he has great sex and a wife who provides all the material comforts. Knowing that Mason’s lyrics were written by a man, how do you think the story will end?

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More Songs About Love

Any Major Awards – The Winners

December 15th, 2007 16 comments

And here are the winners of the inaugural Major Dude awards. Kick back and watch the show unfold, grabbing a few samples of the music (most have previously appeared on this blog; newly featured tracks are marked as such) on the way before you rush off and buy the awarded music as thoughtful Christmas presents for yourselves and everybody you know. And here’s the gong our winners may take home — The Major Dude:


ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Indie Album of the Year:
Swedish:
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
(I know, it was released in Sweden a long time ago, but for the rest of us, it is a 2007 album)

and performing a song from this year’s best Swedish Indie Album:
Loney, Dear – I Am John

Other places:
Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter

and performing a song from this year’s best non-Swedish Indie Album:
Josh Ritter – Right Moves

Rock Album of the Year:
Foo Fighters – Echoes Silence Patience & Grace

and performing two songs from this year’s best Rock Album:
Foo Fighters – Cheer Up Boys, You’re Makeup Is Running
Foo Fighters – Statues

Pop Album of the Year:
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight

and performing two songs from this year’s best Pop Album:
Rilo Kiley – Breakin’ Up
Rilo Kiley – Dreamworld

Country Album of the Year:
Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

and performing a song from this year’s best Country Album:
Miranda Lambert – Love Letters (new upload)

Americana Album Of The Year
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

and performing a song from this year’s best Americana Album:
Wilco – Hate It Here

Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

and performing a song from this year’s best Singer-Songwriter (male) Album:
Jens Lekman – A Postcard For Nina

Female:
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

and performing two songs from this year’s
best Singer-Songwriter (female) Album:

Rosie Thomas – Songbird
Rosie Thomas – Say Hello (with Sufjan Stevens)

R&B/Hip Hop:
Alicia Keys – As I Am

and performing a song from this year’s best R&B Album:
Alicia Keys (featuring John Mayer) – Lesson Learnt
(Link removed by DivShare)

Best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

and performing a song from this year’s best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Dark Road


Overrated Artist of the Year:
Amy Winehouse
Comparable album people should listen to instead: Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

and performing a song from this year’s best
Better Than Overrated Artist’s Album:

Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire! (new upload)

Best Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat

and performing as this year’s best Better Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat – Realize
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire


Most Disappointing Album:

Joseph Arthur – Let’s Just Be

SONGS OF THE YEAR:

Pop/Rock:
Richard Hawley – Valentine

Indie/Americana:
Wilco – Impossible Germany (new upload)

Singer-songwriter/Country:
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

South African Rock/Pop Song Of The Year:
Velve – Overpass (ne

w upload)

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
The nominees are:
Brandi Carlile – The Story
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

………and the winner is:
WILCO – SKY BLUE SKY

and performing a track from this year’s Album of the Year:
Wilco – Either Way

SONG OF THE YEAR:
And the nominees are:
Colbie Caillat – Bubbly
Richard Hawley – Valentine
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Brandi Carlisle – The Story
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

………and the winner is:
ROSIE THOMAS – MUCH FARTHER TO GO


BLOG AWARDS

The best Blogs of The Year

MUSIC
Album blogs:
It feels unfair to choose a “winner” from all the nominated blogs. Even within one category, the diversity makes a comparison about as as easy as comparing the relative merits of black cherries and iPods. There are so many that have given me great joy. Earbleeding Country shades it for me on strength of great, detailed writing and the quality of music on offer.

Earbleedingcountry
(which since this month now lives here)

Singles blogs:
The same as above applies, perhaps even more so. With singles blogs, bloggers tend to write in greater detail, length and often variety than album blogs. I finally narrowed it all down to two finalists: The Late Greats and Echoes In The Wind. The former has introduced me to more new great music than any other blog; the latter is perhaps the best-written music blog I know, in the face of some incredibly tough competition (for the purposes of this exercise; I don’t think most of us compete with each other; quite on the contrary, I’ve found). And so the winner is:

Echoes In The Wind

Retro blogs:
Albums:
Again, tough contest. All the nominees have provided me with so much pleasure. But our winner this year simply had the most stunning variety of music, some of it long-forgotten albums of old which deserve to be rediscovered.

DeaconBlues


Singles:
I do both new and retro stuff round here. The latter especially is fantastic fun. That sense of fun was particularly evident in all nominated blogs in this category. The winner is an old favourite of many:

The Wolfman Howls

NON-MUSIC BLOG OF THE YEAR
If choosing the best music blog was a headache, choosing the best non-music blog was a heartbreaking thing. Indie-Pop Ian Plenderleith’s sporadic blog entries are a monthly Internet highlight. Ndumiso Ngcobo’sSouth African iconoclasm invariably makes me laugh out loud. Rol Hirst’s “Dear Me…” post on the 13th almost clinched him a late winner. 15 Minute Lunch made big waves with the ’70s JC Penney fashion post, but there is so much more great writing there. But for style and exquisite prose, and an unforgettable post about the funeral of the Lazio fan shot by the Italian police, the winner can only be:

Spangly Princess

U-18 BLOG OF THE YEAR
I did not make nominations for best U-18 blog. I really liked the cricket blogs by two kids living in Amsterdam, Sean and Dylan Reeves (how can one not love a blogger who links to his Dad’s blog by saying “it’s rubbish”). But for paternal pride, it has to be Any Minor Dude’s to rarely updated guitar tabs blog. This 13 year old kid does a better job of it than many adults. This is, of course, the little dude who as a10-year-old arriving for his first lesson was asked by his guitar tutor (a seasoned sessionman) what artist’s music he wanted to play. Tutor Rob may have expected an answer like Good Charlotte or some contemporary R&B hit. Instead, the answer came: Johnny Cash. Which is cool as anything.

Guitariotabs

BEST BLOGGER’S MIX-TAPE
Taylor Parkes’ Right-wing Rock mix was incredible: the music was either hilarious or actually quite good, the lyrics produced some serious jawdroppers, and Taylor’s sleeve notes were insightful and witty. Get the mix and commentary at Touched Mix, and check out this unbelievable track — especially when he starts singing!
Lil Markie – Diary Of An Unborn Child.mp3 (new upload)

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Totally Fuzzy
with a BIG Thank You for the fantastic service these guys provide to the bloggers and those who search for great, new blogs. One more time: “Fuzzy And Blue” by the Sesame Street monsters

YOUR VOTE:
Best Any Major Dude series:
From a limited sample of votes, this is clearly the Time Travel to the 1970s series.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.4

December 13th, 2007 2 comments

For the sheer joy of it, five more of the random best:

Nicole Atkins – Maybe Tonight.mp3
Oh, I kissed the iPod when it threw up this gem first. I had just finished putting together my Any Major Awards nominations, in which I already awarded Nicole Atkins, for being a viable alternative to the horribly overrated Amy Winehouse. This song sounds like… Petula Clark meets Blondie meets Abba. It’s glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins gets all soulful (“The Way It Is”), or goes into ’80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or “Brooklyn On Fire”). Absolutely marvellous, and so much better than schtick merchant Winehouse.

Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet (live).mp3
This is from the Farewell To The World live CD, which was recorded in 1996 and released ten years later. That album was one of those rarities among live sets, where the stage versions almost invariably eclipse the studio originals. And so it is with “Fall At Your Feet”, one of Crowded House’s finest moments. The lyrics get me every time: “The finger of blame has turned upon itself, and I’m more than willing to offer myself. Do you want my presence or need my help…Who knows where that might lead.” Try hitting the high note of the ad libbed “I fall” rigtht after that verse (at 2:25).

Kevin Devine – Longer I’m Out Here.mp3
Why is Kevin Devine not more popular? This is a great Indie-pop-rock workout, from 2003’s Make the Clocks Move, with some seriously strange and beautifully poetic lyrics (“And you say that there’s someone that you need to reconnect with; some scarecrow from high school that you loved and never slept with; a baby with a pipedream playing hopscotch on your bandages”) .

Ennio Morricone – Deborah’s Theme/Amapola.mp3
I’m not big on movie soundtracks, unless it is a musical. But Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon A Time In America, itself one of my all-time top 3 favourite movies, is astonishingly beautiful. It can create emotions like few other albums I have. This track closes the soundtrack, reprising two running themes throughout the movie: “Deborah’s Theme” and the 1930s hit “Amapola”. The strings in the former can make a grown man cry; the latter, coming in at 3:30, might cheer the listener up, but here the tune induces a certain quiet wistfulness.

Radiohead – High And Dry.mp3
I revisited “Creep” over the weekend. Any Minor Dude’s friend brought his new PS2 Sing Star game along, and, lo, there was Thom Yorke feeling “so very special”. I totally nailed this song. As did Any Minor Dude. So we battled until I set an unassailable score. But I know that the very Minor Dude, with his musical talent and competitive streak, won’t let it rest there… Anyway, to the sing at hand. iPod has done well again with a topical pick: “High And Dry” apparently is about Evel Knievel, who has just died. Listening to it now for the first time in a long while, I’m reminded that this is a very good song.