In our final installment of posts wrapping up the year in music that was 2011, I reveal the albums, both local and national that made the most impact on my music loving ears. As we celebrate 13 months as a site, we have taken time to fondly look back on our first full year and the music that helped color our writing. In 2012, we hope to bring you more album and live reviews, interviews, newsworthy content and even some new features.
Without further adieu let's get started...
Best Albums of 2011
(in no particular order)
The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Capitol)
Employing the aesthetic of 'less is more' Colin Meloy and company paired down their sprawling concept album formula into an career defining indie rock/acoustic folk masterpiece. Upon initial listening in January I predicted this would be my favorite album of the year. With perfect production work from Tucker Martin and guest stars like Gillian Welch and Peter Buck the album If this is the last statement from the band this was epic. Favorite Track: "Down By The Water"
Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) (Lost Highway)
With a Texas swagger and a laid back attitude, Carll slips on his six shooter to fire off another classic batch of Country Rock classics. Carll's strength is in his phrasing and witty storytelling as he gives his observations on the state of the middle of America. With heartbreaking country ballads nestled gently next to raucous bluesy rock thumpers, Carll has become a personal favorite songwriter (and live performer) in a short period of time. Favorite Track: "Bye Bye Baby"
Buffalo Tom - Skins (Scrawny)
Veteran Boston based trio Buffalo Tom returned with their first album in four years and first on their own label. Featuring a beautiful duet between guitarist Bill Janovitz and Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses, Belly) on the lament, "Don't Forget Me" the album showcases the three minute Alternative Rock songs that first made the band famous 20 years ago. Their most musically accomplished release to date, this band only gets better with age. Favorite Track: "Guilty Girls"
Dave Stewart - The Blackbird Diaries (Surfdog/Weapons of Mass Entertainment/Razor and Tie) A cohesive bluesy, rock romp from the former Eurythmics guitarist satisfies completely. The album finds the 59 year old musician still in good voice and possessing some badass guitar chops. Guest appearances from Stevie Nicks, Martina McBride, The Secret Sisters and Colbie Calliat enhance, but don't overshadow Stewart in the least. Looking for an album to complement Dylan's masterful three album '65-'66 output for a great mix? Look no further. Favorite Track: "Can't Get You Out Of My Head"
Tapes 'n Tapes - Outside (Ibid)
Returning with their third full-length LP Minneapolis based Tapes 'n Tapes made an engaging indie rock album filled with an atmosphere of world sounds and beats while still playing as a four piece of bass guitar, drums, and two guitars. Mixing in some horn and organ in the arrangements, the band mixes up the sonic landscape away from two guitars, bass, and drums. Like a good album that becomes great with repeated listens, I kept returning to this record over and over all year and plan to for years to come. Favorite Track: "Badaboom"
Tom Waits - Bad As Me (Anti-)
His strongest, most cohesive statement since Mule Variations (1999), Waits delivers a set of '50s rock 'n roll as though it were pushed through a post-rock meat grinder. Waits, a 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, growls through cacophonous, upbeat stompers which lie perfectly next to sparse, post-modern torch songs laid bare and exposed. Favorite Track:
Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)
Over the past decade Will Sheff has continually polished the sound of his band, Austin based Okkervil River. Here, as evidenced by the track "Rider," he pushes the band's indie post-rock/pop through a "Wall of Sound" production infusing more of the '60s pop elements at the bedrock of his music while mixing in modern electronic textures. The vinyl version, a double LP, lacked a gatefold package Favorite Track: "Rider"
Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me (Nonesuch)
On her sophomore album, the 22-year-old Mayfield, seduces the listener completely with her sultry voice and heartbreaking lyrics. A protege of the Black Keys Dan Auerbach, Mayfield delivers what on the surface seems like nonchalant vocals that become much deeper when the lyrics ripped from the pages of a personal diary reveal themselves. With ethereal guitar sounds and a solid backbone. Favorite Track: "I'll Be The One You Want Someday"
Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge)
Michael Benjamin Lerner, the mastermind behind Telekinesis, fits his indie pop nicely between The Cure and Fountains of Wayne on his sophomore effort. With its punchy bass lines and pulsing drums, nearly every track on the album has the ability to fill a dance floor. Clocking in at just 33 minutes, there's no room to get bored here. Favorite Track: "Please Ask For Help"
JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound - Want More (Bloodshot)
Further honing their Neo-Soul revival sound, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound upped the ante for other acts within their subgenre with their Bloodshot Records debut. The album offers up nine upbeat originals and a couple of covers, including an imaginative version of fellow Chicago based band Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." While exuding the classic R & B and soul sound, the band stays modern with fresh, contemporary lyrics and a bit more rock backbone. The cover art even gives off a retro vibe of as it's reminiscent of The Stooges self-titled 1969 album, including all the attitude and swagger of the original. Favorite Track: "I Got High"
Best Reissues of 2011
(in no particular order)
The Beach Boys - The Smile Sessions (Deluxe Box) (Capitol/EMI)
Originally scheduled for release in January 1967, a full six months before Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band hit the stores, Smile may have been the record that topped every critics list of favorite albums of all time. Instead, 40 plus years after being recorded, The Beach Boys lost masterpiece finally received a proper release in all it's restored glory and minutiae. The behemoth of a box contains five CDs, two 180 gram Vinyl LPs, two vinyl singles, a 60 page bound book, a poster and more. If you're going to leave fans waiting for 44 years this is how you release an album.
Johnny Cash - Bootleg Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood (Columbia/Legacy)
This set is Johnny Cash at his most vulnerable. Beginning with a glimpse of Cash and the Tennessee Two performing live on the radio in Memphis during the same week Cash's daughter Rosanne Cash was born. Followed by Cash with his acoustic guitar recording demo versions of some of his most famous songs and rare tracks. Finally, a peek into the Columbia studios during the early '60s for his recording sessions with the Tennessee Three and the Statler Brothers.
The Jayhawks - Tomorrow The Green Grass (American)
The classic Jayhawks album that produced the radio friendly hit "Blue" and ended the first period of the band is expanded with five completed bonus tracks and demos. The second disc, filled with rough acoustic demos from a particularly fruitful writing period, were recorded a full three years before the record was released. Demonstrating even more of a country feel, the demos breathe new life into these familiar songs. Deserving of a renaissance now that the band has reformed and released new material, this album stands the test and rises above others recorded during the period.
R.E.M. - Life's Rich Pageant (Capitol)
Before the break up that came later in the year, R.E.M. celebrated the 25th anniversary of their big sounding rock record with a deluxe edition just as they had done with their first three full-length albums. The previous three anniversary editions contained extra discs of full live shows and demos. Here the bonus tracks are demos for the album recorded in Athens prior to the sessions with producer Don Gehman reveal works in progress ("Fall On Me") and finished products that had been in the live set for years ("Hyena" and "Just A Touch").
Miles Davis - The Bootleg Series, Volume 1: Live In Europe 1967 (Columbia/Legacy)
The first in a new live series focusing on Davis starts near the middle with his second great quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). This 3xCD/DVD set documents five shows from 1967 with the band at the zenith of their creative powers as they bid farewell to their bebop roots and start to form their electric consciousness. The video containing footage from performances in Germany and Sweden is startling in its raw power and the ability of he musicians to play in unison while seemingly in their own world. If this release is any indication of the wealth of treasures in the vaults with Davis' name marked on the tape box then we are in for a treat over the next several years.
Sebadoh - Bakesale [Deluxe Edition] (Sub Pop)
Released at the near peak of the Alternative Rock years, even lo-fi indie rock found some of the spotlight. Bakesale, the most cohesive album in the band's discography gets an expanded reissue overseen by both Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein. The original 15 song record produced by Shellac's Bob Weston is supplemented with a robust 25 additional tracks over two discs. The extras include demos, acoustic versions, studio experiments and EP tracks. A must have for any fan of Sebadoh.
Various Artists - Follow Me Down: Vanguard's Lost Psychedelic Era (1966-1970) (Vanguard) Released on Record Store Day, this double LP mines the vaults of Vanguard Records for obscure rock from the late 196o's. The songs are remarkably fresh given their time on the shelf inside the vaults. While the groups contained here are virtually unknown, the depth of the recording industry at the time demonstrates just how much quality music was being released in that period.
Television - Live at the Old Waldorf (Live in San Francisco 1978) [Vinyl Edition] (Rhino)
Another Record Store Day exclusive, this out of print release originally released by Rhino Handmade in 2003 as a limited edition surfaced again briefly for a pressing of 3,000 copies on 180 gram vinyl. Comprising songs from both Marquee Moon and Adventure the set highlights include a live version of the single "Little Johnny Jewel," and a 14-plus minute version of "Marquee Moon." The set culminates in musically straight cover of the Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." A blistering guitar solo by Richard Lloyd offsets Tom Verlaine's angular vocal reading.
Chris Mills - Heavy Years: 2000-2010 (Ernest Jenning)
A proper compilation for the Brooklyn based songwriter with St. Louis roots who has somehow managed to slip through the cracks of making a bigger name in the music industry. Pulling together much of the strongest material from his last four full-length albums and adding two new compositions, this chronicles a decade of songwriting that saw Mills mature into voice that deserved to be heard.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Tape Club (Polyvinyl)
The anthesis of the breakout album by Kiss, Alive, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin gives newcomers to the band an overview of the band's history with a sprawling double album. Including lo-fi recordings and album produced tracks, SSLYBY waves hello by letting their guard down and allowing their three day old stubble to show rather than a putting forth only a pretty face.
Best Local Albums of 2011
The Blind Eyes - With A Bang (Self-released)
Favorite Cut: "Another Last Night"
Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three - Middle of Everywhere (Free Dirt)
Favorite Track: "Ain't The Same"
Ryan Spearman - Get Along Home (Self-released)
Favorite Track: "Willie McGee"
John Henry & the Engine - Sad Face Of Yours [EP] (Self-released)
Favorite Track: "Sad Face Of Yours"
Sleepy Kitty - Infinity City (Euclid Records)
Favorite Track: "Gimme A Chantz!"
Troubadour Dali - Let's Make It Right (Euclid Records)
Favorite Track: "Wash Away"
Favorite Local Beer at a Local Show in 2011
Half Wit (Charleville) at Off Broadway