When all was said and done, 2011 turned out to be a good year for new music and I found that the best of the best was strung out from the beginning of the year right into a late discovery for me in December. Also, I barely had to argue with myself. No trying to squeeze 12 into 10 or somehow coming up with a distant number 9 or 10. I liked these 10 clearly above the rest.
1. Middle Brother (self titled). I put it at #1 early on and it just stayed there with nothing but a mild challenge or two. If there is one album you played far more than any other then that is the truest test. Strong melodies from start to finish.
2. Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, Don’t Explain. Just when I thought my sorry soul could not be saved along comes this terrific, soulful album. Beth and Joe had often crossed paths at European festivals and decided to team up because of similar tastes. And what good taste. The producer is Kevin Shirley who often worked with Led Zepplin. To check it out go directly to the cover (Etta James) of I’d Rather Go Blind.
3. Kasey Chambers, Storybook. Maybe the most eclectic disc of covers ever. Available now only as an import but the couple of extra dollars is well worth it. What a great mix of artists she admires, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams and an awesome version of Matthew Ryan’s “Guilty.”
4. Horrible Crowes, Elsie. Brian Fallon loves what he does so between Gaslight Anthem projects he comes up with this, another example of why Fallon is the best “young” rocker in the business. Collaboration with his friend Ian Perkins, it is a bit stripped down from GA Cd’s but that is like saying a Yamaha is stripped down compared to a Harley.
5. Dawes, Nothing is Wrong. Calling Dawes California roots rockers seems a little old fashioned to me but they don’t seem to mind. This album is well crafted and well written from start to finish.
6. Black Keys, El Camino. I would not be surprised if this ends up our group’s #1 album of the year. I might have put it there myself but just thought that previous BK album’s are even better. Still no group makes more good noise with so little.
7. John Hiatt, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. I always thought that John had a great Swamp rock album in him and this is it. Toss in a little blues, the usual JH great writing and storytelling and you have one of his best ever.
8. Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust. Simply put LL is one of the best bands in the history of rock and roll. 35 years together and they continue at the top of their game. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas mesh guitar licks as well as Springsteen and Little Steven. Los Lobos is not in the RR Hall of Fame. What a crime. Then again it took Darlene Love even longer to get in.
9. Tom Waits, Bad as Me. TW is an acquired taste I admit but once you do it is addictive. He is an American music encyclopedia. Once I got my more conservative wife hooked on him that was it and she approves of this one. His slower songs are often heart wrenching here.
10. Deer Tick, Divine Providence. Some DT fans seem to have their shorts bundled over this one because it is not alt. country from beginning to end. What happens as the album moves along is you can suddenly smell the spilled beer on the floor of a rock and roll club.
Best Reissue. Rolling Stones, Some Girls. “Bonus” CD could have been another Stones classic of the era.
Best Greatest Hits. R.E.M, Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Garbage. I know R.E.M. put out two earlier greatest packages but if a groundbreaking band is only going to do one this is the way to do it. Wonderful reminder of just how good they were. Now stay retired and let this be your legacy.
My Favorite Songs of 2011
Beth Hart and John Bonamassa, I’d Rather Go Blind
My Favorite Movies (so far) of 2011.
Tree of Life
Best Foreign Film
In Darkness (Poland)
Best New TV in 2011
Best Darn Show on TV
Favorite Books of 2011
Fiction: On Canaan’s Side, Sebastian Barry
Non-Fiction: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Thoughtfulness, Alexandra Fuller