The ex-Candy Butcher, mostly known for singing the lead vocal on the track 'That Thing You Do' from the film of the same name, has delivered his best record in years. It's smart, song-focused, hook filled and thematically, a bit off-kilter. The arrangements & instrumentation have been honed down to the bare essentials of guitar, bass & drums, which has not been the case with recent efforts. To be honest, my first listen came across as somewhat dull, but it just kept getting better and better and better and better.....
02. Centro-matic | Candidate Waltz
Seamless, powerful, and songs that require repeated listens, Will Johnson has created his best record to date in an already deep catalogue.
03. Daniel Romano | Sleep Beneath The Willow
Written, recorded & played mostly by Daniel, these songs add up to the traditional country record of the year.
04. The Vinyl Skyway | Return of The Dead Surfer
Excellent "Sunday a.m." pop record, replete with strong melodies, hooks and well done vocals. While guitars jangle, vocals and counter harmonies twist and move, as if to summon their inner 'Byrds'. Just about every song was stuck in my head at some point or another. 'Misty Morning Fog' is easily one of the best songs of the year.
05. Richmond Fontaine | The High Country
Concept record (songs done with spoken word & instrumental interludes) set in a rural logging community in Oregon. This is a bleak record set in a world of madness, drugs & loneliness and offers no redemption. It does offer up the moving title track, one of my favorites of 2011, sung by Deborah Kelly of The Damnations. I also recommend picking up any of Willy Vlautin's three novels if you'rea fan of John Fante & Raymond Carver.
06. An American Underdog | Always on the Run
Andy Reed certainly knows his way around a song as he delivers the goods on this exceedingly tuneful record done at his very own 'Reed Recording Co'. I can't help but think of a "young" Jon Brion while listening to this, especially on some of the later tracks on the record. Expect to hear great things from Andy in the future.
07. Peter Bruntnell | Black Mountain UFO
In Britian they call him the godfather of UK Americana and why his songs should be taught in schools. Hyberbole or not, Black Mountain UFO isn't as complete as previous efforts and it took a few plays to kick in, but it contains excellent material and is a worthy entry into the Bruntnell book of songwriting.
08. The Booze | At Maximum Volume
I wanted to hate this record cos there wasn't a single, original thing about it. I caved. RIYL : The Stones & rock n roll.
09. Pugwash | The Olympus Sound
Thomas Walsh continues the trend releasing his fifth platter of Beatlesque, ELO power-pop, or variant thereof. He's a first class songwriter and the best kept secret in all of Ireland.
10. Hayes Carll | Kmag YoYo
I heard this for the first time in December, 2010 and kept coming back to it again and again all year. Country, honky tonk and songs of gravity and humour. Hayes is one funny mother-effer. What's not to like?
11. The Gourds | Old Mad Joy
They're back with their best record in years. This time they plugged in the electric guitars.
12. The Breakdowns | The Kids Don't Want To Bop Anymore
Perfect amalgamation of '77 New York City & 50's DooWop fabulous. Play it loud.
13. Jason Isbell | Here We Rest
I heard & read varying opinions on this all year, but finally took the plunge in mid November. I'm ostensibly dubious with just about every record I hear for the first time and this was no different. It came across as bland alt-country with paint by number chord changes. After a few plays, and then several more, things started to settle in. Makes me wonder if DBT miss his contributions. Alabama Pines, Codeine, Daisy Mae = some of his best work to date.
14. Gillian Welch | The Harrow and the Harvest
Some find it boring, repetitive and "old timey." As a friend of mine who likes the record pointed out, "the problem with modern music, is that there's too much of it and most of it just isn't good." I may not entirely agree, but here, that's not the case. After eight years, I 'm thankful Gillian & Dave decided to give us another platter of good songs.
15. Raphael Saadiq | Stone Rollin'
Throwback irony ? Retro? Call it whatever you want. It's my first taste of Mr. Saadiq and I'm not ashamed to say I love this record.
16. Dum Dum Girls | Your Only Dream
Guitar & surf beats drowning in reverb with a bit of Chrissie Hynde thrown in for good measure. It doesn't matter if the songs are delivered cleverly or not, cos this record delivers a lyrical punch to the gut.
17. Joe Henry | Reverie
Mining the same territory of recent efforts, Joe delivers another record of style and class.
18. Robert Pollard | Space City Kicks
The avuncular one from Dayton releases his poppiest records in years.
19. Fleet Foxes | Helplessness Blues
My interest in this somewhat waned over the course of the year, but I've been revisiting the last month or so and I've come to the conclusion that it surpasses their debut offering. If lush, orchestral folk is your thing, look no further. The title track is still one of the best of the year.
20. Tommy Keene | Behind The Parade
Power-popper from the 80's releases another record of smart, melodic, power chord, rock n roll.
Honorable mention :
Cirrone | Uplands Park Road
Italian power pop. RIYL : Badfinger and plenty of melody.
Daniel Tashian | Arthur
70's AM radio done the "right" way. I look forward to the new Silver Seas record.
Richard Buckner | Our Blood
Any other year, this would be Top 5 cos it's Richard Buckner. It does have plenty of redeeming qualities, mostly his delivery & lyrical content. As an aside, I wish someone would've asked him if it was necessary to employ that horrible sounding Fender Rhodes on just about every song.
John Moreland | Everything The Hard Way
RIYL : Lucero meets Slobberbone meets The Replacements.
The Phoenix Foundation | Buffalo
This record moves its way through several genres ending up with an epic, intelligent, pop record.
Ralph Covert & The Bad Examples | Smash Record
Three-chord, old school, Beatlesque pop. Fun record, not meant to be taken seriously. Just play the opener 'Big E Chord' and you'll be hooked.