Not necessarily the ‘best’- I’ll leave that to those whose egos require such- No, these are just 25 albums that kept my roots fire burning during the past 12 months. With all the albums I’ve listened to through 2011, it has been these 25 that I believe I’ve returned to the most often- albums that have moved me, made me think, made me dance, and- in some cases- made me write. They’ve kept me awake, they’ve put me to sleep, and a few disturbed my dreams. You’ll notice that several of the big names are missing from my list- Steve, Lucinda, Emmylou, Hayes- and that isn’t because I hated their recent releases; they didn’t become favourites of mine simply because I wasn’t motivated to return to them- for whatever reasons- after the initial or second listening. More Canadian content this year, perhaps. You can read about most of these albums here at Fervor Coulee- do a quick search.
1. Dave Alvin- Eleven Eleven I’ve likely misplaced this album as many times as I’ve listened to it. It has disappeared in the truck, in the car, at the home office and at work, in the living room, and in the sun room. I think that is a testament to how Eleven Eleven worked its way into me- I find I can listen to it anywhere and it always works. Great songs will do that, I suppose.
2. Dale Ann Bradley- Somewhere South of Crazy Another incredible album from this Kentucky woman; while her music has always been inspiring and wonderful to listen to, since joining Compass Records, Dale has truly hit her stride. Bradley’s favourite duet and harmony partner (and recently announced as bandmate) Steve Gulley appears on all but the final track and their stellar performance of the great country song “Will You Visit Me on Sundays” is well deserving of recognition. Additionally, his guitar playing throughout the album- notably on “Summer Breeze”- is masterful. Also featured as the core band are Brown, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, and Mike Bub.
3. The Deep Dark Woods- The Place I Left Behind The Deep Dark Woods’ latest album builds on everything they’ve already accomplished while taking their unique bluesy sound to impressive new levels. In 2011 no one talked in terms of alt-country, but that remains an apt descriptor of this Saskatoon band’s guitar-heavy sound. Sinister and mysterious, the title track doesn’t mess around: guest fiddler Kendel Carson weaves a cloak of darkness around Ryan Boldt’s vocals as a “good old rambling boy” pines for the place were isolation didn’t seem so obvious.
4. Mark Davis- Eliminate the Toxins Eliminate the Toxins has a sound that is even more adventurous than his previous releases but retains the intense focus and introspection one has come to expect from a singer-songwriter whose best works can be appreciated on a poetic level while also serving as impetus to dance, albeit dance slowly. Similar to Stan Ridgeway, Davis’s music has a cinematic quality that cries out for visual interpretation. “Go to Ground,” one of Eliminate the Toxins’ more catchy numbers, is easy to imagine as soundtrack to a dark, desolate desert pursuit from which the conflicted protagonist has no hope to escape. “In the Waters” and the title track are cleverly-crafted pop songs bathed in a wash of guitars and harmonies harnessed from years of exposure to The Byrds, Nice Cave, and Calexico.
Working with Calgary’s Lorrie Matheson, Davis benefits from his co-producer’s willingness to consider sonic possibilities. Multi-layered, Eliminate the Toxins is so all-encompassing that listeners will find themselves sinking into its warmth.
5. Various Artists- I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow Conceived in respect and gratitude, I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow is another recording in which the team of Peter Cooper and Eric Brace can take great pride; someday they are bound to fail, but they haven’t so far. The recording feels like it was captured in a loose and enjoyable setting, but the sound is tight. Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook, Tim Carroll, Gary Bennett, Bobby Bare, Jon Byrd, Buddy Miller, and others contribute. Great performances abound and the packaging is gorgeous with lovely woodcut prints illustrating the digi-pak.
6. Idyl Tea- Song That’s Not Finished Yet Infectious pop melodies with more than enough country overtones, especially in the album’s final third, to qualify as roots- hell, Idyl Tea has more ‘roots’ in their sound than the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons combined. Terrific songs, brilliant performances. My favourite band from 1986 returns. To plagiarize myself, Idyl Tea combines what I eventually grew to love about country and what I embraced about power pop in the early 80s- bright chords, sometimes devastatingly up-front confession through lyric, and a breezy ability to convey sadness that sounded so cheerful. “A Guitar and A Broken Heart,” “Just a Road,” “Penitent Song,” and “Dark Day in Edmonton” are simply wonderful. The accompanying Unthology is just as solid.
7. Cam Penner- Gypsy Summer
8. Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- Kings and Queens
9. John Reischman & the Jaybirds- Vintage and Unique
10. Larry Sparks- Almost Home
11. Diana Jones- High Atmosphere
12. Alison Krauss & Union Station- Paper Airplane
14. Joe Vickers- Valley Home
15. Rachel Harrington- Celilo Falls
16. Kim Beggs- Blue Bones
17. Eliza Gilkyson- Roses at the End of Time
18. Ron Sexsmith- Long Player Late Bloomer
19. Ben Sures- Gone to Bolivia
20. John Hiatt- Dirty Jeans and Mudflap Hymns
22. Gillian Welch- The Harrow and the Harvest
23. Kasey Anderson- Heart of a Dog
24. Tom Russell- Mesabi
25. The Rainmakers- 25 On
Just missed- Charles Bradley No Time for Dreaming, Nick Lowe The Old Magic, Fred Eaglesmith 6 Volts, John Wesley Harding The Sound of His Own Voice, Shelby Lynne Revelation Road, Michael Jerome Browne The Road is Dark, Richmond Fontaine The High Country, Kimmie Rhodes Dreams of Flying, Verlon Thompson Works, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Stephen Simmons The Big Show, Richard Buckner Our Blood, Gurf Morlix Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream…
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald