Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in review: new music I was listening

2013 was a very good year for some new tunes. 43 new stax of wax hit my turntable this year (metaphorically speaking). It would be hard to pick out my favorites, but I'm going to list those top ten (in release order) that got heavy rotation (I'm also not going to count compilations, archives releases, etc.):

  • Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper, Ripley Pine (February 19, 2013)
  • David Bowie, The Next Day (March 11, 2013) (and the extended EP released later in the year that might even be better)
  • Steve Martin & Eddie Brickell, Love Has Come for You (April 23, 2013)
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (March 19, 2013)
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me, One Kiss Ends it All (May 20, 2013)
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (June 11, 2013)
  • Dave Davies, I Will Be Me (June 4, 2013)
  • Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost (September 17, 2013)
  • Yoko Ono, Take Me to the Land of Hell (September 24, 2013)
  • Paul McCartney, New (October 15, 2013)

From the world of singles, a few stuck in my Earwom land:
  • Katy Perry, "Roar"
  • Cher, "Woman's World"
  • Capital Cities, "Safe and Sound"
  • Bruno Mars, "Count on Me"
  • Ylvis, "The Fox (What the Fox Says)"
And here's the full list, in chronological order:
  • Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose (December 18, 2012) 
    Ok, not quite a 2012 album, but pretty close. Plus, I wanted to say that Monroe's "You Ain't Dolly" (a duet with Vince Gill) is a really great song. For Monroe's true 2013 entry, see her work with Pistol Annies that came out in May. 
  • TORRES, TORRES (January 22, 2013)
    Very nice, if a bit too "moody" indie record by the solo chanteuse. Highlights include "When Winter's Over," "Don't Run Away, Emilie," and "Honey." Will be interesting to see what TORRES (aka Mackenzie Scott) comes up with next.
  • Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper, Ripley Pine (February 19, 2013)
    Not a group, but an amazing multi-instrumentalist Aly Spaltro. Only 23, Spaltro crafts a fabulous set from the kick-off "Heir to the Ferris Wheel" to the epic "You are the Apple". One of the best albums of the year. Really, a great album, I can't say enough about it! Go buy it now!
  • Golden Grrrls, Golden Grrrls (February 25, 2013)
    Some catchy, indie-style pop tunes from the Scottish trip. Interesting tunes.
  • Johnny Marr, The Messenger (February 26, 2013)The Smiths' guitar-man came up with his second true solo album this year and it was quite good. His jangly guitar of course calls up the work of The Smiths, but this is all Marr, no Morrissey. "The Right Thing Right" (the opener that most resembles a Smiths' song), "I Want the Heartbeat" (my favorite on the set), and "Generate, Generate" were my faves.
  • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Old Yellow Moon (February 26, 2013)
    Emmylou rarely disappoints and this collaboration with Rodney Crowell is another winner from the Red Dirt Girl. "Hanging Up My Heart," "Black Caffeine," and "Old Yellow Moon" are all standouts as is the faithful reading of Patti Sciafla's "Spanish Dancer." 
  • Los Originales De San Juan, Mariachi (March 4, 2013)
    Nothing like some nice mariachi music to get you in a good mood. The "Norteno Quartet" based in Southern California has been around for a while. This album is a god introduction to the group and their sound. 
  • David Bowie, The Next Day (March 11, 2013)An unexpected surprise from Bowie, The Next Day is quite good; a nice follow up to Reality and Heathen (both of which I enjoyed). Standouts include "Valentine's Day," "Where are we Now?," and "(You Will) Set the World on Fire." 
  • Eric Clapton, Old Sock (12 March 2013)A very nice and comfortable album, literally, an "old sock" with mostly old songs (real old ones). Standouts are "Gotta Get Over It" and a cover of "Goodnight Irene". Slowhand also brings in Paul McCartney to duet on "All of Me" (McCartney had warmed up his coversmithing with Kisses on the Bottom last year)
  • Boz Skaggs, Memphis (March 15, 2013)
    Skagg's amazing smooth voice is a little rougher around the edges these days, but his mature phrasings more than make up for it on this great album. Mostly covers (paying tribute to the Memphis sound), Skaggs brings along Ray Parker, Jr. and Willie Weeks for the ride. "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Love on a Two Way Street," Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter," and Moon Martin's "Cadillac Walk" are standouts.Oh, and "Mixed up, Shook up Girl".
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (March 19, 2013)
    Wow, really great pop/country album. Musgraves pulls off a number of catchy tunes including "Merry Go Round," "Dandelion," "Blowin' Smoke," "Follow Your Arrow," are all standouts. Looking forward to more from Kacey.
  • Beth Hart, Bang Bang Boom Boom (April 2, 2013 US)
    Great album from the bluesy rocker. Title track is great and the bonus live cover of "I'd Rather Be Blind" is a great closer.
  • Peach Kelli Pop, Peach Kelli Pop (April 23, 2013)
    Super peppy poppy Peach Kelli Pop brings an infectious and fun set of tunes. Ten songs, with none breaking the 3 minute mark (and four under 2 minutes), all are great fun. Probably my favorite is "Tucson Song" (the album closer) that has some nice ukulele (?) strumming set over video game bleeps/boops (with some background songs of airport announcements) and a tune vaguely reminiscent of The Kink's "Waterloo Sunset." 
  • Steve Martin & Eddie Brickell, Love Has Come for You (April 23, 2013)An excellent collaboration. Martin's banjo playing and Brickell's voice work very well together. A number of standouts from the opener, "When You Get to Asheville," through "Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby," through "Remember Me This Way." Highly recommend.
  • Tom Jones, Spirit in the Room (April 23, 2013)
    I sometimes wonder if TJ would have been better off if he was less pretty. I mean, look at all the respect Eric Burdon gets as a singer. TJ, while not quite in that same league, has a great voice. Standouts on the set include his interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," Tom Waits' "Bad as Me," and Dylan's "When the Deal Goes Down." [note: released in 2012 in the UK, the US release wasn't til this year].
  • The Beaches, She Beat (May 3, 2013)
    An interesting, low key album. 
  • Noah and the Whale, Heart of Nowhere (May 6, 2013)
    Saturday Looks Good to Me's One Kiss Ends it All, this was my favorite album(s) of the summer. Great songs.
  • Natalie Maines, Mother (May 7, 2013)
    The Dixie Chick flies solo with a curious set of tunes, e.g. a cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother". Best cut, "Silver Bell." Overall, a bit disappointed with this album, I was, perhaps, expecting more Dixie Chicks and for that I had to look to Pistol Annies.
  • Pistol Annies, Annie Up (May 7, 2013)
    The follow up to Hell on Heels, the sophomore outing by Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, and Angeleena Preseley hits many of the same marks that made the first album so fun, though not quite as fun. A hybrid of Tanya Tucker sassiness and Dolly Parton depth, topped off with some wicked bass-bluesy-ess, it's a great album. Highlights, "I Feel a Sin Comin' On," "Hush Hush," "Girls Like Us," and more and fun plus tunes.
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me, One Kiss Ends it All (May 20, 2013)
    A creation of Fred Thomas more than a band, this turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Loved "Sunglasses" and "Polar Bear". Spent a lot of time listening to it during summer vacation, so this, along with  Noah and the Whale's, Heart of Nowhere were my summer of 2013 albums.
  • John Fogerty, Wrote a Song for Everyone (May 28, 2013)
    Not too much to say about this album; comprised mostly of classic Fogerty tunes done with other stars (and Fogerty's kids), it's a mostly pleasant trip down memory lane. The collaboration with Foo Fighters ("Fortunate Son") is great, but the most compelling duet is "Who'll Stop the Rain" with Bob Seger. Two new songs are added to the mix, but they don't quite stand up to the amazing past record Fogerty compiled.
  • Various Artists, Ghost Brothers of Darkland  County (June 4, 2013)
    So, let's say Stephen King gets together with John Mellencamp to write a musical. And then they get Elvis Costello, Dave and Phil Alvin, Neko Case and a cast of many other A-listers to sing (oh, and T-Bone Burnett to produce). So what do you get? Can't say as I'm sure ...
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (June 11, 2013)
    Three-fourths of the classic Sabbath line up participate in this album (minus original drummer Bill Ward). Ozzie is in fine voice, Geezer still plays amazing bass, and Iommi never lost his way with a guitar. Sure, it's hard to take lyrics like "Blood on my conscience / And murder in mind / Out of the gloom / I rise up from my tomb / Into impending doom / Now my body is my shrine" ("God Dead?") or "Indoctrination by a twisted desire, / The catechism of an evil messiah." ("Dear Father") seriously after The Osbournes reality show, but the group can still conjure up some black magic.
  • Dave Davies, I Will Be Me (June 4, 2013)
    After all these years Dave Davies can still crank out great guitar parts. Yes, he's channeling some great Kinks songs of the past, but with enough new twists (and guest appearances from various hard rock friends like Anti-Flag and the Jayhawks). Starts of with a great, Kinky song, "Little Green Amp" and rocks on from there.
  • James McCartney, Me (June 18, 2013)
    It's hard to imagine the weight of a name like McCartney must inflict on the young James (son of Sir Paul). The voice, the perfect melodies, the charming lyrics, all show the son following closely in his father's musical footsteps. It's hard to listen objectively (especially when Sir Paul released an album this year), but overall, this is a powerful album. "Strong As You" is a great song; "Butterfly" is perhaps the most "Paul-esque" (and the weaker for that). "Snap Out of It" and "Wisteria" are nice rockers and "Life's a Pill" toe tapping sing along. After a few listenings, you are left waiting this McCartney's next outing. 
  • Grant Hart, The Argument (July 22, 2013)
    I confess that of the 1/3 of of Husker Du, Grant Hart was my favorite. Hart's great songes on Du's Candy Apple Grey hit home for me whereas it took me a long time to warm up to Bob Mould. I was looking forward to Hart's The Argument, but it turned out more curious than I thought. A mashup of Milton's Paradise Lost and William S. Burrough's Lost Paradise, the concept album is complex and maybe that's not a good thing (?). Standout song is the lovely "Morningstar."
  • Van Dyke Parks, Songs Cycled (July 23, 2013)Yet another quirky album by the king of quirky albums! No real standouts, the album is not only "cycled" but "re-cycled" with songs from his curious debut, Song Cycle.
  • Elvis Presley, Elvis at Stax (August 6, 2013)
    A collection of the highlights from 1973 sessions Elvis did at the famed Stax studios in Memphis. An overall good album with the standout being "Promised Land" (one of my favorite Chuck Berry tunes).
  • Sam Phillips, Push Any Button (August 13, 2013)
    Good, solid album from Phillips. Highlight for me was "When I'm Alone."
  • Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait (27 August 2013)
    An interesting take on Dylan, circa 1969-1971. The release covers much of the Self-Portrait album and New Morning period. Now, Self-Portrait has always been one of my favorite Dylan albums (and yes, I know I'm in the minority there). The alt-takes on the Self-Porrait cuts (eliminating many of the odd overdubs) brings out even more nuance in the (mostly) cover tunes. The New Morning cuts offer even more from one of Dylan's best album. I got the deluxe edition which includes as a bonus the entire Isle of Wight concert with The Band. The one GLARING omission from the release is any hint that the excoriated album Dylan ever existed. That album, released by Columbia in anger of Dylan's label jump, probably reflected the bottom of the barrel Self-Portrait sessions, but to totally ignore was a bit odd.
  • Neko Case, The Worse Things Get ... (August 30, 2013)
    Case is the darling of the alt music set and this just might be her breakthrough. She pretty much delivers on this set, full of interesting (heavy on the interesting) tunes, I liked the lead off "Wild Creatures" and the hard to pigeonhole "Man." 
  • Arctic Monkeys, AM (September 10, 2013)
    With AM, the Monkeys really hit their stride and make a move into a larger sphere of music. Quite impressed with this hard, sometimes sludgy (that's a good thing) set. Hard to pick out standouts since the album plays well as a whole. If I had to pick one, I might go with the lead off track, "Do I Wanna Know?"
  • Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost (September 17, 2013)
    Costello teams up with The Roots for a great album. The title song is a standout as is the opening track, "Walk Us Uptown." I also have to give a shoutout to the remake of "Pills and Soap" which breathes new life into a great song.
  • Sting, The Last Ship (September 23, 2013)
    Well, a curious album from Sting. A song cycle about shipyard workers with various others joining in on certain parts. Slightly odd (weird?) to hear Sting with various accents (Irish? Cockney?). Almost like demos for a Broadway show (Titanic II? Ragtime II?). That said, there were two outstanding songs, "Practical Arrangement" and "Language of Birds."
  • Yoko Ono, Take Me to the Land of Hell (September 24, 2013)
    Wow. Yoko really hit the mark on this one. Now I know that Yoko is an acquired taste for most, but I've always appreciated her work, back to my first introduction to her, which was Sometime in New York City. On her new album, the 80 year old Ono can still do both hip songs ("Bad Dancer") and experimental songs like "Moonbeams" and "Cheshire Cat Cry." A great album.
  • Lorde, Pure Heroine (September 30, 2013)
    "Royals" was the big hit from the Kiwi teen singer, but "Tennis Courts" was pretty good too. Lorde can be a little droning for a whole album, but has potential!
  • HAIM, Days Are Gone (September 30, 2013)
    Pleasant set up contemporary pop songs; my favorites on the set include "The Wire" (nice bouncy pop) and "My Song 5" a darker, guitar-driven bit of grunge.
  • Steve Nieve, ToGetHer (October 8, 2013)
    Joining The Attraction's bandleader Elvis Costello with a 2013 release, Nieve turns in a eclectic release. Nieve brings in some friends to help out, including Costello and Sting. A worthwhile listen. 
  • Paul McCartney, New (October 15, 2013)
    An excellent new album from Sir Macca; Paul hits many notes that will be familiar to his years of fans. At the same time, he continues to innovate and brings in new sounds to that familiar voice (which is still pretty good after all these years). Highlights include the title track, "On My Way To Work" (another edition in Paul's observations of the minutia of daily life), "Appreciate" (a very hummable rocker), and "Queenie Eye."
  • Arcade Fire, Reflektor (October 28, 2013)
    Arcade Fire followed up its super hit from 2010 (The Suburbs) with Reflektor. A double-disc in the physical realm of CDs, Reflektor joins the ranks of Sandinista!, Exile on Main Street, The Beatles, The River, Tusk, Blonde on BlondeOut f the Blue, Melon Collie & Infinite Sadness, Electric Ladlyland, Quadraphenia, London Calling, Zen Arcade, Songs in the Key of Life, The Wall, Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, Physical Graffiti, All Things Must, Pass, Sign O' the Times, Freak Out!, Tommy, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Eat a Peach, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, English Settlement, 1999, Something/Anything, Aerial (those are mostly pretty good!)  on the spectrum of successful double albums (though at 75 minutes, it's just a bit longer than many digital albums. Standout songs are the title track and "Supersymetry."
  • David Bowie, The Next Day Extra EP (November 1, 2013)
    An excellent add-on to the Next Day album; include a number of songs - and of course mixes - of not on the album. Stand out is the lead track, "Atomica" that fades into a 10 minute plus remix of "Love is Lost". Highly recommended. 
  • The Beatles, On Air: Live at the BBC. Volume 2 (November 11, 2013)
    A perplexingly long time to wait between volume 1 and 2 of the BBC sets by the Beatles. This set focuses on 1963 and early '64, unlike the first set which spanned the whole BBC radio career of the Beatles. There is still a lot of tracks unreleased, so I hope we don't have to wait nearly 20 years for volume 3! Oh, wait, what about the album? Well, it's the Beatles, and it's very very good. Hearing them run through their well known songs with minimal production gives you a hint of what they sounded like without screaming fans. 
  • Neil Young, Live Cellar Door (December 6, 2013)
    An amazing solo set from 1970 at Washington's Cellar Door. The release has fabulous sound and a great selection of songs (heavy on the just released After the Goldrush, but many Buffalo Springfield and not-yet-released songs ("Old Man"). 
Albums I never got around to during the year:
  • Pearl Jam, Lightening Bolt
  • Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
  • Belle and Sebastian, Third Eye Centre
  • Elton John, The Diving Board
  • Sigur Ros, Kveikur
  • Dave Stewart, Lucky Numbers
  • Joan Jett, Unvarnished
  • Hank Williams III, Brothers of the 4x4
  • Billy Bragg, Tooth and Nail
  • Iggy & The Stooges, Ready to Die
  • Hero & Leander, Tumble
  • Beady Eyes, Be
  • Queens of the Stone Age, ... Like Clockwork
  • Jillete Johnston, Water in a Whale 
  • Julian Cope, Revolutionary Suicide
Oh, and here's a peek back at a few of albums from 2012 that I missed in last year's roundup:
  • Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos
  • Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
  • Taylor Swift, Red
  • Jack White, Blunderbus


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