I started casually commenting on record albums in the late-80s as filler for Malcolm’s Monthly, the newsletter I wrote when I was head of school. I remember the time a friend asked, “Since when are you a music critic?” Without thinking about it, I replied, “I’m not a music critic…I’m a music liker.” So, I started writing about the music I like. Here are 12 albums I liked in 2011.
Album of the Year: Dawes: Nothing is Wrong
This gets my nod for album of the year for a very simple reason: I can’t stop playing it!!! I was drawn to Dawes because of the name (My good friend, longtime Hyde faculty member Mike Dawes, passed away last year) and the fact that the critics say they sound like The Band. They do. (The song “Moon In The Water” sounds like the ghost of Rick Danko.) They also have a touch of Jackson Browne who guests on the album. I would never have thought that 70’s-retro would sound good, but this does. It’s easy on the ear without being Easy-Listening.
1. Hayes Carll: KMAG YOYO – I first heard this guy this summer on Sirius XM radio’s Outlaw Country when the song “Hard Out Here” got a fair amount of air play. One critic observed that the Dylanesque title track harkens back to a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” vibe. One could be called worse things. (BTW: “KMAG YOYO” is military slang for “Kiss my ass guys, You’re on your own.”)
2. The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow – My college roommate turned me on to this male/female duo. From the black & white album cover shot to the 12 original songs within, this is a thoughtful and soothing offering. Great track: “C’est la Mort.”
3. Steve Earle: I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive – I’ve been a big Steve Earle fan for 25 years. (I’d put his 1987 release Exit 0 on my all-time top-10 list.) In what may be a first, this album is accompanied by Earle’s (excellent) novel with the same title. Give a listen/read to both.
4. Fitz and the Tantrums: Picking up the Pieces – Hyde alum Scott Marlow ’81 tipped me off to this “California band with a 60’s pop sound.” (Hyde-Bath seniors will remember that Scott, a national expert on family farming, taught a few sections of Government class in September during fall alumni weekend.) Very catchy stuff, especially the title track.
5. Levon Helm: Ramble at the Ryman – Levon Helm has given me so much listening pleasure over the past 40+ years that the least I can do is buy his albums whether good or bad. (See #8.) This is a good one featuring a hot band and covers of songs he did with The Band (e.g., “Ophelia” and “Rag Mama Rag”) mixed with other strong numbers.
6.. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: The Hard Way – I’m cheating as this is a 2010 release, but as I wrote on my Facebook page, “Wow! If you only buy one album this year!!!… These guys are going retro on the Stax and Motown sound right down to insisting on using analog recording equipment. It’s as though all those great artists of yesteryear – Supremes, Martha Reeves, Temptations, Ike & Tina, Smokey, Otis, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Wilson Pickett, etc. got together seeking reconnection with their audiences, only they (and we) are all grown-up now and the issues we face are, shall we say, more mature… And that Sharon Jones can saaaahng!!!”
7. NRBQ: Keep This Love Goin’ – Some Q people are troubled by this album being called an NRBQ album with only one original member (Terry Adams) presiding. Well, regardless of whether it qualifies as NRBQ or not… it’s good. Love the title track and “Boozoo and Leona.”
8. Robbie Robertson: How To Become Clairvoyant – As a diehard disciple of every note played by The Band, I buy any and all offerings that the original members produce. (See #5.) I never really cottoned to Robbie’s prior solo releases because I thought his vocals were weak. (I might have been prejudiced by the fact that he rarely sang on The Band albums.) However, in this outing, the songs seem tailored to fit his raspy, understated vocals.
9. Rolling Stones: Some Girls – Contrary to some of the critics, I love this remix of the 1978 original. The “new” songs make an excellent stand-alone album. You might have to be a Baby-Boomer to “get” the hilarious “Claudine” (remember the Claudine Longet/Spider Sabich/Andy Williams love/murder triangle?) but anyone will enjoy the covers of “Tallahassee Lassie” and Hank Williams’ “You Win Again.” Hey, nobody does covers like The Rolling Stones.
10. Tom Waits: Bad as Me – While devotees may accuse me of sacrilege, the experimental turn that Waits took 20 years ago with Bone Machine (1992) left me a bit cold. This release strikes me as the best of both worlds. And he seems to have a good time here. And how many guys could poke fun at the Stones (“Satisfied”) and have Keith Richards back him up on guitar while he’s at it?
11. Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer: The Goat Rodeo Sessions – Try this experiment: Put on the Goat Rodeo Sessions and wait to see of someone doesn’t say, “What is that, anyway?… Sounds good.” It’s hard to classify. One critic claims that Yo-Yo Ma has swapped Bach for bluegrass. I suspect that music stores won’t know which genre rack to place it in. Buy it and decide for yourself.
(Rock) Onward, Malcolm Gauld