Below are the FAME Reviewers' "Best of 2011" lists. The artists and/or CD/DVDs listed have not necessarily beem reviewed by us. Where we have reviewed an album on the list, I have added a link to the review.
I normally don't care much to do Best Of lists (love reading 'em, tho!) because, reviewing as many CDs and DVDs as I do each year, it's a frustrating and impossible task to choose just 20. Therefore, combine this with my list over at Perfect Sound Forever, and I'll still be gnashing my teeth that I left out people I should've included. Ah well, this is Earth, it ain't Heaven, so ya do what ya can. Alphabetically then:
BLUE LINE HIGHWAY: no, they didn't put anything out in 2011 that I'm aware of, but the group is so good that I'm reminding you of their existence
BRIAN ENO: The Man Who Fell to Earth (DVD) - hey, it's Eno; 'nuff said!
TROY FAID: anything and everything he does is a must-have
THE GRASCALS: Dance 'til your Stockings are Hot and Ravelin' - killer bluegrass EP tributizing the Andy Griffith Show
KAY KAY & THE RAYS: The Best of Kay Kay & the Rays - wish I would've known of her sooner; helluva singer
CHIELI MINUCCI & SPECIAL EFX: Without You - this guy is just unreal good
NERVES JUNIOR - As Bright as Your Night Light - one of the few bands to affect me as much as Chocolate Horses this year
OLD RED - another musician who released nothing in 2011, but Paul Kirwan is someone you should always keep in a corner of your ear
SOULIVE: Bowlive (DVD) - these cats do it all and do it damn well
BORIS SAVOLDELLI - Insanology & Biocosmopolitan - I love great offbeat vocal music, and these carry great offbeat vocal music
SCHARLATONE / FRESCH / ETC.: anything that involves Robert Polsterer is automatically superb
SKAGGS FAMILY: A Skaggs Family Christmas, Vol. 2 - a great music family, but, my God, the voice on Molly Skaggs!!!
TORI SPARKS: Until Morning / Come Out in the Dark - a woman who, once properly discovered, should take the music world by storm, even if only for her highly omni-literate approach (and there's oh so much more!)
SPEKKICHRIS: Now in 3-D - if you like sophisticated pop/rock, this is your guy
THE SWEETNESS: What's It Like to be a Sprinkler, I Wonder? - a bit odd but pretty damn remarkable, listen to it when you're tired of norms
JOHNNY WINTER: Live at Rockpalast (DVD / CD) - powerful 70s gig returning Johnny to his true baseline
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Jukin' Wit Da Blues - probably the coolest, nastiest, greasiest jukin' music series ever issued, way past bitchin'
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Long Gone: Utah Remembers Bruce "Utah" Phillips - I love tribute works, and this is one of the best
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Spectacle 2: Elvis Costello with… - xlnt series zeroing in on live music and great interviewing, but the inclusion of Jesse Winchester alone is cause for rejoicing
VARIOUS ARTISTS: 35 Years of Stony Plain - packed to the gills with A-1 retrospective material and a great DVD bonus of the SP biz gig
…..and if you want to make a Vegas casino-pak, here's 21: LEIGH GREGORY - another cat with nothing out in 2011, but anything he does, you need to hear.
Another year, another dollar, which is about what you make these days as an independent musician or label. Times are tough, but there is a light down that tunnel, though we are far from getting there. The music? Better than ever. Cutting picks down to ten was extremely hard and, truth be told, tomorrow it might well be a quite different list, but off the top of my head, here are my favorites of 2011, in no particular order:
Bright Giant/Kings & Queens of Air— I have to confess that it took me awhile to get this album. Bright Giant's self-titled EP from a couple of years ago completely wiped me out and I think I was expecting a step beyond that, but what they did was take a step back. The sound is crunchy and sparse with just enough finesse to keep things on the up and up. I hear two things which sets this album apart: outstanding touches beneath the upfront sound (like the background vocals on You Saved Me and Forget-Me-Nots, buried but very much a part of the sound) and a snarky guitar attitude reminiscent of early Yardbirds (complete with feedback and outside the park solos). If you don't like some of the tracks the first time around, give them time. These suckers sneak up on you. Think Yardbirds/Stones/early Black Crowes.
Research Turtles/Mankiller— The boys from Lake Charles come back with a slightly smoother effort than their earlier topnotch self-titled album, but they've kept their punch. Nothing like slipping a pop gem in the middle (Bugs in a Jar is creamy smooth and a perfect offset for their Shoes/Zeppelin-esque approach to power pop). The five songs build, front to back, so when you hit the closer, Rhinestone Gal, you're rockin'!
Little Green Blackbird/The Summer I Stopped Whining— Kirsti Gholson returns after an eleven year hiatus and it was worth the wait. Her self-titled so-called "demo" album caught my ear a number of years ago and I have been relentlessly hounding her since. The earlier album was my "first one's free" hit, The Summer has me completely hooked. There is something in the voice and in the writing style which crawls under your skin. The music is outstanding, the lyrics brilliant. This is more than singer/songwriter. This is class!
Jesse Dee &Jacquie B/Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls— If this doesn't show up on a number of other "best of" lists, I am going to be very surprised. This duo may be hiding out in the outback of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, but people will find them eventually. One of the few albums which I believe fit the category of Americana. I'm still not sure how to describe what they do. I just know that I play this a lot and it never fails to impress me. The voices play off of one another rather than blend and the band is first-rate. Perfect mix of acoustic and electric.
Hannah Miller/O Black River— I found this one through noisetrade.com and have revisited that site often since. Free downloads, new music, a lot of indies waiting to be heard. What I heard from Hannah Miller was good enough to make me contact her management company and beg (and I did beg) for a review copy. Definitely folk roots with a bit of gospel on the side, but she does it so well you don't even think genre.
Zoe Muth &The Lost High Rollers/Starlight Hotel— I can't think of anyone to compare Zoe to outside of Michael Dinner, whose Great Pretender album stood me on my ear back in the mid-70s. It is country, but very upfront country with just enough twang and class. Muth writes superb songs and her voice is the perfect vanguard for the band. This is the second. I hope to see many more releases from this lady and her band.
Jim Allchin/Overclocked— God knows where Allchin has been hiding, but his guitar is something else! Touches of Stevie Ray bleed through on certain tracks and, yes, it is blues-based but is not all blues. Allchin borrows from R&B, fifties rock and jazz to make his point. Well-balanced in terms of production, performance and song style. Guitarists, be aware!
Old Californio/Sundrunk Angels— Seems like I waited forever for this album and was a bit worried that it wouldn't live up to the anticipation and at first listen, it didn't seem to. I should have known better, though, and subsequent hearings uncovered some real treasures. "Side Two", the last five of the ten tracks, are infused with a Brit-Rock sound which caught me completely by surprise. A bit of country/latino/brit/folk mixed in with the unique Old Californio sound.
Green Pajamas/Green Pajama Country!—No, it ain't country, folks—at least, country music. What it is is solid Green Pajamas rock with root influences, one of which is the Hollywood movie western theme (Opening and Closing Themes). Sandwiched between are some outstanding tracks, some with twang and others not so much. If you like Green Pajamas, you should like this. If you don't, what's wrong with you? If you haven't heard them, this is as good a place to start as any. They have over 20 albums. You have a bit of catching up to do.
Jubal Lee Young/Take It Home— Jubal is the son of Steve Young (the musician, not the football player) and Terrye Newkirk. He began his musical life as a rock and roller and has slowly worked his way back to his roots—and his Dad's roots. He breaks out on this album with some of his best written and best performed songs and he tosses a couple of Steve Young classics in for good measure (and performs them quite nicely, thank you). He's developing an attitude (Steve was known to have had one as well) beyond the snot-rock one he started out with—more mature, more intelligent. This album tells me he will be around for a long time.
Hell, I could have gone on and on. 2011 was one hell of a year for indies. Thing is, 2012 is starting out just as strong. Maybe music is ready to make the big comeback.
Cheekily, I usually slip in eleven or twelve by way of a tie but I've sworn off cheap tricks entirely. This year there's only ten, as if fewer and fewer are rising above the right wing morass, and the global cry for equality. OCCUPY EVERYWHERE!
1) Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What— Even musical heretics marvel at Simon. Here's why.
2) Zoe Muth and The High Lost Rollers: Starlight Hotel— Songs for the New Depression. 'New Mexico' is beyond doubt awesome.
3) Wilco: The Whole Love— Fucked-up good.
4) Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe '67— Every moment is pioneer courage. The second great quintet: Miles, Shorter, Williams, Holland, and Hancock.
5) Eilen Jewell: Queen of the Minor Key— A retro-reverb-rave wherein our lovelorn heroine calls all the shots.
6) Maria Muldaur: Steady Love— Take about a girl calling the shots! A funk, rad gumbo with NOLA's best.
7) kd lang: Siss Boom Bang— Except for Emmylou, no one else makes me feel so human I cry.
8) Rolling Stones: Some Girls Deluxe— As the band goes fifty, these outlaw tracks prove there's much we're missing.
9) The Decemberists: The King Is Dead— Something Band-like that I can't quite put my finger on.
10) Buzz Universe: Another Wig— Elizabethtown, NJ indie with a musical mash that works like few others.
pssssst: and though it came out last year but I listened this year— Arcade Fire: Scenes from The Suburbs
We are the change we believe in.
Some of the Best of 2011 - there are others than these however these stand so far out this year for a variety of reasons:
The last two are a celebration of Guy Clark's songs and the person he is…