With the success of last years “Best albums of 2010” I thought I’d do it again with the 2011 set of music. I say that mostly in jest, but it was probably my most “successful” blog to date. Smaller artists are vainly googling themselves and the term “best of 20XX”, and a few landed on my site last year. One artist went as far as posting it on his Facebook wall resulting in 40 “likes” and 0 comments!!
1) Chris Thile and Michael Daves “Sleep with One Eye Open”
Chris Thile could play circles around most players today so it’s somewhat expected that he could be bored by playing the bluegrass standards of today. His main outfit, the Punch Brothers, builds on traditional and progressive bluegrass but takes it in mind-bending directions that risks losing the casual listener. This album takes it back to the basics and shows that Chris still just likes to have fun. I defy you to watch this clip and not smile.
2) Hayes Carll “KMAG YOYO”
Steve Earle isn’t going to live forever so Hayes Carll is set to take the reigns of common sense in Texas while proving that country music doesn’t need a coat of polish to be successful.
3) Steve Earle “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”
Steve Earle is Bruce Springsteen’s Americana twin.
4) Middle Brother “Middle Brother”
This is the most surprising album for me on this list. This band is a super group made up of the leaders of 3 other bands that I hadn’t heard of before seeing Middle Brother live in March. Flash forward a few months and 2 of these 3 bands are candidates for this best-of list (one of which is trying to sell us cars now). I enjoy this album more than any of the members main work.
This album has a bit of everything. “Daydreaming” starts the album in a soft Simon & Garfunkel kind of way. “Middle Brother” rocks with this haunting lyric:
but i’m gonna learn to fly an airplane,
and it’s gonna make my momma proud,
i’m gonna get my dad to notice me,
even if i have to fly it into the ground.
5) The Decemberists “The King is Dead”
This was my first taste of the Decemberists and I became a quick fan, though the albums hasn’t seen much play in the past 6 months. I know they upset their old hipster fans by creating a more mainstream folk album but if that’s what it takes to create something listenable, it’s fine by me.
6) Serenity “Death & Legacy”
I was surprised that this turned out to be one of my favorite metal albums of the year.
7) Dream Theater “A Dramatic Turn of Events”
Up until “Train of Thought” every Dream Theater album was solid gold to me. After a few listens I was hooked and the CD wouldn’t leave my discman for months. These albums will always be on heavy rotation in my life and listening to each one now brings me back to wherever I was in my life when the album came out.
This album doesn’t stand up to their first 5 albums, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a great album. “Breaking all Illusions” is a great tune that parallels “Learning to Live”. Unfortunately you need to listen to “Build me up, Break me down” to get to it.
8) Rhapsody of Fire “The Cold Embrace of Fear”
I’ve always followed Rhapsody but they’ve always seemed gimmicky to me. It’s as if they are reading the script to Final Fantasy III while telling the drummer to just play the bass pedals as fast as possible. This albums seems a bit more epic and cinematic to me, even though it’s only around 30 minutes long.
9) Symphony X “Iconoclast”
I still miss the epic-ness of the Odyssey but this is a solid metal release.
10) Emmylou Harris “Hard Bargain”
Emmylous Harris doesn’t stop. She’s constantly appearing as a guest on various albums in addition to continuously cranking out her own material. Adele could learn a lesson from her as Adele sits around and does nothing for a few years after 2 successful albums. There’s a parallel of Adele’s laziness to her weight that I’ll only imply.
The highlight for me on this album is “Six Wide Cadillacs”, especially when chanting “ey, ey, ey” in the verses. It doesn’t stand up against her classics like my favorite “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town”, but it stands out against the drab of contemporary country today.