Almost all of these albums are albums that were released in the past, not this year. I will highlight first the albums that were released in the past, then particular past songs I loved, then the albums of this year.
Guy Clark - Texas Cookin’ -
After the group-sing fun of the opener/title track this album takes a turn for the devastating. With auto-wah’ed clavinets and fiddles, Guy Clark and his crew of exemplary backing figures (Emmy Lou Harris, Hoyt Axton, Jerry Jeff Walker) drop heart after stomach after oh-my-God-I’m-either-going-to-throw-up-or-cry-or-both. Hard to explain exactly how touching some of these songs are, but picture your favorite Silver Age country songs and now add a dash of catchiness and a cup of intense flashbacks.
Peter Ivers - Terminal Love and Peter Ivers -
Peter Ivers is a silly singer, funky harmonica-player and a remarkable songwriter. Like a cartoon Fonzie on the Simpsons (though more flamboyant), or maybe a post-apocalyptic Van Dyke Parks with a bar band following him at all times, he walked the busy streets of the late 70s and early 80s and ran a late night TV show supporting his beliefs/lifestyle that ‘new music is get up and die’, himself bludgeoned to death by a mystery assailant in an alleyway.
The Reels - Quasimodo’s Dream -
In the year 2009, I went through quite a few channels on Youtube devoted to music from New Zealand, such was my interest in Split Enz. The Reels had a really good song called "Love Will Find A Way", and that one stuck with me, but eventually I made it to this album, of which about half the songs are brilliant and amazing and on par with my favorite synth hits, and the other half are weird electronic experiments. I wasn’t that into the title track at first, but it grew on me, a pleasant minor key melody that develops with old synth echo drips in the background. This is a special album.
Jerry Riopelle - Saving Grace
The first three songs are swell, compact patio-rock masterpieces. Jerry Riopelle on this album is the kind of dad you’d admire so much, you’d have a picture of him above your mantle. In this photo he is wearing amazing sunglasses - a kind they don’t make anymore - and making a funny gesture as Carrie Fischer, Debbie Harry, and a third unidentified beautiful woman look on, laughing big, open-mouthed guffaws, but total fixation in their eyes.
About half of the songs are eh, though; the stories dad only shares after a six-pack.
Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden
Cafe Jacques - International
Like mean-singing Brian Eno replaced Donald Fagen in Steely Dan for the first half. And then Godley and Creme come in for the second half. Professional squiggly bits! And funky big-voices.
Megadeth - Rust In Peace
As an exercise/out of boredom, my friend Spencer and I went down the list of ‘Top Albums’ on Rate Your Music that we hadn’t heard and found the first one that neither of us had heard listened. It was AMAZING. We were bobbing our heads and air drumming and sharing it with everyone we encountered afterwards, “You gotta hear ‘Five Magics’!”. We listened to maybe five or ten albums after this, going down the top-rated list and could hardly get through any of them.
Mayo Thompson - Corky’s Debt to His Father
Leonard Cohen with Syd Barrett. Serious observations on sex and death as doodled on a napkin.
Souled American - Frozen
"Frozen" and "Rain Delay" are gorgeous slowies, kind of like Neil Young sitting in with Codeine (the band, they are excited to be playing with Neil Young, so they play a little bit faster, but no less thoughtfully). Some very beautiful guitar playing and mood, like a painting of a man walking in the rain that hangs in the coffee shop above the corner that nobody sits in. "Lucky" is kind of a drag, and the album runs out of the gorgeous steam it starts with, but if you get to the end, "Hay Day" is a lighter goof number.
Kahondo Style - Green Tea and Crocodiles
Little bit of Penguin Cafe, little bit of Art Bears, little bit of Laurie Anderson. Gets kind of weak n wiggly at bits, but tracks like “Survival” and “No More Gravity” tug at the weird hearts and strings and “Jenny McNeilly” and “Peach Boy” are compact wacky cards.
Jerry Jeff Walker - Walker’s Collectibles
A sturdy companion to John Hartford’s “Aereo-plain”, both slightly baked country-ish affairs. Like Hartford, Walker is a laid-back guy, great expressive singer. They are both funny dudes, and both seem to want to just hang out and talk and eat ‘pizza, nachos, burritos’ according to Jerry Jeff. Walker is a bit on the electric side, but there’s more than a little Old America in here. “Salvation Army Band” and “The First Showboat” are tributes similar to “Grand Ol’ Opry” from Aereo-Plain. “Well of the Blues” and “She Left Me Holdin’” are pretty outstanding rock-bottom kind of songs. There’s a pleasant tragicomedy feeling through the album. And! it has soprano sax and Dixieland moments, which could be a big plus or minus depending on who you are.
Bruce Cockburn - Humans, Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws
Oh, Bruce. Like an awkward public school teacher with a lot of valid life experiences. Trying to share as much as he can without entering the private sphere. Always G-rated, except for a few PG moments.
He’s sometimes religious, which can be a red flag for some discriminating music listeners. But he barely gets religious, except for a minute on “What About the Bond”. But he’s singing about ‘mystical unity’ with the ‘father’, and its kind of reggae-tinged, so it might as well be not about God.
These albums are very good, like many of his albums are, kind of a white-privileged walk through the world. If you are new to Bruce, you can picture him as an Andy Partridge (of XTC), though a little bit more explicitly political and less abstract. “More Not More” is particularly weird with its ever-rising chorus.
But gosh, when I hear him sing that super prose-y chorus on “Tokyo”, it takes me back to 7th grade and my history teacher who mandated an hour of singing each week, we’d do songs he’d written and lyrics of popular tunes he’d rewritten. So we’d be singing about Jakarta one minute and then “Born to Be Wild” the next.
Dirk Hamilton - Meet Me at the Crux
Dirk Hamilton is a great lost singing songwriting talent. This album is a bit bizarre for mainstream tastes, not sure what Johnny Popchart would cling to here, but there’s plenty for me! The gang vocal hooks in “All in All” and “How do you Fight Fire” are totally easy to remember and cherish. There’s a couple Van Morrison-y moments, but there’s nothing wrong with that! He’s a great singer, and definitely distinct from the Van. “Tell a Vision Time” is like Sufjan Stevens if he wrote a proper pop song. Check those lyrics! That stuttering affectation! ‘Hey punk of progress’. Highly recommend if you are into slightly wack pop. He’s into moons.
Dire Straits - Making Movies
Mr. Knopfler mines Lou Reed and the Boss and comes up with equal to or better than material. Second side is a drop off in quality, about on the same level as the lesser stuff on their first album. Can’t make sense of “Les Boys” - seems like a poorly thought-out concept, rather than straight homophobia, as long as I think about Mark Knopfler speaking with the voice of the truck driver, as in “Money For Nothing”. I just un-check it from my iTunes, ain’t no thing.
Boothill Foot-Tappers - Ain’t that Far From Boothill
Charming and positive in an almost church-y way Ska-folk. Several horn solos are gorgeous and I love the way they take turns singing. No songs stink, but no songs are that exceptional. In the same general basket as Dexys and the Pogues.
Past Songs -
Brother D - How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?
Fun vocals-switching party jam that ends with two minutes of “Agitate, educate, organize”
Nils Lofgren - Back It Up
Dwight Twilley - Looking for the Magic
Frustratingly perfect guitar rock. Twilley hiccups like Gene Vincent, but with more intent and Lofgren hurdles clear over Neil Young’s shoulders.
New Albums -
Tuneyards - Whokill
We went to SXSW this year and I only really wanted to see a few groups, but Tuneyards was the one that I missed most - coming in over the fence at the French Foreign Legion Park (or whatever park’s walls it was) for the last 15 seconds of saxophone glory. Merrill, from my experience, is such a nice good person, and a talented performer. This album I could take or leave (its kind of all over the place in terms of song quality), but a few cuts are up there with the greatest on her first. “Esso”, “Gangsta”, “Bizness”, I’m hooked!
Destroyer - Kaputt
Dan Bejar is the dude that the girls I crushed on in Junior College would flock to. He knew all the art books, knew all the poets we’d be reading that semester. No way to compete, he stayed up later than me, had more drugs than I did, better hair, better shaved, etc… So now he has come back to haunt me with all my favorite quotes and synth patches and delay settings for studio trumpeters. I half want to punch him, half want to friend him.