Since we’ve begun 2012, it’s time to look back on the best in music for 2011. I must say that other than a small handful of albums, I wasn’t impressed with what 2011 had to offer.
1. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels
“Somebody had to set a bad example, teach all the prim & propers what not to do. Nobody ‘round here wants to ramble. What the hell, that’s what I was born to do.” – Bad example
“Trailer for rent, no down payment. Comes with some holes & dents where I got tired of his shit. Call if you’re interested. Trailer for rent” – Trailer for rent
Twang. Simple instrumentation. Straight-up lyrics. Great harmony. Yep, they’ll hook me every time. If you don’t know the Pistol Annies, I’m sure you’ll know at least one or two of the members. Miranda Lambert (Lone Star Annie), Ashley Monroe (Hippie Annie) and Angaleena Presley (Holler Annie) make up this trio of purely wonderful twang. It’s rare for a trio of individual artists to get together and make a unique group such as this, all while continuing with their own solo careers.
2. Brandi Carlile – Live at Benaroya Hall
“these days we go to waste like wine that’s turned to turpentine, oh it’s 6am and I’m all messed up. I didn’t mean to waste your time, so I’ll fall back in line. But I’m warning you, we’re growing up.” - Turpentine
It’s not very often that I get attached to a “live” album, but there have been a few throughout the years that have grabbed my attention – like Johnny Cash’s “at Folsom Prison”, Barbara Mandrell’s “live”, Patsy Cline’s “live at the Cimarron Ballroom” and Sheryl Crow’s “Live at Central Park”. Add this one from Brandi to that list. When you combine Brandi’s strong voice and wonderful songs with the sound of a full symphony orchestra, well…things just take on a whole new dimension of music enjoyment. Brandi gets the crowd involved in providing backing vocals on “turpentine”, and the best track on this live album doesn’t even involve Brandi. Tim & Phil Hanseroth (aka "The Twins") do a hauntingly accurate portrayal of Simon & Garfunkel on “The Sound of Silence”. As Brandi says – “is that not the creepiest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard?” The answer is a definite “yes”.
3. Lady Antebellum – own the night
“I wish I was cold as stone, then I wouldn’t feel a thing. Wish I didn’t have this heart, then I wouldn’t know the sting of the ring. I could stand strong & still watching you walk away. I wouldn’t hurt like this, or feel so all alone. I wish I was cold as stone.” – Cold as stone
I still haven’t figured out just why this trio continues to find a spot near the top of my list each year, considering they’re still a bit too mainstream with not enough twang. I think it’s a combination of the harmonies and the male/female duet-style songs. That’ll usually hook me. Whatever the reason, Lady A is back in the top 5 yet again.
4. Brad Paisley – this is country music
“You’re not supposed to say the word cancer in a song. And tellin’ folks that ‘Jesus is the answer’ can rub ‘em wrong. It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, or mama. Yeah, that might be true. But this is country music, and we do.” This is country music
I’m so glad that Brad is an artist who is not afraid to express his love for the history of country music. Most of the “country” artists these days really have no clue as to the history of the genre. Brad is an artist who will highlight that storied history. With this album, it’s his incorporation of the group Alabama in both song lyrics and vocally. The album ends with “life’s railway to heaven”, keeping with the old country tradition of including a gospel-type song on an album. In keeping with his own tradition of including quirky/fun songs, Brad brings us “Camouflage”, “toothbrush”, “working on a tan”, “be the lake” and the instrumental, “Eastwood”, which includes an intro from Clint himself. He nicely mixes the quirky with the serious & sincere, like “I do now”, “love her like she’s leaving”, and “a man don’t have to die”. Brad also brings in some friends to play again. We hear duets/harmony from Alabama, Blake Shelton, Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Clint Eastwood, and Carrie Underwood. It should be no surprise that my least-favorite song on this wonderful album is the duet with Carrie.
5. Blake Shelton – red river blue
“On the Oklahoma shore of that old Red River, I stand right here & curse my pride. That river runs deep, that current is strong. And the woman I love is on the other side. How did the love we made together break apart & drift away, leave me lost & lonely on this crimson bank. Red River blue, God pull me through. I’d walk through fire if that bridge hadn’t burned in two. Texoma sky. Tears in my eyes. She said goodbye & now I’m Red River Blue.” –Red River Blue
Whether it’s slow & heartfelt (Red River Blue, God gave me you, I’m sorry), upbeat/fun (ready to roll, get some, honey bee, sunny in Seattle, hey) or rowdy with the guys (Good Ole Boys), it seems that Blake is one of the rare singers who can make the seamless transition and bring them all together to make a great album. The greatest song from the regular album is the duet with his wife, Miranda Lambert, on the title track. If you have the deluxe version of the album with the bonus tracks, then you’ll want to check out Blake’s wonderful remake of the Dan Seals classic, “Addicted”. I love when artists bring back an old classic and stay very true to the original.
6. Ashton Shepherd – where country grows
“I am just a woman and that’s what women do. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, making sure every little thing goes through. And I know you’re doing all you can, and I know that after all, you are just a man. But you should understand that I am just a woman.” – I’m just a woman
There’s just nothing better than a light twang to fill my real-country heart. With this album, Ashton reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite singers, Patty Loveless. There’s just enough twang to keep it feeling country, but not too much to think you’re stuck in the hillbilly backwoods.
7. Kelly Clarkson – Stronger
“I used to let you paint a pretty picture. You got me caught up with your ‘you’re my girl forever’. So I forgive you. It felt good when you hold me. Yeah, you owned me. Now you wish you had really known me. All I have to say is you don’t deserve me, you don’t deserve me. I’m finally walking away, cause you only hurt me. And you’re not worthy. And I won’t let you pull me in, because I know you’re gonna win. (the war is over) but the war is over (the war is over) – The war is over
Most of the time, I find myself shying away from a lot of the pop, pop/rock or even much of the pop-ish mainstream country. It’s normally harmonies or great melodies that attract my attention. With Kelly, it’s her voice, and most notably, it’s the strength of her voice that grabs me.
8. Thompson Square – self titled
“We may shine, we may shatter, we may be picking up the pieces here on after. We are fragile, we are human, we are shaped by the light we let through us. We break fast ‘cause we are glass.” – Glass
Like recent husband & wife duos before them - such as The Wrights and Joey + Rory - Keifer & Shawna Thompson have managed to find the harmony that defines their sound. But unlike those other duos, they seem a bit too pop/mainstream country-oriented, which limits the strength of that harmony. That being said, they’ve managed to put together a very cohesive, and quite enjoyable album.
9. Matraca Berg – the dreaming fields
“Mothers hold your baby's clothes. Father, Son and Holy Ghost cannot keep him safe on earth. So throw your rose down in the dust. This ain't where the Angels dwell, South of Heaven, North of Hell. 21 Guns and Cathedral bell, South of Heaven, North of Hell” – South of Heaven
“If I had wings I would fly over the river & into the night. If I had wings I would roll, 10 years of dreams tethered to my soul” – If I had wings
Matraca is an artist that I’ve pretty much followed from the beginning. In 1990, she released the single (and video), “the things you left undone”, and I was hooked. However, as great as her singing is, it’s always her songwriting that comes to the forefront when talking about Matraca. She’s been the writer for some great songs done by Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, and many more. Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter may have done the current popular ‘whimsical’ version of “You and Tequila”, but Matraca’s version is a bit more haunting, and being the writer of the song, it seems to carry more significance when she sings it. This album has a bit of an angel/afterlife theme to it.
10. Miranda Lambert – four the record
“your mama’s gonna cry her eyes. There ain’t gonna be no wedding day. What’s she gonna say when I tell her I have no choice. Same ol’ you couldn’t even raise your voice and ask me to stay. I wouldn’t anyway. So you can keep your ring and I can keep my daddy’s name. It’s the same ol’ you when you get to drinkin’. Same ol’ you when you’re on the town. Same ol’ you in church on Sunday, getting high when the sun goes down.” Same Ol You
It’s Miranda by herself this time, without the two other Annies. There’s a bit less twang & harmony than the PA’s, however, it’s just Miranda, plain & simple. It seems that Miranda is starting to have fun with her music, playing with distorted vocals on “fine tune”, and a few more crunching guitar sounds throughout. Basically, it makes for less enjoyable music. Strangely enough, I think I enjoyed the lyrics more than the songs themselves for much of this album.
Other albums worth a listen:
* Juliana Hatfield – there’s always another girl
* Shelby Lynne – revelation road
* Indigo Girls – beauty queen sister
* Uh Huh Her - Nocturnes
* Dolly Parton – better day
* Madison Violet – the good in goodbye
* Mark Wills – the legend of mark wills
* Steel Magnolia – self titled
* Stevie Nicks – in your dreams
* Tegan & Sara – get along
* Thompson Square – self titled
* Tracy Lawrence – the singer
* Those Darlins – screws get loose
* Susan Cattaneo – heaven to heartache
* Jeff Bridges self titled
* Paul Brandt – give it away
* Oh susanna – soon the birds
* Joe Nichols – it’s all good
* John Hiatt – dirty jeans & mudslide hymns
* Lori McKenna - Lorraine
* Sara Evans – stronger
* Madison Violet – the good in goodbye
* Merle Haggard – working in Tennessee
* Michael Martin Murphey – tall grass cool water
* Kasey Chambers – storybook
* Kate & Anna McGarrigle – tell my sister
* Hayes Carll – Kmag yoyo & other American Stories
* George Strait – here for a good time
* Georgette Jones – strong enough to cry
* Eilen Jewell – Queen of the minor key
* Alison Krauss & Union Station – paper airplane
* Adele -21
* Martina McBride – eleven