Just prior to the closing curtain of each calendar year, I use this blog to compile a list. When I started, it was the top five things that Billy Mays yelled at me about. But since he passed away in 2009, I retired that topic and have struggled to come up with another one that worked. Last year I shared with you my favorite music released in 2010. I liked that one. It worked for me, since music is essential to my everyday existence. So that is what I have decided to run with again this year.
The phrase “11 in 11” holds a special meaning for me this year I suppose. 2011 was the year that my St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th world championship. Maybe that’s why I decided to choose 11 songs for the list this year instead of just 10. Unfortunately, even with the additional selection – it’s just not enough. There were just too many really good albums released this year. So keep in mind that there are some omissions simply because there wasn’t enough room, including Fleet Foxes and Yo-Yo Ma.
So, here they are, in no particular order – my top eleven albums released in 2011: (Take your time and click the links to hear some of the songs you aren’t familiar with.)
The Decemberists: The King Is Dead
I didn’t even realize that I enjoyed the Decemberists as much as I do until I bought this album. Colin Meloy and company make awesome, story-telling, American roots-driven music with diverse influences including R.E.M. and Gillian Welch, who both make appearances on the album.
At this point in her career, everyone is familiar with Adele, which typically in my book is not a good thing. The deal is, regardless of everything else, the girl has talent! Her songwriting is top-notch, and that voice… my goodness that voice! It is nice to see a true talent getting recognized in the public’s eyes. Too often that doesn’t happen.
Amos Lee: Mission Bell
The line between sweet clean folk music and pure soulful R&B has never been walked so perfectly as it is when it’s done by the incredible Amos Lee. This album is fantastic – definitely one of my most played albums of the year.
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
This former member of Tony! Toni! Toné! Goes above and beyond with some powerful throwback R&B sounds on this album. Especially after seeing him live on Austin City Limits, I maintain that this guy is an old-school band leader from the same stock as James Brown. Great record!
Foo Fighters: Wasting Light
We are living in the digital age, right? Then how is it that the year’s best hard rock album was recorded entirely on analog tape in Dave Grohl’s garage? That is either a testament to analog rock & roll, or evidence of just what a good band the Foo Fighters really are.
Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire
Thank goodness Ryan’s retirement from music only lasted a few years, because this is one of the strongest albums he has released in a long time. I used to marvel at how prolific he was; writing and recording new music so quickly, but maybe a little time off allowed him to take his time and return to his former “Whiskeytown” greatness.
Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest
Only artists as amazing as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings can make an album that sounds familiar and old-fashioned as well as utterly original all at the same time. This is an album filled with gorgeous, sad, empathetic story songs – wonderfully written and beautifully played.
Wilco: The Whole Love
Exactly what kind of band is Wilco? What kind of music do they typically make? Sometimes it’s hard to tell – and don’t even try to guess what their next album will be like! They have gone from jangly country pop to progressive experimental rock and back again, gaining and losing fans along the way. The Whole Love is a bit of a throwback to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in my opinion; experimental, a little crazy, a bit noisy, but strong.
Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean
By Sam Beam’s own admission, this is a pop album – a slight departure from the whispered acoustic folk music that made him famous – and one filled with songs that sound like they could’ve been something your parents listened to way back when. And that is a compliment. This is a great album!
The Black Keys: El Camino
If I had to pick a favorite album of the year right now – It would probably be El Camino. I thought last year’s Brothers album was a massive breakthrough for this extremely talented blues-rock duo. But, in my opinion, this one blows it away. Catchy riffs, driving rhythms, inspired melodies… El Camino has it all.
R.E.M.: Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011
Okay, so I might be including this one primarily for sentimental reasons. (I don’t think my list is the only one that did though.) In September, one of my favorite bands in the world announced that they were breaking up. So this double disk retrospective seems like a nice farewell – succinctly capturing their career in a nice little black & white package… even though it breaks my heart a little.