1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
[C]roce, Skynard, Nilsson, Fogerty and Morrison had a baby and named it Father John Misty. Right out of the gate this album rocketed to the top of my most listened to list. Hooked in by “Well You Can Do It Without Me”‘s Nilsson-like flavor and then drawn into the much deeper and more complicated workings of stunners such as “Funtimes in Babylon”, “Only Son of the Ladies Man”, and… fuck it, the whole album is fantastic.
2. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
[I]t says a lot about the state of the musical union when you can fall in love with a band before their LP releases early in the year and by mid-way through that same year, that indie-band is a common house hold name. The hipster in me dislikes the fact I’ll never get to see The Lumineers in a space as small as I did early in the year, but if any group deserves to ride the rocket to stardom, it’s these folks. A solid album for the whole family to enjoy and a live show that leaves you smiling ear to ear.
3. Oh Be Joyful – Shovels and Rope
[A] modern day Johnny and June. The lovable, talented, we’ll-do-it-our-way South Carolina duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent wound their way into my heart with an album full of what they call “sloppy tonk” music, and what I call damn good writing and musicianship. Riding the wave of the multi-instrumentalist do-it-yourselfers, Shovels and Rope put the rubber to the road this year and made a name for themselves and their album. With swingers and slow-it-downers, the album fires on all cylinders. That’s a lot of hyphens for one paragraph.
4. Blunderbuss – Jack White
[W]hat can be said about Jack White that hasn’t already been said. Blunderbuss, his first true “solo” effort, came out to high-expectation and didn’t disappoint. Backing himself with two different groups of solid musicians (one all-male and one all-female), White blisters his fingers with guitar-based modern rock songs and with blazing piano strokes reminiscent of wild west barroom tunes. How can that miss?
5. Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It… – Adam Arcuragi and The Lupine Chorale Society
[C]hances are you haven’t heard of this one, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking it out. I find myself seeking this album out repeatedly. Arcuragi, a poet by nature I believe, is the founder of what he calls “Death Gospel.” I’m not so sure that label is entirely appropriate given the songs on “Like a Fire…” but you gotta be different somehow. Give a listen to “Oh I see”, “The Birds Will Follow”, “President’s Song” and “You’d Think This Was Easy” and see if you, like me, wonder why this album isn’t talked about more at this time of year.
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6. Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka
[N]eo-soul has certainly seen a big push in the past year or so. From the likes of Mayer Hawthorne on through to Kiwanuka, it’s a sound not just used as an intro or base track for hip-hop anymore. Kiwanuka smooth-as-silk voice and likeness to Otis Redding and Bill Withers may make some dismiss this album as a retread and lacking originality. I prefer to view it as a much needed revival of a sound I missed dearly. One that would accompany me on the deck of a cabin or on the beach while on vacation (“Rest”, “Home Again”) or while raising a strong, but humble, opposition to some sort of oppression (“Tell Me A Tale”).
7. The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
[A]s I get older, I find my tolerance for most hip-hop and rap declining to the same level as free-style jazz. Yes I’m aware that “if you don’t get it, then you don’t get IT”, but for the most part, the music in the genre today doesn’t hold much for me. This album, however, got my attention and held it. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are no newbies, but this is their first huge splash. Being able to have fun with your music (see “Thrift Shop”) then, at the drop of a dime, turn and speak convincingly on social matters (see “Same Love”) and then being able to turn again and blow the roof off with party anthems (see “Can’t Hold Us”) is not an easy task. This album does all three. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up…
8. There’s No Leaving Now – The Tallest Man On Earth
[T]he Tallest Man On Earth (a.k.a. Kristian Matsson) released yet another great album this year. “There’s No Leaving Now” continues to highlight TMOE’s skill for lyrical poetry, quick-picking guitar playing and scratchy, emotion-filled crooning. This album isn’t a big departure from his previous works, and ya know what? I’m happy it’s not.
9. No Separation – Spirit Family Reunion
[I]t’s no secret I’m a fan of the New York based group, so the fact “No Separation” appears on my top album list shouldn’t surprise anyone. Picking it up to hear more of what I’d come to love, I was happily surprised to hear more variation on the vocal side of things. Nick Panken has an unforgettable voice, no doubt, and never seems to fail to deliver, but one of the best tracks on the album “Green Rocky Road” is lead by Mat “Twain” Davidson and Maggie Carson. Foot-stomping, hollering good times await you when you pop this one in. Get those arms ready for some dosey doe-ing.
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10. II – Bad Books
[T]he second effort from the team of Kevin Devine and Andy Hull (of Manchester Orchestra) caught me by surprise. Echoing sounds of Elliott Smith while not losing either of their own personal sounds quickly rushed this one to the “Ohh have you heard this album?” list. Beautifully written and powerfully played songs fill this one from top to bottom. Check “No Rewards”, “Pytor” and “Friendly Advice” for examples of awesome.