Hey all, it’s finally time to top the list. I had originally intended for this to land yesterday, but due to your awesomeness we ran out of bandwidth…so here we are, atop the mountain of music, these are what I thought was best of the year.
10. Spirit Family Reunion – No Separation
[S]pirit Family Reunion released their first full LP this year, and as if they didn’t already hold a special place with me after playing out first brunch session, they hit the road touring No Separation delighting us all at the Newport Folk Festival, with the rootsy ramshackle folk music that seemed to be pulled straight out of the south. It’s an impassioned record that from top to bottom feels as though they are playing a hootenanny in your living room. From barnburners like “I Want to Be Relieved,” to footstomper “Green Rocky Road,” to sing-a-long “I’ll Find A Way,” No Separation, to me is THE Guthriesque gospel / folk album of yesteryear, released this year. It’s a fine fine fine record, and if you had only one record to spin, this would be a great one.
9. Andrew Combs – Worried Man
[I]f you haven’t been following along, I’m a big big fan of Nashville songwriter Andrew Combs who finally released his debut album Worried Man, which is unsurprising to some one of the best records this year. Combs is part of a new pool of extremely talented artists coming from the music city. The songs here are obviously a common theme, broken relationships, but Combs has the ability to really keep the listeners attention with quick-witted lyricism, a straightforward approach, a few tear-jerkers, and some great country-branded americana music. It’s roots rock, the way it is supposed to be played, and Worried Man is a great debut for a budding artist that everyone should be talking about.
8. Langhorne Slim – The Way We Move
[L]anghorne Slim can nearly do no wrong in my book, and well this record just deepens the slight obsession with his music. The Way We Move, attempts to capture the pure energy and soul of a Langhorne Slim show into a record which really is no easy task, but its most evident that they were trying and we can be sure listen after listen, they did a damn good job. As featured on opening single and title track “The Way We Move,” and “Two Crooked Hearts,” Slim & the Law brought this album some of that energy with jangly guitars, banjos and powerful sing-a-long choruses that you’ll be elated to hear again and again. Slim’s soul influences are all over this record and fits his vocal talent quite well, this record puts you right in the middle of his world, just where you’ll want to be.
Buy The Way We Move
7. He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – Nobody Dances In This Town
[L]os Angeles’ He’s My Brother She’s My Sister is one of the most unique bands I got the pleasure of listening to this year, and their record Nobody Dances In This Town was one of my favorites. The band slides across musical landscapes with ease employing a rockabilly opener “Tales That I Tell,” to a fuzzy, trippy track on “Touch the Lightnight,” to a tune that features drummer / tap dancer Lauren Brown’s clacking heels on you guessed it, “Clackin Heels.” Nobody Dances In This Town deftly moves through these landscapes keeping you on your toes with highly danceable rockin tunes that you’ll turn it up and put on repeat again and again. It’s a party album, and one of my favorites for that.
6. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
[O]ne record that really surprised me this year, as it hadn’t been on my radar is Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams. It’s a dreamy debut concept album that chronicles a lonesome cowboy traveling west, I love the way Courtney put it, “cowboy dream folk.” With soaring harmonies, each song glistens and shimmers along a journey sonically as the cowboy protagonist makes his way. Each song has a little something to offer, and in no time you’ll find yourself playing this record over and over and over. It took me by storm, and I think it will take you as well.
Buy Lonesome Dreams
5. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
[L]ondon soul singer Michael Kiwanuka finally released his debut LP and it is unsurprisingly amazing. His superbly soulful raspy voice bears the comparison to soul singers like Bill Withers or Otis Redding. This album is so tastefully done, its the perfect record to spin all day long on a lazy sunday. Kiwanuka’s voice is the real instrument here, it’s got to be the most peaceful sounding voice in music today, it could put out fires, end wars and put your colicky baby to sleep. This is a revival record tour-de-force and should be in your collection.
Buy Home Again
4. Adam Arcuragi – Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It…
[A]dam Arcuragi and the Lupine Choral Society’s Like a Fire… was a surprising record for me this year. The depth and breadth of the music is remarkable. There is something magical about this album, the way Adam sings, the carefully placed subtleties on the keys, horns, plucking, it all works in a way to highlight Arcuragi’s sombre raspy tones. There’s a sort of playful teasing between some of the more tender moments on this album and the flat out rabble rousing that creates a balance of sing-along, infectious music to the more introspective contemplative folk. What sets this record apart is in its contrast. Arcuragi has found a way to be both poetic and graceful in his use of lyrics and the use of choir elements and on the other side he has the ability to rely on his voice to create a rousing, hollering, sing-along with all that goes with it (huge pounding rhythms see, Oh I See). Further, his songs are skillfully written and evoke a sense of soul, they feel a bit spiritual, without feeling too dense.
3. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
[G]ood luck trying to have never heard of these guys, they went from relatively unknown band from Colorado to touring the globe on the strength of a record that may have been played a thousand times over here at my house. We were all obsessed with this band prior to the release of their LP, and I’ll admit based on what I heard from “Ho Hey,” I was skeptical. But when I received the record, I realized it was special, then I saw them live, and I realized they were even better there. Their album begins with a front porch intro, “Flowers in Your Hair,” a sort of coming age that is a verse too short of being a full song, it practically begs you to want more, and well dammit, I certainly do. The warm guitars jangle, as the subtle bass drums beat and singer Wesley Schultz sings, they set the stage with a warm, earnest reflection of a time remembered. The album finds its way through songs about women in bars, love, heartbreak and everything in between. What you have here is a group of songs that swell your heart and get you out of your seat to stomp your feet (Ho Hey, Stubborn Love); songs that can crush your heart (Slow it Down, Dead Sea). Their sound is a gift, a star upon the roots revival music that seems to be en vogue these days. They do it with honest to goodness beautiful, engaging songs that will bring crowds together, spurred by music that is passionate. It is in this that the album’s true colors show, songs that feel timeless, unique and an absolute breath of fresh air. For me, they showed that the hype can be fulfilled and I’m thankful for having gotten to experience it.
Buy The Lumineers
2. Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful
[S]outh Carolina’s Shovels & Rope is husband wife dynamic duo Michael Trent & Cary Ann Hearst. They quietly had released a record years ago that had been in my library playing over and over again. Being two of my favorite solo artists (Cary Ann was on this list last year), speaking to Cary Ann back in April when they stole the show from Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz, I was extremely excited when she told me a new record was in the works, and would be ready to go in July. Since July, I probably haven’t listened to a record more than O’ Be Joyful. The album begins with “Birmingham,” which seems to very well be the ballad of Shovels & Rope, a sort of origin story for the band, a cumberland daughter and a rockamount cowboy meet, and with two broken drums and two old guitars make music together. It’s the distinctive story of their origin and one hell of an opener. The line: “making something out of nothing with a scratch and hope | two old guitars like a shovel and a rope” seems to define this band, and couldn’t be a more perfect way to put it. The raucous album keeps up the pace of the opener with stand outs “Keeper,” about the man / woman you don’t ever give away, the title track “O’ Be Joyful” a rocking jam with a little twang but with a little gravel in the gut. What’s great about this album is its ability to come at you from a bunch of sides, its not an easy listener, some of these songs have some nastiness to them (see Tickin’ Bomb a dirty, sexy little blues rock number) some are a little dark (Shank Hill). It’s an americana album that fills the needs of a fan, a new listener, and captures how exciting this band can be, and is an absolute must have.
Buy O’ Be Joyful
1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
[N]o huge surprise that Father John Misty’s Fear Fun tops my list. He’s the most interesting man on the planet, cosmically awesome, and this record created a new character in the Josh Tillman universe. The record is funny, strange, and at times scary. Tillman will perplex you with strange lyrics and songwriting that comes straight out of what seems to be a chemically induced high, or at times lows. The record’s title, Fear Fun, describes it perfectly, and with song opening verses like “I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming please come help me that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me,” off of I’m Writing A Novel, it get’s weird, strange and hilarious. It’s one of the most entertaining records that will trip you up (pun intended?) around every sonic corner. It’s a little Croce, a little Nilsson, and a little lysergic acid, but at times can be extremely beautiful. The whole record top to bottom song to song is worth every single second you spend with it. And for the vinyl aficionados, its well worth having just for the insanity on the liner notes.
Grab yourself Fear Fun, its the top of our list, the best record, the one you must absolutely have in your collection.