Thursday, 19 December 2013

Top 20 Albums of 2013

There has been many wonderful albums to cross my path in 2013, some submitted for review while others were confined to just listening pleasure. With an unashamed and vain attempt to join the throngs of end of year best lists, here is the twenty records that left the most impression. Enjoy….

1. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories

A blueprint country album which preserved the integrity of the genre amongst a wave of change. The song writing talent of Brandy has already been mined and whether or not the riches are extended further, the treasures of this exceptional debut release have an ingrained sustainability to pave the way for a prosperous future.

2. Danny and the Champions of the World – Stay True

This release saw Danny draw on many influences and re-define Americana as not just a rock oriented genre. The result was an outstanding amalgam of sounds pioneered by a country soul feel which meant the album had an instant gratifying effect that time couldn’t diminish.

Album Review

3. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

The saviour of Music Row may be a strong accolade but the Nashville elite picked a winner to throw their enormous marketing weight behind. Insightful, infectious and ingenuous sum up this release that had the added bonus of serious UK promotion. A talent to be nurtured and preserved.

4. Jason Isbell – South Eastern

The blossoming and maturity of a long established talent is the legacy of an album with that much over used cliché of containing ‘not a bad track’. The path to Americana iconic status is there for Jason Isbell to follow and the pleasure of his journey is there for us all to enjoy.

5. Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison – Cheater’s Game

The power and the beauty of the duet is an intrinsic value of country music and there was no better example of this art form in 2013 than the long awaited debut effort from these two valued husband and wife members of the Texas music community.

6. Billy Bragg – Tooth and Nail

There has always been a potential for Billy Bragg to exploit further the rich seam of country and Americana influence that has flavoured some of his material over the years. 2013 saw the lifting of all inhibitions to produce an album that had the intelligentsia of that genre drooling.

7. Tim McGraw – Two Lanes of Freedom

This giant of country music engineered a release that distanced itself away from the Nashville elite and allowed him to set his own agenda. The result was a record that reached out to all corners of the country genre and raised his level of respect to someone who can lead rather than follow.

8. Travellin Rose – Cinderella Dreaming

A breath of fresh air to the UK country music scene and an album that refused to fade into the distant memory. All the components of a very fine country record with a traditional stance were in evidence and it laid the foundation of a talent that has the potential to flourish in the future.

9. Emily Baker – All at Sea

A sterling effort from a singer songwriter who succeeded in merging a combination of transatlantic influences into a piece of work which gave a glimpse of acoustic heaven. A refined treasure that Emily can be very proud of.

10. Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

The eponymous career album is still in the can but this latest offering from one of Music City’s most respected artists contained enough evidence to suggest the peak is not far off. A continuation to push boundaries within the genre is the defining feature of this satisfying release.

11. Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose

An album that probably did the most during the year to bridge the widening chasm between mainstream country and Americana music. The signs are there that Ashley is continuing to be this unifying influence with a song writing talent and vocal style to reach out across the divide.

12. Audrey Auld – Tonk

A hard hitting album with instant appeal and a lot of attitude leaving you in no doubt that the flame of feisty female flair is alive and kicking on the buzzing peripheral of Nashville, Tennessee. Also a reminder that the rest of the English speaking world can serve up a hearty portion of honky tonk.

13. Pistol Annies – Annie Up

Take three of the finest female young talents in Nashville and free them from the pressures of individual success. The result was a fun, breezy and an uninhibited release which managed to match commercial viability with artistic merit.

14. Ashleigh Flynn – A Million Stars

Another album which succeeded in meeting the Americana ideal of drawing influence from a multitude of roots sources and importantly showcasing that female artists can do this as laudably as some of the male counterparts of this style which tends to dominate the establishment appreciation.

15. My Darling Clementine – The Reconciliation?

Following up ‘How Do You Plead’ was a monumental task for this UK duo which continues to gather critical acclaim from many quarters of the music press and it is to Michael and Lou’s credit that the second instalment of classic duet country didn’t disappoint.

16. Aoife O’Donovan – Fossils

An end of year country, roots and Americana list is not complete without a classical offering of sheer vocal beauty and there was no finer exponent in 2013 than Aoife O’Donovan’s debut solo effort which attracted deserved plaudits and justified the decision to go alone for this release. 

17. Jamie Freeman Agreement – 100 Miles from Town

A prime example of how we can compete over here with the best over there. Multiple music genres went into the ingredients but let’s leave labels to one side for a minute and just reflect that Jamie produced a damn good album with all the hallmarks of a lengthy shelf life.

18. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell – Old Yellow Moon

The golden collaboration of the year, which had the industry gasping, drooling and rushing out the accolades. For once the critical acclaim was not mistaken and both these highly respected artists rose to the challenge of proving that their best recording days are far from behind them.

19. Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo – Dear River

A slight nudge in the Americana direction came up trumps for Emily with a record that took the vibes up a notch without losing the folk structure and elegance. The record, which sounded even better live, further demonstrated the versatility that will keep her a prominent performer on the UK scene.

20. Natalie Maines – Mother

The record that Natalie always wanted to make saw a welcome return for one of the finest band vocalists of the last 20 years. The style may have divided opinion but the unmistakable vocal quality reminded everybody that her recording hiatus had been far too long. 

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