Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Music of 2011: Part II

More music from this past year.

Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Slightly disappointing, given the artist. Steve Earle is one of my favorites, and this album isn't quite up to his standards, but it's still a solid album. There are still some very good songs, like "Waiting for the Sky to Fall," a country rocker about small town life in the nuclear age; "Little Emperor," a good and nasty (if belated) song about former President Bush; "Meet Me in the Alleyway," a commentary on the sad state of medical care for the poor; and "Lonely are the Free." Despite these highlights, much of the album just lacks the normal Steve Earle punch. There are some good lines and nice melodic patches, but it seems like the songs could have used a little more work. It could have used a few more rockers, too, if you ask me.

Various Artists, The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams

This is an interesting project organized by Bob Dylan, who obtained some notebooks of lyrics written by Hank Williams that were either never finished or never recorded. Dylan enlisted the help of a number of artists to finish and record some of the songs in the notebook, and contributed one himself. Most of the songwriters seem to have attempted to stay fairly close to the Hank Williams style, but some definitely put a modern touch on their contributions. The best of the traditionalists are Alan Jackson's haunting "You've Been Lonesome, Too" in which he seems to have channeled Williams, and Patty Loveless's "You're Through Fooling Me." The less traditional contributions are good, too. Norah Jones' and Lucinda Williams' songs are beautiful, and Jack White's jangly "You Know That I Know" skirts the edge of unraveling without falling apart. There are only a couple of tracks that seem to miss the mark. Jakob Dylan strays furthest from the traditional country style, and so his contribution, while a solid enough song on its own, feels out of place. Sheryl Crow's "Angel Mine" just isn't very good, and Merle Haggard's "Sermon on the Mount" sounds like Hank Williams, but the lyrics are terrible, so I'm not sure why he chose this one to finish. I can't believe there weren't any better options than this.

Richard Buckner, Our Blood

This album was recommended to me by the distinguished purveyor of why birds don't talk. Nice stuff. Ambient, lo-fi kind of feel, but with definite country influences. Having this album will probably up your indie cred, too. "Escape," "Collusion," and "Hindsight" are highlights.

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Rare Bird Alert

Surprisingly good. I knew Steve Martin was an accomplished banjo player (he's recorded with Earl Scruggs, after all), but what really impresses me about this album is how good the melodies on the songs are,all of which are written or co-written by Martin. There are a number of really good instrumentals on the album, but the highlights are definitely the songs with vocals. Martin is wise to turn singing duties on most songs to others "Yellow-Backed Fly," "Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back," and the super fast "Women Like to Slow Dance" are handled by members of the Steep Canyon Rangers, his band for the album. Paul McCartney provides lead vocals on "Best Love" and the Dixie Chicks sing on "You," both of which are beautiful. There are funny lines in almost all the songs, but on songs where the humor is less subtle, like the break-up celebration "Jubilation Day" and the very goofy bluegrass rendition of "King Tut" Martin appropriately sings lead. The best song on the album is the a cappella old time gospel style "Atheists Don't Have No Songs." Anyone who can fit "godless Existentialism" into the lyrics of a song is ok by me.

Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo

Another recommendation from Matt at why birds don't talk. More good stuff. If you take away the vocal effects and some of the other productiony things on the songs, this would be a straightforward rock record. Which is not a bad thing. In fact, I think this album could stand to be a little less produced, but it's really solid nonetheless. "Jesus Fever" is my favorite, and "Baby's Arms" and "Peeping Tomboy" are also really good.

Wussy, Strawberry

Cincinnati band. I'm a huge fan of their first and third records, and while this one doesn't quite match the quality of those two offerings, it is still good. "Asteroid" is reminiscent of the best of band leader Chuck Cleaver's Ass Ponys stuff. "Waiting Room" is somber exchange between Cleaver and Lisa Walker, the other voice in the band. "Grand Champion Steer" and "Magnolia" are also very good. Mrs. Oyster Monkey thinks they sound too much like a '90's band, but I fail to see how that is necessarily a problem.

She And Him, A Very She And Him Christmas

Christmas music. Pleasant. Frivolous. At least it's not Mannheim Steamroller.

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