Top 10 lists are relative in that they are best judged against the music the reviewer was exposed to and spent enough time listening to to properly analyze. For this reason, many fine albums of 2007 didn’t make my list. I had every intention of purchasing Steve Earle’s and Bettye Lavette’s albums in time to include but it just didn’t happen. That being said, here’s a list of records I did get to spend time with this year and I submit them as my picks for best records of 2007.
1. Jason Isbell, ‘Sirens of The Ditch’
Like many folks, when I first got wind that Jason Isbell would be leaving the Drive-by Truckers I was filled with anger and disbelief. How could anyone leave the best alt-country act around? It just didn’t seem possible. It wasn’t long after that I caught Isbell and his new band at SXSW in March and quickly realized that the Alabama fella has got more chops than I previously knew about. I can’t help but speculate that his divorce from DBT’s Shonna Tucker may have had something to do with it but no one will confess as much. She’s even a contributor on the album to help squash any such rumors. A couple of things are certain, this is a damn fine album and its proof positive that Jason Isbell will not only do well on his own, he’ll compete for the alt-country crown. “Dress Blues” is the best song of the year in my opinion and perhaps the best song written about a difficult time in Iraq.
Key Tracks: “Dress Blues”, “Try”, “In a Razor Town”, “Brand New Kind of Actress”
2. Patty Griffin, ‘Children Running Through’
For much of the year, Patty Griffin’s ‘Children Running Through’ held the reigns for top album of ’07. There’s just so much to love about this record. Its tough when it needs to be tough (‘Getting Ready’), tender when it needs to be tender (‘Railroad Wings’). Its Griffin’s best album to date and serves as a quintessential Americana album. Folk, Bluesy and full of twang, its got it all. And DANG can she SANG!
Key Tracks: “Stay On The Ride”, “Trapeze”, “Getting Ready”, “No Bad News”
3. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, ‘Magic’
Not enough can be said about what Bruce Springsteen has done throughout his career. The guy just seems to sweat song. I didn’t think it would be possible to top ‘The Rising’ and ‘Seeger Sessions’ from recent years, but for me ‘Magic’ does just that. I think its easy for the Springsteen scholars to pick apart this album. Sure, it wavers from political themes to those only a man might understand. In fact, there probably could have been two separate albums created from the content of this album and the mixture is somewhat suspect. But somehow it still works. For me, its the neo-classic Springsteen and E Street Band that brings me back to what drew me to this band in the first place. Amped up rock n’ roll that’s not afraid to make a statement and still have a good time. This album gets better with every listen.
Key Tracks: “Radio Nowhere”, “Livin’ In the Future”, “Last to Die”, “Terry’s Song”
4. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, ‘This Is Somewhere’
If I listed my picks in the order of albums I listened to the most this year, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ ‘This is Somewhere’ would come in at number 1. I listened to this record over and over and over again and never tired of listening to it. I really think this band exceeds the hype they’ve already been given. Grace Potter alone is a talent to be reckoned with, lead guitarist Scott Tournet adds the one, two punch. Look for this band’s notoriety to keep growing.
Key Tracks: “Ah Mary”, “Stop The Bus”, “Ain’t No Time”, “Mastermind”
5. Ryan Adams, ‘Easy Tiger’
Ryan Adams always delivers and Easy Tiger is among the best of his full length albums. Maybe it just took him to concentrate on a single album instead of seeing how many songs he can release in a year. Horror author Stephen King has been quoted comparing Adams to Neil Young. If anyone deserves that kind of comparison Adams surely does.
Key Tracks: everything but the repetitive “Halloweenhead”.
6. Wilco, ‘Sky Blue Sky’
‘Sky Blue Sky’ topped many lists this year and rightfully so. Its likely Wilco’s best release to date and a fine album indeed. Thankfully, like most Wilco albums, this is a musician’s record in that the band really allows each talented member to showcase his talents. This is perhaps the first of Wilco’s albums where Jeff Tweedy allows the band to share the spotlight with him and the record is better off for it.
Key Tracks: “Hate It Here”, “You Are My Face”, “Side With the Seeds”
7. Peter Case, ‘Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John’
This is my sleeper pick of the year. Keeping in acoustic blues fashion, Peter Case plays tribute to country blues artist Sleepy John Estes with 10 original songs plus a traditional take on “Get Away Blues”. I love every song on this album but the one I can play over and over again and never tire of is “Underneath the Stars”. Its no wonder that Peter Case has inspired so many other musicians as witnessed in the tribute box set “A Case for Case”.
Key Tracks: “Ain’t Gonna Worry No More”, “Underneath the Stars”, “Every 24 Hours”
8. Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles, ‘Diamonds in the Dark’
This is another record that earned numerous rotations for me. Sarah Borges’ vocal arrangements and songwriting will blow your mind and guitarist Mike Castellana is a madman on the strings. They’re rockabilly, new england punk and texas country. This was their first album on Sugar Hill and it was accompanied by an aggressive road tour. We can only hope they’re will be many more from The Broken Singles.
Key Tracks: “The Day We Met”, “Stop and Think It Over”, “Come Back to Me”
9. Lori McKenna, ‘Unglamorous’
There’s just not much to dislike about Lori McKenna. The humble songstress known previously for her folk songbooks and work with Faith Hill and Mandy Moore finally gets some of the recognition she’s long deserved. In my opinion this was the best Country album of the year even though I still like to think of McKenna as more of a folk artist. The addition of full band and rock songs really make this album special among her previous work. The album takes its title from a song that is McKenna in a nutshell, “Unglamorous”. I’d like to think that’s an arguable point.
Key Tracks: “I Know You”, “Unglamorous”, “Witness to Your Life”
10. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, ‘Baby 81’
Damn!… is a four letter word that can sum up Baby 81 the latest from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. By far the best alternative album of the year in my book. As fellow Twangville author Todd said, you’ll want to crank this album to 11 and never turn it off.
Key Tracks: “Weapon of Choice”, “Berlin”, “Took Out a Loan”
Last, one record that didn’t make the list but I just have to give some props out to comes from Boston’s Eilen Jewel. ‘Letters from Sinners and Strangers’ was a nice little surprise midway through the year and one that’s still in heavy rotation for me.
About the author: Washington, D.C. area web designer by day. Music is my muse. I host Twangville‘s weekly Readers‘ Pick.