Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites from 2011. Here’s to more great music in the back half!
Isbell continues to mature as a songwriter, exploring the more soulful and acoustic side of his Alabama music heritage. Which isn’t to say that he has left his rock guitar at home, as he lets some riffs fly on “Go It Alone.” Meanwhile the 400 Unit have coalesced into a mighty fine band, giving the album extra punch.
Key Tracks: Stopping By; Go It Alone; Codeine; Heart on a String (Candi Staton cover)
Audio Download: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Codeine”
“What’s next, Mr. Rock and Roll,” Honkies guitarist asked Anderson while the group was playing a SXSW gig this year. The answer was simple, an exceptional release that sets Anderson’s spitfire lyrics and vocals against raucous guitars and a pounding rhythm section.
Key Tracks: Mercy; Exit Ghost; Sirens and Thunder; My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball; Save It For Later (English Beat cover)
Audio Download: Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, “Mercy”
Despite what the album title proclaims, Alex Dezen proves once again that infectious power pop is always welcome.
Key Tracks: No One Listens to the Band Anymore; She Goes Around; The Great Unknown; Let’s Be Civilized; The Monster
Audio Download: The Damnwells, “No One Listens to the Band Anymore”
David Wax and Suz Slezak serve up a collection of songs as catchy as they are refreshingly original. The duo, along with a group of talented roots musicians, fuse traditional Mexican folk music with American Appalachian folk.
Key Tracks: Born With a Broken Heart; Yes, Maria, Yes; That’s Not True; Lavender Street; The Least I Can Do
Audio Download: David Wax Museum, “Born With a Broken Heart”
Mike Ness and crew deliver exactly what you expect – an album chock full of sneering vocals and snarling guitars. Turn it up!
Key Tracks: Diamond in the Rough; California (Hustle and Flow); Machine Gun Blues; Writing On the Wall; Still Alive
Audio Download: Social Distortion, “Machine Gun Blues”
Ever wonder what would happen if you invited two talented singer-songwriters and an impressive group of studio musicians to spend a day in the studio? Listen to this release to find out.
Key Tracks: Darling Underdog; Baby Doe; Mexican Wrestler; I’m In Love With a Girl (Big Star cover); Never My Love; I Kissed a Girl
Audio Download: Jill Sobule and John Doe, “Darling Underdog”
Rodriguez and Kyle wrap their beautiful harmonies around two original co-writes and six covers by legendary songwriters ranging from Townes Van Zandt to John Prine. This is a sleeper hit that has a quiet beauty that is truly affecting.
Key Tracks: Your Lonely Heart (Rodriguez/Kyle); If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt); Unwed Fathers (John Prine and Robert Braddock); Love Hurts (Boudleaux Bryant)
Audio Download: Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle, “Your Lonely Heart”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.