Tom’s Picks: Best of 2011

The Decemberists hit hard in January with The King Is Dead and maintained their number one status with me for the entire year. Butch Walker‘s The Spade was the best I’ve heard yet from the Master of Hooks. Let’s hope his work with The Black Widows will continue. In at #21 was Telekinesis the highest ranking band I’d never heard of before 2011. My entire list includes 65 albums that I listened to and ranked this year as well as some EPs, live albums and what not. Thanks for paying attention to what we have to say at Twangville and may your 2012 be filled with inspiring tunes and amazing concerts.

Best of 2011

  1. THE DECEMBERISTS, The King Is Dead [★★★★★/4.700]
    The Decemberists, The King Is Dead
    Album number 6 for the Portland, OR based group. A slight departure from previous concept albums featuring cameos by Peter Buck and Gillian Welch. Post-Appalachian influences reign in this pop-infused, folk-rock barnstormer. This is my favorite so far by The Decemberists. Standouts: Calamity Song, Rox in the Box, January Hymn, Down By The Water, June Hymn, This Is Why We Fight, Dear Avery
  2. BUTCH WALKER & THE BLACK WIDOWS, The Spade [★★★★★/4.700]
    BUTCH WALKER & THE BLACK WIDOWS, The Spade
    Standouts: Bodegas And Blood, Every Single Body Else, Summer of ’89, Synthesizers, Dublin Crow, Bullet Belt, Suckerpunch
  3. THE DAMNWELLS, No One Listens To The Band Anymore [★★★★★/4.583]
    THE DAMNWELLS, No One Listens To The Band Anymore
    Last time around The Damnwells gave away One Last Century for free. This time, the fans gave back by fully funding No One Listens To The Band Anymore. While the band makeup has changed over the years, anchors Alex Dezen and Ted Hudson keep things going strong. Densely layered guitars and thoughtful lyrics continue to define the distinctly Damnwell sound. It’s hard to believe these guys aren’t a household name. Standouts: No One Listens To The Band Anymore, She Goes Around, Werewolves, Let’s Be Civilized, Death Defier, Last Day Of The New Age, The Experts
  4. WILL HOGE, Number Seven [★★★★/4.545]
    WILL HOGE, Number Seven
    Will Hoge’s seventh studio album, aptly titled “Number Seven”, is countrier sounding than I remember him to be. He’s still the big rocker I’ve come to love but he’s noticeably dialed up the twang on this on. I seem to recall a tour with Jason Isbell a few years back. One can only guess those two big time talents fed of each other. “Number Seven” certainly seems like it takes influence from Isbell and the 400 Unit in a grand way. With themes of mortality and a title that references the number seven you can tell Hoge is counting his blessings following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2008. His previous release “The Wreckage” was nearly complete before the accident which means “Number Seven” may not be reflective of the timeliness of that event but it certainly is in terms of an appreciation of life and a song called “Too Old To Die Young”. There’s a number of standouts here but it’s “Goddam California” that takes the podium for me with its angst driven vocals and underlying steel pedal. Keep ‘em coming, Mr. Hoge, the road before you is paved in gold. Standouts: Too Old To Die Young, Goddam California, The Illegal Line, Nothing To Lose, No Man’s Land, When I Get My Wings
  5. JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT, Here We Rest [★★★★/4.455]
    JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT, Here We Rest
    His third album since parting ways with the Drive-by Truckers and second with band The 400 Unit. The album title, Here We Rest, takes it’s name from the original Alabama state motto. Like his former band, Isbell continually pays homage to his home state and the Muscle Shoals sound. This record pours on the soul to a higher degree than we’ve seen thus far. Therefore, it’s not as rockin’ as the previous self-titled album but it’s strength is in its range. Isbell is now, more than ever, in control of his destiny to rule the alt-country airwaves. Standouts: Alabama Pines, Go It Alone, Codeine, Stopping By, Heart On A String
  6. SOCIAL DISTORTION, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes [★★★★/4.455]
    SOCIAL DISTORTION, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
    Seven years since their last album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes marks the band’s seventh studio album and first for Epitaph Records. The Hank Williams cover “Alone and Forsaken” anchors the rest with a more countrified sound than we’ve heard so far from the punk rooted, SoCal band. This album has it all. Rock, blues, soul – it’s rock and roll the way it’s supposed to be. Standouts: Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown, Machine Gun Blues, Far Side of Nowhere, Alone and Forsaken, Still Alive
  7. BRETT DENNEN, Loverboy [★★★★/4.429]
    BRETT DENNEN, Loverboy
    With his 4th studio album Brett Dennen is exuding confidence. He’s set aside more serious subject matters to create a toe-tappin, feel-good album that celebrates life to the fullest. Musically you’ll hear touches of reggae and funk with catchy pop hooks that stick in your head in a good way. This is his most fun album to date and I’ll my favorite thus far. Standouts: Surprise, Surprise, Dancing At A Funeral, Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog), Sydney (I’ll Come Running), Make You Fall In Love With Me, Only Rain, Little Cosmic Girl
  8. GLOSSARY, Long Live All Of Us [★★★★/4.417]
    GLOSSARY, Long Live All Of Us
    Standouts: Trouble Won’t Last Always, A Shoulder To Cry On, The Flood, When We Were Wicked, Heart Full Of Wanna, Keep It Coming, Cheap Wooden Cross
  9. FLEET FOXES, Helplessness Blues [★★★★/4.417]
    FLEET FOXES, Helplessness Blues
    Helplessness Blues is the follow-up recording to their self-titled release in 2008 which lit up the charts and gained a gold rating by year’s end. The band lives up to high expectations with this one while adding a ton of new instrumentation including rarities like the tympani, marxophone, zither, and Tibetan singing bowls (what!?). Like My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes has a unique way of channeling folk rock of the mid 60s to early 70s. Easy parallels can be drawn to the Beach Boys, Van Morrison, and most notably Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Play it loud. Standouts: Bedouin Dress, Sim Sala Bim, Helplessness Blues, Someone You’d Admire, The Shrine / An Argument, Grown Ocean
  10. WILCO, The Whole Love [★★★★/4.417]
    WILCO, The Whole Love
    Standouts: I Might, Dawned On Me, Born Alone, Capitol City, Standing O, Whole Love
  11. JAMES MADDOCK, Wake Up And Dream [★★★★/4.333]
    This is Maddock’s one-two punch. After taking a near decade long hiatus after a successful rise as the front-man to the band Wood, James Maddock has released two amazing albums in less than two years. If all that time was spent pulling together Sunrise on Avenue C and Wake Up And Dream then it was worth the wait. His latest, Wake Up And Dream is full of colorful love stories like “Beautiful Now” which proclaims “you were beautiful then, but you’re way more beautiful now”. One of America’s great singer/songwriters is back and hopefully there’s no stopping him now. Standouts: Beautiful Now, Stella’s Driving, Mr. Universe, Positive
  12. MARC BROUSSARD, Marc Broussard [★★★★/4.400]
    The fifth studio album from Louisiana’s Marc Broussard shows an artist who has perfected his vocals but still trying to find his voice. At it’s best it’s weak-in-the-knee, soulful R&B with powerful hooks. The kind of sound that would turn the head of John Legend. At it’s worst it’s over-produced, sugary music that’s a little hard to pin down. It’s missing is some of authenticity we heard in Carencro. Still, I can’t help but love everything Broussard creates so while not his best, it’s pure listening joy. Standouts: Lucky, Only Everything, Our Big Mistake, Bleeding Heart
  13. OLD 97S, The Grand Theatre, Vol. 2 [★★★★/4.308]
    This is side two of last year’s full length originally conceived of as a double album. The band says that releasing with time in between afforded them time to adjust the songs and add a few more. Good call. Most reviews I’ve read have pinned Vol. 2 as slightly lesser than Vol. 1. I’ll be the first to say I think this is the better album. Put the two together and you’ve got a great set. “Bright Spark” is worth the album cost alone with its pounding drums, warbling guitar, and raucous vocals. It’s a good thing they’re still going strong after 20 years with their unique power-pop meets folk-punk approach to rock and roll. Standouts: Perfume, No Simple Machine, Bright Spark (See What I Mean), You Call It Rain
  14. RYAN ADAMS, Ashes & Fire [★★★★/4.273]
    Standouts: Ashes & Fire, Do I Wait, Chains Of Love
  15. TEDDY THOMPSON, Bella [★★★★/4.273]
    Thompson recorded his fifth album in New York City. His vocal styling is reminiscent of Roy Orbison or more recently Raul Malo. Lyrically he’s been better but the pristine string arrangements and rich country-pop melodies make for a tremendous album. Standouts: Looking For A Girl, I Feel, The Next One, The One I Can’t Have
  16. LUCINDA WILLIAMS, Blessed [★★★★/4.250]
    Guest appearances by Matthew Sweet (vocals) and Elvis Costello (guitar) with help from Grammy Award-winning producer Don Was. Album includes Grammy nominated Kiss Like Your Kiss (Best Song written for motion picture, television or other visual media) from the True Blood: Music From The HBO Original Series – Volume 2 album. Rockers like Buttercup an Seeing Black are amongst the best we’ve heard from her in ass-kicking mode. Absolutely marvelous. Standouts: Buttercup, Copenhagen, Seeing Black
  17. MY MORNING JACKET, Circuital [★★★★/4.200]
    If there’s anyone out there redefining classic rock it’s Jim James and My Morning Jacket. Circuital the band’s sixth LP takes me back to 70’s era Pink Floyd where sound was used to paint vivid pictures of voyages we could only have in our minds. MMJ conjures up the similar dreamscapes with Circuital. We’ve seen this in this decade from bands like Radiohead and the Flaming Lips but neither carry the authenticity to 70’s psychedelia that Kentucky’s MMJ does. Sometimes you don’t recognize brilliance until you seek to understand. That said, I haven’t found the same kind of thread you’ll find in Pink Floyd era concept albums that may have put Circuital over the top. Still, this album rocks. Standouts: Circuital, First Light, You May Wanna Freak Out
  18. KASEY ANDERSON, Heart of a Dog [★★★★/4.182]
    The fifth album for the Seattle-based artist and first with new band, The Honkies. Pounding rock and roll abounds with the new players. An amazing follow up to “Nowhere Nights”. There’s so much to love with the energy and attitude of this record. Standouts: Mercy, Exit Ghost, Sirens and Thunder, My Baby’s A Wrecking Ball, Save It For Later
  19. TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND, Revelator [★★★★/4.167]
    I don’t know what took so long for Susan Tedeschi to formally join her husband’s band but the dream is finally here. With pipes like Bonnie Raitt and a backing band that rivals Derek Trucks former stint with the Allman Brothers the combination is glorious – just like you’d imagine. Both Tedeschi and Trucks boast songwriting credits with help from notables such as John Leventhal, Sonya Kitchell, Gary Louris, Oliver Wood, Doyle Bramhall II, and more. I only wish there were a few more tracks like “Love Has Something Else to Say” where Tedeschi’s wails are backed by wah-wahs and horns. Let’s hope this is the first of many. Standouts: Come See About Me, Bound For Glory, Love Has Something Else To Say
  20. AMOS LEE, Mission Bell [★★★★/4.167]
    The fourth album on EMI’s Blue Note Records for the Philly-based, Amos Lee. This album reminds me of Ray Lamontagne’s “God Willin’…” release last year in that a little more depth goes a long, long way. The Calexico-backing and guest additions like Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson send the soulful Lee into orbit. Standouts: Cup of Sorrow, Flower, Windows Are Rolled Down
  21. TELEKINESIS, 12 Desperate Straight Lines [★★★★/4.167]
    Drummer Michael Benjamin Lerner heads up the Seattle-based band. Big bass, meaty drums, and pop sensibilities reminiscent of the late 80s (think Cure or Janes Addition). Sure to be among the best indie-pop selections of the year. Standouts: You Turn Clear In The Sun, Fever Chill, Gotta Get It Right Now
  22. GILLIAN WELCH, The Harrow & The Harvest [★★★★/4.100]
    There’s no doubt careful thought was put into the title of the first album in 8 years from Gillian Welch and long-time compadre, David Rawlings. The two allegedly produced two or three albums worth of songs since 2003’s Soul Journey but weren’t happy with what they’re results. Thus when they finally settled on The Harrow & The Harvest, a bounty of 10 new songs emerged for us to feast on. I’d say it was worth the wait.With The Harrow & The Harvest, Welch and Rawlings stay true to form. Images of dust bowl era struggles still emerge with each track. There’s nothing uplifting about these songs. If anything the pain of each track serves to let the music be the elixir to conquer the sadness and distress painted in each song. Standouts: The Way It Goes, Tennessee
  23. STEVE EARLE, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive [★★★★/4.091]
    On his 14th studio album, Earle enlists T Bone Burnett to produce his first collection of original material since Grammy award winning album (Best Folk/Americana Album) Washington Square Serenade. The result is a precisely crafted body of work that represents the Steve Earle we’ve come to know and love. He’s still singining about outlaws and finds ways to talk about current issues like oil wells in the Gulf (“The Gulf of Mexico”) in ways others aren’t. “God is God” previously written for Joan Baez which she originally recorded in 2008 is a particular highlight. Standouts: The Gulf Of Mexico, God is God
  24. MATT THE ELECTRICIAN, Accidental Thief [★★★★/4.083]
    I first saw former electrician, Matt Sever, at the Saxon Pub in Austin opening for Bob Schneider. It didn’t take long for his music to be on constant rotation at the house. He’s got to be one of the best songwriters around and it’s hard not to like his light-hearted acoustic approach to making music. Long known as a humble family man, his artist wife and two kids pitched in make a video to raise money on Kickstarter to fund the newest album, Accidental Thief. At last look they tripled their goal of $8k and made a second video for album track “All I Know”. Consistent with anything he’s ever done, the result is a crowd pleaser for sure. Standouts: All I Know, Ghost Story
  25. FRANK TURNER, England Keep My Bones [★★★★/4.083]
    England Keep My Bones, the 4th solo album from Frank Turner, is about “mortality” and “Englishness” according to the artist – hence the Shakespeare inspired album title. At it’s best it is the kind of energetic, fist-pumping album you’d want to play after watching your favorite football team score the winner. Channeling Colin Meloy (Decemberists), “Rivers” offers a softer, acoustic contrast to much of the shouting heard through most of the album. Standouts: I Am Disappeared, Redemption
  26. EILEN JEWELL, Queen Of The Minor Key [★★★★/4.071]
    Boston-based Eilen Jewell has had my attention for some time now. If you take the painful songwriting of Lucinda Williams, the sugary vocal styling of Norah Jones, and the country-fried soul of Shelby Lynne and tossed it in a blender you’d get Eilen Jewell. A writers block allegedly prompted Boston-based Jewell to head to a quiet cabin in her native Idaho to write for Queen of the Minor Key. The result is pure magic. Supported by her amazing band comprised of Jason Beek (vocals, drums, purcussion), Jerry Miller (acoustic guitar, electric and pedal steel guitar) and Jonny Sciascia (upright bass) the album pulls in traditional country, 60s-inspired surf music, and folk noir. The result will knock your socks off. Standouts: Queen Of The Minor Key, That’s Where I’m Goin, Warning Signs, Hooked
  27. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, Go-Go Boots [★★★★/4.071]
    There’s lots to love about the Drive-by Truckers eleventh album, Go-Go Boots. The murder ballads paint dark but vivid pictures of deceit and wrong-doing that no other band but the DBTs could compose in such a perfectly poetic southern drawl. A return to the Muscle Shoals soulful sound they adopted in recordings with Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Jones adds an layer of brilliance to this recording that I hope sticks around for a while. Standouts: Everybody Needs Love, Used To Be A Cop, Mercy Buckets
  28. LIAM FINN, FOMO [★★★★/4.000]
    When I caught Liam Finn at SXSW the same year as his brilliant debut “I’ll Be Lightning” I saw a future music icon in the flesh. He was playing the drum kit the same way Jack White plays guitar all while maintaining a pop melody with his vocals. Think Elliott Smith behind the microphone. He waited three years before releasing “FOMO” his sophomore release but it was well worth the wait. If “I’ll Be Lightning” was set to prove himself, “FOMO” aka “fear of missing out” proves he’s having fun. Standouts: Don’t Even Know Your Name, Reckless, Chase The Seasons
  29. MATTHEW RYAN, I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall [★★★★/4.000]
    This is the 13th album from Matthew Ryan whose songwriting keeps getting better and better with each release. Number thirteen is filled with politically and socially charged reflections upon current events and casual discussions with friends as described by the artist. From what I can tell, this is Ryan’s Ghost of Tom Joad (Springsteen) in that it’s filled with hazy and gray narratives that just needed to be told in these colorful times. The drum machine gets to me in parts but the must-be Edge-inspired (U2) guitar riffs heard on Hey Kid and All Hail The Kings Of Trash make up for it. “All Of That Means Nothing Now” which thematically could have fit on the previous album, Dear Lover, with it’s talk of heartbreak is one of the best tracks of the year. Standouts: Hey Kid, All Of That Means Nothing Now, Here Comes The Snow
  30. R.E.M., Collapse Into Now [★★★★/4.000]
    Their 15th studio album with a career spanning three decades as a band. “Collapse Into Now” is less like “Accelerate” and more like “Out of Time” in that there are quirky songs like “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter”, “That Someone Is You”, “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I”. Finer moments include a collaboration with Eddie Vedder on “It Happened Today” and the weightless voyage of “ÜBerlin”. A solid release but not quite the rocker that “Accelerate” was to this reviewers dismay. Standouts: All The Best, ÜBerlin, It Happened Today
  31. THE STROKES, Angles [★★★★/4.000]
    With their fourth full-length and first in four years, The Strokes are back and they’ve taken some chances. Sprinkled through out are late seventies guitar riffs and beats from the eighties. This is the closest I’ve heard a band get to The Cars in years. Standouts: Under Cover of Darkness, Two Kinds of Happiness, Taken For A Fool
  32. MOUNT MORIAH, Mount Moriah [★★★★/4.000]
    Out of North Carolina we find Jenks Miller and Heather McEntire together as Mount Moriah. There’s everything to love about this band. McEntire sings from the gut, heart, and brain (the triad) with tinny guitars, crisp percussion, and melancholy organ setting the foundation for an amazing americana / folk sound. They almost have a Manchester quality about them but with a glorious twang. Keep them on the radar. Standouts: Social Wedding Rings, Lament
  33. ZOE MUTH & THE LOST HIGH ROLLERS, Starlight Hotel [★★★★/4.000]
    This is the second release from Seattle-based, Zoe Muth. She’s the kind of artist who could play honky-tonk one minute and transition to a pop number seamlessly. Wisdom far beyond her years emanates from her solemn words and comforting vocals. She sits comfortably among other young artists like Caitlin Rose and Eileen Jewel. Credits don’t belong to her alone, her band The Lost High Rollers take Starlight Hotel to the next level especially the pedal steel played by Dave Harmonson. Standouts: Whatever’s Left, Come Inside
  34. THE WAILIN’ JENNYS, Bright Morning Stars [★★★★/3.923]
    Jazz vocalist Heather Masse joins Ruth Moody and Nicky Meht as the third Jenny in their first studio album in 5 years. Each contributed 4 songs each for a total of 12 original songs plus the album’s namesake “Bright Morning Stars” a traditional folk song. Masse, Moody, and Meht offer a unique authenticity to the record since all three sing, write, and play instruments. Sweeter and sweeter with each listen. Standout: Bright Morning Stars
  35. THE ONLY SONS, American Stranger [★★★★/3.917]
    Third full-length album from the Murfreesboro-based group with Joey Kneiser of Glossary on board to help produce the record. Screaming guitar chords and precisely restrained vocals by Kent Goolsby prevail in this powerful southern rock record. Standouts: Put Up a Fight, Gone Down Swinging
  36. HOTEL LIGHTS, Girl Graffiti [★★★★/3.909]
    Hotel Lights is new to me but apparently they’ve been around since 2003 and have had songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. The band was formed by former Ben Folds Five drummer and songwriter Darren Jessee and borrows Jay Brown (bass) and Zeke Hutchins (drums) from Tift Merritt’s band. Jessee gets songwriting credits for BFF’s hit “Brick” and similarly applies that experience on Girl Graffiti with “My Asshole Friends”. That may be were comparisons end. Girl Graffiti is far more ethereal and sublime than we’ve heard from his time with BFF. I’m drawn to pop tracks “Falling Down” and “My Pretty Quirk” which have a Elliott Smith meets Nada Surf vibe to them. A great addition to the Fall lineup. Standouts: Falling Down
  37. RECKLESS KELLY, Good Luck & True Love [★★★★/3.900]
    This is the ninth album from the Texas-based Reckless Kelly and first release with new material since 2008’s Bulletproof. More recently the produced a tribute to songwriter Pinto Bennett titled Somewhere In Time (2008). Fifteen years after forming the band they are ditching their label and trying it on their own. It’s not quite the rocker that we heard with Bulletproof nor as country as Somewhere in Time. Where Good Luck & True Love lacks edge it makes up for with thoughtful songwriting, solid musicianship, and twang the way it should be played. Reckless Kelly remains one of the best rock & country bands around.
  38. THE V-ROYS, Sooner Or Later [★★★★/3.889]
    Standouts: Mary, Fade Away
  39. PJ HARVEY, Let England Shake [★★★★/3.833]
    Recorded in a church on a cliff-top overlooking the sea this record takes a look at England, its people, and its history of conflict. I guess you could call it a move from personal introspection to that of her home country. It ended a bit flat for me but a nice surprise overall since I hadn’t really sat down and listened to PJ Harvey in nearly 20 years. Standout: Bitter Branches
  40. JOHN HIATT, Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns [★★★★/3.818]
    Two things ring true about John Hiatt’s 20th solo album, Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns… 1) he makes a less than perfect world lovable and 2) he’s still a badass – no surprises here. While I’m not as fond of Dirty Jeans… as I am Master of Disaster, a personal favorite, it stands among his best work. Standout: Adios To California
  41. MATT WOODS, The Matt Woods Manifesto [★★★★/3.75]
    Matt Woods is described as the kind of musician we love here at Twangville. He’s characterized as a hard-working and unrelenting but also a nice guy to be around who just loves playing music. The Knoxville-based artist marks a turn in his career from pop-rocker to hard twanger with The Matt Woods Manifesto. He and the band follow the righteous path of Steve Earle, The Drive-by Truckers and Scott Miller with his heartfelt lyrics and the band’s punishing rock. If this manifesto is a proclamation of things to come I hope he and the band stick to the plan. Great stuff! Standout: A Broken Heart
  42. RAPHAEL SAADIQ, Stone Rollin’ [★★★★/3.700]
    Twangville readers will appreciate Raphael Saadiq’s 5th album as being somewhere between Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and Eli “Paperboy” Reed. The former Tony! Toni! Toné! singer and bassist takes 60’s Motown and 70’s Philly soul and gives it a new twist. For lack of a better reference I’d call it neoclassical soul. Saadiq plays bass, mellotron, keys, guitar, percussion and drums on most songs on the album. That’s no small feat. Listen for guest appearance by Robert Randolph on “Day Dreams”. It’s among the best R&B albums of the year for me. Standouts: Stone Rollin’, Day Dreams
  43. AMERICAN GUN, Therapy [★★★★/3.700]
    The Columbia, SC based foursome’s fourth full-length underscores why they’ve opened for bands like Lucero, The Avett Brothers and Jason Isbell – they rock! Previous albums highlighted their twangy roots. This one features heavy layering of boisterous instrumentation and powerful lyrics. The title says it best, rock and roll is the best therapy. Standout: Moving On Down The Line
  44. TOMMY KEENE, Behind The Parade [★★★★/3.700]
    Tommy Keene is one of the greatest living guitarists. His jangly sounding power-pop is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting – it’s nothing and everything at the same time. The sound calls to mind The Byrds and in more recent times reminiscent of Matthew Sweet’s work. While the desirable guitarist has played alongside Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg, Behind The Parade shows Keene is his own man and musician. The vocals largely take a back seat to the music but that’s not entirely a bad thing.
  45. THE DUKE & THE KING, The Duke & The King [★★★★/3.667]
    The Duke & The King is a four-piece outfit led by Simone Felice of the Felice Brothers and Robert ‘Chicken’ Burke. The self-titled album is like a post-modern revival of 70’s era peaceful, easy, feeling folk rock harmonies and all. Each song is in a twisted way reminiscent of classic bands like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Eagles, Lou Reed, and even the Bee Gees. Each member takes a turn at vocals to add a nice variety to the album. A few songs drag on but it’s an otherwise powerful album. Standout: Shine On You
  46. THE GROWNUP NOISE, This Time With Feeling [★★★★/3.500]
    Story has it that Paul Hansen (guitar/vocals) and Adam Sankowski (bass/vocals) formed The Grownup Noise back in 2005 when the two attended Berklee College of Music. The Boston-based band delivers a solid folk-pop effort with melodic poise and painterly lyrics. Katie Franich (cello) adds a nice touch with her soft vocals and moody strings.
  47. CAITLIN ROSE, Own Side Now [★★★★/3.500]
    The first full-length album for the Nashville-based artist. A bit of a throw-back in vocal style, much like Eilen Jewell. She’s been touring with Justin Townes Earle. Standout: Shanghai Cigarettes
  48. SCOTTY ALAN, Wreck And The Mess [★★★/3.467]
  49. BLACKIE & THE RODEO KINGS, Kings & Queens [★★★/3.429]
  50. DAVID WAX MUSEUM, Everything Is Saved [★★★/3.417]
  51. THE RATIONALES, The Distance In Between [★★★/3.400]
  52. BROTHERS THROUGH THE HILL, Adelaide [★★★/3.400]
  53. RICHARD ASHCROFT, United Nations Of Sound [★★★/3.385]
  54. THE LATEBIRDS, Last Of The Good Ol’ Days [★★★/3.385]
  55. BODEANS, Indigo Dreams [★★★/3.308]
  56. THE FELICE BROTHERS, Celebration, Florida [★★★/3.182]
  57. NICK 13, Nick 13 [★★★/3.000]
  58. DOPP & THE INSIDE OUTLAWS, What Am I Supposed To Do [★★★/3.000]
  59. PLAIN & SIMPLE, Bipolar 101 [★★★/3.000]
  60. GRANT PEEPLES, Okra And Ecclesiastes [★★★/3.000]
  61. NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING, Processional [★★★/2.917]
  62. D. CHARLES SPEER & THE HELIX, Leaving The Commonwealth [★★★/2.889]
  63. GRAVETOWN, Red River [★★★/2.667]
  64. CONNIE KIS ANDERSEN, Connie Kis Andersen [★★★/2.583]
  65. ZACHARY CALE, Noise of Welcome [★★/2.417]

Best EPs of 2011

  1. CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AND BEN KYLE, We Still Love Our Country [★★★★/4.000]
    CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AND BEN KYLE, We Still Love Our Country
    Duo teams up to deliver an EP of covers and originals. The two compliment each other well. One can only hope the EP will lead to a full-length with roots music this good. Standouts: Your Lonely Heart (Kyle), My Baby’s Gone (Hazel Houser)
  2. SIDEWALK DAVE, Can’t Be Your Friend [★★★★/3.500]
    Every good night out ends with a good story. “Sidewalk Dave” Van Witt and his booze buds turn these stories into song. Add some Telecaster and Wurlitzer and you’ve got a rockin’ EP. I look forward to more from this crew.
  3. POI DOG PONDERING, Audio Love Letter [★★★/3.429]
  4. FRANK VIELE & THE MANHATTAN PROJECT, Acoustic Vudu [★★★/3.400]
  5. THE LONGWALLS, Careers in Science [★★★/3.375]
  6. CARELESS HEARTS, Three Songs [★★★/3.333]
  7. LADYTOWN, Darling [★★★/2.857]

Best Compilations of 2011

  1. VARIOUS ARTISTS, Rave On Buddy Holly [★★★/4.053]
    VARIOUS ARTISTS, Rave On Buddy Holly
    A fitting tribute for a man who created a huge catalog of music in his far too short lifetime. Contributions include She and Him, Justin Townes Earle, and My Morning Jacket to name a few. I can only imagine that Buddy Holly is smiling somewhere. Standouts: (You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care (Cee Lo Green), Heartbeat (The Detroit Cobras), I’m Gonna Love You Too (Jenny O.), Maybe Baby (Justin Townes Earle), Oh Boy! (She and Him)
  2. VARIOUS ARTISTS, Joey’s Song: Volume 1 [★★★/3.438]
    A compilation in honor of the life of Joey Gomoll who passed tragically at age 4. Proceeds go to The Joseph Gomoll Foundation a group working to raise awareness and to fight epilepsy. The foundation plans to release more and reports to have over 80 artists committed. This release features greats like Tim Easton, Justin Currie, Slaid Cleaves, and more. Standouts: If Your Tears Don’t Make A Sound (Del Amitri), People Got A Lotta Nerve (Neko Case)
  3. VARIOUS ARTISTS, Sounds Like Brisbane [★★★/3.353]
  4. VARIOUS ARTISTS, I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow [★★★/3.091]

Best Live Album of 2011

  1. SLAID CLEAVES, Sorrow And Smoke [★★★★/4.091]
    SLAID CLEAVES, Sorrow And Smoke
    In his twenty years in Austin (by way of Portland, ME) Slaid Cleaves has never released a live album. That would be a shame if it weren’t for the 2 disc / 22 track “Sorrow And Smoke”. If the man wasn’t authentic enough he one ups himself by recording the live set in the very “Horseshoe Lounge” that inspired him to write a song in 2000. Drink clinks and bar banter paint a picture of the setting for these 90 minutes captured in time. The recording of vocals and acoustic guitar are quite remarkable. Every subtle detail is captured. Oliver Steck’s contributions on accordion, harmonica, and trumpet are an added bonus. Standouts: One Good Year, Horseshoe Lounge, Below

Best Greatest Hits of 2011

  1. DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicans: Greatest Hits 1998-2009 [★★★★/4.750]
    DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, Ugly Buildings, Whores & Politicans: Greatest Hits 1998-2009
    Sixteen songs on one album by one of the greatest Southern rock bands of all time. Daaaaaamn! Alone Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Jason Isbell are among the greatest songwriters living today. To have them all back on the same record is amazing even if it is old material. When you add their screaming guitars and the rest of the band you have alt-country bliss. There’s not a bad song on the album but I may have substituted Uncle Frank and A World of Hurt with The Day John Henry Died and Puttin’ People On The Moon Standouts: The Living Bubba, Ronnie and Neil, Zip City, Let There Be Rock, Marry Me, Sink Hole, Carl Perkins’ Cadillac, Outfit, Gravity’s Gone, Never Gonna Change, 3 Dimes Down, Lookout Mountain
  2. PAUL KELLY, Songs From The South: Greatest Hits [★★★★/3.975]
    I’ve been trying to figure out the best comparison for Australia’s legendary songwriter, Paul Kelly. On the one hand, he’s largely unknown outside his home country. That is so unfortunate because his talents are so vast. The best I could come up with is a comparison to Elvis Costello. Kelly’s early work with The Messengers reminds me of Costello’s work with The Attractions. Both continue on with solo careers that are Hall of Fame worthy. This compilation of greatest hits is deep with Disk 1 covering the years with The Messengers and Disk 2 covering the decade between 1998 and 2008. Let’s hope these 40 songs help bring Paul Kelly the worldwide notice he deserves. Standouts: Dumb Things, Pouring Petrol On A Burning Man, How To Make Gravy

About the author:  Washington, D.C. area web designer by day. Certifiable music freak by night. Husband and father of two by the loving grace of God.


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  • 45Spin

    Great list of 2011 albums, however you are missing some great Texas artists. Where is Haynes Carll, The Gourds both had great albums in 2011

  • boxingrhythm

     Nice compilation. 

  • Tom Osborne

    I missed both of those albums this year. I’ll have to catch up. Thanks for the recommendations. 

  • Eric

    Tom!
    thank you so much for the nod to “I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow”… I promise to get out some new original material this year and hope you’ll like it !!
    happy new year! — eric b

  • Luawellls

    Wow – that is a truly amazing set of lists!!  So much great music to check out – thanks for all the recommendations!  And by the way, have you discovered turntable yet?  It’s a new music sharing/game site – there’s a Folk, Americana, Blues, Soul room that you would surely like…

  • Tom Osborne

    Yes. I love Turntable.