Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011, the year in musical pictures...

...which kind of mostly means me posing with female musicians...

Nerina Pallot is lovely isn't she....?

I work the "Harry Potter" look with Tina Dico

Florrie, who is fantastic by the way.


Touring Memphis in a Rock 'n' Roll bus was fun

Me and the Quebe Sisters.  

Me and Veronica Ballestrini

Me and Carter's Chord.  They were very lovely. 

Me and the JaneDear Girls

Outside the Grand Ole Opry

Inside the Grand Ole Opry

Me on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, on the circle of wood taken from the Ryman Auditorium

Another view of the Opry from outside

Me and Anna Wilson.  She was lovely too. 

The Ryman Audtiorium

Mickie James at the Hard Rock Cafe

Mickie James meets The Icon...

The Grand Ole Opry stage set up at the Ryman Auditorium

Mandy Barnett at the CMA

Me and Mandy Barnett

Thompson Square on stage 

Anna Wilson on stage at the Opry

Studio B at Nashville.  Where the likes of Roy Orbison and Elvis cut some of those killer tracks

Me and Sarah Darling

Beale Street, Memphis - Birthplace of the Blues

Gracelands entrance

A shot from inside Gracelands 

Sub Studio's, Memphis.  Genuinely one of the best days of my life. 

Me with Elvis' microphone 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 40 Albums of 2011... 20-1

So here they are, my favourite 20 albums of 2011.  It's a little bit country-centric but that's what a holiday in Nashville does for you.

20) JANEDEAR GIRLS (JaneDear Girls) 
I was introduced to this one purely because they were an act at the Country Music Festival I was going to and I hadn't heard of them.  One spin of their breakthrough single Wildflower was enough to have me ordering the album. And whilst that song remained the best one on the album this is a CD jam-packed with modern toe-tapping Country stompers.  And if you know me, you know I love that kind of thing. CHOICE CUT: Wildflower

19) ON A MISSION (Katy B)
I have to admit to being a little non-plussed at first by that one she did with Ms Dynamite (mainly because I didn't have a clue what the guest was babbling on about) but it did grow on me (to the lengths that I was annoying people at work by constantly humming it) and a fair portion of the album has the same effect on me.  Doesn't hurt that she's rather cute either does it?  It might have snuck even higher if Louder had been on it.  CHOICE CUT: Katy On A Mission

Arguably the most "difficult" listen on this list, it is worth persevering with this one as repeated listens reward you with an experience quite unlike any other you will have had in 2011.  People have mentioned artists as varied as Patti Smith, Nirvana and Bat For Lashes as influences and/or sound-a-likes but whilst that might give you some idea as to the sound it doesn't begin to really describe it.  CHOICE CUT: Milkman

17) THE SECRET SISTERS (The Secret Sisters) 
The one album off this list that I nicked from my Dad.  Then again, I did buy it him.  I can understand why he likes it given that it's 1940s/1950s country influences are worn distinctly on it's, erm, sleeve and the line up of stellar musicians on hand is quite incredible.  The songs come from varied sources, such as George Jones, Buck Owens and Bill Monroe but such is the gorgeousness of the harmonies from sisters Laura & Lydia Rogers that every song is made their own. CHOICE CUT: Why Baby Why

16) YEAR OF THE WOLF (Nerina Pallot) 
Yes, I do love Nerina and yes, I am biased but this was, in my opinion, a step up from The Graduate, and I liked that a lot too.  In fact in Put Your Hands Up and All Bets Are Off it has two of her best ever songs.  This is typically intelligent, catchy and moving fare from Nerina. CHOICE CUT: All Bets Are Off (which is my favourite Nerina song ever).

15) DAYBREAK (Sierra Hull) 
You might be mistaken upon hearing this for the first time that you've stumbled across a hitherto unknown Alison Krauss album and there is no denying that Sierra Hull does have that sound.  And yet for all the comparisons (and it's not doing either of them a disservice to make that comparison) there is something unique and fresh about Hull's way of doing things and her fiddle and mandolin playing is second to none.  But for all the nod's to the past this is not slavishly following bluegrass trends; it's taking them and making them her own.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Pick Me Up

14) STRANGE MERCY (St. Vincent)
Back in 2009 St Vincent' Actor took the top spot in my album of the year chart.  This follow-up hasn't quite reached those heights but it is another cracker even if it never fully convinces as a whole in the same way that it's predecessor does.  CHOICE CUT: Surgeon

13) SWEET DREAMS (Mandy Barnett)
Mandy Barnett is perhaps my favourite Country N Western vocalist of all time.  I know half of you will be wondering why I have such a "favourite" in my collection but there you go.  Unlike countless of modern singers Barnett can sing Country like it should be sang.  She's a throwback to a bygone age if you'd like to put it that way.  A long career only reaches it's fourth album here but given that Barnett came to fame for her portrayal of Patsy Cline it was perhaps fitting (if LONG overdue) that she released an album of Cline songs.  And this is stunning.  She's as good as Cline, if that's not too blasphemous.  Absolutely anyone who is anyway inclined to this kind of thing has loved this when I've introduced them to it in 2011.  Plus I got to meet her in Nashville, and see her perform live twice.  CHOICE CUT: Walking After Midnight

12) SUCK IT & SEE (Arctic Monkeys) 
A bit like Franz Ferdinand, stay with me here, Arctic Monkeys seem to get more interesting to me the "less" commercial success they have.  Here they returned to the tunes that were missing from predecessor Humbug whilst keeping some of the willful strangeness in the lyrics.  It just goes to prove that sometimes bands can indeed be better when, you know, they don't go out of their way to write songs that aren't radio friendly.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Sit Down Cause I've Moved Your Chair

11) FEEL IT BREAK (Austra) 
It took me a while to get into this (and an insanely delayed flight from Memphis to New York helped give me some "quality time" with it) and it's fair to say that it's one of those "dance" records that you can't really dance to.  But slowly over time it really dug it's fingers into me.  It has some great potential singles but also meshes together as a collective whole.  CHOICE CUT: Beat And The Pulse.

This  was an example of someone coming back from a debut album that didn't wholly convince me with something that utterly struck me down numb, to the level that I had to revisit the first album just to see if I'd gotten it wrong the last time.  I hadn't, just about, beacuse Youth Novels was definately a work in progress whereas Wounded Rhymes is fully realised in every sense.  Heralded by the awesome Get Some, the rest of the album lived up to that first taste and more so.  CHOICE CUT: I Follow Rivers

9) YOU & I (The Pierces) 
Initially I was a bit upset that The Pierces had shunned their slightly weird side to hook up with some bloke from Coldplay and records an album of radio-friendly smashers, but then I realised that who was I to question a career move of that nature, especially when it seems like the other option had been giving up altogether.  And deep down this still has that strangeness that made them such a standout proposition in the first place.  CHOICE CUT: Love You More

8) OH LAND (Oh Land) 
I don't normally go in for bemoaning the state of the record industry, but it perplexes me that someone like La Roux (one and a half decent songs) can have quite a bit of success and someone like Oh Land labours somewhat more towards the bottom end of the charts when Nanna Oland Fabricus has an album like this where virtually every song on it SHOULD be a decent chart hit.  Still as long as she keeps producing albums like this I can live without the hits... CHOICE CUT: We Turn It Up

7) KITTY WELLS DRESSES (Laura Cantrell)
Another album on my list that consists (mostly) of cover versions, this time seeing Laura Cantrell singing the songs of Kitty Wells.  It's also another CD that I bought for my dad and then promptly stole from him.  The arrangements are generally simple and relatively sparse but that's all this fantastic collection of songs need.  Great timeless songs sung by a great timeless singer.  What more do you need? CHOICE CUT: It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

6) CINDERELLA'S EYES (Nicola Roberts) 
After the abysmal solo effort by Nadine and the really rather bland Americanised pap that Cheryl offers up it was with some trepidation that I met the news of Nicola's solo project.  But bugger me, if it wasn't a smasher.  Lead single Beat Of My Drum was an effective showcase for an album packed full of weird, wonderful but above all catchy pop tunes with a lyrical sensibility that can make you both laugh and cry, sometimes within the one song.  CHOICE CUT: Porcelain Heart

5) CONCRETE (Sunny Sweeney) 
If Dolly Parton was some kind of time travelling queen and started her music career in 2011 she might well have been something like Sunny Sweeney (and I know that Sweeney had one stab at stardom back in the previous decade). That's not to say that this has a "Dolly" sound at all (and in fact lyrically, its more Tammy Wynette) just that Sweeney is one of the precious few around in the modern Nashville scene who can really sing the style and mean it from the bottom of her heart.  It doesn't fit entirely with what Nashville Radio is after, but when it's something this good, who cares? CHOICE CUT: Helluva Heart

4) ANNA CALVI (Anna Calvi) 
In some ways she was this year's Bat For Lashes; in that a beguiling and mysterious characterisation was backed up by some of the finest songs knocking about at the moment.  A virtuoso voice and some seriously kicking musical beats.  And if you were ever in any doubt that this was all style over substance along comes The Devil, with just Calvi, a guitar and some haunting raw emotion.  A genuine experience you could get nowhere else in 2011.  CHOICE CUT: First We Kiss

I've been a fan of Ladytron since happening upon the delectible Seventeen for some long forgotten reason years ago.  Gravity The Seducer was, in my ears, their best album since Light & Magic.  There are a high number of instrumentals here and on other tracks the vocals seem less important to the atmosphere than ever before and it didn't get a universal reception compared to Velocifero, but I'm right.  This is even better than that.  CHOICE CUT: Ritual

2) EXPERIMENTS (Florrie)
You may accuse me of cheating.  You'd be right too.  Yes, this was only a 6 track EP but as every track was a belter (and I could have fitted all six songs into my top, say, 30 songs of the year without any trouble) and she was the most exciting "pop" act of the year for me (in the true sense of the word) I had to put this in this list and it had to be as high as it is.  I hope 2012 is the year she makes a proper impact even if my usual curse proves to come true again.  CHOICE CUT: Experimenting With Rugs

1) LITTLE RED BOOTS (Lindi Ortega) 
As soon as I heard this album my first thought was that this was the best thing I'd heard all year.  I haven't changed my mind either.  It's perhaps fitting given the year I've had that a "Country" album grabs the top spot but this is more than a great Country album, it's a bloody brilliant album full stop.  Sass, attitude and lyrical wit combine with killer tunes to make an album that doesn't have a less than great song on it.  Absolutely stunning.  CHOICE CUT: All My Friends

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Albums of 2011 - 40-21

Time is against me to do "reasonings" behind ALL my top 40 albums, so here as a preview for the rest is the first half of the countdown, from number 40 down to number 21.

39) CULTS (Cults)
38) 21 (Adele)
37) SIBERIA (Lights)
35) CONATUS (Zola Jesus)
34) LAST (The Unthanks)
33) EL CAMINO (The Black Keys)
32) ALL YOU NEED IS NOW (Duran Duran)
31) BARTON HOLLOW (The Civil Wars)
29) VOYAGE (The Sound Of Arrows)
28) WILD DEVINE (Alela Diane)
27) PERFECTIONIST (Natasha Kills)
26) LAST SUMMER (Elanor Friedberger)
25) WASTING LIGHT (Foo Fighters)
24) METALS (Feist)
23) VIRTUE (Emmy The Great)
22) TUMBLE BEE (Laura Viers)

Top 20 rundown will follow tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favourite 20 singles (sort of) of 2011

Ok, so now it's time for the top 20 singles of 2011. Except some won't be "singles" in the traditional sense of getting a release and getting into the charts in the UK and all that but I have tried to make sure that these are 2011 songs that in some logical form or another could be counted as "singles" even if they weren't strictly adherent to the usual sense of the word. Hell, it's my list; I can put what I want in it.

20) MAMA'S BROKEN HEART (Miranda Lambert)
Everything that is great about Country Music can be found in here; this mixes the old sensibilities and the modern arrangements to come up with something totally intoxicating.

19) SHAKE IT OUT (Florence & The Machine)
I wasn't convinced by the album, which was all the more of a shame after this corking single. Truth be told, I've never been convinced by the Florence, ahem, hype machine (but that's a rant for another time). This is just dreamy and gorgeous, but with that hint of darkness.

It's not my favourite song on the Experments EP but it was the only that got the (kind of) official single treatment in that sense so I will sneak it on here just for the fact that Florrie was the pop find of 2011 for me.

17) VIDEO GAMES (Lana Del Ray)
Well given the hype I couldn't well leave it out. That said, I've put it in at a low position on this chart so that whilst I can say I noticed it and was beguiled by it, I can both annoy people who love it and have people who don't like it thinking I'm just trying to be cool by including it on my list at all.

16) BOO SHUFFLE (The Pipettes)
A great song and although they're plainly not "The Pipettes" of old given all the Sugababes style moving on of singers, this was a wonderful little ditty that harked back to their debut album and it's impossible to listen to it without smiling.

15) LOVE YOU LIKE A LOVE SONG (Selena Gomez & The Scene)
Not since JoJo's (Get Out) has there been a better throwaway pop song lyrical deconstruction as there is in this one. And it irritates people when I tell them what a great song this is. And it is, I stand by that.

14) SEX RULES (Sky Ferreria)
This was 2011's version of Annie's Chewing Gum. In that it has absolutely everything to be a monster pop smash...but it wasn't. Still, it's a bloody fantastic pop tune with the kind of catchy but inappropriate chorus that schoolkids should be singing to horrify their parents and teachers. She's got loads more like this as well.

13) DEDICATION TO MY EX (Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne & Andre 3000)
Ok so it's a bit rude. And misogynistic. But it is one hell of a tune. It's good enough to fit on that double Outkast album whose name I have momentarily forgotten. It's THAT good.

12) OURS (Taylor Swift)
Whilst Nashville made it almost impossible for me to get anywhere near her during my holiday there (and that was with an EIGHTEEN HOUR signing session) I genuinely think Taylor Swift is a "proper" talent. This was a new one and whilst it's pretty much the same as most slow(ish) songs that she does why would you mess too much with a winning formula?

11) ROPE (Foo Fighters)
It was a long wait, but Dave and the boys finally hit back on the old form in 2011 and this single was a very good example of what they do best!

10) BEAT OF MY DRUM (Nicola Roberts)
On the quiet she was always my favourite Girls Aloud member (at least since Nadine became so annoying and then did an absolutely AWFUL album) and this debut single was a masterpiece.

9) WOLVES (The Good Natured)
I have no real idea how I got onto this one, but it is a bloody fantastic tune. (And ok, it wasn't technically the "lead" on the EP but as I've said, it's my bloody list!) 

8) THROUGH THE NIGHT (Ren Harvieu)
Luckily I can say that I'd "heard" Ren Harvieu before she got on the BBC Sounds List. She won't win it, no doubt, but she is the best thing on there and this is one reason why. It almost sounds like something Burt Baccarach would give us. Yes, it's that good.

7) DON'T SIT DOWN... (Arctic Monkeys)
I'm still not entirely sure whether or not the lyrics of this are supposed to be a micky-take or not, but it's an instant grunge/garage classic which showed that even now the hype has died down, the Arctic Monkeys remain on the top of their game.

I'll probably be accused of only liking this one because it's sung by a cute, blonde haired Scandinavian. Ah well, I know better...

5) HOUSE (Ben Folds Five)
Even if it had been rubbish the mere fact that Ben Folds Five were recording again would have been awesome. Luckily this was very far from rubbish. Worth forking out on the Ben Folds compilation for this alone!

4) SHAKE (Little Boots)
After a long absence Little Boots returned with an absolute stomper. Another one of those that went on repeat for an hour after I first listened to it. This was good enough as a slightly hidden away part of one of her mixtapes but in it's own right it's just an infectious pop-dance tune that was the best of it's kind in 2011.

I don't like Adele as an artist/musician/singer but I cannot deny that this is an absolute belter. And it's not even the best song on the album (that honour goes to Rumour Has It - although admittedly they are the only two great songs on the album). I'm not the target audience for the "other" song that everyone else likes (and I'm miserable like that anyway) but for me this was always the winner. It's stunning.

2) FOREVER IN BLUE (Ren Harvieu)
Ok so I don't know whether this strictly counts as a single, but it's not on an album and got "released" into the internet on it's own, so I'm having it. A strange mix of a song that could be in a David Lynch movie, a western, or even a slightly mellow Bond theme this was one of those songs this year that I listened to for the first time and then spent the next hour with it on repeat.

1) PUT YOUR HANDS UP (Nerina Pallot)
I don't think it's exactly a secret that I love Nerina Pallot but even with my inbuilt bias, this was undoubtedly my favourite single of 2011. And it's not even my favourite song on the Year Of The Wolf album. It's catchy, it's uplifting, it's got a great sing-a-long hook....what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 5 "Re-issues" or Compilations of 2011

It's been a long time I know. Two years in fact. I may (hopefully) post some reviews of, you know, stuff in 2012 but until then I will be doing some "best of" 2011 lists.

We start with the Top 5 re-issues or compilation albums of 2011.

5) Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage - REM

The title itself is no doubt intended as one of those kind of jokes that are both funny and too close to the knuckle to be that funny. There was a general "it's for the best" vibe surrounding the announcement in 2011 that REM were to split; commercial success never wholly equates to artistic merit of course but in REM's case the dwindling (yet still relatively strong) sales of their past few efforts was perhaps "deserved". That said, I don't think there is an REM album that doesn't have "it's moments".
So whilst there is definitely a tail off on this compilation and whilst I would have to admit that the trio of new songs pretty much sum up the 21st Century output from the boys (far from dreadful but far from memorable) there is enough on display here to show just how good REM were at their best. And if you've ever found yourself humming an REM tune but never got around to investing in a CD this is an absolute winner.

4) Some Girls - Rolling Stones
By a quirk of fate, Some Girls was the only studio album of the Rolling Stones that I had ever bought. I now have it twice! Rolling Stones going "disco" in the form of opener Miss You has perhaps a particular resonance in 2011 given Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" but this is more about the late 70's Stones trying to fit in with the (then) modern pop world and pulling it off with supreme ease. Throw in a great second disc of other tracks (which would make for a killer album in their own right) and you have a great package.

3) Best Imitation Of Myself - Ben Folds (Five)
It might not mean much to the uninitiated, especially given the success Mr Folds has had since dropping the "Five", but I'll always consider his solo stuff as second best to his Ben Folds Five days. So the surprising news that the trio would be contributing THREE new songs to this collection was one of 2011's most welcome musical developments. Not your traditional "greatest hits" collections (mainly because Folds would himself readily admit he hasn't got many hits) this showcases all that is great with both Folds and his old band. One CD of the "favourites", one CD of live stuff (and Folds is a superb live performer, so it makes perfect sense) and one CD of rarities makes this a must have package for any fans of the man and his old band. And if things go well 2012 could see the Five come back with a whole new album...

2) The Monument Singles - Roy Orbison
One of the finest voices of any era, Roy Orbison is a true great. This collection, compiling together the A and B sides of his Monument recordings is absolutely essential. And let's face it if all Orbison had was Pretty Woman his place in history would be assured. But the classics just keep coming at you on this collection; Only The Lonely, Running Scared, It's Over, In Dreams.... but there is also a lot of great stuff on the flip side too, showing just what a talent Orbison was. This collection shows him at his peak. (The bonus DVD is great too!)

1) Elvis Is Back/Something For Everybody - Elvis Presley
1960's Elvis Is Back is regarded by many as his best album and you won't find me disagreeing with that point of view. Here it's remastered beautifully, has added singles Stuck On You, It's Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome and Surrender with their b-sides (mostly). It also has 1961's Something For Everyone album on disc two which whilst not as good in terms of the songs contains what could be Elvis' best vocal performances AND has yet more singles and B-Sides. Superb and sublime.

Don't worry folks, the next couple of lists I do will make up for the fact that these were all blokes!