Not so much a Top 10 list, as there is plenty of music I haven’t heard this year, but these 10 albums represent the discs that rarely made it out of rotation on my iPod or Spotify account. These are the albums that I turned to when I was happy, when I was caught in a blinding moment of despair, when I needed someone else’s words to articulate the emotions swirling in my head, if only to allow me the chance to breathe in, breathe out, and steady the ship.
Music has that power – to soothe, to agitate, to kickstart into action and give voice and purpose to one’s life. And these here are some pretty powerful artists, in that regard, whose songs helped define the past year of my life.
- Girls Guns and Glory: Sweet Nothings - This one has it all, from mournful ballads to shit-kicking rev-ups, and there’s not a damn bit of filler to be found. Best song, “Baby’s Got A Dream,” which instantly vaulted into my favorite songs of all time.
- Imelda May: Mayhem - Imelda May is the total package. She’s a latex-wearing, Vargas pinup with an undeniable ear for the heart of rockabilly swing. Best song, “Proud and Humble” or “Psycho.”
- The Horrible Crowes: Elsie - It’s no secret, I love The Gaslight Anthem, and this side project was a gift for longtime fans waiting for their follow-up to “American Slang.” Best song, “I Witnessed A Crime.”
- Jonathan Keevil: Bellflower (Original Motion PictureSoundtrack) – If you haven’t seen “Bellflower,” you are missing out on the best film to come out since “Fight Club.” It’s an apocalyptic love story with flamethrowers and badass Mad Max-inspired muscle cars that perfectly captures love’s intensity, from the intoxicating thrill of the first kiss to the heart-smacked gut punch of the worst breakup ever. Jonathan Keevil’s haunting soundtrack does for Evan Glodell’s film what Elliott Smith did for “Good Will Hunting.” It is simply remarkable. Best song, “Blind, Deaf Too,” “Enough” or “Babyfin.”
- Lydia Loveless: Indestructible Machine – Much has been made of Loveless’s destructive bent, her penchant for honestly exploring her issues with drugs and drink, and the fact that she’s barely legal and likely a candidate for the doomed 27-year-old musician’s curse. But there is no denying how amazingly talented she is, or that Loveless is as close as we’ll likely come to a 21st-century Patsy Cline. Best song, “Learn to Say No.”
- American Anodyne: So You Want to Be A Bullfighter - Good old outlaw country that would make Waylon proud. American Anodyne announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with on their debut, perfectly balancing a handful of rousing juke joint rockers with the social commentary of a modern-day Woody Guthrie. Best song, “Call My Brother” or “El Dorado, Dark Blue.”
- Kasey Anderson and the Honkies: Heart of a Dog – Singer-songwriter Kasey Anderson hooked up with the Honkies and delivered a wonderful slice of countrified rock, the perfect album for driving fast down an empty interstate, destination unknown. Best song, “Kasey Anderson’s Dream.”
- Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me - Another younger-than-her-years songstress, Jessica Lea Mayfield can break your heart with her big, beautiful eyes or just cut it out with her incredibly sharp ruminations on the damage love can do. Best song, “I’ll Be the One You Want Someday.”
- The Breedings: Laughing at Luck – This brother/sister act out of Nashville, TN are the real deal, and I think they are poised to break big in 2012. Erin and Willie Breeding compliment each other perfectly on their debut, but it’s Erin’s voice that will grab you tight and not let go. Best song, “When It All Comes Down.”
- Jo Wymer: Living with Scars - I love Jo Wymer. This New Jersey-based mother/wife/teacher lives and rocks by a simple motto: Play it loud. And on her self-financed, independently released debut, she does just that, reaching for a brass ring that few artists are lucky to ever touch in their entire career and refusing to let go. I compared her to Pat Benatar in my review, but honestly, she’s better. Few albums in 2011 made me smile as much in 2011, and I can honestly say I never once was tempted to turn the volume down. Best song, “Dirty Secrets.”