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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.”
  10. 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.”


I have seen some reviews on this one so far being disappointed with this release and they all seem to have one problem: they all rely on comparisons to Gaslight Anthem. This is forgivable considering that The Horrible Crowes are a side project of Brian Fallon. It is also something I am guilty of myself with other artists. In fact it may only slightly shy of a miracle that I came in to listening to this one without any expectations. Just to summarize so far: this is not a Gaslight Anthem album it is a completely separate effort and it is the first release by those involved all working together. With that said…

You can find all the backstory about how Brian and Ian (Gaslight’s guitar tech) wrote this in the back of the bus while swapping records all over the web so that’s the only touching on that I really want to do. Brian is a great lyricist and Elsie does not disappoint on that front. The lyrics are rich stories, as we have come to expect from Mr. Fallon, but with Ian’s influence go a little different direction than the writing we have heard from him to date. He weaves in religious themes with a subtlety that you may not even catch the first time through. The depths that are explored here are worth going through and Brian and Ian do an excellent job leading the journey. From love to guilt to shame, it doesn’t matter where these two kids want to take us, the lyrics are there to light the way. In fact, the lyrics are the strongest aspect of this release without a doubt!

Where I wasn’t impressed was the music. The arrangements feel like they could have used a little more work. It’s almost as if the depth of the music, at some points, just don’t meet the depths of the lyrics. I like the album overall but every time I listen to it I am left feeling like it could have been better. There is unfulfilled potential here that I would like to see expounded on. I hope Brian and Ian continue to play around in this arena because I want to hear more but I sincerely hope they spend as much time putting the tunes together as they do the lyrics and fulfill the potential I can hear on this one. And while I strongly believe there is unfulfilled potential here Elsie is worth your time and your hard earned money. It’s not going to make the album of year running for me but it also is going to stay on my music player for the foreseeable future. It is a good first effort from the folks involved and it is good enough to deserve your support.

The Horrible Crowes – Behold The Hurricane
The Horrible Crowes – Crush
The Horrible Crowes – Blood Loss

The Horrible Crowes official website, The Horrible Crowes on Facebook, Buy Elsie