Why 13, you ask? Well, it’s my favorite number and, conveniently, it is also the number of albums that grabbed my attention this year. Plus, I like the title of “Lucky 13” for my list.

13. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire. This is the album I’ve turned to all year whenever I’ve been in the mood to chill. Perfect for sitting back with a bottle of scotch. (Sound pretentious enough?)  On a side note, Ryan did a couple excellent covers of my music idol, Bob Mould, this year: Black Sheets of Rain (Live on Letterman) and Heartbreak a Stranger (Bob Mould Tribute Concert)

Ryan Adams – Chains Of Love

12. Foster and Lloyd – Its Already Tomorrow. This album out jangles The Byrds. The title track and “Lucky Number” are the best power-pop songs I’ve heard in years.

Foster and Lloyd – Lucky Number

11. R.E.M – Collapse Into Now. I doubt if R.E.M could have left after a better album, short of retiring after Automatic For The People (a valid argument). “Discoverer” may be their best opening track since “Begin the Begin” off Life’s Rich Pageant. “Uberlin” may simply the best song they’ve recorded in the past 10 years.

R.E.M. – Uberlin

10. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories). Hayes gets the most attention for his romps and stomps, but his songwriting really shines on the slower songs.  “Another Like You” is a cleaver give and take with Cary Ann Hearst.

Hayes Carll – Stomp and Holler

9. Drive by Truckers – Go-Go Boots. One of the things about doing these lists is you go back to revisit albums from earlier in the year that you got burned out on. Sometimes you realize they weren’t as good as you thought. Other times they sound even better on the second “first” listen. This is the latter.

Drive-By Truckers – The Weakest Man

8. Have Gun, Will Travel – Mergers and Acquisitions. Pretty much everything Autopsy said.

Have Gun Will Travel – Freightliner

7. Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven. No better CountryRockBlues album released this year. Like his songwriting, Dave’s baritone is as strong as ever. How did I overlook reviewing this? Gonna have to rectify that after the first of the year.

Dave Alvin – Johnny Ace Is Dead

6. The Decemberists – The King is Dead. I’m one of those who never got into The Decemberists before this album. But, being a REM-head since the mid-80s, it is in my DNA to adore this one. “Down By The Water” another of my songs of the year.

The Decemberists – Calamity Song

5. Jason Boland and The Stragglers – Rancho Alto. A true country album in every sense of the word. If anyone is carrying the “traditionalist banner”, it’s Jason. This album is proof. “Farmer’s Luck” ranks with Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow” as one the great songs describing the troubles of the American farmer. “False Accuser’s Lament” is a prime example of Jason’s vivid storytelling.

Jason Boland & The Stragglers – False Accuser’s Lament

4. The Damn Quails – Down the Hatch. See review

The Damn Quails – Me and The Whiskey

3. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest. Top notch songwriting, great band, great album. “Codeine” is one of my songs of the year, although “Go It Alone” might be the song that got the most play as it has helped me get through my separation and pending divorce.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Go It Alone

2. Hellbound Glory – Damaged Goods. Anyone from Nashville that calls themselves “Outlaw Country” needs to listen to this and then hang their heads in shame. Review is upcoming next week.

Hellbound Glory – You Better Hope You Die Young

1. John Moreland and the Dust Bowl Souls – Everything the Hard Way. See review

John Moreland and the Dust Bowl Souls – Christian Rock

Bonus: Jody Booth – Nashville. Perfectly describes the corporate music machine in 2011.


I’m not doing a “regular” top-list. I already made a top50 for my norwegian blog, and the selections just make me want to go hide in the forest until the new year is official and no-one cares about these lists anymore.

SO – what I’m doing for Ninebullets is picking some of my favorite albums among the more unknown artists out there…
Obviously I loved Isbells “Here We Rest”, Adams “Ashes & Fire”, Gillians “The Harrow and The Harvest” and even Paul Simons beautiful “So Beautiful Or So What”.

But I also loved these albums, and I hope you will give them a chance – as they all deserve attention.

Here’s 13 musical reasons 2011 was a good year:

Howard Iceberg & The Titanics – “Welcome Aboard”

When Pat Tomek introduced me to Howard Icebergs songs, I did not expect to be blown away by his exceptional lyrics. But that was what happened. Howards box “Welcome Aboard” – which I reviewed here on Ninebullets a while back is by far my most played album of 2012. It being seven cds, that’s impressive by it self. Since discovering the world of Howard Iceberg, I’ve bought his not too extensive back-catalog, and even a couple of cassettes on eBay – as I just can’t get enough.

Howard Iceberg & The Titanics – Tattoo

The Porter Draw – “California Widow”.

Among all the sub-par stuff my norwegian blog gets sent either by email or Reviewshine, there are gems that shine stronger than most of what gets noticed.
The Porter Draw and their fabulous album California Widow is one of those gems. Their in-your-face mix of americana, punk and bluegrass makes this album a pleasure to listen to, and with their songwriting and great musicianship as their strongest assets this band will just keep delivering.

The Porter Draw – Athens

The Damn Quails – “Down The Hatch”

This might just be my one and a half year old sons favourite album. He broke out in spontaneous dancing when he first heard “Fools Gold”, and still jumps around every time he hears it. And that’s quite often, as I love this album just as much as him – and subsequently plays it a LOT.

The Damn Quails – Fool’s Gold

The Far West – “The Far West”

Brilliant pedal-steel by Erik Kristiansen, and the most heartfelt vocals you’ll ever hear makes this one of my favourites this year. I love their sound and the fact that they sound like a long lost Whiskeytown album.

The Far West – The Best Company

The Rainmakers – “25 On”

If Ryan Adams comeback was great, then The Rainmakers comeback is nothing less than magic. There’s always the great risk of sounding dated and just going through the motions for the money when great bands from the late 80s and early 90s get back together.

The Rainmakers have turned out stronger than ever, with a great album of songs with Bob Walkenhorst’s lyrics where he draws an all his experience and shows how both he and the band has matured and really deserve attention once again.

The Rainmakers – Given Time

John Moreland – “Everything The Hard Way”

This is a matter of “I heard it through the grapevine”, or rather quickly understood that this had to be listened too after reading the other 9B-writers reactions to this album. And their impeccable taste did NOT let me down. Strong lyrics, and an album that focuses on growing up.

John Moreland -Christian Rock

Israel Nash Gripka – “Barn Doors and Concrete Floors”

Speaking of great lyrics, this album really has got them! Along with the melodies that stick on your brain, this album has made me play it again and again and again since I became aware of it this fall. You get rock, you get country – and you get songs that both Neil Young and Ryan Adams would have been proud of writing and adding to their albums.

Israel Nash Gripka – Drown

ORBO & The Longshots – “Prairie Sun”

My norwegian favourite from 2011, the brilliant “Praire Sun”. The album is getting it’s american release in late january, before the band hit the road in the US yet again. They are just too good for little Norway, so I guess we need to share them. Great songs, great rockin’ americana.

ORBO & The Longshots – High Grass Dog

Stephen Simmons – “The Big Show”

I’ve been heavily focused on lyrics this year, and Stephen Simmons brings some of the best into the mix. He writes about life in a way that really tells you he’s lived it himself, and this is really something that deserves an audience.

Stephen Simmons – Parchcorn Falls

The Reneaus – “Room For Roses”

Another one of those little gems that turned up on Reviewshine, I can only describe The Reneaus as different. They create a mood that is unique, and the voice of their singer Ashley Cooper Winn will stick to your mind as soon as you let it into your head.

Some bluegrass, some country and bits and pieces of darker rock’n’roll make up this album that sometimes haunt me when I sleep.

The Reneaus – Banks Of The River

Drew Kennedy – “Fresh Water In The Salton Sea”

This was really a treat. Drew Kennedy released an album AND a book. Both called “Fresh Water In The Salton Sea”. The book, which is really a great read, focuses on the fictional singer/songwriter Dan Murphy and his experiences while on the road to finish up another tour – while dealing with a bad breakup and his mind killing off his ex-girlfriend in brutal ways.

The album consists of the songs Dan writes during his travels, and the lyrics to them are printed in the book at the aproximate point where Dan writes them. Brilliant concept, and it really works!

Drew Kennedy – Vapor Trails

Back Porch Mary – “Time Is Now”

Since “Time Of The Broken Heart” from 2008, Back Porch Mary have toured extensively, gone from being a quartet to a trio – and matured as band and songwriters. They promised that “Time Is Now” would be their strongest effort yet, and followed through all the way by giving us a real kicker of an album.

Back Porch Mary – Fast Car

Vintage Trouble – “The Bomb Shelter Sessions”

If you haven’t checked these guys out on YouTube yet, please do so.
If you have the opportunity to see these guys live, PLEASE do so!
This is the perfect mix of blues, soul, rock’n’roll and Rhythm & Blues, like it was mean to be played.
Their album is good, but their live shows and videos are bloody (that’s across the pond for “fucking”) awesome. Check “Blues Hand Me Down” and “Nobody Told Me” and tell me I’m wrong…

Vintage Trouble – Nobody Told Me


The Damn Quails are possibly the most talked about pairing to come out of Oklahoma since the union of Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Singer/songwriters Gabriel Marshall and Bryon White have had a standing gig Monday nights at The Deli in Norman with shows backed by a rotating group of musicians simply referred to as the Quail Philharmonic. The result has been songs never being played quite the same each time.

That experimentation has resulted in possibly the most solid 14 songs of the year in their debut release, Down the Hatch, an album that can’t quite be nailed down to any one particular style. It runs from country-tinged alt. pop to good old fashioned homespun porch jams.

One of the duo’s strengths is the alternating lead vocals. Bryon’s has a smooth beauty, while Gabriel’s has a rougher edge. They are distinct enough that they keep each song fresh and different, but similar enough to complement each other.

Down The Hatch kicks off with “A Better Place to Stop”, a prime example of the Quail Philharmonic experience. With 3 guitar tracks, bass, violin, harmonica, accordion, banjo, and drums you need an 9 piece band to perform it live. The instruments are added a little at at time and before you know it you have a wall of sound. But even with so much going on, it doesn’t feel in the least bit cluttered. In fact it would seem bare without it all.

The second track just might be my song of the year. “Midnight Swagger” is a beautiful piece of jangle pop. Vocals so smooth they melt. It’s one of those songs that when its over your left wanting more, so you play it again.  I had to play it 3 times on my first listen before I could bear to move on to the next song and still didn’t think I heard all the layers. I couldn’t wait to get through the rest of the album so I could listen some more. Also, I realized I need better headphones to truly do it justice.

“Another Story” is one of those good old fashioned country jams. Once again Bryon’s vocals are standout.  Combined with the violins, they convey perfectly the longing in the main character’s story, which, according to Bryon, was inspired by a little vacation spot he goes to on the lower Illinois River near Gore, Oklahoma, and a girl he used to take there.

“So So Long” is countrified power pop that is reminiscent of Sister Hazel’s last release and is a prime example of Gabriel’s and Bryon’s stellar harmonies.  The pop sound is absolutely intentional. Gabriel says he was reading an interview of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and he said something about purposely not writing pop songs. It inspired Gabriel to intentionally write a pop song. And the lyrics proved prophetic in regards to the blonde girl who Gabriel says was sitting next to him painting the Down the Hatch album cover as he wrote it. Oh, and the Hammond organ is a nice touch.

“Iceman” is the most unique sounding track on the album. Its reminiscent of an Eastern European dirge, complete with sad violin. Another of Bryon’s compositions, he was “inspired”, so to speak, by Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, a hitman for the mafia and part time serial killer whose wife and kids knew nothing about his double life until his arrest. Bryon says after he wrote it he was creeped out and didn’t sleep for days.

The remainder of the 14 songs are just as strong. Not a weak track in the entire release. The stellar songwriting, incredible vocals, and layered production make this one of the most well rounded albums of the year. Each listen yields subtleties you previously missed. Down The Hatch has definitely earned its place in Essential Listening.

The Damn Quails – Midnight Swagger
The Damn Quails – Better Place To Stop
The Damn Quails – Ice Man
The Damn Quails – So So Long

The Damn Quails official site, The Damn Quails on FacebookThe Damn Quails on Reverbnation, Buy The Damn Quails