2011 has had some great new additions musically while we recover from the huge loss of the Big Man. Clarence Clemons passed away suddenly after a stroke in June and Bruce’s saxophone man will be missed by all music fans. Anybody who ever saw him perform the “Jungleland” solo knows what I mean – the E Street Band will continue but it will never be the same without the Big Man anchoring the right side of the stage!
Now on to good news – the best new releases of 2011 so far:
1. The Decemberists – “The King is Dead” – I’m not exactly sure what a Decemberist is but I have loved this album from the first spin which doesn’t happen often. The single “Down by the Water” got lots of airplay and what originally got me to pick up the disc. The whole album is strong and highlights include “Rox in the Box”, “This is Why We Fight” and “Don’t Carry It All”. Lead singer Colin Meloy has moved the Decemberists towards a more Americana sound which seems to be my focus lately. He is also one of the sharpest wits in current music and worth following on Twitter. Gillian Welch’s backing vocals are a terrific addition to the sound as well. I missed these guys for a sold out show at Stubb’s in May as it conflicted with Bob Seger in Houston, but I have my tickets in hand for a nice cool August return to Stubb’s. Looking forward to it and hopefully we’ll see them at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in October as they are nominated for Album of the Year.
2. The Head and the Heart – self-titled – last fall when we were up in Seattle and I made my pilgrimage on a Sunday afternoon to Easy Street Records for some local music additions, these guys were one of the recommendations but alas their EP was out of stock. I didn’t forget that name and they were all over SXSW this year – but I never made one of their sets. I’ve been kicking myself since then! Got this disc in late Spring and have been wearing it out since that day. “Lost in my Mind” is one of the top songs of the year- it hasn’t gotten old. Another highlight for me is the beginning of the album that starts with “Cats and Dogs” blending seamlessly into “Coeur d’Alene”. A terrific way to start an album that just keeps getting better and better. I’ll be looking for some Texas dates in the near future so I can check them out in person.
3. The Apache Relay – “American Nomad” – one of the joys of SXSW for me is finding these bands you’ve never heard just because you’re in the right place at the right time. On Wednesday this year we went to Billy Reid’s Shindig at the Swan Dive and got a booth to spend the day. The second band came on and played a high energy song and then I heard some familiar notes and then “New Jersey turnpike” and I’m thinking hey, this is a Bruce song. What followed was a terrific version of “State Trooper” and then a great high energy set. Thus our introduction to the Apache Relay from Nashville. During the week we got to see 3 more sets from them – every one they left it all on the stage – great guitars, mandolin, fiddle and songs. And we learned they are big Bruce fans. Before their last set they gave us a copy of their sophomore effort American Nomad that was going to be released in a month or so. “Lost Kid” has quickly became Jo’s favorite song of the summer, “American Nomad” is classic rock material and of course the great version of “State Trooper”. I’m looking forward to following these young guys as they grow and expand their catalog. I have said from the first time we saw them, this is what people must have felt seeing Bruce and the boys on the Jersey Shore in the early 70’s!
4. Dawes – “Nothing is Wrong” – another miss from SXSW was not catching these guys. I had heard one song off of their first release “North Hills” as it got lots of airplay on KGSR. We were in front of Lustre Pearl Saturday night during SXSW but the line was long and we passed on waiting to get in – mistake on our part. This new CD is getting better and better the more I listen to it. By the end of the year it may have moved up a few spots. The opener “Time Spent in Los Angeles” is the perfect summer sing-a-long song and has a great chorus. Other highlights include “If I Wanted Someone”, “The Way You Laugh” and closer “A Little Bit of Everything”. Dawes sound has been compared favorably to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 70’s and I would certainly agree. This is an album that will get a lot of airplay the rest of the year and I look forward to these guys becoming headliners in the near future.
5. Lucinda Williams – “Blessed” – ever since picking up Lucinda’s album “West” a few years ago I have been a big fan and added several of her older albums to the collection. She was #1 on my hit list for seeing in 2011. “Blessed” came out in the spring and I was able to see her at the 10th Anniversary Lost Highways show during SXSW at the new ACL Live venue. A great hour long set included many of the new tunes as well as several classics. My favorite song of 2011 is “Seeing Black” which is a great guitar rock song. Lucinda has a distinctive voice and this song highlights her writing skills and sound. “Buttercup” is a great opening song and I guess Lu isn’t always going to be a Buttercup. “Blessed” is a good song and reminds of what we should be thankful for. Overall a strong disc and a good addition to her terrific catalog – it’s not “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” but it is good!
Other new additions that are worth a listen:
Hayes Carll – “KMAG YOYO” – great Texas storyteller with a lot of fun songs that tell a great story. A disciple of Ray Wylie Hubbard, we saw him twice during SXSW and look forward to more great things to come in the future from Hayes.
The Civil Wars- “Barton Hollow” – debut for this terrific duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Title song is terrific – and especially considering it is two singers and one guitar!
Okkervil River – “I Am Very Far” – interesting release from Austin indie rock band. Got to see them at the Cactus Café in an intimate setting play the entire disc in order. “We Need a Myth” is catchy and a good tune.
Adele – “21” – a couple of great songs to open this disc with “Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumour has It” from this British songstress.
Disappointments so far:
Bon Iver –“Bon Iver” – on several lists as #1 – I don’t get it. Too quiet and not sure what he is singing about.
The Low Anthem – “Smart Flesh” – one of my great finds at SXSW 2009 but this CD is hard to listen to – might be terrific live though as they are such great players.
Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues” – liked their debut but don’t see any growth in this disc – good sleeping music which isn’t much of a recommendation
My Morning Jacket - "Circuital" - recommended by several others, don't get it, one or two good songs but nothing memorable to me.
Upcoming releases I’m looking forward to:
Wilco – loved their last album, looking for Tweedy’s next
The Romany Rye – my other find at SXSW this year- great sound – Counting Crows and Mr Morning Jacket members were at shows but I was oblivious!
Kathleen Edwards – tweeted recently that the new album is complete – big fan of “Asking for Flowers” she is opening for Bon Iver on their tour (boyfriend) so I’m guessing we’ll see the disc soon.
I’m sure there is lots more coming and we’ll find them as they are released!