Tuesday, January 09, 2007


This year I was asked to submit a Top Ten for a group poll at Hickory Wind. All such lists are arbitrary, that goes without saying but safer to say it and head off the whinges. I had to rank them for HW and since this is a follow up to that, I’ve kept the structure although its pretty meaningless. The list today would be different of course which is not reflective of downgrading any album, just the ordinary shifting sands of my musical environment. In another post tomorrow I’ll do all the top albums I left off this list for one reason or another. The top, say, four or five in this list might stand out but then there are about 20 others pretty much on a par of goodness. Hope this is enough of a disclaimer.

Most years I struggle to name five new releases but this year I’ve got dozens and dozens which could get a guernsy. A few reasons. One is a general effort to hear new releases. Also reviewing stuff for Hickory Wind is an extra incentive and also becoming a subscriber to eMusic (a legal download site covering indepedant labels.) Looking at the albums below, 10 of the 16 were acquired through eMusic, and most of the records mentioned in the appendix were too. I still have reservations about buying digital music sans the liner notes etc, not to mention bypassing local retailers but the price, convenience and range available is hard to resist. I put a [E] after the title if they’re available this way.

So this was my Hickory Wind list, keeping in mind the above. Click on Full Post for longer apologetics and YouTube multimedia where poss.

Best Dylan Album of the Year:
1. Modern Times Bob Dylan

Best Non- Dylan Album of the Year:
1. Starving Winter Report Deadstring Brothers [E]
2. Nashville Solomon Burke
3. American Recordings V/Personal File Johnny Cash (I know thats two albums but I think of them as a package)
4. Breathe Dan Bern [E]
5. Gypsum Strings/Second Guessing Oakley Hall (again two albums but when a band releases two equally good albums a year dunno what I'm supposed to do. I listen to them back to back and they all blur into one.) [E]
6. Do I Move You Janiva Magness [E]
7. Childish Things James McMurtry [E]
8. Leave the Light On Chris Smither [E]
9. The Animal Years Josh Ritter [E]
10. Seeger Sessions Bruce Springsteen

Hono(u)rable Mentions:
Foothill Dandy Cyndi Boste
Bronx in Blue Dion [E]
Ghost Repeater Jeffrey Foucault [E]

Best Dylan Album of the Year:
1. Modern Times Bob Dylan
If I Had to Pick One Song: Nettie Moore

I split my lists into Best Dylan Album and Best Non-Dylan album because that is how the universe works. You can’t argue with science, people. People might say my ilk will rave over Bob whatever he does. They say it like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. Me and Bobby have a relationship – and every release is not just an artefact of music, it is a memento like a photograph or a ticket stub or the wine stained napkin you keep from your sister’s wedding. Immune to scrutiny.

That said, it is a great album of music which at first refuses and then never stops giving. And he makes me laugh. Never got around to seriously reviewing it (no need) but about the best thing I read was Sean at Hickory Wind.

Starving Winter Report Deadstring Brothers
One Song: Get Up, Jake
It is compulsory when talking about this album to mention Exile on Main Street. So I have. Not that it’s derivative, and even if it is, it’s derivative of something that kicks arse so who cares. Gets the nod over Solomon on account of it makes you happy to be alive, happy the electric guitar was invented, sorry that Gram and Keef never got to make something like this and despite the obvious influences (the Talking Blues might be a wee bit parodic) sounds fresh and grrrl singer Masha Marijeh breaks up the blokey jam in the best possible way.

See the DBs on YouTube.

Nashville Solomon Burke
One Song: That’s How I Got to Memphis
Said it all here. I hear a rumour he’s coming out again at Byron time?
You're The Kind of Trouble.

American Recordings V/Personal File Johnny Cash
One Song: Jim, I Wore a Tie Today
Honey, why'd you have to ask?

Breath Dan Bern
One Song: Breathe
Haven’t seen this on too many ’06 lists, I think Dan is a bit of a boutique taste even among indie folk circles. One thing about him, which he shares with a lot of my favourites, is an ability to combine sharp, often acerbic, lyrics with catchy melodies and an often beautiful, shimmering sound. There’s always a line or two in his songs which hit you sideways and make you smile.
Walking Through Glass (not from the new album)

Gypsum Strings/Second Guessing Oakley Hall
One Song: If I Was in El Dorado
Got into these guys via Shaun, I reckon I’ll let his description suffice. I will add I think the English folk touches are rather beguiling. The only black spot is that House Carpenter, while fine in itself, reminds me of a really dreadful book I read by Clinton Heylin. Can’t sleep, boring poseur will eat me!
Lazy Susan

Do I Move You Janiva Magness
One Song: A Man Size Job

There are a few songs I like to collect different versions of. Not many, they have to have a sort of indestructable quality that means even the worst interpreter gets saved by the lyrics. So for that reason no, say, Dylan songs make the list – they’re easy to do badly. One of these songs is the blues standard “You Were Never Mine”, and searching for different versions of this on eMusic is how I found Janiva Magness. Just beautifully done soul-infused blues, explsoive and seductive. (What’s with all the word files instead of HTML on her website though?)

You Were Never Mine on YouTube. Do watch past the kinda smarmy presenter to the acapella bit at the end. Please believe I would kill every one of you with my bare hands to be able to do that.

Oh hell, watch this one too.

Childish Things James McMurtry
One Song: Charlemagne’s Home Town

McMurtry stands in here for a long list of country/folk singer-songwriters who had excellent releaases this year. His tough voice really grabs me and each song (even the polemic We Can’t Make it Here Anymore) is a gem of the songwriter’s craft.

We Can't Make it Here

Leave the Light On Chris Smither
One Song: Leave the Light On

Combining traditional blues with a folkie sensibility, he sounds like he's singing through a handful of Delta mud. And that's the way we like it. Touring Australia in March.

Origin of the Species.

The Animal Years Josh Ritter
One Song: Thin Blue Flame

Josh Ritter has been amazingly mature since his first album but also continues to grow and surprise. A sweeter Townes Van Zandt. Thin Blue Flame is a majestic Nick Cave semi-sermon.
Lilian, Egypt (sort of an alternate universe version of Rosmary, Lily and the Jack of Hearts) and Monster Ballads

Seeger Sessions Bruce Springsteen
One Song: O Mary Don’t You Weep
(although I’m kinda rooting for the Pharaoh)
Grew on my after initial wariness. And its the Boss, you know.
American Land (not on the album but from the tour)

Bronx in Blue Dion
One Song:

A favourite early 2006 releases and energetic standard still hold up.

Ghost Repeater Jeffrey Foucault
One song: Ghost Repeater

Dusty western tinged folk, more low key than others on this list but attentive listening pays off. Pedal steel like wind across … whatever remote terrain they have in Wisconsin.
Mesa Arizona

Foothill Dandy Cyndi Boste
One song:

Written about here.

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