1. Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance
This is the first Patterson Hood solo record I’ve loved front to back, heck this is the first time I’ve loved all the songs Patterson wrote on any record, including Drive-By Truckers records. There’s always one song that needles me or runs 3 verses too long. But not here. Perfectly restrained and amazingly lovely. And just darn close to perfect. Stand out track: “Better Than The Truth” which works as a kind of sequel to the DBT song “A World of Hurt”.
2. Murder by Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
Here’s how much I love this record: Murder by Death aren’t coming to the Triangle in support of this album, so in February a friend and I are going to Wilmington then Charleston to see them play on back to back nights. Super happy this bad signed to Bloodshot this year, and this record is a great way to kickoff their growth on that label, as lush and beautiful and creepy and rich and surprising as ever. Stand out track: “Hard World”
3. Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful
Infectious and fantastic. I was in Columbia SC over Thanksgiving (where I grew up) and went to the record store (as you do) and was so happy to see Papa Jazz pushing this record onto everyone who came looking for the Lumineers record or the Mumford & Sons record. Really great to see them supporting SC artists. And it’s a really great record (which helps). Delightful, joyous, with just enough Southern Gothic undercurrent to keep it from being sticky sweet. Stand out track: “Keeper” listen and try not to smile.
4. The Whigs – Enjoy the Company
This is the surprise record of the year for me. I liked but didn’t love their earlier records. They were for me a band that would have been perfect as a touring open, solid but not exceedingly memorable. Enjoy the Company though is a leap forward for them. Swampy garage rock with just enough variety between songs to keep the record moving at a great pace. Their songs just all click here. Stand out track: “Staying Alive” – “So tell me a story & repeat it. You’re never that angry if you’re mad.”
5. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
My favorite Heartless Bastards record and a real return to form for them. (I’m also a complete sucker for bands that release alt takes digitally in addition to the download code.) Driving guitars, amazing vocals and a really great tension between the two. This is a record I forgot about a couple of times during the year (came out in February), and every time I pulled the record back out, I got lost in it again. Stand out track: “Skin and Bone”
6. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Most beautiful album of the year. And the really amazing thing about these songs to me is that they are equally beautiful in the densely layered album version and the stripped down version I saw live at Hopscotch. This is a record for laying on the floor in front of the record player with the volume turned way up.
7. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There Is a Bomb in Gilead
This isn’t a Dexateens record, but it is a mighty mighty fine, hard driving southern rock record. I grew up listening to alot of southern rock both good and awful, and it is so rare to hear a good example today (bad examples aplenty though). Like all great music of its genre, sounds best on a road trip with sunshine and open highway. Stand out track: “The Red, Red Dirt of Home”
8. Will Johnson – Scorpion
I love all Will Johnson records and bands. Dual Hawks is somewhere on my top 20 records of all time. So just about any new Will Johnson record is likely to make its way onto a top 10 list of mine. As usual with his solo records, this is Johnson’s song writing stripped down to its most sparse and heartbreaking. The lyrics and the tension is the deliberate pace of the record will haunt you. Stand out track: “Scorpion”
9. Mark Eitzel – Don’t Be a Stranger
Sometimes it is just about the right record releasing at the right time of year. The perfect record for the first gray days of fall, released on one of the few weeks we’ve had this year with gray days of fall. Small, quiet, heartbreaking, & beautiful songs. Stand out track: “The Bill is Due” – “Parties and punchlines makes a life easy to forget, but you can’t rise to the light when you’re full of regret. Don’t become a ghost when your time is through. The world gives you away, and the bill is due”
10. Joe Pug – The Great Despiser
It can’t and shouldn’t be all depressing music (though this list has its fair share). Even when the subjects of the songs turn dark, which happens, the songs are always filled with such such a pure and firm belief in grace and second chance and hope that I find myself crying while smiling along. The Tex Thomas cover “Deep Dark Wells” that closes the album is the best summary of the point Pug’s songs make at every turn: “As long as you’re not finished, you can start all over again”
Favorite Shows of the year tomorrow.