BEST SONGS OF 2011 – Final Round (#1-10) Share
THE ESSENTIALS – BEST OF 2011
First, a few notes:
- Just went with one song per artist. Theoretically the best records of the year could’ve landed multiple positions but I wanted this to be a bit more inclusive.
- I may well have left some folks out, and with a couple exceptions it was unintentional. I’m not a full-time music writer and I haven’t heard everything, there’s a chance that I missed some great stuff … feel free to add on your own recommendations in the comments section (anything to crowd out the spam that always seems to pop up).
- Didn’t put anything from my own record. That’d be unseemly. Even mentioning it kind of is (but seriously, go buy it).
- Also didn’t stick with just artists who’ve been on Texas Music Scene, some of the best stuff I’d heard this year was from more obscure artists. Popularity and exposure didn’t really factor into this list; this is not to be confused with the “biggest” songs of 2011.
- Assuming my research was OK, these are all from albums that came out in 2011. I’m as big a fan of the Turnpike Troubadours as the next guy, but that was late 2010 even though the record caught on more this year.
- Artists who are predominantly mainstream country acts didn’t make the list … George Strait, Miranda Lambert, even Eli Young Band achieved plenty without our help.
- The rankings are entirely subjective and some of these would probably be rearranged if you asked me again a month from now, but they’re all well worth a listen and contributed to the musical excitement in our corner of the genre over the last year. So argue if you must, enjoy if you will, dig what you dig.
Without further ado …
- Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (KMAG YOYO) – A wild-eyed tale of paranoia, exploitation, and paramilitary intrigue was probably about the last thing anyone expected from the laid-back poetry of Hayes Carll. But it was the centerpiece of one of the year’s first (and easily best) big releases from the Texas/Americana/Red Dirt crowd. It’s an excellent album, but this rockabilly-fueled masterpiece was made to wear out the “repeat” button.
- The Gourds – Two Sparrows (Old Mad Joy) – Unfenced by any fussy genre boundaries or commercial expectations, the Gourds bring something new to the table with each album. One of the new twists on their command of funky folk music is this beautiful, epic, and yeah almost impenetrably poetic but emotionally effective ballad; think Desire-era Bob Dylan if he could sing like Levon Helm. Spellbinding.
- Ben Morris & The Great American Boxcar Chorus – My Own (No Fun In Funeral) – The Boxcar boys can get dark when the song calls for it, but this tuneful shout-out to friends and family is three minutes of pure musical sunshine. Plus it has possibly the year’s best opening line: “Underrated, vinyl Willie/Sunflower seeds and rockabilly …” Just off-kilter enough to make the sweetness go down without cavities.
- Robyn Ludwick – I Am (Out of These Blues) – Picking the most striking song off of what might be the year’s best album is no small feat. Neither is staring down death, war, and poverty and making it sound achingly personal without getting all maudlin or misery-porn about it … but Ludwick nails it, it’s no picnic but it’ll fill you up all the same.
- Larry Hooper – Double Barrel Soul (Between Here And The Stars) – Long-awaited by at least the small crew of fans lucky enough to have heard his 2004 debut, this second record brings even more to the table and kicks hardest on the first song out of the gate, hanging a gritty freight-train assault on a memorable turn of phrase and singing it with literate hillbilly gusto. “Literate Hillbilly Gusto” would be an excellent name for Mr. Hooper’s third album (hopefully due before 2018).
- The Damn Quails – Fool’s Gold (Down The Hatch) – Cheery, rueful, and sweet, this harmonica-laced lope was the centerpiece of what may have been the year’s most talked-about debut. Reminiscent of classic Dylan (think “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) with up-to-date studio chops and extra vocal firepower, it’s yet another reminder of what modern country music could be if we cut back on the cornball sentiment and false bravado.
- Dirty River Boys – My Son (Train Station EP) – One of the most talked-about groups to emerge on the Texas scene over the last couple of years, the DRB come at you like a jug band but reveal influences (intentional or not) ranging from Crosby Stills & Nash to Jack White to the ‘Stones. Their EP distills the focused song-craft behind the tent-revival-worthy live jams beautifully; this track was my favorite.
- Stoney LaRue – Velvet (Velvet) – Folks had waited so long that they probably would’ve been happy with anything Stoney went into the studio with, but he went the extra mile with cowriter Mando Saenz and crafted a record full of gems worthy of his headliner status and blessed vocal pipes. This was the lead single and one of the swoonier romantic numbers in recent Red Dirt history, a Van Morrison-esque love song for the ages.
- Robert Earl Keen – The Road Goes On & On (Ready For Confetti) – Among the deans of Texas singer-songwriters, Keen doesn’t take kindly to borderline plagiarism. And he takes one helluva poison pen to a certain flag-waving Nashville “outlaw,” sparing few barbs but somehow balancing out the (understandable) bitterness with melodic bounce and a few laughs.
- Owen Temple – Fall In Love Every Night (Mountain Home) – The understated, plainspoken vibe of this song might point to why Temple gets overlooked sometimes. The subtly funny, profoundly affectionate lyrics point to why that’s a damn shame and should be corrected. It’s the arguable standout from an entire record that’s pretty great.