Well here goes for our writers’ Top Albums of 2013 – the brief was not just necessarily to pick out albums that have been released this year specifically, although of course that is the general gist, but to include albums (of whatever genre!) that have moved us, meant something or recently discovered past gems…..happy reading!
“Hazy Sunshine” – Dennis Ellsworth
Dennis’ 2012 release “Dusk Dreams” would have made this list too – an album that just blew me away when I first heard it. But I’ve placed “Hazy Sunshine” here by virtue of it’s 2013 release.
My initial thoughts, pre-listening, were how on earth would Dennis follow up “Dusk Dreams”? Well, “Hazy Sunshine” is the emphatic response! A harder-edged sound than it’s predecessor, the album cements the Canadian’s place in the top echelon of the Americana scene’s elite songwriting talent.
12 songs that don’t disappoint – check out the fragile beauty of “Silver Tears”, the fleeting joy of “Happiness” or the stark realism of “Coke Machine Glow”. It’s a roller-coaster of an album, but one well worth the ride!
“50 Odd Dollars” – Fred Eaglesmith
Ok, so it’s not a 2013 release, but earlier this year I re-discovered this gem of a 1999 album, and it’s rarely been off the turntable since. A lot of you may already have heard Country star Miranda Lambert’s version of Fred’s “Time To Get A Gun” (which isn’t on this album!).
Distinctly American, there are elements of Country, Americana, rock but underpinned by an odd sense of quirkiness and latent authenticity that sets this apart from other artists operating within this genre.
Mr. Eaglesmith rarely visits these shores, but what I wouldn’t give to hear him whooping the “Blue Tick Hound”, crooning unmistakably to “Rodeo Boy” or driving the “Mighty Big Car”. Take it on faith that this is one album that will light up your collection.
“The Moorings” – Andrew Duhon
Having already heard Andrew perform a number of the songs from this album at a couple of his UK concerts, I suppose I already had a head start on how good I was hoping the record was going to be. What I wasn’t prepared for was not just the quality of songwriting on show here, but the whole atmosphere and feel that permeates from the Scottish-influenced opening title track “The Moorings”, via the just straight up grace of “Evelyn” and bluesy slide-fest that is “Sidestep Your Grave”, through to the calming coda of “Feel It In My Soul”.
We get a fascinating glimpse, and a slice of New Orleans life through Andrew’s eyes – and it makes for an album of consistent high quality, an album that I just can’t resist dipping into as the mood moves me.
And what’s more – congratulations are in order to Andrew (who played for us in 2013 and will be doing so again in 2014!), as news reaches us that “The Moorings” has been Grammy nominated! Now that IS awesome!
“Truth Be Sold” – Leeroy Stagger
“What? Another Canadian makes it onto Ken’s Top 5 List?” – I hear you say (or as Dennis Ellsworth would say of Leeroy – “my brother from another mother!”). We managed to to see Leeroy and his band at Maverick Festival and at the Prince Albert in Brighton this year (2013) while they were touring the UK, and they rocked our proverbials off!
“Truth Be Sold” ebbs and flows with musical delights at every turn. Immediate stand out songs are “Sold Down The River” and “Break My Heart”, backed up by the ragged glory of “Goodnight Berlin” and “Cities On Fire”. But dig deeper and you’ll find hidden treasures in the form of “Mister” and “Have a Heart”.
Where Steve Earle meets The Clash? Perhaps. Get yourself a copy and make your own mind up!
“The New Long Player From” – Good Time Charlies
Released in 2011, this is one of those records that I keep returning to when I’m in need of motivation and inspiration. And what’s more these boys hail from our own fair City. Over the years I’ve listened to a multitude of albums produced by Portsmouth-based bands, but I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best (so far) bar none!
Tuneful garage punky power-pop brim full of rocking riffage and memorable melodies. 2 and 3 minute bursts of harmonious energy that are guaranteed to make you smile and love life. Song titles such as “1970”, “Big Bad Boots”, “Turn Me On Again” and “Evel Knieval” give you some indication as to this bands irreverent attitude.
Killer album – and what’s even more impressive, they produce the goods live too! Grab the album – catch a show. If these boys were from America they’d already be huge!
Number 1 is an album I have not even heard yet………how can that possibly be?! Because it is a live set just released from ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD’s tour this year and they produced one of my best gigs ever. With three frontmen, Devon Allman, Mike Zito, on guitar and vocals and Cyrille Neville on percussion on vocals and an incredible rhythm section of Yonrico Scott, drums and Charlie Wooton, bass, what you get is a sum even greater than its’ parts. A mesmeric fusion of talent and an array of individual virtuosity, unaffected by ego and magnified by mutual respect and sheer joy of execution. New Orleans soul, Mississippi Blues and Texas Blues Rock in a framework which allows for individual freedom and tight collaboration. Destined for the top and quite simply the best band I have ever seen.
Number 2 is “STILL CLIMBING” from ex Mountain colossus LESLIE WEST. Leslie has returned to his love of the Blues in recent years and still retains his fire despite having a leg amputated last year. With guests such as Johnny Winter and powerful vocals from the man himself on some great material, the album is a testament to raucous, raunchy, rocking Blues but has its’ emotive moments too. Just check out ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ with incredible vocal contribution from another favourite of mine, Jonny Lang – worth the album price alone.
Number 3 is “TURQUOISE” by DEVON ALLMAN, a very personal album from one of the afore mentioned RSB. Emotive lyrics and great songs from the scion of the great Southern dynasty with some very personal material covering his childhood, witness ‘When I Left Home’ with some super slide and a lovely love song ‘Time Machine’. He has matured into an incredible vocalist with a uniquely pervasive resonance. Another highlight is a fine rendition of Tom Petty’s duet with Stevie Nicks, ‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around’ performed with up and coming US guitarist Samantha Fish.
Number 4 is “NADURRA” from CLANNAD, one of my all time favourite bands with their unique ethereal approach and Gaelic influences. This year saw the original line up reform and produce a series of wonderful gigs, one of which I was fortunate enough to catch and this is the first new release for years. The album had to be included on that basis alone and is full of the typically beautiful vocals from Moya Brennan over the timeless lilting melodies.
Number 5 is a new venture from underrated UK Blues vocalist Paul Cox whose emotive and soulful take over a wide range of material has long been at the focus of my collection. “100 PER CENT PROOF” by THE PROOF adds the quality of stalwarts such as Roger Cotton, keys and Pete Stroud on bass, with appearances by Marcus Malone and Charlie Fabert. There is some quite fabulous soulful Blues and straight twelve bar on this album which is as good as anything Paul has done in the past. There is a cover of the classic ‘Can’t Find My way Home’ I saw Steve Winwood perform this year – wow! and Paul like me is a long term fan of Paul Rodgers and Free and like Alan Nimmo, always a head start in my book. The band are currently touring – see them if you can.
1. “The Moorings” – Andrew Duhon.
Recently Grammy Nominated album “The Moorings” by Andrew Duhon undisputedly tops my best five albums of the year list! Filled with noodling and melodious acoustic guitar, unique smokey Southern vocals and stories to melt your heart, this album is truly a musical masterpiece.
There is something very uplifting about Andrew’s songs that is hard to pin-point, but it’s resplendent throughout all of his music from his debut album “Songs I Wrote Before I Knew You” to “The Moorings” and beyond into new, unrecorded material.
2. “Hazy Sunshine” – Dennis Ellsworth
A firm favourite at Square Roots Promotions, Dennis recently played an intimate house concert in the upstairs room of the Square Tower here in Old Portsmouth. Those lucky enough to come were treated to Dennis’ honest and captivating musical stylings, some of the finest examples of which can be heard on this album.
The follow up to the hugely popular “Dusk Dreams”, Dennis jokes that “Hazy Sunshine” is his attempt at writing happy songs – and let me tell you, the album doesn’t disappoint. Chock-full of soaring violin and beautifully resonant guitar, this album is a spiritually elevating piece of art. If you get the chance to see Dennis in the UK, make sure you do it, and it will be obvious why this album comes in at Number 2!
3. “If You Wait” – London Grammar
So not strictly Americana this one, but we listen to other stuff too over here! London Grammar are an exciting and experimental, new electro indie trio and this is their debut album.
“If You Wait” combines simple yet subtle clean guitar with electronic beats and soft keyboard melodies, with the unmistakable vocals of Hannah Reid, whose voice has been compared to that of Florence Welch.
Each and every tune on the album has an immensely powerful ambience created by the complementation of the guitar and keyboard combination. Check out “Hey Now”, “Strong” and “Wasting My Young Years” for a taster!.
4. “Dusk Dreams” – Dennis Ellsworth
Some people say that “Dusk Dreams” is filled with brooding Dennis Ellsworth, but go and see him live and you’ll realise that this finely crafted album is founded on a set of completely honest and accessible songs. I think that the moodiness of this record could be partly to do with the shimmering steel slide guitar that is resident in almost all of the songs, yet for me it completes the songs and gives the entire album a very relaxed vibe.
Being Dennis’ first full solo album released in 2012, it’s not brand new but it’s been playing almost non-stop on my iTunes and in the car this year. It’s excellent driving music for that haunted heart on the road.
5. Extra Hot Cakes Yuletide Edition – The Darkness
The comeback album of 2012 was The Darkness’ “Hot Cakes”. Well it wouldn’t be Christmas without their (10 year old) “Christmas Time, Don’t Let The Bell’s End”, so I was pleased to see that it had been re-recorded and released in a special yuletide edition of “Hot Cakes” – what a stocking filler!
For everyone who loves The Darkness or missed “Hot Cakes” last year, go and get the yuletide edition.This special release is packed with bonus live tracks from their multi-platinum album “Permission To Land”. It’s everything you could expect from a Darkness album – dirty, driving guitar riffs and falsetto to blow you out of your Christmas catsuit!
Lynton Brown (still hooked on vinyl and the low rumble)
(WARNING: contains albums of DEATH, WAR,DEVASTATION and HORROR)
You know it’s a thankless task. I mean here’s another list of bands you may not have heard. But although we’ve only just met, I feel you have a keen sense of musical taste. So let’s put some platters on the player…..
Our first time for a The Local Natives gig was in February at The Wedgewood Rooms, and their album Hummingbirds is rightly a contender for album of the year. Having two expressive lead vocalists gives them a head start, with strong melodies, allowing the album to build throughout these ten faultless tracks, from the glorious subtle melodies of ‘You and I’ and ‘Bowery’ to the drum-driven behemoth that is ‘Wooly Mammoth’. Think Fleet Foxes meet Grandaddy.
The same month Josephine played at Pie and Vinyl, performing songs from Portrait, her auspicious debut album. Artistically, she is so comfortable with her writing and performing styles, playing way beyond what you might expect. More importantly she has a stunning vocal range and on the album, has a band not reliant on back-line sequencing. She covers a vast musical territory, from the soul of ‘Original Love’, the folky ‘What A Day’, the infectious ‘A Freak A’, to the Radio 2 friendly title track. Her voice seemingly tackles any genre effortlessly, which surprisingly all gels beautifully. Definitely an album to savour.
Veering back into the rock sphere, I was late to the game with MeWithoutYou, and this where we stretch the 2013 thing. When I find a group that has already released 4 albums, I feel a bit cheated. Last year’s Ten Stories is a magnificent beast of an album, insistent riffs and loquacious storytelling with a unique vocal. ‘Grist for The Malady Mill’ sets the template for the album’s storyline involving the trial of an elephant for causing a train wreck in 1878. Yep, you probably read that right! If I also mention that these guys are committed Christians, I can almost hear the rush for the bar. But miss out on these guys at your peril. Also recommend is their video for ‘The Fox, Crow and Cookie’ from the 2009 It’s All Crazy album to check out how unique they are. Of a similar religious persuasion is the excellent band Gungor whose album I Am Mountain is a real genre-hopper. But hey, one radically musical religious bunch at a time now.
Another new-to-me group in 2013 was The Moulettes, who have been treading the boards for several years now. But their second album, last years The Bear’s Revenge melds folk, rock, oboes and tales of devastation in equal amounts. Vocalist, cellist & writer Hannah Miller takes us on a musical rampage, abetted by the manic violin of Georgina Leach, now departed from the group. November’s gig in Southampton saw them up to full strength, often sounding sweet and menacing within the same song, ‘Sing Unto Me’ showing as much light as ‘Some Who You Love’ emits portentousness. Think The Unthanks but more unhinged!
More than highly recommended is Radical Face’s Roots and Branches trilogy. The Branches album was released this year and continues Ben Cooper’s sagas of murder, betrayal and suicide, which provided a great show when touring in Bristol this autumn. His lo-fi and found analogue recordings have created a template for all his albums since the impeccable Ghost in 2007. Along with his penchant for intriguingly self-deprecating lyrics, songs like ‘Holy Branches’ and ‘Reminders’ (I’m either honest or an optimist/but never both at the same time) manage to drag you into this less than perfect world. If, like me, you were hooked on his Welcome Home, which was purloined for the Nikon advert, this should just be the album for you.
So to the best of the rest releases this year, which must include Nick Cave’s endlessly fascinating Push The Sky Away, and Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, the retro power pop of The Electric Soft Parade’s surprisingly endearing Idiots, not forgetting Bowie’s welcome return to form on The Next Day. More obscurely, this year marked the return of Canada’s finest pop meisters, The Heavy Blinkers and their 5th glorious album, Health. Both Sam Baker and The Deep Dark Woods played glorious sets at The Railway in Winchester in 2013 and their albums Say Grace and Jubilee, respectively, are well worth the investment.
Finally, New Yorker’s The Wiyos appeared at the Chichester Inn in October, and I got lucky to hear their last album, the award-winning Twist, prior to the gig. It’s a fascinating surreal tale based on The Wizard Of Oz fable, where they manage an angular break out from their thirties styled good time music and Boardwalk Empire-era blues, by adding some psychedelic sweetness and harmonies to the mix. Overall, this is the unexpected surprise of the year and more fun and ecstatic than a shedload of Coldplay’s or Mumford’s!
Good hunting in 2014.
Got a new release in 2014? Send it to us here at Square Roots, 3 The Old Road, Cosham, Portsmouth, Hants, PO6 2Sp and it may well get reviewed……..