Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s always a daunting task to pull together a list of my favorite albums of the year, but each year I try to do it.  With that said, I will probably leave off something I love.  And there will most likely be glaring omissions that I “should” have on here, but don’t for whatever reason.  This list is not necessarily a “best of” so much as it is a gathering of the albums I listened to the most this year, perhaps because they are the best albums of the year or maybe just because they struck my mood the best.  At any rate, I think they are all high quality records that everyone should check out.  I’m listening them here in reverse alphabetical order, simply because it’s too hard for me to rank them.  I hope you will list your favorites in the comments below.  

Holly Williams-The Highway.  Yes, she’s Hank Williams’ granddaughter.  And her daddy is Bocephus.  But that doesn’t matter because this is definitely one of the best written albums of the year, and Williams has the vocal chops to pull it off beautifully.  Each song is like a short story and taken together this is a well-produced collection perfect for long road trips.

Vampire Weekend-Modern Vampires of the City.  You may scoff and think they are a band only fit for hordes of screaming teenagers.  You’d be wrong.  The lead singer and songwriter of this band, Ezra Koenig, is somewhat of a musical genius and has crafted a true album full of brilliant hooks and profound lyrics cushioned by songs that get your feet tapping.  Definitely amongst my most-listened to records.

Kasey Musgraves-Same Trailer, Different Park.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a mainstream country album so much.  Each song is a songwriting gem and the production is great, too.  Musgraves manages to reveal the true, complex heart of rural life in songs that call small towns out on their hypocrisy, challenge religious status quos, defy stereotypes, and manage to have fun all at the same time.  “Merry Go Round” is one of the best country songs in decades.

Scott Miller-Big Big World.  Full disclosure here:  Miller is a friend of mine and over the years we’ve done some work together.  But this is still one of his all-time best albums.  It sometimes rocks and often it smooths its way into your heart.  The songs like “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me”, “Freight Train Heart/Stone Wall Love” and “Goin’ Home” are complex, emotional, and intelligent.  This album is definitely the most underrated of the year due to the fact that Miller doesn’t just not play the industry game, he outright defies it (check the name of his independent record label, F.A.Y., an anagram for a phrase he’s saying to the industry...I’ll let you figure it out on your own). 

Lorde-Pure Heroine.  She’s a teenager.  She’s brilliant.  My favorite pop record of the year, and despite the widespread open-armed acceptance of this album into the pop mainstream there is still something defiant, independent, and fierce about it.  A debut album that has managed to not be dirtied by the corporate forces behind it.  Lorde calls out hypocritical artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce (come on, now, how’s a rapper gonna be a real rapper when he’s embedded in the corporate world so firmly and hangs out with the president?  How’s Beyonce gonna encourage people to get empowered and then tell them to “bow down” to her?), dares to examine issues like class and discrimination against the rural, and lays down a mean beat to boot. 

Valerie June-Pushin’ Against a Stone.  This Memphis-based musician calls her sound “organic moonshine roots music”.  I can attest to that, but I’d also add that these songs are full of grit, longing, and everything in between.  A sort of Appalachian soul album, this record was big in Europe but hasn’t managed to catch on in America.  That’s a shame.

Kings of Leon-Mechanical Bull.  No, it doesn’t rock out like its predecessors, but it still rocks out.  And I think Caleb Followill has one of the all-time best rock voices.  It’s in fine form here.

Jim James-Regions of Light and Sound of God.  I’ve toured some with Jim and he is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.  Full disclosure over.  And my personal feelings about him have nothing to do with this being one of the best albums of the year.  It’s like an hour-long meditation with genius orchestration.  It is so, so fine. 

Jason Isbell-Southeastern.  I’ll say it:  if I was forced to pick an album of the year, this would most likely be it.  A masterpiece.  The songwriting is superb and the songs “Cover Me Up” and “Elephant” might need to duke it out for the song of the year award.  The fact is that every song on this album is tight, complex, emotional, full of vivid imagery and characterization.  This is a recording of a master songwriter at his best. 

Patty Griffin-American Kid.  Even though this is an album-long tribute to her late father, the record transcends that into being the story of anyone who listens to it.  That’s one of the magical powers Griffin has here, and this album gives us some of her best work including “Wild Old Dog,” “Ohio,” and “I Am Not a Bad Man”.  She has done no wrong in her whole career and continues that streak here.

Daft Punk-Random Access Memories.  You can’t not dance while listening to it.  You can’t not sing along.  “Get Lucky” was my song of the summer.

Basia Bulat-Tall Tall Shadow.  I’m hoping more people will come to know Bulat, who already has a small but devoted following.  That voice.  These songs.  That occasional visit from the autoharp.  I love everything on it.

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers-Self-titled.  Another criminally underrated album from one of the best singers working today.  Funky, soulful, bluesy.  A great, great album that deserves to be heard by more folks.  And if you ever get a chance to catch them live, that’s even better.  Highly recommended. 

The Avett Brothers-Magpie and the Dandelion.  I was prepared for this album to be a let-down after the one-two punch of  I and Love and You (2009) and The Carpenter (2012) but they managed to pull it off again, crafting a very fine album that perfectly blends elements of folk, rock, bluegrass, and country.  Best songs:  “Morning Song” (they bring in their whole family for the chorus, a tribute to their late aunt) and “Bring Your Love to Me” (opening lyrics:  “Bring your love to me/I will hold it like a newborn child”).

Arcade Fire-Reflektor.  The title-track is irresistible but I was surprised to find that just about everything on this double-disk concept album is.  My favorite, “Normal Person,” shows that Arcade Fire can not only do great disco-influenced work like “Reflektor” but can also rock out.  


Josh Trosper said…
Being a Kentuckian, I have always been a My Morning Jacket fan. I was a little worried about Jim James doing the solo thing. However, after catching the Austin City Limits show I was amazed. It is pure genius.
Anonymous said…
My 10 year old son and I listen to Avett Bros. every weekend on the way to Rough River. Took him to his first concert to see them at Forecastle. Great show.
Jane Holbrook said…
Heard you on Bob Edwards yesterday, 12/6/13, and intrigued by your words. Looking so forward to reading your books. As a quilter, my first choice will be "Clay's Quilt." I am always on the lookout for prompts, creative words or phrases to spark my quilt designing. Thanks for your prompts.

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