Yep, it’s that time of year again…time for my end-of-the-year countdown of the best albums. It’s been an interesting year for music. We lost an immense talent in Amy Winehouse…we’ve seen the charts dominated by another incredible voice. One of my favorite bands (Gomez) released an album I could barely even listen to once, but I’ve also fallen in love with some new music this year.
There have been some really good music that’s come down the pike this year, and as usual, I like to share the good stuff. Without further ado, here are the ten best I’ve heard all year.
10. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator — The husband and wife combo of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks combined their considerable talents (she’s an accomplished blues singer/guitarist and he’s a member of the Allman Brothers Band), got together with nine of their friends, and recorded this Southern rock/blues/soul/jam-band masterpiece. The album feels exactly like what it is: a loose conglomeration of musicians jamming and having fun. (Best of the Best: “Love Has Something Else To Say,” “Midnight In Harlem,” “Come See About Me”)
9. Adele, Live at the Royal Albert Hall — Capping off a bittersweet year — unprecedented success followed by throat problems that sidelined her — with an incredible live CD/DVD was one of the best moves Adele could have made. This live set captures not only her immense talent but her engaging personality. Hearing her share some of the stories behind the songs, watching her interact with the audience, and especially seeing her emotional reaction to the crowd singing along endear me to Adele even more. (Best of the Best: “Set Fire To To The Rain,” “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” “Someone Like You”)
8. Casey Darnell, Coming Alive — Casey Darnell has done something rare with Coming Alive — he has created a Christian rock recording free of cliches. Energetic, engaging, and modern, Coming Alive is one that I never tire of listening to, because I discover new sounds every time I do. (Best of the Best: “Coming Alive,” “Awakening,” “When The Waters Rise”)
7. Needtobreathe, The Reckoning — The Southern rockers seem to have ratcheted up both the Southern and the rock on their fourth album. With a great selection of driving tunes and quiet moments, The Reckoning isn’t lacking for variety or creativity. This record proves that Needtobreathe is one of the best out there. (Best of the Best: “Maybe They’re On To Us,” “Drive All Night,” Oohs And Aahs”)
6. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow — After hearing friends rave about The Civil Wars, I figured I’d check them out. Joy Williams and John Paul White have created lovely and delicate with their debut record, and their harmonies are impossibly tight. Barton Hollow is a genuine acoustic treat. (Best of the Best: “Falling,” “To Whom It May Concern,” “Poison & Wine”)
5. Matt Redman, 10,000 Reasons — Matt Redman is one of the most consistent worship leaders and songwriters out there, and 10,000 Reasons is yet another worthy addition to his repertoire. I had the privilege of being one of the first people to get my hands on a copy of the record after hearing him lead a few of the songs live at Passion City Church. The first half of the album is especially strong, with powerful, passionate anthems throughout. (Best of the Best: “Here For You,” “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord),” “We Are The Free”)
4. Immanu El, In Passage — This Swedish “post-rock” combo released their third album this year, and In Passage builds on the beautiful soundscapes of their first two records. The chiming guitars and impressionistic, not-always-decipherable lyrics complement the epic, cinematic scope of the songs. A truly exhilarating and lovely experience. (Best of the Best: “On Wide Shoulders,” “Skagerak,” “To An Ocean”)
3. Over The Rhine, The Long Surrender — After a couple of albums that didn’t quite meet my expectations, OTR returned with their most solid record in a long time. Blending their folk/acoustic alt-pop with the jazzier leanings they’ve experimented with, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have created a truly soulful outing. Bergquist’s vocals are better than ever, and the duo’s backing band is in fine form. Though it’s not perfect (I could do without “Rave On”), it’s awfully close. (Best of the Best: “Sharpest Blade,” “The King Knows How,” “Undamned”)
2. Bill Mallonee, The Power And The Glory — My friend Bill’s first full-band studio album in several years is as consistent as anything he’s done. All the elements are there — the Southern rock, the trippy Brit-pop, the Byrds-esque folk — and they combine to create that inimitable Bill Mallonee style. With lyrics touching on matters of the heart, matters of the soul, current events, and even the legendary story of D B Cooper, The Power And The Glory is compelling and far-reaching. One of his best yet! (Best of the Best: “Just To Feel The Heat,” “The Ghosts That I Run With,” “Stop Breaking Down”)
1. Adele, 21 — Only one artist deserves two places on this year’s countdown, and of course it’s Adele. I fell madly in love with her music when her debut album, 19, came out in 2008, and I knew greater things were yet to come from this amazing voice. 21 delivers on the promise of 19…and then some. Soulful singing and heartfelt lyrics (mostly autobiographical) abound on this record. Even with all the bells and whistles, Adele shines best on the stripped-down songs. It’s so gratifying to see Adele reaping the rewards of the success she so deserves. (Best of the Best: “Turning Tables,” “Rolling In The Deep,” “He Won’t Go”)