Every year since 2008, I’ve been writing Top 10 lists of the year’s best albums. I’ve noticed as the years go by that my tastes have veered further and further away from mainstream pop, rock, and country – and I’m OK with that.
So, here are ten really special albums – well, nine albums and a collection of soundtrack songs – most of which are a bit off the beaten path. They’re totally worth checking out, and to prove it, I’ve included links to iTunes for each of them. Enjoy…
10. Over The Rhine, Meet Me At The Edge Of The World
Back in 2003, when Over the Rhine released the double album Ohio, it was big news for their fans. Ohio was a masterpiece, so it makes sense that ten years later, they would try it again. Meet Me At The Edge Of The World reunites Linford and Karen with producer Joe Henry and many of the players from 2011’s The Long Surrender. While it doesn’t capture the power of Ohio, there are plenty of good moments on Meet Me At The Edge Of The World. This double album gives Over the Rhine’s fans plenty of what they’ve come to expect – quiet music that should be played loud.
Best of the Best: “Meet Me At The Edge Of The World,” “Wildflower Bouquet,” “Favorite Time Of Light”
9. Hem, Departure & Farewell
It took almost seven years for Hem to release a proper follow up to Funnel Cloud. They nearly broke up doing so – in fact, they took some time off during the recording process. Departure & Farewell was well worth the wait. The songs fit right into Hem’s wheelhouse: tunes that feel like they’re from another time in history. The band’s old-school instrumentation and Sally Ellyson’s poignant vocals make each song sound like a snapshot of days gone by.
Best of the Best: “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing,” “Tourniquet,” “Last Call”
8. Patty Griffin, Silver Bell
Patty Griffin released two albums this year. The Americana-based American Kid depressed me; I much prefer the edgy, rocking Silver Bell. This album was the lost recording that Atlantic never released back in 2000. I’ve had a bootleg copy of it for years, but to hear it in its fully mixed and mastered glory is a real treat. Silver Bell covers the gamut from folk and country to driving rock, and nearly every song demands repeated listening. This is the Patty Griffin I prefer!
Best of the Best: “Truth #2,” “Silver Bell,” “Boston”
7. Green River Ordinance, Chasing Down The Wind
For this seven-song EP, GRO traded in the anthemic pop-rock of last year’s Under Fire for an acoustic set that leans in a country-Americana direction. The result is a nice little diversion for the Texas-based band. In addition to the lovely acoustic instrumentation, the lead vocals and harmony shine. I’m always impressed with what I hear from GRO, and Chasing Down The Wind is no exception.
Best of the Best: “It Ain’t Love,” “Better Love,” “When My Days Are Done”
6. Amy Grant, How Mercy Looks From Here
I have to admit I’ve had a crush on Amy Grant for about 30 years, and her music has influenced me in more ways than I can count. How Mercy Looks From Here is her first album of all original music in a decade, and it’s a fine return to form. Amy doesn’t aim for hipness here; rather, she counts on solid songcraft (she wrote all but one of the album’s songs) and timeless sounds to carry the album. Guest appearances by artists like James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, and Carole King fit like a glove with the hopeful sound of the songs.
Best of the Best: “Don’t Try So Hard,” “If I Could See (What The Angels See),” “Shovel In Hand”