Here are the second five albums in my Best of 2011 list; you’ll find the first part here.
Israel Nash Gripka – Barn Doors and Concrete Floors: Israel’s last record made my Best of 2009 list, and this one is equally good. I’ve been explaining what Barn Doors and Concrete Floors sounds like to people by saying it is as if Neil Young and John Fogerty met in 1971 and formed a band. But don’t let that description make you think that Israel Nash Gripka is anything other than someone who is using a classic sound to create some wonderful brand new guitar band music. Fools Gold and Goodbye Ghost are the standouts here, but in any event this is a good record to play loud.
Jim Keller Band – Soul Candy: After being away from writing and performing music for a number of years (he was in Tommy TuTone and co-wrote 867-5309/Jenny), Jim Keller has collected a band full of top notch musicians and been performing in small local venues and recording. Soul Candy is Jim’s second album in as many years. You’ll find 10 soul tinged songs on the record ranging from rockers like Meltdown and Giving It Up To Love to ballads like Julianne and Modern Girl. And of course Jim makes skillful use of a horn section.
James Maddock – Wake Up and Dream: The hardest thing in writing about James Maddock is coming up with an apt short description of his music. Folk Rock might be close, but much of James’ work is close to anthemic. That aside, the new album from James, Up and Dream, is a delight. There are 12 songs that range from energetically uptempo (Beautiful Now, Living A Lie) to the more introspective (Mr. Universe, Keep Your Dreams) and points in between (the title cut). The same band that played on James’ last two records as well as his live shows is back again and providing a very full sound. James has played many of these songs live over the past couple of years and it’s good to have them finally recorded.
My Pet Dragon – Mountains and Cities: Met Pet Dragon has taken elements from 80s synth pop and from that era’s U2 and combined them into anthemic and danceable rock. This album includes two excellent songs previously issued on EPs last year, Lover in Hiding and Flow and adds more standouts including Majestic Lovers, Moonshine, Lightning Inside and Songbird. This record sounds good turned up as well.
Bess Rogers – Out of the Ocean: This wonderful record full of power pop is the follow up to last years EP, Bess Rogers Presents Bess Rogers. Out of the Ocean was inspired by a book about evolution, but the lyrics are broad enough to be more than just about that. The songs here are well crafted, the arrangements inventive and Bess’ vocals are exactly what is called for. I always have a tough time moving past I’ll Be Gone, but other standout tracks include Math & Science, Anchor and Water & Dirt.
I had a hard time cutting this list down to 10 records. There were a number of records which I liked a great deal but which found themselves just below the line. So here are those albums of exceptional merit which did not make the list this year, but which you should pick up and enjoy:
Julia Haltigan - My Green Heart
Madison Square Gardeners – Teeth of Champions
Caitlin Rose – Own Side Now
Amy Speace – Land Like A Bird
Ursa Minor – Showface
Wait Till Next Year
I also left off two records which have not been officially released but were being sold at live appearances by these two bands. Their official release should occur in 2012 and they’ll be as close to a sure thing for next year’s Top 10 list as you can get:
The Mastersons – Birds Fly South