Monday, 28 December 2009

2009 Review: Albums

Actually calling this a review of 2009 is over-stating things. It is just a few "props" and "nuff respects" - as I understand the young people say - to some decent records, followed by the not at all eagerly anticipated revealing of my album of the year.

To get the honourable mentions out of the way first, in no particular order:

"The Loving Kind" - Nanci Griffith. A long awaited return to form and one I had almost given up on. Her best album for at least 15 years.

"To Be Loved" - Thad Cockrell. First solo album for six years and as good as I had hoped after waiting so long (although points taken off for including four tracks released as an EP last year).

"The King Vs The General" - Penny Penny & General Muzka. The reigning Tsonga monarch teams up with the pretender to the throne to great effect.

"Carbeth" - Trembling Bells. Included mainly to show that while I am irredeemably an old fart I do listen to some modern stuff (just as long as it is modern stuff that sounds like it could have been made in the 1960s or 1970s). Patchy - they were trying a bit too hard to be strange in some places - but the good bits were excellent.

Also worth a mention: "Townes" - Steve Earle (especially the acoustic album), "Bible Belt" - Diane Birch, "Balm In Gilead" (Rickie Lee Jones), and a couple of live albums that will crop up again tomorrow.

But my album of the year by a long way is "Blood And Candle Smoke" by Tom Russell. I have seen reviews that describe him as the songwriting equivalent of Cormac McCarthy. In that case this is his equivalent of "The Road" or "All The Pretty Horses". Many of Tom's previous albums have been a bit patchy but there is no filler this time, just twelve great songs. Musically the involvement of Calexico seems to have moved things up a notch as well.

I have been a fan of Tom's for years and go to see him whenever he is in London. If you haven't seen him before I recommend you get yourself up to the Luminaire in Kilburn on 27 January. He always puts on an excellent show and the stories between the songs are almost as good as the songs themselves.

Here is one track from "Blood And Candle Smoke" and one old favourite:

"Mississippi River Runnin' Backwards" - from "Blood And Candle Smoke" (2009)

"William Faulkner In Hollywood" - from "The Road To Bayamon" (1988)

Here is a clip of Tom, sporting a very obvious dye job, performing "East Of Woodstock, West Of Vietnam" from "Blood And Candle Smoke" on Letterman earlier this year:

Bonus clip: On "The Road To Bayamon", Tom included a cover version of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire". It wasn't bad, but I prefer this one:

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