Here’s a list of my favorite new and ‘new to me’ music for 2011. It’s pretty heavily weighted to the neo-folk rock side of things and borders on country I guess. What can I say, I love mandolin.
We were treated to the band Mount Moriah as the opening act for the Indigo Girls this summer. Their self-titled album features a couple of songs that I really find compelling, ‘Lament’ and ‘Reckoning’ are soulful and if you can’t feel the raw, unchecked emotion in the voice of lead singer Heather McEntire you should check your own pulse. I’d suggest watching and listening to their live cuts on www.HearYa.com. There is also a cut of ‘Lament’ on the Current’s website that’s worth a listen (http://thecurrent.org/).
I hate to be bandwagon jumper, but Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists, and The Civil Wars all put out excellent music this year. Mumford and Son’s deluxe edition of “Sigh no More” is excellent. Because of the rawness and the trueness that live recordings often present I like to listen live versions when available. This album not only includes studio versions of the recordings but a good number of their songs performed live as well. ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ are particularly well done live.
From The Decemberists’ album “The King is Dead”, I particularly enjoy ‘Down by the Water’ (check out the Austin City Limits live version with Gillian Welch for a real treat) and ‘January Hymn’. ‘This is Why we Fight’ is also worthy of a long listen. Add the band’s “Long Live the King” EP to this album as a playlist and you’ve got over 80 minutes of good tunes. The folk influences combined with a hint of R.E.M. (Peter Buck appears on three tracks of the album) are intriguing.
I’m no longer a huge country fan, and I honestly shudder to think that I once was, however, The Civil Wars bring a really unique sound to the turntable, or the iPod. While the title track to “Barton Hollow” gets most of the attention ‘Poison and Wine’ is the song that grabbed my attention.
A few songs and artists that didn’t release new material this year and fall into the “new to me” category include the Avett Brothers which I might go as far as considering my new favorite band. These guys are kind of rough around the edges but their lyrics are full of grace and reflect the struggles of everyday life. Their lyrics often present a new, folk-like version of the Psalter. ‘Ill with Want’ is particularly compelling and reflects the struggle that many of us have with living our lives in a manner that isn’t corrupted by the all too frequent societal message that we need to be constantly ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. The song ‘Once and Future Carpenter’ challenges our sense of ‘call’ into a life well-lived, regardless of our given circumstances. ‘Once’ has yet to be released, but a wonderful CMT unplugged version can be found on YouTube. Also check out ‘I Thank God’ a song that appears on the compilation album “My Favorite Gifts – A Christmas Album”.
A few more "new to me" types: I’m really intrigued by the group Band of Horses, their folk influence is grand, but they have a very unique sound, full of reverb, that borders on techno; interesting to say the least.
Finally for something completely different, check out Matisyahu. Matisyahu is a Hasidic Jew whose genre falls somewhere into in somewhat of a combination of rap and reggae. His music is infused with a Jewish sense of spirituality and often times the lament is more than obvious. ‘One Day’ is a beautiful song that totally captures the lament of the psalms yet does so with a very uplifting sensibility of hopefulness.