This year I seem to have been buying a lot of old stuff, much of it on vinyl, filling in gaps. Stuff newly discovered like Arc Angels (1992), stuff long forgotten, like how good Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves (1974) was, reissues like (for the first time on vinyl) the Mountain Goats’ inimitable All Hail West Texas (2002). Jason Isbell’s Live in Alabama just missed the cut because it was issued in November 2012 though I only discovered it this year. I’ve listened to it a lot.
But of albums first released (though not always recorded) in 2013, here’s my top ten:
1. Caitlin Rose, The Stand-in
Saw her for the second time in April at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester. Lovely, clean, clear voice. Great live performer. Smart songs, more 50s/60s retro-pop than alt or any other kind of country, Nashville’s hippest. This album has given me so much pleasure this year, mostly while cooking.
2. Jason Isbell, Southeastern
Saw him at the Mohawk in Austin, a warm warm night, just a couple songs in the Pettyfest (with Amanda Shires, Ruby Amanfu, Norah Jones, Jakob Dylan, the Whigs, Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II and all). But we drove through Muscle Shoals and Florence, Alabama, where he was raised, toured the Fame studios where he recorded “Cigarettes and Wine,” on the leisurely road from Atlanta to Austin. He always could write (“Outfit,” “Decoration Day,” TVA”), it’s just he’s so grown up now. “Elephant” is a heartbreaker.
3. Sam Baker, Say Grace
He digs ditches in Austin. Just discovered this self-produced album thanks to Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Country list. You can buy it at his website from his sister-in-law. It’s not country, it’s indescribable. Ivory and amber, turpentine and lace. Now I know what “a Canadian” is, in Texas. (Hint: it’s to do with the weather.) We had one last week. Going to see him on Sunday at the Strange Brew Cafe.
4. Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait
Guess I’ve mellowed since Bob’s first Self Portrait album, when I thought the same as Greil Marcus (“What kind of shit is this?”). Greil wrote the revisionist sleeve-notes for this collection of alternates and outtakes. My partner Yoke-Sum calls this the Suburban Bob. Some lovely touches (“Pretty Saro”), but best (on the deluxe version) is the whole 1969 Isle of White concert with the Band. I WAS THERE.
5. Rolling Stones, Sweet Summer Sun
In 1969, what a year, the Stones played Hyde Park. I WAS THERE. On the evidence of this set, they were tighter in 2013. A fabulous performance. Later in 1969, the Stones cut “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” at 3614 Jackson Highway, the burlap palace in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
6. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park
Another belated discovery from the Rolling Stone Top Ten Country list. So many talented young songwriters out there right now. I think I might end up liking Kacey almost as much as I do Caitlin, which is saying something.
7. Inside Llewyn Davies (various artists)
I shouldn’t like this—Justin Timberlake and one of the saccharine Mumfords—but I do. When Yoke-Sum streamed this on NPR I nearly fell out of my seat. I knew most every word to most every song. It choked me up. The explanation is that I WAS THERE. Not in the Village, but the Medway Folk Club, circa 1963-4, where I saw Tom Paxton sing “The last thing on my mind”—and Arlo Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack, Peggy Seeger, Bert Jansch, Ewan MacColl, and many more. I can taste the time. Can’t wait for the movie.
8. Françoise Hardy, L’amour fou
If Dylan and Mick and Keith can still do it, why not Françoise? I WAS THERE, too—thirteen and longing. The nod to André Breton is a bonus. We bought an original 45 of “Tous les garçons et les filles” at one of those stalls by the Seine for 15 Euros this summer. That clean, clear voice reminds me of Caitlin Rose.
9. Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture of You
A masterful artist, a catch you by the throat title song. Guy’s wife Susanna (“L.A. Freeway”) died last year. Unbearably sad album.
10. Beyonce, Beyonce
Good Texas girl. Like half the world I downloaded this on iTunes today. ‘Nuff said.