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My top 10 albums of 2009: Part 2 – The top 5

Following on from the previous post, here are the final five selections in my list of the top 10 albums of the last year, in descending order…

5) J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

More west coast americana here, this time from Seattle’s husky voiced Fleet Fox member J (Joshua) Tillman.  Vacilando Territory Blues sees him in typically thoughtful form, with the track ‘James Blues’ an example of his piano and guitar backed husky storytelling style.  ‘First Born’ is another treat on this album, which was one of two released in the last year and which peaked at just #191 in the UK album charts.

This album is patient, delicate and if you loved Bon Iver in 2007 but have been disappointed by his subsequent work, then Tillman’s your man.

4) Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up and Smelling of Strangers

Hinson’s aching, cracked voice on swooping string backings have long since won me over.  My Fresh Air radio show and associated podcasts almost turned into a one man homage to the Texan with enough angst in his soul to make me cry.  This year though, he decided to release a double CD covers record, which I anticipated and worried about in equal measure.  Covers records are fraught with danger and I can think of very few which are actually any good.  However, in Hinson we trust…

The result was a mixed press, with many of my fellow bloggers panning the record, with his cover of George Harrison’s ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ coming in a for particularly hostile reception.  For me though, Hinson succeeds because he makes the tracks his own, rather than attempting to out-do the original.  He shows respect to the original recordings and selected them because they are songs he loves.  His cover of John Denver’s ‘This old guitar’ is my pick of the lot.  Covers albums will always be divisive and I would rather have seen an album of original Hinson material.  Still though, it is bloody good.

3) The Low Anthem – Oh my God, Charlie Darwin

A fairly new addition to my record collection, ‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ has barely left the CD player since its arrival.  Incidentally, I don’t really like the title track or the album’s centrepiece ‘To Ohio’ (which the band seem to like enough for it to appear twice on the record), but once these two opening tracks are over, the US alt. folk trio’s album comes into its own with the superb Cohen-esque ‘Ticket Taker’.  There are more than a few nods to Tom Waits too, with ‘Home I’ll never be’ giving the writing credit to Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac (him again).

This album harks back to an America of old, but also deals with the contemporary issues to which its title alludes; namely the conflict between Darwinism and religion in modern America.

Having recorded the album in a desolate cabin (Bon who?), the band have recently acquired recording space in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, and regular updates from their new home are posted on their website.

‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ is an album with no spaces in between the sound.  Rich and lush, with layered harmonies and a vast array of instruments, this is an album full of tales and imagery and is one I shall return to time after time.

2) Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More

So, all the bloggers get together to lavish praise on a little known act emerging out of London’s indie folk scene.  Then they become successful and have an advert on the telly with the dulcet tones of Jo Wiley telling everybody to buy it for Christmas.  No we are supposed to shun them yeah, cause they’re not cool anymore yeah, they’ve sold out yeah?  Well, no.

When I first heard ‘Little Lion Man’ in late 2007, I was blown away.  I played it on my radio show just about every week and stated then that if Mumford and Sons could back this up with some other memorable tunes, they would have an album to be reckoned with.  Well, they only went and managed that.  ‘Sigh no more’ is superb from start to finish and has rightly put them in the spotlight alongside fine scene contemporaries Johnny Flynn and Noah and the Whale, along with the somewhat questionable Laura Marling (who I saw put in a rather shockingly dull performance at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall a few months back).

‘Sigh no more’ has more plays on my iTunes than any other record and if their reward for success is a TV advert and more record sales, then I say well done.  More please more please more please…..

1) Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom

To be fair, any Tom Waits release is pretty much guaranteed to be my top album of the year, such is my love of the gravel-voiced man whose career has spanned nearly 40 varied and glorious years.  The only real problem came in 2002, when he released Blood Money and Alice at the same time.  The bugger…

Glitter and Doom is made up of live recordings from his European tour of 2007.  The pain of being too impoverished to see him when he came to Edinburgh will live with me until my dying day.  This album has gone some way to alleviating that pain, but in some ways it has only served to highlight what I missed.

Waits has always been a supreme live performer; part barfly crooner, part balladeer, part stand up comedian.  CD1 contains 17 live tracks spanning his entire career and Tom is on particularly grizzly form, even by his own formidable standards.  The jewel in the crown though is CD2, a staggeringly funny and insightful collection of his chat between songs, edited together and lasting 36 phenomenal, side splitting minutes.

Did you know you can get 14 omelettes from one ostrich egg?  Well, Tom does.  He also claims to have purchased Henry Ford’s last breath from Ebay.

True or not, thank you Mr Waits.  Yet again, you have made my year.

Having just turned 60, Tom Waits sounds as good as ever.


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Album review: Micah P Hinson – All Dressed up and Smelling of Strangers

It would be fair to say a new Micah P Hinson album has the power to make or break my year.  Ever since I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Baby and the Satellite on a whim around 4 years ago, the Texan singer’s crackling voice has provided the soundtrack to my life.  Those familiar with his work will agree, this makes me a miserable bastard, but I’m strangely comfortable with that description.

The album is Hinson's 5th, recorded in his hometown of Abilene, Texas

So it was with a great deal of intrigue that I greeted the news that his latest album, his 5th studio record, was to be a 2CD covers album.  I also worried a lot, as I tend to do, as an entire album of covers is not something many artists can pull off, possibly with the notable exception of Cat Power.

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