There is nothing I take more seriously than naming what I think is the best album of any calendar year. The Album of the Year offers a guidepost for future generations to find the best music that was forgotten by the mainstream, while at the same time being a current ambassador to the mainstream to illustrate what great music they are overlooking. An Album of the Year can’t just be the best album to listen to, it has to be impactful, influential, and/or groundbreaking.
The decision of who to nominate is always difficult, but this year it seemed especially difficult because of the additional albums I could have included beyond these three. Both Rachel Brooke’s Down in the Barnyard and Lone Wolf’s self-titled album were excellent, breakthrough releases. Cody Canada & The Departed’s This Is Indian Land I thought was especially strong, though I may be alone in that thought. And there were a couple of landmark blues albums this year, Husky Burnette’s Facedown in the Dirt, and Scott Biram’s Bad Ingredients, and make no mistake, though it would have to fight an uphill battle, a blues album could win.
But in the end, if I had included one of those albums, I’d have to include them all to be fair to the requirements of all the nominees, and that would have diluted attention from the three albums that truly have a chance to win. And certainly those albums and many more will be included on the “2011 Essential Albums List” forthcoming.
Saving Country Music is a benevolent dictatorship, and I will make the end decision of the winner, but feedback will be taken into strong consideration, so please, leave your votes, comments, your own candidates, or write-in votes below. Just don’t make fun of the cheesball “2011 Album of the Year” logo I slapped together, or you comment will be disqualified.
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Of all the albums in 2011, this was the one I listened to the most. It is one of those albums where a few of the songs hit you the first time through, then after you’ve worn out those songs, the ones you didn’t like at first grow on you, and by the time those wear out, you’re favorites in the first place are renewed once again until 6 months have gone by and you never stopped listening. In this day of so much parody in music, this is such a rare feat.
A New Home in the Old World scores two guns up on every element of this album: the songwriting, the singing, the instrumentation, the production and accessibility. You can put this album on for one of your pop country friends, and they will like it, and you will too, and Lucas proved his wide appeal by appearing on Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour this summer. And it is solidly country, pure country, with steal guitars and fiddles and down home, but not apish harmony vocals, even though he comes to us from a punk music background, and through the Suburban Home Records scene.
Simply based on appeal, and our ability to hold up an album to Music Row and say, “See, there is music out there that is better, but still widely appealing, that could save your business model,” there is no better album in 2011 than A New Home in the Old World. (read review)
El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, a magnum opus, of the highest proportions. And it’s not just that this is the greatest masterpiece of 2011, it very well may be the best masterpiece that has been put out in the independent/underground country world, ever. And I’d go even another step to say there’s a good chance it will never be rivaled in that regard. The artistry, the vision, and the patience and uncompromising approach to see it through makes El Santo Grial one for the ages.
However artistry and vision is one thing, and appeal is another. Is this an album you can play for your pop country friends? Uh yeah, probably not. They’re not ready for it, and even many people who are not pop country fans are probably not ready for it. Ulysses may be the greatest novel of all time, but damn if most of us can’t make it past the first chapter. But even though El Santo Grial may not have mass appeal, I do think it could appeal to a mass variety of people by transcending genre and traditional ideas of taste, like what Tom Waits does, until it does command a big audience. And I do think there are songs here that can be picked out of the work and stand alone. (read review)
Originally I was not going to include Damaged Goods on this list; the 2011 Album of the Year was going to be a two horse race. Don’t get me wrong, I think the album is excellent, but I just don’t know if it is their best effort. I’m not saying it “isn’t” their best effort, I’m saying “I don’t know” if it’s their best effort, like I can say about A New Home and El Santo Grial. And I have to balance that against the fact that Leroy Virgil wanted to make an album that was an approximation of their live show, which these days is fairly stripped down because of budgetary restraints.
But when you take into consideration influence and appeal, it would be an injustice to leave Damaged Goods off. Austin Lucas could blow up, but Hellbound Glory would blow up if the right buttons were pushed by someone who has the power, and understands their aesthetic. Leroy Virgil could be the next Justin Townes Earle, a solid underground success story, or he could be the next Alan Jackson. I just wish he knew that the possibilities were in arms length of him, and I wish I knew how to get him that last step–not to afford him arbitrary measures of success like money and fame, but because the world needs Hellbound Glory’s music. (read review)