2011 Album(s) of the Year

Grammy's 2011 Album of the Year

This year’s Grammy Awards held a bit of a surprise for me. I have to confess I have barely paid attention to these awards for the past several years. As my tastes have diverged from mainstream music, my interest in the “best” of modern music has waned. I always take a quick look a the nominees, however, and was startled to see two albums I truly enjoy nominated for Album of the Year. Even more shockingly, the winner was one of those albums!

Congratulations to Adele for her win. 21 is a great album and a nice step forward in her career as a musician and songwriter. She has a powerful voice that she uses to great effect. While her influences are clear (Janis, Dusty, Annie, and more!), she blends them into a cohesive whole and emerges with her own distinct sound. The overall impact is impressive and the song selection on 21 is solid. The standout for me is the delightful Rumour Has It.

Much as I love Adele’s sophomore effort, however, I have to confess that I was rooting for Lady Gaga’s amazing Born This Way. Like Adele, Gaga uses a varied palette of influences to craft her own unique sound. I found her work to be a bit more varied and overall interesting, however. I am also deeply enamored of her work to make the most of her celebrity for the benefit of all. Lady Gaga edged out Oprah as Forbes’ most powerful celebrity of 2011. She has used that power to promote civil rights and equality for all. Brava, Lady Gaga!

There are four other standout albums for me in 2011. Curiously all are by second-generation artists from the 1960s British Folk revival.

Eliza Carthy released her eleventh album (not including projects with Waterson:Carthy and Blue Murder) last year. Neptune is another outstanding effort, focusing on her band and her songwriter rather than her talent for arranging and performing traditional tunes. It’s her best solo album since Angels & Cigarettes in 2000 and is a stunner from start to finish. The standout tracks for me are the lovely War and the biting Britain Is A Car Park.

Kami Thompson, daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson, released her stellar debut album, Love Lies, in 2011. Building on the great work she’s done with her mother and with brother Teddy, it’s a great set of ten songs that show off her bittersweet vocals and wry sense of the world. She clearly draws from both her parents but uses that strength to make her own songs. (Her mom even covered one of these tracks, the clever and lusty Nice Cars.) Other standouts for me are the doomed relationship song Tick Tock and the surprisingly effective Beatles cover Don’t Bother Me.

Speaking of Teddy Thompson, he released his fifth album last year, the beautiful Bella. Over the past decade, Teddy has released a wonderfully diverse set of albums (including the standout Separate Ways) and collaborated with buddy Rufus Wainwright and their extended families on a number of projects. This album recalls his set of country covers, 2007’s Upfront & Down Low, in sound. Although every song is a Thompson original, they clearly recall his fondness for classic tunes and the wonderful simplicity of 50s and early 60s pop. Standouts include a duet with another next-generation performer, Jenni Muldaur, on Tell Me What You Want, and the achingly beautiful Take Care of Yourself (which features a falsetto that would make Roy Orbison proud).

Last, but by no means least is The Days That Shaped Me by Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight. The son and daughter of the late Lal Waterson (Eliza Carthy’s aunt), this is their first full-length collaboration. Oliver has worked as a producer and musician for a wide array of performers. Marry (also known as Maria Waterson and Maria Gilhooley) has occasionally recorded with other members of her family but has focused on her work as a sculptor. For this outing, she displays a great sense of lyric with an uncanny similarity to her mother’s work. The album is a bit long, but features many great songs and includes collaborations with the wonderful Kathryn Williams. The standout track features vocals from cousin Eliza, the cryptic but compelling The Loosened Arrow.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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