And once again, it's time for the year end best of 2013 in music. And for a year that really didn't bring much to the table there was still good music if you looked hard for it. And if you're stuck in a town with no real record stores anymore, you have to go on the internet to find it. Or your friendly neighborhood Half Priced Bookstore or Zia's or Euclid in St Louis.
For somebody who "retired" from new music, I have managed to continue to find things three years later and taking chances in whatever Best Buy had in their "find them first" section. To which they discontinued more or less when they jacked the CD prices up and knocked another row down. The CD section is pathetic at best. Wally World and Target aren't much better. So basically we had to drive to Madison or the Quad Cities or Dubuque to find real record stores. And I'm getting too old for this shit. And my job situation isn't that great either. But I did managed to find some discontinued stuff in the dollar bins and whatever couldn't be sold. And if I didn't like it, I could see it back and get my investment back.
This year's best for me were from artists that I've supported over the years. Hell, a couple of them are over 70. But there was a couple newbies that are under 25 and playing decent blues as well. And the best country album came from a 20 something girl singer, which seems to be while the guys like to do Bro country as they call it, rap and autotuner to go with a steel guitar, the women actually kept it country in the vicinity of how I remembered it. But sad to say the best country singer didn't get his album out in time for me to consider, hell I don't even think Mercury ever put it out. But if Chris Singleton gets it out, I promise to reserve time and effort to give it a listen. I give kudos to John Moreland and Jason Isbell, although the former's latest album is making people's best of list and so is the latter. But due to time restraints and not finding the albums in time I can only acknowledge them and move on to something else. There's plenty of music to discover but we're still in time poverty and whatever time I have set aside for music, is never enough time.
The 10 best of this year are in no particular order. Let's face it, there's no clear cut BEST 123, but I think the top four or five would be the ones to rush out and get. Last year's winner Jimmy Cliff's Rebirth got lost in my collection due to it being a shitty digipak and anything that's a digipak is treated like second class citizens. Mike Eldred's 61 49, the 2011 winner does get played. But 2009's Leonard Cohen's Live In London was traded in for about 10 dollars value. Don't get me wrong it's a great live document, it was a digipak and I hate digipaks. It's hard to play the 10 best albums of the past 10 years, there's always one that I did include and soon afterward got tired of it and donated it. But looking at the archives 2011 I still have all of the ten best still around.
For reissues, another story and basically it came down to cost effectiveness. I didn't see a need to rebuy The Who's Tommy, it has never been one of my favorite albums and although I have the 1998 reissue, that's all I really need. I didn't also see a need to repurchase Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, classic rock radio plays it all the time, Silver Springs is on Stevie Nick's best of and if I need to hear the songs, I'll turn on KMRY or The FOX. But I did buy Then Play On, simply of the fact that record needed a upgrade and unfortunately the reissue adds nothing to the sound although you get The Green Maharishi and World In Harmony as a bonus add on. But the sound is no different than the CD that originally came out. Which meant it was recorded on the cheapest reel to reel they could find and it still sounds like it. Even on the quiet Closing My Eyes, Peter Green's lead guitar bleeds into the quietness. Buyer Beware.
I also got suckered in Nirvana's 20th Anniversary Target Exclusive of In Utero to which we hear the original Steve Albini mix of Heart Shaped Box and bonus tracks but come to find the mix typical Albini and even more muddier than the original CD. But I did buy the maligned Rush Vapor Trails remixed album this September and it's hard to believe that the usually reliable Pat Leonard fucked the mix up so bad that everything was recorded in the red. David Bottrell's new remix improves the record alot but is it worth a mention on the best of reissue list? I think it is in a way but I recalled the original album went on too long and had too many songs and Geddy Lee was trying reclaim that helium high notes of the 70s and it didn't work to his advantage. Since the major labels can't break new acts anymore, they go back to the archives of classic rock and reissue certain albums again. Or just redo David Bowie's leftovers off The Next Day and put it out a double CD set.
A big annoyance of the majors is putting albums out a month or two later with bonus tracks, or putting out deluxe editions that include two or three songs not on the original album and charge a few more dollars. They did that with Black Sabbath's 13 and they did that with Kings Of Leon Mechanical Bull. In the case of the latter, just put me to sleep. 15 dollars wasted. Or they add a DVD of an edited concert. The continued fleecing of America and it's not generating CD sales anymore. Shitty Digipak, overkill expanded editions, non-memorable music, a good reason why this year was the worst year ever in CD sales. Oh sure vinyl sales went up but really, it's not a big jump and vinyl records are way more overpriced than CDs. As much as I wanted to hear the new Linda Thompson LP, paying 25 dollars is not cost efficient. But I did buy the new Meat Puppets on vinyl for 40 percent off when Half Priced Books had their Thanksgiving sale. Which came out to be 10.48. At least it wasn't in a digipak.
The problem of the best of 2013 and future best of albums of 2014 and beyond is that whatever comes out, has to compete with the recorded history of music to which most of it is found on the internet. And for the best to stand out, they have to grab your attention right then, right now or nobody remembers it. The fact of the matter is that music of the 50s and 60s and 70s had the right amount of hooks and lyrics to live a nice long life on radio, whereas today's struggling artists has to compete with the Beatles,Motown etc with hardly any help on the radio. After all, Clear Channel and Cumulus bought just about everything up to make everything sound the fucking same. Just like Clear Channel and CMT partnering up for a more centralized country format and there goes some more local programming out the door. Fucking ridiculous and welcome to the 21st Century of Cash Grab Corporate Crock Radio. And it's not better for rock radio either.
So basically this best of 2013 is a snap shot of this year's best. Typed up over a weekend, posted to world to be shown once and then blown back into the far side of blogspot. Nobody will remember this but they will for Rolling Stone or Pitchfork or whatever SPIN pukes up and give Kanye West Best of the year. You won't find Kanye West here. But what you will find is the albums that made me take notice and add them as highlights of a wasted and fucked up year on this planet. If I did get kudos from the ones that I posted as one of the best, then maybe this wasn't a wasted effort but last time I checked Thomas Ruf wasn't returning my praises for his artists of the past year (or two). Not that I bother him nor the great Bob Lefsetz but it is paying tribute to what I have heard. And maybe generate some kind of record sales to Ruf Record, no matter how minimal they may be.
So here we go, for better or worse, the best of 2013 from Da Crabb.
1. Steven Wilson-The Raven That Refused To Sing (K Scope)
Wilson has been the best in latter day Progressive rock, be it solo, or with Porcupine Tree or remastering King Crimson or Jethro Tull and his latest album is a sprawling album that would sound great even back in the days of Prog rock. He even got Alan Parsons out of retirement to help co produce and engineer. The title track may be the best song he ever wrote. Or so say some.
2. Kacey Chambers-Same Trailer, Different Park (Mercury)
One of the lowlifes of my Twitter escapes of this year was when Chris Singleton mentioned about who'd be great to write a song with, I suggested Tom T Hall being per-vertical smartass that I was, and he replied that's a great idea! But not doing my homework, I come to find out that Singleton has been writing some of the best songs out of Nashville and even got Bro Hack Luke Bryan to cover a song Drink A Beer, to which Bob Lefsetz called one of the best songs he heard all year. But anyway, I'm off subject but Country radio has been a travesty with Bro Country and that GD crap song that puts Conway and T pain in the same line, and probably having Conway spinning in his grave. While the Bros in country continue to drink beer and chase naked co eds on those laughable videos you seen on GAC, the best music has come from the girls. Pistol Annies latest wasn't bad, Ashley Monroe made one of the more traditional sounding country albums since Kelly Pickler's last but for my vote, I give it to Chambers' whose Mercury debut is a stark answer back to the bro country and nobody did it better than Kacey's Merry Go Round. And end things with It Is What It Is. A virtual fart in the face of Luke Bryan's My Kind Of Night. Go Kacey.
3. Joe Grushecky-Somewhere East Of Eden (Schoolhouse/Warner Nashville)
Grushecky's been doing this for years, playing the blue collar rock and roll that he started out almost 40 years ago in the Iron City Houserockers and continues to this day with his own solo material. Sometimes he has a little help from Bruce Springsteen himself but most of his career been doing with the help from Rick Witkowski, former Crack The Sky guitar wiz. Still looks good at sixty he says and still rocks just as hard as he did back then. In a perfect world and on radio, Joe's songs would be played just as much as the boss. If not harder. The working class ethic.
4. Richard Thompson-Electric (New West)
I was beginning to get a little worry about Thompson's last effort which didn't move me that much. Thompson remains the best guitarist nobody ever hears on the radio but since 1985 I've been a follower of most of what he put out and this time, Thompson plugs in and lets loose on some of the more wilder efforts of his 40 plus years of British rock and roll as he calls it. This time out the iconic Buddy Miller produces this and Richard's rhythm section of Taras Prodaniuk and Michael Jerome has been perfect for Richard's twists and turns. And Richard still remains kind enough to even help out on his ex wife's latest effort, to which I hope I can get to listen to soon. Electric is the way I'd rather heard Richard. Good and loud with a dry sense of humor as well.
5. Andrew Stockdale-Keep Moving (Caroline)
The former leader of Wolfmother goes the solo route and although the record is quite long, Stockdale has enough inspiration and knowledge of the classic rock and roll he loves so much that he turns most of this album as the long lost album The Black Crowes forgot how to make. Who says rock and roll is dead. You wouldn't know it from your local rock station.
6. Streetlight Manifesto-The Hand That Thieve (Victory)
What happens when you sign up with a record label that hinder more than they helped and Victory made their life a living hell on the release of this album. The band under the name Toh Kay, issued a acoustic version of Hand That Thieve, which didn't set well with Victory and barred the band from issuing that album. Which is a shame since this record is very good ska/punk with a progressive vibe on such classics The Three Of Us and Your Day Will Come. Even old fart Al Kooper gave them kudos by offering a track on his New Music For Old People column. It's fun, more fun than Reel Big Fish's last 10 albums.
7. Nik Turner-Space Gypsy (Purple Pyramid)
Turner is 73 years young and while he and Dave Brock continue to battle it out for the name of Hawkwind, Turner cast a dark shadow by trying to patent the Hawkwind name to the point that Brock canceled an American tour since he was really upset about Turner TMing Nik Turner's Hawkwind. And wouldn't it be great to see the original Hawkwind, or the Space Ritual Hawkwind with Nik, Dave and Lemmy (Simon King if he's still around, even Stacia?)?. But nevertheless, Turner's latest has been the closest sounding album to the days of Space Ritual and although the band may not be Hawkwind, these dudes know enough of their music to sound like Hawkwind down to the oddball space sounds and even Simon House plays violin on a track. Sad to say even the latter day Hawkwind albums haven't been all that impressive, and Turner's past work not much better. But this time out, Turner delivers big time. The ultimate Hawkwind tribute album you'll hear all year, right down to Turner's echoladen vocals.
8. Ed Roland And The Sweet Tea Project (429 Records)
Ed takes a sabbath from Collective Soul and makes that jump into country music, or so they say. But it still sounds a lot like Collective Soul although this album is much more band participation. Ed Roland does know how to make catchy songs, even though Collective Soul's best days are behind them, their last album was fairly good. For a recent release it's hard to find, hell I found this a promo at Half Priced Books in Madison back in October.
9. Eric Burdon-Til' Your River Runs Dry (ABKCO)
The other 70 something singer, Burdon returned with his best album since the Animals broke up. Of course he's had this band playing with him for past decade and their no slouches either. Tony Braunagel, Mike Finnegan (CSN), Henry Lee Schnell (Baby) and Billy Watts who used to be in the Akasha band in the early 80s, one of the better Iowa bands nobody heard about. 50 years after meeting Bo Diddley, Burdon sings the praises of him with a cover and a tribute song and perhaps the most fun song is not the protest failed single Water but rather Invitation To The White House to which Eric meets up with the President to ask Eric for advice and Eric gives his best only to find it only was a dream. I'd say it's one of the comeback albums of the year but I think it got overshadowed by The Animals Mickey Most Years, a box set that finally releases all the Animals albums of their glory years up to Annimalism, released by Real Gone Music in association with ABKCO which have had the masters held hostage for 40 plus years. Let's see if they'll go all in on that Herman Hermit's box set of the same era.
10. Bart Walker-Running On Daylight (Ruf)
Samantha Fish-Black Wind Howlin' (Ruf)
Basically a shout out to Ruf Records for their continuation of issuing solid blues rock albums from up and coming artists as well as the established. While the new Spin Doctors If The River Was Whiskey their most blues sounding (and perhaps their best album to date, quit snickering Mark Prindle) and Devon Allman Turquoise showed more guitar flair than Devon provided on The Royal Southern Brotherhood and also made a few people's best of. The best of the albums came from Miss Fish on her 2nd album and it packs a nice wallop, but of course it also helps when Sam have played a few of the songs when she came up to play this year twice. Her duet with Paul Thorn more in tune with what she does best then the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks song with Devon Allman. But it is Bart Walker's debut that gets the top billing, on the account of having Jim Gaines (Huey Lewis, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan) producing and giving it a more radio ready sound, to which radio didn't play since radio didn't know this record existed. Walker also gets points for sounding a lot like Warren Haynes, who made honorable mention with the new Gov't Mule album Shout (Blue Note). Took It Like A Man could be a big hit if Walker decided to go the country route, or give it to Blake Shelton since this song is more up Blake's alley (Pat McLaughlin wrote it). Between flat out blues and ZZ Top like boogie, Running On Daylight is the essence of good blues rock, pending if anybody out there gets to hear it.
The next ten runner up albums.
Black Sabbath-13 (Vertigo)
The Townedgers-30 (Radio Maierburg)
Jake Bugg-Shangri La (Jake Bugg/Island)
Queensryche (Century Media)
Steve Earle-The Low Highway (New West)
Bad Religion-True North (Epitaph)
The Fratellis-We Need Medicine (BMG)
Belle And Sebastian-The Third Eye Centre (Matador)
Deep Purple-Now What? (Eagle)
Really no shortage of reissues if you looked hard enough for them. But it is getting to the point that nothing really wowed me, or I had them in one other setting. Here's my choices for the best reissues of 2013
Neal Ford & The Fanatics-Good Men (Big Beat/Ace UK)
Part of the mid 60s Texas Music scene that spawned The 13th Floor Elevators and Moving Sidewalks, Neal Ford and The Fanatics actually did pretty well in the Houston area and actually was more of a cross between Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Five Americans although going with Hickory Records rather than Capitol may have cost them. Jon Perles was their main songwriter and the riff on Gonna Be My Girl proved to be a catchy number 1 single on two radio stations in Houston but not much anywhere else. The folks at Big Beat, a part of the best retro label out there Ace Records in the UK, picked the best and album cuts of their stay at Hickory Records. The 26 page booklet really gives a great picture of a forgotten garage band of the 60s and pretty tells the story of any other band that managed to get on a label, make a great single and then fall apart although The Fanatics managed to stay together for a good 2 years after Gonna Be My Girl.
Rank And File-The Slash Years (Wounded Bird)
Wounded Bird this year may have had their least interesting reissues, but since they have access to the Warner Music catalog they have started to reissue some of the Rhino Handmade reissues of years ago. But Wounded Bird does cut costs when it comes to the booklet and I'm guessing that they may have omitted the gigantic history of Rank And File that you can get on the Rhino Handmade booklet. But if you can overlook that, you will have the complete history of the Chip And Tony Kinman's cowpunk band, that along with Jason And The Scorchers and The Long Ryders were the early entrants of the Americana movement. The first album Sundown is required listening. The second Long Gone Dead, showcase a band in transition, losing Alejandro Escovedo to The True Believers and incorporating Stan Lynch, drummer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to guest star on drums and alternating the sound a bit. One more album and Rank And File would be done and the Kinman's moving on the electro Blackbird before returning back to the campfire western songs of Cowboy Nation.
The Bottlerockets-S/T and The Brooklyn Side (Bloodshot)
To me, the first album is their best; a dry sense of humor and songwriter's Brian Henneman view from the double wide and gas station life of Welfare Mothers, 1000 dollar cars that aren't worth that much, and their big hit Radar Gun, which takes ZZ Top into a whole new level of rock and roll that the weird beards haven't done since adding synthesizers and dance beats. In other words, the perfect soundtrack to Jerry Springer, but without the fistfights and cat calls.
Killing Joke-Singles Collection 1979-2012 (Spinefarm)
For myself, any compilation from Killing Joke has been much a disappointment and The Singles Collection is probably your best bet to hear what the fuss is all about from KJ. I have to admit that I didn't become a fan of them till 1993 when they reformed and since then have continued to make albums that exceed expectations. The flimsy digipak the slight burr under the saddle, this comp features the best of their 70s and 80s output (Requiem, War Dance, eighties) on one disc and on the second disc highlights from Pandemonium up to their last album although I tend to think that Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell and the 2003 S/T with Dave Grohl bashing the drums as a favor are the ones to also get. And of course, Money Is Not Our God.
Fleetwood Mac-Then Play On (Rhino/Reprise)
Peter Green's last hurrah and most interpersonal before going solo. But it also gives Danny Kirwan a chance to shine on his own tunes although he would be rocking a lot more harder on later albums before erratic behavior got him booted from the band. I think I like the US better version better when I discovered it in 1982 but the UK version chops Oh Well into two parts and includes Green's Green Maharishi and Kirwan's World In Harmony has a long forgotten 45.
Dave Brubeck/Tony Bennett-The White House Sessions Live 1962 (RPM/Columbia)
A meeting of the top pop singer and the top jazz player at a White House engagement it's interesting to hear Bennett trying to sing along Brubeck's improvised styles and he holds his own and I can take or leave his part of the show although Ralph Sharon has kept Tony in check. But Brubeck's band remains top notch on another version of Take Five (without drum solo) but perhaps the main star is neither Dave or Tony but Paul Desmond who shines on Take Five and Nomad
Rodriguez-Searching For Sugar Man Soundtrack (Light In The Attic/Legacy)
Finally, my last offering for the reissues of the year come from a singer/songwriter that made two albums for Sussex that didn't sell squat and then disappeared into the seedy side of Detroit but somewhere down South Africa's underground he was cited as a major influence even more so than Elvis, or so the story goes. The movie showcased a couple rabid fans searching for Sixto Rodriguez and finally finding him, still living in total obscurity. Coming across as a Latino Dylan, Sixto's vocals are more Jose Feliciano than Bobby D, the lyrics sometimes are witty, something embarrassing but entertaining as well. The success of the movie actually got Sixto's two Sussex albums reissued via Light In The Attic and I come to enjoy his 2nd, The Steve Rowland produced Coming From Reality more than Dennis Coffey/Mike Theodore more dated sounding Cold Fact. Both albums have something to offer but the Legacy edition cherry picks the best songs for the more cost cutting consumer.
If you have the 2000 remaster which is part of this album then you can probably live without this but the 2013 2 CD has a Steven Wilson mix that brings out the guitar sound even more. John Wetton's bass never sounded more aggressive or angry on this one.
The Animals-Mickey Most Years And More (Real Gone)
If you're in the market for one box set, I suggest this one over the Complete Bob Dylan Columbia Albums, even though you get finally get Dylan's much hated 1973 outtakes album. The Animals best years was with Mickey Most behind the producer's box and finally puts back into print the early albums of The Animals up to Animalsim. Buyer beware: it's a flimsy digipak, and although the sound is quite nice and if you need a XL T shirt, here tis, it might be a bit overpriced. I for myself managed to get the albums on various CDs that came out in the 80s and 90s. But thought I give honorable mention for historic value. Maybe some day they issued the albums on their own.
The Rise And Fall Of Paramount Records (Third Man/Revenant)
I give Jack White credit for his effort to keep the blues alive and well and he went all out on this collection of recordings that came from an old Wisconsin chair store. If you're a blues fan with a love of pre war blues, you get something like 800 songs from 172 artists, a big 250 page book and a 6 record set as well as a USB plug. But the 483 dollar price tag is a bit too steep for me. But we'll give Jack a honorable mention for going the distance to preserve the history of Paramount Records, the original alternative record label of the 20s. Or the best record label to ever come out of a furniture store in Nowheresville Wisconsin.
So there you have it, the Best Of 2013. For better or worse. Here now, gone tomorrow the way things usually are.....