My 2013 Top Ten, Part II
5. Daniel Romano, Come Cry With Me
To be honest, I don’t know why I like Romano. There’s the obvious: his voice, songs that reach into earlier eras of country and resurrect the naked, vulnerable emotion of singers like Gram Parsons. Come Cry With Me feels almost hipster self-aware – like Romano knows what he’s doing and who he’s channelling and it could be silly, but it’s the only logical pathway for what he has to say.
4. Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, Cheater’s Game
Sometimes I have nothing to say other than an album is good. There you go.
I think this came out in 2012 in the US. I’ve seen 2013 dates here in Canada, and I discovered it this year, so I’m cheating a bit.
Seems the prevailing themes on my list are painfully emotional songs and/or cool collaborations. This song is both – a Hayes Carll cover, it’s the one that gets to me the most of all the songs on all my lists this year. My heart breaks every time I hear it.
3. Patty Griffin, American Kid
Same with this one. It’s just good. I don’t listen to a lot of female artists, just because I find they’re often too similar in their approaches to singing. Griffin’s a totally different story. Her voice kills me. Such great songwriting too. What a killer album.
2. T. Buckley, Northern Country Soul
This just came out a few weeks ago, but it’s my number two.
Can I tell you a story?
In 2011, I was sitting in the beer gardens at the Calgary Folk Fest, and a group of musicians came up to our table. “That guy played at your wedding!” whispered my friend. Indeed he had. I waved at the guy and that was the end of our interaction.
In February 2013, I went to the Alberta rooms at the Folk Alliance conference, and lo and behold, there was that guy. “You played at my wedding,” I said. “What’s your name?” “Tim Leacock,” he answered. I felt like an idiot.
For years, I’d been listening to Tim and all of the albums he had played on; I’d seen him onstage a gazillion times, and somehow had never matched the name and the face. Embarrassed by the Folk Alliance encounter, I spent time properly getting to know him this year (I swear this story is ultimately about T. Buckley). I realized he’s the guy that comes up in every conversation. Everywhere I go in Calgary, people talk about Tim; what a decent, good person he is, how valuable his talent is to the scene.
Tim has been playing with Buckley (first name also Tim) for a couple years. Here’s what: I think everyone in the Calgary scene is looking at their collaboration like it’s one of those rare magical musical encounters. This is something to watch over the long-term. Buckley is a skilled songwriter, capturing the nostalgia us prairie folk have for our surroundings in tales of love and longing. Match that with Leacock’s playing (and Derek Pulliam rounding out the trio) and it is indeed magical.
I also want to add that Buckley is a model for young songwriters trying to catch a break. He’s cultivating an audience, careful in his craft, has created a style based on careful listening to his influences, taking every opportunity given to him. Rather than shooting for early stardom, he’s building it piece by piece and it’s working. A good example in today’s tumultuous industry.
1. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Awkward title. Awkward album. Well, this year has at times been an awkward one for me, and for that I excuse and identify with NC’s awkwardness. In fact, I adore her more for it. She’s relatively naked on this album, spewing verbiage every step of the way. Puking up sonnets, as it were.
The best thing for me on Worse is “Man”. And somehow she manages to capture such vitriol without coming off like a pissy whiner. Thank you. I love you. I also like the album because in every sense it shows a mature Case in her current mental state. She’s not hiding anything, in any sense, and to me has become all the more beautiful for it. If you’re not a long-time Case fan, don’t start with this album. You need to know her well before you go here.
Had my life been written in songs this last year, they may have come out as this package – not literally, but of course, Case is both literal and confusingly metaphorical at the same time. You can’t figure her out, but you keep trying, and each attempt at trying makes you fall in love with her more.
2014 albums I’m excited about: Joe Nolan’s Tornado. He’s just been signed to one of Canada’s great roots labels, Six Shooter, and Tornado will appear in January. He’s a songwriter to watch.