The Best Albums Of 2013 ... According To Me
December 10, 2013
Back in the day when Bill Murray was a regular on "Saturday Night Live," which is to say when the show was still genuinely funny, he did a yearly skit during the Weekend Update predicting Oscar winners.
I'm partially paraphrasing the bit here, but in season three, episode 15, Murray rolls through the five Best Picture nominees, quickly eliminating the first four, reasoning, "Didn't see it." Arriving at nominee #5, Murray says, "'The Goodbye Girl?' I saw it. So, on the basis of what I've seen, I would have to say 'The Goodbye Girl' is gonna be this year's winner. If you don't like it, I'm sorry -- that's my opinion, now get out of here!"
And there you have my disclaimer for the Best Albums of 2013 - According to Me.
I try -- try being the operative word -- to hear everything I can during the year. If an album appears on my desk, I'll grab it and track it, mostly in the car. And yes, I'll buy what isn't sent and what seems to have a buzz going.
I realize we live in a world where digital singles rule the day and people prefer to curate their own library of favorite songs.
But I still love albums.
I love the listening experience and everything the 10 or more songs tell me about what the artist was thinking when he or she made it; where they were musically, personally or both. I'm curious about why songs are chosen and how the tracks are sequenced. And if they're able to build a catalogue of work, I love to see how each phase of their career evolves over time.
And though both are gradually disappearing -- sadly, I might add -- I still love liner notes, cover and jacket artwork too.
I still love the album. What follows here are the five I loved most this year, in descending order. The criteria are the experience I described above. That, and when the CD stays in the car (or portable device) involuntarily playing over and over; again and again. And again.
5. Luke Bryan - "Crash My Party"
I'm a tad guilty of drinking the Kool Aide early on this one. I first heard the entire album not during my standard in-car listening session but at a listening party. In a recording studio. With the volume absolutely cranked and Bryan standing less than three feet away from me. That said, I heard nothing but hits and by that, I mean all 13 cuts. Zac Brown and others hated "That's My Kind Of Night," but it raced to #1 in 12 weeks and may have gotten there faster if the lead single and title cut, "Crash My Party," hadn't been a two-week #1 single and an absolute research monster for radio. The hits are the hits, but standout cuts for me were "Goodbye Girl," "Blood Brothers" and "Shut It Down." By the way, this collection sold 528,000 copies its debut week, the most for a Country album in NINE years. Forget about Kool Aide, that alone gets this one on the list.
4. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin - "Bakersfield"
Not that we need any further proof that Vince Gill has both an appreciation for and mastery of any musical genre possible; his previous body of work provides empirical data of that. But (sigh), if you're still not convinced, check out his 2006 box set, "These Days." This year, he teamed with steel guitar savant Paul Franklin for a 10-song salute to the Bakersfield sound, the architects of which were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Hearing Gill and Franklin work together, the word unselfish immediately comes to mind. Franklin's musicianship and Gill's vocals provide a fresh take on these classics. For me, Owens' "Together Again" and Haggard's "Holding Things Together" jump out, but it all works wonderfully. I just wish they cut more songs and I hope they do a sequel because they fully understand this important contribution to Country music. The net result for me? I went back and listened to a ton of original Buck Owens and Merle Haggard music.
3. Charlie Worsham - "Rubberband"
I had so many PDs this year say something like this when talking about Charlie Worsham: "If Vince Gill and Brad Paisley had a baby, it would be Charlie." Others used combinations of Keith Urban/Paisley/Gill. And taking the metaphor further without meaning to get creepy, for me, if you put Paisley, Urban and Gill in a blender, then hit purée, you end up with a Charlie Worsham smoothie. This entire album was an absolutely satisfying listening experience. "Could It Be" was a good start for a radio single and "Want Me Too" has a Glen Frey, Eagle-esque feel for me. But the sum of parts really shines, with silky vocals and A-plus musicianship. There's a splash of Vince Gill, too, as he and Marty Stuart guest on "Tools Of The Trade." The title track shows off Worsham's mad musician skillz; "Young To See" and "How I Learned To Pray" demonstrate thoughtful depth. As you listen repeatedly without realizing it, you'll discover your own favorites.
2. Keith Urban - Fuse"
This knocked off 2006's "Love, Pain And the Whole Crazy Thing" as my favorite Keith Urban album. Ironically, the lead single describes what's included on this 13-song collection: "A Little Bit Of Everything." In a "Rolling Stone" interview, Urban said of this album, "I just wanted to see how far I could go before it's not me." Well, he did push the envelope -- far -- but he's still in there and that's a good thing. What I noticed was a fresh and different sonic quality to "Fuse" and I can't put my finger on it because I don't know anything about making records. But I know when I hear it. I love the Miranda Lambert duet, "We Were Us." I think the Eric Church duet "Raise 'Em Up" could be a huge single. But every album has a sweet spot; a three or four-song stretch that keeps you listening. For me, where the bat hits the ball on "Fuse" is cuts 3-6: "Cop Car," "Shame," (which is as bold a choice as "Stupid Boy" was on "Love, Pain..."), "Good Thing" and "We Were Us."
1. Will Hoge - "Never Give In"
I know what some of you are asking: "What's a Will Hoge? Is he Rock? Americana? Country?" The answer: All of the above, which is why Hoge's eighth studio album is perfectly timed for this format. Take a few steps back, back ... farther ... a little more now ... and have a "forest for the trees" moment. See that Country is a lot of things to a lot of people, thus its current growth and popularity. I've had three different people closely tied to this project separately ask me about the potential of four tracks for Country radio. "Strong" was hovering in the low 40s as this was written, driven by a national Chevy Silverado campaign using it as a theme. It's a cool song, but not the album's best cut and not even in sync with the other 10. I do hear four songs Country radio could and should - but probably won't play: The title, "Never Give In" and "Still Got You On My Mind" are mainstream-sounding hits. "Goodbye Ain't Always Gone" and "Bad Old Days" lean rock, especially the latter - but if Country can play Eric Church's "The Outsiders," why not this? I haven't been able to shake this album since putting it in the car, not knowing who the Hell Will Hoge was previously. Now I'm halfway through his 2001 "Carousel" and the excitement is suspiciously familiar. Tired of tailgates, bonfires and beer drinkin' in your Country? This ain't Bro-Country - it's Country, Bro.