Our Writers Look Back At 2011
We asked our writers to reflect on the past year and their favorite music. The results are fascinating.
Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock
The year of 2011 was an extraordinary year in so many ways. I decided to start ff the year by reading some of the theological and fictional works of my favorite authors back to back. I enjoyed the thoughts and literary inventions of Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien among others. It was indeed, a very good year for reading. Some of the contemporary authors such as Robin Parrish, Eric Metaxas, Stephen, Jeffrey Overstreet & Ross Lawhead as well as Doug Van Pelt also blessed us with some of the best writing I have come across in the past few years.
Musically, in New York City the Rockwood Music Hall was definitely the place to see some of the hottest acts gracing any stage anywhere. Artists such as Sarah & the Stanleys, Tabitha Fair, Melanie Penn, Kelley McRae and Monica Allison played there on a fairly regular basis to sold out crowds. The Stoop Concert Series also provided a great place to chill out and hear some of the best homegrown artists that New York City had to offer. On Long Island, The Bolton Center brought in such names as Leigh Nash, Bruce Cockburn and Chris Hillman. The summer highlight was without a doubt "Soulfest" held each August in New Hampshire at the Gunstock Mountain Resort. Although some folks would tend to disagree, I have come to the conclusion that "Soulfest" is the place to be during the summer festival season. The fall brought around the 30th anniversary concert of my radio show "Rock N Soul Gospel". Sarah & Evan Gregory, Paul & Betsy Phillips, The Choir, Ben Lear, Dusty Brown, Phoebe Lyng and Deep River tore up the Rockwood Music Hall in an evening that will be long remembered. I find that the older that I get the more of a musical snob I am becoming. I have this idea that artists who claim to be in a relationship with the author of art should not be releasing what my old friend Mike Roe would call sub-standard material. Unfortunately, many Christians think as long as the name Jesus is somehow connected with something artistic it must be acceptable, I can't disagree more! This year just reinforced to me the need for excellence in the art we are producing.
There have been many outstanding album releases in 2011, some of them include: Another Realm by Iona, Kerosene Halo by the group of the same name, The Story Of Our Lives by The Violet Burning, Heart Like Feathers by Robert Deeble, Arthur's Garden by Ric Hordinski, Movin' On by Maeve and When The Dragon Came Down by Shel. On a more local level, New York City based artists have released some extremely impressive projects such as Shoot The Sun by ZAHA, You Can't Take It Back by Monica Allison, White Barn Duets by Evan Mazunik & Gil Selinger, Lillian, a folk opera by Ben Lear and at least in my opinion the pick of the local litter, Whileaway by Jeannine Hebb.
Artistically, the year began with a three day event hosted in downtown Manhattan by The International Arts Movement with a host of incredible speakers including Jeffrey Overstreet and Makoto Fujimura. It ended with the annual Christmas concert by Sarah Lentz and friends, an event surely not to be missed. The new year, 2012, looks to be off to a good start with a concert date featuring my friend Leigh Nash and a short summer tour by Iona.
I'll start with the obligatory, "I'll probably hate myself in the morning," but here we go:
1. Odd Soul: MuteMath – the highly anticipated follow-up to the fascinating Armistice project. A funkier, more organic sound that retains their electro-Orleans roots with lyrics that read like the diary of a member of Fundies Anonymous.
2. The Valley: Eisley – the Dupree girls grow up and take the train from Trolleywood to some shadowy places. A mature album musically and lyrically.
3. Vice Verses: Switchfoot – the newest package from a band that has proven to be dependable artistically and commercially. Good, solid job, guys.
4. Self titled: Burlap to Cashmere – an artistic triumph after a long absence. Poetic lyrics, impassioned playing, earthy, real music. Welcome back.
5. Choose: Judd + Maggie – the brother and sister team have settled into a nicely-edgy groove with great melodies and hooks that bring modern pop to a higher level. A great listen!
6. Honors: Ben + Vesper – fine, hooky, intelligent indie-pop music with a surrealistic twist. It gets under your skin. Sort-of a tie with Judd + Maggie's Choose project.
7. Invisible Empires: Sara Groves – Groves' streak continues with this collection of well-crafted songs for grown-ups. Insightful, sometimes sad, always good for the soul.
8. Testimony 2: Neal Morse – at the risk of overkill, Morse goes deeper into his story and it's fresher and more affecting that the first look.
9. Interstitials: Josh Stamper – a wonderful hidden treasure. Unique, intelligent music (with vocals) by a brilliant composer on a listener-friendly scale.
10. The Journey: Andrae Crouch – a legend returns with his usual mix of smooth and hot funk, sometimes bordering on jazz, occasionally venturing into lounge, but always with the special Andrae Crouch touch.
Wish I could include:
Small Source of Comfort: Bruce Cockburn
Another Realm: Iona
The only one I know for sure is my #1 being Tom Waits "Bad As Me". The rest are in no particular order
1. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
2. Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time
3. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
4. Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
5. Bill Mallonee - The Power & The Glory
6. Joe Henry - Reverie
7. Over The Rhine - The Long Surrender
8. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator
9. Middle Brother - Middle Brother
10. The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart
There are several honorable mentions including Gillian Welch, Glenn Kaiser, Bruce Cockburn, David Bazan, William Elliot Whitemore, Decemberists, Civil Wars, Social Distortion, Greg Allman, Smithereens, Steve Earle, Wood Brothers, John Doe, Blitzen Trapper, Wilco, Wild Flag, Emmylou Harris, Centro-matic, Eilen Jewell, and Christ Thile & Michael Daves to name a few.
My "top ten" plus one list for 2011 (Note that this list is not in any
particular order of ranking):
1. Morning's War: Tara-Leigh Cobble - intensely personal songs comprise Tara-Leigh's seventh release
2. In This Hour: Jill Phillips - Jill Phillips continues to deliver with another excellent record
3. Ghosts Upon the Earth: Gungor - probably the most ambitious album of the year inspired by the allegory of C.S. Lewis titled The Great Divorce
4. Faint Not: Jenny and Tyler - inspiring from start to finish
5. The Revive Project: Dan and Lauren Smith - this is what CCM should be, great writing, playing, and production. And a heart for Reading PA.
6. Of Man: Cool Hand Luke - the final days of Jesus as a rock opera
7. Love is Patient : Brianna Gaither - a near pop masterpiece and a voice to remember
8. How Emptiness Sings: Christa Wells - one well written song after another flawlessly performed
9. Love and War and The Sea In Between: Josh Garrels - in a perfect world Josh Garrels would be well known but that doesn't matter really, it's just great music
10. The Long Surrender: Over the Rhine - they never miss and "All My Favorite People" is a song that can change your life
11. The Power and the Glory: Bill Mallonee - he can't write a bad song. I can picture Bill and his band at Woodstock.
After I finished compiling this list I noticed that all of the above are indie projects. This speaks to the state of music today, and in a good way. With the use of the internet and downloading, indie artists have greater exposure than at any time in the past. In many ways, now is the best time for music in decades.
Some worthy bonus picks (please, it was hard to only pick 11):
Invisible Kingdoms: Sara Groves
The Threshing Floor: Wovenhand
The Graduation Ceremony: Joseph Arthur
Telling Time: Tanya Godsey
The Cymbal Crashing Clouds: Ben Shive
Vice Verses: Switchfoot
Marie Asner's top albums
Light: Heidi McKee
Vice Verses: Switchfoot
The Journey: Andrae Crouch
Songs of Mirth and Melancholy: Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo
I Will Praise You: Rebecca St. James
Well Swung: Angie Wells
In the Light: Susan Wylde
1. Iona - Another Realm
2. Switchfoot - Vice Verses
3. Bruce Cockburn - Small Source of Comfort
4. Oysterband & June Tabor - Ragged Kingdom
5. Aradhna - Namaste Sate
6. Marsalis & Caldera - Songs of Mirth & Melancholy
7. Keith & Kris Getty - Joy, an Irish Christmas
8. Genticorum - Nagez Rameurs
9. Violet Burning - Stories of our Lives
10. Reece Lincoln - Soul of a Man
*Best re-issues: *
Daniel Amos - Shotgun: Collector's Edition
Sissoko & Ségal - Chamber Music
*Honourable mention* (very, very nearly made the list):
Burlap to Cashmere: Burlap to Cashmere
Eliza Carthy: Neptune
1. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
2. Burlap To Cashmere – S/T
3. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
4. Switchfoot – Vice Verses
5. Shawn McDonald – Closer
6. Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender
7. Fistful Of Mercy – As I Call You Down
8. JJ Heller – Deeper
9. Ilia – We Were Shipwrecks
10. Ginny Owens – Get In I’m Driving