Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year again! Below are my personal favorite albums of 2013. This year the list fell together fairly easily – due both to the excellence of the following albums and the lackluster nature of their competition. Though I’m shocked by my #1 album, which only recently knocked two other favorites from the top spot. The top three are really interchangeable, they are far too brilliant and too different from each other to truly rank. But I’ve been playing my #1 album on almost continuous repeat for the past three months, so it’s undeniably my favorite of the moment.

Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, watch videos and/or download mp3s. And please feel free to comment with your own favorite albums (or songs) of the year.

*Honorable mention to Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest, which I only heard for the first time this week – long after having compiled and scheduled my Top Albums list. It’s impossible now to choose anyone to cut just to make room for Sara, but it’s a good album nonetheless.

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

25. Rusty Belle: Common Courtesy

…their multi-genre, multi-instrumental style runs the gamut from Americana and folk to rock, soul and blues…bluesy, sparse, soul-rock…delicious shades of Nick Cave

Buy @ Amazon


24. Ian McFeron: Time Will Take You

…What a delight this little folk-rock gem is!…produces the same immediate reaction of refreshment and affection as Adams’ Gold – though there’s more of a classic country-folk swagger.

Buy @ Amazon


23. Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

…unlike anything you’ve ever heard before…acoustic blues masterpiece swiftly carried along by Valerie’s distintive voice… exquisite marriage of a low-fi folk melody and sweet, plucky bluegrass instrumentation…grinding, funky blues-rock sound associated with bands like The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes, but Valerie’s voice and phrasing give it a soulful, gospel-folk spin

Buy @ Amazon


22. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell: Love Has Come For You

…Comedian turned bluegrass musician Steve Martin and singer Edie Brickell have joined forces…what a delight their collaboration turned out to be! Martin’s deft, delicate banjo playing is the perfect complement for Brickell’s gentle, melodious voice.

Buy @ Amazon


21. Black City Lights: Another Life

…a sexy and very moody collection. At times the band’s dark, trippy electro-pop style sounds like a mix of Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Julee Cruise, Lacuna Coil and MS MR.

Buy @ Amazon


20. One Mile An Hour

…brilliant, self-produced, self-titled debut album, which they accurately call a “complex, introverted outsider-folk record”…airy, panoramic, beautiful, unusual folk music…swirling, psychedelic folk guitar riffs, slightly raspy and softly plaintive vocals. A bit of Ray LaMontagne, a little Elliot Smith, even hints of Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd and something totally Other – a ghostly, intangible mood. This is why I love music, why I love writing about music. This is inspiration

Buy @ Amazon


19. Varous Artists: Variations on Chopin

…puts an ambient and electro-pop spin on Chopin’s classical melodies…magnificent, mindblowingly lovely…not your standard classical album…absolutely fantastic

Buy @ Amazon


18. Ours: Boxer the Ballet 1

…one of those albums I love more intensely with each listen…pure, old school American rock that often reminds me of classic Foreigner, maybe a bit of Scorpions or even Cinderella…big, theatrical voice of lead singer, Jimmy Gnecco, should also appeal to Muse fans

Buy @ Amazon

Ours – Pretty Pain (mp3)*


17. Ruth Moody: These Wilder Things

…The Wailin’ Jennys are spawning some excellent solo albums…Moody’s angelic, lilting soprano tangles with pop-polished bluegrass and folk.

Buy @ Amazon


16. Ivan & Alyosha: All The Times We Had

…comparison to The Lumineers is still fairly accurate. The two bands definitely share a certain multi-instrumental, melodic sensibility, but Ivan & Alyosha’s music is distinctively different enough to stand on its own merit…as lovely, comforting and encouraging as an old friend…somewhere between Ryan Adams and The Low Anthem

Buy @ Amazon


15. Melissa Ferrick: The Truth Is

…absolutely outstanding…instrumentation is gorgeous, lush and elegantly Southern..phenomenal, thought-provoking

Buy @ Amazon


14. Rykarda Parasol: Against the Sun

…gives her signature noirish rock sound a modern polish without compromising its dark, artistic integrity…Rykarda uses her voice as much as any instrument: haunting moans and surprising ooh la la’s…echoing yelps…melodic whistles…and Mamas & Papas harmonies…the kind of richly layered album that immediately mesmerizes and still gets even better with each listen

Buy @ Amazon


13. Molly Drake

…Nick Drake’s mother. Molly was a very talented poet, composer, singer and pianist whose music obviously had a strong influence on her son’s work. Sadly, Molly’s exquisite music was mostly a family secret during her life and is only now being released to the public…the entire album features Molly Drake’s unusually pretty soprano and piano in a lilting, old-fashioned parlour style of music. Her lyrics, however, delve into the same kind of elegant, poetic, somewhat melancholy introspection that her son would eventually explore

Buy @ Amazon


12. Brooke Waggoner: Originator

…an extraordinary collection…a beautiful, brilliant and absolutely enchanting album…thunderous piano crashes layered over bombastic horns and choral voices

Buy @ Amazon


11. Bing Satellites

I’m bending the rules here a bit, as Bing Satellites has released too many albums this year to narrow down to one and the ambient nature of his music makes it difficult to differentiate one track from another. I especially like his latest release, King Midas in Reverse, and Twilight Sessions: Volume 11. We at the Muruch household have a giant Bing Satellites mp3 playlist that is on almost daily rotation. Bing’s music is the perfect soundtrack for reading and relaxation.

Bing Satellites Official Site


10. Allison Crowe: Heavy Graces

…what a lush piece of work…a touch of Celtic folk in the instrumentation, haunting backing vocals and a slow building, seething tension until Allison unleashes her wail…I predict we’ll be seeing Allison Crowe not once but twice on our best of the year list.

Buy @ Amazon


9. Lucy Schwartz: Timekeeper

…a multi-instrumental, multi-genre sound that encompasses the atmospheric, high energy electro-pop of Butterfly Boucher, the folk revival instrumentation of Mumford & Sons and a dash of Hannah Fury‘s Gothic, antiquarian sensibility

Buy @ Amazon


8. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

…as interesting, diverse and addictive as we’ve come to expect from Janelle and finds her collaborating with Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding…artistic attention to detail combined with a gorgeous voice, a flare both for the dramatic as well as the funky and a science fiction churning imagination continue to put Janelle Monáe into a category all her own: Cyber-Soul

Buy @ Amazon


7. Elton John: The Diving Board

…finds Elton John making a welcome return to his musical roots with a basic piano-bass-drums set-up and features some of his finest piano playing in the past four decades…it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something…The Diving Board already sounds like a classic and is a worthy release for the man behind “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”

Buy @ Amazon


6. MS MR: Secondhand Rapture

…dramatic, bombastic, sexy, moody and utterly fantastic…falls somewhere between Florence + the Machine‘s delicious over the top theatrics and Great Northern‘s haunting melodies with a little extra rhythmic oomph…like Kate Rusby fronting a ’90s trip-hop band like Faithless or Morcheeba…basically MS MR are everything I could want in a band…absolutely addictive and will surely be on my best of the year list

Buy @ Amazon


5. Hem: Departure & Farewell

…will be battling Foxygen for my Top Album of 2013…Hem have all but perfected their “Metropolitan Country” sound and singer Sally Ellyson’s voice is truly timeless…a dazzling transcontinental journey — by air and by sea

Buy @ Amazon


4. Trent Dabbs: The Way We Look At Horses

…a masterful and exquisite song cycle that brilliantly bridges the gap between Elliot Smith’s pensive folk-pop and Ryan Adams’ rustic alt-country…I’m so happy and relieved to have fallen in love with this album. I can’t remember the last time I listened to an entire album repeatedly without skipping at least one track…moody, melodic and magnificent. It’s certainly one of the best albums of the year and one whose songs stay with you long after it ends.

Buy @ Amazon


3. Foxygen: We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

…If Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic isn’t my #1 of 2013, we have a spectacular year of music ahead of us…the rare album that truly deserves to be called Beatlesque…elements of vintage psychedelic rock, modern indie- and garage rock, a bit o’ The Animals, a splash of Elvis, a smidgen of blues and various other experimental feats that defy category. It’s unusual, innovative and totally fantastic…a sublime slice of pop perfection.

Buy @ Amazon


2. Allison Crowe: Newfoundland Vinyl

…plays like a lovely, vintage collection of traditional Irish and Canadian folk ballads, lively sea chanteys and drinking songs, parlour songs and country tunes with surprising retro, girl-pop harmonies woven throughout…full of dazzling melody and such a unique charm…Allison’s voice is so strong and spectacular, I’m afraid Foxygen has fierce competition here for my favorite album of the year.

Buy @ Amazon


1. Lorde: Pure Heroine

…more than lives up to all the hype…one of those rare song cycles that flows seamlessly from beginning to end and keeps the same level of energy throughout…Lorde’s signature blend of heavy, sporadic beats and witty, sardonic lyrics, which are often written from an outsider’s point of view in a poetic style.

Buy @ Amazon

*all mp3s, streams & videos uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps

Brooke Waggoner: Originator Free Album Download!!!

I have no idea why one of the best albums of the year is available as a free, legal download on Noisetrade, but it is. You can nab mp3s of Brooke Waggoner’s entire, exquisite album, Originator (click title for review), by entering your email address below. I was just listening to this album again this week in preparation for my year end list – on which it will most certainly appear – and I can’t recommend it enough. You can also watch the videos for my two favorite tracks from the album, “Squint” and “Rumble,” below.

Brooke Waggoner: Originator

Finally, new music to get excited about! Two weeks into 2013, I’ve been disappointed with the lackluster new releases I’ve heard so far. Then Brooke Waggoner’s Originator blew in like a breath of very fresh air. I’d been anticipating the album since Brooke’s spectacular set at Mountain Stage last November. Originator is set for release on March 5th and it’s an extraordinary collection.

When Brooke performed these songs live, her voice and piano roared with fiery, passionate intensity. Unfortunately, the soft focus production of the album dampens that fire a bit. I’m guessing the goal was to give Originator the same ethereal sound as Brooke’s debut, Go Easy Little Doves, but I preferred Brooke’s unrestrained live performance of these songs. Regardless, Originator is a beautiful, brilliant and absolutely enchanting album.

The opener “Shiftshape” glides, soars, plummets and rises again on gentle jetstreams of piano.

“Rumble” is the standout track with its “my second wind” refrain and thunderous piano crashes layered over bombastic horns and choral voices.

“From The Nest” is a lovely ballad, while “Ink Slinger” is a fantastically frenetic pop song.

“Squint” has the languid atmosphere of a Pink Floyd song….that is, if it were covered by Tori Amos.

The beautifully orchestral “Waterlogged” is a rolling rumination on the ups and downs of life, and “To Love” is the quiet, moody finale.

I keep a “nominations” list throughout each year to help me compile my annual Top Albums lists. Brooke Waggoner’s Originator is the first album to be added to my 2013 Top Albums nominations list.

You can download a free, legal mp3 of “Ink Slinger” at the following link…

Brooke Waggoner – Ink Slinger (mp3 download page)

Pre-Order @ Amazon (available in March)

Brook Waggoner Official Site

Mountain Stage: Carrie Rodriguez, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley, Iris Dement, Bruce Cockburn

Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Carrie Rodriguez, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn. With such a powerhouse lineup, it’s no surprise the show sold out before the doors even opened.

Carrie Rodriguez’ 2008 Mountain Stage set was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, so I was excited to see her return to my beloved venue. No one woman should be as pretty and gifted as Carrie Rodriguez. Her face and voice are equally gorgeous, her songwriting is top-notch and she’s a multi-instrumental virtuoso. She was accompanied last night by a single guitarist, Luke Jacobs.

Carrie opened with the high energy “Devil in Mind,” playing her violin like a rock guitar. She followed that with the mellow, swaying song “Lake Harriet,” which she called her “ode to the Minnesota man.” The beautiful love song “Get Back in Love,” a tribute to her guitarist’s parents, was the highlight of her set. Carrie asked the Mountain Stage band to join her for her new single, “I Cry For Love,” and ended with the sweet ballad “I Don’t Mind Waiting.”

Carrie Rodriguez’ fifth full-length solo album, Give Me All You Got, will be released January 22, 2013. You can download the new single, “Lake Harriet,” by signing up for Carrie’s email list at her website and watch the video below.

Carrie Rodriguez Official Site

Buy Carrie’s Music @ Amazon

Julie Adams and the Mountain Stage band took a turn covering Ron Sexsmith’s lovely “Speaking With The Angel.”

Brooke Waggoner, a striking redhead in a bright red dress and black boots, took the stage and piano next. I loved Brooke’s sophomore album, Go Easy Little Doves, but had never seen the classically trained singer-pianist in concert before. I had tickets to see her at Mountain Stage in the winter of 2010, but a snow storm canceled the show. I’m so glad Brooke chose to visit earlier in the season this time.

Brooke has one of those rare, flawless voices that sounds exactly the same live as it does recorded. Her voice and melodies have an unusually haunting and delicate quality to them, yet she’s not afraid to add a dark edge to certain songs.

Brooke and her band blasted the stage like it was a rock arena. This girl is going to be a huge star. At least, she should be. She played all new songs from her upcoming album, each more astounding than the last. It was like someone put the best, most impressive elements of Little Earthquakes-era Tori Amos and The Dresden Dolls-era Amanda Palmer into a blender. She was my favorite act of the night and I wish she’d played an extended set.

Brooke Waggoner’s next album, Originator, will be released in early 2013. You can download the first single, “Ink Slinger, at Rolling Stone.

Brooke Waggoner Official Site

Buy Brooke’s Music @ Amazon

Belgian singer Trixie Whitley had no difficulty following in Brooke’s wake. Trixie is a jack-all-trades kind of artist, having been an actor, dancer, DJ and musician. Her recording resume reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry, with names like Me’shell Ndegeocello, Robert Plant and Marianne Faithfull. Trixie was by far the most entertaining member of Black Dub when I saw them perform at Mountain Stage in 2010 and one of the standout covers on the recent Fleetwood Mac tribute.

Trixie opened with an atmospheric piano melody before picking up an electric guitar for the harder “Gradual Return,” a rock song with almost psychedelic riffs. She switched to an acoustic guitar for a bluesy ballad about a Mexican town, then slid back behind the piano for the love song finale, “I Breath You in My Dreams.” Every song was completely different, yet equally captivating. Trixie’s soulful, versatile voice rivals Adele.

As I posted last month, Trixie is offering a free, legal EP download via Noisetrade (see the end of this review) and her solo debut, Fourth Corner, will be released January 29, 2013.

Trixie Whitley Official Site

Buy Trixie’s Music @ Amazon

Strangely, Grammy-winning folk singer Iris Dement was probably the most famous of the performers and the one whose music I was least familiar with. She counts among her fans and collaborators Merle Haggard, John Prine, David Byrne, Natalie Merchant and the Coen Brothers. Her songs have been featured in various television shows and movies, and she herself played a small role in the film Songcatcher. But, to put it politely, her lengthy, dry banter and high pitched whine were not my cup of tea. The older folks in the audience seemed to like it, but I wasn’t the only younger person in the crowd yawning and checking my watch.

Iris Dement Official Site

Buy Iris’ Music @ Amazon

Thankfully, Mountain Stage pianist Bob Thompson soothed my frayed nerves with “Stardust.”

Finally, Bruce Cockburn. I’ve seen the Canadian folk master perform at Mountain Stage so many times over the years, I’ve lost count (last night was his 13th time at the venue). But it’s never enough.

As quiet and unassuming as the man is, there is no question that Bruce Cockburn and his music are legendary. I often wonder why Cockburnesque isn’t as overused a musical adjective as Dylanesque, but then I can’t think of any artist that can be compared to Bruce Cockburn. His live performances are even better than his recordings. There’s just something so likable about his humble demeanor and so captivating about his folk songs.

Bruce started with an older instrumental, then played “Call Me Rose” from his most recent album, Small Source of Comfort. He closed with the quaking, gut-renching “Put it in Your Heart.”

Bruce Cockburn Official Site

Buy Bruce’s Music @ Amazon

Brooke Waggonor and Trixie Whitley were the only performers of the night who didn’t stick around for the group finale. Carrie Rodriguez, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn joined host Larry Groce and the Mountain Stage band for a cover of “If I Prove False To Thee.”

Brooke Waggoner – Ink Slinger (mp3 download page)