Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

This year’s top album list pretty much assembled itself throughout the year. The top 4 in particular are albums I expect to continue to listening to over and over for years to come. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

25. Bell X1: Bloodless Coup

…turns the band’s signature blend electro-pop and rock up a notch

Buy @ Amazon

Hey Anna Lena by Bell X1

24. The Good Natured: Skeleton

…combine catchy electro-pop with airy dream-pop….What sets The Good Natured’s songs apart is the occasional splash of exotic strings or thunderous, syncopated beats. I’m enjoying this album immensely.

Buy @ Amazon

23. Shona Foster: The Moon & You

…moody piano melodies with subtle instrumental and vocal flourishes

Buy @ Amazon

Shona Foster – The Moon & You (Sampler) uploaded by Beach Hut Records

22. Mediaeval Baebes: Illumination

…churns the all-female vocal ensemble’s signature Gothic choir sound with even more exotic instrumentation, faster tempos and fiercer wails….brimming with dark drama, intoxicating rhythms and haunting choral harmonies

Buy @ Amazon

21. The Decemberists: The King is Dead

…From the opening blast of harmonica through the finale, The Decemberists have woven layers of delicate instrumentation and poetic lyrics into even the most buoyant and infectious song on this album.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Driftwood Fire: How to Untangle a Heartache

…truly a delight…airy pop-folk songs…”Appalachian Hills” is the album’s biggest stunner. The haunting folk ballad explores the beautiful landscape and horrific racism in the Shenandoah valley during and after the Civil War.

Buy @ Amazon

19. Zola Jesus: Conatus

…dark and entrancing pop songs…slinky beats, a chilling trill of piano and Zola’s haunting multi-layered howls make “Vessel” absolutely hypnotic.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

…Quirky, moody, syncopatedly rhythmic, femme electro-pop and indie-rock

Buy @ Amazon

Youth Knows No Pain by LykkeLi

Unrequited Love by LykkeLi

17. Patrick Wolf: Lupercalia

…marries the electro-pop of his recent releases with the eccentric troubadour style of his early albums, then takes things a step beyond with classical strings, big brass and a newfound lyrical optimism.

Buy @ Amazon

16. Matraca Berg: The Dreaming Fields

…the music on this album is exquisite and the songs examine deeper, darker themes than are typically found in the modern country-pop era

Buy @ Amazon

15. The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow

…a gorgeous, intimate blend of pretty pop melodies and sparsely atmospheric folk with an occassional punch of rowdy country-blues.

Buy @ Amazon

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow (mp3)*

14. Company of Thieves: Running from a Gamble

…Lead singer Genevieve Schatz’ voice is distinctively strong and pretty, and the band’s pop-rock songs are far more catchy and lyrically substantial than anything on the radio…one of those albums I like more with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

Company of Thieves – Modern Waste (mp3)*

13. Zaz

…The poor kid must be sick of the comparisons, but what else can I say here? This little gem of an album sounds like Edith Piaf singing modern, slightly quirky, jazz and pop tunes. I adore it…There really are no weak tracks on the album, the intricacies and charm of the arrangments are a perfect match for Zaz’ superb and distinctive voice.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Imelda May: Mayhem

…adds just enough modern rock noise to Imelda’s signature growling rockabilly sound to make it interesting without losing the retro style that makes her music so charming.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Sarah Slean: Land and Sea

…grand in scope and beautifully complex, yet one of the most irresistibly accessible collections I’ve ever heard. This magnificent new song cycle finds Sarah taking pop, folk, rock and classical to places they’ve never been before.

Buy @ Amazon

Sarah Slean – Amen by muruch

10. Flogging Molly: Speed of Darkness

…more of a American rock musical sound than the seminal Celtic punk band’s previous efforts…a lyrically brilliant and sonically solid effort inspired by the U.S. economic collapse – particularly its harsh effect on Detroit’s factory workers.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Scandalous

…gives these brilliant musicians some new opportunities to show off their substantial skills…”You Been Lyin’” is the best, most exciting collaboration any album ever had. The quaking duet with “Dallas gospel funk band” The Relatives sounds like The Staples Singers and George Clinton jamming with The Darkness.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Lia Ices: Grown Unknown

…The album’s brilliance lies in Lia’s unusual use of instrumental embellishments to punch up her otherwise gentle melodies…Lia’s beautiful voice makes even the most basic ballad absolutely stunning.

Buy @ Amazon

Lia Ices – Daphne (mp3)*
Lia Ices – Grown Unknown (mp3)*

7. Eva Cassidy: Simply Eva

…previously unreleased material by the late, great Eva Cassidy…composed entirely of acoustic versions of Eva’s best known recordings. Accompanied only by the soft strum of her guitar, Eva’s extraordinary voice is beautifully displayed in this exquisite collection.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters

…One of the more impressive releases of 2011 so far, Night of the Hunters was an ambitious undertaking for Tori Amos and one that, despite its weaknesses, can be called a success. It’s also a definite step in the right direction for the songstress and has won my loyalty back after a decade of disillusionment.

Buy Night of the Hunters @ Amazon


Tori Amos: Sin Palabras (Night of the Hunters Instrumental)

…Sin Palabras has all of the strengths of Night Of Hunters, yet none of the weaknesses…gorgeous instrumental version illuminates all of the intricacies and nuances of the arrangements. The brilliance of Tori’s piano playing, as well as that of her accompanying orchestra musicians, is put on full display.

Buy Sin Palabras @ Amazon (only $4.99!)

5. Florence + the Machine: Ceremonials

…has almost Seraphic reverence to its bombast. And Florence Welch’s unearthly wails remain unparalleled and mesmeric.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Heather Nova: 300 Days at Sea

…Heather’s unusually gorgeous voice has always been the driving force in her songs, but her intricate layering of high energy pop-rock instrumentation with haunting folk melodies continues to put her music into a category of its own.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Alexis Marceaux: Orange Moon

…a brassed up brand of eerie indie-rock, melodic pop, delicate folk and the lightest hint of Zydeco…From her first wail in the mesmeric, churning, chill-producing opener, “Leila and the Orange Moon,” I knew I would love this album.

Buy @ Amazon

Orange Moon – Sneak Hear by AlexisMarceaux

2. The Sweetback Sisters: Lookin’ for a Fight

…a delightful nod to vintage Western swing, honky tonk and classic Nashville country…the whole album is a toe tappin’, hip shakin’ wonder. I expect it to be on my best of the year list come December.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Sonya Cotton: It is so

…I don’t recall ever having been so profoundly moved by an album. The lyrics read like classic poetry, full of beautiful, nature-evoking imagery and immense sorrow…Sonya’s broken heart is deeply embedded in the marrow of this spectacular album, as her personal loss intertwines with metaphors depicting the loss of natural habitat and sanctuary for animals in the wild. Such personal and universal themes coupled with lush, intricate arrangements must surely destine It is so to become a folk classic.

Buy @ Sonya’s Site

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

Mountain Stage: The Sweetback Sisters and Fitz & the Tantrums

Last night’s Mountain Stage concert featured Bearfoot, The Sweetback Sisters, Katie Costello, Fitz & the Tantrums and Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers.

Let’s be honest here. I really only went to the concert for The Sweetback Sisters and Fitz & the Tantrums. As vastly different as the two bands are, they were equally entertaining and provided the two most exciting sets I’ve seen in Mountain Stage in recent years.

Opening bluegrass band Bearfoot was also surprisingly good. I really wasn’t in the mood for bluegrass and was thus prepared to be bored by their music, but they won me over by the end of their first song. The highlights of their set were the haunting folk ballad “Eyes Cast Down” (co-written by Claire Lynch) and their “Boys II Men” acapella performance of “Billy.” Both songs are featured on Bearfoot’s new album, American Story.

The Sweetback Sisters’ new album, Lookin’ for a Fight, has been by far my most played album of the year and will most certainly be near (if not on) the top of my best of 2011 list. Their classic country inspired album is one of the most fun, catchy collections of songs I’ve ever heard and already makes me feel the affection and amusement of an old favorite album. I was amazed the songs sounded even better live.

The Sweetback Sisters are Emily Miller and Zara Bode and those gals were fierce, funny and absolutely fantastic on stage. Their performance of Lookin’ for a Fight‘s title track was especially feisty and their backing band, which includes West Virginian guitarist-fiddler Jesse Milnes, really tore it up on the cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Rattled.” It looked like they had as much fun playing the songs as much as we in the audience did hearing them.

Six-piece ensemble Fitz & the Tantrums’ mix of retro soul, electro-pop and crunchy garage rock also made for quite the lively set. Their electric and bombastic performance had the crowd clapping, singing along and dancing in the aisles. Fitz should really get singer Noelle Scaggs some backup dancers, that girl is a real live wire. Among the crowd pleasers in their set were “MoneyGrabber,” ” L.O.V.” and “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” from their new album, Pickin’ up the Pieces, and a funky soul cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”

Buy Bearfoot’s Music @ Amazon
Bearfoot Official Site

Buy The Sweetback Sisters’ Music @ Amazon
The Sweetback Sisters Official Site

Buy Fitz & the Tantrums’ Music @ Amazon
Fitz & the Tantrums Official Site

The Sweetback Sisters: Lookin’ for a Fight

The Sweetback Sisters will released their new album, Lookin’ for a Fight, on May 31st via Signature Sounds Records. The album is a delightful nod to vintage Western swing, honky tonk and classic Nashville country. Covers of songs originally recorded by legends like Patsy Cline are interspersed several new originals that fit right in.

The songs on Lookin’ for a Fight, particularly the spectacular backing harmonies, were inspired by and recorded in the one-mic style of records from the 1950s/1960s era of country music.

The album consists of seven new original songs by the band along with renditions of Patsy Cline’s “Love Me, Honey Do,” The Sons of the Pioneers’ “Cowboy Ham & Eggs,” The Traveling Wilbury’s “Rattled” and Hazel Dickens’ “Don’t Put Her Down.”

My personal favorites on the album are the swaggering title track and the cover of Dwight Yoakum’s “It Won’t Hurt When I Fall Down From This Bar Stool,” but the whole album is a toe tappin’, hip shakin’ wonder. I expect it to be on my best of the year list come December.

The Sweetback Sisters will play at The Empty Glass in Charleston, WV on May 27th.

Pre-Order @ Amazon

The Sweetback Sisters Official Site
The Sweetback Sisters MySpace

Sweetback Sisters: Chicken Ain’t Chicken

Chicken Ain’t Chicken is the debut full-length album by Sweetback Sisters, and it will be released on June 30th. It can only be called a country album, though there are definitely elements of folk, jazz, and even funk thrown in. The strength lies the honeyed harmony of the gals and the twang-blues ruckus of certain songs, but the weakness seems to be found in songs that get a little too quirky for their own good.

The first portion of the album is charming and captivating, starting with the jaunty Western swing of “Cowboy Girl” – which has a surprising and brief burst of male opera vocals that reminds me of Joss Whedon’s “Grr Argh” logo. The pretty ballad “Virginia” follows, then there’s a funky cover of Roger Miller’s “My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died”.

Unfortunately, something about the songs in the middle just started to irk me. At first I thought it was simply that I’ve burned myself out on country and folk (I’ve been listening to more rock lately), but I love the last few songs so I don’t know…even on repeated listens tracks 4-11 just grated on my nerves.

But then the sweet vocal harmony of “The Sweetest Gift” and the hyper honky tonk finale “You’re Gone Again” won me back over. So I can’t say I like the entire album, but I adore the songs that bookend it.

Sweetback Sisters – Cowboy Girl (mp3 removed)

Sweetback Sisters Official Site

Buy @ Amazon