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Driftwood’s One-Year Anniversary Favorites List

Here we are at the end of our first year. Things can be pretty tough starting up any publishing venture these days, but fortunately Driftwood had some help of two of folk music publishing’s most wonderful editors. This gave us the chance to hear an inordinately large number of records, many of them quite spectacular.

These are the records that our writers and editors heard that they liked best, or had special meaning to them.

As editor, I need to thank the writers for all the work they do — purely volunteer — that has ensured we have a review to post every single weekday of the past year. Also, thanks to all the readers who forwarded, shared, tweeted and uh, +1ed? Circled? what is the verb for this new Google thing? our articles to give us a big boost in readership and subscribers for the year. For something we originally expected to just be a casual place to share music, it sure grew into something more very quickly.

So without further ado, here is Driftwood Music Magazine’s first annual “favorites” list. I hope we’ll have many more. Now back to harvesting coconuts. I thought I saw a ship on the horizon this morning, but it was only a seagull …

Diane Schuur
The Gathering
[Vanguard (2011)]

A giant in her field with one of the greatest voices in contemporary jazz, Diane Schuur dips her honeyed vocal tones into the country music milieu. Not only does she bring a fresh perspective to classic songs by Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Hank Cochran, among others, she will undoubtedly have listeners going back to discover, or rediscover, the originals. Respectful and triumphant. Bravo to Schuur! [Full Driftwood review.]

—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)

Shannon Heaton
Blue Dress
[Wonderdrug Records (2010)]

The Blue Dress, by Shannon Heaton, is an album I keep coming back to. Heaton is known for her work as a singer, songwriter, and composer in the Irish American tradition. For this recording, though, she leads things with the voice of her flute: there’s not a word spoken or sung. It’s a well thought out, well sequenced set of tunes, some original, some from traditional sources, that flows like a a stream on an autumn day: cool to warm, warm to cool, lively and dancing one moment, quiet and reflective at another. Heaton’s flute centers things, and she is well supported by Matt Heaton on bouzouki, Liz Simmons on guitar, Paddy League on bodhran, and Maeve Gilchrist on harp.

Other standouts this year include Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields for lyrical, thoughtful songwriting, the self titled T With the Maggies, in which you come to know know the landscape and taste the salt tinged air of Ireland’s far northwest through the voices of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, and Moya Brennan, Julie Fowlis’ graceful Live at Perthshire Amber, and Heidi Talbot’s The Last Star, a gorgeous mix of innovation and tradition.

—Kerry Dexter (, NY)

[Dimma DIS007 2010]

It’s hard to remember that as little as 10 years ago people were proclaiming that, “Nordic music is the new Celtic”, bands from Sweden, Norway and Denmark were touring the Sates and showcasing at the Folk Alliance Conference, and Northside was the hot label releasing dozens of recording by Nordic bands. Here it is, in 2011 and Northside’s only remaining Nordic band is Vassen, The big Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis is no more, Drone and Amigo, the two big Swedish folk music labels are out of business, and major bands like Garmarna have stopped recording and Ranarim has disbanded. Then out of the blue, a band like Lyy comes along to remind us what the fuss was all about and how unique and wonderful Swedish (and Nordic) folk music can be. They have a charismatic singer in Emma Bjorling and a lighthearted sense of humor that runs throughout this recording. Their first album is hardly perfect, but points to how enjoyable Nordic music, at its best, can be. [Full Driftwood review.]

—Jim Lee, Simi Valley, CA

Mike and the Ravens
From Pillar to Post
[Playground Music (2011)]

This teenage band from Vermont played roller rinks and broke up before the Beatles’ first hit. Like a lotta guys, they pretty much left their rock and roll dreams behind for jobs and families. Unlike all but the lucky (very) few, Mike and the Ravens got a second chance. Three actually. From Pillar to Post is their third album, all released in the 21st century. And it delivers a visceral punch of five guys rediscovering the electrical power in the music. Or discovering it for the first time. Guitarist Bo Blodgett had never used fuzz tone before; it hadn’t been invented yet for his first go-round. We get the treat of hearing a reborn band of pretty mature guys given the encouragement to remake and remodel their band, act like teenagers again, and share their wild-eyed glee as they go, “Wow, this is really cool!” They reconfigure “Pretty Polly” and “Jack of Diamonds” to give them a hard-charging pummeling, and inspired by a Louis Armstrong biography, go for a guitar solo that features all the “wrong” notes in “Dog in Me.” This album is literally their last chance, so they’re taking chances and delivering on their long-lost promise.

—Jeffery Lindholm (Montpelier, VT)

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Been Listening
[Transgressive/Thirty Tigers (2010)]

This was an extraordinarily difficult decision for me, because I could have picked half the records I reviewed for Driftwood and been happy with the decision. I liked The Grownup Noise’s This Time With Feeling so much that I reviewed it twice (here and for the rock blog TheOwlMag.com). Daniel Kahn’s Lost Causes probably broadened my musical and lyrical horizons as much as anything I’ve heard in several years. In the end, though, Johnny Flynn‘s sophomore record is the one I made the most people listen to, it’s the only record I sat down with a guitar with to learn songs, and it most succinctly encompasses the uniqueness and world music inclusion I want to hear come out of the burgeoning English folk revival of the Aughts. The record’s as fresh after ten or twenty spins as it was when I heard the first mandolin notes of “Kentucky Pill,” and I suspect it will sound equally fresh after ten or twenty years. [Full Driftwood review. And solo concert review.]

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

A Day At The Pass
Jill Sobule & John Doe
[Pinko Records (2011)]

Jill Sobule goes to a scarier place than reality tv can accomodate (though rent and view any John Cassavettes-directed movie from “Opening Night” to Mikey & Nicky” – R.I.P. Peter Falk) on “Shaky Hands,” the waitress spilling drinks all over town. John Doe & Excene Cervenka’s “Darling Underdog” sung with Sobule’s “underground with you” harmony goes from “lovers’ lane to lovers’ leap in pain.” From micro to macro in purified jug band steam punk crash pad “Under the Bridge.” Don Was covers bases, Dave Way on tender tambourine and easy-on-the-ears board. Cut to the loping springtime beat-cents of Victor Indrizzo with Jill & John’s hamboning on bods hard & acoustic. One day in L.A. April 11, 2010, A Day At The Pass. Released in spare if built-to-last spineless (hiss silly storage closet library) eco-pack a year later by most inclusive fan club. John Doe’s 2010 proto punk epiphany “Never Enough (of Junk)” rant is the broom sweeping hoarder storage lockers of our collective culture clean. Doug Pettibone’s horsetail-flyswatter banjo & pedal steel guitar stirs this most subversive roadside lemonade. The Adrissi Brothers by-way-of The Association bup-bup-bupping away in Jill & John’s refiner’s fire cover of “(You ask me if there’ll come a time when I’ll grow tired of you) Never, My Love.” Summer 2011 a late lush-logged Pacific NW floral fade of sunlight… [Full Driftwood review.]

—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)

Cederholm & Brdr. Helleman
Teaterkoncert: Bob Dylan
[Sony (2010)]
Shortly after Bob Dylan became a household name, tribute albums started to appear and the flow has never stopped. Recent years have seen the release of a plethora of especially interesting albums of Dylan covers, and not just from the English-speaking world. One album from a year ago or so that I found astonishing is this 2-CD soundtrack of a theatrical production from Copenhagen that was devoted to Dylan’s songs. The album booklet includes brief notes in Danish only and a few photos of phantasmagorical scenes from the production, one that features seven singers, two of whom are women, and eight musicians. The vocals, which are all in English, show no trace of a foreign accent. The performances reinvent 28 Dylan songs, the majority of which are drawn from the 1960s and early 1970s. Most of the songs sound as if a smaller cast of Cirque du Soleil had brought the songs back in time to Berlin to help the most talented performers of the Weimar era perform them in a cabaret. It all works marvelously well. The album is possibly hard to find outside Denmark. A few promotional video montages can be found on YouTube.
—Paul-Emile Comeau  (Comeauville, NS, Canada)

Girl Talk
All Day 

Girl Talk is to folk music as baby wolverines are to uranium. There really isn’t much
comparison. Or is there? Girl Talk is a populist; he plays music that the people like and at the same time, he makes them hear things they would probably have missed. Maybe because they were born in the wrong year, or because they think they hate certain genres. Girl Talk takes music that he has not created, cuts it up, dissects it, puts it back together like Frankenstein’s Monster, and marries it to another animated corpse. And the sum somehow is so much more than its parts.

There are almost 400 songs featured in All Day, the majority of which are hip-hop and rock music. Heavyweights like Jay-Z and Beyonce and Lady Gaga are here, but there are also-rans that make bizarre appearances as well, like Bananarama (you might remember their ‘hit’ “Cruel Summer” that was featured in The Karate Kid). Few of the mashups make sense, but they all work. And that’s the essence of All Day. Girl Talk is a mashup artist. He’s the dude who sits behind turntables and makes a living marrying music that other people created. But is that a bad thing? Folk music is, arguably, just music that someone created a long time ago that is being revamped and replayed and relived. Girl Talk does the same, but with modern music. And he has transcended the genres and the stereotypes. All Day is an animated corpse, but with new life and new fever. Listen to it. Get back to me. It’s free and wonderful. I’ll wait.

—Michael Tager (Baltimore, MD)

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band
[Compass (2010)]

Peter Rowan has played many kinds of music over the years – rock, country, folk, reggae—but his roots have always been firmly in bluegrass. A couple of years ago, he assembled a strong bluegrass quartet, rounded out by Jody Stecher on mandolin, banjo player Keith Little, and bassist Paul Knight. Their debut recording, Legacy, showcases the group’s stellar instrumental licks and vocal harmonies, but it also boasts the strongest batch of songs that Rowan has summoned up in many years.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose)

[Ed: Craig Harris cheated! Instead of narrowing it down to one choice, he went ahead and picked one record from a bunch of different genres.]

As a music reviewer, I’ve had an opportunity to hear an eclectic range of great music. Among the releases that I’ll be pulling from my shelf to listen to again in the future are:

1. Huun Huur Tu
Ancestor’s Call
[World Village (2011)]

Though their follow-up to their collaboration with electronica wiz and record producer Carmen Rizzo (Eternal), Ancestor’s Call signals a return to their roots, Tuva-based throat singers Huun Huur Tu continue to apply the lessons that they’ve learned and the CD sparkles with sonic brilliance, atmospheric harmonies, and hard to believe throat singing. [Full Driftwood review.]

2. Ray Charles
Live In Concert
[Concord (2011)]

Recorded at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, on September 20, 1964, Live In Concert captures soulful pianist/vocalist Ray Charles (1930-2004) and his orchestra at their best, mixing live renditions of such hits as “I Got A Woman,”“Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” and “What’d I Say” with a scattering of Tin Pan Alley classics. Seven tunes, including “Georgia On My Mind,” added to the 12 tracks that comprised the initial album from 1965 (which reached #80 on Billboard’s list of the top 200 albums), makes this is an essential release. [Full driftwood review.]

3. David Bromberg
Use Me
[Appleseed (2011)]

A who’s who collection of musicians, including Levon Helm, John Hiatt, Dr. John, Los Lobos, Widespread Panic, Linda Ronstadt, Keb’ Mo’, and Vince Gill, were each invited to choose a song and produce a track, but it’s David Bromberg’s blues-tinged singing and masterful guitar picking that makes each tune on Use Me his own. [Full Driftwood review.]

4. Avett Brothers
Live, Volume 3
[Columbia (2010)]

Combining songs from their 3 independently released albums and tunes from their major label debut, I And Love And You, Scott and Seth Avett and band show off their dynamic stagecraft with Live, Volume 3, a 16-song CD recorded during their August 8, 2009 performance at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Bojangles Stadium. [Full Driftwood review.]

5. John Butler Trio
Live At Red Rocks
[ATO (2011)]

Recorded during singer/songwriter John Butler and his trio (bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Nicky Bomba)’s concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, in Colorado, on June 4, 2010, and streamed live via Livestream, Live Red Rocks showcases the Australian group’s mix of acoustic blues, rock, funk, reggae, and aboriginal music in a three-disc set that includes two CDs and a DVD with the complete show and bonus footage.

6. The Cars
Move Like This
[Hear Music (2011)]

On Move Like This, the Car’s seventh album, and first since disbanding in 1987, bass player/vocalist Benjamin Orr (who died of cancer in 2000) is missed. Remaining Cars members Ric Ocasek (Lead vocals, guitar, and songwriting), Elliot Easton (guitar), and Greg Hawkes (keyboards) join with ex-Modern Lovers drummer David Robinson to take one of the most successful bands of the 1980s another step further.

7. Susan Werner
Kicking The Beehive
[Sleeve Dog (2011)]

After a series of thematic albums, Susan Werner shows off the many dimensions of her songwriting with Kicking The Beehive. Recorded in Nashville, produced by Rodney Crowell, with guests Vince Gill, Keb’ Mo’, and Paul Franklin, the album tackles such issues as drug addiction (“Botanical Greenery Blues”) and abortion (“Manhattan, Kansas”) and presents the views of a parent of a challenged child (“My Different Son”).

8. Brian Wilson
Reimagines Gershwin
[Disney Pearl (2011)]

Former bedridden rock superstar Brian Wilson continues to overcome his demons and recapture his musical career with Reimagines Gershwin, a jazz charts-topping tribute to George Gershwin (1898-1937). In addition to reworkings of classics such as “Summertime,” “’S Wonderful,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “I’ve Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” and two renditions of “Rhapsody In Blue,” the CD includes a pair of previously unheard Gershwin songs that were completed by Wilson and furnished with new lyrics. [Full Driftwood review.]

9. Nick Lowe
The Old Magic
[Yep Rock (2011)]

It may not include a punk-spirited pop hit, like “Cruel To Be Kind,” or “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding,” but with “The Old Magic,” 13th studio solo album, Walton-on-Thames-born singer-songwriter Nick Lowe shows that, at 62 years old, he’s like a fine wine, aging with grace and capable of straight-from-the heart sentiment.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
The Harrow and the Harvest
[Acony Records (2011)]

I had the pleasure of listening to about two thousand artists this year, most of whom I’d never heard of a year ago. And I end I picked someone I’ve been listening to for fifteen years. I make no apologies for that. This is a beautiful and powerful record that hasn’t left my CD rotation since I first heard it, no matter what else is on my virtual desk. Its highlights are as good as anything in the Welch–Rawlings catalog, which is among the highest praise I can offer an album. [Full Driftwood review.]

—Jack Hunter (editor-in-cheif Driftwoodmagazine.com)

One comment on “Driftwood’s One-Year Anniversary Favorites List

  1. Correction, Cassavettes didn’t direct “Mikey & Nicky” although he co-stars with Falk,
    script and direction by Elaine May doing her best Cassavettes impression of
    “The Killing of A Chinese Bookie.” “Opening Night” was not Cassavettes first movie
    that was “Shadows”, but I was looking for a chronological order from the time
    Cassavettes made “Opening Night” to his collaboration with Elaine May & Peter Falk
    on “Mikey & Nicky” another breakthrough in getting some vital part of the heebie
    jeebies in this here human condition down on film and squeezed into a static frame.

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