2013-THE YEAR IN Music

By INsite Music Critics

Amid the media-hogging clamor of Miley Cyrus’ calculated gyrations, triumphant returns from David Bowie and Eminem, Justin Bieber’s maybe/maybe-not retirement pledge, and Beyonce’s anti-hype-machine, the year in music was a wildly diverse party. Sure, Cyrus brought unnecessary attention to strip-club chic, but the real tongue-wagging was the across-the-board variety of music that truly offered something for everyone.

The rock world heralded the return of a number of influential icons. The biggest splash was from The Next Day; as David Bowie’s excellent new collection of songs created a social media fury. Other old warhorses returned, with star performances from Paul McCartney, Elton John’s woefully underappreciated Diving Board, and new and occasionally uneven material from Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton and Bon Jovi.

Alternative rock was well represented with a flurry of great new records, including The Terror, an ambitious set-piece from the consistently challenging Flaming Lips. Mysterious and brooding Nick Cave returned with Push The Sky Away, a strong new collection. Throwing Muses and They Might Be Giants both issued new discs, followed closely by Meat Puppets, The Strokes, and Cage The Elephant. Harder rock roared in the year with successful turns from Bad Religion (True North), Queens Of The Stone Age (…Like Clockwork), and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, from Alice In Chains. French electronica duo Daft Punk crossed boundaries and decades with their critically acclaimed Random Access Memories.

Country continued its hold on the mainstream mindset with heavy emphasis on calculated but wildly popular bro-country, the often-empty odes to trucks, girls, God and patriotism. Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line led the way, with Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton escorting their female counterparts Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. But Zac Brown and Kacey Musgraves both offered viabale alternatives to the good-natured party vibe.

Pop music bristled with an eclectic bag of goodies. Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” became a YouTube sensation, along with the inane catchiness of Ylvis’ “The Fox.” One Direction continued the boy-band craze and Justin Bieber’s antics, including the announcement of his retirement, were trending like crazy. Justin Timberlake’s hype onslaught, the unremarkable 20/20 Experience, balanced the vacuous grooves of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Representing the ladies, the omnipresent Cyrus and Lady Gaga both put style over substance, but gained a ton of press in the process, making Katy Perry’s Prism and Britney Spears’ Britney Jean seem downright insightful, with newcomer Lorde emerging as a bright light of pop.

Beyoncé’s clever marketing and saturation of the airwaves helped fuel her superstar status as R&B and Hip-Hop continued to grow, evolve and mature. Mr. Beyonce, Jay-Z, unleashed the ego-barring masterpiece Magna Carta Holy Grail, while Kanye West’s Yeezus, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Drake’s Nothing Was The Same all showed exhaustingly grandiose heights of style and often intriguing narratives. Likewise, Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady proved to be the Atlantan’s best release to date.

Of the flood of 2013 releases, INsite’s staff and contributors have sorted their favorites, so sit back and enjoy as we present the best of the best of the year. –Lee Valentine Smith

BRET LOVE’S TOP 10 ALBUMS BY GEORGIA ARTISTS

Dead Confederate
In The Marrow
Recorded with David Barbe at Athens’ Chase Park Transduction, Dead Confederate’s third LP was something of a masterpiece, with their southern jam band influences replaced by the most creatively focused songwriting of the band’s career. Tunes like “Slow Poisons,” “Vacations” and “Winter Waters” evoke comparisons to bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Nirvana to Great Lake Swimmers, making this their most epic and ambitious effort to date.

O’Brother
Disillusion
O’Brother’s sound– a mixture of metal, prog and psychedelic rock– seems unique on the Georgia music scene, and their Mike Sapone-produced sophomore album finds them broadening their sonic palette via artful experimentation without dulling the edges of their potent 3-guitar attack. Frontman Tanner Merritt seems particularly intent on exploring his range here, with vocals veering from Jeff Buckley-style falsetto melodies and low Alice In Chains moans to balls-out anthemic belting. They may not be one of Atlanta’s buzziest bands, but Disillusion proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that O’Brother is well on its way to being one of Georgia’s best.

Blair Crimmins & the Hookers
Sing-A-Longs
Crimmins’ debut album, The Musical Stylings Of..., made this list two years ago, as I’d fallen in love with his “reckless sense of abandon that sounds like the bastard son of Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello playing piano in a salacious saloon.” Sing-A-Longs, which finds him expanding the Hooker’s lineup to a robust septet that veers from Dixieland and ragtime to klezmer without missing a beat, is even better. In less talented hands, the Hookers’ decidedly retro sound could come across as little more than a novel gimmick. But Crimmins, who was named Best Atlanta Songwriter of 2013 in Creative Loafing’s annual poll, delivers his raucous, rollicking tunes with a feverish fervor that’ll make you a believer.

Run The Jewels
Self-Titled
Jaime Meline (a.k.a. rapper/producer El-P) and Michael Render (a.k.a. rapper/actor Killer Mike) are like peanut butter and bananas– two great tastes that taste surprisingly great together. Run The Jewels finds them officially joined as a duo. It’s an oddly intoxicating blend, with El’s metaphor-drenched wordplay complemented by Mike’s more streetwise flow. Musically, El’s beats trod an accessible middle ground between his cacophonous inclinations and grimy boom-bap simplicity. Not every aural experiment here works, but it’s still one of 2013’s best hip-hop albums.

The Bonaventure Quartet
Lost and Found At The Clermont Lounge
This ambitious score for a yet-to-be-staged theatrical production tells the story of an ambitious artist from Macon who moves to Atlanta in search of her creative muse. She winds up taking a job as a dancer at the Clermont Lounge, and the album paints musical portraits of the place as a rowdy southern Moulin Rouge, with colorful characters that seem tailor-made for the stage. Now swollen to a 10-piece ensemble, the Bonaventure Quartet’s Django Reindhart-influenced brand of continental jazz has never sounded better, capably capturing the melancholic ennui of life in the Big City.

The Woggles
The Big Beat
Taking inspiration from the Kinks, the Who, and every act who ever appeared on a Nuggets compilation, Athens-based band The Woggles’ raw rock ‘n’ roll remains steeped in nostalgia. But by adding elements of R&B, blues, rockabilly and surf music, the band crafts a distinctive sound that has made them a favorite of tastemakers like Steven Van Zandt. Their first album since 2009’s Tempo Tantrum doenn’t stray too far from their fun, frenzied formula, but The Big Beat suggests the Woggles have more than enough fuel in the tank to keep the retro-rock party going another 25 years.

The Swear
Gold and Hymns and Hell
Atlanta’s Elizabeth Elkins is making a strong bid for the “Hardest Working Woman in Show Business” title, releasing three albums with three different acts in the past year. But unlike her country groups, Granville Automatic and Mama’s Blue Dress, The Swear is a rock band in the classic sense. This album finds Elkins kicking out the jams with unbridled intensity, showcasing compositional skills and vocals that have grown by leaps and bounds since 2008’s Hotel Rooms & Heart Attacks.

Janelle Monae
The Electric Lady
We’ve been buzzing about Monae ever since she got signed by P. Diddy (or was it Puffy at the time?) and released Metropolis: Suite I in 2007. Her futuristic blend of funk, soul, rock, R&B and techno seemed years ahead of its time, as if Prince and Erykah Badu had a love-child who grew up listening to James Brown, Queensryche and Daft Punk in equal measure. Six years later, The Electric Lady smoothed out some of her rough edges, adding canny pop hooks that suggested she could be the next Bruno Mars. If she can find a way to reconcile her mainstream ambitions with her eclectic inclinations, she’ll be a superstar someday.

Clay Harper
Old Airport Road
Harper played an influential role in Atlanta’s early alt-rock scene– first with iconic ‘80s band The Coolies, and later alongside Rob Gal in Ottoman Empire. Old Airport Road is his first new album in over a decade, but he hasn’t lost any of his counter-culture edge in the interim. Despite sharing the spotlight with an array of special guests ranging from guitarist Glenn Phillips to local legend Col Bruce Hampton, Harper’s latest captures a conceptual vibe that runs throughout, with hauntingly beautiful songs that explore the seedy underbelly of 21st century city life.

Anthony David
Love Out Loud
Though not a household name on par with India.Arie (for whom he wrote “Part of My Life”), Savannah-born singer-songwriter Anthony David has similarly deep roots in Atlanta’s neo-soul scene. His often-experimental fifth album marks a creative departure. And while the experiments don’t always work, they’re intriguing and unfailingly melodic. But when he’s in his sensitively emotive wheelhouse, David easily ranks among the finest soul singers in the world.

DEMARCO WILLIAMS’ TOP 10 LIST

Drake
Nothing Was The Same
There is one thing that separates Drake from Childish Gambino and other rappers who wear their hearts on their sleeves—he knows when to get all mushy with a chick and when to go kick it with his clique. On this commercial smash (1.3 million copies sold at press time), Drake gives attention to the softer sex with melodies like “Wu-Tang Forever,” yet he addresses the homies with straightforward thumps such as “Tuscan Leather” and the Jay-Z-supported “Pound Cake/Paris Morton.” And then there are fence-riding cuts like “From Time” that solidify the fact that Drake holds both side’s attention better than anyone right now—and that includes Mr. West.
 
Pusha T
My Name Is My Name
The king of coke rap has been dealing dope lines via the mixtape route for a while now. While there have certainly been flashes of greatness along the way, there have been a few too many flickers of blandness, too. With this first solo studio effort, thankfully, Pusha serves the streets more of the former. “King Push” is a menacing opener, the kind of track that lets you know just how much damage Pusha can unleash with a little focus and a lot of eerie percussions. “Numbers on the Board” is another avalanche of snares that come together for one of the year’s fiercest beats. The Kendrick Lamar-aided “Nosetalgia” is 100% raw rap—the kind of stuff that leaves hip hop heads fiendin’ for more.
 
Haim
Days Are Gone
Though their harmonies are wondrous and choruses are catchier than the winter sniffles, the Wilson Phillips fan club president will tell you that sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim aren’t doing anything really new here. Still, there’s something quite beautiful about the way the ladies tell stories of love and love lost on this fun, 80s-feeling debut. At last count, there were five certified radio-ready tracks on the album —picking between “If I Could Change Your Mind” and “Don’t Save Me” for the project’s best song, however, is a thankless task— that dare you not to press repeat. “Honey & I” might not be quite chart-topping material, but it’s a capella air and Danielle’s Joni Mitchell-esque tone prove this trio has more heart than hooks.
 
J. Cole
Born Sinner
It only makes sense that one of hip-hop’s most underrated rappers would release one of music’s most slept-on albums of 2013. Established mags and online outlets released top 50 after top 50 without nary a mention of Jermaine’s super solid sophomore effort. Not really sure what else my colleagues want from the dude; he was confident (“New York Times”) and charming (“Power Trip”), witty (“Is She Gon Pop”) and even a lil’ chippy (“Niggaz Know”). Folks did take notice of the homie when the soul-revealing, horn-backed “Let Nas Down” was released, but even that buzz was too brief.
 
Janelle Monae
The Electric Lady
Like LeBron James in the 8th grade or Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, superstars sometimes reveal themselves early on. When Janelle Monae released Metropolis: Suite I in 2007, critics and clued-in consumers knew that they were listening to a future star. Some six years later, Monae is in a whole other stratosphere, performing on SNL and posing for CoverGirl. But even though this album has a glossier feel than past projects, it’s still got Metropolis’ spark and cerebral edge. The spunky, 23rd-century dance stuff Monae is known for appears on “Dance Apocalyptic,” but when she needs to give her happy feet a rest on slower moments like “What An Experience” and the Miguel-featured “Primetime,” it’s still a good time. Like-minded songstresses Erykah Badu (“Q.U.E.E.N.”) and Solange (“Electric Lady”) join in on the interstellar fun, and the results are out of this world.
 
Rich Homie Quan
Still Goin In-Reloaded
The singing/rapping/auto-tuning thing that T. Pain popularized in ’05-06 hasn’t died off like some prognosticators thought it would. In fact, the resilient sound has actually seeped its way more into the hood. Were this the late 90s, cats like Quan and Future probably wouldn’t dream of serenading on wax; now, it’s officially a part of their act. Luckily, Quan knows when to cut off the Keith Sweat impersonation and start slapping rappers upside the head with heat. “Better Watch What You Sayin” and “Differences” are tracks that leave chumps looking over their shoulders and you needing a neck massage from the head bobbing. And we won’t even get into “Type of Way,” 2013’s best rap song. The anthem is so tantalizing that Mr. Singing/Rapping himself, Drake, said that he wished he had made the track himself.
 
Run the Jewels
Self-Titled
Rapper Killer Mike and producer/MC El-P may have initially connected for business purposes (mutual acquaintances with Adult Swim hooked them up for Mike’s 2012 dazzler R.A.P. Music), but they reunited because of magic. While just 10 songs and clocking in under 33 minutes, this CD is a rush of endorphins for the ear—Killer Mike’s gruff spills onto every track while El-P packs lyrical prowess and quite the thunderous production punch. Speaking of punches, the Big Boi-backed “Banana Clipper,” “DDFH” and “No Come Down” are big and brash, something that Mike Tyson would walk out to before a fight. Makes sense, seeing as how Killer Mike and El-P make one of rap’s best 1-2 punches right now.
 
Yuna
Nocturnal
You know those free-spirited, airy tunes you hear on smartphone and tablet commercials that get your toes tapping? If you could imagine an album filled with those kinds of flowy, colorful moments, you’d have a good idea of what this Malaysian singer-songwriter’s second album sounds like. At times, you’ll hear bits of Corrine Bailey Rae in her sunny demeanor through tracks like “Come Back” and “Rescue.” At other moments, the 26-year-old struts a more seductive side like siren-of-the-moment Lorde (“Lights and Camera”). But make no mistake about it: the light-voiced Yuna is unquestionably making enough noise to carve her own lane.
 
K. Michelle
Rebellious Soul
Beyonce may have earned the most headlines in 2013. Rihanna probably scored the most gasps. But if you wanted the most sensual bang for your iTunes buck, this is the grown-up album you needed playing in your bedroom. “V.S.O.P.” is one of the year’s top R&B songs because of its infectious beat and girl-I-was-thinkin’-the-same-thing lines. This debut studio CD is filled with similarly relatable notes about great sex (“Pay My Bills”), low self-esteem (“I Don’t Like Me”) and taking the high road with other females (“Hate On Her”). We won’t go so far as to call the Love & Hip Hop TV star the next Mary J. Blige, but Keyshia Cole and Monica are certainly on notice.
 
Yo Gotti
I Am
West Memphis isn’t the kind of place you see on travel brochures. It’s the area of town where you see so much sinnin’ and strugglin’ while growin’ up that you could fill a hundred notebooks with rhymes. Gotti tells plenty of stories with strip clubs and trap houses as the backdrop — “I Know” is an intimidating number, but the Rich Homie Quan verse and Luniz sample proves irresistible— yet the real draw here is Gotti’s scruffy, Jeezy-like voice. Songs like “Pride To The Side,” “Act Right” and the title track would knock in your car speakers with almost anyone rapping over them, but with Gotti’s achy vocals, you go on a one-way trip to Memphis you won’t forget.

JOHN B. MOORE’S TOP 10 LIST

Frank Turner
Tape Deck Heart
Punk rockers unplugging and going acoustic were nothing new in 2013, but with Frank Turner’s fifth solo album – a mix of punk rock sentiment and a bit of folk rock music –he proves yet again why he is one of the best. Dealing mainly with songs of heartache and moving on, Turner’s latest is bound to speak to everyone – even if you never had a punk rock past.

The Smith Street Band
Don’t Fuck With Our Dream
The five songs that make up this record show a diverse band that is as strong lyrically as they are they are musically; melodic without being too poppy and sincere without being too earnest. The record opens with the title track, a strong anthem for any perpetually touring indie punk band out there, that’s got a cool Frank Turner vibe (the band opened for his U.S. tour this fall, incidentally). The remaining tracks are a bit darker, and take more time to sink in, but equally impressive, coming off as a mix between classic Hot Water Music, fronted by the aforementioned Turner.

Red City Radio
Titles
Sounding like a cross between Social D’s Mike Ness and Chuck Ragan, Red City Radio frontmen Garrett Dale and Paul Pendley have got voices made for punk rock. Backed by some pretty amazing musicians, Red City Radio has upped their game yet again with this, their second full length. Songs like the slow boil “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You” and the equally impressive “Joy Comes With the Morning” (boasting harmonies that you never thought you’d hear from this band) are easily the strongest the band has ever put to tape.

The Sharp Things
The Truth is Like the Sun
The Truth is Like the Sun, the second in a planned four album series for Brooklyn-based chamber pop band The Sharp Things, is simply jaw-on-the-floor beautiful. Like the first record in their Dogs of Bushwick series, Green is Good; this one brings together a slew of different influences and manages to be pleasantly all over the map in tine.

Eddie Spaghetti
The Value of Nothing
It seems like every other punk rocker nowadays is switching out the combat boots for cowboy boots, reaching for an acoustic guitar and swearing their allegiance to Willie, Waylon and the boys. And though the move to country-fy their sound may ring hallow for many (actually most), it’s completely authentic for Eddie Spaghetti. This album is 10 tracks of his beautifully succinct “fuck you” lyrics propped up by a steady country-rock beat that even Willie would light one up to honor. Songs like “If Anyone’s Got the Balls,” “Waste of Time” and “People Are Shit” are Spaghetti at the top of his game lyrically.

Two Cow Garage
The Death of the Self Preservation Society
Besides having possibly the best name going for a country punk band, Two Cow Garage has quietly churned out one amazing album after another without getting nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Death of The Self-Preservation Society, the group sixth album, is easily their best so far and proof that hard work and talent don’t always lead to riches and fame. With Micah Schnabel’s stunning shot and a beer poetry, delivered via his trademark strained vocals, Death of the Self-Preservation Society boasts some of his best lyrics to date.

Dave Hause
Devour
On his second solo record, the Loved Ones frontman is still cradling the acoustic guitar and mixing rock and folk, somehow managing to top his stellar debut.

Joy of Painting
Tender Age
Seeming to come out of nowhere, Nashville’s Joy of Painting turned in one of the most exciting EPs of the year, genres be damned (they happen to straddle garage and pop, in case you were wondering). With just seven songs, the band has actually managed to make Indie rock sound fresh, a big task when you consider that just about every band with a release in 2013 seems to be writing their records via some quickie cut and paste program to maximize the mediocrity.

The Computers
Love Triangles, Hate Squares
It’s amazing what a little classic American soul can do to a band. Once just another also-ran hardcore-influenced British band, The Computers must have stumbled across a crate of some old Stax and 60’s British Beat bands on their way to writing their sophomore album Love Triangles, Hate Squares. This 11-track effort is as great as their debut was meh. The boys, now sporting Brylcreemed quiffs that would make Morrissey do a double-take, have still kept a lot of the punk foundation that likely got them to want to form a band in the first place, but have added plenty of piano, steadier drum beats and stellar sing-along choruses.

The Horrible Crowes
Live At The Troubadour
This 14-song set, recorded and filmed at West Hollywood’s Troubadour in September 2011, contains every song from their debut, Elsie, plus two remarkable covers: Katie Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart.” The fact that Fallon, fellow Horrible Crowe Ian Perkins and their backing band pull off an irony-free take on Perry’s pop hit is just that much more reason to love this band. It takes balls to pull off a live album with only one record to your name, but Fallon, Perkins and team have managed to make this album a necessity for anyone who heard Elsie thanks to the obvious electricity between band and the vocal, sold out audience.

LEE VALENTINE SMITH’S TOP 10

Elton John
The Diving Board
This is the Elton John of the 2000s– sober, somber, with a sly grin waiting at every turn. Here, with the help of producer T Bone Burnett, he’s gone back to the early folk-inspired, piano-based work of his pre-flamboyant days. The result is a collection of stark, introspective songs that eschew the hook-laden excess of his greatest hits. Lacking catchy singles, the album will probably find a warm welcome in only die-hards’ music collections. That would be a shame, because the disc radiates a knowing glow and sly humor that would resonate in the hearts of his aging fan-base. With lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, John explores highly personal themes, based on remorse (the plaintive “My Quicksand”) and aging.

Paul McCartney
New
McCartney’s new album is a winsome collaboration with four hot, young producers. For his first album of original material in six years, he’s reined in executive producer Giles Martin (son of legendary producer George Martin), and the duo wisely enlisted the production assistance of Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Paul Epworth. McCartney sounds fresh and rested, taking on the material with the gusto of a performer half his age. The title track is a lovely “Penny Lane”-referenced pop song, lovingly aided by Ronson’s hooky yet off-kilter sensibilities. Likewise, his work on the edgier “Alligator” highlight McCartney’s early inspirations of ‘50s, Carl Perkins-style rockabilly. “I Can Bet” also plays to the uptempo strengths of the former Beatle, without the bombast or saccharine sappiness of his late ‘80s material.

Palmyara Delran
You Are What You Absorb
The former Friggs guitarist and walking encyclopedia of pop hooks has released a near-perfect collection of girl-group attitude, guitar jangle and pure pop confection. It’s the best ‘60s record in years. Highlight track “You’re My Brian Jones” leads the way with garage rock abandon and whimsical, humorous and often sweet, lyrics.

Adam Ant
Adam Ant is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunnar’s Daughter
The sixth solo album from the charismatic rocker finds Ant as the central character in a fully-realized, if slightly confusing, story of his ‘80s persona, back from obscurity, fighting the oppressive machine of the music industry, shrouded by images of war and personal drama.

They Might Be Giants
Nanobots
Considering John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been writing catchy and quirky songs for three decades, it’s an amazing feat that the duo continues to breathe freshness into their complicated formula of smart, funny songs. Once again they’ve succeeded, offering a fun pack of intelligent ditties that skewer science, romance and pop-culture totems.

Neil Young
Live At The Cellar Door
An intimate journey into the past. The newest release from the treasure trove of Neil Young’s extensive live recordings captures the artist in late 1970 at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. The tiny club hosted a six-night engagement for Young, touring at the time behind After The Goldrush. Indeed, the set features a number of tracks from that excellent album, offered in versions that are stripped of even the sparse production of the original release. “Tell Me Why,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and the title track are included in the well-paced set, bookended with slightly older classics including “Down by the River.”

Minor Alps
Get There
Juliana Hatfield has enjoyed an incredible career with a number of peaks and valleys. Her solo records are delightfully uneven affairs, veering between styles and qualities, with the creative zeal of a truly brave pioneer. Her new project, a duo with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws continues the tradition. They co-wrote the material and share the vocal and instrumental duties with an incredible balance and the result is an engaging pop record. Album highlight “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands,” is a crackling burst of hooks and doubts, complimented by the venerable lyrics that run throughout the set. Great harmonies, understated melodies and intelligent songwriting mesh here to wrap up the best Hatfield record in recent memory, seeding the inspiring potential for a solid, enduring indie super-duo.

Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet
Under The Covers Vol. 3
For the third collection of covers from the influential duo of Susannah Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, the two respected pop musicians have assembled a formidable list of familiar and obscure gems from the ‘80s. Reading like a cool college rock radio playlist, from the pre-“alternative” days, the tracks include winning takes on R.E.M.’s “Sitting Still,” The Go-Gos’s “Our Lips Are Sealed,” with respectful nods to Roxy Music, Elvis Costello, and The English Beat. Their incredible ‘60s-flavored harmonies really shimmer on Costello’s “Girls Talk,” with the two almost conjuring the boozy camaraderie of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, served with a distinctive, fuzzy California pop twist.

Jon Batiste
Social Music
From the lead track “Express Yourself (Say Yes),” it’s clear that singer/pianist/composer/bandleader Jon Batiste is a new leader in jazz. His debut album opens with the deceptively subdued “D-Flat Movement,” a moody meditation that perfectly leads into the jubilant ode to spiritual and earthly love, “Let God Lead,” mixing the raucous party atmosphere of a street parade, peppered with a spicy New Orleans flavor, and punctuated by moments of cinematic clarity.

Carly Ritter
Self-Titled
Ritter’s delightful debut has all the best qualities of a very cool ‘70s album. You’d swear this disc was from the Ronstadt/Muldaur/Waldman school of California folk-rock. Her delivery, at once accomplished and simplistic, has a yearning edge that propels the collection of tunes into a timeless yet evocative thing of cinematic beauty. It’s probably in her blood: Her grandfather was singing cowboy Tex Ritter, and her dad was the late actor John Ritter. Ry Cooder’s son helps out a few tracks as well, pushing the pedigree level to even higher standards. Yet Ritter has carved her own path between gritty country and urbane pop. The results are one of the best albums of this year, with standout tracks that include the incredible “It Is Love,” the only song this reviewer has heard that’s openly influenced by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

«HOME

2013-THE YEAR IN Music

By INsite Music Critics

Amid the media-hogging clamor of Miley Cyrus’ calculated gyrations, triumphant returns from David Bowie and Eminem, Justin Bieber’s maybe/maybe-not retirement pledge, and Beyonce’s anti-hype-machine, the year in music was a wildly diverse party. Sure, Cyrus brought unnecessary attention to strip-club chic, but the real tongue-wagging was the across-the-board variety of music that truly offered something for everyone.

The rock world heralded the return of a number of influential icons. The biggest splash was from The Next Day; as David Bowie’s excellent new collection of songs created a social media fury. Other old warhorses returned, with star performances from Paul McCartney, Elton John’s woefully underappreciated Diving Board, and new and occasionally uneven material from Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton and Bon Jovi.

Alternative rock was well represented with a flurry of great new records, including The Terror, an ambitious set-piece from the consistently challenging Flaming Lips. Mysterious and brooding Nick Cave returned with Push The Sky Away, a strong new collection. Throwing Muses and They Might Be Giants both issued new discs, followed closely by Meat Puppets, The Strokes, and Cage The Elephant. Harder rock roared in the year with successful turns from Bad Religion (True North), Queens Of The Stone Age (…Like Clockwork), and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, from Alice In Chains. French electronica duo Daft Punk crossed boundaries and decades with their critically acclaimed Random Access Memories.

Country continued its hold on the mainstream mindset with heavy emphasis on calculated but wildly popular bro-country, the often-empty odes to trucks, girls, God and patriotism. Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line led the way, with Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton escorting their female counterparts Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. But Zac Brown and Kacey Musgraves both offered viabale alternatives to the good-natured party vibe.

Pop music bristled with an eclectic bag of goodies. Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” became a YouTube sensation, along with the inane catchiness of Ylvis’ “The Fox.” One Direction continued the boy-band craze and Justin Bieber’s antics, including the announcement of his retirement, were trending like crazy. Justin Timberlake’s hype onslaught, the unremarkable 20/20 Experience, balanced the vacuous grooves of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Representing the ladies, the omnipresent Cyrus and Lady Gaga both put style over substance, but gained a ton of press in the process, making Katy Perry’s Prism and Britney Spears’ Britney Jean seem downright insightful, with newcomer Lorde emerging as a bright light of pop.

Beyoncé’s clever marketing and saturation of the airwaves helped fuel her superstar status as R&B and Hip-Hop continued to grow, evolve and mature. Mr. Beyonce, Jay-Z, unleashed the ego-barring masterpiece Magna Carta Holy Grail, while Kanye West’s Yeezus, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Drake’s Nothing Was The Same all showed exhaustingly grandiose heights of style and often intriguing narratives. Likewise, Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady proved to be the Atlantan’s best release to date.

Of the flood of 2013 releases, INsite’s staff and contributors have sorted their favorites, so sit back and enjoy as we present the best of the best of the year. –Lee Valentine Smith

BRET LOVE’S TOP 10 ALBUMS BY GEORGIA ARTISTS

Dead Confederate
In The Marrow
Recorded with David Barbe at Athens’ Chase Park Transduction, Dead Confederate’s third LP was something of a masterpiece, with their southern jam band influences replaced by the most creatively focused songwriting of the band’s career. Tunes like “Slow Poisons,” “Vacations” and “Winter Waters” evoke comparisons to bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Nirvana to Great Lake Swimmers, making this their most epic and ambitious effort to date.

O’Brother
Disillusion
O’Brother’s sound– a mixture of metal, prog and psychedelic rock– seems unique on the Georgia music scene, and their Mike Sapone-produced sophomore album finds them broadening their sonic palette via artful experimentation without dulling the edges of their potent 3-guitar attack. Frontman Tanner Merritt seems particularly intent on exploring his range here, with vocals veering from Jeff Buckley-style falsetto melodies and low Alice In Chains moans to balls-out anthemic belting. They may not be one of Atlanta’s buzziest bands, but Disillusion proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that O’Brother is well on its way to being one of Georgia’s best.

Blair Crimmins & the Hookers
Sing-A-Longs
Crimmins’ debut album, The Musical Stylings Of..., made this list two years ago, as I’d fallen in love with his “reckless sense of abandon that sounds like the bastard son of Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello playing piano in a salacious saloon.” Sing-A-Longs, which finds him expanding the Hooker’s lineup to a robust septet that veers from Dixieland and ragtime to klezmer without missing a beat, is even better. In less talented hands, the Hookers’ decidedly retro sound could come across as little more than a novel gimmick. But Crimmins, who was named Best Atlanta Songwriter of 2013 in Creative Loafing’s annual poll, delivers his raucous, rollicking tunes with a feverish fervor that’ll make you a believer.

Run The Jewels
Self-Titled
Jaime Meline (a.k.a. rapper/producer El-P) and Michael Render (a.k.a. rapper/actor Killer Mike) are like peanut butter and bananas– two great tastes that taste surprisingly great together. Run The Jewels finds them officially joined as a duo. It’s an oddly intoxicating blend, with El’s metaphor-drenched wordplay complemented by Mike’s more streetwise flow. Musically, El’s beats trod an accessible middle ground between his cacophonous inclinations and grimy boom-bap simplicity. Not every aural experiment here works, but it’s still one of 2013’s best hip-hop albums.

The Bonaventure Quartet
Lost and Found At The Clermont Lounge
This ambitious score for a yet-to-be-staged theatrical production tells the story of an ambitious artist from Macon who moves to Atlanta in search of her creative muse. She winds up taking a job as a dancer at the Clermont Lounge, and the album paints musical portraits of the place as a rowdy southern Moulin Rouge, with colorful characters that seem tailor-made for the stage. Now swollen to a 10-piece ensemble, the Bonaventure Quartet’s Django Reindhart-influenced brand of continental jazz has never sounded better, capably capturing the melancholic ennui of life in the Big City.

The Woggles
The Big Beat
Taking inspiration from the Kinks, the Who, and every act who ever appeared on a Nuggets compilation, Athens-based band The Woggles’ raw rock ‘n’ roll remains steeped in nostalgia. But by adding elements of R&B, blues, rockabilly and surf music, the band crafts a distinctive sound that has made them a favorite of tastemakers like Steven Van Zandt. Their first album since 2009’s Tempo Tantrum doenn’t stray too far from their fun, frenzied formula, but The Big Beat suggests the Woggles have more than enough fuel in the tank to keep the retro-rock party going another 25 years.

The Swear
Gold and Hymns and Hell
Atlanta’s Elizabeth Elkins is making a strong bid for the “Hardest Working Woman in Show Business” title, releasing three albums with three different acts in the past year. But unlike her country groups, Granville Automatic and Mama’s Blue Dress, The Swear is a rock band in the classic sense. This album finds Elkins kicking out the jams with unbridled intensity, showcasing compositional skills and vocals that have grown by leaps and bounds since 2008’s Hotel Rooms & Heart Attacks.

Janelle Monae
The Electric Lady
We’ve been buzzing about Monae ever since she got signed by P. Diddy (or was it Puffy at the time?) and released Metropolis: Suite I in 2007. Her futuristic blend of funk, soul, rock, R&B and techno seemed years ahead of its time, as if Prince and Erykah Badu had a love-child who grew up listening to James Brown, Queensryche and Daft Punk in equal measure. Six years later, The Electric Lady smoothed out some of her rough edges, adding canny pop hooks that suggested she could be the next Bruno Mars. If she can find a way to reconcile her mainstream ambitions with her eclectic inclinations, she’ll be a superstar someday.

Clay Harper
Old Airport Road
Harper played an influential role in Atlanta’s early alt-rock scene– first with iconic ‘80s band The Coolies, and later alongside Rob Gal in Ottoman Empire. Old Airport Road is his first new album in over a decade, but he hasn’t lost any of his counter-culture edge in the interim. Despite sharing the spotlight with an array of special guests ranging from guitarist Glenn Phillips to local legend Col Bruce Hampton, Harper’s latest captures a conceptual vibe that runs throughout, with hauntingly beautiful songs that explore the seedy underbelly of 21st century city life.

Anthony David
Love Out Loud
Though not a household name on par with India.Arie (for whom he wrote “Part of My Life”), Savannah-born singer-songwriter Anthony David has similarly deep roots in Atlanta’s neo-soul scene. His often-experimental fifth album marks a creative departure. And while the experiments don’t always work, they’re intriguing and unfailingly melodic. But when he’s in his sensitively emotive wheelhouse, David easily ranks among the finest soul singers in the world.

DEMARCO WILLIAMS’ TOP 10 LIST

Drake
Nothing Was The Same
There is one thing that separates Drake from Childish Gambino and other rappers who wear their hearts on their sleeves—he knows when to get all mushy with a chick and when to go kick it with his clique. On this commercial smash (1.3 million copies sold at press time), Drake gives attention to the softer sex with melodies like “Wu-Tang Forever,” yet he addresses the homies with straightforward thumps such as “Tuscan Leather” and the Jay-Z-supported “Pound Cake/Paris Morton.” And then there are fence-riding cuts like “From Time” that solidify the fact that Drake holds both side’s attention better than anyone right now—and that includes Mr. West.
 
Pusha T
My Name Is My Name
The king of coke rap has been dealing dope lines via the mixtape route for a while now. While there have certainly been flashes of greatness along the way, there have been a few too many flickers of blandness, too. With this first solo studio effort, thankfully, Pusha serves the streets more of the former. “King Push” is a menacing opener, the kind of track that lets you know just how much damage Pusha can unleash with a little focus and a lot of eerie percussions. “Numbers on the Board” is another avalanche of snares that come together for one of the year’s fiercest beats. The Kendrick Lamar-aided “Nosetalgia” is 100% raw rap—the kind of stuff that leaves hip hop heads fiendin’ for more.
 
Haim
Days Are Gone
Though their harmonies are wondrous and choruses are catchier than the winter sniffles, the Wilson Phillips fan club president will tell you that sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim aren’t doing anything really new here. Still, there’s something quite beautiful about the way the ladies tell stories of love and love lost on this fun, 80s-feeling debut. At last count, there were five certified radio-ready tracks on the album —picking between “If I Could Change Your Mind” and “Don’t Save Me” for the project’s best song, however, is a thankless task— that dare you not to press repeat. “Honey & I” might not be quite chart-topping material, but it’s a capella air and Danielle’s Joni Mitchell-esque tone prove this trio has more heart than hooks.
 
J. Cole
Born Sinner
It only makes sense that one of hip-hop’s most underrated rappers would release one of music’s most slept-on albums of 2013. Established mags and online outlets released top 50 after top 50 without nary a mention of Jermaine’s super solid sophomore effort. Not really sure what else my colleagues want from the dude; he was confident (“New York Times”) and charming (“Power Trip”), witty (“Is She Gon Pop”) and even a lil’ chippy (“Niggaz Know”). Folks did take notice of the homie when the soul-revealing, horn-backed “Let Nas Down” was released, but even that buzz was too brief.
 
Janelle Monae
The Electric Lady
Like LeBron James in the 8th grade or Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, superstars sometimes reveal themselves early on. When Janelle Monae released Metropolis: Suite I in 2007, critics and clued-in consumers knew that they were listening to a future star. Some six years later, Monae is in a whole other stratosphere, performing on SNL and posing for CoverGirl. But even though this album has a glossier feel than past projects, it’s still got Metropolis’ spark and cerebral edge. The spunky, 23rd-century dance stuff Monae is known for appears on “Dance Apocalyptic,” but when she needs to give her happy feet a rest on slower moments like “What An Experience” and the Miguel-featured “Primetime,” it’s still a good time. Like-minded songstresses Erykah Badu (“Q.U.E.E.N.”) and Solange (“Electric Lady”) join in on the interstellar fun, and the results are out of this world.
 
Rich Homie Quan
Still Goin In-Reloaded
The singing/rapping/auto-tuning thing that T. Pain popularized in ’05-06 hasn’t died off like some prognosticators thought it would. In fact, the resilient sound has actually seeped its way more into the hood. Were this the late 90s, cats like Quan and Future probably wouldn’t dream of serenading on wax; now, it’s officially a part of their act. Luckily, Quan knows when to cut off the Keith Sweat impersonation and start slapping rappers upside the head with heat. “Better Watch What You Sayin” and “Differences” are tracks that leave chumps looking over their shoulders and you needing a neck massage from the head bobbing. And we won’t even get into “Type of Way,” 2013’s best rap song. The anthem is so tantalizing that Mr. Singing/Rapping himself, Drake, said that he wished he had made the track himself.
 
Run the Jewels
Self-Titled
Rapper Killer Mike and producer/MC El-P may have initially connected for business purposes (mutual acquaintances with Adult Swim hooked them up for Mike’s 2012 dazzler R.A.P. Music), but they reunited because of magic. While just 10 songs and clocking in under 33 minutes, this CD is a rush of endorphins for the ear—Killer Mike’s gruff spills onto every track while El-P packs lyrical prowess and quite the thunderous production punch. Speaking of punches, the Big Boi-backed “Banana Clipper,” “DDFH” and “No Come Down” are big and brash, something that Mike Tyson would walk out to before a fight. Makes sense, seeing as how Killer Mike and El-P make one of rap’s best 1-2 punches right now.
 
Yuna
Nocturnal
You know those free-spirited, airy tunes you hear on smartphone and tablet commercials that get your toes tapping? If you could imagine an album filled with those kinds of flowy, colorful moments, you’d have a good idea of what this Malaysian singer-songwriter’s second album sounds like. At times, you’ll hear bits of Corrine Bailey Rae in her sunny demeanor through tracks like “Come Back” and “Rescue.” At other moments, the 26-year-old struts a more seductive side like siren-of-the-moment Lorde (“Lights and Camera”). But make no mistake about it: the light-voiced Yuna is unquestionably making enough noise to carve her own lane.
 
K. Michelle
Rebellious Soul
Beyonce may have earned the most headlines in 2013. Rihanna probably scored the most gasps. But if you wanted the most sensual bang for your iTunes buck, this is the grown-up album you needed playing in your bedroom. “V.S.O.P.” is one of the year’s top R&B songs because of its infectious beat and girl-I-was-thinkin’-the-same-thing lines. This debut studio CD is filled with similarly relatable notes about great sex (“Pay My Bills”), low self-esteem (“I Don’t Like Me”) and taking the high road with other females (“Hate On Her”). We won’t go so far as to call the Love & Hip Hop TV star the next Mary J. Blige, but Keyshia Cole and Monica are certainly on notice.
 
Yo Gotti
I Am
West Memphis isn’t the kind of place you see on travel brochures. It’s the area of town where you see so much sinnin’ and strugglin’ while growin’ up that you could fill a hundred notebooks with rhymes. Gotti tells plenty of stories with strip clubs and trap houses as the backdrop — “I Know” is an intimidating number, but the Rich Homie Quan verse and Luniz sample proves irresistible— yet the real draw here is Gotti’s scruffy, Jeezy-like voice. Songs like “Pride To The Side,” “Act Right” and the title track would knock in your car speakers with almost anyone rapping over them, but with Gotti’s achy vocals, you go on a one-way trip to Memphis you won’t forget.

JOHN B. MOORE’S TOP 10 LIST

Frank Turner
Tape Deck Heart
Punk rockers unplugging and going acoustic were nothing new in 2013, but with Frank Turner’s fifth solo album – a mix of punk rock sentiment and a bit of folk rock music –he proves yet again why he is one of the best. Dealing mainly with songs of heartache and moving on, Turner’s latest is bound to speak to everyone – even if you never had a punk rock past.

The Smith Street Band
Don’t Fuck With Our Dream
The five songs that make up this record show a diverse band that is as strong lyrically as they are they are musically; melodic without being too poppy and sincere without being too earnest. The record opens with the title track, a strong anthem for any perpetually touring indie punk band out there, that’s got a cool Frank Turner vibe (the band opened for his U.S. tour this fall, incidentally). The remaining tracks are a bit darker, and take more time to sink in, but equally impressive, coming off as a mix between classic Hot Water Music, fronted by the aforementioned Turner.

Red City Radio
Titles
Sounding like a cross between Social D’s Mike Ness and Chuck Ragan, Red City Radio frontmen Garrett Dale and Paul Pendley have got voices made for punk rock. Backed by some pretty amazing musicians, Red City Radio has upped their game yet again with this, their second full length. Songs like the slow boil “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You” and the equally impressive “Joy Comes With the Morning” (boasting harmonies that you never thought you’d hear from this band) are easily the strongest the band has ever put to tape.

The Sharp Things
The Truth is Like the Sun
The Truth is Like the Sun, the second in a planned four album series for Brooklyn-based chamber pop band The Sharp Things, is simply jaw-on-the-floor beautiful. Like the first record in their Dogs of Bushwick series, Green is Good; this one brings together a slew of different influences and manages to be pleasantly all over the map in tine.

Eddie Spaghetti
The Value of Nothing
It seems like every other punk rocker nowadays is switching out the combat boots for cowboy boots, reaching for an acoustic guitar and swearing their allegiance to Willie, Waylon and the boys. And though the move to country-fy their sound may ring hallow for many (actually most), it’s completely authentic for Eddie Spaghetti. This album is 10 tracks of his beautifully succinct “fuck you” lyrics propped up by a steady country-rock beat that even Willie would light one up to honor. Songs like “If Anyone’s Got the Balls,” “Waste of Time” and “People Are Shit” are Spaghetti at the top of his game lyrically.

Two Cow Garage
The Death of the Self Preservation Society
Besides having possibly the best name going for a country punk band, Two Cow Garage has quietly churned out one amazing album after another without getting nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Death of The Self-Preservation Society, the group sixth album, is easily their best so far and proof that hard work and talent don’t always lead to riches and fame. With Micah Schnabel’s stunning shot and a beer poetry, delivered via his trademark strained vocals, Death of the Self-Preservation Society boasts some of his best lyrics to date.

Dave Hause
Devour
On his second solo record, the Loved Ones frontman is still cradling the acoustic guitar and mixing rock and folk, somehow managing to top his stellar debut.

Joy of Painting
Tender Age
Seeming to come out of nowhere, Nashville’s Joy of Painting turned in one of the most exciting EPs of the year, genres be damned (they happen to straddle garage and pop, in case you were wondering). With just seven songs, the band has actually managed to make Indie rock sound fresh, a big task when you consider that just about every band with a release in 2013 seems to be writing their records via some quickie cut and paste program to maximize the mediocrity.

The Computers
Love Triangles, Hate Squares
It’s amazing what a little classic American soul can do to a band. Once just another also-ran hardcore-influenced British band, The Computers must have stumbled across a crate of some old Stax and 60’s British Beat bands on their way to writing their sophomore album Love Triangles, Hate Squares. This 11-track effort is as great as their debut was meh. The boys, now sporting Brylcreemed quiffs that would make Morrissey do a double-take, have still kept a lot of the punk foundation that likely got them to want to form a band in the first place, but have added plenty of piano, steadier drum beats and stellar sing-along choruses.

The Horrible Crowes
Live At The Troubadour
This 14-song set, recorded and filmed at West Hollywood’s Troubadour in September 2011, contains every song from their debut, Elsie, plus two remarkable covers: Katie Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart.” The fact that Fallon, fellow Horrible Crowe Ian Perkins and their backing band pull off an irony-free take on Perry’s pop hit is just that much more reason to love this band. It takes balls to pull off a live album with only one record to your name, but Fallon, Perkins and team have managed to make this album a necessity for anyone who heard Elsie thanks to the obvious electricity between band and the vocal, sold out audience.

LEE VALENTINE SMITH’S TOP 10

Elton John
The Diving Board
This is the Elton John of the 2000s– sober, somber, with a sly grin waiting at every turn. Here, with the help of producer T Bone Burnett, he’s gone back to the early folk-inspired, piano-based work of his pre-flamboyant days. The result is a collection of stark, introspective songs that eschew the hook-laden excess of his greatest hits. Lacking catchy singles, the album will probably find a warm welcome in only die-hards’ music collections. That would be a shame, because the disc radiates a knowing glow and sly humor that would resonate in the hearts of his aging fan-base. With lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, John explores highly personal themes, based on remorse (the plaintive “My Quicksand”) and aging.

Paul McCartney
New
McCartney’s new album is a winsome collaboration with four hot, young producers. For his first album of original material in six years, he’s reined in executive producer Giles Martin (son of legendary producer George Martin), and the duo wisely enlisted the production assistance of Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Paul Epworth. McCartney sounds fresh and rested, taking on the material with the gusto of a performer half his age. The title track is a lovely “Penny Lane”-referenced pop song, lovingly aided by Ronson’s hooky yet off-kilter sensibilities. Likewise, his work on the edgier “Alligator” highlight McCartney’s early inspirations of ‘50s, Carl Perkins-style rockabilly. “I Can Bet” also plays to the uptempo strengths of the former Beatle, without the bombast or saccharine sappiness of his late ‘80s material.

Palmyara Delran
You Are What You Absorb
The former Friggs guitarist and walking encyclopedia of pop hooks has released a near-perfect collection of girl-group attitude, guitar jangle and pure pop confection. It’s the best ‘60s record in years. Highlight track “You’re My Brian Jones” leads the way with garage rock abandon and whimsical, humorous and often sweet, lyrics.

Adam Ant
Adam Ant is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunnar’s Daughter
The sixth solo album from the charismatic rocker finds Ant as the central character in a fully-realized, if slightly confusing, story of his ‘80s persona, back from obscurity, fighting the oppressive machine of the music industry, shrouded by images of war and personal drama.

They Might Be Giants
Nanobots
Considering John Linnell and John Flansburgh have been writing catchy and quirky songs for three decades, it’s an amazing feat that the duo continues to breathe freshness into their complicated formula of smart, funny songs. Once again they’ve succeeded, offering a fun pack of intelligent ditties that skewer science, romance and pop-culture totems.

Neil Young
Live At The Cellar Door
An intimate journey into the past. The newest release from the treasure trove of Neil Young’s extensive live recordings captures the artist in late 1970 at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. The tiny club hosted a six-night engagement for Young, touring at the time behind After The Goldrush. Indeed, the set features a number of tracks from that excellent album, offered in versions that are stripped of even the sparse production of the original release. “Tell Me Why,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and the title track are included in the well-paced set, bookended with slightly older classics including “Down by the River.”

Minor Alps
Get There
Juliana Hatfield has enjoyed an incredible career with a number of peaks and valleys. Her solo records are delightfully uneven affairs, veering between styles and qualities, with the creative zeal of a truly brave pioneer. Her new project, a duo with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws continues the tradition. They co-wrote the material and share the vocal and instrumental duties with an incredible balance and the result is an engaging pop record. Album highlight “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands,” is a crackling burst of hooks and doubts, complimented by the venerable lyrics that run throughout the set. Great harmonies, understated melodies and intelligent songwriting mesh here to wrap up the best Hatfield record in recent memory, seeding the inspiring potential for a solid, enduring indie super-duo.

Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet
Under The Covers Vol. 3
For the third collection of covers from the influential duo of Susannah Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, the two respected pop musicians have assembled a formidable list of familiar and obscure gems from the ‘80s. Reading like a cool college rock radio playlist, from the pre-“alternative” days, the tracks include winning takes on R.E.M.’s “Sitting Still,” The Go-Gos’s “Our Lips Are Sealed,” with respectful nods to Roxy Music, Elvis Costello, and The English Beat. Their incredible ‘60s-flavored harmonies really shimmer on Costello’s “Girls Talk,” with the two almost conjuring the boozy camaraderie of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, served with a distinctive, fuzzy California pop twist.

Jon Batiste
Social Music
From the lead track “Express Yourself (Say Yes),” it’s clear that singer/pianist/composer/bandleader Jon Batiste is a new leader in jazz. His debut album opens with the deceptively subdued “D-Flat Movement,” a moody meditation that perfectly leads into the jubilant ode to spiritual and earthly love, “Let God Lead,” mixing the raucous party atmosphere of a street parade, peppered with a spicy New Orleans flavor, and punctuated by moments of cinematic clarity.

Carly Ritter
Self-Titled
Ritter’s delightful debut has all the best qualities of a very cool ‘70s album. You’d swear this disc was from the Ronstadt/Muldaur/Waldman school of California folk-rock. Her delivery, at once accomplished and simplistic, has a yearning edge that propels the collection of tunes into a timeless yet evocative thing of cinematic beauty. It’s probably in her blood: Her grandfather was singing cowboy Tex Ritter, and her dad was the late actor John Ritter. Ry Cooder’s son helps out a few tracks as well, pushing the pedigree level to even higher standards. Yet Ritter has carved her own path between gritty country and urbane pop. The results are one of the best albums of this year, with standout tracks that include the incredible “It Is Love,” the only song this reviewer has heard that’s openly influenced by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

«HOME

 

Meet Our Sponsors