And with the New Year, comes fresh music. I’m always in awe of how each year it just seems to get better and better, while I explore further down the rabbit hole that is melodic innovation and harmonious change. 2013 came and went in the blink of an eye, and the soundtrack for the last 365 days is something to take a moment and reflect on. A lot of unknown bands broke through, while old staples found new ways to bend and shape their tone.
The following are my picks for the Top 5 albums of 2013. Rock on, y’all.
Futurebirds — “Baba Yaga”
The Athens, Ga., hard rock/Americana group has finally stepped out of the shadows of their musical cohorts Dead Confederate and the Drive-By Truckers (both also from Athens) with this superb album. The sound is filled with razor-sharp guitar riffs layered with three/four-part harmonies and a keen lyrical perception, which cultivates the struggles of not only what it means to be a musician, but also a southerner in the fast-paced modern world. In essence, if you took The Beach Boys, The Band, Hank Williams and Nirvana, and threw them into a blender, you’d have Futurebirds.
Key Tracks: “Tan Lines,” “Heavy Weights,” “Virginia Slims”
Kacey Musgraves — “Same Trailer Different Park”
The feisty, easy-on-the-eyes Texan blew onto the Nashville scene this year, seemingly almost from leftfield. Musgraves carries a 21st century torch of what it means to be a true female country star — a foundation set by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. Country music has greatly needed this injection of culturally relevant lyrics, with Musgraves taking on the topics of poverty, homosexuality, marijuana, and just simply being a human being in a sometimes-confusing existence.
Key Tracks: “Blowin’ Smoke,” “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Follow Your Arrow”
Pearl Jam — “Lightning Bolt”
The elder statesman of modern rock, Pearl Jam once again proves why they’ve endured for decades as a political and societal watchdog, onstage and off. Lead singer Eddie Vedder only gets better with age, as do the words and chords. This album represents a turning point for the band, that now has its 25th anniversary on the horizon. The sound seems stripped down, faster, with more urgency and potency. Pearl Jam is as fiery and pro-active as ever, and we the listener only benefit from their wisdom and nurturing aura.
Key Tracks: “Mind Your Manners,” “Sirens,” “Lightning Bolt”
Jason Isbell — “Southwestern”
Like Futurebirds, Isbell has also taken a huge career leap. Formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell seemed to never be able to shake his storied work for the Truckers. But, all of that has changed with this album where southern rock takes folk music for a ride. After years of drugs and alcohol abuse, Isbell got clean and the result is some of the most poignant, heartbreaking words put to paper. He’s a man with a new sense of purpose, and this record hopefully the tip of the iceberg for one of the finest songwriters of this era.
Key Tracks: “Cover Me Up,” “Elephant,” “Live Oak”
Lucid — “Home Is Where
We Want To Grow”
Hailing from the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, Lucid is a collage of rock, blues, jazz and reggae. Road warriors for the better part of the last decade, the sextet finally captured their hardships, determination and pure talent on record. Bouncing between Parisian serenades and grab-you-by-the-throat roadhouse blues, each song stands on its own, teasing you endlessly to press “replay” when it comes to a completion.
Key Tracks: “Armchair Prophet,” “Came and Went – Silhouettes,” “Despots”
Peter Rowan — “The Old School”
The bluegrass legend comes into a new, bountiful phase of his career.
Key Tracks: “Doc Watson Morning,” “Keepin’ It Between The Lines (Old School),” “Drop the Bone”
Justin Timberlake — “The 20/20 Experience”
Always taking pop/R&B to new heights, Timberlake is a master at his craft.
Key Tracks: “Suit & Tie,” “Mirrors,” “Tunnel Vision”
Shonna Tucker & Eye Candy — “A Tell All”
Tucker and her southern rock group break new ground with this fine debut.
Key Tracks: “Since Jimmy Came,” “You Went All the Way,” “Arielle”
The DuPont Brothers — “The DuPont Brothers”
The string duo molds folk and Americana into mesmerizing selections.
Key Tracks: “My Friend,” “Skipping Stones,” “Tapped In”
T. Hardy Morris — “Audition Tapes”
Hard rocker Morris goes acoustic and shows why he’s one of the best.
Key Tracks: “Share the Needle,” “Audition Tapes,” “Disaster Proof”