Casey’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

Alright everyone, here’s my last list of the year. This is the big one. This is the list that we think about all year. Our top ten albums of 2013. This year was a very good year for music and there are some stellar albums on this list. If an album is on this list, that means that it is well worth the couple of bucks it might cost to buy. I’ll do my best to include links to preview the albums. Here we go…

#10 – The Milk Carton Kids – The Ash & Clay

The Milk Carton Kids second full length album, The Ash and Clay, is another feather to stick in the already stellar cap of these two gentlemen. Joey and Kenneth are making some of the most honest and heartfelt folk music today. With just two guitars and two voices, these guys are making excellent music and this album is no exception. From my review: “This album continues the airtight harmonies and dual guitar sound that The Milk Carton Kids have perfected. It’s 12 songs of near flawless Americana music. It’s perhaps a little slower and more thought provoking than Prologue, but this seems to be more of a distillation of their touring personas and folk stylings.”

#9 – Hey Marseilles – Lines We Trace

Hey Marseilles was a big surprise for me this year. These gents from Seattle ooze Northwestern folk music, echoing everyone from Fleet Foxes to Death Cab for Cutie. This album and their live show were both ones that snuck up on me. I was consistently impressed and finding new things in their music. From my review: “What really makes Hey Marseilles unique is the diversity of sounds they produce that work together so perfectly. Using traditional instruments, i.e. guitar, drums, mandolin, in combination with a full time cellist, viola-ist, and accordion player makes the band something truly special. On tracks like “Demian” and “Madrona”, you see the hauntingly beautiful soundscape that these instruments can produce. These instrumental tracks are some of the best on the album and something that we honestly don’t see enough of in music today.”

#8 – Josh Ritter – The Beast in Its Tracks

Josh Ritter is perhaps that best songwriter of our generation. There’s some room for argument there, but there’s no denying that his ability to capture stories and feelings is brilliant. The Beast in Its Tracks is no exception. Having gone through a very difficult divorce, this album is perhaps his most personal, but it’s no less relevant to our daily experience. Another addition to perhaps the deepest and most impressive to date. From my review: “Ritter will never be nominated for male vocalist of the year or album of the year, but his songs are so layered and complex and he has such a way with words that lines jump out and grab a hold of you and it’s difficult to get away.”

#7 – Elephant Revival – These Changing Skies

Yesterday was the first time I listened to These Changing Skies by Elephant Revival and it left such an impression on me that I had to include it on this list. It’s perfect folk music, with instrumental songs, perfect instrumentation and obvious Celtic influences. The use of male and female vocalists on different songs gives the band a wide range of sounds and an album that sounds fresh and different on every listen. From Lisa’s review: “Their sound is difficult to accurately compare this group because it pulls from so many varied influences, but you can hear overtones of Celtic and classic Appalachian folk in their tunes, among other things.  Besides being musically diverse, Elephant Revival strives to help preserve biodiversity by calling  attention to issues of stewardship, sustainability, and environmentalism.  A theme found in the group’s media and mission is put into words with the phrase, ‘Where words fail, music speaks.'”

#6 – Tossing Copper – Of Life and Love and Longing EP

Tossing Copper and his debut EP, On Life and Love and Longing, were my lucky find of the year. Thanks to Noisetrade, this singer-songwriter popped up onto my radar and his debut EP is the only EP on this list. If it had 4 or 5 more songs on it, it would certainly be higher on my list. The quality of introspection and musicality make this album one that has stuck with me since I heard it. From my review: “Musically, it’s a simple, effective style that matches what Scott does lyrically. Lyrically, it’s an incredibly honest, sometimes painful introspection that’s reflected in the title, Of Life and Love and Longing. What makes this album so special and unique is the joining of the two, a nearly perfect blend of lyrics and folk instrumentation.”

#5 – Dawes – Stories Don’t End

Here’s a shocker, Dawes’ album made it on our end of the year lists. It’s hard to imagine anything that these guys do being anything but incredible. From their debut album to Taylor’s work with Middle Brother to this latest album, the guys in the band seem incapable of making anything that doesn’t set the standard for independent rock music. From my review: “With music that is timeless and lyrics that are beyond anything you could expect in music today, Dawes has done the nearly impossible and topped what was one of the best albums of the last few years, their last album Nothing is Wrong. As a poet and musician, Taylor Goldsmith and the guys have, with Stories Don’t End, created a masterpiece of music, one that deserves all of the attention it will undoubtedly receive.”

#4 – The Deadly Gentlemen – Roll Me, Tumble Me

Bluegrass is a genre that is polarizing. Some people can’t stand the twang of the instrument (but not the voices, that’s country). Some people love the depth of music and traditional storytelling. What The Deadly Gentlemen have done is created a style of bluegrass and and album, Roll Me, Tumble Me, in particular, that have broken the mold and given us bluegrass that pretty much everyone can love. It’s sweet, it’s thoughtful, and it’s in no way abrasive. We can thank these guys for giving us bluegrass to share with all of our friends. From my review: “The Deadly Gentlemen have created a masterpiece with Roll Me, Tumble Me, a bluegrass album that will surely please everyone that listens. If you like harmonies, banjos, mandolins, lyrics, there’s something on this album for everyone. It’s clear that these guys aren’t just masters as individuals, but really have found a groove as a group that has enabled them to craft an incredibly unique and nearly perfect album.”

#3 – Mike Mangione and the Union – Red-Winged Blackbird Man

When bands combine different genres, it’s generally something like folk and rock or blues and rock. But that’s what makes Mike Mangione and the Union so special. With Kristina Priceman’s violin and Patrick Hoctor’s cello, the combination of folk music and classical is match made in heaven. Throw in some blues, some rock, and some incredible harmonies and you’ll start to get an idea of what this band sounds like. While their live shows are a completely different and more amazing animal, Red-Winged Blackbird Man stands as the one of the high points of folk music this year. From my review: “Nothing that they do and none of the instruments that they use are particularly ground breaking, but their sound is so unique and so heartfelt that it stands above the rest. From the first note on Red-Winged Blackbird Man until the last, the album is felt, not heard. It’s understood, not thought about. It’s brilliant and unique and it does it effortlessly.”

#2 – Penny and Sparrow – Tenboom

What can I say about Penny and Sparrow? These two guys from Austin, TX have created one of the most unique and poignant albums that I’ve ever heard. Tenboom is a mix of soft-spoken, heartfelt vocals and intensely introspective lyrics. Combined with perfectly balanced acoustic backing, these 10 songs will stick in your head in a way that few can. “Brothers” was my top song of the year and “La Reyna” is easily my favorite love song. From Greg’s review: “Penny and Sparrow are one of the most amazing emerging duets we’ve heard in a long time. And the thing is, their stripped down sound is just as good as the full production.”

#1 – The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

Here we are, my number one album of 2013 comes from The Lone Bellow. While this band has more than three members, Brian, Zach and Kanene are the heart and soul of this group and you can hear the heart and soul they pour into every song. From deeply emotional songs like “Two Sides of Lonely” to upbeat, yet still introspective songs like “You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional”, it’s clear that this band has a passionate and deep understanding of how to make songs that can pull at every emotion. From the minute I first heard the harmony on “Teach Me to Know”, I knew this band was special. This album runs the gamut of folk music and could have easily been my top 10 songs of the year, but instead it sits as my top album of the year. From my review: “The Lone Bellow’s self-titled debut is a work of genius, an album that blends vocal harmonies, upbeat Americana sounds, a little bit of country, and awesome songwriting. It’s rare to create an album that sounds unique, that is certain to appeal to rock fans, country fans, and popular music fans, and that is complete and this album is all of those things and more.”

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