I used to be pretty up to speed on the music world outside of jazz – working at a college radio station and as a clerk at a large record store will do that for you. But in ’04 my knowledge of the non-jazz world began to decline, which is a trend that continues. As a result I am by no means qualified to put together any kind of “best of” list for non-jazz, because I just haven’t heard that much. The best I can do is give a short list of the stuff I was spinning this year when I wasn’t up to my eyes in jazz. As regular readers of Downbeat know, the magazine deals with “jazz, blues, and beyond.” I haven’t been able to nail down what fits into the “beyond” category, and my votes in that category of the critics poll every year are not reflected in the winners. Nonetheless, I find its vagueness useful in thinking about non-jazz music. So, without further adieu, here are, in no particular order, some of my favorite “beyond” albums from 2011.
Low Anthem, Smart Flesh – this is some excellent, angst filled Americana roots music. Depressing stuff, no doubt, but also powerful and poignant. Love the clarinet and the reverb in the mixing. Just try and shake off the CDs opening tune “Ghost Woman.”
Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’ – straight up soulful. Catchy tunes, great band, great singing – great soul/R&B
Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming – super soulful, on Daptone Records, one of the finest current purveyors of soul and R&B. If you’re feeling low, put this on, turn it up, and exercise those demons that have you down.
Tom Waits, Bad as Me – great record. Mix of ballads, rockers, screamers. Classic Waits.
Shabazz Palaces, Black Up – fantastic, mind blowing rap record. But not something for the club. Features Butterfly (who on this project goes by Palaceer Lazaro) from Digable Planets. On Sub Pop. Meticulously produced, introspective lyrics, compositionally complex. I should have a lengthy blog post on this one up in the not too distant future.
Radiohead, King of Limbs – I know a lot of people couldn’t get with this one, but I like that it sounds like a logical progression from In Rainbows. Super complex, perhaps influenced by the electronica/beat scene in London – good stuff.