My Top 10 Albums of 2011

This year had the potential to be one of the greatest music years of my life with 3-4 of my top five artists releasing albums. Looking back it was a little disappointing, but nevertheless some quality stuff was released, whether expected or not. This list will undoubtedly change over time, but for today, here it is:

10. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

This album came out in late 2010 and didn’t attract my attention until this year, so I’m breaking the “year” rule here. Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle, so you kind of know what to expect. He is a bit different, though, in that some of the songs tap into different aspects of American music that his father’s music doesn’t. He’s capable of straight-up blues, country, folk and ragtime. I believe the song “Harlem River Blues” won some awards for Americana song of the year this year.

9. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

Gillian Welch hadn’t released a new album of material in like eight years. This album is incredibly sad, which is probably the main thing against it. In an interview I read the other day she called it 10 different types of sad. Regardless, there is some good material here, including “The Way It Goes.”

8. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Bill Callahan released this album in April. I didn’t like it as much as his two previous albums, but it does contain the baritone and usual prose fare you can expect from him. It didn’t have the orchestra instrumentation I liked so much from his previous two. I really liked “Riding For The Feeling” on this one.

7. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs

This album streamed on one of the music Web sites I check and I ended up really enjoying it. It’s probably the least known artist/album on this list. He plays guitar and banjo and has a pretty outstanding voice. “Not Feeling Any Pain” was a standout track for me.

6. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

I was pretty excited for this album this year. It came out right around the same time as my 2011 No. 1. Most people considered it underwhelming. I would agree I thought parts of it were. Probably four or five songs hold up with his best songwriting, which is really saying something. I enjoyed his unique guitar takes on some of the songs, particularly the self-titled track and “Invisible Riverside.” Another pretty solid track is “Chains of Love.” I thought “Dirty Rain” was an amazing vocal performance.

5. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

If anyone was expecting another Northern folk/blues from Justin Vernon they may have been let down. This year saw a much more bright and shiny Bon Iver that included some 1980’s Bruce Cockburn synth. I’m usually not into this kind of thing, but I really liked this album. Guy has an amazing voice. Standouts: “Holocene” and “Towers.”

4. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

This is a pretty personal pick. I’ve followed her since her first album and have seen her improvement.¬† She’s only 21 and I think this album was her most impressive work. Out of all the English folkies she seems the most genuine, even if she is predictable and boring sometimes. The album really seemed like a nice, cohesive piece to me. The undeniable standout track is probably “Sophia.” Maybe one of the best songs of the year?

3. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

The old stalwart Tom Waits came out with a new album this year and it lived up to, if not exceeded, most expectations. To me, the album is reminiscent of his mid-1980’s output. The album opens up with some R & B flavor with “Chicago.” The album’s monster single, “Bad As Me,” hits about midway through the album. My personal favorite on the album is the last track, “New Year’s Eve.” Keith Richards played an important guest spot on the album.

2. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

This is a band that I like to talk about a lot. People are always like “Feet Foxes? What does that mean.” They do a harmony thing like Crosby, Stills and Nash. I honestly think it has another dimension because of the drummer. Anyways, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this album when it first came out, but I knew it was quality. Over time it has really settled into a space in my mind. I dubbed it the “great quarter-life crisis album” some months ago. Top songs on it are the self-titled track, “Grown Ocean,” and my favorite track on the album is probably “Sim Sala Bim” for the instrumental freakout at the end.


1. Wilco – The Whole Love

When this first came out I thought it might be the best album I’d heard in 5-6 years. The hype wore down over time, but it proved to be a pretty solid pick. The first track is reminiscent of Wilco’s more experimental side (i.e. Radiohead). Some of the songs sound like they could be on Summerteeth (“Dawned on Me”, title track). “Born Alone” is a great song. The last track, “One Sunday Morning,” was one of my favorites of the year. It’s full of awkward/funny lyrics and existential dialogue. Plus it sounds really great. You should probably listen to the entire album.

Albums I left off of this list, but considered: Radiohead – The King of Limbs (No. 11), Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean, St. Vincent – Strange Mercy, The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. I have to note that there is some stuff I haven’t listened to that might have made it on here, including The Black Keys new album, My Morning Jacket’s new one, among others.

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The Perreze Farm at the Club 13

The Perreze Farm performed at the Club 13 Friday night and I made a stop down the alley after work to take some photos. I missed out on a photo chance earlier this summer at the Hummingbird Cafe, but this turned out to be a good opportunity. I had to deal with shit light again, but it ended up working out for a few shots. The Perreze Farm is based in Anaconda and will¬† be performing at the Muddy Roots Festival in September. On occasion we do shows together. I believe the lovely lady legs in this are Baylen Levore’s.

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El Dealbreakers

El Dealbreakers played a show at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Butte last weekend. They had some special guests earlier in the night, but I was stuck in the office so I didn’t get there til late. Dealbreakers is a no-guitar band that has its own unique chicka-boom-chicka sound. I sat in at a practice with the band a couple weeks ago and couldn’t get over all the arranging they do on the songs and they have a lot of fun when they do it. Dealbreakers pictured here include Frank Ruffolo (accordian and vocals), Matt Schumaker (baja quinto and vocals), Garrett Smith (sousaphone), Renee Bruce (violin) and Justin Ringsak (mandolin and trumpet). Earlier guests included Scot Wilburn of Wylie and the Wild West. Kermit Ruffins, Montana songwriter Stephanie Davis and at least two other bands from the Montana Folk Festival were in attendance. The Dollar has red lights and is dark, so it’s difficult to get shots there even with low-light lenses. If you ever get a chance to see this band, whether in Butte, America or in Cambodia on one of their world tours, don’t miss it.

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Sunday at the MT Folk Festival

Some random photos from Sunday afternoon:

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New Music – William Elliott Whitmore

PASTE Magazine is streaming the new William Elliot Whitmore album Field Songs on its Web site. The front man for Smokestack and the Foothill Fury was telling me they grew up 30 miles from each other.

The album appears to be an homage to rural music. If you like it check out his older stuff.

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Photography – Third of July Fireworks

I got my camera out for the Butte fireworks show and took some shots this year. It was my first time attempting to shoot fireworks and it was a little challenging. These were shot from the corners of Excelsior and Granite, and Excelsior and Caledonia. The best tips I could give for doing these is to mess with your shutter speed and find a spot with no street (or other) lights. And use a tripod!

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Photography – Smokestack and the Foothill Fury



I’m not going to waste a bunch of time explaining things here. I went and shot Smokestack and the Foothill Fury on Friday at the Hummingbird Cafe in Butte. With my art photography I’m a big believer in using extreme colors. This dirty roots music movement is an interesting thing to capture. My old friend The Perreze Farm also played there that night, but I had to go to a music rehearsal (which was probably way more boring).

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