Oh, what a year it has been.
As I put the finishing touches on what will be my final blog entry of the year, I can’t help but look back at 2013 and marvel at what a great 12 months it has been for Trail Mix. I don’t have an exact count on how many tracks were featured on Trail Mix, but it had to be in the neighborhood of 300. What a long way Trail Mix has come since its origin and the goal of finding just 10 great tracks per month was a struggle.
This year also saw the advent of the Trail Mix blog. I have been lucky enough to chat with some fantastic musicians, review great records, and give away a ton of tickets and albums.
It’s been a good year. Thanks for paying attention.
To wrap things up, I asked a bunch of my music minded friends to reflect on the year gone by and offer up their favorite albums of 2013. The selections are as eclectic as the tracks that show up on Trail Mix each month. If you haven’t heard some of these records, seek them out. These folks know music and there isn’t a bad selection in the bunch.
See you in 2014.
Sometimes the unlikeliest of bedfellows can result in the most comfortable of listens. Elvis Costello is no stranger to collaboration, and his decision to team up with hip hop’s most valued, The Roots, on Wise Up Ghost just works. Never one to chide away from a musical change, Costello has dabbled in punk, country, singer/songwriter, jazz, acoustic, classical, and even trip-hop. This most recent foray into what can only be called a cross-pollination of Stax funk, street rock, and city soul is said to be Elvis’s last studio effort. Given how proficient and storied Costello’s recorded work has been, retirement would be a great loss to music. If it must happen, however, Wise Up Ghost is a hell of way to make an exit.
— Charles Fontaine, Music Fan, Norton, Virginia
I’m not sure why Iron & Wine’s Ghost On Ghost is my favorite record of the year, but it’s the one album that I’ve probably listened to more this year than any other. That’s kind of unfair, though, as I got it back in the spring when it came out, so I’ve had more time to listen to it than other albums I’ve gotten since. Ghost On Ghost is, in my opinion, a perfect combination of songwriting, instrumentation, vibe, and sonic characteristic. Everything just lines up perfectly to create a complete listening experience.
— Andy Gems, The Southern Café & Music Hall, Charlottesville, Virginia
I am not sure there’s really an easy answer as to why Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is my favorite record, but once I finally gave it a listen it took months before I could listen to anything else.
— Emilee Warner, Warnerblaster, NYC
Pokey LaFarge’s Pokey LaFarge. Hands down. I first fell in love with the original four after hearing their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. The now six piece band has a sound that is fresh, original, entertaining, and downright groovy. Pokey’s lyrics are always on point and the energy the crew brings to the stage is unparalleled. I got the chance to meet the band and see them perform at the first Red Wing Roots Music Festival near Mt. Solon, Virginia. What an amazing group of down-to-earth artists with a true talent for creating a unique twist on a traditional style.
— Jess Daddio, BRO, Charlottesville, Virginia
Gregory Alan Isakov’s The Weatherman is an honest, heart melting, classic sounding record. Isakov flavors it with nostalgia in every nuance and note without the pretentiousness you’ll find in a modern day mainstream market overpopulated with an endless array of indie pop acts. Isakov is a songwriter and poet, a true craftsman of both arts, which is something I believe is dearly missed and forgotten by most songwriters today, and his work is living proof that the art of songwriting is very much alive and well.
— Bryan Elijah Smith, Singer/Songwriter, Dayton, Virginia
I was madly in love with The Head & The Heart’s first record and never thought I could feel that way another, but then there was Let’s Be Still. Not quite love at first listen (I was stubborn), but the record grew on me and now I appear to be poly-album-amorous with The Head & The Heart.
— Leah Woody, BRO, Charlottesville, Virginia
I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the duet of old-time mountain, country hillbilly, and lost Lomax recording loveliness that is Pharis and Jason Romero’s Long Gone Out West Blues. Jason Romero’s banjo playing is unmatchable by nearly anyone alive (not in terms of speed, but in terms of subtlety and raw power when needed), his voice is commanding and entrancing, and Pharis is like a heavenly angel touching down in front of you. Together there is a raw chemistry that elevates the music.
— Devon Leger, Hearth Music, Seattle, Washington
Because as much as I want to not like Vampire Weekend, they keep on pulling me in. Modern Vampires of the City is a smart pop masterpiece, every song both catchy and complex enough to keep growing on each listen. “Hannah Hunt” may be the best song the band has recorded, beautiful and opening deeper instead staying on one note. And how can you not like an album that has the lyric, “Your girl was in Berkeley with her Communist reader/Mine was entombed within boom box and Walkman/I was a hoarder but girl that was back then”? It became the soundtrack of our year – that album you want to put on so bad but try not to because you don’t want to wear it out. My cynical, English professor brother likes it. My six and nine year old kids sing along.
— Douglas Schnitzspahn, Elevation Outdoors, Boulder, Colorado
Dawes was like a gift from the rock gods. A band touted as the next big thing, just without the gimmicky packaging that so often comes attached to the groups that earn that label. It was with a timid hand that I hit play the first time I listened to the band’s third album, Stories Don’t End, fearing that the straight forward verse-chorus-bridge formula that had worked so well would be gone. What I found was an album that reveals the band staying true to its roots while expanding its range in a way that is hypnotizing at one moment and rambling down a mountain cliff the next. Dawes might never reach the level of superstardom, but I don’t think that’s their ultimate destination. Instead, making fantastic records like this is.
— Brent Treash, Music Fan, Abingdon, Virginia
Toad The Wet Sprocket, one of my all time favorite bands, reunited and released New Constellation, an album that is every bit as good as their 90s classics. It feels like they never went away. I never tire of listening to Toad, and now I have some new material to play over and over again.
— Mike Farley, Michael J Media, Madison, Wisconsin
Jason Isbell’s Southeastern actually changed the way I viewed Jason as a songwriter. From the first song, there was something very powerful that reached deep inside me. I was going through some of my own things this year and these songs just spoke to me; I could feel the pain he was going through when he wrote this record. This record is a great testament to Jason’s growth as a person and his triumph against his demons.
— Micah Davidson, Blue Mountain Artists, Charlotte, North Carolina
I could drone on and on about how I was loudly predicting The Lone Bellow’s success a year before their eponymous debut album, but I will keep my taste-making ego in check. Not only is this album dripping with soul, soaring harmonies, and lyrics brimming with the full emotional spectrum, but their rocking-folksy-classic country sound is steeped with their Southern upbringing. Although the stylish trio now calls Brooklyn home, they hail from Georgia and Virginia. And those roots show. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album if you have not already.
— Dusty Allison, BRO, Asheville, North Carolina
If a band can pen a collection of songs that appeals to me, my wife, and both of my sons, that band is on to something. Bronze Radio Return did just that with Up, On & Over. For months, my family couldn’t leave this record alone. “Mister, Mister” became a regular early morning sing-along for my wife and Ben, my six year old, as they headed to school, and John Patrick, my 14 year old, dialed up “Further On” whenever he laid hands on the disc. Personally, I couldn’t get enough of “Rather Never Know” and “Thick and Thin,” two songs that ably demonstrate the varied sounds of this record. Up, On & Over is singer/songwriter subtlety and pop sensibility, banjo and keyboards, folk and rock, and it rides high amongst the many, many fine records I was lucky enough to hear this year.
— Dave Stallard, BRO, Wise, Virginia