Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Songs of 2011

I’m not a big “singles” guy. Well, more accurately I used to not be. I’ve always been an “album” guy, preferring an entire record as an artistic statement, rather than a single song.

However, when your musical tastes run as far left of center as mine do – and when you enjoy digging into old crazy music as much as I do – you have to adapt.

And I’ve quickly become a singles guy. A lot of the crazy songs I play can only be found as singles. Or, those songs are often the only things from a particular artist that I care to have and share.

For instance, I’ve got a Perry Como single I play on my Dirty Roots Radio Show. I’d never buy or play an entire album – but that one song fits right in with what I do.

Having said all that, I wanted to recognize a few of my favorite singles from 2011. I should say “songs”, not “singles”. Singles are typically intentionally released by a band or record label with the intent of grabbing attention. Some of the songs here were released that way…others are just album tracks I really loved.

With only one exception, these are songs I enjoyed from bands I didn’t fully dig or records I didn’t love in their entirety.

Best of the Best

Those Darlins have always been one of those bands that I liked…but never really got into. I like their sound, I like their attitude, I like the whole vibe. I’ve even liked both of their records – their countryish debut and the country-ish with a little more punk added sophomore album – but for whatever reasons, they just aren’t the kinds of albums I come back to more than once.

But the first time I heard this track, I knew it was the song of the year. I, like most people, have a propensity of making grandiose statements in the excitement of a moment. (For God’s sake, I actually included a Buddy Holly tribute record on my “Best of the Year So Far” listing back in July…it had just come out and I didn’t hate it. But fear not, faithful, I’ve seen the error of my ways, repented, and that album isn’t on any of my official end-of-the-year lists. It can’t hurt anyone anymore). But this one stuck.

It’s funny. It’s smart. It’s got a killer groove. It gets in your mind and stays there. It’s easy to sing along to and you can dance to it, as the kids would say.

My favorite song of the year:

Best of the Rest

SOCIAL DISTORTION – Far Side of Nowhere
Social D included a few surprises on their latest album – and in my humble opinion, their masterpiece – “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”. One of them, “Far Side of Nowhere” showed a little sunnier and more hopeful side of SxDx than they usually present. For one reason or another, this song hit me just right and was what I needed so many times. I can’t tell you how many times I threw this song on the car’s CD player and used it as the soundtrack to a one-man lunch-hour therapy session while I drove around untangling my brain; realizing as long as I had music like this, things could be so bad.

The last time I interviewed Mike Ness, singer/guitarist of Social Distortion, I told him that since I was 13 his music had always been there for me. He thanked me for the sentiment and added, “Awesome…me too”. Perfect.

RY COODER – No Banker Left Behind
The Dirty Roots Radio Show used to be as much about songs of revolution as it was anything else. Following an on-air rant about three years or so, some friends and I were compelled to start a small non-profit organization, dedicated to helping people find unique and easy ways to make a difference. The show became part of that. When the non-profit went away, most of the over-the-top change the world attitude of the show did, too.

While I don’t intentionally not play music with a message anymore, I just don’t go out of my way to feature it.

This is one of the rare tunes – especially new tunes – that manages to be an awesome rootsy track and pack a revolutionary wallop. The government and the banks have screwed us, we all know that much. Ry Cooder is an artist whose music I’ve always wanted and intended to dig into some day – and someday I will. But for now, I found this track by accident and am loving it. He manages to take what we’re all thinking – and what we’ve all heard countless times from countless people – and present it, Dirty Roots style.

LEONARD COHEN – Show Me the Place
I wasn’t expecting any more new music from Leonard Cohen, but thank the musical gods, he proved me wrong. It’s been an exciting few years for Cohen fans. He toured for a few years, released a few live document of said tour, reissued all of his previous albums, and pulled the recording of his historic 1970 Isle of Wright Festival performance. True enough, he did most of this because the business people behind him had robbed him blind and he needed money.

I’m hoping that his new album, “Old Ideas” – to be released at the end of January 2012, was the result of some genuine inspiration generated by all of the touring and digging through his past catalog. I saw his St. Louis stop of his 2009 tour…an event many have used the word “biblical” to describe. It was. Cohen is a special artist. A special human. The kind of person you read about and think doesn’t exist anymore, if they ever did.

He does. And we’re fortunate that he shares what he does with the rest of us.

Daptone Records is one of the few modern labels that still specializes in singles – and especially one of the few who release those singles as vinyl 45s.

After his debut album, “No Time for Dreaming” came out in January – one of my favorite albums of 2011 – Bradley/Daptone issued this cover of the Neil Young classic. Just like everything Bradley has done – as well as everything Daptone has done – this is solid, old-school sounding soul.

As part of all the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, Spin Magazine released a tribute to the classic this past summer: "Newermind". The tribute album featured a different artist performing each song. Bradley, backed as always by the Daptone Records’ fabulous Menehan Street Band, took on “Stay Away”.

And you thought Bradley covering Neil Young was a stretch!

But Bradley transformed it into his own.

LYKKE LI – Get Some
This is the surprise song on my list; the unlikely choice. Lykee Li’s 2011 album, “Wounded Rhymes” was on many mainstream “Best of 2011” albums. It came out early in the year and all the buzz around it prompted me to give it a listen. It was another one of those “I like it, but I’ll never listen to it” things. Anytime a “mainstream” and modern release makes me feel that way it surprises me.

I caught an episode of Amoeba Music’s awesome YouTube series, “What’s In My Bag” about a month back that featured Li. In the background was a song that was completely infectious. I had to find it. Turns out it was a track from “Wounded Rhymes”. I gave the record another listen. Still liked it. Still knew I’d never listen to it again. But dagnabit if this track didn’t stick with me.

DARONDO – Get Up Off Your Butt

OK, this selection deserves a spot on the list for the guy’s story alone. This is another find that came courtesy of Amoeba’s “What’s In My Bag” series on YouTube. Mayer Hawthorne had picked up a newly reissued album by a cat named Darondo.

Darondo was a soul musician in California’s Bay Area. He was reportedly into thangs like pimpin’ (he denies it) to make extra money. He opened a show for James Brown – one time – and immediately afterward gave up music altogether. “Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions” was Darondo’s “lost album” that was finally released this year. And it’s great. This is my favorite track.

STEVE EARLE – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Showin’ some love for Record Store Day – the only official Dirty Roots Radio approved holiday! If you’re not hip to it, every year, the fine folks at the Record Store Day organization coax artists to release very limited edition albums and singles – most exclusively on vinyl, and all exclusively available at independent record shops.

This track – left off of Earle’s album of the same name (his book of the same name will be on my “Best Books of 2011” listing) – was a Record Store Day limited edition 7” vinyl release. It’s Hank Williams’ song you already know and love. And it’s Steve Earle, so you know you’re gonna love the delivery.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the best songs/albums/books of 2011 - either comments on my list, or a list of your own!!! Hit me on the Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, in the comments section below, or at

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at



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