Nancy’s annual gutting of my originally intended mixes continues, and once again she has poached her way to another fantastic collection of songs.
Let the “Nancy’s mix is always the best” chorus begin!
Links to the albums and other editions of Nancy's favorites can be found at bottom of this post.
1. Wherever You Wanna Go - Patty Griffin: I love Patty. Nancy loves Patty. Whenever Patty Griffin puts out a new release, a year long-fight between Nancy and I ensues over who gets to use Patty’s best songs. It’s a fight I have yet to win. This track, the opener to 2013’s spare American Kid (Solid Recommend), a gorgeous, plainspoken eulogy to a fallen soldier (or possibly Patty’s father, who was in hospice near the time the album was recorded), is the song we fought over most.
2. Cover Me Up - Jason Isbelll: Though unflinching and often painful, the songs on Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (Strong Recommend) are an ultimately positive lot, focused on the redemptive power of honestly owning up to one’s problems. In a classic case of art mirroring life, Isbell himself was coming to terms with one of his own demons - alcoholism - and with much help from then girlfriend, now wife, violinist Amanda Shires, fought the battle to get sober throughout the recording of this record. Rumor is he and Shires locked the final tracks on Southeastern just hours before catching a plane for their honeymoon, and one has to hope this clear declaration of love for Amanda was the last thing they heard.
3. I Should Live In Salt - The National: Nancy’s favorite track…and the fifth and final selection in this collection…from 2013’s finest album, The National’s Trouble Will Find Me (Highest Recommend).
4. Sacrilege - Yeah Yeah Yeahs: As stated earlier in the notes for Volume 2 - Groovy, the album Mosquito (Mild Recommend) might have been disappointing, but not this track. A kick-ass merging of edged-out punk and soaring gospel, it may be the best song the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have ever recorded.
5. Falling - Haim: One of the year’s best reviewed releases, Haim’s Days Are Gone (Solid Recommend) gave the earnest sounds of 70s west coast rock a contemporary girl-group spin, and turned this trio of sisters from a cover band family into 2013’s overnight success. The album is chock full of light, bouncy, charmingly unhip numbers, but Nancy’s selection, Falling, gets my vote for catchiest of the bunch.
6. Swan Dive - Waxahatchee: Another savvy poaching choice by Nance, Swan Dive is one of the strongest ballads from an album full of potent ballads, Waxahatchee’s Liz Phair-like sophomore full length, Cerulean Salt (Solid Recommend).
7. Open - Rhye: Open is one of the two or three most gorgeous tracks of the year, from an album, Woman (Solid Recommend) loaded with stellar mellow-smooth moments. Nancy included another song from Woman, The Fall (whose single release predated the album’s), on her mix last year. And for the uninitiated, there’s a clear, cynical marketing reason why the band’s album artwork never shows the artists, and why their music videos hide the band membersin deep shadows…those stirring Sade-like vocals you’re hearing are coming from a man, co-producer and key songwriter Mike Milosh.
8. Primetime - Janelle Monae: A far bigger star now than upon the release of 2010’s The ArchAndroid, Ms. Monae’s list of guest vocalists on 2013’s steady but less spectacular The Electric Lady (Solid Recommend) includes such industry luminaries as Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, and Esperanza Spalding. But it was this hot, romantic duet with rising-star neo-soul crooner Miguel that most captured Nancy’s attention.
9. Only Love - Ben Howard: Nancy’s always displayed a soft spot for well-done, uplifting singer-songwriter efforts, and this winning song courtesy of one of last year’s Coachella artists, Brit Ben Howard, fits that mold to a tee.
10. Gallup, NM - The Shouting Matches: Yet another Justin Vernon side-project, this time with frequent collaborators Phil Cook (Megafaun) and Brian Moen (Peter Cry Wolf), album Grown Ass Man’s (Very Mild Recommend) playful foray into mid-70s blues rock wasn’t intended as anything but a relaxing, throwaway trifle, and that’s exactly how the album plays…with the exception of this one track. One of the strongest single song performances I saw all weekend at Coachella 2013, I had Gallup, NM slated for Volume 7- Coachella Starters until Nancy eagerly snatched it up, a move I fully understand, as the song perfectly captures the vibe of 461Ocean Boulevard-era Eric Clapton at his mellow-rocker best.
11. Do I Wanna Know? - Arctic Monkeys: After opening their career with a couple of snarly, nimble-fingered punk-pop albums, the Arctic Monkeys slowed things down and got almost Led Zeppelin heavy on fourth release AM (Solid Recommend), their best effort since their debut. Of the album’s many fine tracks, no song had a bigger impact than the massive hit Nancy’s has included here.
12. Right Action - Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action was a pure stylistic retrenching, the result of a band entering its second decade and saying “Screw it, no more experimenting, we’re sticking with what works!” Out of those efforts to recapture the sound and feel of their 2004 glory days, this super lively number works best.
13. Come To My Party - Black Joe Lewis: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears’ 2013 outing Electric Slave (not recommended) wasn’t near the boogie-fest that was 2011’s fantastic Scandalous, dropping a lot of that album’s driving funk rhythms to produce a more straight ahead rock album, but it still contained a couple of dynamite party-rock anthems, and Nancy’s selected the best one here.
14. Workin' Woman Blues - Valerie June: Medusa-haired Valerie June’s Pushin’ Against The Stone (Mild Recommend) is one of 2013’s freshest sounding releases, ironic given that with its earthy blend of country, folk, blues, and traditional Appalachian music it is also one of the 2013’s most timeless releases. Yet another one of the many off beat artists The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach has taken under his wing in recent years (alongside Niger bluesman Bombino, New Orleans’ giant Dr. John, and Hanni-El Khatib), one listen to Workin’ Woman Blues here is all it should take to justify Auerbach’s interest in this unique artist who has been gutting it out as a small venue/street festival performer for over a decade.
15. Where Can I Go? - Laura Marling: From the beginning of her recording career in 2008, British folk singer Laura Marling has sounded mature beyond her years, but even so, the sense of adult self-possession on the still just twenty-four Marling’s fourth release Once I Was An Eagle (Solid Recommend) is striking - the closest another female recording artist has come to matching the intuitive, confessional power of Joni Mitchell’s best work in decades. Stripped down to the barest of instrumentation…more often than not just Marling’s deep voice and acoustic guitar…its singular sound and best moments like Take The Night Off, I Was an Eagle, Master Hunter, and Pray For Me are fantastic, but one has to be in the mood for it, as it is also one of the most monochromatic albums I’ve heard in quite some time, and over sixteen long songs can wear out its welcome. Still, definitely a 2013 release worth celebrating, and its liveliest track Where Can I Go is a big reason why!
16. Elephant - Jason Isbell: Nancy has always had a great ear for songs that capture the tiny details and universal truths of life’s most challenging moments, and this brilliant song from Southeastern…the gut-wrenching tale of two barflies’ fight to live their lives as they used to while one struggles through the final stages of terminal cancer…is a classic example.
17. That Kind Of Lonely - Patty Griffin: American Kid is Patty Griffin’s most stripped-down effort in years. Rustic, minimalist, and Gillian Welch caliber sad, it features three well-received duets with Robert Plant (yes, that Robert Plant!), most notably Ohio, but the album is at its very best when Patty is on her own, and nowhere on the record does she sound more on her own…or achingly alone…than on this stunning ballad here.
18. It's Alright, It's OK - Primal Scream: Now past its thirtieth year, Scotland’s Primal Scream has had one of the era’s most mercurial recording careers, producing a discography full of spectacular, daring highs (Screamadelica, Vanishing Point, XTRMNTR) and oh-so-dreary lows. And while they are getting on in age, the band has been so consistently eclectic in the past that it still comes as a bit of a shock that 2013’s More Light (Mild Recommend) plays mostly as a Some Girls / All That You Can’t Leave Behind-styled return to past glories. Pretty much all of the vast stylistic ventures explored in previous albums are given a song or two reworking here, but some of those past styles are well worth revisiting, as with the album’s phenomenal gospel-tinged closer here, a track which would have played perfectly on Screamdelica twenty-three years ago.
19. What An Experience - Janelle Monae: Neither Nancy or I were that impressed with The Electric Lady on first listen, but then we had a marvelous November evening out with friends capped by an extraordinary Monae show at the Club Nokia, and this song, the album’s sweet closer, stuck with us all. My hope is it’s those warm memories that inspired Nancy to end with this song.
Here are links to previous editions of Nancy's Favorites -
Nancy's Favorites 2012
Nancy's Favorites 2011
Nancy's Favorites 2010
Nancy's Favorites 2009
Nancy's Favorites 2008
Nancy's Favorites 2007