2011 was quite a year. Country music definitely took over America and I couldn’t be happier! I was lucky to spend a lot of time on the road traveling to music festivals like CMA Fest in Nashville and the Emerging Music Festival in Canada as well as CMJ here in New York where I discovered many new bands that I have quickly become a fan of.
Here’s You Sing I Write’s end of year list of my favorite concerts and albums released in 2011. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know! Happy New Year!
YSIW’s favorite albums of 2011
5. Amos Lee’s Mission Bell
Last year I chatted with Amos Lee before his performance at City Winery with Lady Antebellum where he filled me in on his writing process and his upcoming release, Mission Bell. With collaborations from Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson, Lee’s soulful album has been played continuously on my iPod since it’s January release. When asked about Mission Bell, Lee told me that he is often inspired by situations.
“Songwriting isn’t always something that’s directly proportionate to the experience. I hope that they’re [the songs] open enough that people can understand and feel whatever it is that they want to feel. That’s the beauty of music, that it’s abstract in that way. It’s not always super literal.”
4. Lights Resolve’s Feel You’re Different
Every now and then a band comes along that you just know are going to be the next big thing. That’s how I felt about Lights Resolve when I first met them on tour in 2008. The Long Island-based trio are the hardest working act I’ve come across and their debut full-length adequately proves their talent. With soaring guitar riffs that make it easy to picture them in an arena setting, Lights Resolve is one act to watch in 2012.
3. We Are Augustines’ Rise Ye Sunken Ships
Their debut album, Brooklyn-based band We Are Augustines impress with solid rock & roll and poignant storytelling. I interviewed frontman and songwriter Billy McCarthy during CMJ and he likened writing candidly about his life to running down the street screaming your journal to rooms full of people.
“Honestly, it’s not always easy to talk about stuff in the literal sense and have to keep redoing it every night but I think it depends what kind of art you’re doing,” he says. “It is personal and I guess that’s just my commitment to the music that we’re making. I just want to be honest. It’s not always easy, but that’s what it is.”
2. Adele’s 21
There is no doubt that this was Adele’s year. She topped practically every year end list and three of her singles are in constant rotation on every radio station. Her ability as a songwriter is indisputable and she describes heartbreak so vividly that makes her immensely relatable. While her love life might have suffered this year, her record sales certainly didn’t.
1. Matthew Mayfield’s Now You’re Free
Matthew Mayfield’s album has been played in it’s entirety, more than any other album I’ve listened to this year. His deep, raspy vocals hit you right in the heart. Likewise, his descriptive and emotional tales captivate the listener wholeheartedly. He admitted to me during an interview that a song comes out better when it’s actually happened to him.
“I’m never scared because it’s like therapy for me. I need to do it, to get it out,” he said. “I feel like there’s a release that you get from putting it on paper and singing it in a song that’s healthy. It’s always been an outlet for me.”
YSIW’s favorite concerts of 2011
6. The Barr Brothers
I met half of the Barr Brothers on my flight to Canada for the Emerging Music Festival. Brad and Andrew Barr were playing in another band at the time, Muse Hill, who I caught at the festival and thoroughly enjoyed. While wandering to and from shows throughout the weekend Brad mentioned his other band, The Barr Brothers, who would be playing at Mercury Lounge the next month. Rather serendipitously, the next day his publicist reached out to me about covering the show.
I attended their first New York performance and was truly blown away and went on to see the band perform at Rockwood Music Hall and Arlene’s Grocery during CMJ and a few months later at Joe’s Pub. Each set continued to showcase the band’s talent between moving harp features, impressive percussion interludes and Brad Barr’s soulful and intriguing singing style.
5. Matt Cranstoun
I interviewed Matt Cranstoun right before his appearance at The Rock Shop during CMJ where he told me there would be gospel singers. I couldn’t remember the last show I had been to with gospel singers so of course I went and boy am I glad I did. The energy jumped off the stage into the crowd and every mouth dropped in amazement as Cranstoun captivated the room.
I’ve been so lucky to have seen Coldplay close up twice in my life, once during All Points West where I stood near the photo pit as the band performed to thousands behind me. This year, I witnessed Coldplay in a more intimate space with 100 other fans as they debuted some of the tracks off their upcoming release. Between humorous anecdotes and a stripped down performance with Chris Martin alone onstage, it was one of those reaffirming moments that I’m grateful to be a music journalist.
3. Foo Fighters
While many claim rock & roll is dead, the Foo Fighters prove it just ain’t so. Taking the stage at Ed Sullivan Theater dressed like the Beatles’ first US television performance, the band played a remarkable two-hour set. Complete with fan favorites and new hits, it was an experience I’ll never forget.
2. Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band
This was my first live review for Rolling Stone and a night I will remember forever. After eating lunch with Zac Brown and meeting Kenny Chesney, I headed to the New Meadowlands for an unforgettable night of music. Brown’s soulful singing combined with Chesney’s heartfelt passion and energy throughout the set is just one reason country has quickly become my favorite genre.
1. Taylor Swift
Was there really any question this wouldn’t be my No. 1 show of 2011? Seated three rows from the stage, I was in awe song after song as Taylor Swift’s elaborate set and storytelling unraveled for two glorious hours. Notebook in one hand, camera in the other my excitement never wavered. Fireworks, wedding gowns, acrobats and a balcony flying in the air were just some of the surprises I captured in my review for Billboard.