Eric Church- Mr. Misunderstood
The North Carolina man’s albums just keep getting better and better. Mr. Misunderstood, Church’s 5th studio album, has become his best in what is shaping up to become an impressive career. After 2 mediocre yet innocuous albums, 2011’s Chief saw Church first tapping into the game, with two Country #1’s (Party hit “Drink In My Hand” and the excellent, nostalgic “Springsteen”) and a solid album to boot. Last year’s The Outsiders was a genre-breaking, Southern-fried slice of consistent excellence that, on the whole, surpassed Chief. But this, this is his masterpiece. Each song is an absolute winner, from the Fleetwood Mac-tinged “Chattanooga Lucy”, the star spot duet with Susan Tedeschi “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” and the less-is-more beauty of “Kill A Word”. The craft is assured and the honky-tonk amp breaking is gone but in it’s place, a greater honesty and the best singing of his still-young career. There hasn’t been a country album by a male artist this outstanding since the heyday of Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle.
Mashrou’ Leila- Ibn El Leil
Mashrou’ Leila are a Lebanese indie rock band. Led by the openly gay, highly empathic and wickedly funny Hamed Sinno, the band was bound to stir up controversy and sure enough, that has occurred. Yet this controversy has also made them quite popular, becoming the first Middle Eastern artist to appear on Rolling Stone Middle East. This would all only be handshake politics if the music wasn’t good, but it is excellent. Sinno is an excellent frontman, with a beautifully lilting falsetto and possessed of a slow-burning type of romantic eye. The band can be likened to a warmer, more grounded Wild Beasts, with wonderfully subdued production bolstered by Ibrahim Badr’s flawless bass and Haig Papazian’s responsive violin. Wonderfully cohesive and impossible to name highlights, Ibn El Leil is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Let’s go back to 1980
Bruce Springsteen- The River
Recently released as a box set with outtakes entitled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, the original is still prime Springsteen. A double album reportedly recorded because Springsteen wanted to simulate the length and energy of his legendary shows, The River is a beast of many faces. In the beginning, Springsteen’s 5th album is ridiculously fun, with sing-alongs such as “The Ties That Bind” and “Sherry Darling”. But as the album continues, a small heartbreak such as “Jackson Cage” gives way to the title track, about Springsteen’s brother-in-law and sister’s seemingly hopeless existence. This would eventually lead to 1982’s Nebraska, the bleak, cassette classic. But at the time, The River was a brilliant album of a man at the bank of forking river, and in due time, both paths would be crossed and intersected.