For 22 years I've made an end-of-year list of my favorite albums which included 13 entries, but from the beginning it's been a fraud. I've been called on it often, but I really don't care. The truth is, I have never been able to limit my selection to 13 albums, so there are lots of ties, and I usually end up with 25 or more albums on the Top 13 list.
This is the first year that this list appears on January 1, on the web, in a preview of tomorrow's show.
Here's the list, and a few words about each of my favorite albums of the year.
Caterwaul Top 13 of 2007
1. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (Rounder)
When I heard about this album I thought it was a really bad idea. But leave it to T Bone Burnett to create something in which two distinctive musical talents find parts of themselves we've never heard before. It's an astonishing piece of work, and a triumph for little old Rounder Records.
2. The Avett Brothers – Introducing Emotionalism (Ramseur) Part punk, part string band, this trio produces amazing, agressive mountain music.
3. Joni Mitchell – Shine (Hear)
In spite of her self-imposed retirement, Joni Mitchell returned with a mature and wonderful set of songs with roots in a world gone wrong.
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – Big Old Life (Signature Sounds) Rani and a the band created a collection of songs which are a celebration of life and a warning to enjoy what we have, while we have it.
Nerissa and Katryna Nields – Sister Holler (Mercy House) These sisters have been creating ethereal, intetwining harmonies for years, but in their "renovation" of some classic folk music themes, they've never been more at home with their music.
4.Loudon Wainwright III – Strange Weirdoes (Concord) One can only hope for a bit of good fortune for Wainwright. Maybe he'll get an Oscar for this soundtrack recording he co-produced with Joe Henry for the film Knocked Up. BTW, Wainwright plays the obstetrician in the film.
5. Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) This former essential member of The Band, proves he is still making vital music despite having been laid low by a serious bout with cancer of the vocal chords.
Mavis Staples - We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti) Now that Rick Rubin is Mavis Staples represents a legendary rhythm and blues output from a legendary music family. Here she re-makes classic protest music from a turning point in American history.
6. Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade (Artemis) Earle's left Nashville for NYC, and this is the proof. An edgy earful of city ecstacy.
7. Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior (Shout Factory)Linda Thompson – Versatile Heart (Rounder)Teddy Thompson – Up Front and Down Low (Verve) Ex-spouses Richard and Linda, and their progeny, Teddy were all busy this year creating albums as different from each other as albums can be. Richard produced a rocker which yoked the political to the pedestrian concerns of living life, Linda's is soulful and colored by heartache and reality, and Teddy went all old-country on us.
8. Something ‘Bout You – Amy Gallatin and Roger Williams (Happy Appy) Amy and Roger abandoned Connecticut for a few weeks and went to Nashville to record this superb collection of old country chestnuts. Wow.
9. Look Out – The Hackensaw Boys (Nettwerk) If you like your bluegrass punchy, impolite and in-your-face, then you'll love the Hackensaw Boyrs.
Adrienne Young – Room To Grow (Addie Belle) I'm awfully glad that Adrienne abandoned jazz singing for country music. She just keeps getting better and better.
10. Lyle Lovett and His Large Band – It’s Not Big, It’s Large (Lost Highway) It's always an occasion when Lyle puts out an album of new and original music. He's got one of the most distinctive voices in music, and his attack is always smart and innovative. Here's an old favorite, with the Eraserhead look.
Jason Isbell – Sirens of the Ditch (New West) Isbell was a singer and songwriter with Drive-By Truckers. He carries it all well on his own.
11. Peter Case – Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John (Yep Roc) Rolling around the country in rented cars packed with old guitars, Case is another in a long and respected line of American troubadours.
Patty Griffin – Children Running Through (ATO) This fiery Maine-to-Texas transplant proves again that a great singer can be a great songwriter.
Michael Fracasso – Red Dog Blues (TMG) Another Austin transplant, Fracasso keeps writing amazing songs that he sings with the musical ghosts of the Louvins, the Everlys, Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney hovering nearby.
12. The Gourds – Noble Creatures (Yep Roc) The Band channeled throught the hearts and minds of a psychedelic, Austin, acoustic, retro-country jam band.
The Imagined Village – The Imagined Village (Realworld) English country music re-imagined by the likes of Billy Bragg, the Carthys, Sheila Chandra, the Copper Family and others. Watch the Bragg video of Hard Time of Old England here.
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) The greatest American band, great again.
Pine Leaf Boys – Blues de Musicien (Arhoolie)
Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights – If Dreams Come True (Memphis International)
Red Stick Ramblers – Made In the Shade (Sugar Hill) Listen to these together or separately and you'll discover the distinct and diverse genius alive on the prairies of Soutwest Louisiana