These are the albums that stood out above all the others. It is impossible to say which is better than the other, so these are all tied for second place as the Ironbath’s favourite album of 2013.
Patty Griffin ‘American Kid’
This is Patty’s most cohesive album to date, and reflects the happy place she is in now. The Ironbath thinks that much of this confidence has come from her association with The Band Of Joy through which her musical mentor, Buddy Miller, introduced Patty to her partner, Robert Plant.
Plant joins her on one track ‘Ohio’, which has his distinctive imprint and ‘Highway Song’. But his presence has perhaps given her the confidence to fully develop her writing, and explore her childhood and colourful family history in the album.
Amy Speace ‘How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat’
‘We Are The Fortunate Ones’ as Amy Speace reminds us on the first track of this superb album. Crowd sourced funding allowed her to produce the album exactly as she wanted, and the Ironbath thinks that this is the product of an extremely well thought out master plan. The album is partly inspired by the works of Shakespeare, although this isn’t immediately obvious, however every song has a dramatic feel.
It’ll be hard for her to match this album in her future work. Her duet with John Fullbright on the complex love song ‘The Sea And The Shore’ is sublime. The hardness of his voice is beautifully tempered by the delicate harmony that Amy provides.
In 2013 the Ironbath introduced Amy onto stage at the Cayamo pre-party (during which time he learnt far more about American Football than he ever needed to know), saw her play with her full band at the Rutledge in Nashville, then solo on a small stage in the UK, and a couple of days later when John Fullbright joined her for the first ever live performance of ‘The Sea And The Shore’.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell ‘Old Yellow Moon’
There are certain albums which just should be made, and this is one on them. ‘Old Yellow Moon’ is the coming together of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell after 30 years. Their choice of songs suits their mature vocals beautifully and it has become a classic country album; and probably the best that either have recorded for many years.
There is a delightful mix of tempos on this album with Rodney leading on some, and Emmylou leading the others. The standout track on the album is their version of Matraca Berg’s ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’, which has the best vocal performance by Emmylou since ‘Red Dirt Girl’. Everything about this album is just perfect.
This album is not particularly original, nor contemporary, but it is done very well and will still sound like a classic in 10 years time. And this is why it got the Ironbath’s vote in the AMA Awards this year.
Bella Hardy ‘Battleplan’
Bella Hardy has taken over the crown as the queen of the English Folk scene with her contemporary-traditional folk ballads. This is her sixth studio album in which she has taken the broadest latitude of folk influences. From the up-tempo polka ‘Whisky You’re the Devil’ she launches straight into the solemn, down-beat murder ballad ‘True Hearted Girl’, whilst ‘Three Pieces Of My Heart’ is a thoroughly contemporary song.
She lives in a world of folklore, faeries and fables and blends traditional songs reimagined and reengineered for her purposes with her own compositions. It is impossible to distinguish what is new from songs many generations old, as everything sounds so modern. Her third album ‘Songs Lost & Stolen’ was previously a contender for Album of the Year in 2011.
So, with very little surprise, the Ironbath presents his Album of the Year to ……
Jason Isbell ‘Southeastern’
There was no doubt that the Ironbath’s album of the year should go to Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern’. From its first track ‘Cover Me Up’ it is clearly the Americana album of the time and moment. Musically it is a natural progression from the critically acclaimed predecessor ‘Here We Rest’. It remains relatively sparse and there is plenty of pain in these lyrics. The songs cast vivid imagery that sometimes appears biographical and always personal, yet the Ironbath hopes that even at his lowest, his life wasn’t this pitiful. ‘Travelling Alone’ is a love song tied up in the burdens of a man who is struggling to cope with life. ‘Elephant’ is a perfect dramatization of a horrific scenario. “No one dies with dignity” indeed.
It seems as if Jason’s anger is contained in the first part of the album. ‘Different Day’ is a more wistful track. ‘Live Oak’, ‘Songs that She Sang In the Shower’ and ‘New South Wales’ are full of acceptance. ‘Super 8’ is a loud release of tension and the last 2 tracks are more positive. “There is always something to be grateful for, my angry heart beats relatively easy”.
There is a demo-like quality about this album. It doesn’t attempt to flow from one track into another, and it has a ragged roughness, as if it has only just been turned out from its foundry mould. This is not a concept, it is just a collection of songs about a hard, tough life written with skill and performed with all the emotion of someone who has lived that pain, and worse. It is shocking that ‘Southeastern’ wasn’t nominated for a Grammy, but perhaps this diamond is too rough for that audience. It might not be the perfect album, but it is the best Americana album of 2013, and it is the Ironbath’s album of the year.