Listen Up: Colleen Carow's Top Music Picks for 2011

Colleen Carow

Updated Wed, Mar 14, 2012 3:12 pm
Colleen Carow

When I was asked to do this, I was told that I didn’t have to pick music released in 2011 – that I could include music I discovered in 2011 – so that’s what I’m doing.

In fact, only a few of these albums are from 2011. It’s a crazy joy to discover and rediscover music new and old.

Going through my collection, I realized that I could remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard my favorite tracks.

That’s what it’s about for me – the journey. The stories of how we find music, and how it comes to us, and how it changes us forever.

1. Diane Birch with the Phenomenal Handclap Band, The Velveteen Age (S-Curve, 2010): An amazing set of '80s and '90s alternative covers, featuring songs written by Peter Murphy, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Joy Division. I heard this on WCBE Radio while flying down 71 just north of Columbus. It was hard to find and well worth it.

2. Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (Nonesuch, 2011): Anything by Emmylou is a winner for me. I revel in her song choices and never get tired of her voice and how it has mellowed over the years.

3. Warpaint, The Fool (Rough Trade U.S., 2010): I heard “Undertow” on public radio while driving through North Carolina and was instantly hooked on this all-female LA band’s alternative sound that features what sounds to me like unusually complex percussion for their arrangements.

4. The Watson Twins, Firesongs (Vanguard Records, 2008): I bought this for the cover of The Cure’s "Just Like Heaven," which I heard on our own WOUB while driving to band rehearsal out in the sticks (and subsequently forgot where I was). It’s like Alternative and Americana went and made a sweet baby.

5. Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues (Rounder, 2011): I love how every track on this record is different. I’ve had people tell me they don’t like the blues because it all sounds the same after a while. They need to listen to this.

6. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter (Universal Import, 2003 re-release; original release 1970): I’ve come to some things a little late in life, and Nick Drake is one of them. I choose this record for "Hazey Jane." Nick possesses at once such vintage beauty and such timelessness that we could be listening to him at Donkey Coffee tonight.

7. Gram Parsons, Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology (Rhino/Wea, 2001): I’m ending the year on a Gram Parsons bender and how wonderful it is. Listening to these tunes, reading the Anthology's book and watching the Fallen Angel documentary gives great insight into the story behind the songs.

8. Imelda May, Mayhem (Enhanced, 2011): This Irish lass’s tribute to Les Paul with Jeff Beck at the 2010 Grammys made Internet ripples, but in my opinion, the performance didn’t do her raucous rockabilly any justice. The youngest of five kids, May grew up listening to Elvis in the inner city. Her first album was reportedly turned down by every record label, so she released it herself. I could do without the cover of “Tainted Love,” but otherwise, this album is a monster. It also includes a remix of “Johnny Got a Boom Boom,” a hit from her previous album, Love Tattoo.

9. Marketa Irglova, Anar (Anti, 2011): Best known for her role in the film Once, her Grammy win for the song “Falling Slowly” and her work with Glen Hansard as part of The Swell Season, this Czech singer-songwriter’s first solo record is soulful, sparse, emotional and haunting. The background vocals by Aida Shahghasemi are exquisite.

10. Maza Blaska, Storyteller (Maza Blaska, 2011): I cannot get enough of this Columbus band’s debut featuring Yoni Mizrachi, Sam Corlett and friends. The album was born in Jerusalem while Yoni spent a year studying abroad, writing songs that are unmistakenly and beautifully influenced by that land. The arrangements, intertwined harmonies, thoughtful lyrics and instrumental sparkles from bells and various stringed instruments make this such a textured recording that sometimes I wish I could physically taste it or wrap it around me like a jeweled blanket. “Midnight Walker,” the sunny, upbeat opening track, is my go-to for yoga, and I think it could hold its own among top hits on any radio station out there. The fact that it and its siblings were recorded and produced locally is just another bonus.

11. Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, Dirty Radio (Partisan Records, 2011): Pretty much hating myself that I missed this rebellious-sounding Portland, Ore., band and Sallie’s vintage voice at the Casa Cantina this year. Here's hoping they make it back to these parts soon.

12. Ollabelle, Neon Blue Bird (Ollabelle, 2011): I heard “Be Your Woman” on WNKU, public radio out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, and picked up the album almost immediately. What a diverse album of voices, sounds, style and soul from a band of mamas and papas who named themselves after Appalachian folk singer and songwriter Ola Belle Reed. Plus, what Mark Hellenberg said on his list: Daughter of Levon Helm? Cool. The things you learn when reading the WOUB music blog.

13. Rocknoceros, Dark Side of the Moon Bounce (Rocko Records, 2007): My little boy and I discovered Virginia’s most awesome kids’ band at Floyd Fest last year, but this kids-music-that-parents-will-love album makes my 2011 list because of how often it still gets played. I love how every track is a different genre and how the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, borderline dark or just plain goofy. I’ve downloaded the band's 2009 album Pink for someone’s stocking but haven’t had a listen yet.

Colleen Carow is a local singer-songwriter, mom, marketing communications director and a member of alt-country band Broken Ring.

This is part of a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors, as well as area musicians, music retailers and plain old music fanatics. Think we missed something? Let us know at

Slideshow: Listen Up: Colleen Carow


Diane Birch with The Phenomenal Handclap Band, "The Velveteen Age"

Emmylou Harris, "Hard Bargain"

Warpaint, "The Fool"

The Watson Twins, "Fire Songs"

Gregg Allman, "Low Country Blues"

Nick Drake, "Bryter Layter"

Gram Parsons, "Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology"

Imelda May, "Mayhem"

Marketa Irglova, "Anar"

Maza Blaska, "Storyteller"

Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, "Dirty Radio"

Ollabelle, "Neon Bluebird"

Rocknoceros, "Dark Side of the Moon Bounce"