Listen Up: James Hill’s 2011 Music Picks

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I would guess that most “best of the year” music lists can be divided into three categories: Dependable Artists, Old Favorites, and New Discoveries.

My 2011 list is no different. I’ve also selected a standout track from each album (in parentheses).

Before the big reveal, though, I should point out that one of the great pleasures of my day job as a librarian is that I get to order music for the library.

So, if you live in Athens County, all of these albums are available to reserve at your local, friendly public library (

And now, in no predictable order:

Dependable Artists

* The Indigo Girls’ Beauty Queen Sister (“Feed and Water the Horses”)

* Sondre Lerche’s self-titled album (“When the River”)

There were several other “dependable artists” this year that put out solid albums: Wilco, Paul Simon, Radiohead, Keb’ Mo’ and Fountains of Wayne, among others.

Old Favorites

* Tab Benoit’s Medicine (“Next to Me”)

* Lindsey Buckingham’s Seeds We Sow (Any track will do, he’s always interesting.)

* Jonathan Edwards’ My Love Will Keep (The title track is excellent; also check out his cover of The Beatles’ “She Loves You.”)

* Boy George’s Ordinary Alien (Yes, that Boy George. These dance tracks aren’t for everybody, but if you’re interested in hearing the musical progression of a career, check it out. Listen to his cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” In the same vein, check out Cyndi Lauper’s recent stuff. Bring Ya to the Brink is excellent.)

* The Jayhawks’ Mockingbird Time (“Pouring Rain at Dawn”)

*Honorable mention goes to Matthew Sweet for Modern Art.

New Discoveries (For me; not necessarily new to everyone else.)

* Ha Ha Tonka’s Death of a Decade (This band came to my attention – and everyone else’s who was there – when NPR’s Mountain Stage recorded a live show at Memorial Auditorium in October. I immediately picked up all of their albums. A lot of bands demonstrate their diversity from song to song; these guys do it within the same song. The title track is a good starting point.)

*Fiest’s Metals (“Graveyard”)

* The Dropkick Murphy’s Going Out in Style (Four words: catchy banjo punk harmonies. Proving once again that NPR is worthwhile, I first heard this band interviewed on Here and Now with Robin Young. Listen to “Peg O’ My Heart” and “Hang ‘Em High.”)

Finally, there is a series that caught my eye this year that would fit into all three categories. Paul McCartney’s Jukebox is my pick, but all the titles are equally interesting. Each is a collection of songs that inspired said artist, but does not feature the artist (the label, United States of Dist., is quick to point out that the collections are not endorsed by or affiliated with the artists).

From the McCartney collection, I enjoy listening to Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock,” the song McCartney played to impress a teenage John Lennon and got him invited to join Lennon’s group The Quarrymen.

Other notables in the series are Frank Zappa’s Jukebox, Pink Floyd’s Jukebox, Joe Strummer’s Jukebox, and Nick Cave’s Jukebox.  The Pink Floyd collection starts with songs from Pink Anderson and Floyd Council—the inspirations for the band’s name. And as you can imagine, the Zappa collection has some far-out stuff that even Jim Phillips (probably) wouldn’t play on Radio Free Athens.

Two critical notes, though: There is a lot of duplication across the CDs. Who wasn’t influenced by Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters or Chuck Berry? And secondly, there aren’t enough women represented. Who wasn’t influenced by Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Minnie or Maybelle Carter?

No matter which collection you start with, the extensive liner notes are a must-read. The digital downloads alone just won’t do: you need the history to appreciate the importance.

When James Hill isn’t working for Athens County Public Libraries, he can be heard Saturday mornings on WOUB AM’s Radio Free Athens from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

This is a first in 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