2011: Top Ten

by Mark Millan


10. Adele -- 21

UK singer Adele released her second album in January this year, and to my delight, it bettered her stunning debut (2008’s 19) by a fair margin.  21 is an edgy and powerful statement and the quality of the material was greatly enhanced by Adele’s vocals, which boasted considerable power and a very flexible range.  “Rumour Has It,” “Turning Tables,” and “Set Fire To The Rain” are definite standouts among this stellar collection of songs.  21 has been nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2012 Grammy Awards and would be a very worthy winner indeed. 


9. Vince Gill --
Guitar Slinger

Vince Gill has always had a beautiful voice and a knack for keeping his music fresh, all the while maintaining his own sound.  Sometimes, though, his work of late has come across as being a little too schmaltzy, but I can always find a few songs on recent albums that remind me just why I became a fan of this guy to begin with.  This year, however, Gill released Guitar Slinger, and upon my first listen just a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to remember the last time he put out a record that is as consistently good as this one.  It’s a little rockier in parts (“Tell Me Fool” and the title track) but there are the trademark ballads (“Threaten Me With Heaven” and “Bread And Water”) to keep the loyalists happy.  This is a vibrant and immensely enjoyable country album and easily one of Gill’s finest efforts to date.


8. Whitesnake -- Forevermore

David Coverdale and his current main-man Doug Aldrich this year casually turned out the best ‘Snake album since…well, let’s just say a bloody long time and leave it at that.


7. Gregg Allman --
Low Country Blues

Gregg Allman is right up there now as one of rock music’s true survivors.  Through his personal and professional triumphs and tragedies, Allman has floated in and out of the industry, and at times, it appeared as if he gave up all together.  However, after a successful liver transplant, he returned to the road and rediscovered his first love, the blues.  After talking with producer T. Bone Burnett, the pair agreed to make a cover album of some that were originally recorded by some of their favorite artists.  Low Country Blues is a low-key but rousing body of work that finds Allman completely at ease and in love with the material.  Only his third solo album in 23 years, this is clearly his best and most rewarding work since the glory days of the Allman Brothers Band all those years ago.


6. k.d. lang And The Siss Boom Bang --
Sing It Loud

This is just a wonderful album to listen to at anytime of the day or night for that matter.  It’s hard to fault lang’s performances, but at times she has recorded some rather dreary work that can occasionally detract from the voice that so many of her peers regard as the greatest of her generation, and then some.  I have always thought lang to be at her best when the mood (and tempo) was up and the subject matter of the material was well, sunny.  So the great thing about this year’s release was just that, the band (The Siss Boom Bang) brought so much color and style to lang that it just happens to be one of her best ever albums.  She was clearly having fun in the studio and relished working live with a band again.  Truly a great album that deserved a lot more exposure and recognition than it received.


5. Brian Cadd And Russell Morris --
Wild Bulls And Horses

Some things are just meant to happen, and this pairing of great Australian singer-songwriters is surely just one of those things that was always in the cosmos and just so happened to come to fruition this year.  The longtime pals have each left their mark on the music industry down under, both writing numerous classics that have cemented their place as some of the finest music ever produced here.  This is just a fabulous set of originals, expertly produced and brilliantly executed.  Morris’ voice has lost none of its range and soul – in fact, his singing better than ever.  And Cadd (whom I suspect handled the bulk of the lyrics here, as well as co-producing the record) was equal to the task and his unique style and wry humor are both present throughout this album.  Highlights: “Big Red Sunset,” “She Left Too Soon” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”


4. Kate Bush --
50 Words For Snow

After six years of inactivity, the ever-elusive Bush popped up this year and delivered two brand new albums that caught everyone by surprise.  The first (Director’s Cut) turned out to be a collection of newly reworked and recorded songs from a period of her career (late ‘80s to early ‘90s) during which time Bush felt she didn’t always get things right.  But the best and easily one of the year’s most unique albums, 50 Words For Snow is a set of new originals that Bush has been tinkering with ever since her last album proper (2005’s Aerial) was released.  The common theme is, of course, winter and all the images it conjures up in Bush’s mind of which she has articulated beautifully, especially on “Lake Tahoe” and the superb “Snowed In At Wheeler Street.”


3. Stevie Nicks -- In Your Dreams

The still beguiling and ever enchanting Stevie Nicks delivered her best album since 1981’s debut, Bella Donna.  The more I play this one, the better it gets.


2. Ry Cooder --
Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

After a very long period of relative obscurity, Cooder has in recent years busied himself and delivered a handful of wonderful albums, none of which, however good they are, could better his latest effort, though.  This year’s release sees Cooder unleash his disgust on the government, the corporate sector and anyone else who has got in his way of late.  Cooder produced the record himself and relied on a small group of players to lay down the stripped back sound for his tales of lost hope and despair.  His anger is never far from the surface (“No Banker Left Behind”) and his moments of despondency (“Quick Sand” and “Christmas This Time Of Year”) are equally potent, his conviction (“John Lee Hooker For President”) is unwavering throughout this great album.  


1. Marianne Faithfull -- Horses And High Heels

Released at the start of the year, this is a stunning collection of seven new songs and six covers that came to life over two months last year in New Orleans.  My favorite album this year and one of the incomparable Marianne Faithfull’s best ever albums. 
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