Picking just ten albums out of the pack is always a tricky thing. This site has reviewed around 500 pieces of music this year from throw-away pop singles to album length progressive flights of fancy, from the well trodden grounds of classic rock to cutting edge experiments which are creating a whole new musical future. Add to that the fact that I am lucky enough to largely write about music I find interesting, which means if it even makes the page there is something I like about it. Anyway, below is 10 of the standouts of the year, I could write another 10 articles like this, but I won’t, better you explore the site and make your own mind up. Enjoy, comment, discuss and leave the cash in a brown envelope in the usual place! (I wish)
It is strange, admittedly, but there is something quite enjoyable about a well-penned mournful song, something universal and comforting in its sad refrain and they don’t come much better than the dark, slow and majestic Another Prayer, a song of loss, longing and perhaps unrequited love. And love in all its forms is the foundation that this album is built on and even in its most heart tugging and reflective moments there is always a hope filled “chaser” sweet with the taste of optimism just around the corner.
On an album woven through with poeticism and eloquence, poise and elegance, the title track stands proud even above such a benchmark, inspired in part by the love letters Violet Trefusis wrote to Vita Sackville-West. But it is this thread of love and defiance, of sheer heart on sleeve honesty and the vulnerability that only comes with the complete baring of the soul that defines this wonderful album.
It is an album made against a backdrop of personal loss and tumultuous world events so much so that the studio became a musical sanctuary and the album coalesced into one about the art of survival and has a Samuel Beckett “I can’t go…I’ll go on” feel to its more inward looking moments.
Musically Jane continues in her blending of traditions from both shores of The Atlantic, the English and Celtic folk sound with the inherent melancholy of country music and the drifting, misty mountain vibe which often occupies the common ground between and she does so brilliantly. In fact there can’t be many artists who already sound like they have more than paid their songwriting dues by the end of their second album but Methylene Blue certainly feels that way.
Americana is a term that is banded about all too easily, like roots or world music or terms such as celebrity, phrases like awesome and paradigm shifting. You could even argue that anything made outside of the USA can’t be part of the cultural heritage of that geographical location. And whilst on paper Jane Allison displays all of the hallmarks of music that has it’s birth place on the far side of the Atlantic, like all home grown music it can’t deny it’s own heritage. The result is a cross-cultural, cross-genre, globally inspired brand of music that may tip it’s hat to America but is infused with the folk roots of it’s own location on this side of the water and more specifically Wales. But then again I don’t know why I am getting so bogged down with labels, country music has its roots in the music of the largely European settlers of the Appalachians, making music in this vein is just a distant cousin, both familiar yet different.
Just Another Girl wanders between the music of the Old World and The New, sometimes conforming to Nashville expectations in the lilting cowboy balladry of the title track but as often as not mining a darker musical and lyrical theme in the reflective tones of All Over Now. Thankfully Jane manages to avoid the obvious clichés that often go hand in hand with folk and country and through sheer force of song writing, not to mention a compelling voice, weaves a path through much more interesting territory – a pathway that links Leonard Cohen to Kate Bush bisected by one that links The Indigo Girls to Gretchen Peters. In fact it is in Peters haunting textures and resonant beauty that many comparisons can be found, a similarly timeless sound that has abandoned the rules and traditions of the genre it is associated with in favour of just being great and slightly otherworldly music.
I can see Jane Allison following a similar path for it is amongst the more insular, less commercial sounds that the finest moments of the album are to be found and as an indication as to where her already varied musical career may be heading, I it is enough to have me watching her with great anticipation.