QUIET LONER “SECRET RULER OF THE WORLD” (Circus 65)
It’s no real surprise to us that Manchester based singer-songwriter Matt Hill’s first foray into full length album material had been building for so long that it was always bound to be special when it finally arrived. We’ve not had an album that’s been ordered so much as a result of a track initially appearing on our very first
“Friends Of” compilation - and it’s well deserved. Hill’s sound and lyrical twists encompass everyone from Farrar to Costello to Morrissey - it’s country music with a dark,foreboding, self reflective, sardonic heart but with glimmers of optimistic passion that makes it real enough to feel laden with integrity, albeit with a luminosity that endures repeated listens. We caught up with Matt briefly and he told us: “Thanks to everyone who voted and to everyone involved with the website. Americana UK has consistently supported smaller independent labels and musicians like myself, and it makes such a difference to get that support. It's not always easy being British and being associated with a genre that is naturally dominated by North American acts, but Americana UK has always supported UK bands. This is also two years running that Circus65 has nabbed this award so I'd also like to say thanks from Mick Spencer at the label.” If you haven’t heard it yet, and a lot of people still haven’t, it’s evidence if you need it that the UK americana scene at the moment does indeed secretly rule the world.
2. Wilco “A Ghost is Born” (Nonesuch) Our staff top album of 2004 was just pipped to the post by Quiet Loner, but proves that despite having moved considerably far away from their country rock sound from almost a decade ago, Tweedy can still write songs, epic or otherwise, which might be experimental but they’re still never dull.
3. Richmond Fontaine “Post to Wire” (El Cortez) Some people still don’t get what’s so special about Richmond Fontaine, but having already released several highly acclaimed albums on their own label, “Post to Wire” was their biggest success in the UK to date, filled with pedal steel, country blues and a wary optimism.
4. American Music Club “Love Songs for Patriots” (Cooking Vinyl) Mark Eitzel manages to draw the kind of musical loyalty whatever he does that only the likes of Tony Benn or Mandela might in different circles - the first AMC album in a decade was everything fans of the man and the band itself hoped it would be - intelligent avant garde country with an alternative edge.
5. Steve Earle “The Revolution Starts Now” (Artemis) The man who gives alternative country its left wing voice speaks for the genre and more than one generation in this angry but highly climactic and catchy tirade against Bush and his henchmen of destruction - the juxtaposition of the message and the drawl still brings the threads together seamlessly.
6. Justin Rutlegde “No Never Alone” (Shady Lane) As one review put it, “No Never Alone” strikes a chord the moment it hits your CD player, and though sometimes painfully poignant to listen to, Canada’s Rutledge uses lapsteel, keyboards and a slight range of instrumentation to build songs which need no backing and stand up on their own two feet themselves.
7. Jim White “Drill A Hole In That Substrate and Tell Me What You See” (V2) The first album you chose which didn’t make our writers’ top fifty of the year, Jim White’s pictures of rural America and its quirks is mirrored by his choice of instrumentation ranging from banjo to horns to walls of electronica. The eclectic edge of americana.
8. Drive By Truckers “The Dirty South” (New West) Obviously not put off from the traumatic experience of our first one star review back in 2002 for its predecessor, “The Dirty South” takes another look at the American South, putting meat on the bones of what some now call “Jesusland” after November’s debacle, through intelligently played full on country rock.
9. Nels Andrews “Sunday Shoes” (Little Kiss) Albuquerque based singer-songwriter Nels Andrews is one of the suprise finds from 2004, gaining credence and popularity right the way through the European americana community, and “Sunday Shoes” with its dustbowl gently plucked songs filled with stories and feelings is a fine example of his talents.
10. Tom Waits “Real Gone” (Epitaph) Waits turns his archetypal American sound to country-blues and presents a bold vision of life and his country - with gospel choirs contrasting with his own familiar deep, gravely voice, Waits tackles his subject matter with an enviable versatility, adding his voice too to the growing number of anti-war musicians in the americana community.
11. Sufjan Stevens “Seven Swans” (Rough Trade) One of two albums released by Stevens this year and some say the best he’s ever made - simply crafted and beautifully conveyed, Stevens manages to be prolific without losing his touch.
12. Will Johnson “Vultures Await” (Munich) Centro-matic’s main man beats anything he’s done with his already acclaimed band by mixing bar-room ballads with Uncle Tupelo-esque sonic musings, and without any loss of quality.
13. Hem “Eveningland” (Rounder) Not yet released in the UK, Sally Ellyson’s voice is as confident and beautiful as ever with timeless songs that sounds as good live as in the studio - look forward to a big European push in 2005.
14. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy “Sings Greates Palace Music” (Domino) Will Oldham’s finest collection to date, chosen by fans and recorded with Nashville’s best. Often bringing a lump to the throat, it’s how the songs should always have sounded.
15. Laura Veirs “Carbon Glacier” (Bella Union) A winter album in the true sense of the word, backed by subtle instrumentation and cool imagery, Veirs’ sound finally comes together after the hopeful but disconnected former attempt.
16. Joanna Newsom “The Milk Eyed Mender” (Drag City) With elements of folk, jazz and indie strewn throughout, her voice is an acquired taste, indeed some would rather have teeth pulled, but her distinctive harp sells the album by itself.
17. Nick Cave “Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus” (Mute) Cave’s thirteenth studio album arrived as a distinctively packaged double, and creates the melancholy and brooding atmosphere he’s famed for as evocatively as ever.
18. Old Crow Medicine Show “O.C.M.S.” (EMI) Without an electric guitar in sight, OCMS takes you back to a time where “Oh Brother “ was daily life and with as much authenticity as you could hope to muster.
19. Camper Van Beethoven “New Roman Times” (Cooking Vinyl) Cracker’s alter-ego returns with an album which hits all the bases with finesse and still uniquely defines ska-folk for those who can’t quite manage No Doubt yet...
20. Ray Lamontagne “Trouble” (Echo) With a voice that carries the songs in its own right, Lamontagne reached a new audience in the UK thanks to a Jools Holland appearance that still stands out as a career highlight to match this record.
Finally, congratulations to Adam Matthews in Kinver in the West Midlands, who wins a set of a dozen top americana albums from the past year, and to everyone who took part in this year’s poll. Thanks very much for voting.