1. Hands down, no holds barred, uncontested number one album of the year (and perhaps the decade?) is Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More. British accents + meaty, mind-wrinkling lyrics + actual theology + BANJOS. I do not know of a more perfect combination, unless someone somehow devised a way to include strips of brown sugar coated bacon in an album download.
2. Joy Kills Sorrow played at Bristol Rhythm and Roots in September, and when Emily and I stumbled into their low-key but completely packed performance, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Darkness Sure Becomes This City has quickly become my go-to album, though - in the morning before I'm quite awake and at night when sipping a glass of wine and listening to this song seem to be just about the only thing left to do in the world:
3. We nearly lost Don during a dead cell phone + crushing Ravinia crowd fiasco and it took us an eternity to drive back to Elgin that night, but seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela was - I dare say - worth it. (Don't worry, Donadle, I wouldn't say that if we'd actually lost you.) There's no way to explain how that woman plays the guitar except to tell you that soon after the concert I attended, she was forced to go on medical leave because of the fairly severe injuries her playing inflicted upon her wrist. Aside from that, the first chords of Hanuman make my hips start shaking as if somewhere deep down inside my timid little white girl soul there lived the tiniest shred of rhythm and dancer's grace:
4. Josh Ritter has a long-standing space in my heart and musical catalogue, and his latest is more of the same: quality lyrics and tunes that pop up in the midst of my mind's wandering about vastly unrelated things. Plus, he's just an interesting guy, and talks about feeding the monster of the muse by consuming everything: ", Steve Martin, nachos, Myrna Loy, the game of Life, Dire Straits, jungle gyms, whatever the monster wants." So Runs the World Away has several tracks that I learned to love, but on first listen my favorite was this one, and I can't shake its hold:
5. I'm pretty lucky to have a bunch of friends who insist on introducing beauty into my life, and Beth is one of the best at it. She told me to listen to the Civil Wars several times, but I'd mistakenly ignored her pleas until one night I was driving across town to hear Elizabeth Strout read at Hollins. (Elizabeth Strout, by the by, is one of my favorite authors and was another little piece of beauty that I stumbled into by way of Beth's suggestion. I'm still a bit floored that she was right here reading: not 10 miles away from my house and not 10 feet away from ME. It was lovely. More later.) I pulled into the parking lot a bit early, turned off the engine, and was just a tad bewitched by this song, which I had to identify with my phone before realizing I should have already known it:
Also topping the lists but not rating video embeds are: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, The National's High Violet, Cadillac Sky's live performance, Red Molly's sob-inducing harmonies, Mutual Kumquat's persistently cheery songs about fruits and vegetables, and Horse Feathers' calm, consistent familiarity.