Each year produces another crop of musical releases — we hesitate to call them albums in this digital download-happy era — that raise the bar on excellence and 2013 was no exception.
Here’s a rundown of best-ofs from Blade reviewers Rod Lockwood and Tom Henry, along with selections pulled from wire services.
“Southeastern,” Jason Isbell
Isbell kicked booze, found love, and produced a remarkable album filled with stark ruminations, memorable melodies, and more than a few emotional gut-punches, most notably on the stark “Elephant.” — ROD LOCKWOOD
“Saint Ain’t,” Rob Fetters
Fetters, a Sylvania native who now lives in Cincinnati, is criminally under-recognized, but greatly appreciated by his fans. His third solo album is an eminently interesting slice of quirky pop, gonzo guitar, and high IQ lyrical subject matter that delivers its dark perspective with humor and empathy. — R.L.
“Our Room,” Blue Tofu
Maumee avant garde composer Tim Story and Sandusky-area vocalist Andrea Mathews paired up for their second release in 12 years, delivering a sultry, intriguing work. Story’s soundscape creates a separate universe for the listener to get lost in and Mathews fills it with vivid imagery and smoky soul. — R.L.
“Post-scarcity,” Andrew Ellis and Lucky Lemont
Andrew Ellis and Lucky Lemont plug away in Toledo bars night after night, which has honed their chops to a fine degree. Their brand of Americana on this set of Ellis songs is rough and tender, smart and streetwise, and IS a testament to Toledo’s fertile music scene. — R.L.
“Jericho Road,” Eric Bibb
This is nothing short of a career-defining achievement for singer-songwriter Eric Bibb, 62, the godson of activist-actor Paul Robeson. Musically, it’s a hybrid of blues, folk, gospel, soul, and world beat. Lyrically, it’s a message of hope and resilience. — TOM HENRY
“Just For Today,” Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters
If there was an award for Best Blues Guitarist Your Friends Have Never Heard, Boston-based Ronnie Earl, 60, would be a hot contender. On this 13-track disc, Earl weaves a great mix of blues, gospel, and soul into a heartwarming, gut-wrenching set that’s all instrumental save for a rendition of the blues classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” featuring vocalist Diane Blue. — T.H.
“spirityouall,” Bobby McFerrin
On “spirityouall,” McFerrin plays gospel, but he’s also a whole lot more — Americana, blues, spiritual, and both contemplative and inspirational. It’s a gorgeous disc that includes some lively improv, an awesome cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and moving renditions of classics. — .H.
“We Partyin’ Traditional Style!,” Kermit Ruffins
Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins embodies the role of traditional New Orleans trumpeter with as much verve and street-level style as anyone, especially in this post-Katrina era. “We Partyin’ Traditional Style!” is just that: a veritable, rollickin’ house party of early 20th century traditional and New Orleans jazz classics, some reinvented and all dripping with authenticity. — T.H.
“After Blue,” Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton shows again why she’s in a class of her own. The five-time Grammy nominee has a gorgeous voice, but also understands jazz and all of its nuances, from effective pauses to syncopation. On this disc, she tackles the music of pop icon Joni Mitchell, which Sutton makes a much smoother fit than Mitchell fans might think possible. — T.H.
“The Blessed Unrest,” Sara Bareilles
The Grammys got it right — Sara Bareilles’ third release, “The Blessed Unrest,” is one of the year’s best, thanks to its mix of upbeat and classic-sounding piano tunes, all anchored by the performer’s sweet and powerful tone. MESFIN FEDAKU, Associated Press
Yes, Beyonce’s new album was just released this month, but it’s still one of the best offerings this year. The R&B queen gets major props for literally slapping the world in the face with an album full of progressive R&B tunes that feel fresh and appealing. — M.F.
“The 20/20 Experience — 1 of 2,” Justin Timberlake
Mr. SexyBack is also Mr. ComeBack. Justin Timberlake returned to music after seven years with a 10-track album that didn’t follow trends in pop, but still became 2013’s most successful album. Along with Timbaland, the prince of pop has mastered the falsetto and maintains a smooth, mid-tempo sound throughout the 70-minute adventure. — M.F.
“... Like Clockwork,” Queens of the Stone Age
Josh Homme is a sensitive dude. I did not expect this. Homme turned in one of his most nuanced, thoughtful and emotionally powerful albums with this melancholy examination of mortality in what was otherwise a tepid year for rock and roll. The music was difficult both thematically — it was written after Homme nearly died during surgery — and technically with upheaval within the band lengthening the recording process. — CHRIS TALBOTT, Associated Press.
“Yeezus,” Kanye West
Abrasive, angry, sometimes absurd, but endlessly fascinating, “Yeezus” is a punch in the face to the status quo. Grouse all you want about West’s lyrical content, ridiculous statements and outsized ego, the man’s production work is so far in the future you might as well call it science fiction. — C.T.
“Nothing Was the Same,” Drake
This was my most anticipated album of the year, and while it didn’t satisfy like “Take Care,” Noah “40” Shebib’s production is stunning and I learned more about Drake than I ever expected to. Ignore all the swaggin’ and braggin’. — C.T.