S. Victor Aaron's Top Albums for 2011, Part 1 of 4: Non-Jazz

The debut solo album by James Leg (The Black Diamond Heavies' John Wesley Meyers) smokes most of the competition; photo by Patrick Boissel

It’s mid December and you might still be wondering what the hell you’re going to get that special music lover someone for Christmas. Steering you toward the good records and away from the crummy ones is a service we at SER provide year round. But c’mon, says you, we cover hundreds of records a year, can you help a fella out and pick out a handful of them that are must-have? Sure can!

Starting today, I’ll list those 2011 releases I liked the most this year, and I’ll tell you why. There’s a few names in these lists everyone’s heard of, and perhaps a few not many people have. There’s no correlation between popularity and quality over here.

For this year’s “Best Of” lists, I’ve simplified things a bit. The old five parter becomes a four parter, as anything that’s not jazz is combined into a single list. The three jazz categories (fusion, modern and mainstream, and whack jazz) remain. The Song of the Year category is dispensed with, too. As before, there’s one album I’ll pick as the best in its category, followed by an unranked list of the other standout records that’s as short or long as I damned well feel like making it. Each of the four lists will come out over the course of this week, and every record listed has been covered on this site; just click on the album title to bring you back to the original review.

The Non-Jazz list spans everything from blues to funk to prog rock. The best of this batch doesn’t neatly fall into any category at all, and it’s a pick that surprised even me…


ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Florencia RuizLuz de la Noche

The best non-jazz record I’ve heard this year jumps out in its originality, modernity and daring. And yet, Luz de la Noche adheres to time honored values of great melodies and genuine passion.

Florencia Ruiz is not exactly a household name here in the Western world, but the decision of Adventure Music to pick up this Argentinian singer-songwriter’s latest record for American distribution brought her to my attention. Already known in Mexico, Japan, as well as her native Argentina, her stateside debut makes no concessions for the American market, not even in singing in her native tongue. And an undiluted Ruiz is just how to best appreciate her music full of subtlety, grace and drama.

Thanks to her imaginative producer Carlos Villavicencio, the motifs consist of irresistible collisions between South America, Old World and 21st century pop. It wouldn’t work without great songs, though, and Ruiz won’t confine her well-contemplated melodies to conventional structures if they limit the artistic impact.

Florencia Ruiz does takes chances on this record but never foolish ones. Eclectic as it draws from so many sources, Luz de la Noche presents Ruiz as the Björk of the Southern Hemisphere.


THE BEST OF THE REST:

Gregg AllmanLow Country Blues: This T-Bone Burnett joint is more than a nod to the country blues that heavily informed Allman’s own music; it’s tribute to the essence of Allman himself.

Drive-By TruckersGo-Go Boots: The DBTs show a more soulful side, inspired by the sweet sounds of Eddie Hinton and Muscle Shoals.

The BridgeNational Bohemian: Rock, folk, RnB, human beat-box; there isn’t anything the Bridge can’t do and do well.

miX&dorp (Various Artists)Blues + Beat: An unlikely but very successful reprocessing of the blues. Organica meets electronica at the middle of the Mississippi Delta.

James LegSolitary Pleasure: Part Tom Waits, part Leon Russell and part Lee Michaels, James Leg aka John Wesley Myers makes a record that’s gruff, rough and, yes, charming.

Neal MorseTestimony 2: If more Christians were testifyin’ with such rich, harmonious and well-performed music as the kind Neal Morse recorded here, there might be more Christians. Or at the least, more satisfied rock listeners.

Tab BenoitMedicine: Great songs, great production and great assists from Anders Osborne and Brady Blade makes Medicine even better than Benoit’s usual delectable Cajun blues fare.

Booker T. JonesThe Road From Memphis: Not the MG’s 2.0, but instead a convincing testament of how Jones’ groundbreaking Memphis sound is still relevant in today’s music.

Jimmie VaughanJimmie Vaughan Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites: Vaughan does more of the same kind of covers of obscure 50s and 60s blues sides that he did on last year’s record, but the allure hadn’t worn off yet because he does it so well.

Tedeschi Trucks BandRevelator: A full musical union of arguably the most musically talented husband and wife team in blues and roots music. Holy matrimony never sounded so heavenly.

The Original 7ven (aka The Time)Condensate: You can’t spell funk without “fun.” And you can’t spell “cool” without Morris Day running the spelling bee. Good party music like this never goes out of style.

The Black KeysEl Camino: A little more rugged than Brothers, but the Keys remain as soulfully persuasive as ever.

PART 2: FUSION JAZZ >>>

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron