When I first heard Stephen Kellogg’s masterful Blunderstone Rookery in 2013, I quickly realized he was an artist I needed to see in concert. I was new to the music of Kellogg , but immediately impressed by his distinctive music and purposeful lyrics. Unfortunaately, the stars never aligned and he lingered near the top of my must-see list for a few years. Earlier this week, at the cozy Social in Orlando, I finally had the chance to catch him live, and it was well worth the wait.
Thanksgiving Songs – Songs about “Thanks”
In honor of Thanksgiving, I started a list of great Thanksgiving songs. I got to my top three and the creative juices stopped; Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” Poi Dog Pondering’s “Thanksgiving” and Stephen Kellogg’s anthemic “Thanksgiving” offering are all strong Thanksgiving songs, but other than those three, only Adam Sandler’s horrible “Thanksgiving” came to mind. So, I shifted my focus to the Best Songs with “Thank” in the title, and one of the aforementioned makes the list. They’re not all beautiful, and often have nothing to do with gratitude, in fact most of them are more on the bitter side…
The Best Rock Albums of 2013
(Also, make sure you check out our Best Rock Songs of 2013)
Lots of strong music again this year across the rock music landscape, but truthfully, there were only a handful of superb albums from start to finish. I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing, as in today’s digital download world, an album is less important as the delivery mechanism for excellent music.
My list is a lot different than all of those at the big time websites. That’s because they’re smarter, and I have better taste in music. Check out the list and let us know what we missed; and if you’re new to RARA’s Farm, we are Rock And Roll Animals, and this is where we hang out, and we’d love to have you join us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or right here in the Comments section.
Just like our list of the Best Songs of 2013, each album is linked to iTunes if you want to check it out or purchase it.
Here’s our Top two dozen:
Bonus Selection: Where the Kids Are – EP – Blondfire – Not technically an album, but every one of these four songs is superb. Hopefully we’ll see a full-length soon from this dynamic brother-sister combo who mix good old American rock with Brazilian influences. Best tracks: Waves, Where The Kids Are, Hide And Seek. (Read the RARA’s review here)
24. Damage – Jimmy Eat World – There’s something to be said for consistency. These four Arizona lads have been together for eight albums and twenty years. Their sound has softened and sweetened a bit, but it’s still good stuff. Best tracks: Lean, Book Of Love, I Will Steal You Back.
23. The 1975 – The 1975 – It’s not perfect, in fact, I feel the music is a little slicker and less raw than I’d prefer from these lads from Manchester, but there’s some creative artistry for sure from Matthew Healy and the band. Best Tracks: Chocolate, Sex, Girls.
22. Paramore – Paramore – The band’s first Farro-free effort, as brothers Zac and Josh left the band after their third album. The music revolves around Hayley Williams’ vocals, but it also offers a refreshingly rougher sound at times (as well as some fluffy stuff I typically skip over). Best tracks: Fast In My Car, Now, Anklebiters.
21. The Next Day – David Bowie – Bowie is back with his 24th studio album. It’s a nice offering, hearkening back to some of his earlier sounds. Pop rock songs, with meaningful lyrics about our world today. Best tracks: Day, You Will Set The World On Fire, The Next Day.
20. By the Lamplight – Larry and His Flask – Hillbilly, Cajun punk at its finest. These guys have a unique raucous sound and are an absolute blast, a different kind of blast for sure, but that’s what we love about rock ‘n roll. Best tracks: Pandemonium, Home of The Slave, Out Of Print. (Read the RARA’s review here)
19. The Bones of What You Believe – CHVRCHES – Just love Lauren Mayberry’s vulnerable vocals, but there’s a lot more to this trio from Scotland. One of the best new Alt-Rocks on the scene this year. Best tracks: The Mother We Share, Lies, Under The Tide.
18. Revolution – Jupiter Falls – The album highlights the band’s diversity; at times they sound like 70′s or 80′s classic rock, current era Alt-hardcore, or turn of the century metal. Fantastic guitar work, memorable licks and powerful vocals throughout. Best tracks: Forgiven, To The Point, Story Of A Liar. (Read the RARA’s review here)
17. AM – Arctic Monkeys – This, their fifth album is a showcase for guitarist Jamie Cook and continues to show their evolution as a band. Not their best effort ever, but still excellent Alr-rock with a snarl. Best tracks: Do I Wanna Know? R U Mine? Mad Sounds.
16. Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies – Volbeat – Heavy metal with a rockability twist from these Danish rockers. Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano makes a great first impression for this band that is rocketing up the heavy metal scene. Best tracks: My Body (Young The Giant cover), Lola Montez, Pearl Heart
15. Reflektor – Arcade Fire – Without a doubt, my most anticipated release of the year. It’s a bit pretentios, and not as good as their previous offerings, but there’s plenty to like on this one as the Montreal rockers continue to push their limits. Best tracks: Normal Person, Flashbulb Eyes, Afterlife.
14. Hail to the King – Avenged Sevenfold – One of America’s best metal bands continues to evolve. A bit more commercial than their earlier stuff, but they don’t sacrifice any of their core values. Best tracks: Acid Rain, Hail To The King, This Means War.
13. Night Visions – Imagine Dragons – This is actually a late 2012 release, but we didn’t listen until this year when it became the most successful new Alt-rock offering in years. Best tracks: Hear Me, It’s Time, Demons.
And, our Top Dozen:
12. Signed and Sealed in Blood – Dropkick Murphys – These blue collar Irish punk rockers continue to defy expectations. In this, their seventeenth year, they release their most main stream offering. A few big hits on a very deep album. Best tracks: : The Boys Are Back, Rose Tattoo, Burn.
11. The Sticks – Mother Mother – From the stark opening notes of the ethereal “The Omen,” this album grabs your attention and locks you in for a forty-eight minute journey through genre-defining rock ‘n roll. Best tracks: Bit By Bit, Let’s Fall In Love, Dread In My Heart. (Read the RARA’s review here)
10. Shangri La – Jake Bugg – Bugg’s distinctive voice is not for everyone, but I love it, and the way the 19 year-old churns out poppy punk-infused ditties. Best tracks: Slumville Sunrise, What Doesn’t Kill You, Me An d You.
9. Bigfoot – Cayucas – The album, the brainchild of singer Zach Yudin, has an absolutely distinctive Alt-Rock sound highlighted by a cool sixties surf vibe that dominates their intriguing ethereal debut. Best tracks: Cayucos, High School Lover, Will The Thrill. (Read the RARA’s review here)
8. Vessel – twenty one pilots – This duo has a sound all to themselves. A little ukulele, killer drums, sweet keyboards and Tyler Joseph’s infectiously unique vocals power the band’s first major label release. Best tracks: Migraine, House of Gold, Holding On To You.
7. Twistification – The Last Royals – It’s an absolute blast to listen to as this duo just churns out fun, catchy rock tunes. Still cannot fathom why this one did not explode on the music scene, with a half-dozen potential hits on the album. Best tracks: Friday Night, All Over Again, I Hate California. (Read the RARA’s review here)
6. I Love You. – The Neighbourhood – No album this year starts off as strongly as this one. The first three songs are all stellar tracks. The rest of the album is pretty damn good. A slinky dirty and absolutely addictive debut. Best tracks: Sweater Weather, Female Robbery, Afraid.
5. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend – In general, it’s a bit more stripped down than their excellent first two albums, but there are exceptions, like the rollicking Diane Young that make every song a sonic surprise. Best tracks: Diane Young, Unbelievers, Everlasting Arms.
4. Waiting For the Dawn – The Mowgli’s – This album is a masterpiece. It’s a cool summer groove just overflowing with sweet rock ‘n roll gems and in a refreshing change from much of the music dominating today’s airwaves, The Mowgli’s offer up a host of tracks about love, hope and unity. Best tracks: San Francisco, Time, Emily. (Read the RARA’s review here)
3. Melophobia – Cage the Elephant – The term melophobia means fear of music, but there’s nothing to fear on this release. On this, their third album, Cage The Elephant continues to evolve as one of this country’s premier rock bands. Their 2011 release, Thank You, Happy Birthday was our album of the year, this one was close… Best tracks: Spiderhead, Telescope, It’s Just Forever. (Read the RARA’s review here)
2. Blunderstone Rookery – Stephen Kellogg – I used to be annoyed reading through these lists and finding an author who spotlighted a little known artist near the top of their list. Now, I’ve done it myself, but this album from an uber-talented singer-songwriter is absolutely deserving of its lofty ranking. The collection of songs is as creative as it is supremely enjoyable. It’s a rambling tour through Kellogg’s memories and a great listen. Best tracks: Thanksgiving, Good Ol’ Days, Forgive You Forgive Me. (Read the RARA’s review here)
1. Tape Deck Heart – Frank Turner – This was almost pre-ordained. Turner is a former punk front man turned rock ‘n roll troubadour. He’s a talented vocalist, guitar player and maybe the best lyricist in the business. Tape Deck Heart is a rare marriage of stirring song-writing and creative passionate music. Turner is a talented poet, sincere story-teller and tremendous musician and this album is the first time he’s put it all together. Fabulously diverse stuff that demands attention. Best tracks: Four Simple Words, Recovery, Good & Gone, Oh Brother, and many more… (Read the RARA’s review here)
So, there you have it, the best rock albums of 2013. Let us know what you think. What did we nail? Where did we fail? And, make sure you check out our Best Songs of 2013, too.
The Best Thanksgiving Songs
In honor of this year’s Thanksgiving, I started a list of great Thanksgiving songs. I got to my top three and the creative juices stopped; Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” Poi Dog Pondering’s “Thanksgiving” and Stephen Kellogg’s new “Thanksgiving” offering are all decent, but other than those three, only Adam Sandler’s horrible “Thanksgiving” came to mind. So, I shifted my focus to the Best Songs with “Thank” in the title, and one of the aforementioned makes the list. They’re not all beautiful, and typically have nothing to do with gratitude, in fact most of them are more on the bitter side…
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So, before the tryptophan kicks in, here’s our cornucopia: the RARA’s Farm Farmer’s Dozen:
Bonus Track – “Thank You For The Music,” ABBA – I know, this is not Rock and Roll, but I have a soft spot for this one. It was released by the Swedish pop icons in 1977, and ultimately released as a single in 1983. To many, it is viewed as their swan song. It’s a fun and addictive singalong.
12. “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel,” Talking Heads – This tune kicks off the band’s second album, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food. This short ditty highlights Chris Frantz’s fine drumming.
11. “Thanks A Lot,” Third Eye Blind” – This song was kind of lost in the shuffle on Third Eye Blind’s hugely successful 1997 debut release, but it is another of the many solid tunes on the album.
10. “Thank You,” The Redwalls – This little known indie outfit from outside Chicago has a great sound. This song is Beatlesesque and deserved more notoriety. If you’ve never heard them before, make sure you check this one out.
9. “Thank You Girl,” The Beatles – This tune is almost fifty years old already! It was initially released as the B-side to “From Me To You” as a personal message to their female followers. It’s a nice tribute to their fans.
8. “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs,” Fall Out Boy – The record company wanted shorter song titles from the band, and this was their response. “Thanks For the Memories” was a Top 10 hit in 2007 and is a fun tune about an old relationship with benefits from these Illinois rockers.
7. “Thanks A Lot,” Johnny Cash – This one from 1959 is a bitter tribute to a relationship gone bad. Not one of is hits, but it features his powerful deep distinctive voice.
6. “The Thanks I Get,” Coconut Records – Coconut Records, is the hip brainchild of multi-talented Jason Schwartzman who basically sings, writes and plays all the instruments. “The Thanks I Get” is off of the 2007 debut effort, Nighttiming. It’s a fun pop tune about yet another relationship gone bad.
5. “Thank You For Being A Friend,” Andrew Gold – OK, I’ll admit, I succumbed to a a bit of peer pressure on this one. To me, the song is okay, but nothing special, but all of the relatives liked it, and sadly,he recently passed away, so I gave it a special holiday bump in the ratings. The song was one of the bigger hits on this list, reaching #25 in 1978.
4. “Thank You,” Sly and the Family Stone – This funk tune was reprotedly recorded during some of Sly Stone’s deepest periods of drug use. It’s got a great funky beat, powered by the fantastic bass of Larry Graham. It’s a timeless masterpiece from the early 70’s. I love the official title “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”
3. “I Thank You,” Sam And Dave (also covered wonderfully by ZZTop) – The Sam and Dave version was a gospel influenced song written by Isaac Hayes that peaked in the Top Ten in 1968. Ten Years later, ZZ Top released it on their 1979 album Deguello. For both artists, it became their second Top 40 hit.
2. “Thank You,” Led Zeppelin – This 1969 Plant/Page classic was actually the first song where the lyrics were penned by Robert Plant. The lyrics were a tribute to Plant’s relationship with his wife, Maureen. It wraps up the fantastic first side of Led Zeppelin II, and features beautiful keyboards from John Paul Jones. To secure it’s spot atop our list, it is truly a song about Thanks.
1. “Thanksgiving,” Stephen Kellogg – This is a masterpiece. It’s ten minutes that flies by; an epic ode to nostalgia; a musical journey that offers deep personal reflections, observations and desires. It ebbs and flows through sadness, bitterness and hope. Perhaps, something to finally supplant Alice’s Restaurant” as a Thanksgiving radio staple. It’s a fantastic track from a wonderful album (Read our review: Blunderstone Rookery) that will appeal to any music fan.
Can you think of any, I missed?
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Stephen Kellogg – Blunderstone Rookery Album Review
Similar to the Dickens’ character who Blunderstone Rookery was named in honor of, we experience the album as poignant autobiographical vignettes of Kellogg’s life. The collection of songs is as creative as it is supremely enjoyable. It’s a rambling tour through Kellogg’s memories and a great listen.
He’s spent most of the past decade fronting the critically acclaimed Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers. When the band announced they’d be taking a hiatus in late 2012, Kellogg was provided the opportunity to once again create something all his own. The result is a fantastically diverse album that is destined for year-end “Best Of” lists.
Blunderstone Rookery is the boyhood home of Kellogg’s favorite Charles Dickens character, David Copperfield, and appears to be a metaphor for the shaky foundation he has recently experienced in his life with the loss of his grandmother and mother-in-law, as well as the aforementioned break from his longtime band. It’s a great backdrop for songwriting, and Kellogg capitalizes, without portraying his protagonist as too desperate or depressed, but rather hopeful and positive.
The breadth of the album is nicely spotlighted in the differences of the first three tracks, all quite different, yet quite strong in their own right. The introspective “Lost and Found” is a comfortable acoustic track, backed up by the bluesy romp “The Brain Is A Beautiful Thing,” which is one of many tracks with deep contemplative lyrics. The third track is “Forgive You, Forgive Me,” a bouncy country-rock groove reminiscent of the Traveling Wilburys. Kellogg’s vocals are excellent throughout, whether the song is a powerful rocker or tender ballad.
The remainder of the album follows the same recipe; yup, the one where Grandma just grabbed a handful of this and a little bit of that, casually threw it together and delivered a fantastic memorable meal.
Other highlights include the touching ballad about a rocker’s life on the road “I Don’t Want to Die On the Road,” a song just as poignant as Jackson Browne’s “Load Out” – the stuff that is destined to stand the test of time. “Good Ol’ Days” is probably the most hit worthy song of the bunch and is 4:02 of good ol’ honky tonk rock, nicely accented with sax and impeccably mixed. It’s just one of many examples of the superb album production of Kellogg and and his longtime collaborator Kit Karlson (of the Sixers). The effort is exceptional with various instruments purposefully meandering in and out of the tunes at the precisely perfect time.
The penultimate track, “Thanksgiving,” is a masterpiece. It’s ten minutes that flies by; an epic ode to nostalgia; a musical journey that offers deep personal reflections, observations and desires. It ebbs and flows through sadness, bitterness and hope. Perhaps, something to finally supplant Alice’s Restaurant” as a Thanksgiving radio staple. It’s a fantastic track (that should have closed the album) that will appeal to any music fan.
“Blunderstone Rookery” is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. Make sure you pick it up June 18th.
RARA’s Ranking: 9 out of 10