This year, more than any in recent memory, I’ve noticed that there were a LOT of releases, many by artists that I love, that I just didn’t spend much time with. There was just way too much going on this year to pay enough attention to it all.
So, while I did hear a LOT of great music, I’m sure there are many worthy releases that I just didn’t get around to listening to nearly enough.
These are some of the great albums that I kept going back to this year. Of the albums that I did listen to, I’d call these my favourites.
In alphabetical order, because this is painful enough:
It turns out that this guy is from Winnipeg and has been making records and doing shows for a few years now, and I had no idea how great he was until recently. One of a few artists that I love that I was introduced to by my pal Connor at Dagwood Radio on UMFM. Amos is pretty hard to describe, just like most of the artists that I love. It’s clear that he’s listened to some classic country, some great rock ‘n’ roll, and some modern sounds. It’s also clear that he owns a genre blender, threw them all in, and turned it on high. I bought the new album and his previous two cassette releases the first chance I got. Now I just need to track him down and witness a live show.
An obvious choice for the Best of list because Del has been making consistently great records for over a decade. He writes incredibly detailed, beautiful songs that captivate the joys and struggles of real people and real life. He cuts right to the heart, telling it like it is, and making stories come alive. He’s also got a top-notch band and puts on top-notch shows. He’s also a hell of a decent human being who selflessly saved a life last summer but won’t tell you about it or take any credit. Now, if only he could get some of the credit that he’s due for his great music. We may have to start by fixing his website and getting this amazing album up on Bandcamp…
Like so many others, I cringe and brace myself whenever I hear someone described as “a country singer.” Real Country music has taken a beating for years by the big hat, bro country douchebag crowd. Sean Burns is the antidote and the opposite. Schooled on real country music, the way it was meant to be made, Sean came to his love of the good stuff honestly, taught by his father, a guy who gigged his way through small taverns, bars, and honky tonks alongside a list of great country music sinGers who for some reason never made it to household name status. This album is Sean’s love letter and historical monument to days gone by, as he says, “10 tracks of hardcore Honky-Tonk from the “lost” catalogues of local legends & regional stars of Canadian Country Music past.” He even recruited some of the hard-working, long-suffering, underappreciated musicians who lived and worked a scene that’s in danger of being forgotten, if not for this album and Sean’s amazing radio show (sadly, currently on hiatus), Boots & Saddle, and his podcast, The Northern Report. He’s preserving a Canadian music history that nobody else seems to even know about. If there were any justice in this world, those modern “country” singers would pay attention and learn something from this guy, and some Canadian funding body would be throwing grant money at him to keep these songs and stories alive.
Headed up by in-demand drummer Don Kerr, who can regularly be seen keeping the beat for big deal acts like Dan Mangan and Bahamas, and featuring some killer musicians, like renowned artist Kurt Swinghammer. Communism is pure positivity with a very danceable beat. Don says that the album is “Dedicated to you dancing with love in your heart,” and I dare you to keep still or feel any kind of negativity when this one is on. If you’re truly blessed, you might even get to see the incredible multi-media shows the band puts on when Don’s not on the road. Don is a beacon of positivity, healthy living, and love for one and all.
This guy is riding a string of strong albums that have deserved way more attention than they’ve received. He came to Winnipeg to record a really strong album with Scott Nolan a few years ago, then went to make this album with reclusive weirdo genius Jim White. I knew it was going to be amazing and challenging, and we got exactly what I expected, and more. Special guests, incredible songwriting, and magnificent, artistic musical accompaniment add up to a really powerful piece of art that’s bound to be somewhat outside of the realm of the masses. This is a magnificent work of art that more people need to hear.
This year seems to be the year of Boygenius as they appear on just about all of the big “Best of” lists. Every single one of the people who put that album on their list obviously missed out on this one, because it’s so much more interesting. Admittedly, it was way too easy to overlook this one, because there seems to be nowhere other than iTunes that you can buy it, there’s little to no social media presence, and Evangeline didn’t do very many shows since its release. What a shame! Once again recorded by and alongside Jim Bryson, the lyrics and sonic palette are vastly expanded from Evangeline’s impressive debut. This one is full of powerful, introspective, interesting songs that could be so inspiring to so many people if they could only be heard by the masses. This one flew critically under the radar. One can only hope that it’ll somehow find new ears in the future.
Terra Lightfoot, Healing Power (Sonic Unyon)
I’ve known and loved Terra for years. I’ve gone to see her play in 4 provinces and on 2 continents, so I’m a pretty easy mark for whatever she does. Even so, and without any history, this album would be right up my alley and one that I was bound to love. Over the past few albums, Terra has really impressed me with her strong songwriting, and the playing and melodies were always sharp. This time out, she’s upped the ear-worm memorable melody count and included just enough glossy pop production to ensure that these songs would be catchy and cool. Like me, she’s discovered a newfound loving relationship and joy in life, and the songs reflect her new, more joyful and optimistic outlook. And with an album this great, one of the best live shows in Canada, and a lot of exciting upcoming opportunities, why wouldn’t you be joyful and optimistic? I’m pretty sure I listened to this album more times than any other this year and it remains a consistent go-to.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jeffrey’s partner Anna Tivel for years, so when the two of them came to Winnipeg in 2023, it was her set that I was most excited for, but I have to admit that it was his set that most people were talking about afterward, and for good reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of his music for years too, but none of his albums really stuck with me the way that this one did this year. The writing is outstanding.
You really owe it to yourself to check out Anna Tivel while you’re at it: annativel.bandcamp.com
Dean Owens, Pictures (Songboy)
Dean Owens was a big hit at the 2022 Static Roots Festival, and the album he was promoting at the time, made with Calexico, was a favourite last year, so I never really expected him to come out with something that I like even more so soon. Although he’s from Scotland, he’s once again teamed up with American heavyweights, this time in Neilson Hubbard and Will Kimbrough (aka the Willie Nielson Band) and they’ve brought to life some of his catchiest, most amazing songs yet.
Benjamin Dakota Rogers, Paint Horse (Good People)
This guy has been around for years and has been on the radar for sure, but I am sad to say that I never really got around to paying much attention until this year, and what a revelation it was! He’s got one of those powerful voices that doesn’t really seem to fit the appearance, and with some great melodies and strong songs, you can’t help but take notice when you finally hear him. I’m really eager to see this guy when he comes to town in 2024 opening for Jeremie Albino!
Stephen Stanley Band, Before the Collapse of the Hive (Lightning Strikes)
A longtime friend and favourite of mine, Stephen finally hit his stride a few years ago after moving on from his role in The Lowest of the Low. His last album was a giant leap forward in terms of his songwriting and talented backing band, and this time he’s outdone even that high standard with a really powerful, compelling, well-crafted album.
Deer Tick, Emotional Contracts (ATO)
I was a huge Deer Tick fan years ago, but it’s been a long time since they made an album that really resonated with me. I admit that I didn’t expect to like this one so much or go back to it so many times. Surprisingly strong.
Ratboys, The Window (Topshelf)
Maybe my favourite Dagwood Radio discovery, I was hooked for life when Connor first played the sprawling jam, Black Earth, WI. I quickly discovered that this band has been around and has been pretty great for a while, but this is the album that really seems to be pushing them to wider recognition, and for good reason. Some seriously good stuff here, and as a bonus, probably the most gorgeous vinyl record I got all year, if not ever.
Vivat Virtute, Hold Music and June First
My favourite living songwriter has to be John K Samson Fellows, who has written some of the most vivid and powerful lines I’ve ever heard, first with The Weakerthans, then on his own. Lately, music has taken a bit of a back seat. He hasn’t released an album or done a show in years, but in 2023, along with his partner, Christine Fellows, he released some lovely instrumental music as Vivat Virtute, and stuck on two of the most powerful songs of the year. If you’re writing songs this incredible, the quantity doesn’t really matter.
New Discoveries: Beth//James, Ratboys, The Nude Party
Favourite radio shows:
Dagwood Radio, Wednesdays, 6-8 pm on UMFM: umfm.com/programming/shows/dagwood-radio
Like the sandwich, Dagwood Radio presents a whole bunch of flavours put together in one glorious, delicious, mess. Lately, I discover more of my new favourites from this show than any other source.
The Twang Trust, Wednesdays, 6-8 pm on CKUW: twangtrust.ca
Longstanding major influence on this show and many others I’m sure. Ol’ Pal Stu plays Roots, Country, and Big Dumb Rock ‘n’ Roll, as well as a bizarre amount of sad girl pop. Whatever. Always an education.
Cretin Radio, Fridays, 9-11 am on UMFM: umfm.com/programming/shows/cretin-radio
You’re not going to get any smarter listening to Cretin Rob play dirty, sweaty punk, metal, and garage rock, but you’re going to feel great and have a few laughs.
Dirty Windshields Radio Hour with Leeroy Stagger: ckua.com/programs/dirty-windshields-radio-hour
You never really know what you’re going to get on Leeroy’s show, but you know you’re going to love it. New music, old classics, interviews, and ruminations on what it’s like to live a life in music.
Northern Wish Radio with Stephen Stanley: muskokaradio.com/show/northernwishwithstephenstanley
Besides being one of my favourite musicians, Stephen Stanley hosts a hell of a great radio show. I don’t get to catch it nearly often enough, but I sure enjoy it whenever I do.
Podcasts I adore:
The Blindboy Podcast: play.acast.com/s/blindboy
One of the most brilliant pieces of art, delivered weekly. I think Blindboy is an absolute genius, and he never fails to make me laugh out loud. Sometimes it’s a thoughtful interview, sometimes he discusses art, he has brilliant and meaningful mental health episodes, and then there are the meticulously researched “Hot Take” episodes. This one’s definitely not for the easily offended (a strong language warning applies) but if you can put aside your own fears and limitations, I guarantee you’ll learn something, you’ll be moved, and you’ll laugh a lot.
Pod of Thunder: podofthunderpodcast.wordpress.com
They are the Recognized Symbol of Excellence in Rock ‘n’ Roll Podcasting for good reason. Andy, Nick, and the Gunslinger Chris L analyze a song a week in a hilarious, yet intelligent fashion. This is another can’t-miss, weekly ritual for me. Always a good time.
The Northern Report: podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/thenorthernreportpodcast
When he’s not busy on the sideways and upright bass with Corb Lund or fronting Lost Country, Sean Burns is digging through country music history and presenting the stories of musicians and music that runs the risk of being lost forever. He’s a thoughtful, intelligent interviewer, and has fascinating guests.
That’s How I Remember It: pod.link/CraigFinnPod
I’m a little obsessed with The Hold Steady these days, and especially lead singer Craig Finn. He’s definitely an intelligent, interesting guy, and on his new podcast, he presents some fascinating discussions with really interesting and intelligent guests.
The Other 22 Hours: theother22hours.com/episodes
The bio kind of says it best, “Singer-songwriter Michaela Anne & producer Aaron Shafer-Haiss host conversations with different Grammy winning, Platninum-selling, and long-haul career artists each week about the tools and routines they’ve found most helpful in maintaining their creativity, inspiration, and sanity while navigating a career around their art.” I’ve heard some really interesting and enlightening conversations on this show.