Jonathan Wilson Tops 2023 Year-End List

Here we are, at the end of another year. Critics and bloggers internet-wide including yours truly struggle to put together Top 10 lists of best albums.

 

Favourite Albums of 2023

Here are my favourite 10 albums of 2023. What were some of your top albums of this past year?

10. Paul J. Bolger – Beware Of Trains

The Train Crew:

PJB – Vocals/Acoustic Guitar
Steve Dawson – Guitars / Pedal Steel
Dave Jacques – Bass
Jamie Dick – Drums / Percussion
Siobhan Maher Kennedy – Vocals
Hugh Christopher Brown – Keyboards/Organ
Alex Soikans – Lead guitar on “Breathless”
Colin Shanahan – Lead guitar on “Heather Road”
Sarah McDermott – Backing Vocals on “Dance To Where you Stand”

 

 

For his third solo album, Paul Bolger enlisted renowned Canadian Producer/Guitarist Steve Dawson to co-produce ‘Beware of Trains’. So much of the recording of the album was done by Steve at The Henhouse Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Additional recording was done at Orchard Studio in Enniscorthy, Ireland or recorded remotely in Waterford, Ireland and on Wolfe Island, Ontario in Canada.

Siobhán Maher-Kennedy and Paul’s voices on “Breathless” really compliment each other.

Colin Shanahan plays lead guitar on the exceptional “Heather Road” where Paul Bolger sings “Recollection takes me back / To where I come from”. The road is nowhere near Dublin’s busy and recognizable O’Connell Street and its surroundings, like Henry Street or Parnell Street, but it’s a road that Paul walked a lot when he was a young man. Today you will find PJB walking the streets of the historical city of Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland. This track opens with a 38-second live recording of the song before it starts skipping and you hear “let’s do it for real.” Paul was in the Third Man Records store in Nashville where they have the old recording booth from the 1940s that Neil Young and others have recorded in. It is there for the public to use. You pay $20 and go in and you have 2 minutes to sing, speak or whatever into a little microphone in the booth and then when finished it presses a 6 inch 33 & 1/3 rpm record before your eyes. Paul did a version of “Heather Road” and this is what the listener first hears. When Paul took it home and played it, it made him laugh. He then sent it to Steve where the co-producer had Paul add that silly “let’s do it for real.” It really worked as an intro for the song.

Hugh Christopher Brown who produced and played on Bolger’s 2020 release ‘PJB’ brings his magic to the few songs he plays on this album as does Sarah McDermott of Wolfe Island with her added touch to “Dance To Where You Stand”. The reason for the spoken word delivery for this song is because Paul had a cold the day they had planned to record the vocals in Ireland so he couldn’t really sing it so he spoke it. This is an old song written with an old friend of Paul. The original version was recorded in 1995 and featured harmonica instead of pedal steel. Steve Dawson brings a cinematic feel to the new version of the song. The original version is on Bolger’s 1995 ‘Moss House’ album (along with the original version of “Swim” from the ‘PJB’ album he did with Chris Brown in Ontario).

 

 

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9. Graham Parker & The Goldtops – Last Chance To Lear The Twist

British New Wave legend Graham Parker’s ‘Last Chance to Learn the Twist’ marks his first work with a killer new band, The Goldtops: Simon Edwards (bass), Jim Russell (drums), Martin Belmont (guitar) and Geraint Watkins (keyboards). There’s contributions from the Easy Access Orchestra: James Morton (Tenor sax), Andrew Ross (Baritone sax), Ralph Lamb (Trumpet, trumpet cornet) and backing vocal duo The Lady Bugs: Marietta Smith and Paige Stubley.

The album is framed by Parker’s love for classic soul and earthy roots rock which will have you thinking of Parker’s early records from the late 1970s and early 1980s with his backup band The Rumour.

Graham Parker’s voice is so distinctive and recognizable. It has often been said that the devil has all the best songs. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that Satan moved into the picture thanks to bluesman Robert Johnson. The music of the devil continued in the 1960s and 1970s. It is back with Graham Parker. Here’s his last chance to learn the twist. Let’s go down! Down, down, down, down down. Down, down. (The music of the devil)

The album opens up with “The Music Of The Devil”.

Since time immemorial men have acted this wayLook back in history it’s as plain as dayKings and serfs wise men and foolsYou don’t learn it in college you don’t learn it in school(The music of the devil)

“Grand Scheme Of Things” follows and so all is good.

“It Mattered To Me” is one of the record’s many highlights. “It mattered to me when a friend got so cut up / By somebody who needed to shut up,” Parker sings, bringing it all home with the lines “It’s called empathy / We need more of that now.”

“Wicked Wit” and “Shorthand” (I’m learning shorthand, because I write too much.) are other highlights. Spend some time with this album and it will grow on you.

For “Them Bugs” and its wonderfully playful sound, “It’s about time I released a gimmick single,” says Parker. “Still, it’s the funkiest gimmick single ever, pulsing with skanky heat and the cool croon of The Lady Bugs on backup vocals. It was written after 4th of July fireworks with my son when ‘Them Bugs’ were indeed biting in ‘the places you never should get bit.’ Lighten up – get jiggy with it.” The song is a pure summertime delight.

 

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   8. Wilco – Cousin

Wilco - Cousin

Wilco’s 13th studio album, ‘Cousin’, arrived on September 29th.

It was recorded at The Loft in Chicago between January 2019 and May 2023. Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon was brought into the fold to produce the album. She was able to give these more experimental set of songs a fresh sound.

For nearly 30 years, the ideas for songs have come from Jeff Tweedy picking up a guitar or a pencil. As a group, Wilco has always believed in themselves that they were good. The band has been consistent for a long time. They continue to push the parameters of their.

The album opens with “Infinite Surprise” which was initially supposed to be the title of the album.

The album cover art is from acclaimed floral artist Azuma Makoto. The botanical sculpture was constructed on a frozen lake in the Notsuke Peninsula on the east coast of Hokkaidō, Japan.

 

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   7. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives – Altitude

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives’ cosmic country-inspired album ‘Altitude’ picks up from 2017’s ‘Way Out West’ left off.

Marty Stuart formed the group Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives in 2002, which currently includes guitarist “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan, drummer “Handsome” Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs — the grandson of bluegrass legend and Hall of Fame member Earl Scruggs — as bassist.

‘Altitude’ is the band’s first new album in six years. It was recorded in a week to 10 days in Nashville.

‘Altitude’ was written largely in 2018 while Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives were on the road with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their 1968 classic, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’.

 

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   6. Eilen Jewell – Get Behind the Wheel

Eilen Jewell says “there is a lot of sadness on the album but I don’t think it dwells on that, it doesn’t just get stuck there . . . ”

‘Get Behind the Wheel’ is Eilen Jewell’s most personal album to date. The Idaho-born singer-songwriter, on top of general pandemic-related problems, had to come to terms with the break-up of her marriage to Jason Beek – he is also her drummer, band manager, and the father of their young daughter.

Jewell brought Will Kimbrough on board to co-produce the album. He also plays electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, keyboards, and percussion on the album.

Kimbrough brought Fats Kaplin on board to play pedal steel on the tracks “Crooked River”, “Winnemucca”, and “Silver Wheels and Wings”.

The album includes two excellent covers, Van Morrison’s Them “Could You Would You” from 1966 and Jackie DeShannon gem “Breakaway” originally recorded by Irma Thomas in 1964.

 

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   5. Roger Waters – The Dark Side of the Moon Redux

Roger Waters - The Dark Side of the Moon Redux

‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ was the ultimate concept album.

This re-working is absolutely brilliant!

Roger Waters has said that ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux’ is a re-working, partly as a tribute to the original work, but also to re-address the political and emotional message of the whole album. Yes, of course you hear the original album, but this Redux is nothing like the Pink Floyd album, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s more like a new Roger Waters solo album.

Here’s what Waters had to say in the liner notes. “Fifty years after the release of the original recording of ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’, I realized that the fucking warmongers hadn’t got the message the first time around and I thought, maybe I should re-record it? Partly as an homage to the great recording Nick and Rick and David and I made back in 1973 and partly as a reminder that we’re still killing children and it’s still wrong.

People need to separate Pink Floyd’s albums from that of Roger Waters solo albums. People need to look at this new album as a Roger Waters solo album and completely forget about ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’, think that it never existed. Jonathan Wilson who was a member of the touring band on the last two tours plays guitar on the new album. Only Roger Waters could have pulled this off with what he did with this new release.

 

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   4. Logan Ledger – Golden State

The title track with string arrangements by Kristin Wilkinson instantly puts you in a good mood.

Logan Ledger stated that while the title of his new album, ‘Golden State’, of course conjures an image of his sunny home state of California, the songs are more about a “state of mind.” Ledger had a vision on how he wanted this album to sound which was produced by Shooter Jennings.

Previous song demos that were never cut resulted in this gorgeous album. The title track that opens the album encapsulates that late 60s, early 70s California music scene. Logan had a California magnet on his fridge with golden state on it and so he says that the idea probably came from that magnet. The San Francisco Area-bred singer-songwriter had the melody for this song floating around for a few years with no words.

“There Goes My Mind” which follows is like a Jackson Browne kind of song.

“Some Misty Morning” featuring Nashville’s Erin Rae is a folky song, slightly Dylan-esque with a touch of Gordon Lightfoot.

The pedal steel really adds to “All the Wine in California” where Logan sings “All the wine in California couldn’t ease my mind / At the bottom of each bottle is the love I left behind.”

 

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   3. Dylan LeBlanc – Coyote

For his fifth full-length album, Dylan LeBlanc headed to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to self-produce and record ‘Coyote’. LeBlanc spent over three years of his childhood in Muscle Shoals, where his father worked, brushing his young shoulders with industry legends such as Rick Hall, Spooner Oldham, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson. An album that is most likely to cement his reputation as one of the standout artists in the Americana genre of the past decade, the collected stories in ‘Coyote’ are rich in detail and content, and feature Dylan’s most personal writing to date.

The cover art of a coyote wounded by arrows reflects just that, symbolizing Dylan LeBlanc’s resilience, someone who has lived a life that was constantly courting danger.

Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Dylan is the son of Muscle Shoals session player James LeBlanc. Dylan was afforded the opportunity to hire top-notch, A-list session players that he’s always respected and, the level of musicianship on this record is at another level.

 

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   2. The Third Mind – The Mind Mind/2

The Third Mind was formed by singer-songwriter/guitarist Dave Alvin four years ago. The concept for The Third Mind was simple, to rediscover their love for classic records from the 1960’s and reconfigure them to fit this all-star arrangement. The kicker is that a lack of arranging is what makes them so unique.

The band’s name is borrowed from a William Burroughs/Brion Gysin book—was the realization of a longtime desire.

The project made its debut in 2020 with its self-titled release, an album that came from Dave Alvin’s crazy idea of looking for musicians who perhaps could do what Miles Davis did with the classic ‘Bitches Brew’ where these great musicians would go into a studio, pick a key and a groove and then record everything live over several days.

The Third Mind are:

Dave Alvin: Guitar, Vocals
David Immerglück: Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Jerome: Drums, Percussion
Victor Krummenacher: Bass, Vocals

Featuring:
Jesse Sykes: Guitar, Vocals

Listen to The Jaynetts’ 3-minute long 1963 hit “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” and then The Third Mind’s 10-minute plus version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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   1. Jonathan Wilson – Eat the Worm

Los Angeles-based Producer and singer-songwriter Jonathan Wilson released his fifth solo album ‘Eat the Worm’ last September. The album is rich in arrangements and full of original and refined musical structures.

Determined to do something a bit weird, a bit esoteric, and a bit off the kilter, Wilson was inspired by a British musician named Jim Pembroke who was in this band called Wigwam in the ‘70s that was based out of Helsinki. Wilson came across 1972’s ‘Wicked Ivory’ album and this song titled “Warm Rumours” and loved it. This was the kind of record Jonathan Wilson wanted to make. He loves listening to Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, and so all of this was the moving force for the project that would develop into ‘Eat The Worm’.

Jonathan Wilson’s consistent song style is usually a six-minute song that has a long outro and it’s got some turns and twists that are not conventional.

The successful solo artist is also an in-demand record producer, he’s a guitar for hire for the likes of Roger Waters, and if that wasn’t enough, he is also credited with revitalizing the Laurel Canyon music scene through his base there. With ‘Eat The Worm’, Jonathan Wilson has let his imagination roam on this sprawling, 12-song, 51-minute opus.

On a song like “Marzipan”, it’s the first time that Wilson has used big string arrangements. Wilson culled through a lot of ideas and fragments and demos for a long time, and a song like “East LA” took him 7 years to complete, sitting down at the piano for years.

Produced and mixed by Jonathan Wilson, 90% of the album was done in solitude, then tracked as a trio with Jake Blanton (bass, sitar) and Drew Erickson (piano, organ).

 

 

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