It’s almost impossible to issue the best Americana album of the year in a year with a new Jason Isbell album, but I think American Aquarium’s Lamentations is a close contender . It starts where most albums end: With a 7-minute epic on the end of the American dream. And then it whips right into the shortest and most upbeat cut on the record, “Before the Dogwood Blooms.” Although it’s not quite right to label upbeat a song with a refrain, “I just need a couple of days to find a way just like I always do,” which talks about the struggle to feed a family and pay the rent.
This is not to say that Lamentations is dismal. It’s not. In the same way that Bruce Springsteen’s grittiest albums are full of love and hope, BJ Barham’s songs just feel true and real, as the album takes us through a relationship–from the workaday issues involved with starting a family, to “The Day I Learned to Lie To You,” a song that is then one-upped in the heartbreak by “How Wicked I Was,” which is about years after the divorce, with the singer pleading his ex not to tell their child all his faults. If this song doesn’t break you, you just haven’t lived it yet.
And through it all, there’s a political awareness, a voice for working America–which has been failed by both Democrats and Republicans alike, with lines like, “Tell Roosevelt what the Bible went and did to his new deal,” and the brilliant, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” which turns the “bootstraps” myth on its head.
An amazing album.
Equally smart, equally amazing is Ka’s sixth album, Descendants of Cain. Anyone who dismisses hip hop as a genre past its prime should listen–carefully and multiple times–to this complicated, rich album.
No, it’s not an album. It’s an experience.
Eat When You’re Hungry, Sleep When You’re Tired. An EP by Jay Worthy and Harry Fraud. Seven tight songs with the outstanding “Can’t Be Stopped,” featuring Larry June.
Our Two Skins by Gordi. Aeroplane Bathroom is the lead single (because it was written in such a place!), but personally I found “Sandwiches,” a tender song about dealing with loss, to be the best written cut off this very nice, quiet record.