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Best Albums Of 2013


JPR music hosts take a stab identifying standout recordings of 2013.

Don Matthews | Classical Music Director & Host First Concert

My selections for the best of 2013 begin with a re-mastered recording of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  Sony Classical commemorates the 100th anniversary of this groundbreaking work in an electrifying interpretation by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.  The ensemble Stile Antico’s release on Harmonia Mundi Passion & Resurrection presents music inspired by the dramatic events of Holy Week and Easter with settings ranging from the Renaissance to a new work set for them in 2009 by John McCabe.  Carl Stamitz’s Clarinet Quartets are remarkable evidence of the development of the clarinet’s lyric quality and feature clarinetist Arthur Campbell on the Audite label.  In this year of the bicentennial of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti is joined by Claudio Abbado in a recording called Verdi Rarities on Warner Classics.  Next is a collection of Rossini's Complete chamber music with piano from his Sins of Old Age on the Concerto Classics label and it features Teatro alla Scala Artists.  Finally, music by the late Renaissance Italian composer Giovanni Battista Buonamente as performed by the Helianthus Ensemble on the Brilliant Classics label.  The album called L’e’ tanto tempo hormai is a collection of Sonatas, canzonas and sinfonias with the instruments of the Sacro Convento of Assisi.

Eric Teel | Program Director/FM Services, Acting Music Director, Host Open Air

My 2013 albums of the year conveniently cover most of the musical spectrum, and included one newcomer.  I’ve listed them here in no particular order and with just a word or two about each:  Barnaby Bright’s The Longest Day (poignant and beautiful), Anaïs Mitchell/Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads (sad and wistful), Väsen’s Mindset (joyous creation), David Byrne/St. Vincent’s Love This Giant (exciting and fun), Little Comets’ Life Is Elsewhere (unexpectedly intelligent earworms), Ricky Skaggs/Bruce Hornsby’s Cluck Ol’ Hen (masterful improvisation), The Wood Brothers’ The Muse (down home excellence), Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit (buttery smooth), and Amos Lee’s Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song (diverse and soulful).  But if I had to only pick one, I think I’d go with Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon (powerful and inspiring).  Her debut album is fresh and exciting, and brought the power and weight of singers like Nina Simone into the 21st century.

Maria Kelly | Host Open Air

A few gems stood out in 2013. Notably, Jose Gonzalez’s band and album of the same name, Junip; I waxed poetic about both in the Monthly’s August Recordings column. Also I really enjoyed hearing Iron & Wine deepen their rhythm section and thus their sound on Ghost on Ghost. The Wood Brothers added a third member, Jano Rix, to flesh out their songs on their new album, The Muse, plus special guest Buddy Miller who also has a producer’s credit, in addition to the surprising credit of country star, Zac Brown, as executive producer.

I was also enchanted by the original voice of Tennessee native Valerie June in her debut, Pushin’ Against A Stone, with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys as producer. Once in a great while a truly original voice emerges and Valerie June is just that.

I’m not necessarily saving the best for last but I did eagerly anticipate the collaboration of Elvis Costello and the Roots on Wise Up Ghost, and was deeply satisfied that they delivered, and then some.

Other notable recordings of 2013 include the Canadian collective, Lee Harvey Osmond’s The Folk Sinner. Laura Marling returned to form with help from her former producer, the celebrated Ethan Johns, on Once I Was An Eagle. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell gelled on their collaboration Love Has Come To You. And Rokia Traore produced a fine world music album, Beautiful Africa, with the help of another esteemed British producer, John Parish. I thoroughly enjoyed Samantha Crain’s recording from early 2013, Kid Face; and Phosphorescent’s recording, Muchacho, was great fun, as was Washed Out’s electronic release, Paracosm. Other worthy recordings include The James Hunter Six’s Minute by Minute and the reunion of Raul Malo with the Mavericks, In Time. The great Mavis Staples’ album, One True Vine, the second produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, deserves mention; also, in an entirely different genre, The Milk Carton Kids’ The Ash & Clay.

There are a few other songs that struck me including some on San Fermin’s EP San Fermin, and a few on Roadkill Ghost Choir’s EP Quiet Light. Gotta love that name for a band! The National’s song “This Is The Last Time” is notable, as is On and On’s “All The Horses”; Jim James “Know Til Now” defies description. Finally one of the finer songs of 2013 was Patty Griffin’s “Ohio”, sung w Robert Plant, from her album American Kid.

Paul Gerardi | Host Open Air

It has been a wonderful year for music.  I have great gratitude for the chance to host Open Air, and since that’s where I have spent most of my time since March, my best of 2013 list focuses mostly on the music played there. So, in no particular order, here are my picks.

Laura Marling’s One I Was An Eagle captivated me with its sometimes sparse but haunting songs as did the Cheyenne Mize CD Among the Grey. The arrangements and thoughtful ways that these artists conceived their recordings is remarkable.

Both Indie Rock artists Junip with their full length disc, and The Lone Bellow with their self-titled debut releases have carved a unique sound for themselves that should separate them from the crowd.  I hear that both bands are phenomenal in a live setting too!

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks is well crafted in both melody and lyric, while Meet Me At The Edge of the World from Over The Rhine is a tour de force in the amount of material provided (it’s a two CD set) and has great lyrical depth.

The joyous live setting of Cluck Ol’ Hen shows that Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby truly love what they do. It’s obvious that these guys had a great time making this recording, and their performances are terrific.

I have a soft spot for the elders of Rock music, and this year two have released solid efforts. It took some time to get used to the change in their voices, but David Bowie’s release The Next Day, and Paul McCartney’s latest recording New still have that ol’ magic imbued deeply in the music.

Hailing from Estonia, the band Ewert and the Two Dragons have forged a unique and energetic style on their recording Good Man Down.  They sound fresh while still holding true to the stylistic tradition of the Indie genre.  

And finally, shout-outs to Southern Oregon musicians Kites & Crows, Alice DiMicele, and Patchy Sanders for their fine new recordings.

Geoff Ridden | Classical Host

My choice for record of the year is String Quartets from the Court of Versailles (Gaudeamus ASV CD GAU 151). These are compositions by the eighteenth-century musicians Hyacinthe Jadin and Pierre Vachon, performed by The Rasumovsky Quartet. I came across this disc in the new recordings section of the JPR music library, and I have played several of these string quartets on air in recent months. We do have some other music by Jadin in our library, but the music of Vachon is sadly neglected. This CD includes Jadin’s quartet Opus 2 No. 1 which is modeled upon Mozart's "Dissonant" quartet (K465), a work which has a place in my own heart because it was the first piece of serious music that I studied at grammar school.

Don Matthews received a B.A. in Music from Eastern Michigan University and a Masters in Vocal Performance from USC. He performed as a member of the San Francisco Opera chorus for three seasons.  He moved to Boston to study and became involved in radio, working at both WBUR and WGBH, where he was a producer for Robert J. Lurtsema.
As FM Network Program Director and Music Director, Eric oversees many aspects of JPR's broadcast day. He still hosts the occasional Open Air or classical music shift, and is the driving force behind JPR Live Sessions - our popular series of live in-studio music performances and conversations.
Geoff Ridden moved to Ashland in 2008, after retiring as a full-time academic in England, to join his wife, who teaches at SOU . He got in touch with JPR shortly after settling here, and has been a volunteer on the Classics and News service since 2009, hosting First Concert and Siskiyou Music Hall when the regular hosts are away. He also writes regularly for the Jefferson Journal.