In alphabetical order…
1. Janet Baker with John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra – Mahler: Kindertotenlieder etc. (EMI, 1968)
The classic recording of Mahler’s ‘Songs on the Death of Children’, this scratched a major itch I had for emotionally wrenching lieder.
2. Tim Buckley – Blue Afternoon (1969)
I’d struggled with some of Tim Buckley’s more avant-garde records, but hearing Blue Afternoon I suddenly grasped what the fuss was about. The open, jazz-like song structures, the liquid vibraphone sound, and Buckley’s plangent vocals add up to a flawless and perhaps underrated album.
3. Champion Jack Dupree – Blues from the Gutter (Atlantic, 1958)
2011 was the year I finally got the blues. I listened to truckloads of the stuff, endless Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, Chicago blues and Delta blues, acoustic blues and the plugged-in stuff. This record from 1958 by Champion Jack Dupree was a good find in that it plays as a sterling LP from start to finish. Putting this on immediately turns my living room into a New Orleans barroom.
4. Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (Warner Bros, 1979)
I already knew Rumours and I like it, even if it mainly feels like I’m listening to the radio. Fleetwood Mac’s wildly ambitious follow-up, Tusk, is another matter. Strung out on cocaine, the band turned out an erratic double-album of grooves that seems to go on and on and on, dreamy, narcotic, blissfully smooth and infinite.
5. Kris Kristofferson – Kristofferson (Monument, 1970)
Apparently Kris Kristofferson was a studio sweep during Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde sessions. Three years later he cut this remarkable debut, a country classic. ‘Help Me Make It through the Night’ features in John Huston’s Fat City, a great film which I saw for the first time this year.
6. John Phillips – John, the Wolfking of L.A. (Dunhill, 1970)
This solo album from the lead singer of The Mamas and the Papas is a gem, an easygoing folk-rock classic from the Laurel Canyon scene of the early 1970s. ‘Topanga Canyon’ and ‘Malibu People’ were two of my most played songs of the year.
7. Maurizio Pollini – Schubert: The Late Sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon)
Schubert’s late piano sonatas, perfect examples of his famous ‘heavenly length’, rival Beethoven’s for their continual invention and beauty.
8. Roxy Music – Avalon (Virgin, 1982)
Very different from the Eno-era art-rock Roxy I love, but this is velvet smooth synth pop heaven. Apparently a go-to record for yuppie romancing back in the early 80s.
9. Jim Sullivan – U.F.O. (Monnie Records, 1969; Light in the Attic, 2010)
It’s easy to become intrigued with the story behind Jim Sullivan’s U.F.O: Man cuts record. Man goes for a drive through the American Southwest. Man is never seen again. His record was forgotten until reprinted by Light in the Attic last year and the music more than stands up to the mystery. A chamber pop record sung with a Littlest Hobo croon, with odd lyrics about highways and UFOs that force you to speculate on just what happened to Sullivan out in the desert.
10. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – In the Heart of the Moon
(World Circuit, 2005)
The endlessly circling grooves on this record, a collaboration between two of the biggest names in contemporary African music, seem to exude sunlight and happiness.