Ladies First

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I’ve been meaning to put up a list of my favourite albums of 2011 for a while now, but I’ve only gotten around to it this week. I didn’t think 2011 was one of the best in recent years for new releases, though I did have a few dozen worthy efforts on my final list. When I narrowed it down to ten I noticed that it was evenly split along gender lines, so I’m going to present it in two parts

Säkert! is the name of one of two different Swedish bands featuring Anna Norlin. I first came across her through her other band, Hello Saferide, and their typically Swedish blend of melodic pop combined with Norlin’s humorous songs sung in English. The songs of Säkert! are sung in her native language, but some of them were released last year on Pa Engelska, which means “In English”

The American country singer, Laura Cantrell, released even older songs on Kitty Wells Dresses: The Songs of the Queen of Country Music. The title track is by Cantrell and the rest of the record is her tribute to the pioneering country singer from the fifties and sixties. She’s backed by alt-country musicians from BR-549 and Calexico for a set that includes the classic, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

The angelic Lisa Hannigan from Co. Meath in Ireland followed up her 2008 debut with an equally strong collection called Passenger. The album begins with a song called Home but is mainly concerned with movement and travelling. The standouts are the title track and the amusing Safe Travels (Don’t Die). I was fortunate enough to see Lisa showcase her wonderful voice and interesting collection of instruments at Dolan’s in December

I also caught The Unthanks there last summer and in Cork at the end of the year. The Unthanks are Rachel and Beckie from the North of England and they have augmented their folk sound with a fine group of classical musicians. Despite its title, Last was the first of two albums they released in 2011 and it’s their best one to date

The final act on today’s list released her first album last January and it turned out to be my favourite of last year. Born in London to an Italian father, Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut is a confident and intense record that combines Calvi’s powerful voice and skilful guitar-work with equally powerful and intense songs such as Desire and Blackout

The songs below begin with one of Säkert!’s Swedish-language songs and continues with Lisa Hannigan turning an old Diana Ross hit on its head. Laura Cantrell does a similar job on New Order’s Love Vigilantes. Rachel Unthank & the Winterset is the former guise of The Unthanks and their Beatle cover comes from a Mojo magazine tribute to The White Album. I wrap up this first half of my favourite albums of 2011 post with Anna Calvi’s hypnotic version of a classic by The Shirelles

Sanningsdan – Säkert!

Upside Down (Diana Ross cover) – Lisa Hannigan

Love Vigilantes (New Order cover) – Laura Cantrell

Sexy Sadie (Beatles cover) – Rachel Unthank & the Winterset

Baby It’s You (Shirelles cover) – Anna Calvi

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