Fervor Coulee Bluegrass Blog
Meta-analysis of the Top Bluegrass Albums of 2011
Donald Teplyske | February 2, 2012
During the latter part of December, we were inundated with lists of 'the best' albums of the past year, among them best country albums, best Texas albums, best red dirt music albums, and best tribute albums to Buddy Holly.
In the bluegrass world, we were underwhelmed with six or seven such lists. As someone who is always interested in such things (lists, that is) and as someone who has encountered the term 'meta-analysis' several times in recent months, I thought it may be interesting to conduct a meta-analysis of the year-end bluegrass lists.
Only problem is, I'm not sure you can do a meta-analysis of seven or eight lists, let alone a high-falutin' meta-anything in the bluegrass world.
The idea of this meta-analysis of the lists was to determine a 'true' Top 10 Bluegrass Albums of 2011 based on the collective input and wisdom of several writers and broadcasters.
I was surprised that I could locate- using my extensive contacts in the bluegrass world (read: posting a request to the B-GRASS L for links of 'top 10' lists to be forwarded to me) as well as minimal independent research (read: Googling 'bluegrass top albums 2011')- so few lists, but what I did find provided a nice cross-section of the years' albums.
Some notes about the procedures followed while undertaking this endeavour:
Points were awarded to albums on the basis of their 'Top 10' position (i.e. #1 on any particular list received 20 points, #2- 18, and #10-2.) Only 'Top 10' were considered as most lists that contained more than ten were filled with releases from the list compiler's distant relations and bands not known outside 50 miles of the list author's hometown.
An additional point was awarded for each list appearance a particular album made on a list (i.e. If The Home Schoolin' Spankers had appeared on three lists, they would have received 3 bonus points. Thankfully, they didn't.)
If a listing did not offer an ordered placement- usually because the compiler found it disingenuous to 'rank' artistic creations- each of the top 10 albums were awarded 10 points. I think that math works.
Nine different listings were located, and dang- I looked hard to find more. I used up most of my research grant just dropping quarters into the Google-machine down at the library. In the interests of fairness, I did not include Fervor Coulee's own Top 10 list, but did include that of the Lonesome Road Review, to which my input was considered. Lists included in the meta-analysis were gathered from KBCS (X3), Bluegrass Notes, Engine 145, Bluegrass Today (X2), Pop Matters, and the LRR.
For interest sake, I also included the year-end Billboard Bluegrass Top 50 position of each charting album. DNC stands for Did Not Chart, which is Latin for we're too dang disorganized to submit our table sale numbers to Soundscan.
What follows is therefore the definitive listing of the Top 10 Bluegrass Albums of 2011:
1. The Gibson Brothers- "Help My Brother" (90 pts. Plus 7 lists = 97 points) DNC, but was named IBMA Album of the Year
2. Larry Sparks- "Almost Home" (74 + 7 = 81 points) DNC
3. Dale Ann Bradley- "Somewhere South of Crazy" (58 + 5 = 63 points) DNC
4. Charlie Sizemore- "Heartache Looking for a Home" (50 + 5 = 55 points) DNC
5. Alison Krauss & Union Station- "Paper Airplane" (44 + 4 = 48 points) #1 on Billboard's BG Top 50
6. Chris Thile & Michael Daves- "Sleep With One Eye Open" (42 + 3 = 45 points) #14
7. Del McCoury Band- "Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe" (36 + 3 = 39 points) DNC
8. Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers- "Hymns from the Hills" (36 + 2 = 38 points) DNC
8. Blue Highway- "Sounds of Home" (34 + 4 = 38 points) #35
10. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper- "Fired Up" (32 + 2 = 34 points) DNC
What does this prove?
I am a serious procrastinator when it comes to professional reading, certainly.
Beyond that, the consensus was clear- with seven chart mentions, the favourite two albums of the last bluegrass year were "Help My Brother" and "Almost Home." Perhaps, it even demonstrates they were 'the best.' What else? How could only 5 lists include Dale Ann Bradley's "Somewhere South of Crazy?" Crazy, indeed. "Paper Airplane" and "Sleep With One Eye Open" bookended by the country-bluegrass sounds of Charlie Sizemore and the traditional re-creation that was "Old Memories" reveals, at least in part, the range of contemporary bluegrass music. Only one gospel album ("Hymns from the Hills") and only one Monroe tribute ("Old Memories.") O, and the Billboard Bluegrass chart- as I thought, pretty much irrelevant to the greater bluegrass world.
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