Break out the Bubbly and the Fly Music!

| December 31, 2013

2013 music countdown fly fishing music 2013 best of music countdown 2013

IT HAS BEEN quite a year in my ears … not just the constant ringing, but also some fantastic new music that left me wondering just what this genre of music, this “fly fishing music” really is all about. Some of the lyrics from this year’s list make previous year’s “Best of Fly Fishing Music” lists seem downright silly. And in the end, there’s room for silly music in this year’s list.

IT wasn’t that long ago when we had to really sift through a lot of music to get our “Top 10 Fly Fishing Music for 20XX” down to a manageable size. Then there were some thin years, and some honestly bad years on the music scene. Certainly it was a direct result of the economy. Better music came in the days when artists actually regained a pulse for what our US economy was doing TO the people.

Artists first seemed as punched out as the people, tuned into the people, made great music, and these days we are seeing something of a “recovery” in the fly fishing music world where music is feeling better, more real and more mature … with scars to show.

NOTE – HM = Honorable Mention and we’re counting DOWN to 1.


This release is important. It’s as important as “Oh Brother Where Are’t Thou,” another Cohen brothers film soundtrack by T Bone Burnett. The musical snapshot this time is from the early 1960’s era folk scene, a time period and scene that I love and is also well documented in Bob Dylan’s “Bootleg Series – The Witmark Demos 1962-1964.” If you’re not into Peter, Paul & Mary style harmonies, you may find some of this sappy sweet, but there’s no way you can dislike a tune like the opening tune, the traditional “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” performed by Oscar Isaac. Note the natural progression from “Oh Brother” to “Inside …” Essentially there’s something here for everyone who may want to know/hear more from this purely (North) American time period in this genre of music. I haven’t seen the movie, but, surprise, Justin Timberlake could well be headed toward superstardom. Look for Texan T Bone Burnett onstage to accept an Oscar too. Own it. And own the Dylan CD as a companion piece.

HM – SON VOLT – “Honky Tonk”

I can’t let a Son Volt release get away that easy. If you know your history, the epic split of Uncle Tupelo left us with two extremely talented individuals on two extremely different paths three decades ago. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco (among other supergroup sit ins), and Jay Farrar and Son Volt (and strong solo outings and other collaborations). Wilco is probably in the studio dipping into more Beatles music, and Son Volt is a staple on the Austin, Texas, scene. Farrar has been edging closer to a purer form of country for some time now, and I am guessing that he felt like “Honky Tonk” needed to happen considering the orbit he’s in. I am more happy without the twang though, and hope he can move on now that he’s touched home base.


Do you really like music? How about some funk, fusion, jazz retro instrumental music? This is the highest quality musicianship of it’s category – period. Listen loud. Listen with headphones. Just make sure you get this all the way into your grey matter – uninterrupted, unfiltered. Listen to “The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life.” Maybe you can tell me what that’s all about? A special thanks to Denton, Texas, for opening my mind to this kind of music 33 years ago. Love bass, or jazz tradeoffs? Listen to “Root Down (and Get It)” for some of that.

NUMBER 9 — JJ GREY & MOFRO – “This River”

Yup. He’s still hanging in there. I have to see this guy live somewhere (preferably Florida), sometime soon. If Tom Petty left a son behind in Florida (when he abandoned for LA), it may just be JJ. Think Mudcrutch, but muddier, snake bit and swampy. There’s some musical self indulgence here, and they’ve earned the right to try some different sounds. It’s all about progress, and “This River” shows a band still on the grow.

NUMBER 8 — DAWES – “Stories Don’t End”

I can imagine a lot of people may not like this music. I find it reassuring that masters like Jackson Brown from my “old days” are so heavily emulated by a crop of fresh, highly talented musicians. This is good music. It won’t expand your horizons, and it doesn’t plow new sound ground. Lyrically though, they hit the mark at will:

“So I feel like a man behind a camera
Who waits patiently for something he won’t see
I need to stop giving suggestions and just illuminate the questions
That seems much more accurate to me
To keep the frame as wide as it can be” – “Something in Common”

NUMBER 7 — GOVT. MULE – “Shout!”

I root for Warren Haines with every release. Something about his sound just doesn’t easily translate from live to the studio. His live music, a la Government Mule and solo, is masterful. The live music has a free form that feeds off the energy in the venue, and songs run out for a ’70’s rock-and-roller eternity – seven to ten minutes common. It’s pretty standard fare for me to buy his music without having heard a single note, just high hopes. I was a little more upbeat about purchasing this one when I saw the length of the tunes, and was thinking it was live. Wrong. This studio release finally captures that energy – nasty riffs, banging bass and pure rock lyrics –
“Bring on the darkness. Tonight is gonna be my friend. Bring on the crowd. We’re all family in the end.” – “Bring on the Music”
And just when it gets good, it gets great with DISC 2. DISC 2 features Ben Harper, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Dave Matthews, Toots Hibbert and more – in reworks of Disc 1’s tunes. Nice twist. Masterful.


You want a taste of Texas 100-proof? Wayne “the Train” Hancock is here to fill ‘er up and, “Ride. Ride. Ride.” Pure retro Electra Glide through the Texas wastelands. If you are new to this sound, it’s a great new place to start — start your backtracking to where this genre came from fifty, sixty seventy years ago. I’m still blown away that this music has the legs it does. Get in your car. Put this on. Start driving. No matter where you start, you’ll be in Texas.

NUMBER 5 — KINGS OF LEON – Mechanical Bull

Rumors of a rock-and-roll demise appear somewhat exaggerated. You know so much more about KOL if you watch their rockumentary “Talahina Sky,” and what you know can scare you, and it can redeem you. In the end even the mechanical bull we hear here is better than a lot of music that bands really “try” to make. If you are already a KOL fan, then this one makes your list. If not, Mechanical Bull isn’t a great place to start. Make no mistake, KOL is the best North American mainstream rock band on the road today (they are still together, and on the road, right?). The friction seems to have worn the edge a bit, and all that mechanical superstardom bull is taking a toll, but this is tight, original rock-and-roll. “I’ll walk a mile in your shoes. Now I’m a mile away, and I’ve got your shoes” – “Comeback Story”

NUMBER 4 — SLAID CLEAVES – “Still Fighting The War”

“Well they figured it out … sent the elbow grease down to Mexico and off to the Chinese … No one remembers your name for just working hard.” – “Rust Belt Fields”

This is really two EP’s stuck together, with the first half being a powerful statement about our struggle. You may not agree with lyrics from some of Slaid Cleaves’ songs, but he is still where we, in between coasts, are – struggling where no one notices. He floats in and out of the struggle on “Still Fighting the War,” but his lyrics never stray from reality. “Some things your’e born to. Some things you better learn.” – “Welding Burns”

Part two – “I Bet She Does” turns the corner on this CD. There’s been ample talk about this song, but suffice to say it’s good to hear a guy’s perspective on being dumped, and missed (more great writing this year). I’ve seen Slaid play at Dan’s Silver Leaf here in Denton, Texas, and his appreciation for other musical influences is always evident – “God’s Own Yodeler,” a tribute to Don Walser, turns Cleaves loose to sing about tractors and yodel a few of his own notes.

While Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” leaves out the lap steel for a more universal appeal, the appeal of Cleaves is the way we can peg his music as Texas Music (even if he isn’t a Native). He does cover a lot of stylistic ground though. Following “God’s Own Yodeler” is a tune “In The Rain” which goes off on a completely different tack. What makes Slaid Cleaves so great? Listen to one tune – “Voice of Midnight.” If that doesn’t bring you around, nothing will.

NUMBER 3 — MIDLAKE – “Antiphon”

File this one under “Hometown Band hits Superstardom!” Yeah, Midlake is from Denton, Texas. And miraculously they actually claim Denton as home base for what has become our best kept secret. I say “home base” because Midlake spends time touring all over the world to great acclaim. The new release “Antiphon” will turn your ears outside in, with music that sounds nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. It’s easy to listen to, and pull your own interpretation from – music as art, art as music. It’s clean, tight and sophisticated. Put this one on when you’re alone on the water and see what happens.

NUMBER 2 — JAKE BUGG – “Simple as This” & “Shangri La”

Across the ocean, there’s a big buzz. It’s a bug, Jake Bugg. My crack research staff brought this young star to my attention, and I will never be able to thank her enough for bringing this Bugg to the light. It’s so new to my ears, I have been spending more time listening to ’12’s “Jake Bugg” more than the ’13’s “Shangri La,” but they actually may both be released in ’13 in the USA. It’s all damn good.

This guy is the real deal. I may have said that before (only to subsequently be let down by guys like Ryan Bingham), but I don’t think Bugg is in line for an Oscar, and the head trips that have trapped other artists in far away foreign countries, like Los Angeles.

Bugg’s music has the rare balance of new spliced with old, a respectful aggressive sound. He’s one of those special artists that we look forward to his aging, and what comes next for all of our sakes. Listen. Listen to “Lightning Bolt,” an addictive Elvis-American rockabilly delivery and groove! Listen harder, and you hear Bugg’s accent, simple open lo-fi sound … the whole thing drips with an innocent charm. Listen harder for pure punk influences. Skip around and listen to “Trouble Town,” see if you hear what I hear. Go to “Shangri La’s” tune “Simple Pleasures” and prepare to get rocked. Bring yourself back down with “Pine Trees.”

NUMBER ONE — JASON ISBELL – “Southeastern”
How do I describe Southeastern? Does best of the decade, so far, do it justice? I don’t really know how to describe a group of songs that make a movie in my mind. Not just a movie, but a movie I can see clearly, and want to watch over and over and over … Isbell’s demons are well documented, and his history is legend. It looks like the corner has been turned, and there’s no going back.

It’s a funny thing that so many of the artists on this year’s countdown are significantly younger than myself, but sing and live so much older. I guess we hear what we want to hear, and the topics Isbell sings of are prescient to a certain age group more than others, but we will all probably pass through a song like “Elephant” on our way to ashes.

A word of warning: As with any great album, it evokes the deepest emotions. If you are down, you might want to put this on on the back burner for brighter days. If you are in a bad relationship, this won’t make you feel better, and you’ll just attach great music to a terrible time (I honestly know a lot about this phenomenon). Sounds like a drug commercial on TV, doesn’t it? All I can say is handle this one with great care. We’re talking cancer, cold blooded murder, and much more happiness.

“I hold my breath. I couple with death.” – “Yvette”


Thanks for reading in 2013! I swung this post together this morning while I was waiting for the site to come back live. I wonder what that cost me!? Just by reading the music countdowns, you tell how much things have changed on this site in the last six years. Do we have a TOP 10 here? Who knows? Ten is such a metric number that I just don’t care what the countdown adds up to anymore. Texas Fly Caster Year seven promises to be the most interesting and unpredictable yet. It’s either that or doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, and Texas Fly Caster need not be defined that way, right?

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Category: Culture on the Skids, Music, Reviews, Writing

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