Including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and more
Last Of the Country Gentlemen
The Texan son of a preacher was living illegally in Berlin, his career stalled, when the failure of his marriage prompted an emotional and artistic spasm. Before fleeing to Paris, he spent two days in the studio, documenting his torment. The songs are as tough to listen to as they are emotionally honest; the hurt is only partly soothed by the grandiosity of Pearson’s language. He’s vicious to his ex on “Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ”, though he’s just as hard on himself. The process was cathartic: “It really burned something out of me,” Pearson reflected.
47 Sharon Van Etten
As a student in Tennessee, New Jersey songwriter Van Etten was trapped in a psychologically abusive relationship, an experience that has permeated her three albums to date. But she only ever reveals awful details to fuel her self-growth, and on Tramp, steeled by raucous production, Van Etten sounds like she’s finally standing upright. “I want my scars to help and heal,” she sings on “All I Can”. “I’m biting my lip as confidence is speaking to me/I loosen my grip from my palm, put it on your knee,” on “Give Out”. It’s a small gesture, but a meaningful one.
48 John Murry
The Graceless Age
Murry told Uncut earlier this year that his debut solo album was “certainly autobiographical – perhaps insanely so given our modern aversion to reality and truth.” Central to the story arc is his struggle with heroin, documented on the 10-minute centrepiece, “Little Coloured Balloons”, which details Murry’s near fatal overdose in San Francisco’s Mission District. On this song, and several others (“Things We Lost In The Fire”, “Southern Sky”), The Graceless Age is also an appeal for forgiveness directed at Murry’s estranged wife Lori and their young daughter: “You say this ain’t what I am,” he sings to them both, “but this is what I do.”
49 Alela Diane
(Rusted Blue, 2013)
The fifth album by the Portland-based singer was written in a fortnight, following the realisation that her marriage to guitarist Tom Bevitori was over. Diane refuses to take refuge in metaphor – the language is as clear and stark as the accompaniment, tracing the arc of a relationship from its unromantic beginnings in “Hazel Street”, taking in the snowbound revelation of “Colorado Blue”, the singer with “one foot out the door” on the title track, and the two road musicians marking time in “Before The Leaving”. By the end “Rose & Thorn”, with its cry of “Oh! The mess I’ve made…”, it feels not unlike leafing through a discarded diary.
50 Laura Marling
Once I Was An Eagle
(Rough Trade, 2013)
An artist whose sensibilities cleave remarkably close to Joni Mitchell’s, Marling recorded her fourth album on the cusp of leaving for LA, with a failed love affair trailing in her wake. The result is a dramatic reckoning with past and future, and a character study of Marling and her ex: the “I”, the “eagle”, in the breathless opening suite feels clearly autobiographical, while the “you”, the “dove”, the “freewheeling troubadour”, she is singing to is similarly hewed from real life. Not quite as straightforward as a break-up record, Once I Was An Eagle begins as a full-blooded reliving of a broken-down relationship before coolly addressing the long-term ramifications.
Written by Rob Hughes, John Lewis, Damien Love, Alastair McKay, Andrew Mueller, Bud Scoppa, Laura Snapes, Neil Spencer, Terry Staunton, Graeme Thomson, Luke Torn