Including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and more
World Without Tears
(Lost Highway, 2003)
“Truth is my saviour,” Williams sings on opener “Fruits Of My Labour”, a sentiment that could also double as her manifesto. Always a personal writer, her honesty is at its most immediate on her seventh album, which picks over the bones of her relationship with Ryan Adams’ former bassist Billy Mercer. The live-in-the-studio rawness of the music is more than matched by the words. Tender portraits of a damaged lover (“Sweet Side”, “Righteously”) are weighed against the damage he has caused. If “Over Time”, “Minneapolis” and “Ventura” linger agonisingly over the cooling ashes, on “Those Three Days” the pain and fury is still evident.
42 Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon’s previous couple of albums had been fate-tempting tauntings of the Reaper: Life’ll Kill Ya, My Ride’s Here. Shortly after the release of the latter, Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma; he recorded The Wind knowing he was composing his final testament. He didn’t do so alone: his backing band included Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bob Thornton, Don Henley, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris and his songwriter son, Jordan. The Wind lurches across the condemned man’s palette from rueful contemplation of what has been (“Dirty Life & Times”, a lovely cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”) to defiant determination to enjoy what remains (“Rest Of The Night”, “Keep Me In Your Heart”) to absolute, desolate vulnerability (“Please Stay”). Zevon died two weeks after its release, aged 56.
43 Amy Winehouse
Back To Black
Not even the continuing efforts of countless X Factor wannabes can diminish the potency of Winehouse’s soulful outpourings on one of the 21st Century’s most honest and vulnerable albums. “Rehab” may fit the media shorthand of Amy’s fast life and sad demise, but her love songs are less off-the-cuff and rooted in a deeper hurt. Her stormy on-off relationship with future husband Blake Fielder-Civil and experiences dating others during time away from him informs the emotional safety warning of “You Know I’m No Good”, while “Wake Up Alone” and “Love Is A Losing Game” find her nakedly pining for the man that her heart never let go of. The mellow torch-like balladry recalls sirens from an earlier age (Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington), but few singers have laid bare their diary so powerfully.
44 Sun Kil Moon
(Caldo Verde, 2008)
A suite of long, slow, sadly beautiful songs written “in honour” of Kozelek’s ex-girlfriend and longterm muse Katy, who died of cancer in 2003 aged 35. Time and distance lend the songs a calm, clear perspective on the relationship and its many shared intimacies. Throughout Kozelek summons up Katy’s ghostly presence: on “Lost Verses” he “sees you well and clear/Deep in the moonlight dear”, while on the tight-wound, intense “Tonight The Sky” he sings, “I loved you like no other/Your eyes I can’t erase.” “Every corner I walk around in San Francisco is filled with memories about her,” he told Uncut in 2010. “She was a wealth of inspiration.”
45 John Grant
Queen Of Denmark
(Bella Union, 2010)
A unique subversion of ’70s AOR, the solo debut by the ex-Czars singer smuggled personal lyrics beneath a cloak of lush balladry. As darkly funny as they are self-critical, the songs laser through Grant’s doomed love affair with ex-boyfriend Charlie (“It’s Easier”), his memories of smalltown bigotry (“Marz”, “JC Hates Faggots”), and, on the title track, addiction in all its stripes: “When that shit got really really out of hand/I had it all the way up to my hairline.” “My life is in those songs,” said Grant. “I had to throw these things out there.”