Our last Best of 2011 entry is a bonus entry, bringing you the Top 5 Albums of the Year from the very different worlds of Country and Metal.

From Music Designer, Janice Williams:

1. Robert Ellis – Photograph
This summer release knocked me off my feet. What a joy to hear a country singer in the classic style without sounding like an imitator or throwback. The heart-wrenching “What’s In It For Me” could have been a George Jones hit from 1964, but his folk side is just as sincere and talented.

2. Eric Lindell – Cazadero
I love Louisiana swamp-pop and Eric Lindell’s distinctive voice and horn-heavy instrumentation make this the best out of the South in a long while.

3. Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key
She can honky-tonk with the best of them, but don’t classify Eilen as just country. She’s got a beautiful voice that can really express the emotion of a song. “Bang Bang Bang” is the one that compels me turn up the volume.

4. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO
 “Grateful for Christmas” is a heartbreaking Christmas song with Hayes’ wry humor and insight into the family that changes through the years. But “Another Like You” got the attention on the Internet.

5. Guy Clark – Songs and Stories
Seeing Guy Clark perform live is a worshipful experience. As he turned 70 this year the honors and tribute albums poured out, but his 70-year-old voice telling his stories and singing his songs is still the best way to experience Guy Clark’s genius.

From Music Designer, James Whelan:

1.  Rwake – Rest
This album kills it on every possible level. Rwake (pronounced “Wake” for those of you fumbling with the “rw” sound) has been around for almost 15 years, and “Rest” is their best work to date. Every song is a display of metal as an ambitious art form, while still delivering the intensity and force that you’d expect from a band that’s been doing it for as long as Rwake has. “Rest” is 50 minutes of perfectly crafted, atmospheric southern sludge that even non metal fans ought to be able to appreciate. “It Was Beautiful But Now It’s Sour” is just one of the epic pieces that comprises “Rest”.

2.  Russian Circles – Empros
A non-metal album that seemed to resonate with just about everyone that heard it, Russian Circles’ “Empros” is incredible. The Chicago instrumental three-piece managed to create the album that every post rock band meant to make this year. “Empros” is beautiful, heavy and powerful, succeeding where many bands fail in creating a vivid and emotional scene that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. We’re in an age where music is kept in the background, fighting keyboard clicks and cat pictures on the internet for our brain’s attention. This album is one of a rare few that will make you want to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing, close your eyes, and just listen from beginning to end. The third song, “Schiphol”, might be my favorite song all year.

3.  Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination
Skeletonwitch’s fourth release brings the goods, and had me headbanging harder than any other album this year. It’s an album that old school purists and the newer generations of metalheads should be able to agree rocks like nothing else. Skeletonwitch is the kind of band that is seriously good without ever taking themselves too seriously. “Forever Abomination” is both evil and fun, like selling your soul to the devil for an invitation to the greatest party in all eternity. Listen to “Choke Upon Betrayal” and join the party.


4.  Red Fang – Murder The Mountains
There’s nothing fancy going on with Red Fang’s second album, just some groovy riffs, gritty vocals, and blue collar drums wrapped up loosely and begging to be blasted through your car stereo. Even though Mastodon’s “The Hunter” was the most anticipated stoner metal album of 2011, “Murder The Mountains” easily topped it and made a lot of people notice Red Fang. Watch the awesomely entertaining video for “Wires”, which is the greatest music video on a $5,000 budget ever made.

5.  Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Machine Head turned 20 years old in 2011. Over the past two decades they’ve been one of heavy metal’s most popular bands, and seem to be only getting better as they get older. With their first album in four years, Machine Head made it worth the wait, delivering pure heavy metal perfection. Each song is a relentlessly furious composition that holds up, listen after listen. At this rate I expect these guys to be rocking for another 20 years. Check out “Locust”.