Most times, you're not missing that much. But every so often, there's an album that makes your heart simultaneously skip and sink upon hearing it -- it skips at how amazing the music is, and sinks when you realize that you ignored something so great for so long.
Robert Ellis, "Photographs" (New West)
We caught the last 10 minutes of a spirited Robert Ellis show in Nashville recently and it sent us racing back to the record player. And that left us wondering how we missed it on our first spin of "Photographs"? The quiet perfection of each song. The knockout songwriting. The curator's knowledge. And the timeless voice.
All that adds up to what might be our favorite album of the 2011.
Ellis, a 23-year-old from Houston, is definitely headed down a path not often travelled. While most of his peers are honky-tonkin' and rock 'n' rollin', he steeps second album "Photographs" in a long-gone era of traditional country music. He shows an uncommon patience, especially for one so young, and displays an ageless wisdom as he earnestly reflects on the nature of loss ("Bamboo"), friendship ("Friends Like Those") and relationships ("Two Cans of Paint," "Westbound Train").
He shows an uncommon subtlety in songs like the rollicking "Comin' Home," which reads as both a simple back-to-my-baby road song and a refutation of his folkie past as he puts Austin in the rearview mirror and heads back home to his roots.
We're anxiously awaiting more.
--Chris Talbott, AP Entertainment Writer
Ellie Goulding, "Lights" (Interscope/Cherrytree Records)
Yes, Ellie Goulding's debut album "Lights" is full of electro-dance beats and some tracks even make use of Auto-Tune, but it's not another overproduced dance album: She's got artistic heft. Her voice drips with emotion and her lyrics are honest and straight forward, both ingredients that make for a top-notch album.
The songs are as appealing as Goulding: She's telling her lover she isn't sticking around on the drum and electric guitar-fused "Every Time You Go," and she's pleading -- in a lovely cry -- that he stay around on the eerie-sounding "Salt Skin." And on one song she sings: "We're under the sheets and you're killing me."
Even when Goulding is not saying it in her own words, she is still convincing -- check out her brilliant cover of Elton John's "This Song," which was produced by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons.
The 25-year-old co-wrote every track on the 11-song set, working on most of the album with producer Starsmith. She's won over the United Kingdom: She's multiplatinum there and has two Top 5 hits. She also performed at the reception for the royal wedding.
Now America just needs to catch on.
-- Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press