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It's not too late to discover overlooked 2011 gems

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 4 2012 2:25 p.m. MST

In this CD cover image released by Circus Company, Nicolas Jaar's 2011 release "Space Is Only Noise" is shown.

Circus Company, Associated Press

When you cover entertainment, the music never stops. The albums come in by mail every day but Sunday and pile up in the inbox. The stack of albums grows exponentially, and despite good intentions, certain albums get pushed aside, and by the time you've listened, the release date has long since passed.

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.

So now, we look back at those gems — the overlooked diamonds left among the zirconia piled about the desk in 2011.

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

(http://www.twitter.com/chris_talbott)

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.

Besides that tune, 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

(http://twitter.com/musicmesfin)

Idle Warship, "Habits of the Heart," (Blacksmith/Element 9/Fontana)

Res put out her debut album in 2001 with "How Do I," but the singer-songwriter, who blended her soulful music with elements of rock and pop, fell off the mainstream map despite that wonderful first effort. Still, Res has remained on the music scene for the last few years and makes perhaps her biggest splash yet with Talib Kweli as the eclectic, electric duo Idle Warship.

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