Music: 22 awesome albums from 2012
Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2012
Some of these artists you’ve probably heard of (Messrs Dylan and Springsteen, for instance), and others may be a mystery to you — but trust me, they all put out albums well worth a listen before we get too deep into 2013.
To say they’re “the best” would be selling short all the other great music that came out in the last year, but they’re better than what you’re likely to hear on Top 40 radio on the way home today — especially if you’re a fan of Americana, alt-country, girl-group pop or just old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll. Start your downloads!
Best Coast, “The Only Place.” Thought it lacks some of the endearing sonic fuzziness of their breakout LP “Crazy For You,” Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno still deliver a marvelously angsty collection of lo-fi surf rock. LISTEN TO: “Why I Cry,” a jangly shout-out about depression and clueless boyfriends.
Bob Dylan, “Tempest.” Dylan still croaks like a master, cajoling his craggy voice around old-fashioned arrangements and lyrics that are, as always, illuminating and inscrutable at the same time. LISTEN TO: “Long and Wasted Years,” a spoken-sung rumination on a marriage gone cold.
Bonnie Raitt, “Slipstream.” Bonnie continues to improve with age, her bluesy song stylings and stellar guitar work remaining a pleasure on her first album since 2005. LISTEN TO: “Million Miles,” a dark and sultry Dylan cover.
Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball.” Springsteen’s most timely album ever, it’s as much about hope and the need to connect as it is about economic and emotional despair — and a penchant for rollicking Americana keeps it squarely rooted in uplift mode. LISTEN TO: The restrained, gospel-infused “Rocky Ground.”
Craig Finn, “Clear Heart Full Eyes.” The Hold Steady frontman trades rock bombast for more personal folk and country territory here, and the shift suits him. LISTEN TO: The appropriately bluesy standout “Honolulu Blues.”
David Byrne and St. Vincent, “Love This Giant.” Horn-heavy and sonically goofy, this collaboration is even more oddly endearing than you’d probably imagine. It’s a marriage made in alternative indie heaven. LISTEN TO: “Outside of Space and Time,” a song about buildings and food … and pretty much everything else.
Gaslight Anthem, “Handwritten.” Brian Fallon and his bandmates continue to extol the sincere virtues of letters, the radio, girls in long dresses and professions of love through open car windows. LISTEN TO: “Mulholland Drive,” a pounding and nostalgic lost-love rocker.
J.D. McPherson, “Signs & Signifiers.” Re-released this year after great 2011 buzz, it’s a low-fi rockabilly triumph that manages to sound retro and timeless all at once. LISTEN TO: “Scratching Circles,” a joyous amalgam of Jackie Wilson and Clyde McPhatter.
Josh Ritter, “Bringing in the Darlings.” Ritter’s in Paul Simon-troubadour mode on this EP, but what he leaves out in wicked humor he makes up for in ambling charm. LISTEN TO: Bouncy single “Love Is Making Its Way Back Home.”
Justin Townes Earle, “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now.” The son of Steve Earle just gets better with each album, exuding an honest and emotional country charm combined with a hooky pop-rock sensibility. LISTEN TO: “Memphis in the Rain,” which mixes horns with down-home twang.
Kevin Gordon, “Gloryland.” He’s been referred to as a “Southern Springsteen,” and this album brings his American South to tangible, swampy life. LISTEN TO: “Colfax/Step in Time,” a haunting 10-minute story song about teenage longings and casual racism.
Kingsley Flood, “Colder Still.” The Gloucester, Mass. group’s most raucous and modern release, it stays true to their Americana roots while taking a more electric, indie-rock approach. LISTEN TO: Moody album closer “House On The Hill,” a Springsteenesque indictment of the American dream deferred.
Lee Rocker, “Night Train to Memphis.” The former Stray Cat brings his otherworldly stand-up bass skills to an expert collection of rockabilly covers. LISTEN TO: “So Sad,” a lesser-known Everly Brothers track.
Leland Sundries, “The Foundry EP.” Lexington, Mass. native Nick Loss-Eaton turns his laconic growl on striking turns of phrase as potent as they are mesmerizing. LISTEN TO: The eerie “VFW Hall,” which sounds like Daniel Lanois by way of “Deliverance.”
Leonard Cohen, “Old Ideas.” At 77, Cohen’s voice has never better matched his material, sounding as tested and timeworn as his lyrics — and stunning, as always. LISTEN TO: “Anyhow,” a winking, last-ditch lover’s plea.
Liz Frame and the Kickers, “Sooner.” Frame’s easygoing but emotional vibrato frames a cavalcade of tough heartbroken and heartbreaking characters who rise above the typical country music tropes. LISTEN TO: “Girl of Little Faith,” whose buoyant twang counteracts the singer’s entrenched pessimism.
Paul Rishell, “Talking Guitar.” Rishell’s acoustic paean to blues guitar greats from the 1920s and ’30s is far from a museum piece — instead, it’s as moody, gritty and vibrant as the genre itself. LISTEN TO: “I’m Gonna Jump and Shout,” a pitch-perfect blues original.
Rhett Miller, “The Dreamer.” The Old 97’s singer offers a mostly acoustic amble through appealing and ultimately touching tales of lost and almost-loves. LISTEN TO: “Long Long Long,” an alt-country rocker with a perfect mix of romantic pessimism and jaunty musicality.
Sean Hayes, “Before We Turn to Dust.” On Hayes’ folky blues (or is it bluesy folk?), modern beats carry along a world-weary rumble that conveys just the right balance of hope and desperation. LISTEN TO: “Drop Down,” a nostalgic slow-burner about new fatherhood.
Susan McKeown, “Belong.” McKeown’s rich, sad soprano highlights this melodic and moving collection, a combination of country melancholy and New York City sass. LISTEN TO: “Our Texas,” about a couple’s “last great adventure” before parting ways.
Tennis, “Young and Old.” Husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are back with a perfect blend of keyboards, percussion and pop sugar. LISTEN TO: The organ-laden “Traveling.”
Various Artists, “Long Distance Salvation.” This lo-fi Americana tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 “Nebraska” album reminds of the original’s brilliance while staking out striking territory of its own. LISTEN TO: Jonah Tochin’s spooky backwoods take on “State Trooper.”