WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN
The year in music, the soundtrack of my life and everything which transpired in 2012 keeps me optimistic going into 2013. The sounds were dominated surely by roots music and Americana, while soul music keeps making a strong comeback with a couple of great new voices. My generation, weathered and sassy, contributed greatly to making it one of the best years musically once again and the creativity abounds amidst the music industry becoming more fractured and much more independent.
As always this is a labor of love, listening on a daily basis to the greatest music, in my humble opinion, created by some of the most talented people on this planet. On a great day it gets me in an even better place and on average days it inspires me to be better. Music is transformational. Every voice, every instrument on this list in one way made me a better person.
That being said the sounds of 2012 provided a wonderful backdrop to a divided country that almost ate itself alive. Somehow calm minds prevailed and the peoples voices were once again heard loud and clear. WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN....yes it is one of the best songs of the year but after all of the sadness which enveloped our land,we invariably defaulted and ultimately took care of ourselves. Whether the voice of reason will prevail or the haters will regain strength remains to be seen. Hence I present to you the ray of hope which on a daily basis gave me reason to smile and be glad to be alive and to experience the gift of every single one of these talented musicians. Music cures what ails ya and if you don't believe that stop reading now....or screw it and enjoy the vibes. Peace.
CAT POWER: Sun
THE SHINS: Port of Morrow
FIRST AID KIT: The Lions Roar
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS: Transcendental Youth
GARY CLARK JR: Blak and Blu
PATTI SMITH: Banga
DIRTY PROJECTORS: Swing Lo Magellan
HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Arrow
DIVINE FITS: A Thing Called Divine Fits
JACK WHITE: Blunderbuss
THE FLATLANDERS: The Odessa Tapes
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM: Handwritten
50. MUMFORD AND SONS: BABEL Marcus Mumford and Company released their follow up to their 2009 hit Sigh No More and for a sophomore effort it reached as many if not more fans of the new folk revival.
49. THE SEA AND THE CAKE: RUNNER Once again the Chicago luminaries Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt provide pleasant and mellow rock n roll with a very sweet edge.
48. NORAH JONES: LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS One of the greatest modern voices in music, Norah Jones combines her beautiful arrangements of pop, country and jazz to create a truly enjoyable experience any time of the day.
47. THE WALLFLOWERS: GLAD ALL OVER Jakob Dylan, yes son of, and crew create modern rock n roll with the brilliant addition of Mick Jones from the Clash on two tracks!
46. WILD NOTHING: NOCTURNE Unfortunately I did not catch Jack Tatum and band when they opened for Beach House at Crofoot, my loss. A very fine synth pop effort.
45. KELLY HOGAN: I LIKE TO KEEP MYSELF IN PAIN A beautiful voice in the tradition of Dusty Springfield, Kelly Hogan is just as comfortable singing country as she is pop or jazz.
44. MELODY GARDOT: THE ABSENCE One of the great musical stories, and there are many, Melody Gardot has one of the smoothest jazz tinged voices today. This album has a decided South American tinge to it and it swings.
43. GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR: THREE CHORDS GOOD One of my all time favorite musicians that never made it, Graham has reunited with the Rumour and from the first cut, the reggae tinged Snake Oil Capital of the World, he is still pissed off and brilliant. Catch him and the band in the Judd Apatow movie THIS IS 40.
42. GRIZZLY BEAR: SHIELDS The Indie darlings of Brooklyn released one of their most accessible albums, with Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste mixing beautiful textures of sound and lyrics into one big enjoyable record.
41. THE VERY BEST: MTMTNK It sure did not hurt having Ezra Koening from Vampire Weekend helping out on Kondaine. Very Best do World Music for the 21st century and the kick ass.
40. ESPERANZA SPALDING: RADIO MUSIC SOCIETY What a beautiful follow up to her Grammy winning Chamber Music Society in 2011. The double bass jazz wizard with the be bop soulful voice shows she was not a flash in the pan....
39. CALEXICO: ALGIERS Another of my favorite little known Southwestern rock bands, Calexico made one of the more chill rock records of 2012. Slow and sassy with a dose of tequilla.
38. BILL FAY: LIFE IS PEOPLE I discovered this amazing musician late in the year and otherwise this would have been listened to more. Another superb singer/songwriter from the 70s who was cast aside and one of Jeff Tweedy's favorites, this is mellow in the tradition of the greats and hopefully he will find an audience this time around. LISTEN....
37. MENAHAN STREET BAND: THE CROSSING Hailing from Brooklyn and the Daptone Record Label, these cats make some of the most original and soulful music since the Funk Brothers.
36. BAND OF HORSES: MIRAGE ROCK Ben Bridwell has continually made great American roots Southern rock n roll. Influeneces from CSNY to the Eagles, helped famous producer Glyn Johns make this their best release yet.
35. THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH: THERE'S NO LEAVING NOW Sweden's gift to American roots and folk music is Kristian Matsson. With an eerie voice reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan, his fourth release in the States is another treat. And he is not that tall....
34. THE WALKMEN: HEAVEN After ten years of releasing great records, the Walkmen have finally made a great adult rock n roll album. No more screaming or depression, but just beautiful harmonies and great vintage rock n roll, with jangly big guitars and big drums. Hamilton Leithauser has some of the best pipes today.
33. JENS LECKMAN: I KNOW WHAT LOVE ISN'T Another Swedish contributor to the best music of the years, Jens Leckman sings of love and happiness starting off with Erica America. Pure pop for those who enjoy melodic and sweet and sunshine and blue skies.
32. NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: AMERICANA and PSYCHEDELIC PILL To say that Neil was prolific in 2012 would be an understatement. Two brilliant albums, one a cover of old Americana and Psychedelic Pill which is pure Crazy Horse and Neil and fer sure PSYCHEDELIC.
Along with an Autobiography and an upcoming improvement to the way music is listened to, well Rust Never Sleeps.....
31. DR JOHN: LOCKED DOWN For those of faint heart who cannot get behind Mac and his 72 year old gris gris....Helped by the production of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, the good Dr has made one of the great albums of his career. New Orleans and Treme have never sounded better with the horns and the Dr amazing lyrics and voice. Keep on Mac!
30. BOBBY WOMACK: THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE Soul. Well Bobby Womack has never lacked of it. From Across 110th Street to this his "comeback" album, Bobby survived a heart attack and released on of the great efforts from the surviving members of 60's soul music. Helped by Damon Albam of Blur and Richard Russell who produced Gil Scott Heron last album; this is a gem.
29. BOB DYLAN: TEMPEST What can you say about Bob Dylan that has not already been said. He has a voice which at times does not resonate and at others is as tricky as the arrangements of his songs. He is equally comfortable with the blues as he is with folk and pop. This album is no exception; from the opening cut Duquense Whistle, an old timely homage to Americana to the final cut Roll On John, a powerful farewell to John Lennon, Dylan has never sounded like he is having as much fun.
28. SIGUR ROS: VALTARI For those unfortunate enough never to have heard Sigur Ros this will be a fine introduction; except there are 15 years of catching up to do. Atmospheric, melodic, symphonic, and downright psychedelic at times; Jonsi Birgisson and company are one of Iceland's best exports to these shores. Their live show is not to be missed....trust me.
27. LORD HURON: LONESOME DREAMS One of those pleasant surprises, when you have never heard of a band and their melodic, folky, gorgeous set of songs blows you away. Ben Schneider, born in Michigan, has created a truly wonderful country, pop, crunchy tinged set of tunes. So well done and so pretty the songs get better as the love and hope seeps from the tracks.
26. JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE: NOTHINGS GONNA CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT ME NOW In this case its a good thing. This boy knows how to write an song and as he emotes you just want to say Hell Yes....or at times OUCH. Life and love have not always been rosey for the younger son of Steve, and how could it be, but he has made album after album of great heartfelt songs, all of which should make his mom and dad proud.
25. IRIS DEMENT: SING THE DELTA It's been eight long years since her last album and this was well worth the wait. With a voice and songs reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, Nancy Griffith and Lucinda Williams, Iris is possibly another of America's great treasures as far as country music goes. Go On Ahead and Go Home opens the album and if they don't get you nothing will.
24. THE xx: COEXIST The sophomore effort from this ultra cool British collective proves that atmospheric, chill and even dubstep has found a home in my head at least. From Angels which brilliantly opens the album to Sunset, Jamie Smith could sing and I would always listen....closely.
23. TAME IMPALA: LONERISM I can only describe this as an amazing bit of Beatles from the Sgt Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour era. With all due respect this is a brilliant rock album with kudos to the production of the fuzzy guitars and quite possibly whatever drugs they were taking.
22. J.D. MCPHERSON: SIGNS AND SIGNIFIERS Not sure where this guy has been hiding, probably in a juke joint somewhere on the south side of Memphis or in Gene Vincent's garage. Possibly a son of Brian Setzer....by now I am hoping you get the picture. This is another one of those albums that just knocked me off my feet and made me remember what rock n roll was in the beginning of the fifties.
21. MIGUEL: KALEIDOSCOPE DREAM There seems to be an R&B/Soul Revival underway and one of the young hipster proponents is Miguel. With a soulful voice which borrows a bit from Marvin Gaye, especially on Adorned, which is one of the great songs of the year. His slow and sassy voice and references to his hero Prince are evident. This oozes with coolness and sexual healing.
20. alt-J: AN AWESOME WAVE There is a great tradition at work here from Massive Attack to Burial. The Brits sure know how to do trippy ArtPopRock, or whatever you chose to classify this as. I came to this late in the year but have not stopped listening. Between the beats and the singer who sounds a bit like Elmer Fudd, this is an unBeatable combo.
19. BETTYE LAVETTE: Not to be undone by the young gun hipster soul singers, do not ever forget about Bettye. She comes from Detroit and even though she was passed over by Berry Gordy, his mistake, she has continued to make phenomenal records well into her sixties. With a voice that is as raspy and seasoned as fine sand paper, Bettye Lavette draws on songs from Bob Dylan and Neil Young and makes them sound like herself, forgetting for a moment someone else even wrote them. A goddess!
18. JOHN FULBRIGHT: FROM THE GROUND UP The pride of Oklahoma in the tradition of great American folk singers like Woody, Pete and Bob; the kid has chops and knows how to write a song. Gawd Above is the premier song on the album, but like every other chestnut on this under appreciated it is a killer. It would appear that some one did pay attention as the album was recently nominated for a GRammy as Best Americana Album. There is hope...
17. LAMBCHOP: MR M Kurt Wagner has been quietly and by that I mean without much commercial success, been making brilliant music for well over twenty years. Southern in flavor but by no means countrified, he writes intelligent and very insightful songs. Not content to be pigeonholed into Alternative or Indie, Wagner makes beautiful big sounds.
16. BONNIE RAITT: SLIPSTREAM Although Bonnie never really went anywhere, there has not been an album from her this good in quite some time. She literally kills it on every single song. From blues to pop to ballads, Bonnie reaches back to her 1974 gem Streetlights and delves into her entire catalogue to create one of the finest releases of her brilliant career. Her voice has lost nothing and her guitar playing is still stellar. Like a fine wine....
15. THE LUMINEERS: THE LUMINEERS Think back to Mumford and Sons who somehow started the folk revival and here is a debut album equally as stunning in its brilliance. From the intoxicating single Hey Ho to every other Americana influenced sing along, the Denver based Lumineers kept the revival going.
14. ALABAMA SHAKES: BOYS AND GIRLS Last year their EP made it onto my list and this year their debut album makes the Top 50. Brittany Howard and company delivered southern fried rock and soul to the fullest. Her guitar playing and a voice reminiscent of among others; Janis Joplin makes this band a force to be reckoned with.
13. DWIGHT YOAKUM: 3 PEARS One of the great honky tonk singers in the Bakersfield tradition of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Dwight makes a "comeback" album of sorts with a little help from Beck and even Kid Rock. Not quite as rambunctious as in the past, but still playing guitar and singing with purpose this is a solid record.
12. COLD SPECKS: I PREDICT A GRATEFUL EXPULSION Ditto another amazing first LP from a young Canadian folk singer/songwriter, Al Spx, that fronts the band called Cold Specks. With pipes that will surely take her far and sprinkled in with a dash of soul and heavenly gospel, the closest comparison that I can draw you to is if Richie Havens and Laura Nyro had a child. Check this out....
11. FRANK OCEAN: CHANNEL ORANGE Riding the wave of the new soul singers that are fast replacing "rappers" 25 year old Frank Ocean was one of the music industries big success stories of 2012. Hyped by the internet and sort of made famous by coming out, his music far outpaced all of the chatter. He delivered with one of the most melodic and real Southern California soul albums of the year. With a nod to Prince and of course Stevie Wonder, Ocean is the real deal.
10. FATHER JOHN MISTY: FEAR FUN The nom de plume which J Tillman, drummer for Fleet Foxes, has chosen for his first solo album using this name is genius. Borrowing a bit from the freak folk of Fleet Foxes and paying homage to the Band and Neil Young, Tillman has produced a beautifully sounding and very listenable album of tunes. Including one of the best cover art of the year, this was played over and over in my yearly rotation.
9. BEACHWOOD SPARKS: THE TARNISHED GOLD A little known and long time famous Los Angeles band, Brent Rademaker, Chris Gunst and revolving band members released this gem, as their first album in ten years. Alternative country is one way to describe them, with influences like New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Gram Parsons, this is an amalgamation which makes up one of the greatest bands I had never heard of. I have since purchased their small catalogue and if this is your type of music you will be as enchanted as I was.
8. OF MONSTERS AND MEN: MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL I first heard of this band in 2010 after they had won the Icelandic contest equivalent of the Mercury Awards in England. Neo folk revival may be one way of listening to them, but they are much more and their use of the glokenspiel, along with the accordion, guitars and melodica compare them even to Arcade Fire in my mind. Taking the torch from Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men truly continues the fine Icelandic tradition of making interesting and beautifully melodic music.
7. JIMMY CLIFF: REBIRTH Irie. Finally another great reggae album from the "grandfather" of the genre and the king of Kingston. Ever since The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff has represented Jamaica properly and this album is a must have for anyone with a love of reggae. His cover of The Clash song The Guns of Brixton is remarkable. Plenty of ska and rock steady makes Jimmy Cliff at age 64 another reason to celebrate his Rebirth.
6. BEACH HOUSE: BLOOM After their sophomore album Teen Dream propelled them to be stars and indie pop darlings, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally did not rest on their laurels. This is one of the prettiest albums of the year with sweeping and majestic sounds filling your head or the room. Live they were extraordinary at Crofoot and every single track is a gem soaked in amazing sounds. Close your eyes and pretend you are on a beautiful beach....now jump in.
5. DIIV: OSHIN For a debut album, the band DIIV, aptly titled it OSHIN. From their Ventures inspired guitars that are enormous in sound, these young stars in the making question their existence in such a unique musical collage it is jaw dropping. With some comparisons to Real Estate, this is one of the finest guitar based bands playing sweet rock n roll in America today.
4. fun: SOME NIGHTS Somehow I avoided the unintentional hype when this came out and did not listen. What a mistake. This is one of the most infectious sounding albums of the year. There I said it. Pure pop, sugar coated and syrup all in one. But...Nate Reuss, with a voice and sound which recalls Freddie Mercury of Queen and Elton John, belts out song after song (with the help of Janelle Morae on We Are Young) and made a believer out of me from the first listen.
3. LEONARD COHEN: OLD IDEAS "He's a lazy bastard living in a suit....." Not many 78 year old bards are still making songs with lines like that. From poems to love songs, Leonard Cohen is a Canadian national treasure, who has been transplanted to America. Making amazing music and songs since 1967, Leonard has blessed us with everything from Suzanne to Hallelujah. This is a gift which makes all of those younger than Lenny aspire to. A Jewish Zen Buddhist, who reminds me of my fathers voice at times, Leonard Cohen may have titled it Old Ideas, but they sound just as new as anything out there today.
2. RODRIGUEZ: SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN SOUNDTRACK Having heard about the legendary Rodriguez for years, but never having seen him in the 70's, I was intrigued when I heard that a documentary was being made about this fellow Detroiter. I will not spoil the story, since if you are reading this and have not seen the film.....DO NOT PASS GO...SEE IT! The music on this is a compilation of the Best of Rodriguez, who is now 70 and still living in Detroit I might add. A cross between Nick Drake and Bob Dylan is the only comparison I can give. His voice is enchanting and the songs are beautiful stories of protest and disappointment. But there is hope if you listen, which I urge you to do.
1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: WRECKING BALL An anthem. A call to arms. A protest record. Objectively....all of the above and one of the greatest accomplishment in his 41 year career of making records. This is a song for America, in that Bruce speaks to the trials and tribulations of a nation divided offering his unique perspective on peoples lives and how to solve some of the problems..."if I had me a gun I'd find the bastards and shoot em on sight" in reference to the bankers in Jack of All Trades. Death to My Hometown was written before Hurricane Sandy, but it surely was referential when played at the 121212 Concert. Bruce speaks to the disparity in our society like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie before him, even closing the album with American Land, a sort of tip of the hat the Pete and Woody. Bruce may have been one of the forebearers of the folk revival written about today, but he drenches it in soul and gospel as one of the premier American musicians would do. Land Of Hopes and Dreams is a true revival song and you just wanna get on the train, which is filled with "saints and sinners, losers and winners, whores and gamblers, and lost souls". How could you resist? We Are Alive is just that, an affirmation of life and even if we are gone, we are somehow still involved. Bruce Springsteen speaks to and for an America in need of hope and guidance through our travails. His concerts this year were some of the best that I have witnessed in the 36 years following him. The E Street Band and Bruce are American music at its best. Musically and lyrically this will get you up, singin and dancin and provide you with hope of brighter days ahead for us all.