Music for the Year the World Ended
I don’t know about you all but 2012 kicked my ass.
I hate to be narcissistic but not more than I hate to be dishonest (plus, I’m a musician, so you’ll indulge me a little bit, won’t you?): my Best of 2012 List is comprised of albums that got me through. These records got me through the long drives. They got me through the whiskey. They got me through the pre-shows. They got me through the raving days, the nights hunched over my work, the unholy parties. Some of these records were released this year. Some were not. If your 2012 was anything like mine, and damn if it was, details like who released what when don’t really matter. This is the best music I spun in 2012, the music that I kept coming back to over and over and over again like a wanderer to a well.
Now to be fair, to appease the “Best of” gods, and to maintain that this is still a review and not a manifesto, I will tell you that many of the artists on my list had a huge 2012. Anders had Black Eye Galaxy, Robert had Nothin but Love, Esperanza had Radio Music Society, GPN had The Lion The Beast The Beat, and the list goes on. The new releases were often where I started this year, but the albums from these artists that stuck with me were, more often than not, albums that live somewhere ’round back.
So, here it goes, Music for the Year the World Ended -OR- Music For the Year Before the World Began (Again.)
Happy listening yall and happiest of New Years!
Shovels and Rope: O’ Be Joyful (2012 Dualtone)
Heard Hells Bells. Flipped my lid. Saw Shovels and Rope perform. Tried to flip your lid. Bought two albums: Shovels and Rope and O’ Be Joyful. Listened to both of them on repeat for weeks. O’ Be Joyful wins because the songs are at the same time more haunting than the dusty barrooms and crank characters that the duo bemoan and rock and fucking roll. Shovels and Rope started out as the name of a murder ballad album. It is now simply the name of a killer band.
Eperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (2010 Heads Up)
Her production is out of this world. Her songwriting is out of this world. Her singing is out of this world. Her arranging is out of this world. Her playing is out of this world. Her work ethic is out of this world. The only thing that tops alla that is Spalding’s imagination. 2012’s Radio Music Society, which I also dearly love, is a record that is timely. Chamber Music Society is, on the other hand, timeless. It is an album that fuses free-jazz with classical strings, lyricism with funk, the soul of blues with the freak of punk. Organic. Shocking. Seamless. Experimental. Classic.
The Band: Anthology (1978 Capitol)
Normally I am not a greatest hits kinda gal. I only make three exceptions: CCR Chronicle, The Very Best of Dr. John, and The Band Anthology. When the boys and I were recording “Ain’t No Whiskey” back in 2010/2011, we listened to The Band religiously and by that I mean that it was a religious experience. Those were high times, making that record. When the low times hit this year, I played the shit out of the The Band, sittin in my smokin chair out on the porch. When Levon died I wore a hole straight through the record. In the best of times, in the worst of times, your oldest friend will see you through. So done this record.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: Nothing but the Water (2006 Hollywood)
Don’t be fooled. Just because Grace Potter struts around in 6 inch heels and mini skirts don’t mean her act is flimsy too. This band is the real deal. GPN have been on a long, slow burn since forming almost a decade ago in Vermont. Their trajectory may seem explosive but it’s more like water to a boil; it takes a long time for the water to get warm, but once it’s hot, there’s no stopping it. Many of the things that I love about Grace aren’t musical. She’s driven, she’s clear-eyed, she’s a perfectionist, and she’s an absolute dog for hard work. I got onto GPN in 2010 with their self-titled album but found myself distracted by the glittering sexiness of it all. I needed something a a bit more raw. I began exploring their back catalogue and discovered this little gem. This record is screamin-hot Bonnie Raitt-meets-Janis Joplin vocals with a killer rhythm section and energy to burn. While I will admit that some songs have seemed to me, at times, a bit contrived, I forgive Grace. I chalk this assessment up more to my cynicism than her lack of heart. This record has been my driving album all year. And 35, 000 miles later, I would say that it is more than roadworthy.
Anders Osborne: Coming Down (2007 M.C.)
I can’t get this record out of my head and I can’t get this record out of my heart. Anders’ voice does what Van’s and Dr. John’s do but see Anders’ songs break me apart more. Osborne’s 2012 release, Black Eye Galaxy, is a psychedelic rumination on addiction, love, and loss. It is electric and throbbing and I love it’s grinding, chomping sound. Coming Down is written from inside addiction, love, and loss. It is acoustic, melodic, and devastating. This year I’m taking the latter over the former but it’s nothin on Anders. This one’s on me.
Robert Cray: Strong Persuader (1986 Mercury)
There is more sex in this album than any after-hours cable show could ever deliver. There is more lust, more desire, more fire, and more grit than most musicians can muster in a lifetime of releases. Cray manages it in 10 songs. People have argued for years about Robert Cray. Some say that he’s not really blues. I can’t really get that. I mean, is he too Al Green for you? A little too Albert Collins? Too much Motown swagger? Too much Tower of Power bravado? A little too smooth? A little too soulful? Someone once told me that he could learn everything there is to know about the blues in an afternoon. Someone else once told me that B.B. King makes him bored. After all, he said, in five minute you pretty much know what B.B.’s all about. I think that these are the people who think that Robert Cray isn’t blues; the people who think blues is a what not a how. You want to go have a good cry, listen to one of those men I know talk about music. You want to feel the blues, start spinning some classic Cray.
Anais Mitchell: Young Man in America (2012 Wilderland)
This record is a heart breaker. So much so, in fact, that I can’t even listen to “Shepherd” anymore, a song written by Mitchell based on a tragic story written by her father. Todd Sickafoose, one of my favorite bass players if for no other reason than his tone, handles the production of the record. Upon first listen, I found this production, production that includes elements like out-of-tune flutes, honky-tonk pianos, and squealing strings, to be jarring and in-congruent. But I soon came to realize that this is the exact point: this is the wilderland that Mitchell sings about, it’s the America that her young man inhabits, it’s the America that inhabits her young man. Ringing bells, arresting poetry, chamber wind choruses, haunting melodies, chirping vocals, pounding toms, discordant violins, blinding beauty, fluttering flutes. This is it. Mitchell is the storyteller. Sickafoose is the illustrator. The tale is wrenching.
Some others that are beyond worth a mention:
This year Norah Jones had Little Broken Hearts. I loved it so I started digging. It lead me to Featuring Norah Jones and to her collaboration with Herbie Hancock which took me straight to the source. Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (1974 Asylum). I tell you what, there is nothing in this world burns like a woman who is too hungry to hold.
Cyndi Lauper: She’s so Unusual (1983 Portrait). Where the hell has this woman been all my life? In 2012, this album blew my mind.
Bonnie Raitt: Takin’ My Time. (1973 Warner Bros.) Wonderful album and Bonnie’s 40-year old cover of the Mose Allison tune “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” could not be more timely.
Every time I crossed the boarder into Canada this year I was incidentally blasting The Very Best of Dr. John. (1995 Rhino). Each time I rolled up to the wicket, I figured that they would hear the music and either search my rig and throw me in jail or nod approvingly and wave me through. God bless Canada. And God bless Dr. John.