2012 FAVORITES

FAVORITES OF 2012

Found a great combination of artists of all ages making music still vital, challenging and just plain entertaining.  Gorgeous melodies, strong grooves and relevant themes continue to shine each year, in both the album format and the digital single.  These are not really the biggest selling records, but more the ones I spent the most time listening during the year.

I decided for the first time to divide the music makers into three age groups.  Never really thought about that before, but now that so many men and women are making pop and rock music into their 70’s, it has stretched the writing cycle well beyond teen angst and middle-aged revolution.

NEW ELDERLY

BOB DYLAN – ‘Duquesne Whistle’ has the single best groove of the year.
ROLLING STONES – Mick Jagger is as annoying as ever.  ‘Doom and Gloom’ is the best Stones in 20 years.
THE dB’s- 30 years between albums.  ‘The Wonder of Love’ is the horn song of the year.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – The man is unstoppable.  He was great at SXSW as the Keynote speaker.  His albums continue to be thoughtful, sincere and hard rockin’ as can be, and the live show has not wavered since the Main Point days.

MIDDLE YEARS

SHINS – one of the best melody writers in the business today.  His arrangements are pure pop in the Jimmy Webb, Bacharach-David style for the new generation.  Saw them live, didn’t care for the show, but love his writing.
A C NEWMAN – the best melody writer in the business today.  He has been on a creative run since Twin Cinema that just continues to offer great pieces of music.
JACK WHITE – the best riff writer in the business today.
CALEXICO – gorgeous, atmospheric song scapes.  ‘Splitter’ is one of the best songs of the year.

YOUNGSTERS

ZEUS – garage rock single of the year with ‘Are You Gonna Break My Heart’.
THE STRAY BIRDS – accomplished, reverent, literate, passionate and genuine.
JOHN FULLBRIGHT – most cinematic new writer on the scene.  The next Dave Carter.
TITUS ANDRONICUS – lyrically their work really caught up to their hard driving rock skills
LORD HURON – the best song of the year with ‘Time To Run’
FATHER JOHN MISTY – unflappable and full of music.  Reminds me a little of Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA – amazing songwriter.  Mature way beyond his years.

So many good tracks from Free Energy, Grizzly Bear, Low Cut Connie, Heartless Bastards, Mumford & Sons, Django Django, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Dr Dog, Tame Impala, Gabriel Kelly and more.  Gabriel wrote the song with the best use of strings this year.  As bands like The Amazing and Foxygen pay such close homage to the 60’s, Gabriel hit the 70’s singer-songwriter arrangement and production style right in the sweet spot.

6th annual prog marathon

glad tidings for the new year.

while reading the station’s top 100 list, i assembled a list of favorite recordings of 2011. these are not necessarily the best of the year, but are the ones i listened to again and again, and found something more i liked about them each time. i would define a “best of” list as those that got the most airplay and sold the most copies, and achieved mainstream attention in a world that has adapted to the mediastream. so instead of the ‘best’ here’s my most enjoyed.

FAVORITE SOUNDS OF THE NEW ELDERLY::

my morning jacket – best rock record made this year. loved the who^ references, especially the pete townsend windmill riffs in ”circuital”. intense, delicate, serious and tongue in cheek, MMJ marries all the parts together and makes the record everyone thought they could.
laura marling – mature beyond her years, and amazing finger-style guitarist in the english folk trad. ”sophia” may be my favorite song of the year. see her live, and twist and whisper.
wilco – i’ve learned not to look at the words. just enjoy the melodies, the singing, the keys and the bass playing, and the blips and bleeps. the guitars are less like a dentist’s drill, and nels was very cool in the NPR tiny desk concert. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dk-2wEuZLmU. with so many different textures all working great together, this could be their best album since summerteeth. “one sunday morning” totally makes up for “impossible germany”. simply beautiful.
ryan adams – gorgeous new album. live show is a stunning 2+ hours of total wack job. my new ryan fave is “invisible riverside”. sounds like he and glyn johns were going for a dave mason alone together rhodes and wah wah effect. male vocalist of the year. where’s the heavy metal record?
anna calvi – single best live performance video i saw this year. many other great songs on the album. she studied edith piaf and jimi hendrix from age 5. maybe it’s her use of red. first learned of her from all songs considered, and am forever grateful. i was watching this video every morning in the summer to remind myself how great it is to be involved with music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KVVCHeHKXM&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL6838B90361C2569B
emily arin – most forthright and lovely record this year. ‘patch of land’ deserves more attention. emily publishes a monthly song subscription service and has started working with the radio free song club in hoboken that is run by kate jacobs and dave schramm and freedy johnston.
amos lee – it all came together on this fourth album for amos with the help of calexico. his most personal songs, and with the most expansive sounds. a philadelphia favorite and a textbook case of great opportunities, and doing everything right with them. prolific, concerned, loyal and wide awake in america.
the head and the heart – excellent songwriting and excellent stage presence. loved them at non-com. ”lost in my mind” was this year’s ”when my time comes”.
dale earnhart, jr, jr – just for the song “simple girl” this should have been one of those one-hit wonders of the summer of occupy.
adele – what’s there to say? the single most successful recording of the year. confounding the pundits and restoring the concept of people do buy records still. all based around someone who wrote honest songs and sings great. go figure. now this would be the best album of the year. resonated with millions, and i think that’s what songwriters are trying to do.
joe d’amico – excellent sense of melody and rock pedigree. joe plays almost all of the instruments and wrote and recorded everything himself, and this is one of those records that just works as a complete album. he draws on a broad history of rock and roll, and puts his own signature on the sounds. “listen to the summer” and “monsters” just knock me out.
paul simon – continues to be one step ahead of relevant to the times. this is why i am happy to be part of the new elderly. quotes his own work from almost 50 years ago, still tells the truth, takes chances and looks to the future. ‘get off my lawn’, but still making great records.
lana del ray – “video games” may be the only track she ever needs to do.
gary clarke jr – the blues and rock still work great together and he has put in a quick 10,000 hours on guitar. i’ve worked with many guitar greats over the years; jeff beck, stevie ray vaughan, randy rhodes, vernon reid and more. this guy is in that club.
joe bonamassa/beth hart – “well well” without a doubt the cover of the year. no one would ever believe a band could play stronger and tighter than clapton/russell/allman/mason/cropper/preston/price/raddle but these two not only found this classic, they nailed it.

altho it came out about a month ago, i would propose that the heartless bastards track “parted ways” is the first great track of 2012. i really liked the band’s last album, and this record goes to a whole new level, certainly beyond alabama shakes. the second half of the song sounds like an homage to keith moon drumming with patti smith singing. can’t wait to see them play live. book them for your summer festival now. hope they have a great year.

CURRENT PROJECTS

projects and music on the way in january and february include a new record from john flynn, the end of the beginning. with performances from kris kristofferson, freebo, brother sun, bill miller, and other guests, this is john’s most personal yet inclusive record to date. check out “the giving stone” and his re-working of “she’s the one”. “crazy as ever” should be a great wedding song.

the sultans of string, canada’s juno nominated gypsy jazz, folk and swing band come out swinging in january with their third album, MOVE. please check out “montreal”, “josie”, and their cover of “heart of gold” featuring dala on vocals. the band will be touring the northeast US this winter, and are a must see show.

tracy grammer has signed to red house records, and will be releasing an album of archived dave carter songs on st valentine’s day, little blue egg. these recordings are essentially the last batch of songs dave & tracy were writing and recording following the success of tanglewood tree and drum hat buddha, and include ”hard to make it”, ”better way”, ”gypsy rose” and a stunning interpretation of the woody/wilco/billy bragg track ”way over yonder in a minor key”.

annie crane has signed a licensing deal with starbucks for the use of two of her songs, including my favorite from the album, “you & me & the evergreen” in all of their stores in the US for the next 3 months. please give this record another listen, as annie has created a unique sound that embodies celtic arrangements with unexpected instruments, like trumpet.

lindi ortega won the apple/mac video award for iphone video of the year, and will be shooting another to debut at macworld in san fran the end of january. she was a world cafe NEXT artist over the summer, and continues to tour the US, just finishing a run with diego garcia.

joe d’amico recorded his first hand-held iphone video, for the title song ”asleep in my shoes”, directed and edited the production, and received a feature from the WXPN key in early december. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3-poW_rtOo . his band, mason porter, has just finished 4 new tracks for release in march. huge thanks for the support to vin scelsa, michael buckley and WXPN.

jen creed is receiving international radio support for her interpretation of cliff eberhardt’s “the long road”, and will be touring the east coast in the spring. please check out her covers of tom waits, springsteen, patty griffin, van morrison as well as her originals.

birdie busch recently celebrated the IMA college label of the year award at the living room in NYC for her EP, everyone will take you in, with songs set in philadelphia. she is in the studio working on her next record for a late spring release, and had another song in a TV show, with “hold ya” used in the opening scene of an episode of the protector. those things actually pay really good money.

i’m really looking forward to joining dan reed, chuck van zyl and john diliberto for the 6th annual prog rock marathon this coming saturday 1/7/12, from 10-5pm EST on WXPN. i’ll be bringing in my vinyl and CD collection and will once again embarrass myself with way too many geeked-out recordings from the 70’s including all your prog icons and near-cult faves. what would qualify for near-cult status in prog? taking your requests here now.

also looking forward to season #2 of portlandia. this show is ridiculous.

next week a look at the life and times of grammy® nominee linda chorney, who has already won the Perception Is Reality Award in the mediastream of 2011. it’s too bad everyone is mad at her. she gamed the system, fully grasped web 2.0, and caught the music industry leaders asleep at the wheel once again.

FMRL
http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/12/21-things-that-will-be-obsolete-in-2020/

always love to learn what you are thinking and hearing. the next version won’t be nearly as long. thanks for reading and have a great new year.

biff