I don’t like doing a top ten list so here’s my list of what I consider the notable albums of 2012. I’m less and less able to use music merely as background noise; I need to concentrate on what’s playing. Somehow in the past year this has meant that I’ve tended to stick with what’s old and familiar rather than putting in a lot of effort to digest new stuff. I might say that if I see it as effort, why should I bother? Though sometimes that effort does yield it’s share of rewards. There were a lot of albums released in the past year that I should have listened to more but there just wasn’t time.
That being said, here’s my list. (If you click on the Amazon links below and buy anything at all, it will help me out a lot, thanks!)
Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls. One of the groups that seemed to get massive critical acclaim but the charms of this record mostly eluded me. People rave about Brittany Howard’s voice but to me she sounds like she’s singing with a mouthful of chewing gum.
Alejandro Escovedo – Big Station. In my book, Escovedo rarely goes wrong. This is his third collaboration with producer Tony Visconti. I don’t think it’s as good as Real Animal but it’s pretty darned far from bad.
Allah-Las – Allah-Las. This L.A. group is doing an expert version of sounding like a 60s garage-surf-punk band. On some days it hits the spots for me, on others I stop playing it and dig out my Seeds records.
Amanda Palmer – Theatre is Evil. I haven’t spent much time listening to this Kickstarter-funded album. The Palmer release from 2012 that I really like is her “Several Attempts to Cover Songs by The Velvet Underground & Lou Reed for Neil Gaiman as His Birthday Approaches” which is every bit as goofy and fun as the title suggests.
Andre Williams & The Sadies – Night & Day. Wikipedia says his 1998 album Silky may be the sleaziest album ever. This one isn’t far off the mark. “I drink my rum right out da bottle so I can hear the witch when she hollers, I like my rum cause I ain’t got no teeth, I let it flow over my gums.”
Antony and the Johnsons – Cut the World. I’m almost starting to get him. Almost.
Arturo Sandoval – Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You). This live album features Gary Burton, Bob Mintzer, Joey DeFrancesco, Eddie Daniels and others and may not be a “great” album but it’s pure pleasure.
B.B. King – The Life of Riley – The Soundtrack. There’s a million B.B. King compilations out there. This one, the soundtrack to a new documentary film, may be the best.
Bettye LaVette – Thankful N’ Thoughtful. LaVette’s late career resurgence continues with yet another collection of unexpected covers – songs by Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Waits and The Black Keys.
Bill Fay – Life is People. If I have this right, Fay made a few albums in the late 60s and early 70s and then disappeared for 40 years. This is so good it makes me want to go back and find his older stuff.
The Blasters – Fun on Saturday Night. For me, primo Blasters means both Phil and Dave Alvin, but I suppose Dave’s not going to rejoin them any time soon. Their first album in 7 years is good fun.
Bob Dylan – Tempest. I knew I was going to love this as soon as I hear Duquesne Whistle. Dylan’s been remarkably consistent in the past decade and a half and if his body of work only consisted of his albums since ’97, he’d still be one of the all time great artists.
Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream. A terrific return to form after a couple of blah albums. This is Bonnie’s best in at least 10 years if not longer.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball. Bruce’s first post-Clarence album featured some songs that have been around for awhile but never made it onto a studio album before. These were by no means mere filler though; I love the studio version of Land of Hope and Dreams.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age. This may be one of the stupidest concepts for an album of all time – classic Roxy Music songs re-imagined as 1930s jazz instrumentals. Seriously. Do the Strand. Virginia Plain. The Bogus Man. I wanted to name this as worst album of 2012 but somehow it actually works.
The Chemical Brothers – Don’t Think. I didn’t even realize the Chemical Brothers were still around. Then they released this amazing concert film, available in Blu-Ray/CD and DVD/CD packages. The CD is good, the film is even better.
Crosby Stills & Nash – CSN 2012. Horrible.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant. St. Vincent is one of those current artists whom I just don’t get and I also have no idea why this record even exists. But there’s some stuff on it that I like, go figure.
Dexys – One Day I’m Going to Soar. After a very long time and a very disappointing solo career, Kevin Rowland is recording as “Dexys”, dropping the “Midnight Runners” bit. The British press went crazy over this album and as I was listening to it I was thinking, “What the fuck?” Then came track 4, the Al Green-ish yet very Kevin Rowland-ish “She Got a Wiggle” came on and it all came together for me. It’s very strange but very compelling.
Diana Krall – Glad Rag Doll. Krall continues to impress me, and for more than just her cover photos.
Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos. This may not be Fagen’s best album but for reasons that I can’t quite explain I’ve played this more than any of his other solo albums and more than any of the recent Steely Dan records.
Dr. John – Locked Down. On first listen, I thought that this collaboration with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys got everything wrong. On second listen, I realized that I was wrong.
To be continued …