For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2012, leading up to our 2012 Top Album Countdown, as voted on by our listeners! Tune in on Friday, December 28th to hear if your picks made the list!
Greg’s 2012 Top Ten Albums
Is the whole list thing getting kinda out-a-hand? I mean I listened to American Top 40 when I was a kid back in the day, but does everything have to be a list these days? There’s a local magazine, where I swear the whole thing is a collection of lists. Last night, my wife ranked my worst habits, in order. I think Marlon Brando was right to not attend the Oscars in 1973 and send a Native American women to read his acceptance speech for Best Actor. It was a message about human rights, but also a statement that actors, movies, music, and art are not competitions to be ranked, and listed as better or worse, cuz they are all good. Right?
Of course this “list thing” is not a perfect science. And of course we never hear ALL the records, and let’s not even go there with how it’s super subjective and that our “favorites” change every day. I could have easily reversed this list the day after submitting, because these records are all equally GREAT.
OK, whatever…. Here we go
I assembled my Top 10 based on what I play on The Roadhouse and it reflects a very strong year in roots music. As in, stellar! I listed 10 but I could have easily gone 20 deep. If not further.
1. Alabama Shakes — Boys & Girls (ATO)
Is there better band for a show like the Roadhouse? Cool Alabama kids featuring a dynamic new force in Brittany Howard (singer) who channels a preacher spirit through indie-rock soul songs. Perfect! Go-To Track: “Hold On”
2. Michael Kiwanuka — Home Again (Polydor)
Nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK this year, and soon breaking big America, Michael Kiwanuka is a young man who sings like old gold. Organic, earthy, and compared to everyone from Bill Withers to Otis Redding. Silly comparisons of course, because this 24-year-old writes big songs and sounds like an original when crooning his mellow UK soul/folk. Opening for Alabama Shakes (who are fans!) on March 3rd at Seattle’s Paramount. Must see! Go-To Track: “Home Again”
3. Dr John — Locked Down (Nonesuch)
If you’re under the age of 40, forget everything you know about Dr John. The eternal ambassador of New Orleans funk, Mac turns to Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach out of nowhere to produce his best album since his Night Tripper days in the early 70’s. This is a rock record that replaces traditional piano with a farfisa (funky organ) and the result is a fantastic record of great songs, killer production, and typical Dr John flavor. “Where Ya At!” Go-To Track: “Revolution”
4. Father John Misty — Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
I had no idea this was a record I was going to like. Josh Tillman is dead and the Fleet Foxes are history. It’s Father John Misty from now on. Besides the spot-on production from Cali guru Jonathan Wilson, it’s the singing and songwriting that includes a satchel of one-liners about Canadian shaman, singing Moon River in a silent movie, and being called Nancy that make this record fawking fantastic. This one sticks with you. “Punch Me In The Face”! Go-To Track: “Well, You Can Do It Without Me”
5. Nick Waterhouse — Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure)
The Now Sound From Way Back. That’s how I described my KEXP in-studio with Nick that NPR Music picked up as a “Favorite Session” this year. Coming from a world of “record people” and growing up just down the road from The Distillery (an all-analog Costa Mesa recording studio which houses the old console from Muscle Shoals), Nick witnessed first-hand the proper way to make a record. Working in precise detail, he crafts a sharp modern-vintage sound throughout this amazing debut album. Go-To Track: “Say I Wanna Know”
6. John Fullbright — From The Ground Up (Blue Dirt)
Attention all “Americana” enthusiasts! Jeff Tweedy, John Cougar Mellancamp, and John Prine be damned, because here comes the new crooner of the Heartland in John Fullbright. Claiming the same hometown as Woody Guthrie, this songwriter stands up to be counted on this terrific debut record. No frills, just great songs. John, get an agent! Go-To Track: “Satan & St Paul”
7. Shovels & Rope — O’ Be Joyful (Dualtone)
You first heard them on Roadhouse radio in the past, and the barrelhouse voice of Cary Ann Hearst on a hilarious duet with Hayes Carll last year, but this album claims the arrival of Shovels & Rope. This South Carolina duo is more than an acoustic singer-songwriter band (tho more than capable of that) and prove their ability to make a joyful noise and creative songs on this debut (sort of…) album. BTW, they’re also husband and wife! Go-To Track: “Birmingham”
8. Iris Dement — Sing The Delta (Flariella)
Her first album of original material in 16 years (!), Iris Dement reminds us of the fact that she is an American icon (without even really trying…). Deep American integrity, soul to the core, and songs that are so emotionally honest that you just feel good listening to this album. There’s a wholesome connectedness to these songs that makes it an instant classic. Though first-rate production with surprising piano and horns, it took me a good 4-5 listens to fully appreciate this one. But once it reaches you, you’ll understand that she is clearly a giant of American music. Go-To Track: “The Night I Learned How Not To Pray”
9. Fred Eaglesmith — 6 Volts (AML)
Mr. Underrated does it again! Let me just say it, Fred Eaglesmith is one of our generations greatest songwriters. Without a doubt. This one proves once again that despite Fred’s reluctance to participate in the music business, his songs of blue-collar grit, quiet desperation, inter-personal relationships stand as the high-water mark for anyone calling themselves a “singer-songwriter”. Go-To Track: “Trucker Speed”
10. First Aid Kit — The Lion’s Roar (Wichita)
I first heard these super young Swedes at their Crocodile date this year not knowing a thing about them. There was a palpable buzz in the room, and within the 45 minutes of their live show my mind was blown. It was the singing of sisters, loud, proud, and confident beyond their years. And particularly it was the voice of Klara Soderberg who I can honestly say is the best voice I’ve ever heard. So clear, so pure. This album has a number of irresistible songs. Go-To Track: “Blue”
Outside My Roots Wheelhouse, aka “The Really Best Ones…”
The Orwells — Remember When
This is the record in which I’ll stand on Jonathan Richman’s coffee table and proclaim not only the best record of 2012, but the best debut in recent memory! 17-year olds from suburban Chicago, The Orwells released this one in August, but seemed destined to hit it big in 2013 with a fully realized sound of teenage angst. Their bio sums it up best: They write songs — scratch that, primitive teenage battle cries — about girls and America and being suspended from high school. Although one might categorize The Orwells’ distinct brand of the blues as garage or punk, they would be wrong. Look out for these guys! Buzz-worthy and playing their first show at Seattle’s Crocodile on Feb 16th.
Daddy Long Legs — Evil Eye On You
This is how music is supposed to sound. Perfect blues/garage/devil/rock complete with electric mouth harp, slide guitars, and plenty of wailin’!
Allah Las — self titled
Produced by Nick Waterhouse and a triumphant piece of exactness in creating the new 60’s psychedelic California sound. But wait, the songs are good too! Highly recommended!
Ty Segall — Twins
What’s going on in San Francisco? Thee Oh Sees, King Tuff and Ty. Damn. Garage lo-fi lives with guitars on fire!
Neil Young & Crazy Horse — Psychedelic Pill
Of course I play Neil Young a lot on my roots radio show, The Roadhouse, but Crazy Horse is really a rock band. Neil and the boys get together after many years without missing a beat. Pretty amazing that this record sounds exactly like you’d expect a Crazy Horse record to sound like. And that’s good.
Honorable Mention, aka “Could Be Top 10’s Depending Which Day Of The Week You Ask Me….”:
Gary Clark Jr, Wooden Wand & The Briarwood Virgins, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Todd Snider, JD McPherson, Denver* (listed them last year, but their debut actually officially came out this year) Menahan Street Band, Justin Townes Earle, Bob Dylan, and locals like The Country Lips, Gravel Road, and Sera Cahoone.
These could all be, and should be in my Top 10. I’ll even mention Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros (I know they’re hippies…), because every time they showed up on my random-play playlist I thought, “who is this?…” and had to check.
And of course there’s the records I never got a chance to hear, like Frank Ocean. Sorry.
Happy New Year!
Greg Vandy is the host of The Roadhouse, airing every Wednesday evening 6-9PM. Greg’s Best of 2012 radio show, which includes music from most all of the above mentioned artists, airs tonight for your listening (and note-taking) pleasure.