Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Best of 2012 (so far)

I’m thrilled to be back with the higher ed music critics gang after taking a hiatus at the end of 2011 (things were a little busy at Penn State last November/December, not much time for music).

Anywho, 2012 has been a great year for music thus far, with veterans and newbies alike putting out some great albums. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • JD McPherson, “Signs and Signifiers” — I happened upon JD on XM driving home from work one day and was completely blown away. The DJ said “he likes that 50s sound” and boy he wasn’t kidding. McPherson blends Little Richard with Buddy Holly with a hint of Jack White thrown in for good measure. The best part? It’s all completely sincere. It doesn’t take much beyond the first few bars of “North Side Gal” to hear his passion for this genre com through. 
  • The Steel Wheels, “Lay Down, Lay Low” — What happens when you put John Fogerty in front of a bluegrass band? 13 tracks of awesome, that’s what. I got into The Steel Wheels last winter after seeing them live at a local concert series. I was immediately knocked out by Trent Wagler’s vocals (yes, he really does sound like John Fogerty, but it’s awesome) and the tightness of the band.The live sound I fell in love with translates well in the studio, both on 2010’s “Red Wing” and “Lay Down, Lay Low,” released earlier this year. Standout track include "Breaking Like The Sun" and "Andrea."
  • Dr. John, “Locked Down” — There’s nothing like a shot in the arm from one of today’s hottest musicians to bring someone back from the brink of irrelevance. That’s exactly what happened to Dr. John when Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys called him out of the blue and suggested they make a record together. “Locked Down” stays true to the doctor’s New Orleans sound while infusing it with that fuzzed out sound the Keys do so well.
  • Kelly Hogan, “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” — Kelly first came onto my radar as a backup singer and player on Jakob Dylan’s “Women and Country.” On her own, Hogan floats effortlessly between country, jazz and indie rock. This album has a great mellow vibe and has quickly become one of my favorites for summer evening listening.
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Leaving Eden” - I promised #chickwithbanjos in this list, and here she is. Rhiannon Giddens plays a mean clawhammer banjo on the group’s sophomore release and has great vocals to boot. Need proof? Take one listen to “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” If a whole album of North Carolina hill country music is a little much for you, check out “Daughter’s Lament” from “The Hunger Games” soundtrack. These guys also put on an amazing live show; I highly recommend checking them out if they come your way.
  • Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound (self titled) - Mae’s solo release “The Happiest Lamb” was one of my top albums of 2010, and her sound has only gotten better with the help of a backing band. Her powerful vocals still knock me out, and it sounds like she’s having a blast with her band on almost every track.

Check out the songs themselves on my Higher Ed Music Critics Spotify playlist.

If the first half of 2012 is any indication, creating a top 25 list is going be no easy task come year’s end. See you in December! -- Jenna

1 comment:

  1. Your playlist isn't working! Is it not public?