Tuesday, January 1, 2013

TnJ BEST of 2012


10) JERRY DOUGLAS – Traveler

Always a great instrumentalist – with or without the award-winning Alison Krauss and Union Station – Douglas calls on a few famous friends (Eric Clapton, Sam Bush, Dr. John, Mumford & Sons) to put forth an album which presents both great songs and great instrumentals.

HIGH POINTS:  On a Monday, American Tune / Spain , Something You Got

09) LEFTOVER SALMON – Aquatic Hitchhiker

Well, it’s official: Andy Thorn is part of the band.  Taking the place no one could seemingly take the place of (that of the late Mark Vann on banjo), Thorn’s helped Salmon reclaim some of the legendary jamband ground they lost and they’re poised to take back the rest if they so desire.

HIGH POINTS:  Sing Up to the Moon, Stop All Your Worrying, Gulf of Mexico

08) ALABAMA SHAKES – Boys & Girls

Easy to dismiss as another entry into the “if the White Stripes can do it, why can’t we?” race, this solid foursome leans more into the traditional blues vein with a warm undercurrent of soul.  Lead singer Brittany Howard displays incredible vocal prowess.  They’re up for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2013, and deservedly so.

HIGH POINTS:  I Ain’t the Same, Rise to the Sun, Be Mine

07) moe. – What Happened to the La Las

Like many great live bands before them, moe. are less known for knocking it out of the park when it comes to studio recordings.  This entry into their catalog, however, is exceptional.  Featuring just the right blend of quirky hooks and meaty musicianship, these are songs I can’t wait to hear live, but still enjoy them just as they are.  The album is also available as a deluxe edition with some tasty acoustic demos.

HIGH POINTS:  The Bones of Lazarus, Rainshine, Haze


The second of 2 great albums CRB released in 2012, “the Magic Door” isn’t quite the perfect entry into the King of Jamdom contest that “Big Moon Ritual” was, but is still a groovy listen for the hippie faithful.  The artwork on the inner and outer sleeve is a psychedelic throwback to the days of vinyl as is the music, which alternates between rocking, spacey, and soulful (which is precisely what I’d expect from Chris Robinson).

HIGH POINTS:  Vibration & Light Suite, Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go, Wheel Don’t Roll


Following mando wiz Jesse Cobb’s exit, the Stringdusters continue moving toward their goal of world string band supremacy.  Leaning even more into “progressive bluegrass” territory at times, they seem unconcerned with the traditionalists they may lose in favor of the trippers and twirlers they gain.  The deluxe edition, through new label SciFidelity, is worth getting for the addition of the Dead’s “He’s Gone” as a bonus track.

HIGH POINTS:  Like I Do, Don’t Mean Nothin’, the Hitchhiker, Walking on the Moon (yes, the Police song)

04) the SHINS – Point of Morrow

James Mercer takes the plunge into territory most alt-rockers fear to tread – melody – and comes up smelling like roses.  This album just sounds good.  Go ahead, play it next to any other alt-rock album released this year.  It’s practically epic in comparison.  Hats off to his new collaborators; whether they’re simply doing his bidding or adding their own spices to the mix, this freakin’ works.

HIGH POINTS:  Simple Song, No Way Down, the Rifle’s Spiral, Bait and Switch

03) GARY CLARK, JR. – Blak and Blu

Moving his way up the ladder from darling of the Austin music scene to ubiquitous festival presence in 2012, guitar slinger (and I assign that label rarely these days) Gary Clark, Jr. had a lot of momentum behind this, his first major label full-length release.  Unlike some of his predecessors (the Vaughan brothers, for example), he seems ill at ease playing in just the blues-rock sandbox and likes to jump from genre to genre.  This could prove to be any other artists’ downfall, but Clark makes it work like it ain’t no thing.

HIGH POINTS:  Glitter Ain’t Gold [Jumpin’ for Nothin’], Third Stone from the Sun / If You Loved Me Like You Say, When My Train Pulls In, Ain’t Messin ‘Round, Travis County

02) NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – Psychedelic Pill

A classic entry into his catalog the likes of which I’ve not heard in years, and grandiose in the way only Crazy Horse can be, Young’s hitting on nearly all cylinders here.  Double albums are historically at least half filler.  Not the case here.  Using the CD format for all its worth, some of these sprawling gems clock in between a quarter-to-a-half-an-hour, not unusual for a live setting but almost unheard of out of the studio.  It’s heartening to think that someone who’s gone through as many ups and downs as Young has can still concoct something this vital after 45 years on the job.

HIGH POINTS:  Driftin’ Back, Born in Ontario, Walk Like a Giant, Psychedelic Pill, Ramada Inn


This is such a perfect Toast-n-Jam album I almost can’t believe my ears.  Robinson’s band follows his lead into uncharted psychedelic territory and maps out a retro-rock renaissance they can milk for years to come.  George Sluppick’s drumming and Neal Casal’s guitar work are particularly tasty.  This is a cohevise work of art which flows from start to finish and I recommend listening to it that way.  Not as “radio-friendly” as a Black Crowes album, but more to my taste.  A great band to see live too, if you get the chance.

HIGH POINTS:  Rosalee, Tulsa Yesterday, Reflections on a Broken Mirror, One Hundred Days of Rain, Beware Oh Take Care

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10) the LUMINEERS – Stubborn Love

How long can the neo-folk revival last?  Who’da thought it woulda lasted THIS long?  Much less annoying than their 2012 radio staple “Ho Hey.”  If these Coloradoans can deliver the goods live, maybe they stand a chance of lasting beyond the boundaries of the neo-folk revival bubble.

09) 7HORSE – Meth Lab Zoso Sticker

Almost impossible to find anything about these guys online, but I’m led to believe they formed from the ashes of the 90s band “dada.”  Reworking themselves as a lo-fi White-Stripesy blooz-rock outfit (like the Black Keys and so many others since) seems to suit them.  This track just rocks.

08) the SHINS – Simple Song

Re-staffing the band as he did after the Broken Bells project with Danger Mouse, he could’ve just as well called it “the James Mercer Project” instead of the Shins, but this is a real high point for the Shins’ brand at any rate.  This is old-fashioned high-fidelity pop which begs to be heard through decent speakers rather than earbuds.

07) BIG HEAD TODD & the MONSTERS – Sexy and I Know It

One of the dumbest songs of all time gets a bluesy makeover courtesy of BHTM and, glory be, turns out to be a pretty good song after all.  I don’t think Todd’s ever displayed this much silly swagger in his career.  For that matter, neither have the post-1981 Rolling Stones.

06) BARR BROTHERS – Lord, I Just Can’t Keep from Cryin’

Time will tell if this is what the Slip have become or if the Barr Brothers is a mere side project, but their entry into the “hey we can do the White Stripes / Black Keys thing too” derby is absolutely smokin’.  The album was officially released in 2011, but this was a radio song locally on KBAC in Santa Fe, NM in 2012.

05) the HEAVY – What Makes a Good Man?

Retro-heavy rock with a hint of soul.  I’m still kicking myself for not making it to their Santa Fe performance this year (since they’re from England we probably won’t get them routed through here for another 16 years or so).  This one goes up to 11, regardless of where your amplifier volume is set.

04) GRACE POTTER & the NOCTURNALS – Never Go Back

I never would’ve believed someone as down to earth as Grace Potter could’ve produced something so slinky.  Touring with Sharon Jones seems to have really turned Grace on to the strong and sexy side of things.  This one oozes out of the speakers like honey and nearly singes your ears in an indescribably pleasant way.


Another band whose shuffled personnel in 2012 did them well, “Parted Ways” is close to being a perfect pop song (in the Paul McCartney & Wings-era definition of the term, not Katy Perry’s).  It absolutely soars melodically and features a nice little twin-guitar riff play.  Going onto a future mixtape for sure.

02) the BLACK KEYS – Gold on the Ceiling

Thankfully the Auerbach / Carney braintrust have decided to reinvent themselves from lo-fi blues minimalists to alt-rockers supreme.  This single (from one of Toast’s Best Albums of 2011) plants them firmly on the path to glam/disco-revivalism.  They seem to be able to replicate all manner of 70s flavors on the album, actually, but this one’ll stick to your neurons.

01) JOHN COURAGE and the GREAT PLAINS – Heartbreak Man

The most perfect song I heard all year, from a total left-field up-and-comer by most people’s reckoning, I’m sure.  When people say, “They just don’t write ‘em like that any more,” this could well be the song they are referring to, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not.  This is archetypal rock song craft at its finest and showcases one of the finest yowls ever recorded.  Already on 2 mixtapes.

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LED ZEPPELIN – Celebration Day


RODRIGUEZ – Searching for Sugar Man OST



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FORMER CO-TOAST JEN [O’CONNOR] DODGE had these high points to add:

BEST NEW BAND: Chris Robinson Brotherhood

BEST LIVE BAND: Mickey Hart Band (“Turned my crank so hard, and not just because Dave Schools was in the lineup”), with Steve Kimock Band (featuring Bernie Worrell) coming in 2nd

BEST COVER SONG: “The Ballad of John and Yoko” by Widespread Panic [originally the Beatles], available on “Wood.”

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