I agonized way too long over this year's list. Hope you will check out some new music after reading it!
5. Norah Jones - Little Broken HeartsI am very manly and so I am not supposed to admit I really enjoyed the 2012 release from the same woman who gave us "Don't Know Why," but I really did, and I think if you love music you'll like it too. Part of me thinks I will wake up one day and hate this album and regret the loquacious stream of hyperbole I want to write about this release, so how about I just slot it in at #5, tell you to buy the album and leave it at that?
4. Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten:
Admittedly it is hard for me *not* to like a New Jersey punk band that is influenced by Tom Petty and Matthew Ryan, loves Pearl Jam and is often compared to Bruce Springsteen, but Gaslight brings the goods in their own right. If you have the chance to catch them live, you NEED to, but in lieu of that, blasting this album will make for an acceptable substitute. This album’s only flaw is its sequencing: The first few times I listened I thought the songs kind of ran into each other, but when I put the album on shuffle on my iPod, the diversity of the songs really seems to shine. If I ever meet Brian Fallon, it is something I can talk to him about, along with our favorite tracks on Southern Accents and whether Matt Cameron or Jack Irons is Pearl Jam's best drummer…
3. Heartless Bastards – Arrow:
I almost always have music playing at low levels in my office, and this year when people asked me about a song that was playing, most of the time it was Heartless Bastards. Their 2009 album, Mountain, was fantastic, and this album is completely different yet still fantastic. I don’t know why they don’t get more attention – this band led by singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom makes flat-out outstanding rock music. She is Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in one person, without the bombast. If the music doesn’t move you, get your pulse checked - there is something wrong with you.
2. The Shins – Port of Morrow:
I don’t know what the title of this album means, and for that matter I can’t even really tell you what any of the songs on this album are really about. I can only tell you The Shins make truly interesting, gripping music. In the vein of Arcade Fire, The Shins craft four-minute sonic masterpieces of melody with the ability to change the listener’s mindset. After a tough day, strapping headphones on and listening to Port of Morrow is like staring into the Grand Canyon to reframe your perspective. Guaranteed de-stressor.
1. Jack White – Blunderbuss:
Rolling Stone can write as many articles as they wish putting soulless poseur John Mayer in the same category as the likes of Eric Clapton et al, but I know that the true Guitar God of today's era is Jack White. No matter how many times I listen, this album never disappoints. Head out on a long drive with the CD on repeat and this disc will continue to surprise you, even when you get all the way through and it repeats from Track 1. I can’t say I don’t miss Meg White’s underappreciated influence, but this album is just killer. If I suddenly found myself on my death bed tomorrow, never getting to see Jack White perform live might be one of my biggest regrets.
So, that's the list.
And now for some Honorable Mentions:
Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful:
Leaving Chuck off my Official Top V was the toughest decision I made about the list. Temple Beautiful is a concept album of sorts – all the songs are about San Francisco. It works, and Chuck Prophet doesn’t get near the attention he should. The standout song on this album is “Willie Mays is Up At Bat,” but the entire album is solid and interesting.
Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine:
I love Adam Duritz songwriting and usually don’t like the bands he endorses (Counting Crows opening acts are almost always snoozers), so on paper this album concept sounds like a dud: covers of mostly obscure songs from really obscure bands. However, it really, really works. Adam and the entire band sound energized by the material and make almost all the songs sound like Counting Crows originals. I’m hoping the creative exercise propels them to make a killer disc of original songs soon.
The Hives – Lex Hives:
A tight release from a terrific live act. The Hives don’t necessarily stretch themselves here, but it is an earnest pop punk effort and if you work out to this record you are guaranteed to break your personal records. Or at least literally break the inferior CDs in your collection for rocking less than the Hives do.
Neil Young With Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill:
I inexplicably missed this release when it came out in the spring, but it popped up on so many year-end best-of lists that I went and got it. I’ve listened to it about a half dozen times now and holy crap it is good. I’ve never taken a psychedelic pill but it seems to me locking yourself in a dark room with this music playing on repeat would give you a pretty good high and make you think about the world in a new way.
The Wallflowers – Glad All Over:
I am really impressed with this release from Jakob Dylan’s band. There are enough songs that hearken back to The Wallflowers glory days of the late 1990’s yet enough creativity and risk taking that keep the album fresh and interesting. Not everything works but I have a feeling over the next five years there is a chance I may be listening to as much of this album as any in my Official Top V Albums.
Alejandro Escovedo – Big Station:
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but just discovered 61 year old underground legend Escovedo this year. His 14th solo album, Big Station is the best Tom Petty-sounding album that Tom Petty didn’t make this year, and I look forward to uncovering the rest of the Mexican American storyteller’s catalog as time goes on.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball:
This album will probably win a Grammy for album of the Year. I listened to this album over and over again when it came out and almost forced myself to love it in preparation for an absolutely epic concert in April at Madison Square Garden. The concert didn’t disappoint, but six months later this album shows itself for what it is to me: a handful of really good songs surrounded by lesser reminders of his earlier, superior work.