I have always been reluctant to post any so-called "Best Of" album lists. Rather I prefer to title my end-of-year lists "Favorite Albums" since I think that while a certain album might be recognized as significant or essential in any given year it might wear out its welcome in the years ahead. To be honest, I rarely listen to Nirvana's Nevermind but still love to play Pearl Jam's timeless Ten and both were released in 1991. The list that follows here is a subjective look at what I like and albums I'm pretty sure will sound great in 2013, 2020 or beyond...
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill
Neil Young & Crazy Horse returned big time in 2012, releasing the aptly-titled reworking of American folk songs Americana in June. But it was the subsequent October release of the 85-minute, two-disc Psychedelic Pill that resounded with the ambitious lyrical depth and sonic thunder equaling the troupe’s inspired classics. There are a number of great songs on Psychedelic Pill, with "Ramada Inn" and "Walk Like a Giant" among the best.
Aimee Mann, Charmer
On Charmer, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann offers up her literate observations via melodic and haunting songs that go down like vintage power-pop classics while boasting rich melodious colors and lyrical insights that artfully reveal themselves a little bit more with each subsequent listen. For those who loved Mann's Bachelor No. 2 (2000) or Lost in Space (2002) albums, Charmer is every bit their equal.
Rush, Clockwork Angels
While many classic rock fans have to be content with their heroes touring courtesy of nostalgia alone, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have continued to challenge themselves and their listeners with sharp and searing prog rock. Clockwork Angels’ detailed concept about a young man’s search to follow his dreams is supported by one of the trio’s most accessible and compelling collections since 2112.
Dead Can Dance, Anastasis
This year has proved to be a year of remarkable and noteworthy comebacks, with champions such as Neil Young, Aimee Mann and Rush joined by the duo Dead Can Dance, whose Anastasis was the first full-length studio effort since 1996. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard continued their bold odyssey without missing a beat on Anastasis, blending goth rock, Celtic and world folk with an expert and artistic touch.
Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu
On his full-length debut, the Austin-based singer-songwriter-guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. fuses the energetic guitar-anchored rock of Jimi Hendrix with the soulful singing of Al Green. The dozen far-flung originals explore every conceivable corner of the music universe. Blak and Blu is a challenging and rewarding disc to be sure.
Susanna Hoffs, Someday
Susanna Hoffs’ latest album may mine the 1960s territory of Petula Clark and Jackie DeShannon but is at its heart a personal recording that is both timeless and joyful. The singer-songwriter joined forces with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Ron Sexsmith) to craft something far more compelling than an experiment in retro music making.
First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar
Who knew a couple of young sisters from Sweden would tap into the burgeoning Americana music movement like no other in 2012? Johanna and Klara Söderberg sing in angelic harmonies while conjuring up the ghosts of Gram Parsons, June Carter and Johnny Cash amidst beautiful songs that fully reawaken a spirit mostly missing from modern country music.
Otis Taylor, Contraband
Blues’ most innovative artist issued another stunning effort with Contraband, where his hypnotic baritone and so-called “trance blues” style fused the feel of early Robert Johnson recordings with African music. Few living artists bring the weight of history and power of music together like Taylor does in “Romans Had Their Way” and “Contraband Blues.
Another epic comeback. Ignition is Shoes’ first album since 1994’s Propeller, but is a sonic blast from start to finish. Power-pop has sadly been relegated to the commercial sidelines, but listening to Ignition is to rediscover the joys of undeniable melodies and rousing vocal harmonies powered by ringing guitars.
Dwight Yoakam, 3 Pears
Yet another striking return, Dwight Yoakam’s 3 Pears marks the honky tonk icon’s first new studio disc in seven years. Whether singing ballads (“It’s Never Alright”), or uptempo stuff (“Dim Lights, Thick Smoke”), there is plenty to love on this disc.
Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
Jason Aldean, Night Train
Beach House, Bloom
Blur, Parklive (deluxe 5-disc edition)
Micky Dolenz, Remember
Field Report, Field Report
Foxy Shazam, The Church of Rock 'n' Roll
The Fixx, Beautiful Friction
Grizzly Bear, Shields
Kenny Howes, Tornadoes Here and Past
Shawn Jones, Struggle Makes You Stronger
Led Zeppelin, Celebration Day
Rhett Miller, The Dreamer
Van Morrison, Born to Sing: No Plan B
Muse, The 2nd Law
Joan Osborne, Bring It On Home
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Lion The Beast The Beat
Lee Rocker, Night Train to Memphis
The Shins, Port of Morrow
Sigur Rós, Valtari
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
Zac Brown Band, Uncaged
7Horse, Let the 7Horse Run