Its that time of year again: I present TBP’s annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2012. (Click to see prior years’ lists).

Here’s the deal with our Anti-list : Lots of Best of Lists are out there, but they ain’t relevant to people with families, careers, hobbies, etc. I do not have time to listen to 200 new CDs each year, and I suspect you don’t either.

Hence, this list. Rather than cranking out yet another list of new music you never heard (and probably never will hear), this is a more useful list: What a relatively informed music fan’s “Most played” albums were this year — at least, according to my iTunes and the missus (Your playing THAT again!?!). These are the albums that were my personal soundtrack for 2012. (selected videos after the jump).

Those the ground rules. Let’s have at it:


Album of the year: Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls

I first mentioned this album back in May. I stumbled across them on streaming KCRW before their 1st release came out, and I was blown away. It’s a crushing mix of blues, gospel rock and soul.

Their debut album was filled with music that was raw and powerful — an exciting mix of roots rock, country blues, soul and gospel. It has a decidedly retro flavor to it, but is still fresh and original. The song writing is strong, the band tight, and they sound as if they really light it up live.

Lead singer Brittany Howard has a voice full of soul and fire. Someone astutely observed she is “The love child of Otis Redding and Janis Joplin.” A potent power trio backs her. In their live shows, the band covers James Brown to Otis Redding, as well Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. That eclectic taste informs their original recordings.

No histrionics or irony, just straight forward blues driven rock n roll. PS:  The CD is $6 . . .


•  Box Set of the yearLed Zeppelin Celebration Day

Zep were the defining architects of classic rock. It is almost impossible to calculate how far reaching their influence is across genres from rock to heavy metal to punk to hip hop. Their riffs were the collective soundtrack of 3 generations of rock and roll fans. After 8 albums over 12 years, the band broke up in the 1980 (following drummer John Bonham death).

27 years later, on December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin took the stage at London’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert — 20 million requests were made for the 18,000 tickets — and what followed has been described as the greatest rock and roll concert ever.

It is reflected in this two+ hour tour de force of the band’s signature rock ’n’ roll. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, (son of late drummer John Bonham), performed 17 songs, recorded in high definition.

Note: The video is crisp and clean, but I found the direction a bit annoying (too many fast cuts, focused on the wrong things). Regardless, the music is incredibly vibrant and powerful, and the audio quality is simply stunning. Called a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll, my head exploded as I listened to this.


Great new record from a classic rock star Mark Knopfler Privateering

Is it possible that Mark Knopfler is becoming even more creative as he ages? He continues to explore his musical roots, reaching back into folk and blues and Celtic melodies for inspiration.

The Knopfler touch is instantly recognizable the second the guitar picking is heard. His understated guitar work is evocative and beautiful, giving the album a near cinematic quality. Knopfler’s expected thoughtful musicianship is here, with a regal quiet and warm inviting sound.

The collection of 20 songs has lots of depth that rewards repeated listening. Gently haunting melodies and lyrical narratives make it a worthwhile pleasure.

Touring with Dylan seems to have done the Dire Straits founder and front man lots of good: The music on this album careens all over the place, from moody Celtic folk song, to soulful roots and rockin’ blues.


Genre Change: Norah Jones Little Broken Hearts

Norah Jones fifth album, Little Broken Hearts, takes a shift in direction hinted at in The Fall.

She continues to evolve musically, adding the title sultry pop songstress to her already stellar reputation as a jazz chanteuse. The album has a meditative, dreamy quality. The songwriting collaboration with Danger Mouse is very different than her usual commercially successful earlier work of downbeat, easy-listening jazz recordings.

Jones adds elements of longing and heartbreak to her sexy purr. This is an album that I found myself listening to a lot this past summer.


Surprise Find: Todd Snider  Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (with Amanda Shires on violin and backup vocals)

…And if you’re so God almighty then what’s with all this mystery? Yes I wanna trust ya buddy, but you’re clearly keeping secrets from me.

A clever and nasty disc of stripped down blues lamenting human foolish, banker follies and other assorted disasters of everyday life.

Beyond religion and economics, Snyder careens through topics as varied as youth culture, unemployment, rock-and-roll history and doomed romance.

Rolling Stone called it “hilarious, infuriated broadsides about economic injustice delivered in Snider’s stoner drawl over twangy roots rock.”  To me, it was just surprising fun.


Redemption disc: John Mayer Born And Raised

Another very pleasant surprise was this acoustic flavored, country-tinged work from former bad boy John Mayer.

The album is a tuneful mix of delicate acoustic guitars, soulful harmonica, piano and steel guitar. It creates a gentle balance of California country and southern rock, all of which works well to spotlight Mayer’s vocals.

It is easy to forget what a good guitarist Mayer is, and he shows off his chops with strong acoustic work. The album is more nuanced than his other efforts, with an easygoing intimacy. Producer Don Was has  managed to coax Mayer away from pop, towards a more mature sound that seems to suit him.

This was another album that got played all summer — it has a delicate complexity that revealed itself with multiple listenings, as layers get peeled away. Its good clean fun.


Mash Up/Crossover: R.L. Burnside   A Bothered Mind

R. L. Burnside (November 23, 1926 – September 1, 2005) was a country blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist who lived much of his life in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi. He played music for much of his life, but did not receive much attention until the early 1990s.

Burnside was a legendary bluesman, known as much for guitar picking as for his trademark vocals. The disc mixes traditional blues with other genres, and features interesting collaborations with Kid Rock and Lyrics Born.

I belatedly discovered A Bothered Mind (2004) by accident: The song A Someday Baby, a mash up with Lyrics Born, hooked me. A traditional blues riff starts the tune, followed by an infectious syncopated beat that you don’t typically hear on older blues records. RL’s gravelly vocals move the song forward, but it really begins to kick when Lyrics Born California flavored rhymes turns this into something else altogether. (check out the video after the jump)


Overlooked albumPaul Simon   So Beautiful Or So What

Do you know this album? I don’t, or at least didn’t until this past year.

It seemed to have snuck by me in 2011, and I suspect you as well. It was critically very well received, but I hardly ever heard anyone mention it. Rolling Stone named it one of the 50 best albums of 2011.

No lesser an authority than Elvis Costello said:

“Throughout the record, I kept coming up against what I can only call, rock and roll surprises; not some orthodox formula but indelible, hypnotic guitar motifs and swinging, off-center rhythms tipping your expectations into a new kind of thrill.”

All I can add is this is a worthy successor to Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. If you haven’t done so yet, check it out.


WTF Album: Fiona Apple   The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

How can I ask anyone to love me, when all I do is beg to be left alone.”

A brilliant and dark work of austere haunting alt-pop.

Idler Wheel was recorded with a minimalist approach, using bare-bones instrumentation. Indeed, the album is entirely acoustic – mostly vocals, piano and drums.

It requires a confident, master songwriter to present themselves so naked and revealed. Fiona is calm, calculated and serene on this disc, she has developed a maturity Raw, eloquent, artful.

This is a formidable album, both intrusive and challenging. It demands your full attention, but it rewards the attentive listener.

I won’t argue with NPR, who called it “deliberately maddening,, eventually addictive.”


Jazz Album Cyrille Aimee & Diego Figueiredo Smile

Cyrille Aimée is a new talent in the modern age of jazz. Combining Dominican rhythms with French Jazz swing to produce something new yet recognizable.

Smile, is a delightful mellow work, with Cyrille’s vocals accompanied by Diego’s Flamenco guitar. It is simple, stripped down and charming, with a relaxed Brazilian vibe.

Her singing is playful, light yet capable of conveying much in a few short phrases.

Note that her most recent disc, Cyrille Aimée + Friends – Live at Smalls (2011) is a more straight forward Jazz combo. The backing band is first rate, capable of carrying much of the record on their own. But then those charming vocals come in, and you are back to what makes her so interesting to listen to.

Aimee is a worthy new Jazz vocalist playing traditional and world Jazz.


Remaster: Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen   / Two Wheels Good

I fell in love with this spectacular album in grad school. It was released as Steve McQueen in the UK, where it is well known, but in the US, this Thomas Dolby-produced album is called Two Wheels Good — and here it is mostly unknown, rarely heard. And that is a damned shame, as its a tour de force of song writing chops, clever lyrics, and brilliant music. (See our discussion of best unknown/unheard albums here).

Paddy McAloon’s songwriting has been justly compared to Brian Wilson. Each heart rending song of love and loss is harrowing, gorgeous, lovely. The lyrics are sly, full of wry irony. They grab you, and refuse to let go. Every song is a brilliant combination of musical jazz arrangement, pop melody, and lyrical genius. I cannot listen to this disc without thinking about love lost in days gone by.

The 2007 remastered version is a two disc set. The recording flaws and shortcomings of the original 1985 version gets cleaned up. The second disc is an acoustic version of many of the songs in the original album, revealing an even more delicate sensibility to the song writing.

Note that the US version of Two Wheels Good has a few extra songs, including the heart rending He’ll Have To Go. Its a good place to start for anyone interested who doesn’t know PreFab.


Last, some old favorites that did not make my list, but are still worthy of attention.  These are classic bands who out good albums that for whatever reason, failed to make the final cut:

Van Morrison  Born To Sing: No Plan B

Coldplay Mylo Xyloto

Bruce Springsteen  Wrecking Ball

Donald Fagen  Sunken Condo


Videos after the jump


Alabama Shakes – Hold On (Official Video)


Led Zeppelin – Black Dog – Celebration Day


Mark Knopfler – Privateering


Todd Snider  Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

Norah Jones – Say Goodbye

John Mayer – Queen of California (Born and Raised)

RL Burnside, Someday Baby


The Making of So Beautiful or So What | Paul Simon

Cyrille Aimée, Diego Figueiredo  Smile

Category: Music

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

25 Responses to “A “Different Kind of Music List” for 2012”

  1. jelyon says:

    My most played album of the year was Jimmy Cliff’s “Rebirth.”

    I can’t recommend this record highly enough.

  2. I love Reggae — I will definitely check out

    The 2006 list had Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire!,

  3. rubber_factory says:

    some very good choices there. i particularly like the van morrison, alabama shakes, and todd snider.

    if you like the alabama shakes, may i suggest a band from charleston: shovels and rope.

  4. James Cameron says:

    > She is evolving musically

    To say nothing of her branding . . .

  5. scottinnj says:

    It was a good year for roots music in 2012. In addition to Rubber Factory’s Shovels and Rope would also recommend Turnpike Troubadours, The Lumineers and Lindi Ortega.

  6. Father Lucifer says:

    Saw Fiona in L.A. recently, simply awesome, been waiting 7 years to see her as I came across her catalog towards the releae of the third album. Missed Norah this year but did see her for the last 2 albums. Sorry you didn’t include Feist’s album Metals, saw her this year also. All 3 are in the top 4 of my most played artists in my itunes however the top spot is held by Tori Amos, no one person should be so talented.

  7. thomas hudson says:

    Some excellent selections here.
    Norah Jones – got into a lot of her catalogue this summer. Little Broken Hearts was a centerpiece of this, and a third of the cuts on here made it into my summer playlist, especially ‘out on the road’ and ‘all a dream’. Also check out her stuff with Little Willies (more of a country feel to it).
    Alabama Shakes – bought this one on your recommendation, and I have nothing to add to your updated review. Worth a listen.
    Paul Simon – got this one about 6 months ago and listened a few times. Probably his best release since Rhythm of the Saints, and might be worth it for the Costello liner notes alone.
    Van Morrison – just got it a few weeks ago, and I would consider it worthy of your best list. Nearly flawless. Also check out his redo of Astral Weeks he released a couple of years back.
    Everything else goes on my wish list. (Zep was already there)
    Some suggestions:
    Avett Brothers – Carpenter: just out, maybe their best.
    Cowboy Junkies – The Nomad Series (start with Volume 2)
    Justin Townes Earle – Nothings gonna change the way you feel about me now: Steve’s son, very solid.
    Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again: won BBC poll for best of 2012


    BR: Love Born To Sing — but its only recently entered heavy rotation in the car!

  8. thomas hudson says:

    by the way, did you know that norah jones’ father is ravi shankar?

  9. DiggidyDan says:

    Check out Morning Parade: favorite disc of the year. (yes I still by cd’s instead of MP3s- I can hear the difference).

  10. AtlasRocked says:

    You have good tastes, Barry.

  11. thomas hudson says:

    OK, one last self indulgent post:

    Bob Dylan ‘Tempest’

    Released essentially around the 50th anniversary of his first release. The man still has it. ‘Duquesne Whistle’ cowritten with Robert Hunter (Jerry Garcia’s main lyricist). ‘Tempest’ is a 13 minute ballad about the Titanic.

    Maybe 3 mediocre tunes, but the rest is on par with his recent strong reemergence.

    His voice is ragged, but if you judged his music by his vocal prowess in the past, you probably never liked him anyways.

    ‘Roll on John’ is a tribute to Lennon.

    The album’s title initially spurred rumors that it would be Dylan’s final album, based on its similarity to the title of Shakespeare’s final play. Dylan later responded: “Shakespeare’s last play was called The Tempest. It wasn’t called just plain “Tempest”. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It’s two different titles.”

  12. mote says:

    “Switch on your electric light.”

    From The Band’s Last Waltz, Van Morrison sings Caravan:

  13. BennyProfane says:

    Where do you get the time for this?

    Hey, if you like reggae, an old master came back with a great one this year. Jimmy Cliff Rebirth

    Leonard Cohen came out with a gem, too, for an old, lazy bastard in a suit: Old Ideas


    BR: I work on it all year, a little at a time — so writing this up for the year end is easy. Same for the gift lists.

  14. Edoc says:

    My favorite records of 2012, in no particular order:

    Great Elk – Autogeography
    The Walkmen – Heaven
    Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
    Ravens & Chimes – Holiday Life
    King Tuff – Self-titled
    Jason Lytle – Department of Disappearance

    Other records I absolutely loved, although not from 2012

    Howard Tate – self-titled release (1972)
    Various Artists – Uptight Tonight – The Ultimate 60′s Garage Collection
    Various Artists – Country Funk 1969 – 1975
    Big Mama Thornton – Ball N’ Chain
    Toots and the Maytals – Reggae Got Soul
    Klaatu – Two Classic Albums
    Taj Mahal – self-titled debut
    Badfinger – Straight Up
    Roberta Flack – First Take
    Maceo Parker – Roots & Grooves
    Tchan-tchou Vidal – La Gitane
    John Carpenter – Soundtrack: Escape from New York
    Gabor Szabo – High Contrast
    Anonymous 4 – An English Ladymass
    Hampton Hawes – Four! (and also: For Real!)
    UFO – Strangers in the Night (Live)
    Bee Gees – Trafalgar
    The Dictators – Viva Dictators (Live)
    Nick Kershaw – No Frills (Live Acoustic)
    Bobby Rush – Raw

    If you like RL Burnside, check out his early acoustic blues. It’s great!

  15. dadidoc1 says:

    The two albums that have been my favorites this past year were Grace Potter’s “The Lion The Beast The Beat” and Allen Stone’s “Last to Speak”. I listen to them while spinning at 4:30 in the morning before work.

  16. Joe Friday says:

    Two albums from Gabriela Anders, an Argentinian jazz vocalist & pianist – Wanting + Last Tango in Rio

  17. hue says:

    let them eat Cake! “this is a song that has been used by many subcultures over the years, it’s a folk song, many agendas have been spirited forward”

    the Nirvana drummer is awesome, “hello I’ve waited for you …”

  18. akreitman says:

    I’ve gone classical, it nice to go to a concert and know there are people older than you. I picked up the new release of the Solti ring, a simply exquisite boxed set.

  19. Robert M says:

    I am surprised at the lack of jazz on the list especially given your tribute to Paul Desmond.


    BR: Most of the Jazz I listen to is decades old — Cyrill Aimee was the exception this year.

  20. Les Lofton says:

    Since tis is a “different” list, how about a song from one of the best albums to be released next year?


  21. momus says:

    Not a regular contributor, but here is my $10 worth.

    First, the Christmas album of the year is from Sony Legacy: “Death May Be Your Santa Claus,” a collection of (mainly) pre-WWII race recordings – blues, jazz, gospel, sermons and devotionals. It was Sony’s Record Store Day (limited) release. My copy arrived on Christmas Eve. So it is still out there.

    I have about 600 GB of music loaded on iTunes, mainly from CDs, but I haven’t figured out how to sort by “plays” on iTunes 11, so this is probably heavily weighted to more recent interests. My Top 25 include: The Hot Spot sound track — Miles, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, etc.; multiple Taj Mahal’s; Thelonius Monk, Solo Piano; Patti Smith, Neko Case; Jefferson Airplane – especially, “Live at the Fillmore, 10/15-16/66 “Signe’s Departure – Grace’s Debut;” “Rhythm of the Saints” played in this order: 2,5,10,3,6,7,1,10,8,4,9. Try it, you’ll like it.

    My sister in Palo Alto and I have exchanged “KFOG, live from the archives” and “ONXRT” for 15 years. This year, 33 tracks, and only one duplicate – Delta Spirit “California” but different live acoustic performances. iTunes comes in handy here. I used to hear the tracks and then went out and bought the CD, now I go to iTunes and listen to 90 seconds of the other tracks, Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River” is a good example of the reason to do this research, nothing else on the album interested me.

    The original Astral Weeks is superior to the more recent live version. Van may not have liked it, but he did rise to the musicianship of his sidemen on the original.

    Luciana Souza – A jazz soprano extraordinaire, this year’s “The Book of Chet” is awesome. Her three Brazilian Duos albums are even better.

    Having grown up with Bob Dylan, it’s hard to get used to him singing about old age and death. Paul Simon is also singing about advancing decrepitude. Still I find their recent albums compelling. I wonder what John Lennon would be singing about these days?

    Sam Newsome’s “The Art of the Soprano (Sax)”

    For the Celt in me: Natalie MacMaster “Cape Breton Girl” 2011.

    I won’t go into chamber music, although the abandonment of classical music by the major labels combined with low cost of digital technology has been a boon for chamber musicians. I have to buy the CD here and in jazz, iTunes fidelity just doesn’t cut it.

  22. Bob is still unemployed   says:

    I like the mention of Prefab Sprout on the list. If I remember correctly, it is a repeat from list of prior years.

    I am fortunate that I live in the listening range of a college radio station that was very much involved in the alternative music scene of the 1980′s, WXCI ( Prefab Sprout was, at times, on the high rotation list of the station. So I am quite aware of their excellent music.

    As I look at my database of CDs, I see that I have both the Steve McQueen and Two Wheels Good versions of the disc. I also have another album of theirs, From Langley Park To Memphis. I may have to go spelunking this weekend in the upstairs closets to retrieve the disc and pop it into the player, to listen to as the snow falls…..

  23. Les Lofton says:

    Here are two solid albums from my most played in 2012 and a music video from each:

    “Arrow” by Heartless Bastards

    “Long Live All of Us” by Glossary

  24. Darmah says:

    Always enjoy the music entries — thanks!

    Gotta second Arrow by Heartless Bastards — it’s definitely my most played in 2012. “Got to have rock and roll” needs to be played loud — concert loud, windows shaking, dog and cat howling loud, at least once.

    Otis Taylor’s Contraband
    Mozart Piano Concertos Nos 9 & 21, Mitsuko Uchida

    Not from 2012 but a great listen — Glenn Gould — “A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981″

    If you like RL Burnside, pick up “Too Bad Jim” — excellent

    Have a great 2013.

  25. louis says:

    Great list BR, No Quarter from the box set just gets better with age.

    John Fullbright – from the ground up, one of the better debut albums from 2012.