Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth – What can I say, I’ve waited decades for this album and the boys did not disappoint. The combo of Diamond Dave and EVH is unmatched. They dug deep and delivered an album that holds its own among other classics in their discography.
KISS: Destroyer Resurrected – I thought this project was stupid when I first heard about it. What more could they do to it? After all, I never found it to be that complicated of an album to begin with. But, boy howdy, Bob Ezrin got in there with the master tapes and worked some incredible magic; bringing a separation to some of the tracks that really emphasize the tightness of the Simmons/Criss rhythm section. It’s an entirely new album.
KISS: Monster – I thought this project was stuped too. Coming on the heels of the admirable Sonic Boom, I thought what more do they need to prove. They’ve done it all and could rest on their hits for the remainder of their days. But, cripes, this is an album that the uninitiated might confuse with something that came between Hotter than Hell and Dressed to Kill. It’s classic old school KISS. And, as much as it troubles me to give props to Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, I will …well done gents.
First Aid Kit: The Lions Roar – I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason. This album was sent to me accidentally for review. I didn’t know anything about the band and didn’t care. I almost didn’t pop it in. But, I did and it was a transformative event. The acoustic band, led by two sisters from Sweden, offer a form a folk that is equally as frightening as it is endearing and, dare I say, adorable.
Fastway: Eat Dog, Eat – Fastway is back! Sometimes you need crunching guitars and infectious hooks and with this album you have both. Fast Eddie Clarke outdid himself on this one. If it had gotten a bit more publicity, I swear it would have gotten a Grammy nod for best hard rock performance. It’s that good.
Rush: Clockwork Orange – Another concept album from the boys up north, and this one is a goodun. Set in the distant future, the listener is taken on a journey with a young man charged with protecting society from an evil watchmaker; all the while adventuring in lost cities and fighting pirates. Sonically moving, Clockwork Angels is a treat to both the ears and the imagination.
The dBs: Falling Out of the Sky – What can you say about classic power pop? Nothing. It never gets old and so too The dBs. Finally, after 25 years, the original line-up have come together and give us a slice of heaven that, hands down, beats anything the band did previously.
Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day – As the great Willy Wonka once said, “Don’t forget about the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted … he lived happily ever after.” Such is my feeling after watching this Blu-Ray. Fans know the backstory on this historic 2007 concert. What’s important to note is that 27 years after breaking up Led Zeppelin still is worthy of the moniker “The greatest band of all time.”
Milo Greene – This self-titled CD came out in July 2012 and slipped under my radar. It wasn’t until I saw them on Conan O’Brien that I found them. Spooky arrangements and layered vocals give the band a Fleet Foxes-lite kind of edge, but that is not to say they’re hangers on. No sirree, this band has a bright future all its own.
Joe Walsh: Analog Man – In his first solo album in 20 years, good time Joe shows us that he’s still relevant as a songwriter and guitar hero. This very personal collection reflects on his life (present and past) and leaves you ready for another spin.
Paul Thorn–What The hell Is Going On
Brandi Carlisle — Bear Creek
Tedeschi Trucks Band — Everybody’s Talkin’
Rush -Clockwork Angels
Simon McBride – Crossing The Line
Jeff Hamilton Trio – Red Sparkle
Barrett Martin Group – Artifact
Sightseer –What Tomorrow Brings
Tim “Too Slim’ Langford — Broken Halo
The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel
By Tommy Bartholomew III (writer)
Best Record Store – Exile On Main Street (Champaign, Illinois)
This store continues to surprise & please. Owner Jeff cares passionately about rock’n’roll and loves to see his customers satisfied & happy. Whether it’s placing a great used piece of vinyl in a good home, supporting local music with in-store appearances, being a meeting place & community for all the serious music lovers in Champaign-Urbana, or just making sure that none of his friends’ (and to Jeff, all his customers are friends) music needs go unmet, Exile is what a record store used to be, should be and, in the case of this gem of a store, is.
Best Record by a Dinosaur – Joe Walsh- Analog Man – Ably co-produced with Jeff Lynne, this record is everything that you should like about Joe Walsh. Maybe his sobriety helped, but this is a focused record and as good as anything he has ever done.
Best Rock DVD Where You’d Never Expect It – Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day – WOW! Never was a huge fan, and eventually morphed into grudgingly conceding that “OK, they did Zep pretty damn well, but still…” kinda guy, but I have to say that I was blown away by the sheer power of this DVD’s performance. These guys have every right to be justifiably proud of their body of work. And watching Page play sober & having Plant not sing in a testicle-squeezing range was a huge improvement for this listener/watcher. And the big surprise(and all my friends have concurred) is discovering that John Paul Jones was and has always been the secret weapon of Led Zeppelin. To use a dangerously tired phrase, but appropriate nonetheless, this DVD really shows the Majesty of Rock from the Rock Era. Killer. And beautifully shot and recorded.
Best Rock DVD Documentary – Out Of Nowhere by Robert Zimmerman – a killer study of how one small area in Central Illinois produced and still produces an obscenely huge amount of quality bands & music.
Breakout Record of The Year – The Alabama Shakes – Damn, this is great, great stuff. Singer Brittany Howard could sell the phone book (these are books that list people’s landlines [those are things before cell phones]). One of the most out of control, inspired singers to come down rock’n’roll in way too long, Ms. Howard commits with all her heart & soul to every word in every line of every song. She sings hard and without holding back over a sympathetic band that plays to the groove and exists in a world free of contrivance or artifice. Or, you could just say, damn, what a great LP!
Weird Choice of Record To Love Of The Year – Rumer – Boys Don’t Cry – British proto-Karen Carpenter-Bachrach inspired chanteuse Rumer’s second LP nails the whole quiet elegant pop vibe. On her 2nd Lp Rumer opted for covers and she just takes possession of these songs. Particular favorites are “P.F. Sloan”, Todd’s “Be Nice To Me” and Neil’s “A Man Needs A Maid”. Beautiful & deeply lush. Bonus points for the non Lp track “Sara Smiles” and the killer appearance on Daryl’s House. Pure Pop For Now-ish People.
Shut Up & Be Rich Award/s of the Year – Axl Rose, Kid Rock, Meatloaf, Gene Simmons & Ted Nugent.
Ok, No Way I Should Admit That I Watch This Show of The Year – Nashville. For starters, T-Bone Burnett is the music supervisor. The songs are all a little too cool for mainstream faux Nashville crapola, and well the soap is so thick, you could do your laundry for a year with these twisted plotlines of romance, seductions, affairs, partner trade-offs. Hell, there’s even a junkie mom on this show. And from this fella’s point of view, Ms. Connie Britton is one attractive older woman and lots of eye candy for the gals too!
Best New Band of The Year – Hmmm… Lotsa noise, but let’s see what lasts, at least, for two years.
Best LP Cover Of The Year – Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man – Just check it out. Arresting, strong & unforgettable
Best Rock Flick Of The Year- A dead tie between The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople & Searching For Sugar Man. The Hoople flick captures the heart in all things rock’n’roll and Searching For Sugar Man tells the amazing story of the mysterious Rodriquez. Both must be seen.
Best Label of The Year – Omnivore – Sublimely executed reissues of Jellyfish #1 & #2, plus an awesome “Live At Bogart’s”, Old 97’s & Sam Philips records from the ’90’s, Alex Chilton pre-Big Star demos. All on high quality vinyl with lovingly designed artwork. Music by music lovers for music lovers. Terrific!
Worst Trends of The Year – Sending reviewers files of music. Yuck. We already don’t get paid enough (or anything, most of the time) and to not have some tactile to touch & to hold, well, don’t expect this guy to get excited. 2nd place runner-up – Charging a premium for a vinyl copy and not including a CD – and again, I don’t want a file.
Best Weird Thing of The Year – Clint Eastwood lecturing a piece of furniture on National TV. Wow!
fun. – Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen)
Yes, you trendy, self-righteous fuck, I do happen to really like the new fun. record. Great pop songs that admittedly got more than a bit overplayed on radio and on TV, but still a fantastic reminder that ELO and Queen records managed to get passed down to yet another generation. Studio tricks aside, these songs are probably still best classified as indie pop, with front man and songwriter Nate Reuss coming off as a modern day Harry Nillson reveling surprisingly personal experiences in his lyrics over phenomenally catchy music.
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless Records)
The cash grab on Wall Street that ravaged the economy and led to the Occupy Movement provided irresistible fodder for Todd Snider’s latest. Not every song is as blatantly inspired by the crash as “New York Banker” or “In Between Jobs,” but the what-the-fuck-is-happening-to-the-world? vibe is threaded throughout the record. That’s not to say the album is a bummer, not at all. As with just about every release Snider blows a pot-smoked kiss to before sending it out into the world, he mixes plenty of wry humor with his commentary.
Lucero – Women & Work (ATO Records)
Like pairing some old worn-in cowboy boots with a faded Clash t-shirt, the country punk sound of Lucero’s eighth album just comes across as naturally comfortable. Women & Work finds the Memphis band at complete ease with their mix of 70’s Outlaw country and plenty of punk rock attitude and swagger, making it easily the most consistently solid release in their already enviable cannon of music.
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – The Hellcat Years (Hellcat Records)
The good-hearted punk rockers at Hellcat Records celebrated what would have been Joe Strummers 60th birthday this year, by breaking open the vault and liberating a whopping 57 tracks from Strummer and his post-Clash band. Along with his three full length albums, this collection includes a slew of B-Sides and live tracks. The Holy Grail is three live songs – that sound impeccable – recorded from the November 2002 reunion of Strummer and Clash band mate Mick Jones at a London benefit concert. The pair does justice to “Bank Robber,” “London Calling” and “White Riot”.
Willie Nelson – Heroes (Legacy Records)
It’s been awhile since Willie’s put out an album free of themes. His last few, his partnerships with Asleep At the Wheel and Wynton Marsalis, while good, seemed to be more about changing things up after 60 or so studio albums than continuing his legacy as one of this country’s greatest musical treasures. Heroes is Willie writing about what he knows best: heartache, having a good time, Texas and weed. And all is right with the world again. Like just about every album he’s put out since the 70’s, he’s not shy about bringing his friends and family into the studio to help him out. Simply sublime.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Columbia)
Me not saving room on this list for a Springsteen release is like the Pope choosing someone other than Jesus when asked to name his favorite son of God. The fact that Wrecking Ball is simply Bruce’s best album in more than two decades made the selection that much easier. Deeply political, turning to Wall Street’s greed for inspiration, Wrecking Ball is emotional, stirring at times, occasionally dark but always with Springsteen’s trademark slivers of hope.
David Mead – Dudes (101 Distribution)
Yes, this one technically came out at the tail end of 2011, but I didn’t receive it until January, so we’ll pretend it’s eligible. Financed through Kickstarter, David Mead’s seventh, and easily best, full length Dudes showcases a dozen tracks all written from the perspective of, well, dudes (naturally). From the Paul Simon-esque “Bocce Ball” to the quirky sweet “King of the Crosswords,” there is not a single weak track on this pop record.
Hostage Calm – Please Remain Calm (Run for Cover)
Managing to borrow some of the better elements of The Smiths and The Replacements, Connecticut’s Hostage Calm delivered a rousing argument to believe pop punk is alive and well. All 10 songs are impressive, with “May Love Prevail,” “Closing Remarks” and the album opener “On Both Eyes” fighting it out for soon-to-be fan favorites. Though there is still a foot firmly planted in the pop punk world, the band successfully broadens its influences with this one, like on the “The ‘M’ Word” which sounds like something Jonathan Richman would have proudly tacked his name to and “Patriot,” coming off like a song Ben Folds should have put on his last album (instead of the 10 weak songs he opted for instead).
Archie Powell & The Exports –
Great Ideas in Action (Good Land Records)
If Cheap Trick ever thinks of calling it a day Archie Powell & the Exports are perfectly suited to take their place on the power pop throne. On Great Ideas in Action, the group’s third record and best release, they have perfected the three-minute pop song, with sardonic wit and hooks sharp enough to snag anyone. Along with Cheap Trick, Archie and the boys tend to draw inspiration from folks like Elvis Costello (“Crazy Pills”), Material Issue, The Replacements and plenty of cheap beer. Influences aside, the band is far more than simply a glorified cover band, carving out their own deep, niche in the genre thanks to thoughtfully funny lyrics.
Dr. Dog – Be the Void (Anti-)
Six record into it, psychedelic Philly rockers Dr. Dog has found their groove and damn it sounds fine. Be the Void opens with the lazy syncopated rhythm of “Lonesome” that camps into your head for days, and continues to churn out one solid track after another of back porch strum-along, sing-along rock ditties like a cross between The Black Crowes and The Band. There’s not an obvious departure from their last few releases, but there doesn’t need to be as the band has settled comfortably into their sound.
By Troy Michael (publisher/writer)
Jeff Angell (The Missionary Position)
Jen Black and Aja Blue (The Bruises)
Adam Duritz (Counting Crows)
Orenida Fink (Azure Ray)
Regan Hagar and Shawn Smith (Brad)
Barrett Martin (Barrett Martin Group)
Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum)
FAVORITE CDS (LP)
Brad: United We Stand
The Bruises: Never Be the Same
The Cult: Choice of Weapon
Deftones: Koi No Yokan
Alejandro Escovedo: Big Station
Garbage: Not Your Kind of People
The Missionary Position: Consequences
Walking Papers: Self-Titled
Jack White – Blunderbus
The Casket Lottery: Real Fear
Rosie Flores: Working Girl’s Guitar
FAVORITE CDS (EP)
50 Foot Wave: With Love from the Men’s Room
Azure Ray: As Above So Below
Dum Dum Girls: End of Days
Eisley: Deep Space
How to Destroy Angels: An omen_ EP
Lissie: Covered Up with Flowers
PLS PLS: EP EP
Water Fae: Self-Titled
FAVORITE BOX SETS & REISSUES
Brad: Welcome to Discovery Park
Johnny Cash: The Greatest Series
Elvis Costello: Spectacular Spinning Songbook
fIREHOSE: lowFLOWs: the Columbia Anthology (’91-’93)
Jimi Hendrix: Live at Berkley
Sam Phillips: Martinis & Bikinis
Rage Against the Machine: XX Box Set
Paul Simon: Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition
Joe Strummer: First three albums
God Bless Ozzy Osbourne: Directed by Mike Fleiss, Mike Piscitelli
Jimi Hendrix: Jimi Plays Berkeley
John Mellencamp: It’s About You
Metal Evolution (11-part series): Directed By Sam Dunn
Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones: Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981
The Other F Word: Directed by: Andrea Blaugrund Nevins
Ozzy Osbourne: Speak of the Devil
Placebo: We Come in Pieces
Portlandia: Season 1
We Juke Up In Here: Mississippi’s Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads
by Judy Nelson (writer)
1. Cat Power, Sun
2. Tame Impala, Lonerism
3. THEESatisfaction, awE naturalE
4. The Chromatics, Kill For Love
5. Grimes, Visions
6. Grizzly Bear, Shields
7. Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
8. Peaking Lights, Lucifer
9. Polica, Give Up the Ghost
10. Twin Shadow, Confess