By Brian Arsenault
I really don’t feel comfortable calling a column like this “The Best of 2012.” It’s not that I’m not opinionated enough to do so, it’s that integrity would require me to have listened to a whole lot more during the year. Wouldn’t one have to hear just about everything to do an honest “Best of 2012”? Oh well, let others worry about that.
If I absolutely had to select an album of the year it would be Dreams of the San Joaquin (Blix Street). Maia Sharp combines with her parents, Randy Sharp and Sharon Bays, and Johnny Cash songwriter Jack Wesley Routh to give us a piece of America and thus a better sense of all of America. It’s a Steinbeck novel, an early Capra movie, a train whistle in the night.
Here are my other favorites from the year drawing to a close:
- Halie Loren’s Heart First (Justin Time). How can this singer of grace and style not be near the top of everyone’s list? Great phrasing, emotions that resonate not nauseate, humor, wit. I truly don’t think there’s anyone better.
- Cheryl Bentyne’s Let’s Misbehave: The Cole Porter Songbook (Summit Records). This is a master class in jazz singing, in Cole Porter, in the American songbook. Cheryl Bentyne can make magic with Manhattan Transfer and on her own. Special magic here.
- Graham Dechter’s Takin’ It There (Capri). Jazz electric guitar virtuoso. You’ve heard that before but this guy will take you there. And beyond. You feel the music imbedded so deep in the DNA. In this case, by nature and nurture.
- Jesse Cook’s The Blue Guitar Sessions (Entertainment One Music). I know, two guitarists. But this is something completely different. Softly stated, yes, but more accurately, lyrically stated. A world of its own inviting you to enter.
- Nik Bartsch’s Ronin (ECM). In medieval Japan, Ronin were Samurai without masters. That works here. Smoothly flowing jazz funks to a frenetic pace. To quiet piano bars. There are spaces, gaps, silences. And wondrous sound.
- Rickie Lee Jones’ The Devil You Know (Concord Records). A long time. A lot of pain. A lot of courage. A lot of living. Not covers but reinterpretations that in several cases are more articulate, more profound, more evocative than the originals.
- All Purpose Blues Band’s Cornbread and Cadillacs (Catbone Music) because the traditions of Otis Redding, Sam Cook, all the Delta bluesmen, funk, soul, Neville Brothers, and Bourbon Street must continue to be there to renew and enrich our souls.
- Rolling Stones’ reissue of Some Girls Live in Texas 1978. (Eagle Rock Entertainment) Mick and the boys at the height of their powers. If you’re not sure you are comfortable with today’s geezers in concert, you will be reassured by this remarkable live album.
- Various artists, hell, many artists, on Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.. This album of Bob Dylan songs was done for Amnesty International, and such collaborative efforts seldom get a lot of recognition. Well, it’s not actually a full blown work of art, critics sniff dismissively. But it you miss this, you miss some magnificent interpretations of Dylan’s work. Disc 2 alone is worth the price of admission.
- Mary Black’s Song from the Steeples (Blix Street) both in its own right and as a representative of a great year of music from Irish female singers. Not sure what’s going on but it seems like a virtual renaissance of Irish singers. Of course, they’re always there, aren’t they. We just aren’t always listening.
- Martha’s Trouble’s A Little Heart Like You (Aisling). There are new babies in our family, both arrived and on the way. If there are newcomers in yours, this album of artfully done lullabies will please both babe and parents. Not sing-songy sweet to send you screaming from the room on a third play, but genuinely good music.
- Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual). Low quality video/audio in places can’t diminish the powerful birth of real superstar Tina Turner and innovator Ike Turner. A remarkable portrait of musical performing artists.
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