Thursday, December 27, 2012
TERRELL'S TUNEUP: Best of 2012
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 28, 2012
Here’s the music released in 2012 that I enjoyed the most.
1) Meat and Bone by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A reunion album that actually works. The first studio album for Spencer’s unholy trio — which introduced a new generation of punk and alt-rock kids to real live razor-fightin’ Mississippi blues — is a true dandy, stuffed full of the maniacal, irreverent, rompin’-stompin’ sounds that shook the free world back in the ’90s. All the old ear-damaging intensity is still there. The Blues Explosion returns loud and trashy and sounding like they’re having a lot more fun than a bunch of middle-aged guys are supposed to be having.
Grifter’s Hymnal by Ray Wylie Hubbard. This album of folksy, blues-soaked redneck rock ‘n’ roll breaks little new musical ground, yet it’s refreshing. With his Okie drawl, Hubbard has a way of sounding wise even when he’s cracking wise. He seems highly spiritual even when he’s singing about shady nightclub characters and strippers. He sings proudly of being an upright, sober family man, yet he offers sharp insight into the carnal side of life. Hubbard is one of the very few musicians of his generation who has actually gotten better with age.
3) Locked Down by Dr. John. Hands down, the best record Mac Rebennack has made in decades.This music recalls his early work, but it has a sharp contemporary edge — for which we can thank producer Dan Auerbach, frontman of The Black Keys. It captured the thick, atmospheric, heady hoodoo Night Tripper excursions of his early albums — Remedies, Babylon, The Sun, Moon & Herbs, and especially his classic Gris-Gris. But refreshingly it doesn’t sound like a paint-by-number re-creation of the old sound.
Drop Dead by Figures of Light. This is blasting, primitive, raw two-or-three-chord rock ‘n’ roll. Some call it “proto-punk, ” but I think it might even be more proto than that. This band, originally based in New York, rose to obscurity in the early ’70s, broke up and revived itself a couple of years ago after Norton Records stumbled upon one of The Figures’ rare early singles. Singer Wheeler Winston Dixon and guitarist Michael Downey are aided by The A-Bones’ rhythm section (drummer Miriam Linna and Marcus “The Carcass” Natale on bass). And this time out, Mick Collins (of The Gories and The Dirtbombs) plays guitar and produced the album.
A Mighty Lonesome Man by James Hand. Let’s get right to the point: This was the best basic old-fashioned, honest-to-God heartache and honky-tonk country music of the year. Maybe in the last several years.
The themes and situations Hand sings about and the simple music with which he conveys them are not groundbreaking or innovative. They are just honest songs that prove that old-school country can still sound fresh and that mighty lonesome men can still make mighty powerful music.
Old Times There by South Memphis String Band. The central theme of this album is race. Within the context of the music of old time string bands and jug bands of the 1920s and 30s, this integrated band -- which includes Contemporary blues growler Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, etc.), Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars) plus new member bassist Justin Showah -- confronts the race issue head on, with songs new and old. Some have archaic, and, frankly, racist lyrics that are bound to shock the squeamish and politically-correct.
The String Band not only recreates a particular sound from a particular time, but forces a listener to confront what was going on in the world that gave birth to that music.
A Killer’s Dream by Rachel Brooke Despite her innocent-sounding voice and her pretty melodies, Brooke’s lyrics reveal a dark, spooky side and are full of stories of all the things that make American folk music the deep, mysterious force it is.
And for this album, she’s got a band, a Florida group called Viva Le Vox. They give her sound heft, and Brooke gets the opportunity to rock and even strut.
But I love seeing these old songs being given new life . I'm especially impressed at how Young delved into the hoary apocalyptic origins of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," which started out as an African-American spiritual about the end of the world called "When the Chariot Comes." (Young calls it "Jesus' Chariot.") And this album contains the best version of "Darling Clementine" since Huckleberry Hound's.
Glow in the Dark by LoveStruck. This is a basic guitar/bass/drums trio seeped in garage punk with recessive rockabilly DNA led by Danish-born Anne Mette Rasmussen. The album is full of rocked-out, hooky tough-chick tunes, but the best is the title song. a slow, sleazy minor-key tune that might best be described as “garage noir.”
* Mr. Trouble by Stan Ridgway
*Unsound by Mission of Burma
* Thankful n Thoughtful by Bettye LaVette
* Tempest by Bob Dylan
* Falling Off the Face of the Earth by The Electric Mess
* Between the Ditches by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
* Que Wow by Joe King Carrasco
* Leaving Eden by The Carolina Chocolate Drops
* No Regrets by Johnny Dowd
* I Bet on Sky by Dinsosaur Jr.
Below is my Spotify playlist featuring songs from the above albums that were available on Spotify. (16 out of 20 ain't bad!)