Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Musical Revue of 2012

Last year I didn't do any music reviewing, and thus don't have a pool of old reviews to look over. But a few minutes with iTunes turned up everything added in 2012; here are the highlights.

From my old favorites:
  • Tom Waits, Bad As Me. Tom Waits is a frigging genius, but for a long time he seemed to be making his music as inaccessible as possible.  Lately he's stepped back from that but without sacrificing either his edge or his talent. Bad As Me is an occasionally difficult disk to listen to, but well worth the effort. The standout cut: "Hell Broke Luce", which is about the troops in the Middle East.
  • Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball. IMHO, pretty much the best thing he's done in ten years. Yes, a couple of the songs could use a good trim, and a couple of times he lets his politics lead him into pathos. Still, this disk rocks, and even the flawed songs are damned good. The title cut and "We Take Care of Our Own" are standouts.
From the Samplers: I am a sucker for free samplers. After a few years of grabbing them from Amazon, I'm getting a feel for which will match my taste and which will not. This year gave me a number of new artists to follow.
  • Maria Taylor/Azure Ray: Azure Ray is Maria Taylor and Orinda Fink.  Taylor had a song "Bad Idea?" on the Saddle Creek Summer 2012 Sampler (recommended) which I liked so much I immediately picked up her new CD Overlook. It did not disappoint. That lead me to Azure Ray and the disk Drawing Down The Moon. The latter occasionally fades into background music, but as soon as you pay attention you find real substance. Both are recommended, but hey, try the samples first.
  • Barnaby Bright: This as well as a few others came from the various Mishara samplers. Thoughtful, nicely melodic mondern singer/songwriter stuff, observant and sensitive without falling into twenty-something angst.
  • Ike Reilly: His Digital Collection on Amazon is some great rock-n-roll/pop. I liked or loved nearly every cut. My Xmas gelt went partly to picking up five of his other disks, which ought to tell you how much I liked him. Haven't listened to them yet; they're still trickling in by mail.
  • Two Loons For Tea: Another Mishara artist; I found their song "Monkey" to be sly and charming. Every time it would come up on my 'recently obtained' list I'd perk up and really listen. Their disk Two Loons For Tea is pretty darned good, and Nine Lucid Dreams should arrive any day.
  • The Mynabirds, Another one from the Saddle Creek sampler. The song "Generals" rocks and has been a staple on my list since hearing it. The CD of the same name isn't quite as strong, but What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood is damned good.
Rediscoveries: Rediscoveries are artists who I liked but for various reasons didn't have on CD. Sometimes I'd be appalled at what I used to like, but other times it turned out I'd only scratched the surface and needed a much deeper dive. For 2012, the clear winner in that category is Harry Nilsson. His disks Nilsson Schmilsson, A Little Touch of Schmillson In The Night, and Ariel Ballet show astonishing breadth, amazingly understated vocal skills, a beautiful hand with melodies, and lyrics than range from the sublime to the hilariously ridiculous  If you have to get just one, go with Nilsson Schmilsson. Avoid the various greatest hits collections, as they pretty much universally leave off his quirkier side. And if you want to learn how subtle and understatedly difficult his vocals are, just try singing along with him in "Coconut." It sounds repetitive on the surface, yet almost every line is different.

Biggest Disappointment: Brian Wilson, Smile. It's not horrible, but it's mostly mediocre. We waited 35 years for this?

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