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Music is a bookmark of time, which is why so many writers look back at the end of each year. Music can also act as a time machine. A song can set the time and place with a particular tone that pulls you back when you hear it again – like how every time I hear "Gimmie Shelter" by the Rolling Stones, I think of the movie, “Goodfellas.”
The year 2012 has been fantastic for new music. Bob Dylan and Neil Young both released new albums. The Rolling Stones celebrated 50 years of musical history and Woody Guthrie was born 100 years ago. Both Phish and Metallica performed shows at Bader Field. To celebrate the close of 2012, I'm listing my 12 favorite albums of the year – plus an honorable mention - in no particular order. Click here for the Spotify playlist of 12 of '12. It was difficult to narrow down my favorites and I’m sure I left some off the list, so let me hear it. Comment on Twitter @DBCurrent #TheHighNote
Straight from the Keystone State, Dr. Dog followed up on 2010's "Shame Shame," with the powerful album, "Be the Void," released Feb. 3. The band has matured and concentrated on its craft before creating this masterful record. The band released "Wild Race," a 5-track EP Sept. 28. This is arguably the band’s best record to date.
Favorite tracks: “That Old Black Hole;” “Do the Trick;” “Heavy Light;” “Over Here, Over There”
“There's an elephant in my head
and I tiptoe around it
there are egg shells on the floor
therefore I never touch the ground.”
- “That Old Black Hole”
I knew in April when I first heard "Boys & Girls," the debut album by the Alabama Shakes it would be my favorite of the year. Full of fuzzy guitar riffs, classic bass licks and Brittany Howard's incredible voice; the band leads the modern soul revival.
Favorite tracks: “Hold On,” “I Found You,” “Hang Loose,” “Heartbreaker,” “Be Mine”
Favorite moment: The last 45 seconds of “Hang Loose” is a great soulful jam.
Many people know M. Ward for his part in the collaboration with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him. The finger-picking songwriter released "A Wasteland Companion" this year. Ward's Nick Drake-esque illusionary lyrics are complimented by his affection for reel-to-reel recording equipment.
Favorite Tracks: “Primitive Girl,” “Me and My Shadow” (featuring Zooey Deschanel), “The First Time I Ran Away,” “Watch the Show”
Favorite moment: The track "Watch the Show," is amazing. M. Ward describes the character of a television editor who hijacks a broadcast. It's pretty grim but also entertaining.
This has been a busy year for Andrew Bird. The multi-talented singer-songwriter has released "Break it Yourself," a much more upbeat album than his previous release, "Noble Beast." Bird is a methodical composer, beautiful violinist (even when playing it like a guitar) and one heck of a whistler. He released "Hands of Glory" Oct. 30 as a musical companion to the album and a documentary, "Here's What Happened." It depicts some of the creation and recording process for the album.
Favorite tracks: “Danse Caribe,” “Give it Away,” “Eyeoneye,” “Lusitania,” “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” “Orpheo Looks Back”
Favorite moment: The 2:07-minute mark on "Danse Caribe" begins a jam with Bird taking the lead whistle and follows it with an awesome violin solo.
The Tallest Man on Earth
I was introduced to The Tallest Man on Earth with this year's album, "There's No Leaving Now." I was blown away with the third album recorded by Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattsson who uses the aforementioned stage moniker. I enjoy his style and his voice sounds less like Dylan each time I listen.
Favorite tracks: “Revelation Blues,” “Leading me Now,” “1904,” “Little Brother,” “Criminals”
Favorite moment: The second verse of "1904" is incredibly earnest. The entire song is well crafted and executed with perfect production.
The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers have created a harmonious impact on the folk rock genre. "The Carpenter" was one of my most anticipated albums and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. Produced by Rick Rubin, the brothers Avett have captured these same magic that allowed them to share the stage with Dylan at the Grammy Awards.
Favorite tracks: “The Once and Future Carpenter,” “Live and Die,” “Pretty Girl from Michigan,” “I Never Knew You,” “February Seven,” “Geraldine”
Favorite moment: "February Seven" really begins its second act at the 1:31 mark, which completes the landscape of the song.
Band of Horses
Band of Horses has held a special place on my playlist since the band's 2006 debut "Everything All the Time." Released Sept. 18, "Mirage Rock" is an immersive sound and features improved harmonies from past records. This album marks the band hitting its stride and musical advancement.
Favorite tracks: “Knock Knock,” “How to Live,” “Shut-in Tourist,” “Dumpster World, ” “Everything's Gonna Be Undone, ” “Heartbreak on the 101”
Favorite moment: The intro guitar riff to "How to Live," is creative and sounds cool. It works a little better as the outro, featuring more drum fill but the intro is just as powerful.
Ben Folds Five
Ben Folds got the band back together and released, "The Song of the Life of the Mind" a dozen years after breaking from Ben Folds Five. The difference is apparent as Folds seems to shine with his bandmates, and together they explore new territory.
Favorite songs: “Erase Me,” “Michael Praytor, ” “Five Years Later,” “On Being Frank,” “Draw a Crowd,” “Do It Anyway,” “Hold That Thought”
Favorite moment: The perfect nerd trifecta of Nerdist producing the video for "Do It Anyway" featuring the Fraggles.
When I first heard of "Mouring in America and Dreaming in Color" the reporter said, "Don't judge an album by its cover." The rapper Brother Ali makes a statement with this attempt to reawaken the American spirit after taking a trip to Mecca. He even gets Dr. Cornel West to appear on the opening track. He beams positive energy like Jay-Z and samples catchy beats.
Favorite Tracks: “Letter to my Countrymen” (featuring Dr. Cornel West), “Only Life I Know,” “Stop the Press,” “Work Everyday,” “All You Need,” “Just Fine”
Favorite Moment: Brother Ali says he can't get a driver's license because of being albino on "Stop the Press," followed by, "Told you I was legally blind, that's legit."
(Brother Ali's songs and video from this album are too explicit for shorenewstoday.com)
The self-titled debut album by The Lumineers quickly caught the attention of the musical world. This timeless and eclectic record released April 3, is a charming introduction to the band. The band has a simplistic approach to songwriting and songs layers build upon one another. The Lumineers incorporate a lot of banjo and mandolin in addition to claps and stomps to enhance its authentic sound.
Favorite tracks: “Flowers In Your Hair,” “Submarines,” “Dead Sea,” “Ho Hey, Big Parade,” “Flapper Girl”
Favorite moment: The opening to "Submarines" is incredibly poignant and powerful.
Ben Kweller has returned to rock 'n' roll with "Go Fly A Kite" released Feb. 7. The last album Kweller released was "Changing Horses," in 2009 which explored the country music influences that can be heard throughout all of the Texan's music.
Favorite tracks: “Mean to Me,” “Out the Door,” “Gossip,” “Free,” “Full Circle,” “The Rainbow”
Favorite moment: Ben Kweller included the guitar tablature and lyrics for every song on the recording inside the liner notes and digital booklet. This is especially helpfully for guitar players and I wished he had done the same on past albums. That never stopped me from learning “Lizzy” and “Family Tree.”
Mumford & Sons
The sophomore effort by the British-born Mumford & Sons was as rousing as the band’s debut, “Sigh No More.” Led by the energetic Marcus Mumford, the band has just the right amount of banjo and bluegrass influence.
Favorite tracks: “I Will Wait,” “Hopeless Wanderer,” “Whispers in the Dark,” “Babel,” “Ghosts That We Knew,” “Lover of the Light,” “Reminder”
“Don't hold a glass over the flame
Don't let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road.”
Bob Dylan never ceases to amaze me. Releasing his 35th studio album on Sept. 10, "Tempest" features the same familiar sound heard on the past few albums from Dylan. The title track is nearly 14-minutes of modern history about the Titanic. I saw Dylan last month at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and he hasn't lost a step.
Favorite tracks: “Duquesne Whistle,” “Pay in Blood,” “Early Roman Kings,” “Tin Angel,” “Roll on John”
"There's peddlers and there’s meddlers
they buy and they sell
they'll destroy your city
they'll destroy you as well."
- Early Roman Kings