We here at Americana Towers have realised that, it being December, it’s time once again to round up the year in music and announce to the world what we thought were the movers and shakers, the highs and lows, the ups and downs and what was hot and what was not in 2012. This year, as we gathered round a warming pyre of X Factor finalist’s cds, we poured ourselves hearty measures of our favoured advocaat and grenadine cocktails and thrashed out this list for you. And there was hardly any blood spilt. Relatively speaking. If we say so ourselves it’s a mighty fine, eclectic list – we have long championed independent music and the majority of acts here are firmly in that group (that’s independent in terms of major label support rather then indie as a genre). In terms of the big names there was no place for Bob or Neil (or the Mumfords for that matter, despite them delivering the editor’s number one album of the year), but Bruce does hold his end up, as it were. The range of music, as you will see, runs the whole gamut of our interests as writers and includes ‘southern rock’, ‘scandi-pop’, ‘bluegrass’, ‘singer- songwriter’, ‘country punk’, ‘post rock’, ‘blue collar rock’, ‘soul’ and even a little bit of ‘jazz’. At the end of the day of course its all just music and that is why was are here after all.
So here is the definitive Top Ten of 2012. The individual staff member’s choices are also listed. Any thoughts, criticisms or ideas? Why not head over to our forum where you can discuss this and all good musical things. Thanks to everyone for their continued support of our (independent, not-for-profit) website and here’s to 2013.
Paul Villers, Americana-Uk Staff Writer
Americana-UK Staff Top Ten of 2012
- The Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls” (Rough Trade)
- Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” (Secretly Canadian)
- Cahalen Morrison and Eli West – “Our Lady of the Tall Trees” (Independent)
- Wes Finch – “Mayflower” (Silvery Records)
- Wussy – “Buckeye” (Damnably)
- God Speed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constelation)
- Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball” (Columbia)
- Lee Fields and The Expressions – “Faithful Man” (Truth and Soul Records)
- Anais Mitchell – “Young Man in America” (Wilderland Records)
- Van Morrison – “Born To Sing: No Plan B” (Blue Note)
Americana-Uk Individual Writers Top Ten lists 2012
Mark Whitfield – Editor
- Mumford and Sons – “Babel” Despite the near ubiquitous criticism from the hardcore folk and americana community, as a reviewer for the BBC pointed out, the band don’t actually sound like anyone else around right now and are far from routine.
- Aimee Mann – “Charmer” One of the finest songwriters of her generation, despite still not being exactly a household name, Mann returns with her first album since 2008’s “Smilers,”
- Spain “The Soul of Spain” - Ah, Spain, the band that brings new meaning to the word “slooooooowwwww”
- Anais Mitchell - “Young Man in America” - an epic, sprawling tale with characters leaping from the verses as they would from the pages of a (good) novel.
- Octoberman - “Waitin’ in the Well” - inspired by Haruki Murakami’s book “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” the sound is still all distinctively frontman’s Marc Morrissette’s creation, albeit it heading in a poppier direction
- Quiet Loner - “Greedy Magicians” - a whole album’s worth of protest songs in one go, at a time when they’re perhaps needed more than ever.
- Vanessa Peters - “The Burn The Truth The Lies” - a fine array of musicians from bands including the Polyphonic Spree and Apples in Stereo.
- Paul Kelly - “Spring & Fall” - Australia’s finest living songwriter by a country mile
- Of Monsters and Men - “My Head is An Animal” - an amiable group of day dreamers who craft folkie pop songs
- Dodgy - “Stand Upright in a Cool Place” - they’ve mellowed a bit, improved their melodies further and the amazing harmonies are still there
Ian Fildes – Reviews Editor
- Wussy - “Buckeye” - Revelatory career catch-up from Ohio band who manage to combine alt country and a barbed punk and left-field indie swagger to their , memorable tunes.
- Darren Hayman & The Long Parlament - “The Violence” - England’s greatest songwriter concludes his ‘Essex Trilogy’ with an encyclopaedic double, themed on the 17th century witch trials.
- Emma Russack - “Sounds of Our City” - The sound of perilous & desperate love-lorn despair. An unflinching brilliant set of tunes from this new Australian troubadour
- The Lovely Eggs - “Wildlife” - Lancaster’s quirky punk duo are Britain’s most original, funny and charming band without question
- Ronnie Fauss - “I Am The Man You Know I’m Not” - Ronnie reached for the bottle marked ‘Solid Gold Classic Americana’ for his much anticipated full-length debut.
- The Wave Pictures - “Long Black Cars” - A Morrissey-esque attention to kitchen sink drama and romantic minutiae, and the jaw-dropping guitar work of Dave Tattersall, definitely Britain’s greatest guitarist of the new millennium
- The Cribs - “In The Belly of the Brazen Bull” - How does any band survive losing Johnny Marr from its ranks? They managed to strip everything back to basics AND progress all at once
- The Crimea - “Square Moon” - Low key vinyl-only double from Britain’s most under-rated band that, as ever, explored unflinching emotional places you didn’t even know you wanted to go.
- Allo Darlin - “Europe” - Unashamedly classicist jangly guitar pop that even trumped their excellent debut. Superior and instant pop tunes, but with genuine emotional depth
- The Vaccines - “Come of Age” - With stylistic influences thrillingly all over the place, this second album delivered varying moods as well as ambitious anthems to failure and self mythology
Rudie Humphrey – Staff Writer
- Oh Mine Darling Clementine – “How Do You Plead” - Old school weepy country, brimming full of the sarky vitrol of being married.
- Alejandro Escovedo – “Big Station” - Top rocking from one of the coolest dudes around, and double ace when done live.
- Seeker Lover Keeper – “Seeker Lover Keeper” - Haunting, spooky, etherally and just plain lovely folk
- Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball” - Blue collar, car plant worker rock n'roll, tough times in the land of opportunity.
- Cory Branan – “Mutt” - Offers up a real treat, sharp well observed, quality Americana.
- Felsen – “Breaking Up With Loneliness” - Powerpop, power chords, Oaklands finest show 3 is the maigic number.
- Peter Bruntnell – “Ringo Woz 'Ere” - Great mix of orginals, and well selected covers from down Devon way.
- Amy Macdonald – “Life In A Beautiful Light” - Top jock pop rock, and the best use of "didna" in a song ever"
- Adele & Glenn – “Carrington Street” - Great Aussie harmonies, and a treat of a video for "Happiness" on YouTube.
- Corb Lund – “Cabin Fever” - Rodeo riding, gear grinding trucker, returns with the sound of life on the farm in Canada and way way way beyond.
Maurice Hope – Staff Writer
- Various Artists – “Mercyland Hymns For The Rest Of Us” - A concept album featuring some of Nashville’s best Americana acts and more is aided by a to-die-for sympatric production to help make this a masterpiece.
- Kin - “Kin (Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell)” - Masterful songs that tell many great stories are enriched by Crowell’s voice (and suitable star guests).
- Malcolm Holcombe - “Down The River” - A voice like rusty barbed wire complimented by songs as tender and delicate as gossamer.
- Willie Nelson – “Heroes” - Not only is there still life in the old dog but he is still setting benchmarks.
- Kimberley Murray & Bob Manning – “One Night Only (The Honky Tonk Roadshow)” Texas dance floor music performed from two fine vocalists well able to match, and at times, better the idiom’s golden greats.
- Darrell Scott – “The Long Ride Home” - An awesome singer, songwriter and musician that knows how to put it best to work, hence his services are well touted.
- Mark W. Lennon – “Home Of The Wheel” - Though of Americana’s darker side there is sufficient light for the music to flow effortlessly.
- The Time Jumpers – “The Time Jumpers” - A group of sessions musicians and more who play in Nashville for the love of it and brilliantly!
- Israel Nash Gripka – “2011 Barn Doors Spring Tour, Live In Holland” - Stirring 1970s singer-songwriter steeped music wrapped in insurmountable passion and great honesty.
- Will Bannister – “Turn Back Time” - Young traditional country act that plays the music as it used to be as no quarter given or asked.
Scott Baxter – Staff Writer
- God Speed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” - Many have tried and each has failed. "With his arms outstretched....."
- Father John Misty – “Fear Fun” - This year I've destroyed most good albums in days, but I have never stopped listening to this.
- Cody Chesnutt – “Landing On A Hundred” - The world needs soul like this. Best Kickstarter album yet, easily
- Royal Headache – “Self Titled” – self explanatory
- Field Music – “Plumb” - More ideas in one track than some bands' entire careers.
- Killer Mike – “RA.P. Music.” - that fat black motherfucker got a way with words, I tell you he can rap, boy. Not my words, but the man his own self.
- Death Grips – “The Money Store” - That increasingly rare thing, something that sounds like no one else, past or present.
- Bob Mould – “The Silver Age” - Bob came back and wasn't shit! The very opposite.
- Jack White – “Blunderbuss” - Proving he can do it without the drummer.
- El-P – “Cancer for the Cure” - Beats and beats and beats, “The Full Retard” should be on everybody's mix-tape.
Paul Kerr – Staff Writer
- John Murry – “The Graceless Age” - A narcoleptic diary of hard times that shimmers with a beautiful heat haze.
- Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – “Our lady of The Tall Trees” -Songs carved from old wood and turned into objects of beauty
- Dan Stuart – “The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings” - Back from the almost dead with a vengeance
- Deadman – “Take Up Your Mat and Walk” - An Americana primer, they gather in their influences and forge a fresh sound
- Otis Gibbs – “Harder Than Hammered Hell” - A solid set of songs of the working man that packs a Southern punch.
- Nels Andrews – “Scrimshaw” - A delicate and impressionistic set of tales from New York
- Giant Giant Sand – “Tucson” - Expanded and emboldened Howe Gelb delivers a country rock opera as only he can
- Petunia & the Vipers – “Petunia & The Vipers” - Left field country pop and rock with yodelling and guts
- The Illegitimate Sons – “American Music” - Bourbon soaked rootsy rock delivered with panache
- Sacri Cuori – “Rosario” - Italian band delivers some superb instrumental Americana that channels Calexico and Ry Cooder
Paula Cooke – Staff Writer
- Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls” - Bless her heart, bless her soul, Brittany's swampy soul singing lives up to all the hype
- Wes Finch - Mayflower – “Coventry's best kept secret. Utterly gorgeous"
- Van Morrison – “Born to Sing: No Plan B” – Recalling earlier Van days with sweet melodies, a peppering of jazz and some gritty lyrics
- Michael Kiwanuka – “Home Again” - New and a little raw but immaculate song writing and emotion
- Matt Lakey and The Whatever- “Matt Lakey and The Whatever” - Another highly talented Coventrian, tight, funky and a little bit good.
- Dexy's – “One Day I'm Going to Soar” - Kevin Rowland returns - older, wiser and with some epic story telling.
- Lee Fields – “Faithful Man” - Soul, soul, soul. Oh Yes!
- Jens Lekman – “I know What Love Isn't” - Bittersweet Scandicana breakup album - compelling and intelligent
- Wussy – “Buckeye” - Touches of R.E.M and The Underground in this compilation album, their first international release.
- The Lumineers – “The Lumineers” - Simplicity incarnate - rustic, charming folk-pop.
Michael Farley – Staff Writer
- Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking ball” – Latest masterpiece from the daddy of them all.
- Sara Watkins – “Sun Midnight Sun” – Top quality bluegrass and more from ex Nickel Creek member
- Corb Lund – “Cabin Fever” – Cowboy music, western swing, blues, fantastic lyrics, it’s got the lot.
- Sunny Sweeney – “Concrete” – Good old fashioned country y’all from independent minded songstress
- Eric Church – “Chief” – A bit country mainstream for some but all is worth it for fantastic track “Springsteen”
- Don Williams - “And So It Goes” - Genial Don delivers a real gem a la Johnny Cash “American” series
- The Mountain Firework Company – “The Lonesome Losing Blues” Bluegrass from Brighton, full of authentic feeling and brilliant musicianship
- The Vaccines – “Come of Age” – Punk for the current generation, check out “Teenage Icon” best retro anthem in many a year
- The Beach Boys – “That’s Why God Made the Radio” – Not their best, but very good and a reminder of what could have been if Brian Wilson have stayed away from the dark side.
- Michael Kiwanuka – “Home Again” – Laid back vibe, good songs and great delivery
Jonathan Aird – Staff Writer
- Dr John – “Locked Down” - If you're looking for funked up grooves and low-down straight talkin' 'bout the world and how 'tis then you're in luck, the doctor will see you now.
- Howlin' Rain – “Russian Wilds” - The proof that there is still much yet to be done with the electric guitar, a stunning cacophony.
- Bob Dylan – “Tempest” - Still wrapped in his own enigma after 50 years, Dylan delivers a package of rage, mockery and poignant regret.
- Cahalan Morrison & Eli West – “Our Lady of the Tall Trees” - An album of contrasts and mystery - here within melodies redolent of an American folk tradition there are to be found poetic lyrics which shine and shimmer in their enigmatic elusiveness
- Chuck Prophet – “Temple Beautiful” - "Play that song again - I could hear it all night long" - I really have nothing to add to Chuck's own assessment.
- Vinyl Floor – “Peninsula” - An ecstatic journey through Utopia and Dystopia by Danish Indy-rock band, dazzles with its overarching concepts and philosophical depths
- Alabama Shakes – “Boys & Girls” - The trick is to take Southern tinged rock and make it relevant again - trick achieved.
- Great Lake Swimmers – “New Wild Everywhere” - Adds a poppier folk-rock edge with feel good sing-a-long songs, without abandoning the tender and the beautiful that we have come to expect from Tony Dekker.
- Giant Giant Sand – “Tuscon” - Howe Gelb's expanded band bring more songs of the dusty desert....from Denmark.
- Dar Williams – “In the Time of Gods” - Dar Williams delivers another fine collection of songs about love, inner strength, relationships, life and cruel and unusual punishments.
Keith Hargreaves – Staff Writer
- Bill Fay – “Life is People” - unexpected and wonderful -complex and simple and honest and Tweedy.
- Patterson Hood – “Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance” - a songwriter stretching his muscles in a glorious way
- Jason Isbell and the 400 unit – “Live in Alabama” - this is Americana
- Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls” - One trick but what a trick!
- Chuck Prophet - Temple beautiful - Another consummate exercise in sonic brilliance
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood – “Big Moon Ritual” - Laurel Canyon is alive!!
- Patti Smith – “Banga” - devastating stuff includes After the Gold Rush for 2012
- Richard James – “Pictures in the Morning” - Folky psychedelic magic for the long nights and yearning for summer.
- Tom Petty – “Mojo Revisited” - a rerelease that deserved the renewed interest
- Robin Guthrie – “Fortune” - Remember the Cocteaus - dive in again to this aural orgasm from Guthrie
Jeremy Searle – Deputy Editor
- Bellowhead – “Broadside” - A triumphant cacophony from folk's big band and the best live act around
- Jones – “Ghost of a Song” - Best of Miracle Mile man's solo work, which means intelligent and thoughtful pop that's better than anybody else's
- Pete Seeger – “The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960” - One man, one guitar, a little bit of politics and a lot of fun from one of the few people to deserve the term legendary. A double album without a wasted moment.
- Mama Rosin – “Bye Bye Bayou” - Swiss trio, with the aid of producer Jon Spencer, produce their finest yet: cajun, garage, punk, you name it, it's a wild exhilarating ride
- Kyle Carey – “Monongah” - Self-described as "Gaelic Americana", this is simply a delightful and enchanting debut
- Hatful of Rain – Way Up On The Hill - Another fine debut, haunting bluegrass-cum folk that can also kick over the traces when necessary.
- Various Artists – “History of New Orleans R’n’B 1921-1947,1947-1953” - Irresistible compilation with everything from "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" to "Who Drank My Beer?"
- The Vagaband – “Town and Country” - A delightfully ramshackle mix of country, folk blues and a lot more on yet another debut
- Malcolm Holcombe – “Down The River” - Righteous howl from a man who's more a force of nature than a performer
- The Mastersons – “Birds Fly South” - Buddy & Julie Miller meet Neil Finn on this great debut from Steve Earle cohorts
John Hawes – Live reviews Editor
- Sons of Bill – “Sirens” - It’s country and it’s rock
- Various Artists – “The Nebraska Sessions” - Despite what the AMA think, this is the best tribute album this year
- Fred Eaglesmith – “6 Volts” - Lo-fi genius
- Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – “Our Lady of the Tall Trees” - They may be tagged as old time but this is the freshest thing you’ll hear on a clawhammer
- Quiet Loner – “Greedy Magicians” - We really shouldn’t need albums like this
- Rob Baird – “I Swear it’s the Truth” - I swear he’s one of the best artists in Texas
- Phantom Limb – “The Pines” - It’s country and it’s soul
- Gilmore & Roberts – “The Innocent Left” - Best folk album this year
- Anais Mitchell – “Young Man In America” - Mitchell just gets better and better
- Lindi Ortega – “Cigarettes and Truckstops” - Hugely impressive fourth album
Tim – Staff Writer
- Tilly and the Wall – “Heavy Mood” - A stomping return from the tap-dancing troupe
- First Aid Kit – “The Lion’s Roar” - Two Swedish songstresses with a Bright Eyes backing
- Sufjan Stevens – “Silver & Gold” - Bizarre, brilliant, ridiculous, Christmassy!
- Beachwood Sparks – “The Tarnished Gold” - Country cool in the Californian sunshine
- The Whispering Pines – “The Whispering Pines” - Blissful sounds from out of the trees
- Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” - A Swedish man sings about Australian bushfires, failed relationships, and marrying for the sake of a work permit
- Gabriel Minnikin – “Parakeets with Parasols” - Tom Waits meets the Wizard of Oz
- Calexico – “Algiers” - When Americana and Mexicana collide
- Sun Kil Moon – “Among The Leaves” - The acoustic confessions of Mark Kozelek
- The Shins – “Port Of Morrow” - Another blast of guitar pop from James Mercer and co.
David Cowling – Lead Writer
- Japandroids - “Celebration Rock” - a record that celebrates rock, starts with fireworks and doesn't let up, deeply joyous
- The Men - “Open Your Heart” - another record full of joy, finds the Men dallying with more easily digested forms, may I suggest ‘Country Song’ for all you non-believers
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” - the least anticipated release of the year, it just came out and how I have missed these elemental epics
- Sharon Von Etten - “Tramp” - The big step forward after her own ‘Epic’, the record that I played the most this year
- Anais Mitchell - “Young Man in America” - The review record that left the biggest impression on me this year, it remains a startling achievement
- Wussy – “Buckeye” - I didn’t buy this, I already have all their records, this compilation though serves as a fantastic introduction to a much under-heralded band
- Scott & Charlene’s Wedding - “Para Vista Social Club” - yes it is in thrall to Pavement, yes there are bits that sound like the Go-Betweens, so yes please
- Various – “GoGo Get Down Compiled by Joey Negro” - When I gave up DJing I gave all of my GoGo 12”’s to a friend, I've regretted it many times, now thanks to this fantastic overview of the D.C scene I can once again work that sucker to death
- Damien Jurado - “Maraqopa” - Jurado has been quietly slipping out stunning records for fifteen years now, this is amongst his best
- Woods - “Bend Beyond” - Slipping ever closer to the Americana mainstream but still retaining their edge, Woods blissed out folk-rock is filled with infectious hooks, the sound of summer
Jack – Staff Writer
- Mark Eitzel – “Don't Be A Stranger” - Mark Eitzel's friend gifted him some money after winning the lottery to record this album: charming, witty and full of delighful despair.
- Beach House – “Bloom” - The dream pop duo strike again, the albums title couldn't be more appropriate.
- Goat – “World Music” - Hailing from a small village in Northern Sweden (apparently), like nothing I've heard before.
- Tim Burgess – “Oh No I Love You” - Lambchop's Kurt Wagner meets The Charlatans Tim Burgess, with great results
- Lorraine McCauley & Borderlands – “Light In The Darkest Corners” -One I reviewed for AUK, a brilliant album of Scottish folk."
- Moon Duo – “Circles” - A drum machine drives the wall of sound created by Moon Duo, one to dance to.
- Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn't” - Typically idiosyncratic lyrics from Lekman, paired with his obvious skill at crafting endless catchy melodies.
- Glen Hansard – “Rhythm and Repose” - Beautifully crafted first solo album from Glen Hansard, full of emotive piano and acoustic guitar
- Calexico – “Algiers” - It's always interesting to see what Calexico will do next, slightly more catchy than their usual material, but still with the Latin twist
- Bob Dylan – “Tempest” - I was reluctant to put this in at all, although the style is similar to "Modern Times" the quality of the content is still incredibly high
Robin Hynes – Listings Editor
- Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls” –
- Lee Fields – “Faithful Man”
- Horse Feathers – “Cynics New Year”
- Langhorne Slim – “The Way We Move”
- Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t”
- The Deep Dark Woods – “The Place I Left Behind”
- Justin Rutledge – “Man Descending”
- Damien Jurado – “Maragopa”
- Ellott Brood – “Days Into Years”
- Nels Andrews – “Scrimshaw”
Paul Villers – Staff Writer
- Wes Finch – “Mayflower” – Coventry wunderkind does it again but better
- Alabama Shakes – “Boys and Girls” – the most powerful voice you will hear this year all in that lovely Rock’n’Soul setting
- Dexys – “One Day I’m Going To Soar” – good humour and good tunes, well worth the wait
- Van Morrison – “Born To Sing: No Plan B” – the arch curmudgeon returns with bile, spite and jazz. Bloody brilliant
- Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” – Soft Scandi-pop hiding heart break and exasperation with life
- Matt Lakey and the Whatever – “Matt Lakey and the Whatever” – pop music for adults
- M. Ward – “A Wasteland Companion” – I don’t think there has ever been a bad M. Ward record has there?
- Charles Bradley – “No Time For Dreaming” – “The screaming eagle of soul” it says here
- Lee Fields – “Faithful Man” – more retro-but-up-to-the-minute soul music. I’m a sucker for it
- Cody Chesnutt – “Landing On A Hundred” – more funky soul which we’ve only had to wait ten years for. Worth it though