There is so much released during the year that it is impossible to keep track of everything. On reflection, the international albums that I enjoyed the most were not all by heritage artists and old favourites. Sure, I really enjoyed albums by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Patti Smith (they almost deserve a ‘heritage’ category on their own) but there were many other albums that impressed.
Many of the releases on my list might have slipped under the general radar but are worth revisiting. (Also, it seems that most of the albums on this list are by musicians I either saw at gigs or festivals during the year or interviewed).
THE TOP 5
After his success in Crazy Heart Bingham could have taken the Hollywood yellow brick road but he chose not to do so – to the detriment of his bank account but the benefit of his music. The previous album Junky Star was born out of the pain of losing his parents but this is a full on rock and roll Bingham with a new, harder-edged band. (Their show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco was outstanding). It takes a little while to get into but give after a while many of the songs start sounding like anthems – and because of this he reminds me of a younger Springsteen.
A brilliant tribute with some equally brilliant singing and playing from Ndgeocello. (Check out the bass playing because she is good enough to have played with Miles Davis!). It is also done in the same spirit in which Simone created something new with even familiar songs. Great guests too, including a standout spot from Valerie June (this year’s star for sure).
As soon as I heard them playing with Steve Earle at Jazz Fest I knew there was something special about this duo. Then I saw them several mores times in Nashville in their own sets. Chris Masterson is an outstanding guitarist and Eleanor Whitmore is an equally impressive guitarist (and fiddle player). The electric approach, together with their harmonies, make them a more muscular Gillian & David! Much more impressive to me than the more lauded (and perhaps now defunct) Civil Wars, who I also saw several times in 2012.
Common Lot – Jimmy Dowling
I just wish this album could have got even a tenth of the attention that Paul Kelly’s latest album did because it stands shoulder to shoulder with Spring & Fall and loses nothing in comparison. Lyrically brilliant, emotive and vivid these are songs by someone who has lived life and knows all about life’s struggles. Probably the most poetic lyrics on any album I heard during 2012, apart from Mike Scott & The Waterboy’s An Appontment With Mr Yeats (and they had a master’s poems to work with).
Vocally too, Dowling is about as close to Shane MacGowan that we have in Australia and if the latter had released this everyone would be raving about it. ‘A Concertina And The Portuguese Waltz’ is majestic; ‘Vodka’s Calling My Name’ could be Tom Wait’s new drinking song.
Along with Bill Fay this was one of the great comebacks of the 2012. One of the most enjoyable albums of the year to listen to – especially the latter half which often recalls some of Rowland’s best work with the old Dexy’s. There are some very humorous call and response vocals with Madeleine Hyland on ‘I’m Always Going To Love You’ (during which he changes his mind after a protestation of devotion!). Then there is the touching closer ‘It’s Okay John Joe’ with its resignation (‘I’m ugly and tired and jaded inside’) that might just choke you up if you listen too carefully.
I would have loved to have seen Dexy’s at the Harvest Festival (his only gigs in Victoria) but after the fiasco of last year’s event there was no way I was going to risk it.
See the next 20 tomorrow at offtherecord.com.au