December 9, 2012 by Jay Minkin
It’s time to present my 7th Annual Best Albums of The Year Awards. As in year’s past, my voting consists of albums that I physically have in hand which were acquired over the last twelve months. Many of the selections have been covered in depth in past liner notes of Minkin’s Music, so I recommend you check out a few of the back issues for more details on the artists and the record release. There’s always a few choices that were able to sneak in just under the wire and these late arrivals give the overall list greater diversity. The most interesting fact, as you read on, is the number of new artists that not only have made the final cut, but come away taking home some well-deserved hardware. So ladies and gentlemen …
For the best duo or group award, the nominees include the debut self-titled Audra Mae and The Almighty Sound, Don’t let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger by River City Extension , and Almost Home from Yarn. A record that didn’t really grab me initially, it was seeing lead singer Brittany Howard steal the show performing on the Ryman Auditorium stage as part of the Americana Music Association Honor & Awards Show that the band Alabama Shakes receives accolades for their debut record Boys & Girls. But it was the long awaited quest of finally seeing the husband and wife duo of Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson performing songs from their second joint effort Wreck and Ruin that pretty much sealed the deal. Both have been nominated in previous years for their individual and collective efforts, with Chambers garnering last year’s overall Best Album of The Year award. The Australian couple’s take an Americana Appalachia is a beautiful combination of craft songwriting, musicianship, and harmonies that make this another must have for your record collection.
For the Male singer/songwriter nominees, this group will take you around the world with some legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. The soul of Jamaican reggae Jimmy Cliff makes a wonderful return with Rebirth along with the good Doctor, New Orleans Mac Rebennack who was given The Black Keys treatment by producer Dan Auerbach on his new album Lock Down. Ryan Shaw, a young talented singer from Decatur, Georgia, brings the old school sound of R&B soul legends with Real Love. Joshua Tillman might not be a household name, but under the moniker of Father John Misty, could be the next big thing to come out of the famed Laurel Canyon songwriters cradle with his envelope pushing record Fear Fun. But as close to brilliance as was delivered this year, it is John Fullbright, the young phenom from Okema, Oklahoma, that leads the way with From The Ground Up. At age 24, Fullbright’s songwriting weaves tales and characters together with a piano, guitar, and harmonica that show shades of Tom Waits. You need to pick up Fullbright’s record to understand why he is that can’t miss prospect with the bright future in front of him.
So finally, it comes down to the ladies, where one particular singer/songwriter walks away with this year’s highest accolades. The nominees start with the great Bonnie Raitt. You may own several titles by Raitt, but Slipstream is another extremely fine effort from this extraordinary singer and guitarist. Ruthie Foster delivers the gospel blues with a great backing band on Let it Burn. Nashville’s Chelle Rose undertook a long, twelve year journey and persevered with the release of her gorgeous Ghost of Browder Holler. Another weary soul was Tift Merritt, who found a way to make it back into the spotlight with the very personal Traveling Alone. But when it comes to the girl who rose above them all this year, Amy Cook gets to wear the crown for her record Summer Skin. The albums eleven songs seamlessly thread together as a complete piece of work with love, heartache, tears, and a beautiful deep soul. Now living in Austin as a transplanted Southern California girl, Cook enjoys the tranquility of wandering the West Texas landscape and wanted to make an album “that grows on you and something I could still enjoy playing solo ten years from now“. In my book, she accomplished that and then some and get’s my vote for the year’s best release.