Music Notes: Best of 2022 Edition
While I want to focus this post on my favorite albums of 2022, I have to start by noting the passing yesterday of the great Ian Tyson. While I am not much of a fan of the early 60s folk scene, Ian & Sylvia was about as good as it got, outside of the early Dylan albums. “Four Strong Winds” was perhaps the first classic song to come out of that scene and it remains one of the great songs of all time to the present. But for me, Tyson’s real peak came with his 1986 album Cowboyography. By this time, Tyson was decidedly out of fashion. What could be less 80s than an album by an aging folk singer about ranching in Alberta, done without any notes of 80s production values? Nothing. And that’s part of what makes it so great. The version of “Summer Wages” on that album is the best version and that’s a song pretty much equal to “Four Strong Winds” in his catalog. He co-wrote “Navajo Rug” with Tom Russell and it remains one of the best songs either of them wrote. It’s on this album too. “Fifty Years Ago” is a classic cowboy nostalgia song. “Claude Dallas,” an outlaw ballad about the murderous poacher then on the lam after breaking out of prison, is certainly problematic, but it represents a not uncommon point of view and works as a song. “Cowboy Pride” is a great country song about men fucking up their relationships. It’s a near five star album. In any case, Tyson is a huge loss and a sad way to end a year.
Now onto my favorite albums of 2022. I listened to more new albums from this year than any year in my life, partly due to my commitment to these posts and partly because it is fun. If I was to make this list tomorrow, it would be different than it is today. But this is what I got today.
- Fontaines, D.C. Skinty Fia
This is my favorite album of the year and the one I keep coming back to. For me, it’s the peak work of this great Dublin rock band. It’s pure guitar rock in the best way–anthemic, crunchy, lyrical, ass-kicking. Great live show too.
2. Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph
For me, this was the best album of Morby’s career. I thought this was the first time that the production really matched the talent. Maybe it is the influence of his partner Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) but the songwriting took a huge step forward here and so did the presentation. Really, a very good album.
3. The Paranoid Style, For Executive Meeting
Possibly I’m biased here, but what can I say–Elizabeth made an absolute ripper here. I don’t know if I like it better than the other Paranoid Style albums per se–they are all very good. But the enormously dense lyrics are so sharp here, the guitars kick ass, and the duet with Patterson Hood was very good for both of them. Great album.
Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis
It’s hard to separate this from her companion album Belladonna, but i thought this was the superior piece. With a new sextet of just amazing musicians and joined by the Davos Quartet on a few tracks, this was a new level of noise and improvisation by one of the all time masters of jazz and I mean that quite literally–her contributions are reaching that made by the long-dead greats of the genre.
5. CLAMM, Care
My favorite punk album of the year and my favorite Australian rock album of the year, these are both high bars given the incredible punk out there and the unbelievably good music scene down under. Noisy and angry, yes, but also lyrical and with a strong sense of song that a lot of punk lacks. This isn’t just an album of thrashy songs that all sound the same. This is an album of carefully crafted rock and roll while also holding true to what makes punk great. Superb work.
6. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Some saw the latest Kendrick album as less of a STATEMENT than the last couple but I barely understand what that even means. I thought it was a brilliant and self-lacerating album of the first rank. Maybe it isn’t DAMN, but I mean what is.
7. Julia Jacklin, Pre-Pleasure
Jacklin is a Grade A songwriter from Australia, another of the brilliant people working down there. I almost feel she was born a songwriter. She has that thing that people like Tom T. Hall or Kris Kristofferson had–the preternatural ability to compose a song of tremendous power. I’m not sure this quite matches the jaw-dropping level of Crushing, probably one of the ten best albums of the entire 2010s, but this is very fine music.
8. Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man
Whatever extra attention Shires has gotten because she’s married to Jason Isbell, it’s entirely deserved on the merits. She continues to release albums that range from very good to great, equal to Isbell’s and sometimes better. This is a powerful feminist country album, something we are seeing more of and something that we need to see more of.
9. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life of Earth
Alynda Segarra continues to move forward with a fantastic career. Building on the excellent 2017 release The Navigator, their first release in five years is designed as “nature punk” full of fury over the state of the planet and our indifference to it. It’s also just damn fine rock music. Great voice, great politics, great music.
10. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, March
Fujiwara’s double trio concept–two drummers, two trumpeters, two guitarists–is a lot of fun. When the band is filled with the likes of Taylor Ho Bynum and Mary Halvorson, it’s more than fun. It’s freaking intense and brilliant and everything that free jazz should be.
10 More Very Good Albums from 2022
- Rosalia, Motomami
- Kronos Quartet, My Lai
- Fred Moten/Brandon Lopez/Gerald Cleaver, self-titled
- Mitski, Laurel Hell
- Cate le Bon, Pompeii
- Bill Callahan, Reality
- Jake Blount, The New Faith
- Leyla McCalla, Breaking the Thermometer
- Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
- Drive By Truckers, Welcome to Club XIII
This week’s playlist, made shorter by listening to full Dead shows:
- The Del McCoury Band, Del and Woody
- The Grateful Dead, Hundred Year Hall (Frankfurt, 4/26/72)
- The Grateful Dead, To Terrapin (Hartford, 5/28/77)
- Woody Guthrie, Hard Travelin: The Asch Recordings
- Gang of Four, Entertainment
- Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops, One More in the Cabin
- Freakwater, Scheherazade
- Chris Stapleton, Starting Over
- Norman Blake, Home in Sulphur Springs
- Greg Brown, Dream Cafe
- Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin
- Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love
- Mitski, Bury Me at Makeout Creek
- Sun Ra, Purple Night
- The Freight Hoppers, Waiting on the Gravy Train
- Buena Vista Social Club
- Spring Heel Jack, Masses
- Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief
- William Parker, Wood Flute Songs, disc 4
- Led Zeppelin, III
- Miles Davis, Live-Evil, disc 1
- Bert Jansch & John Renbourn, Bert & John
- Cat Power, You Are Free
- John Prine, The Missing Years
- Drive By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, disc 1
- Snail Mail, Valentine
- Matthew Shipp & Whit Dickey, Reels
- Will Johnson, Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm
- Wussy, Attica!
- Drive By Truckers, English Oceans
- Terry Allen, Salivation
- Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights
- Juliana Hatfield Three, Whatever My Love
- Temet, Imrahan
- Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Suit
- Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive
- Jeremy Ivey, Waiting Out the Storm
- Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins, Which Way is East
- Richard & Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
Album Reviews: 2
Davido, A Good Time
Sure, it’s the last week to get some 2022 albums in for this here end of the year list, but I started my new albums this week with this 2019 release by Davido, a Nigerian musician who has strong Afrobeat influences, but has just as strong influences from more modern beats and ideas, from Africa, from Latin America, from hip hop, and from various western dance genres. Mostly a pretty cool album. Lots of excellent cameos. Probably a little on the long side, at a full hour. There’s enough filler here that 45 minutes would have made a tighter and more successful album. But it’s still quite good. Album title: appropriate.
Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
Sometimes when you hear an album that is universally reviewed with awe, it ends up being overrated and you wonder what the hell everyone is thinking. Sometimes when you hear an album that is universally reviewed with awe, it kicks ass. This is definitely the latter. Superb work.
Field School, When Summer Comes
Mediocre and fairly lame indie pop from Seattle. It ticks the boxes of catchy licks and lyrics, but the singer is pretty whatever, the lyrics themselves are very whatever, and the music is extremely whatever since these guys sound like they’ve never played together before. This in fact may be the whitest album ever made. As a friend of mine said about it, “It sounds like someone’s idea of the 90s if they only ever had Friends to go on as a reference.”
Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever
I certainly wasn’t the only person to jump on the Soccer Mommy bandwagon after her first album, but I sure am glad I did. She continues to amaze with her excellent songwriting and excellent indie rock sound. The production is a little dirtier here, a little more effect-laden, a little more fun.
Nice little album here. The music is whatever, but the emotion of the voice is very real. Deep, striking, fascinating vocals. This deserves further exploration so consider this grade a bit provisional.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics. Oh hey, also New Year’s Eve. Know this is a partying type of crowd here so keep it under control you crazy bastards!