It's that time of year, the collating has been completed, the furious debating over the merits of your number one album for the year have been exhausted. I find it difficult to compile a list of my best albums for 2012 for a couple of reasons, one is that I tend to focus on older releases and even when I do buy new albums I can't remember if they were this year or last year as I'm often behind the eight ball. However I'm a bit more organised this year and I've been able to compile a list, it's not comprehensive by any means just what I've come across. These are in no particular order, I find the ranking process far to arduous on a 39 degree afternoon.
Dr John- Locked Down This album came as a pleasant surprise, but it's become more than that it's an example that creativity never subsides sometimes it just requires a new setting. On this album Dr John is not only in fine voice his songs resonate with the troubles of the times, there is despondency there but it's cloaked in an attitude of defiance, it brims with the toughness of the street and the demands of the dog eat dog world. There is also a touching tribute to his children, My Children My Angels which he laments on not having a closer relationship with his children during the years he battled drug addiction. With the help of Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach who produced the album and recorded it at his Third Eye studio in Nashville, Dr john cooks up a fine stew of New Orleans funk and afrocentric beats.
Led Zeppelin- Celebration Day Not a new album in terms of material but still a powerful affirmation of their talent and the timeless quality of their songs. The band seem to relish the opportunity and the setting, the concert was a tribute to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, they were faithful to their catalogue and showed that they had lost none of their ferocious power. Jimmy Page showed he was still more than capable of bending and extracting everything possible from his strings, Robert Plant while no longer capable of those shrieks delivered a performance that was still incredibly powerful, John Paul Jones precise and grounding as always and Jason Bonham on drums faithful to the memory of his father pounding away on those skins. The concert occurred in 2007 and there has been no word since of a possible reunion.
Beth Orton Sugaring Season A great release in the second half of the year, still retains her beguiling folk style but has added more musical depth, touches of alternative country added to the mix, her writing is amazing there is that haunting quality that is present on her previous albums but there is also something more optimistic and lighter.
Band of Horses- Mirage Rock There previous album Infinite Arms whilst a commercial breakthrough isn't as strong musically as there new album Mirage Rock which to me is a big creative leap for the band. There are stronger songs, the group sounds tighter, the benefit of having played together for some time now. The reflective Slow Cruel Hands of Time shows a greater maturity in their songwriting, can't wait to see these guys live in 2013.
Alabama Shakes- Boys and Girls Not sure there was a more blistering debut album released this year, this was an album that stood out from the pack. It's been a year where soul music and roots music has been in the ascendant yet this album was a breath of fresh air. Lead singer Brittany Howard displayed a powerful voice with considerable depth and soul, especially on songs like I Found You and I Ain't The Same which pointed to a new southern soul. Another band out here in January, hope to see them live.
It was also a great year for local releases, here are a few that to me stand up to anything released from outside Australia.
Liz Stringer- Warmth in The Darkness For her fourth album Liz Stringer offered something different, a move away from her acoustic foundations to embrace more melodic electric sounds. It worked brilliantly on Warmth in The Darkness, her songs capture your thoughts, stories of the fragility of love and the hurt and loss are really stark but never maudlin. It's A Long Way Down is a tale of life lived in the fast lane and that slow realisation that things need to change. High Open Hills with her stirring vocals, a tale of abandonment set against various Australian settings.
Chris Altmann- Nothing But Nice Things This is the second album from Chris Altmann who recently relocated to Canada. It's an album full of well crafted songs with a deeper reflection on the travails of society and individual behaviour. It has a familiar tone, some of the songs have a strong Basement Tapes feel, not that this is a detraction, it still has a fresh sound and that is what is important.
There were some other great Australian releases this year but some I haven't got around to buying yet, as I've said I'm often six months behind, but some of these have gained considerable acclaim and airplay so maybe add these to your must by list.
Susannah Espie has released a new album Sea of Lights that was produced by Jeff Lang at his Fawkner studio and features Liz Stringer and Chris Altmann on backing vocals.
Jess Riberio and The Bone Collectors released their debut album My Little River which was heavily rotated on Radio National. Sal Kimber and The Rollin Wheel self titled album was recorded by Shane O'Mara at Yikesville and is another great debut album.