Welcome to the fifth consecutive Best Albums of the Year here at Hidden Track. Hopefully, you know by now that we pride ourselves on covering music that spans any genre, any age, any geography and any instrumental makeup. To us, good music is good music. Period.
So, you can rest assured of the one thing that will always make our list a cut above the rest: we consider everything. Our submissions include all styles of music from bluegrass to jazz, jam to indie, electronica to rap, as well as everything in between. At the end of the day, we’re a diverse open-minded music blog. Our writers work here because they have great taste in music, and thus they are encouraged simply to write about what catches their interest. We have no motives, no editorial biases and no strings attached. We hope that comes across in our picks.
So, let’s kick off our week-long celebration of the HT staff’s favorite albums of 2012 with numbers 25 through 21…
Sounds Like: The modern torchbearers of Bill Monore’s high and lonesome sound
Key Tracks: Carry Me Back, Levi, Bootlegger’s Boy
The Skinny: Long before it was cool to play acoustic foot-stomping Americana music, there was the Old Crow Medicine Show. The Nashville-based band, who have been around since 1998, could arguably be credited with planting the seeds the genre’s current boom – thanks in part to the popularity of their “breakout hit” Wagon Wheel. For their first album since 2008, the band welcomed back founding member Critter Fuqua, and delivered a modern Americana classic steeped in bourbon-soaked bluegrass, dusty country and traditional Appalachian folk sounds. While there has been a question about the authenticity of the newer generation of roots acts, OCMS are undoubtedly the real McCoy.
Key Tracks: Emmylou, King Of The World
Sounds Like: Two talented Swedish lasses got hooked on the sounds of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
The Skinny: First Aid Kit has a great story surrounding their second LP, The Lion’s Roar. The stars aligned for Swedish sister Act of Joanna and Klara Soderberg – a duo steeped in a fascination for ’60s Americana and known for their love of Bright Eyes – as they teamed up with Mike Mogis to produce their record. Their vocals fit effortlessly amongst the country instrumentation and the visits by Conor Oberst and the Felice Brothers cement the magnitude of the effort in a familial manner. The album stands firmly as a complete work, but lead single Emmylou is a particularly easy sell, giving First Aid Kit wide appeal beyond alt-country and indie circles.
Key Tracks: Forget The Song, Tarnished Gold, Water In The Well
Sounds Like: Gram Parsons’ vision for Cosmic American music fully realized
The Skinny: A return from an extended hiatus with a new album is usually a tell-tale sign at an attempt for easy cash-grab by band, with a diluted product ::cough:: Jane’s Addiction, Aerosmith::cough::. Yet that can’t be further from the case when it comes to country-rock revivalists Beachwood Sparks, who impressively managed to become a better band after a decade apart. The Tarnished Gold picks up right where they left off, this time though taking a detour to Laurel Canyon right through the heart of San Francisco. The album is steeped not only the sounds of the Burrito Brothers, The Bryds and the Beach Boys, but also nodding heavily to the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic country phase (the first few 30-plus seconds of Earl Jean clearly crib from Playing In The Band). This is Cosmic American music at arguably its best since Gram Parsons’ coined the term and its sound in late 1960’s.
Key Tracks: Midnight On The Interstate, High Water
Sounds Like: Mumford & Sons if they had grown up in America’s Heartland
The Skinny: Trampled By Turtles continue to fine-tune their inventive brand of Americana with each successive studio album. Stars and Satellites is the Duluth, Minn. based quintet’s best effort yet thanks to earnest songwriting and the impressive musicality shown on each of the album’s 11 tracks. Dave Simonett has come into his own as a vocalist and lyricist, while multi-instrumentalist Ryan Young adds just the right emotion to each song. The pair and their mates crafted a highly nuanced album that shows the many talents they possess.
Key Tracks: 1904, There’s No Leaving Now, Revelation Blues
Sounds Like: A captivating folk singer with a gravely voice that magically transfixes you thanks to mesmerizing acoustic guitar and compelling songs.
The Skinny: Kristian Matsson, a Swede performing under the moniker ‘The Tallest Man on Earth’, does it again with his distinctive voice and hauntingly captivating songs that beckon the listener to sit up, come closer and pay attention. A gifted songwriter, Matsson is able to spin together deep emotions and vivid imagery with ease. His delivery is mesmerizing and upon first listen, many of his folksy songs feel like you’ve heard them 1,000 times. A judicious use of piano, organ and subtle percussion in addition to his omnipresent acoustic guitar, Matsson adds wonderful layers to his third album and continues to grow as a performer.
Check back tomorrow for the next five albums on our list.