Just so you know, this list is only full-length new studio albums from 2012. I didn't include any re-issues, compilations or live albums, so a lot of great material didn't make this list, such as re-issues of Grateful Dead Dick's Picks CDs and Los Lobos' Kiko 20th Anniversary Edition. Also, EPs don't count, so Martin Sexton's wonderful Fall Like Rain is not on the list.
So here they are, my favorite albums from 2012.
10. Ruthie Foster: Let It Burn
The year started off really well with some excellent January releases, including the new one from Ruthie Foster. This album was going to make the list just for that incredibly sexy version of "If I Had A Hammer." I was listening to it again the other day, and it still blows me away. But the rest of the album is really good too. Ruthie Foster has an excellent voice, and on this release she is joined by The Blind Boys Of Alabama. By the way, she puts on a good concert, so go see her if you get the chance.
9. Christa Couture: The Living Record
Christa Couture is an excellent singer/songwriter with a truly wonderful voice. Her 2012 release, The Living Record, features all original material. Some of my favorites are "Lucky Or Lost," "Pirate Jenny And The Storm" and "Wooden Shoes And Windmills." But it is "Pussycat Pussycat" that is the most surprising tune on the album. This one has a funky edge, and there is something flirtatious and sexy in Christa's vocal delivery. It is one of the coolest songs I've heard this year.
8. The dBs: Falling Off The Sky
Falling Off The Sky is The dBs' first new album in twenty-five years, and the first album with the band's original lineup since 1982. This album is a lot of fun. I'm particularly fond of "The Wonder Of Love," "Write Back" and "She Won't Drive In The Rain Anymore." And I seriously love "The Adventures Of Albatross And Doggerel." It's a catchy tune, and has an interesting structure, with its strange section in the middle where he sings, "I can see everything/I can hear everything/But I can't do anything for you" (with a strange Felini feel for just a moment behind the vocals). It is one of my favorite songs of the year. It was written by Chris Stamey.
7. The Trishas: High, Wide & Handsome
The Trishas are four female singer/songwriters with gorgeous voices and tremendous songwriting ability. Each singer has a distinct voice, and when they harmonize, the sound is beautiful. I like the entire album, but "Looking At Me" is the song that really made me fall for them. It's a beautiful tune, and the lyrics are wonderful. Here is a taste: "Well, a fire burns slow if you know how to build it/The heat travels up from the ground toward the trees/And when the winds change, I know smoke follows beauty/I follow it up till it's you that I see/Oh, it's a shame, it's a shame/The last one to know is the first to complain/Oh, beware of the dark/For all of your secrets are shared with a spark."
6. Paul Kelly: Spring And Fall
Paul Kelly's 2012 release, Spring And Fall, is an album full of great, honest love songs. This is a seriously strong album. Some of my favorite tracks are "For The Ages," "Time And Tide" and "Sometimes My Baby." "Sometimes My Baby" has an excellent instrumental section which made me completely fall for the song. Besides music, one of my passions is Shakespeare, and Paul Kelly includes a song from Twelfth Night as a hidden track on this album. Titled "Where Are You Roaming," it is sung by Feste in Act II Scene iii, after Toby asks for a love song.
5. I See Hawks In L.A.: New Kind Of Lonely
I've been a fan of I See Hawks In L.A. for a while now, and I have to say that New Kind Of Lonely is the best album they've released. This album, even more than the others, really demonstrates what a great, emotional and wise voice Rob Waller has. Plus, this group has great harmonies, which you can hear on basically every track, but especially in a song like "Mary Austin Sky." This album features the fun "I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead" (a tune I can relate to). The entire album is strong, but my absolute favorite is "If You Lead I Will Follow," a wonderful and gorgeous country song. Check out these lyrics: "The angels are singing/And I'm still clinging to the crack at the end of the ledge/You're calling to me/Denying gravity/I close my eyes and step over the edge." This is one of my favorite songs of the year.
4. Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs: Sunday Run Me Over
I love this duo. Their 2011 release was one of my favorites of that year, and this year's album, Sunday Run Me Over, is also fantastic. Most of the songs are originals, but they also do a few interesting covers. They do a take on Wayne Raney's "We Need A Whole Lot More Of Jesus (And A Lot Less Rock And Roll)," changing it to "We Need A Whole Lot Less Of Jesus (And A Lot More Rock And Roll)," about how the Jesus freaks want to direct the nation, regardless of the large numbers of people who don't believe in that nonsense. Their cover of Mac Davis' "Hard To Be Humble" cracks me up. But of course it's their original material that really makes this album special, particularly "One For The Road," "Turn Around" and "Goodnight."
3. Marley's Ghost: Jubilee
I became a fan of Marley's Ghost a few years ago when I heard Ghost Town (which is a great album). The band's 2012 release, Jubilee, is even better. In addition to some excellent original material (such as "Rollin'" and "South For A Change"), there are some darn good covers (including a take on "It's All Over Now" that completely blew me away). And to top it all off, this album features some wonderful guest players, including John Prine and Emmylou Harris. (And there is even some yodeling on the album's last track.)
2. Stephane Wrembel: Origins
Stephane Wrembel is an amazing, astounding musician. His new release, Origins, is the only instrumental album to make the list. It's a seriously incredible album. By now, probably everyone has heard "Bistro Fada," a tune Wrembel composed for Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris. I love that song, but the rest of the album is equally enjoyable and impressive. I was lucky enough to catch one of Stephane Wrembel's concerts this year, and it was one of the best shows I've seen.
1. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
My number one choice of the year probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me even a little bit. Leonard Cohen is the world's best living songwriter, and his 2012 release, Old Ideas, is his best album in at least two decades. Every song is wonderful. My current favorite is the final track, "Different Sides," which has the line, "Stop writing everything down" (a line which is also on the cover of the Leonard Cohen journal a friend bought for me at one of his concerts). This album also features "Darkness," a song he introduced during that wild three-year concert tour. The first time I saw him perform it was in San Jose in 2009, and it immediately became a favorite. "Lullaby" was also performed at several stops on that tour, but unfortunately I wasn't at those particular shows. Old Ideas opens with another wonderful song, "Going Home," which I saw him do at a stop on his new tour (it was one of the encores). In that song, he refers to himself as "a lazy bastard living in a suit." I think people have finally let go of that misconception that he's a depressing songwriter.