Monday, December 17, 2012

That Nashville Sound's Top Albums of 2012

That Nashville Sound is looking back on the year behind us and reminded that in the day of digital music, the amount of quality music available to the listener is near limitless. Our favorite 2007 album was the Alison Krauss & Robert Plant album Raising Sand, the top spot on our 2008 list went to Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy, 2009 went to Eric Church's Carolina, 2010 was  Zac Brown Band’s You Get What You Give, and last year was Pistol Annies' Hell on Heels

But 2012 had some terrific albums as well that will go down as some of my big music collection’s favorites. The fifteen albums are a wide variety of country genres from more contemporary country to traditional country. We present to you… That Nashville Sound’s Top Ten Albums of 2012…

  1. Marty Stuart- Nashville Volume 1- Tear The Woodpile Down- Stuart is the flag-bearer for keeping traditional country alive in Nashville. As Little Jimmy Dickens slows downs in his 90’s, Stuart is also becoming the face of the Opry. Here, he delivers a foot-stomping, barn-raising, jam-session collection of great songs that reminds that he’s still at the very top of his game.
  2. Jason Eady- AM Country Heaven- Jason Eady took Johnny Cash’s advice: he’s been everywhere. He took the Mississippi blues he was born in, applied the Nashville songwriting sensibilities he gained chasing his mainstream country dream, and then applied the grit and perspective he gained from touring the Texas barroom scene for nearly a decade. On this new album, he combines all with a smart and classic perspective on what his perfect mix of country should be.
  3. Kellie Pickler- 100 Proof- Since her last album, Pickler married fellow singer/songwriter Kyle Jacobs. Perhaps, now more content and secure in her own personal life, Pickler has found the strength to stick to her guns and choose tracks and production she felt more represented her as an artist. Settling down doesn't mean settling as an artist. By staying true to her country roots, she's delivered a personal and authentic album that will hopefully be a career-cementer for Pickler.
  4. Emily WestI Hate You, I Love You – It’s probably unusual to have a six song EP near the top of the list of best albums of the year, but this short little album packs more emotion and vocal delivery than anything we’ve heard on any other album in years.
  5. Waylon Jennings- Going Down Rockin’-- Posthumous albums can be hit or miss things. The Johnny Cash albums released after his death, while fragile emotional powerhouses, showcase a frail and weak Cash that many find off-putting. (This reviewer does not necessarily share that some viewpoint by the way.)  During his last years of life, Jennings recorded several tracks along with his bassist Robby Turner. The recordings consisted on twelve songs that Jennings considered that expressed his feelings and reflections at the time. Featuring vocals and guitar playing by Jennings, with the accompaniment of Turner on the bass, further instrumentation was planned to be added, but the project was stopped when Jennings died in 2002. Ten years later, Turner gathered along with Reggie Young, Richie Albright and Tony Joe White, members of Jennings' band, The Waylors, to complete the tracks. It's as if Jennings is alive again. Despite some serious health issues going on a the time, he sounds strong, independent and uniquely rebellious Waylon. His recovered track "I Do Believe" is a transcendent track that works before and after his death, with him contemplating the meaning of life and death. It's one of the best tracks of the year. Being as it's sung by one of country's all-time best legends well after we thought we'd heard the last of him, it's a gift for the ages. When he sings about "Goin' Down Rockin'," it's proof he did just that.
  6. Corb Lund- Cabin Fever- With one foot embedded in some genius tongue-in-cheek comedic genius and the other firmly rooted in appreciative classic country, one of this year's best albums is from Alberta's Corb Lund in Cabin Fever. He's got a dedication to the beauty of gothic-dressed girls, crazy survivalists, a tribute to bovines, and deaths from antique pistols. Sound quirky? You bet. It's also genius. Lund’s fantastic songwriting covers it all. Even the production styles range from rockabilly to Western swing, cowboy balladry to country-rock. He even throws in a yodel at some point in there. The highlights of the album include the Hayes Carll co-write and story-song duet "Bible on the Dash." A permanently borrowed Gideon's Bible gets the duo out of more than one scrape with the law. And if Marty Robbins-type western tales are your thing, "Pour 'Em Kinda Strong" is a must download.
  7. Little Big Town- Tornado- LBT just might have gotten over the commercial hump with this outstanding album. In their newest record, the four-person tag team creates a beautiful country album- blended small town gospel with deep, rich resounding tones that resonate with alternately meaningful deep songs with ear candy you can't get out of your head. 
  8. Don Williams- And So It Goes- My good friend, Juli Thanki, said it best over at Engine 145: "Of the ten tracks on And So It Goes, Williams co-wrote two, including the title track, a clear-eyed look back at a relationship that’s fizzled out: “And so it goes/While we were busy with the details of our lives/Every day thinking time was on our side/I turned around and you were gone/And I’m left here with the words I never got around to saying/I don’t know why/I guess I never thought our time could pass us by.” There isn’t a bum track on the record; they’re all as sure and steady as Williams’ baritone, which hasn’t aged a bit since its days atop the Billboard charts. And when he’s joined by some of Nashville’s best vocalists – including Vince Gill, who sings harmony on “Heart of Hearts” and Alison Krauss on the tender dancehall duet “I Just Come Here for the Music” – the results are sublime."
  9. Zac Brown Band- Uncaged- While not quite as strong as their sophomore effort, ZBB reminds us that they are at the head of the class when it comes to instrumentalization in country music on Uncaged. The highlights are many, but the most revealing is "Lance's Song," a dedication to a fallen music brother. 
  10. Joey+Rory- His and Hers- For the first time in their recording history, Joey Martin and Rory Feek share the lead singing duties, alternating between each other in fine form. Feek's storytelling and songwriting would be the star here if only Martin's vocals weren't so amazingly sublime.
  11. Linda Ortega- Cigarettes and Truck Stops- An amazing combination of blues and country. If Elvis, Gary Allen and BB King shared adoption of a musically inclined kid, Lindi Ortega would be it. The album was reportedly inspired by a biography of Hank Williams in which Ortega discovered Williams' mentor Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, the street performer who taught Williams to play guitar. This sparked Ortega’s interest in the influence of blues on early country—a fascination that comes through strongly on the record. Her ethereal voice is highlighted with some unique vocal production and the album includes two phenomenal tracks in "Murder of Crows" and "Demos Don't Get Me Down."
  12. Ray Wylie Hubbard- The Grifter’s Hymnal- If Ray Wylie Hubbard sounds like he's been aged in the bottom of a whisky barrel, it’s probably because he just may have. His sandpapery voice delivers a raspy series of poetry set to gritty Americana, full of emotion and life lessons.
  13. Raylene Rankin- All The Diamonds- For her last recording before her tragic death this year, Rankin has selected a beautiful and unique cross section of material. There is a traditional Gaelic number, some Celtic-infused country/bluegrass songs and some AC standards- all tied together by that beautiful full voice.  The stand-out track on the album is an incredible song revisiting the 9/11 tragedy written by David Francey called “Grim Cathedral.” Hauntingly arranged and poetically sung, the song recalls the grief that overwhelmed Rankin when she watched the towers fall. The descriptions of paper falling against the blue sky frame the event in incredible detail and the emotional toil for anyone who watched it in real time comes to the surface. It is handled with incredible care- never exploited- and outside of Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, is the finest piece of music I’ve ever heard surrounding the awful incident.
  14. JT Hodges- JT Hodges- Hodges has a musical swagger on this debut album and has a couple tracks with some teeth on them. While "Goodbyes Made You Mine" made some small waves at radio, it's the rest of the album that reminds of Seger and The Eagles that stick to the ribs later on. 
  15. Alan Jackson- Thirty Miles West - Classic Jackson. Understated. Simple. Elegant. Rich. Meaningful. And hopefully... Country Music Hall of Fame worthy some day. 
  16. Honorable Mentions- Bobby Bare- Darker Than Light, Taylor Swift- Red, Lionel Ritchie- Tuskegee, Chelle Rose- The Ghost of Browder Holle, Shellee Cole- Where It Began, Aaron Lewis- The Road and Shooter Jennings- Family Man


  1. Love the album "Uncaged" from Zac except for the title track.

  2. Great to see Joey & Rory getting the recognition they richly deserve

  3. Regards to #2, Jason Eady, love his songs and song writing, funny that Nasville would mention Jason, listen to AM County Heaven, it is all about the Nashville execs telling a song writer you can't write in 3 quarter time. This is a big reason makes the rounds outside of Nashville, Texas loves what he does.

  4. If you haven't checked out Lindi Ortega yet, you should! You won't be sorry.