2022 was a fabulous year for new music. Here is my top ten.
10. “Fortune Favors the Bold” – 49 Winchester
Though 49 Winchester sounds like it refers to a weapon, it actually refers to a street address in small town Virginia where the band hails from. This is a high energy group that delivers a rockin’ brand of country that evokes something akin to the cowpunk attitude of Jason and the Scorchers. At times it gets sappy, sometimes gimmicky but always from the heart. And when they land an emotional punch like with album highlights “Russell County Line” and “Damn Darlin'”, they really land a punch. Plus it is so great to hear a band in 2022 that still puts guitar solos in a song!
9. “Palamino” – First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit is a Swedish sister duo that has produced a majestic album, “Palamino”. Sometimes the ‘oohs and ahs’ evoke the Nordic tones of Abba, but that doesn’t distract from these songs that float, pulsate and grab the listener on journeys of love and healing. They sing of time spanning topics like finally finding a soulmate in “Last One”. Sometimes they are down to earth singing about favorite versions of “Wild Horses” playing on a road trip. The songs are always smart and take one to a sonic ethereal wonderland.
8. “Listen to the Blood” – The Kernal
I’m still not sure I completely understand what The Kernal is. If you pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, Joe Garner, you get the character he plays, the Kernel who is an homage to his dad who used to play bass at the Grand Ole Opry. He once found his dad’s old red polyester suit he wore on stage and when he put it on he put on this character. “Listen to the Blood” is the conclusion of a trilogy of records as the Kernal. The songs are energetic and fun. Highlights are “U Do U”, “The Limit” and “The Fight Song”. “The Fight Song” is a duet with Caitlin Rose where a couple argues but just aren’t quite sure if they want to argue anymore.
7. “Beginning and End” – Jon Danforth
This Dallas area singer songwriter put out his debut album this year and it is heck of a record to start a discography on. The songs are intelligent. The performances are emotional and permeated with a catchy hook that begs for repeat listening. From the heartsick longing of “I Still Miss Someone” to the attention grabbing album closer of the spiritual standard “Were You There”, Jon shows he’s got what it takes to build a whole catalog of great albums. Added bonus Jon is very funny on Twitter. Hopefully he’ll switch to Post or Mastodon when Twitter dies.
6. “Coming Home” by Drew and Ellie Holcomb
This Nashville based husband and wife duo put out a collection of songs early in 2022 that has withstood the test of time to remain one of my favorites despite many contenders coming along to vie for my attention. They claim it’s not a traditional album, but more of a collection of songs from over the years as they made an effort to put something together to tour with as a duo after a long layoff. You can palpably feel the bond between the two. These are songs about love, home and overall appreciation. Highlights are “Hung the Moon”, newly re-recorded after initially appearing in 2009, as well as, “Coming Home”, and “Love Anyway”. There are two covers on the album and they are the least interesting of the bunch. I want more of what they’ve drawn out of themselves. This album might’ve made it higher on my top ten list with two more originals replacing the covers. It’s a beautiful and heartwarming collection.
5. “Bad Days Better” – Adam Hood
Arkansas based Adam Hood got his break from Miranda Lambert heaping attention on him in the mid 2000’s and Adam has been on the music scene ever since. He’s written songs for others in addition to putting out his own material. This is an upbeat positive album that I found very refreshing to listen to. Like an oasis in the desert. He talks about giving up alcohol on “Harder Stuff”, overall optimism in “Bad Days Better” where ahead the bad days will be even better than the good days used to be. He’s very upfront about spirituality too. This is music to lift spirits and join in optimism for a future that we can all come to appreciate when we get there. The music is soulful and grooves.
4. “Heavy Denim” Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters
Nick Dittmeier has been pumping great music for awhile now. He maintains his quality output following up 2019’s fantastic “All Damn Day” with “Heavy Denim”. Nick is a triple threat frontman, songwriter and guitar slinger. He’s got the goods. This release has tales of colorful characters making it through life, finding their way. Writing confessions with hotel pens and doing their best to stay out of prison. Along the way we find a common humanity as we just try to do a little bit better than the day before. It’s hard to categorize this stuff, sometimes southern rock, sometimes enough twang to be country, Americana, roots? It might be good to just categorize it as good stuff. Highlights include, “You Can’t Even Save Me From Myself”, “Turned and Walked Away”, and “Doing Right For All the Wrong Reasons”.
3. “Sing for Your Supper” – The Chefs
The Chefs is a band with a tablespoon Dan Baird of Georgia Satellites fame teamed up with another tablespoon of Stan Lynch of Tom Petty fame along with Joe Blanton sprinkled in for good measure.. This is a little project they do with their spare time in Nashville. Dan retired from the road in 2019 and Stan has a much lower profile than before as well. These guys know how devise a rock and roll song. You can hear the essence of the art distilled through their decades of experience. Keith Richards and the Stones are there, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles, as well as many others shaken up and stirred for a joyful rock and roll journey. “To’ Down” is a rocking highlight and “You’ve Been On My Mind” ends the record with a nostalgic air.
2. “The Hometown Kid” – Gabe Lee
Gabe Lee is a Nashville native whose parents moved to the states from Taiwan. When I hear Gabe’s music, I hear a fresh, vibrant take on country music. Perhaps it’s due to his background. Perhaps not. Regardless this 2022 release is one of my favorites of the year. It’s poppy, smart and uplifting. It’s full of life and vibrant. This music is the kind of musical oasis that can help one get through a world that seems to be falling apart on any given day. The single “Rusty” is just great pop music. “Wide Open” is more autobiographical and open to adventure. Top to bottom this record is a welcome take on making it through the day with hope.
1. “This Mess We’re In” – Arlo McKinley
Arlo McKinley is a Cincinnati based artist who was the last musician signed to John Prine’s record label before John passed away. Arlo lives up to the standard John has set for decades with brilliant songwriting of his own. I’ll just come right out and say that not only is “This Mess We’re In” my favorite album of the year, it is easily my favorite of our current century. There is no filler here. These are songs of loss and survival. Many times just three chords, but performed with so much emotion and beauty that Arlo’s survival through the darkness can be a life preserver for the listener. On this record he deals with the loss of his mother at the start of the pandemic to just getting through the rough times. It’s as if life ain’t pretty, but it sure is beautiful if you look at the right way. All the songs on this record are great, but there is an emotional murderers row (to steal a baseball analogy) in the consecutive songs “Dancing Days”, “This Mess We’re In” and “rushintherug”. This album is a work of art.