Best Albums/CDs of 2022: Two Views
- Category: Dr. J's Blog
- Published: Monday, 19 December 2022 08:39
- Written by Gary Johnson
My good friend, and fellow music junkie, Larry Van Cleve and I share our annual listings of what we feel are the best albums/CDs of the past year. It’s what older guys do.
Dr. J’s Best Albums of 2022 (in alphabetical order)
Beach House: “Once Twice Melody” – Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s new double CD builds on the lush dream pop of their previous seven albums, and its 18 songs are presented in four chapters. Legrand’s hazy vocals and keyboards and Scally’s guitar textures are the key elements of Beach House’s soothingly psychedelic sound. Watch a live performance of “Superstar” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPWSxZ02xK8
Beatles: “Revolver Special Edition” – I usually don’t purchase this type of release because I find that I don’t play the bonus discs very often. I had to make an exception with “Revolver,” however, because it was my favorite by Beatles’ album, and the one that I feel best represents the decade of the 1960s. Giles Martin’s production enhances the sound of the original album and the two “Sessions” CDs are fun to listen to. Of special note is the “Revolver” EP – the “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” single has never sounded better. Watch the video for "I'm Only Sleeping" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XwXliCK19Yhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XwXliCK19Y
Beth Orton: “Weather Alive” – Beth Orton’s first new album in six years was recorded during the pandemic. Orton’s vocals are lower in the mix and the album’s atmospheric and melancholy songs are a departure from the mix of folk and electronica that were prominent features on her previous albums. Watch the video for “Weather Alive” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XwXliCK19Y
Black Keys: “Dropout Boogie” – Another excellent album by one of America’s most consistently great bands. Although it clocks in at just under 34 minutes, the album’s 10 songs are all top notch and it includes one, “Good Love,” that features Billy Gibbons. “Dropout Boogie” has been nominated for Best Rock Album at the 65th Grammy Awards in February. Watch the video for “Wild Child” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKSmHOUaqaQ
Bruce Springsteen: “Only The Strong Survive” – Soul music has always been an important ingredient in the sounds Springsteen created with the E Street Band, and I was initially disappointed that he made this record without them. That aside, his vocals are outstanding throughout, and “Only The Strong Survive” succeeds both sonically and emotionally as Springsteen’s homage to some of the music of the past that inspired him. Watch the video for “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0jBwk71Qcw
Damn The Witch Siren: “Gold Magic” – My leftfield selection this year is the new album from Damn The Witch Siren, an electronic dance music duo from Columbus, Ohio. I was impressed by their set at the 2022 Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival and especially frontwoman Bobbi Kitten who was channeling her inner Madonna. Their new album’s songs are a highly danceable mix of modern pop, rock, R&B, and EDM. Watch a performance of “Claire Danes” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FMpiChgJh4
Drive-By Truckers – “Welcome 2 Club XIII” – The band’s new album veers away from the political commentary on their previous three releases to more autobiographical songs that reflect back on their formative years as young musicians. The album title comes from the Muscle Shoals honky-tonk where Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley first played music inspired by the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Both Hood and Cooley are great storytellers, a vital ingredient of their unique style of rock and roll. Watch the video for “Welcome To Club XIII” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWM6EZW9F6I
Eddie Vedder: “Earthling” – It’s not Pearl Jam, but “Earthling” has a number of strong songs (“Power Of Right,” “Long Way,” “The Dark,” and “Brother The Cloud’) that would please any fan of the group that made Eddie famous. Vedder stretches his trademark vocal style on the rest of this fine album, but the final few songs that include some famous guests are a mixed bag. Stevie Wonder plays a cool harmonica on “Try”, but Elton John’s vocals on “Picture” seem weirdly out of place, and Ringo Starr’s drumming is wasted on “Mrs. Mills.” Watch the lyric video for “Power Of Right” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgm0u9xQ6-c
Jack White: “Fear Of The Dawn” & “Entering Heaven Alive” – Jack White’s latest releases present two different sides of his musical persona. “Fear Of The Dawn” is the electric album, showcasing White’s distinctive brand of edgy modern rock, while “Entering Heaven Alive” presents his mostly acoustic side. The highlight for me on both albums is the song “Taking Me Back.” It’s the lead track on “Fear Of The Dawn” in all its guitar shredding glory, and then it’s done (gently) in a completely different style as the final song on “Entering Heaven Alive.” Watch the video for the rock version of “Taking Me Back” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8IbI626k8Y
Larry McCray – “Blues Without You” – Despite being one of Michigan’s finest blues artists for the last 30 years, Larry McCray’s career had been stuck in neutral for much of the last decade. That all changed when he teamed up with blues-rock legend Joe Bonamassa to record “Blues Without You,” his finest album yet. McCray’s stinging guitar solos and powerful vocals on the album’s 12 songs will hopefully vault him to the top tier of the blues genre where he most definitely belongs. Watch the video for “Arkansas” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Zq0RZKz3tI
Len Price 3: “Ip Dip Do” – I discovered this English band after their song “She Came Out Of The Sun” was listed as one of the contenders for Coolest Song In The World on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Inspired by 60’s icons The Kinks and The Who along with The Jam and The Clash from the 70s, the group’s new album is a collection of short, high-energy punk rock songs with a pop edge. Watch the video for “She Came Out Of The Sun” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6A4KESho_4
Rolling Stones: “El Mocambo 1977” – We got a taste of this great live show with the four songs that were included on one side of the Stones’ “Love You Live” double album from 1977. This 2 CD package is the whole enchilada from that memorable Toronto small venue engagement. Featuring some rarely heard tunes like “Hand Of Fate” and “Crazy Mama,” this is the Stones in full power mode. Watch the video for “Hand Of Fate 1977” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2Xn1bLO060
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: “Nightroamer” – Sarah Shook & The Disarmers is a throwback to the kind of country music that was played in honky-tonks and roadhouses in the days before music videos and glitzy CMA television awards shows. Produced by Pete Anderson of Dwight Yoakam fame, the band’s third album is a no frills, straight to the heart delight from start to finish. Watch the video for “I Got This” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKJzK8HYQCs
Spoon: “Lucifer On The Sofa” – Spoon, led by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, has released a number of great albums over the years, and “Lucifer On The Sofa” is one of the best. The band has attempted to replicate its live sound on the album, hence its loose, funky sound. “The Hardest Cut” was released as the lead single. “Lucifer On The Sofa” has been nominated for Best Rock Album at the 65th Grammy Awards in 2023. Watch the video for “The Hardest Cut” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4vl4T1hEuQ
Whiskey Myers: “Tornillo” – This is the sixth album from the powerhouse Texas band that combines hard rock and country music. The group, featuring lead singer and main songwriter Cody Cannon and the killer guitar duo of John Jeffers and Cody Tate, was inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones along with outlaw country artists like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings. “Tornillo,” which adds horns to the mix, combines raise-the-roof rockers with strong power ballads. I’m excited to see them live for the first time in February. Watch the video for “John Wayne” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odz7qGD1OTY
Death Cab For Cutie: “Asphalt Meadows” – Another solid collection of indie rock from Ben Gibbard’s band.
Johnny Marr: “Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4” – The former Smiths’ guitarist co-wrote all 16 of these excellent songs for his first double album recorded during the lockdown period of the pandemic.
John Mellencamp: “Strictly A One-Eyed Jack” – Thanks to a couple of great duets with Bruce Springsteen, this album rocks a little harder than any Mellencamp release in recent memory.
Neil Young and the Promise of the Real: “Noise and Flowers (Live)” – A fine career-spanning set with the band fronted by Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son).
Sunflower Bean: “Head Full Of Sugar” – The third album from this Brooklyn trio, featuring frontwoman Julia Cumming, expands their indie rock sound.
Superchunk: “Wild Loneliness” – A highly listenable 12th album from the long running North Carolina band features guest appearances from Sharon Van Etten, Mike Mills, and members of Teenage Fanclub.
Best CDs of 2022 by Larry Van Cleve
2022 was a different year than the last two. It seems many of the “name” groups and performers have gotten off their hiatus and put together new music. There are lots of known groups this year, many putting out music that jumped onto the list immediately. I was overloaded with albums that couldn’t be put out there. Due to that I’m trying to get right to the point with each one. Following that I want to mention some of the box sets from this year that are a must for collectors.
1.) “Strictly A One Eyed-Jack” – John Mellencamp. Many of his later albums have been somewhat spotty but always sincere. He seemed to have lost his trademark sound and way with a song. Well, it’s all back on this album but with an ambient difference. The hooks are there but John is at a different point in his life. Gruff vocals as is usual lately. I’ve got to tell you, it works this time. If you’re a fan check it out. Watch the video “Wasted Days” ft. Bruce Springsteen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHLGZxlBpLA
2.) “Earthling” – Eddie Vedder. A full out solo album with lots of guest stars, this one would have stood as a four star Pearl Jam album. The songs fully capture all that rock appeal of Vedder and Pearl Jam. Right at the beginning of the year I was impressed with both this album and the new Mellencamp album. “The big boys are doing it right.” This is great listening in both cases. Watch the video for “Invincible” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY7POkaxAX8
3.) “External Combustion” – Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs. I’ve still got that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers obsession. Mike Campbell does very well in continuing the spirit of that band. Sometimes if you’re not listening too closely, this album sounds like a new Heartbreakers album. I have a soft spot for this sound. Watch the video for “Wicked Mind” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arMSQ6ZupXs
4.) “Songs of the Recollection” – Cowboy Junkies. Margo Timmons and company once again tackle what they’ve done best in the past: cover songs including the Stones, the Cure, Graham Parsons and others. Neil Young is represented by two covers. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” stands out. The opener, Bowie’s “Five Years” is the perfect introduction. Exemplary production and arrangements make this a sound feast. Watch the video for “Five Years” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njL25EHAtXg
5.) “Spencer Gets It Lit” – Jon Spencer & the Hit Makers. The album is unsurprisingly quirky. Spencer’s new band has some of the flavor of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with more emphasis on garage and pop rock sounds with a great early garage VOX organ sound. If any of that interests you, dive in. Watch the video for “Death Ray” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-Ih5hQih8U
6.) “Growing Up” – The Linda Lindas. A California all girl band with a great name, their music ranges from punk to power pop to garage rock and beyond. Short, punchy electric, hooky tunes that run from the aggression of the Riot Grrls to the pop of numerous girl rock groups in the last half of the last century. This is a fun listen to these ears. Watch the video for “Growing Up” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wm1Sew7lAG4
7.) “Live At the El Mocambo” -Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones show in 1977 at the El Mocambo club in Toronto. For Stones aficionados not much else need be said. Four blues covers were included in the “Love You Live” album. They’re here also with the rest of the show. Expertly recorded, the Stones really shine in this 23 tune disk. Taken from the two nights they played to a few hundred lucky souls, this release stands up to “Ya Ya’s” and “Live at Leeds 1973” as one of the best Stones live albums. It’s that good. Watch the video for “Route 66” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxhLVMhsbAE
8.) “Dropout Boogie” -The Black Keys. The Keys are back with a bluesy, boogie laden rock album of originals. This is the music they create that really shines. Dan Auerbach is in top form shuffling along with the stripped down tunes. If you liked their earlier stuff this is for you. Watch the official visualizer for “Burn The Damn Thing Down” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF5VPD6-_Q0&list=RDZF5VPD6-_Q0&start_radio=1
9.) “A Bit Of Previous” – Belle and Sebastian. Their post-pandemic album has a bit of a thematic darker edge while at the same time still being the same band and creators. Melodic, poppy, restrained (in a good way) this is their sound at its best. “A Bit of Previous” is great for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a touch of darkness. Fans will be happy listening to this one, for others it’s a good jumping on spot. Watch the video for “A Bit Of Previous” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyShUB3XGN0
10) “Vibrating” – Collective Soul. We’re talking classic rock here. Releasing music since 1994, this is one of their better efforts. There’s plenty of slamming banging, fuzzy rock guitars with a strong rhythm section and good rock vocals. What else is there? Well, top notch song writing and plenty of hooks helps. That’s all here for your pleasure. Watch the video for “Cut The Cord” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OTfSushYnw
11) “Bleed Out” – The Mountain Goats. This ranges from classic hard driving rock to dark ballads. There is an open approach to their material showing a real stylistic variety. Every track has a great downbeat and a palpable forward motion. This being their 23rd album (!), I am looking forward to exploring their back catalog. Watch the video for “Training Montage” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxU1tKph7WQ
12.) “Success” - Oneida. Around since the late 90s, Oneida has been over all the map. Sometimes they were rather specialized in experimental intent. This time around they take on punk rock of the New York City variety. This album ranges from almost out-of-control guitars to a very Velvet Underground approach. Lou Reed would like this one. “I Wanna Hold Your (Electric) Hand”? Watch the video for “I Want To Hold Your Electric Hand” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N55vu4G8nSw&t=68s
13.) “Will of the People” - Muse. Exciting mixture of hard rock guitars and substantial synthesizers, this album sounds like it would be destined for arena rock. A twenty first century band they are an amalgam of many twentieth century arena rock bands. Yet, they still have their own sound. Surprised how much I liked this. I’ll have to go back and explore their earlier stuff. Watch the video for “Will Of The People” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MClg7zpm6VQ
Box Set Collections.
For collectors, the year in box sets is important. So much music being available via streaming of different forms, box sets are a unique item. Sets contain excellent re-mastering, deep looks into unreleased music and great books hopefully delving in all the details to satisfy rock fanatics.
“Revolver” – The Beatles. (Super Deluxe version). As with all the other super deluxe box set releases of post 1967 albums, this is a must have. It’s all there with stereo and mono disks (yes, it made a difference back then), two session outtake disks and an ep disk with “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” in both audio versions. The hard cover book is beautiful and very in depth. There is great re-mastering by Giles Martin. (Hopefully a similar treatment for “Rubber Soul” is coming.)
“Live At the Fillmore 1997” - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Four full disks highlighting the best of a 20 show run by the band at the old Fillmore West in 1997. This is Petty and the band at their best. Close to 70 tunes they perform some of the expected Heartbreakers tracks but the meat of the box set is covers running from early rock and roll and blues through many classic rock tunes. Even if you already have Petty live albums, this one is still a must have.
“Against the Odds: 1974-1982” – Blondie. (Deluxe version) This version consists of eight disks with new re-mastering of the first six albums and 52 (!) bonus tracks. This is a must for any Blondie obsessives out there. The bonus tracks go really deep into their entire career. The set may be possibly a bit much for the casual fan.