2022’s “45 RPM (Reasons to Purchase Music)” with Playlist

2022’s “45 RPM (Reasons to Purchase Music)” with Playlist

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2022’s “45 RPM (Reasons to Purchase Music)” with Playlist

2022 was a weird year. Live music returned almost in full, but it also seemed there were more show cancellations than ever before – COVID seems intent on keeping us on guard just a little while longer. But the great new music didn’t stop flowing – in fact, it seemed like more of a tidal wave, which is good news for all of us. It was tough to find “only” 45 RPM (Reasons to Purchase Music), but I whittled it all down to the best of the best of the best. Please enjoy. 

Favorite 10-ish Albums

10 (tie) Erin Rae, Lighten Up & John Calvin Abney, Tourist – What I enjoyed best about listening to and writing about both of these albums (besides the songwriting and musicianship) is that each, in their own ways, sounded different from just about anything else I put my ears to this year. Much of Rae’s album is about the not-entirely-unwelcome isolation brought about by the pandemic, where Abney’s record was a travelog of a solo road trip taken around the same time We all deal with these things in different ways, but whether it’s Rae finding quiet happiness on her own in “Candy and Curry” or Abney battling idleness and wasted time in “Call Me Achilles,” you’ll likely find a reflection of how you felt during the dog days of COVID. https://pgpamerch.com/erinrae/ https://johncalvinabney.bandcamp.com/album/tourist

9) Kaitlin Butts, What Else Can She Do – We use a lot of genre labels, partially in a good-faith effort to help readers and listeners find what they might like best. But, keeping it simple, Kaitlin Butts put out the best straight-up country record of the year. There are serious topics to be dealt with (drug use, marriage woes) and standout steel work from Justin Schiper, but also the damn fine (and fun) tune “jackson,” which finds a modern-day Johnny and June so dysfunctional that they can’t even wait to fall apart in the titular city. Butts borrowed a little from the best to make an album that’s all her own. https://kaitlinbutts.myshopify.com/collections/music

8) Dropkick Murphys, This Machine Still Kills Fascists – It seems like it shouldn’t work – America’s favorite Celtic punk covering unpublished Woody Guthrie songs. But when you realize the deep connection between the Murphys and the Guthries, plus you remember Dropkick’s and Woody’s support of labor and hatred of facism, it all comes together. And, especially if you were able to experience the tour behind this record, you know that Dropkick Murphys, even in an all-acoustic setting, can still light a stage on fire. https://dropkickmurphys.com/music/studio/this-machine-still-kills-fascists/

7) Ian Noe, River Fools & Mountain Saints – Noe seemed poised for a breakout after the release of 2019’s Between the Country. But, with the pandemic, followed by an accident and illness, his stage time has been severely limited. He has sated fans with an excellent album full of the real-life characters of his home state of Kentucky. Noe’s usually excellent storytelling is enhanced with a greater musical palette that’s more well-rounded than his previous work while still carving out deeply personal stories, including a bit of his own on “Lonesome As It Gets.” https://iannoe.presspressmerch.com/

6) Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Crooked Tree – Molly Tuttle has always been an amazingly gifted guitar player, but putting together a fantastic string band, along with guest appearances from the likes of Jerry Dougals, Billy Strings and Margo Price, brought the best songwriting out of Tuttle. Whether it’s her own bluegrass origin story (“Grass Valley”) or a modern-day tale of economic inequity (“San Francisco Blues”), Tuttle’s songs have gained a personal touch, while her new band allows her to have one hell of a good time. https://mollytuttle.shop.redstarmerch.com/product/XZLPMT01/crooked-tree-vinyl?cp=112156_112160

5) Plains, I Walked with You A Ways – Two of our best indie songwriters and prettiest voices (Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson) take turns at the wheel while driving us back to 70s AM radio gold. The songs are (of course) great, but it’s the harmonies that make the record. Fire this one up on your next road trip, and you’ll hope that this duo is much more than the declared one-off. https://kf-merch.com/collections/plains

4) Zach Bryan, American Heartbreak – It’s long (34 tracks). And, even then, it’s not the only music he’s released this year (a nine-song EP followed less than two months later). But, for supporters of indie country music, it’s gratifying to see a Navy vet with a ton of songs and zero promotional push or radio coverage come in and completely change the game. Apart from all of that, it’s just a heartfelt, damn good record. https://store.zachbryan.com/

3) Angel Olsen, Big Time – My favorite Ashevillian managed to change her stripes yet again and conquer another genre. There’s a good amount of steel guitar on this album, but it’s the heartache found in the storytelling – and the beginning of moving on to something better- that gives this record its deep-down twang. Also, it’s a good reminder that Angel Olsen can do absolutely anything. https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/angel-olsen/products/big-time-12-black-double-vinyl

2) SG Goodman, Teeth Marks – My initial review of this album commended its “jagged edges,” full of raw emotion and difficult-to-hear truths. And that’s all accurate, but repeated listens also reveal a tragic beauty, especially in the jangly-to-spare pairing of “If You Were Someone I Loved” and “You Were Someone I Loved.” Even if you know the album, Goodman’s live show will have you feeling woefully unprepared, as her dry-as-Hawkeye’s-martini wit will make it that much easier for her to rip your heart out. https://shop.sggoodman.net/?utm_campaign=nav&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=sggoodman.net

1 (tie) Big Thief, Dragon Warm Mountain I Believe in You and Wild Pink, ILYSM – Their length (Dragon is a double LP, and ILYSM clocks in at over an hour) is about the only trait that these two albums share. The quartet of Big Thief only welcome a scant few collaborators in with them (one of which is guitarist Buck Meek’s brother Noah), while Wild Pink’s John Ross brought  indie luminaries Julien Baker, Samantha Crain and J Mascis into the studio. ILYSM largely deals with Ross’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, where Big Thief has singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker comparing someone to a “potato knish.” But these are both deeply ambitious records that realize every bit of their intention. Whether it’s the heartache found in Dragon’s “Change” – “Would you smile forever, never cry/While everything you know passes” – to the naked determination to simply make it one more day on ILYSM’s “Simple Glyphs” – “I’m not supposed to be here/I’m just showing up every day like Cal Ripken Jr.” – these two albums share an uncommon ability to shroud life’s worst moments in quiet beauty and simple human dignity. https://store.bigthief.net/?ffm=FFM_73e7b80f342481fd137190c3c9f21de9

Favorite 25-ish Songs

26) Neil Young, “Journey Through the Past” – An honorary spot for a Neil Young gem that had never received a proper release until now. From the Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition), “Journey” reminds us that, even at age 25, Young was a bit of a cranky old man, gifted with the ability to know what he’d miss in life before he’d even had the chance to experience it. https://neilyoung.lnk.to/Harvest50th

25) Lissie, “Night Moves” – In which the smoky-voiced Midwesterner detours her sound through Laurel Canyon in hopes of ditching the ghost of her doomed relationship. https://lissie-us.myshopify.com/

24) Jamestown Revival, “Young Man” – Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance brought a producer (the incomparable Robert Ellis) and a de-electrified sound to their new album, but the title track still drips with the gorgeous harmonies those Texas boys are best known for. https://jamestownprovision.co/collections/music

23) Drew Kennedy, “Marathon” – Kennedy had a pretty good 2022 – his Phillies reached the World Series, and he released an excellent new album, Marathon. The title track is part history lesson, part geographical dissertation on his adopted home town in Texas. It’s the type of song you write about the place you love best, knowing full well not everyone will get it. That’s kinda how love works sometimes. https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/drewkennedy/marathon

22) Drive-By Truckers, “The Driver” – DBT’s 2022 release, Welcome 2 Club XIII, was the album when Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley began to look back at three decades of country punk rock debauchery and forward at the fewer days they have left. The record leads off with this pensive growler of a tune, where the band careens down their career-long highway, telling tall tales – “I saw that Honda full of girls go airborne into the trees” – as if through a low-grade fever dream. https://drivebytruckers.shop.musictoday.com/dept/purchasing-hold?cp=407_72977&ffm=FFM_a70fcd26886046d28316c8ad279d63b2

21) Good Looks, “Almost Automatic” – Just great, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll about waiting for someone to make up her mind. You get the feeling she won’t, which is too bad for her – this young Texas band is goin’ places. https://goodlooksband.com/

20) Elliah Heifetz, “Country Harmony” – This son of Soviet-era immigrants chose an interesting time – Spring of 2022 – to release his first album. But First Generation American has Heifetz shouting his differences out loud, nowhere more than this song with partner Jane Bruce – “My hair puffs up, my name sounds forgeign/You come from the land of Mormons.” Doesn’t matter where his family’s from – he most definitely belongs right where he is. https://linkr.bio/vv4732

19) Allison Russell feat. Brandi Carlile, “You’re Not Alone” – Russell reimagnes her 2019 song written for Our Native Daughters and tags in Carlile and SistaStrings to benefit gun control and reproductive freedom causes. If you didn’t get to see Carlile and Russell tour together, this will give you an idea of what you missed out on. https://allisonrussellyourenotalonebenefit.bandcamp.com/album/youre-not-alone

18) Ian Noe, “Ballad of a Retired Man” – On an album full of outsized characters, this simple song of a life well-lived that ends too soon is the standout on River Fools & Mountain Saints. We don’t know the man, but we know someone like him, which is why we mourn his passing. https://iannoe.presspressmerch.com/

17) Molly Tuttle feat. Billy Strings, “Dooley’s Farm” – Pot is the new ‘shine, at least in Southern farming lore, and women are the new outlaws. And the two aces on guitar are straight white lightning. https://mollytuttle.shop.redstarmerch.com/product/XZLPMT01/crooked-tree-vinyl?cp=112156_112160

16) Bo Armstrong, “Get It Right” – Armstrong always makes solid records that come with a hidden gut punch or two. On If your tired heart is aching…, that comes in the form of “Get It Right,” which carries the hope that repeated foul-ups will result in love lessons learned. I’m not sure if it works that way, but the realization that “the lovin’ and the leavin’ is a young man’s game” might at least make you think twice before returning to the dating apps. https://lnk.to/Ifyourtiredheartisaching

15) Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” – She’s still kinda new to us, but she spent a long time spinning around Nashville writing rooms before becoming what she is today – a solo star, a Highwoman and someone who finds no fear in calling out bigotry from Music City’s more vapid inhabitants. But “Circles” goes back to those early struggles for recognition, before she became one of the few women to get regular country radio airplay. Hopefully, this tune will inspire others to stay in the game.  https://shop.marenmorris.com/collections/hq-merch

14) Amanda Shires, “Hawk for the Dove”  – Shires took zero prisoners on her latest, Take It Like A Man, and this tune in particular is all raporial lust, co-starring Brittney Spencer and featuring a jagged fiddle solo that echoes the defiance in Shires’ words – “You can call me serious trouble/Just admit I’m what you want.” https://stores.portmerch.com/amandashires/

13) Madi Diaz, “Love Looks Different” – Breakups really do bring about some of the best music, which is sad for Diaz, but a winner for us. This single gives us a songwriter starting to move past the personal wreckage of 2021’s excellent History Of A Feeling – “Love looks different to me now/It doesn’t have your face anymore.” https://madidiaz.bandcamp.com/album/love-looks-different

12) Bonnie Light Horseman, “Summer Dream” – Perhaps the most accurately titled tune on this list, the best song on the unassuming supergroup’s second album, Rolling Golden Holy, is a hazy reverie about best days gone by – “On a four-lane/On another ride/On another day/In another lifetime.” https://merch.ambientinks.com/collections/bonnylighthorseman

11) Bella White, “The Way I Oughta Go” – Searching for a destination and a reason to go there is what has the singer all twisted up in knots, as even her parents couldn’t figure out love – “For my daddy used to sing it to my mama/But then he went and he left her all alone.” At only 22, White has time to work through the love thing – she already has music thoroughly figured out. https://bellawhitemusic.bandcamp.com/track/the-way-i-oughta-go

10) Big Thief, “Wake Me Up to Drive” – So many great songs off this double album, but this one has maybe my favorite lyric on the entire package – “Wake me up to drive, wake me up to drive/Even if I’m tired I don’t want to miss a ride.” This song somehow feels sleepy and like a dose of trucker speed at the same time – miraculous, just like everything this band does. https://store.bigthief.net/?ffm=FFM_73e7b80f342481fd137190c3c9f21de9

9) Adeem the Artist, “Middle of a Heart” – A rare important December release, White TRash Revelry, gave us this heartbreaker, a very human look at a Southern man who’s anything but a cliche. Great storytelling, with a gut punch at the end. https://adeemtheartist.myshopify.com/products/white-trash-revelry-black-vinyl-pre-order

8) John Calvin Abney, “Watch Me Go (Back in Time)”  – This song seems to best encapsulate 2022, a year that Never. Quite. Got. Going. LIsten to a line like “Nothing works like it used to/Except my favorite chair” and tell me I’m wrong. https://johncalvinabney.bandcamp.com/album/tourist

7) Angel Olsen, “All The Good Times” – She took a big swing at a country record and absolutely crushed it. This first single is a kiss-off – “I’ll be long gone, thanks for the songs” – full of heartache and lap steel. I’ll say it again – this woman can do ANYTHING. https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/angel-olsen/products/big-time-12-black-double-vinyl

6) Plains, “Abilene” – I’m a Waxahatchee fan, so any project from Katie Crutchfield was an easy sell for me. But my favorite song from this duet comes from Jess Williamson with a sharp twist of regret – “No turning the garden, no toys on the floor/So I don’t talk about Abilene no more.” Anyone want to join me in a campaign for Plains LP #2? https://kf-merch.com/collections/plains

5) The War on Drugs, “Oceans of Darkness” – This song was initially discarded from last year’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, but deluxe box set releases beget “lost” tracks, and this one is fast and fun. Plus, unlike the song at the beginning of this list, we didn’t need to wait half a century for it. https://shop.thewarondrugs.net/products/i-dont-live-here-anymore-deluxe-vinyl-box-set

4) S.G. Goodman, “Teeth Marks” – When someone’s just not that into you, it leaves scars – both inside and, in this case, on the skin. Fortunately for us, Goodman was able to turn this hurt into one of the best rock songs this year. https://shop.sggoodman.net/?utm_campaign=nav&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=sggoodman.net

3) Kevin Morby feat. Erin Rae, “Bittersweet, TN” – Autumn melancholy is where I live, and this tune, from Morby’s This Is A Photograph, captures that fall rainy day feel perfectly. A look at mortality – “Goddamn you got old, you got upset, you got sick/The livin’ took forever, but the dyin’ went quick” – is echoed in a somber banjo line. The kicker, though, is Rae’s gorgeous vocals. All told, it’s the best kind of sad. https://shop.merchcentral.com/collections/kevin-morby/products/kevin-morby-this-is-a-photograph

2) Wild Pink feat. Julien Baker, “Hold My Hand” – I’ll admit to a personal bias on this one – John Ross wrote this based on the experience he had where a member of his surgical team held his hand as he went under during his first cancer surgery. I had a similar experience (full disclosure – he’s a year clear, and I’m five years cancer free). But that kind of unexpected-but-welcome comfort is universal. Plus, the song includes Julien Baker at her absolute best. It’s the rare case of a tear jerker based on a very specific instance that could – SHOULD – be a massive radio hit. https://www.coldcutsmerch.com/collections/wildpink

1) Zach Bryan, “Something in the Orange” – Romantic self-flagellation plus pretty sunsets equal the most irresistible, eminently re-listenable song of the year. Zach Bryan is doing a LOT of things right, but writing songs you just can’t shake is his best skill. I’m all-in on this guy. Country radio should be, too. https://store.zachbryan.com/

38 – 7 remaining

2022 Class Superlatives

Favorite Show – The War on Drugs at Cain’s Ballroom

My first-ever trip to the Home of Bob Wills turned out to be everything promised, and then some. This ol’ dancehall is loud and rowdy in the best kind of way. Additionally, the music history in Tulsa (including Leon Russell’s Church Studio and the brand new Bob Dylan Center) is receiving much-deserved new appreciation. Make a weekend out of it.

Most Reliably Great Night Out – Sarah Shook & the Disarmers at hi-dive in Denver

Shook and their band are always a don’t-miss. But Broadway’s best music venue and its always-ready crowd seem to bring out the best in the Disarmers. https://www.thewarondrugs.net/music/i-dont-live-here-anymore

Favorite Reissue – Neil Young, Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition)

Not only does the original album sound great (it’s Neil Young – what did you expect?), but you also get three “new” tracks, plus a live BBC show of Young working out the tunes pre-releas, and a two-hour doc on the making of the record, featuring appearances from Stills, Nash and (most ironically) Crosby. It’s an amazing history lesson on an album that inspired a lot of the music on this list. https://neilyoung.lnk.to/Harvest50th

Favorite Touring Festival – The Wild Hearts Tour

Multi-headliner shows seem to be on the rise since live music returned, and I am here for it. This tour, in particular, was a knock-out idea – Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen and Julien Baker are all amazing in their own right, but together? Perfection. Especially when the evening concluded with Van Etten and Olsen performing their 80s throwback tune “Like I Used To.” 

Best Spoken Word – Adrianne Lenker on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CcgF3wwDdmy/

By April, The Big Thief singer-songwriter had finally had enough of fans talking during Kara-Lis Coverdale’s opening set. So she, quietly and politely, asked concertgoers to STFU – “…either listen or at least be quiet so that other people can listen. Or go and put yourself elsewhere.” This is a problem that seems to have only gotten worse since concerts returned from the depths of the pandemic, and while her voice is soft, her disappointment is withering. Thank you, Adrianne, for (ever so respectfully) speaking out. https://bigthief.net/tour/

Best Holiday Song – Erin Enderlin, “Ain’t As Cold in Colorado”

I’m a sucker for two things: original, offbeat Christmas songs, and titles that mention my state. Turns out, for Enderlin, the chill in the mountain air is no match for the icy heartbreak she’s got goin’ on at home. (Included on her Campfire Christmas limited edition CD and download). https://erinenderlin.bigcartel.com/product/pre-sale-campfire-christmas

Biggest Reason to Stick It out until the New Year – Bella White

Between the two songs (“Rhododendron” and “The Way I Oughta Go”) the preternaturally gifted Canadian released toward the end of this year and rumors of a new album in early 2023, next year looks to be a big step forward for White. (Note – I mentioned Zach Bryan in this space at the end of 2020, so I may be a year off for White, but it’ll happen). https://bellawhitemusic.bandcamp.com/track/rhododendron

Just like last year, thank you to the artists and musicians we cover each week, the publicists who work so hard to get their music into our ears, Melissa for chasing down all of that music, and the other fine writers at Americana Highways. Thanks, too, to everyone (musicians, club employees, bartenders, sound techs and roadies) who’s been putting their health (and sanity) on the line so we can all get out and enjoy live music. For these folks especially, PLEASE get vaccinated, get boosted, and follow any regulations and requests so that we can keep getting together. #listenbetter


2022’s “45 RPM (Reasons to Purchase Music)” with Playlist

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