Top Picks of 2022 — David Nowels’ Self-Indulgence
2022 didn’t impress me all that much. In fact, it collectively was one of my least favorite years in recent memory. From a personal standpoint, it was wrought with unexpected expense, chaos and turmoil. In late spring, I came down with some vicious stomach bug that persisted for nearly a month. I’d barely felt recovered from that, when I came down with some still unidentified, but definitely debilitating sinus infection that knocked we out of work for nearly two weeks. Furthermore, it prevented me from attending this year’s Woody Guthrie Festival, which was a pretty healthy heaping of insult to injury. Also at this time, my elderly mother’s health spiraled downward, resulting in additional worry and continuing jaunts back and forth to Texas. Writing, reviewing and attending concerts lost importance in the bigger picture this year, and I’m still struggling to recover that spark. But, there were definitely some highlights that helped me get through a tough year. Here’s eleven favorites in no particular order:
Benjamin Tod – Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing
Probably my favorite release of the year, released on Anti-Corp. A couple of years ago, Tod’s A Heart of Gold is Hard to Find should have topped my year end list, but the alluring flash of Billy Strings’ break-through album, Home, won out. That flash wore very thin for me this past year, and I’ve really grown to regret that decision. Tod should have topped that list back then too. Tod and wife Ashley Mae are currently taking a hiatus from touring and working on projects closer to home. Can’t wait to see what their future brings.
The Songs of Townes Van Zandt Vol. III – This release probably slid under the radar of most Americana fans. It’s an understandable presumption, as the album released via Neurot features artists more known in heavy music circles rather than Americana. Amenra, Cave-In and Marissa Nadler. Regardless of genre, I’ve not found truer representations of Van Zandt’s songs.
Planet Drum – In the Groove
Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovani Hidalgo returned with a new album that picks up the universal rhythm that drives us all. I always loved the Drums segment at Grateful Dead and later shows. Others may bemoan them as “bathroom breaks,” but I’ve always found a simple truth in music in it’s most primal form. Hart captures that here.
Miranda Lambert – Palomino
This one was an unexpected favorite. I was an early fan of Lambert, and though I slowly lost interest once the widespread celebrity crept in, I found myself reminiscing as I gave this one a chance. I really enjoyed it far more than I imagined.
Ryan Adams – Devolver and Nebraska
Adams returned to his prolific ways this year releasing two completely free albums via downloads. First up was the stunning Devolver, followed by a cover album of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic Nebraska, compiled from live performances from his recent brilliant solo acoustic tour. Obviously Adams can be seen as a controversial figure in the world of Americana. Love him or hate him, his genius deserves recognition.
John Fullbright – The Liar
I absolutely loved this gem of a record. I was also crushed to miss the OKC album release show at the Blue Door when my mom fell ill. Hope to see John in Okemah in July at WoodyFest.
John Moreland – Birds in the Ceiling
I’m strong in my opinion that Moreland is one of the best songcrafters out there creating for us today. Not just songwriter, but songcrafter. What I love about Moreland is his ability to keep evolving as an artist. Birds in the Ceiling is a much different record than say, In the Throes, but I want it to be. I want to be challenged musically regardless of the presentation, and there-in lies the true beauty of Moreland’s artistry.
John Calvin Abney – Tourist
Everything I just wrote about Moreland, ironically also applies to his constant collaborator John Calvin Abney. I really think these two gentlemen bring out the best in one another. Tourist is just a beautiful album, as likely to inspire a tear of happiness as it is a smile. If you have an opportunity to see John Calvin, make it happen. He’s one of those people with a beautiful soul that will make an impression on yours.
Bruce Springsteen – Only the Strong Survive
I really didn’t think I’d like this one, but dammit, it’s infectious. A fine collection of soul music that Springsteen wraps up in a beautiful presentation. The fact that Springsteen knew to record this material true to the originals with honest to God soul musicians speaks to his reverence to the songs. He could have easily worked these songs up with the E Street Band much like he occasionally does live and it would have undoubtedly been a strong record too. But it wouldn’t have had the authenticity it does this way.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers/Mightmare – Nightroamer and Mightmare
Whether you’re looking for a rocking country approach or a more indie lean, Sarah Shook and her musical compadres have you covered. I loved the twang of Nightroamer but also loved the adventurous nature of the debut eponymous Mightmare album.
The Hill Country Devil – Magnolia Sessions
There’s a reason Benjamin Tod has often declared Hayden Karchmer his favorite songwriter. Karchmer’s songs hit hard, and leave a mark. There’s pain, hard won wisdom and maybe a smattering of optimism. “It’s my fourth day awake/And the nights are getting longer/yet I flinch when morning breaks.“ – “Kerr County Dopesick Blues.” That’s one hell of a verse, and Karchmer makes you feel it.
While I’m at it, don’t miss any of the Magnolia Sessions, or really anything Anti-Corp puts out there. For me, they’re the label putting out the highest quality of talented songwriters of any out there. It’s real, and real sincere. That’s a rare quality.
2022 was as tough a year for concerts as it was albums for me. Illnesses kept me away from several I’d been looking forward to, but also it seemed like Oklahoma City in particular struggled drawing in bands. It’s easy to speculate that OKC is still dealing with post pandemic recovery, but there were also frequent rumblings of venues canceling gigs last minute as well as bigger issues. Whatever the cause, music fans in general need to up their game as well. At too many of the shows I did attend, fan behavior was pretty suspect too. Whether drunkenness, or cabin fever, there’s really no excuse for a lot of behaviors that threaten to just become commonplace (Steps off soapbox). Anyway, I did see some awesome shows this year. Here’s some of my favorites.
Just ridiculously good. Daltry’s vocals were just unbelievable,Townsend’s guitar like a beacon, a symphony, an impeccable setlist and delivered by a crack band as talented as you’ll find. It was the show of the year for me. It was truly an honor to be in the photo pit for this one.
Sure, it’s not really an Americana show, and I won’t argue that. But with his debut album, Wolfgang Van Halen brought honest rock and roll back in a lot of ways. This show with fellow rockers Dirty Honey proved that live rock-n-roll is far from dead and that in fact, the future looks refreshingly bright.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
Finally got a chance to see ’em, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. I do wish there’d been a better turnout, but the band played their hearts out like it was a full house. They’re scheduled to play a slightly smaller venue here in 2023 and I can’t wait to see them again.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets
I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, particularly material pre-Dark Side of the Moon. Mason’s touring ensemble had been top tier on my wanted to see list for years, and it was so worth the wait. Just a magical evening of psychedelic music.
Matt Heckler and Justin Dye
Again with the Anti-Corp artists….Just a superb night of earthy songs. I’ve been a big fan of Heckler’s music since I first saw him touring with Lost Dog Street Band. Seeing him perform live is just one of my favorite things. I knew of Justin Dye from him traveling with Lost Dog as well. I didn’t know he was such a gifted songwriter. Seeing these gentlemen were a real highlight this year.
Another band I’d been waiting and waiting to finally see, only to have the show cancelled inexplicably just before. To the Los Angeles band’s credit, they rallied and pulled off an impromptu surprise acoustic gig in our local Guestroom Records. So while I regret not getting the full show experience, this intimate gig was pretty special too.
Always a treat to see, Mule made up a rescheduled date from Warren Hayne’s shoulder injury in fine fashion. There’s a handful of bands out there that I say that on any given night, are one of the best bands playing. Gov’t Mule is one of those, and this was one of those nights.
I didn’t get a chance to see Scott “Wino” Weirich perform solo acoustic as I’d hope I might following his Forever Gone release which I reviewed here a couple years back. But dammit, I did get to see him perform again with The Obsessed, which now also includes another favorite player of mine, Jason Taylor on guitar. Loud and satisfying as always. I needed this show.
Top Picks of 2022 — David Nowels Self-Indulgence