Music/Popular Culture

Great music of 2012: the (slightly past) halfway check-in, part 2

Let’s see, who else are we loving so far in 2012? Ah, here’s one.

Ryan ShawReal Love – I’ve been a fan of Shaw’s since … well, since I first heard him maybe three years ago. Gods, what a voice. I have argued that had he come along in the mid-1960s we’d now be remembering him favorably alongside the likes of Otis, Jackie, Wilson and Sam. That is not hype – the man is just that good. His previous release had the feel of a collection of singles, but Real Love plays like an actual album. Here he is live, riffing on the man, Sam Cooke, whom he clearly reveres as much as I do.

Lee Fields & The Expressions: Faithful Man – While we’re on the subject of Soul… Lee Fields has been around a long time, and time doesn’t seem to have hurt him a bit. I imagine women go to his concerts wearing body armor and helmets so they don’t hurt themselves when they faint dead away.

The ShinsPort of Morrow – James Mercer is back with a whole new band, looks like. And while I have always respected his work, on Port of Morrow he has turned a corner into something intimate and profound. I’m still unraveling things, but this is certainly a CD of the Year candidate.

Jets OverheadBoredom and Joy – My first encounter with JO was 2006’s Bridges, a moody, enveloping tramp through mid-’60s California psychedelia. Sorta. Since first impressions tend to frame what you expect in the future, I guess I’ve been occasionally taken by surprise when the band very deliberately moves onto something else. B&J strikes me as the most assertively … let me be careful with me words here, because I don’t want to damn fine work with an ill-considered adjective … popular? I heard the lead track several weeks before the rest of the disc dropped and was stunned at how insanely radio-ready it was (and I mean this in the best possible way – it’s ready for what radio ought to be in a perfect world), and it turns out the rest of the album has a rather pretty gloss to it, as well. There’s nothing here that suggests they’re pandering for dollars – that is, I’m not feeling cynicism – but there’s no arguing that they’re exploring more accessible creative avenues than they were five or six years ago.

All of which is to say if you know Jets Overhead, Boredom and Joy might violate some expectations, but don’t let that get in the way.

They seem not to have produced a video yet, dammit. But by all means give it a listen while looking at the pretty pink square.

The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten – Can we go ahead and agree that The Gaslight Anthem has become America’s best rock & roll band? This isn’t Alternative it isn’t Indie. It’s a throwback to the kind of straight-on rock that those of us who remember the ’70s grew up on. But the magic of Handwritten is that while it clearly recalls the sound and fury of Born to Run, it does so without imitating it. “Standing on the shoulders of giants,” it’s called. Understanding and respecting your tradition, internalizing the works of the masters, then making it all your own and becoming a giant yourself. Wonderful, wonderful stuff….

Previously: Part 1