Birds of Chicago.
Woe is the music industry, or so business insiders say.
The reality is that while massive multimillion sellers are rare and rock is wheezing along because of a dearth of big mainstream bands, there was still a ton of good music released in 2012 in all genres.
Here’s a rundown of the best of the best from Blade staff writers Tom Henry and Rod Lockwood with contributions from national reviewers:
BIRDS OF CHICAGO
Birds of Chicago
The Birds are Toledo native Jeremy Lindsay and Canadian Allison Russell and their vocal harmonies are sublime, weaving intoxicating spells over the course of this album paid for through Kickstarter. But it would just be pretty singing without a set of exceptional well-written songs and beautiful arrangements. This is roots music for the 21st century. (R.L.)
Tedeschi Trucks Band
You’d be hard-pressed to find any collaborations of two headliners as good as this husband-wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Raw energy, sweet soul, down home rock-infused power, and flat-out guitar fury make this two-disc CD a real highlight. (T.H.)
LIFE IS GOOD
“I am a graphic classic song composer,” Nas raps on the intro to his latest album. And he’s right. You may disagree, but Nas is the best rapper alive, and with “Life is Good,” he’s got the year’s top album, regardless of genre. On “Life,” he’s spitting rhymes about his ex-wife, Kelis — like the soulful “Bye Baby” — his daughter on “Daughters” and his childhood on “A Queens Story.” He’s a top-notch lyricist and has a knack for storytelling, and it all makes for impeccable music. (Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press)
STRONGER FOR IT
Few blues singers open up and give you insight into their soul like Detroit-born Janiva Magness, who does fantastic takes of songs by Tom Waits and other artists on this album and also showcases her standout writing skillss. The most memorable is her haunting-yet-hopeful anthem “I Won’t Cry,” which takes a message of mental toughness and resilience deep into the listener’s bones. (T.H.)
LIVING FOR A SONG
Jamey Johnson, the bearded, burly Alabaman who’s on the short list of major-label Nashville artists who get away with doing whatever they please, is a formidable songwriter, but on “Living for a Song,” he’s recorded 16 tunes by Hank Cochrane, the late country tunesmith who mastered the honky-tonk tear-jerker on classics like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Make the World Go Away.” Singing along are a murderer’s row of partners including Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Bobby Bare. (Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Church of Rock and Roll, Foxy Shazam.
THE CHURCH OF ROCK AND ROLL
Foxy put on a frighteningly intense show at Mickey Finn’s this year to promote this wonderful album that mines Queen, David Bowie, glam, classic rock, and punk for an intoxicating melange of effervescent high-energy anthemic pop. Coming out of Cincinnati’s fertile music scene, Foxy is ready to graduate to arenas. (R.L)
You’ll never go wrong with Chris Botti, whose graceful trumpet long ago dispelled the notion that soft jazz had to be equated with lame jazz. On this diverse collection of romantic melodies written by anyone from Frederic Chopin to George Gershwin to R. Kelly, Botti goes beyond note-playing and communicates through the grace and beauty of his no-frills, bare-your-soul passion. The set has its moments of classical, opera, Latin and traditional jazz, tango, pop, and even a memorable take on a familiar show tune, “Over the Rainbow.” (T.H.)
It’s impossible to separate this album from the fuss kicked up when Ocean, who’s closely connected to the provocative, often homophobic hip-hop collective Odd Future, revealed last summer that he had been in love with a man. But what’s most exciting about Ocean has nothing to do with that. It’s not just that he’s a superb singer who uses an intimate falsetto to communicate interior conflict, and a skilled producer who, along with artists like Miguel and the Weeknd, is reshaping R&B. The Grammy darling born Christopher Breaux writes complex, character-driven songs far more sophisticated in perspective than your standard-issue pop. (D.D.)
The bearded wonders returned to form with a greasy set of blistering rock that echoed their boogie band roots without ever sounding derivative of dull. Channeling Houston hip-hop on the opening track “I Gotsta Get Paid” is pretty impressive, but even more interesting is the straight-forward ballad “Over You” in which Billy Gibbons takes his tongue out of cheek and sounds truly heartbroken. (R.L.)
ALMOST ALWAYS NEVER
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor delivers some of the most filthy and wicked blues guitar solos you’ll hear from a 26-year-old, man or woman. It’s scary to think how good she could be years from now. Discovered a decade ago as a 16-year-old guitar prodigy by former Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart, the talented Brit now lives in Houston and offers a southwest tinge on this, her third disc. (T.H.)
NEW YORK ATTITUDE
Erena Terakubo with Legends
Speaking of incredibly talented young women, saxophone prodigy Erena Terakubo, 20, is the headliner of one of the best jazz albums that came out in 2012. She fit in seamlessly with four giants of the jazz world — Ron Carter on bass, Lee Pearson on drums, Dominic Farinacci on trumpet, and Kenny Barron on piano — and showed a remarkably crisp tone, knack for rhythm, and ability to play sweet and lush as easily as snappy, uptempo jazz. (T.H.)
THE SONG IS YOU
Lori Lefevre with Eric Dickey
A superb collection of Great American Songbook, soft jazz, sophisticated love songs, and Latin-tinged hits performed by Toledoan Lori Lefevre, a Whitmer High School art teacher by day who’s been a fine jazz singer in this area for 30 years now. She recently toured with the city’s jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, in France. One of the area’s best pianists, Eric Dickey, accompanies her. (T.H.)