Andrew Leahey, music reviewer for The Washington Times, lists his top 10 movies of 2012.
'Live from Alabama'
Formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell cranked his solo career into high gear in 2012, a busy year that found him winning an Americana award for the hit song "Alabama Pines" and touring the world with his three-piece backup band, the 400 Unit. That tour is documented on "Live from Alabama," a concert album that finds the guys bouncing between electrified country-rockers and grizzled ballads. There are no overdubs, no post-production corrections to fix any bum notes or flubbed chords. "Live from Alabama" sounds more like a high-quality bootleg, which suits this sort of honest, American-sounding rock music.
Channeling Carole King one minute and Neko Case the next, Jessie Baylin fills her third album with old-school pop music and sleepy, sepia-toned Americana. The Watson Twins sing backup harmonies on at least half of these songs, but it's Miss Baylin's voice that steals the show. She's like a torch singer for the iPod generation, slurring her words for woozy effect.
'Goodbye Normal Street'
Steeped in the storytelling tradition of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, these Oklahoma boys turn "Goodbye Normal Street" into an album about blue-collar, small-town America. The music is exactly what you would expect — rootsy rock 'n' roll, with an obvious debt to country music — and the songs find new mileage in familiar topics.
'Cigarettes & Truck Stops'
Although raised in the Toronto suburbs, Lindi Ortega channels the American South on this old-school country album. She sings like Dolly Parton, armed with a fluttery croon that's simultaneously heartbreaking and gorgeous, and she fills her backup band with country veterans, including Johnny Cash's former bassist.
After flirting with country music for years, Brandi Carlile dives headfirst into the genre with this woodsy twang-fest. She plays a troublemaking spitfire on "Raise Hell" and a recovering addict on "That Wasn't Me," sweetening the deal with mandolin, acoustic guitar and gobs of vocal harmony.
Ellie Goulding's second album builds a bridge between dance music and art-pop, combining the sounds of an Ibiza nightclub — thumping bass lines, bubbling keyboards, electronic drums — with harp solos and New Age arrangements. It's easy to point out the similarities to Kate Bush and Bjork, but Miss Goulding blazes her own path thanks to a sprightly, otherworldly voice.
Recorded with the assistance of her boyfriend, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, "Voyageur" adds some muscle to Kathleen Edwards' modern-day folk-rock. The songs are laced with keyboards and strings, and they reach far beyond the twangy genres that have been Miss Edwards' bedrock for years. "Change the Sheets" is an unabashed pop tune, filled with the same anthemic uplift as a Coldplay single, and "Mint" finds her channeling the harder sounds of Sheryl Crow.
After 50 years of heavy use, Bob Dylan's voice has turned into the sort of dusty, damaged thing you'd find in an antiques shop, its charm still present despite all the imperfections. On "Tempest," he rasps his way through a mix of Depression-era folk music and vintage-sounding country tunes. This is the stuff he grew up listening to, and he resurrects these bygone genres with class, whether he's channeling Louis Armstrong on the ragtime rocker "Duquesne Whistle" or borrowing a few lines from the Mississippi Sheiks.
Like a slow-motion collision of pop and psychedelic rock, "Lonerism" finds Tame Impala channeling the Beatles by way of the Flaming Lips. Multitracked vocal harmonies, astral guitar riffs and keyboards float leisurely into the ether, threatening to take you with them. Gorgeous.
She may be a grown-up, but Taylor Swift still wants to be the princess of country music, singing about the kind of innocent, starry-eyed love that's more reminiscent of high school flings than adult romance. As a result, "Red" sounds a bit adolescent, filled with PG-rated breakup songs and family-friendly girl anthems. The hooks are undeniable, though, and Miss Swift pulls genres such as alt-rock and dub-step under her country umbrella. She's never sounded so eclectic, and if "Red" prizes variety over maturity, it's an easy sin to forgive.