Song: Sky's Still Blue
Artist: Andrew Belle, Nashville, TN
Album: The Daylight, EP, 2012
Notes: Another Coldplay-recalling corker by the hugely underrated Wheaton, Illinois-born Drew Fortson, aka Andrew Belle who is an accessible, talented and consistently creative singer-songwriter. More at www.andrewbelle.com.
Song: Everyone's Waiting
Artist: Missy Higgins, Australia
Album: The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, 2012
Notes: Outstanding fresh, melodic outing from one of Australia's finest songstresses. Written with Semisonic's Dan Wilson and co-produced by her friend, fellow Aussie and another fine artiste, Butterfly Boucher, the song and its accompanying album is a welcome comeback after a five-year break.
Song: I Might Drop By
Artist: Greg Laswell, San Diego, CA
Album: Landline, 2012
Notes: One of several terrific cuts from his latest album, which features Sara Bareilles, Sia, Elizabeth Ziman, and his wife, Ingrid Michaelson, recorded at a converted church in Maine. More at www.greglaswell.com.
Song: I'm Through
Artist: Ingrid Michaelson, Staten Island, NY
Album: Human Again, 2012
Notes: Opening with a stark string quartet, which leads into a beautiful vocal performance backed by a simple piano part. A heartbreaking, melodic masterclass with wrenching, spare purity. Stunning in its simplicity. If you're in the New York area, catch her live at the Lincoln Center as part of the 'American Songbook' series on March 2nd.
Artist: Famliy Of The Year, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Loma Vista, 2012
Notes: One of the best indie-pop numbers of the year - a highly harmonic outing by a quintet led by Welsh brothers Joseph and Sebastian Keefe. Replete with folk-styled acoustic guitar, a smart hook-filled melody and a summery West Coast sound. It's the kind of record Emitt Rhodes made so brillantly and effortlessly some forty years ago. L&F's Song of the Year.
Song: Mama Sail To Me
Artist: Amos Lee, Philadelphia, PA
Album: As The Crow Flies, EP, 2012
Notes: A typically restrained, poised and rewarding standout track from the eclectic singer-songwriter's third EP - featuring six songs recorded during the 'Mission Bell' sessions but not included on that album. An entrancing mid-tempo ballad with beautiful gospel backing vocals and produced by Calexico's Joey Burns. He gets better with each release.
Song: Dirty Paws
Artist: Of Monsters And Men, Iceland
Album: My Head Is An Animal, 2012
Notes: Highly creative sextet from Iceland who helpfully record entirely in English, fronted by a glorious lead singer, Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, with a fine hook-filled tune with splendid childlike, surreal lyrics ('and once there was an animal, it had a son that mowed the lawn'). They broke through with 'Little Talks' in 2012, but this lost cut is arguably even better.
Song: Leave The Lights On
Artist: Meiko, Roberta, GA
Album: The Bright Side, 2012
Notes: Possessing an engagingly breathy vocal style, the LA-based singer/songwriter with a percolating winner, the lead-off cut from her brilliant sophomore album, released five long years after her splendid debut long-player. In that time, her songs have found their way onto episodes of such tv shows as 'Grey's Anatomy', 'One Tree Hill', '10 Things I Hate About You' and 'Pretty Little Liars'.
Song: Lover Lover Lover
Artist: Races, Van Nuys, CA
Album: Year Of The Witch, 2012
Notes: So refreshing, so crisp, so good - a new modern rock classic by a band already causing a buzz on the club circuit. The six-piece combo was formed by disillusioned then 23-year old, Wade Ryff in 2009. This reworking of the 1973 Leonard Cohen song can be found as a bonus track on their new album. They'll be performing at SXSW in Austin in March. More at www.racestheband.com.
Artist: Churchill, Denver, CO
Album: Change, EP, 2012
Notes: Infectious stylings of Denver-based newcomers, an acoustic indie five-piece which has been together for three years fronted by vocalists Bethany Kelly and Tim Bruns. Catch them on the road during January and February. More at www.churchilltheband.com.
Song: One Lovely Day
Artist: Citizen Cope, Washington, DC
Album: One Lovely Day, 2012
Notes: A lovely languorous cut from a singer the Washington Post regards as 'the city's most soulful export since Marvin Gaye'. Initially a DJ for hip-hop group Basehead, Cope (real name Clarence Greenwood) has been making ace music for the past decade, when he started as a solo artist, not least writing and singing 'Sideways' for Carlos Santana's 'Shaman' album.
Song: Reason With Me
Artist: Sinead O'Connor, Ireland
Notes: Recorded live at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, this ballad about the toil and trouble of drug addiction, co-written with Geoff Smith, finds the incomparable Irish songstress in top form. No matter how troubled her poor soul seems to be (including last year's five-minute marriage and a severe bout of depression), she just can't help but make stunning emotive music. Produced by John Reynolds, the first of her four husbands and father of her son Jake, with whom she continues a strong musical partnership.
Song: Foreign Fields
Artist: Elton John Vs. Pnau, England/Australia
Notes: The singer-songwriter's 1973 vocal 'High Flying Bird' reimagined and recreated. A downright clever resurrection by the young Australian duo of Peter Mayes and Nick Littlemore, who Elton first heard while stuck in traffic in Sydney in 2007. Giving them carte blanche to re-shape his early '70s back catalog, they've wrapped brand new electronic atmospherics and melodies around the original material. The entire album is more of the cunning same.
Artist: Hudson Taylor, Ireland
Album: Battles, EP, 2012
Notes: A bustling nu-folk rumbler with some terrific harmony work by the young brothers, Harry and Alfie, who are based in Dublin. Quite a few Mumford copycats out there at the moment, but this duo are a cut above the rest. More at www.hudsontaylormusic.com.
Song: Summer Romance
Artist: Ren Harvieu, England
Album: Through The Night, 2012
Notes: Sounding not unlike k.d. lang, backed by 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' strings, on a plea not to end a summer romance, written by Illinois band The Redwalls. She made her major bow on the Introducing Stage sponsored by the BBC at the iconic Glastonbury Festival in the UK after first being discovered on her myspace page.
Song: Let Her Go
Artist: Passenger, England
Album: All The Lights, 2012
Notes: A recent single, a restrained acoustic corker showcasing an engaging vocal style from British tunesmith, Mike Rosenberg. Somewhere between One Eskimo and Ed Sheeran (for whom he opened \on a US tour in 2012), the long-time busker recently returned to the UK after a three-year stay in Australia. More at www.passengermusic.com.
Song: Take Me Back
Artist: Mindy Smith, Long Island, NY
Album: Mindy Smith, 2012
Notes: Sweet and simple with no saccharin, no added calories, no trans fats or artificial flavors - one of several Americana rubies on her fifth, but first independently-released album. Some lovely work from pedal steel legend Dan Dugmore. More at www.mindysmithmusic.com.
Song: Please Forgive My Heart
Artist: Bobby Womack, Cleveland, OH
Notes: Defining the word 'soul', a stripped-down new classic from a superb comeback album, his first in 18 years and just named Clash magazine's Album of the Year, which also features duets with Lana Del Rey and the late, great Gil Scott-Heron. Co-produced by the always busy Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame.
Song: The Reason
Artist: Michael Castro, Rockwall, TX
Album: Fly Away, EP, 2012
Notes: Too sad for words, a plaintive acoustic ballad about trying to make sense of another failed relationship and the reason behind it. The former 2009 'American Idol' contestant has had his music featured on tv shows 'Jane By Design' and 'The Bad Girls Club'.
Artist: Lindi Ortega, Canada
Notes: Authentic nu-country with a lovely broken-down rusty truck old school feel to it, though it's brand new, the title cut from her terrific new album, named in several Best Of 2012 lists. A telegenic practitioner of vintage sounding Rockabilly and Country (she has two albums and a superb Christmas EP under her belt to date), she hails from Toronto, but is now based in Nashville.
Song: Enough Time
Artist: Ghosts, England
Album: The End, 2012
Notes: First-rate spanking new music from fresh five-piece British combo. A mid-tempo synth/pop/rock shuffler which should be a hit. Indietronica band was formed last year by former Ou Est Le Swimming Pool member Alex Starling and drummer Ian Palmer, who met at London's Euston Station in December 2010, had coffee and discussed what they 'liked and didn't like about music and used that as a starting point'.
Song: Broken Lines
Artist: Jules Larson, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Let's Stay Young, 2012
Notes: Fine new offering from a fabulous maiden album, which also features a neat cover of Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colors' by the LA-based songstress, who has been eking out a living with live gigs and choice placements of her songs on tv shows and movies such as 'Grey's Anatomy', 'One Tree Hill', 'Pretty Little Liars' and 'The Lucky One'. She has taken great strides since her two EP releases and is certainly a talent to watch.
Artist: Adam Agin, Nashville, TN
Notes: One of several choice selections found on his recent long-player, all rather melancholic, but top-drawer. Sometimes hailed as Nashville's best-kept secret, it took him two years to record the new mini-LP, following on from one EP and two lovely albums to date, composing and finessing tunes at his old dusty house in Music City.
Song: Hearts Content
Artist: Brandi Carlile, Ravensdale, WA
Album: Bear Creek, 2012
Notes: A sweet chorus, a simple ditty, with some beautiful cello playing from Josh Neumann, from her most organic and rootsy outing to date. This time around, she's wisely restrained her otherwise phenomenal and powerful vocal style (if only Michael Bolton had got the same memo).
Song: Sneak Into My Room
Artist: James Levy & the Blood Red Rose, Brooklyn, NY
Album: Pray To Be Free, 2012
Notes: A+ new music blending Levy's deep baritone vocal with guest female vocal by the Pierces' Allison Pierce, backed with deliciousy velvety strings and a pitch-perfect horn arrangement. Levy lives in a basement flat in Brooklyn with no windows, sleeps all day and likes to write about 'death and relationships, and the death of relationships'. The leadoff track from his new album, produced by Coldplay's Guy Berryman, described by one reviewer as 'smouldering'.
Artist: Alberta Cross, Sweden/England
Album: Songs of Patience, 2012
Notes: Sterling new rock cut from a duo featuring the forlorn, soaring vocals and guitar of Petter Ericson Stakee from Sweden and multi-instrumentalist Londoner, Terry Wolfers (though mostly based in Brooklyn). Formed seven years ago after the pair met in a London pub, they have opened for likes of the Mumfords, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and the Shins.
Artist: Imagine Dragons, Las Vegas, NV
Album: Night Visions, 2012
Notes: Another belter from the Vegas-based quartet led by Dan Reynolds (all of whom studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music - except Reynolds), originally from Provo in Utah, now in their fourth year together. Catch them on the road in February and March - details at www.imaginedragonsmusic.com.
Song: It'll Do
Artist: Rachael Yamagata, Arlington, VA
Album: Heavyweight, EP, 2012
Notes: From the opening cascading piano chords, this ultimate ballad detailing the compromise of an everyday love, someone resigned to the middle ground, a relationship devoid of romance or passion - the normalcy of a realistic acceptance of how things are - no princes, no castles, no horses, no fairytales - just a modest bond that will do for now. The standout pearl on her latest EP.
Song: You're The Kind Of Girl
Artist: Lee Fields, Brooklyn, NY
Album: Faithful Man, 2012
Notes: Sensational throwback rhythm and blues by a sorely underrated soul veteran. Hard to believe this is from a brand new album, utterly authentic and winning old school soul underpinned by his ace backing band, the Expressions, who even provide a groovy Jimmy Smith-style organ break. It's even available as a 7 vinyl single.
Song: Theme To The Newsroom
Artist: Thomas Newman, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Not available, 2012
Notes: 90 seconds of instrumental piano/orchestral magic by simply the best living film and television composer/arranger out there and the delightful theme to the banner HBO series 'The Newsroom'. Check out his discography on Wiki. His father Alfred Newman composed the iconic 20th Century-Fox fanfare, and old brother David is no slouch as a movie composer either.
Song: Go First
Artist: Rose Cousins, Canada
Album: We Have Made A Spark, 2012
Notes: Too sad for words, an aching request by a woman in a broken relationship pleading with her partner to be the first to leave. A sorely under-appreciated, highly literate Canadian songstress from Prince Edward Island but now based in Halifax - she's recorded three splendid albums and a brace of lovely EPs since bowing in 2002.
Artist: Presets, Australia
Album: Pacifica, 2012
Notes: An anthemic sea-shanty cracker but set in a modern neon urban context. The electronic duo of keyboardist/singer, Julian Hamilton and keyboardist drummer, Kim Moyes first met at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1995, both studying classical music but both with a shared interest in 1980s pop - its influence certainly noticeable in their work.
Song: Take Me Out Tonight
Artist: Angela McCluskey featuring Morgan Page, Scotland
Album: Lambeth Palace, EP, 2012
Notes: An electro-rock diamond, featuring the Grammy-nominated progressive house and electro house DJ Page, from a superb nine-track EP which is imbued with carefully-crafted moods and changing styles - all top-drawer textures. The Glaswegian, who once worked for EMI Records in London, has been based in Los Angeles since 1993.
Artist: Ben Howard, England
Album: Not available, 2012
Notes: Inventive remix by Canadian Ianborg of a song first played in the US on L&F. Top new talent, his freshman set is brimming with literate evocative, rootsy gems. This unusual remix can be streamed at www.soundcloud.com/ianborg. Not dissimilar to early '70s folkie Duncan Browne, who is lost and not yet found, he will be playing selected dates with Mumford & Sons in February.
Artist: Owl City, Owatonna, MN
Album: The Midsummer Station, 2012
Notes: Gorgeous piano-led ballad by Adam Young (who is Owl City), from his newest album, which includes guests performances from Carly Rae Jepsen and Mark Hoppus. With lyrics better than he's given credit for, the 'Fireflies' hitmaker has a real knack for composing well-crafted melodic pop gems.
Song: Always You
Artist: Ingrid Michaelson, Staten Island, NY
Album: Human Again, 2012
Notes: From L&F's Album of the Year, one of the two bonus tracks from her latest work of art. Just a voice, a piano, some harmonies, the gentlest of backing, a beautiful melody and a tender lyric ('I wait in the rain, But I don't complain, Because I wait for you').