Artist: Cider Sky, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Fall (single), 2012
Notes: A side project from two solo artists - Londoner Shridhar Solanki (he's the guy) and Simon Wilcox (she's the gal) from Hamilton, Ontario. Their song 'Northern Lights' was featured in the movie, 'The Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 1', which was followed by a splendid 6-track EP 'King'.
Artist: RayLand Baxter, Nashville, TN
Album: Feathers & Fishhooks, 2012
Notes: Bearing a passing resemblance to Lesley Duncan's gorgeous 'Sing Children Sing', comes a sweet and earnest number from a former Loyola University lacrosse star turned singer/songwriter. Charmingly, his father, Bucky Baxter - who's played with Dylan, Ryan Adams and Steve Earle among many others - lends a hand on pedal steel throughout his son's long-player.
Song: Born To
Artist: Jesca Hoop, Los Angeles, CA
Notes: One of the best percolating cuts of the year. The singer/songwriter guitarist was born to Mormon parents in Northern California before becoming nanny to the children of Tom Waits, who described her music as 'like going swimming in a lake at night'. Since her 'Silverscreen Demos' in 2004, she has released three more albums and two EPs. More at www.jescahoop.com.
Artist: Snow Patrol, Northern Ireland
Album: Fallen Empires, 2012
Notes: Standout ballad from the band's latest long-player. Written by lead singer Gary Lightbody after his sister had children and described by him as 'trying to see the world through childish eyes and see what you really want rather than all the crap that doesn't matter'.
Song: Another Life To Lose
Artist: Greg Laswell, San Diego, CA
Album: Landline, 2012
Notes: From the opening arpeggio piano part to Jerry Roe's sublime drumming, this track from his brilliant latest album storms along influenced by the singer/songwriter's fondness for hip-hop while working on the project. Record at his parents-in-law's house in Maine and called 'Landline' because he was unable to get any cell-phone reception while there.
Artist: Emeli Sande, Scotland
Album: Our Version Of Events, 2012
Notes: First played anywhere in the US on L&F, she's had a breakout year in the UK, singing a stunning version of 'Abide With Me' at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, thoughtfully edited out of the NBC coverage. The former medical student recently married a marine biologist from Montenegro.
Song: The Daylight
Artist: Andrew Belle, Nashville, TN
Album: The Daylight (EP), 2012
Notes: The Nashville-based singer/songwriter constantly turns out first rate pop/rock music and this is no exception. He recently established his own 1L Music company, on which his own music appears as well as new signing Matt White - do check it out: www.1L-music.com.
Song: St. Croix
Artist: Family of the Year, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Loma Vista, 2012
Notes: Bursting with smart hook-filled West Coast indie pop/rock, the group is truly maturing into a top-flight combo. The indie folksters were formed just three years ago by Welsh-born brothers, frontman Joseph and drummer Sebastian Keefe, who grew up on Martha's Vineyard. Vocalist Christina Schroeter and James Buckey round out the quartet.
Song: I Was Gonna Marry You
Artist: Tristan Prettyman, San Diego, CA
Album: Cedar + Gold, 2012
Notes: A former Roxy model whose recent ups and downs inspired much of her latest album. Diagnosed with vocal cord polyps after the release of her 2008 album 'Hello,' she was briefly engaged (from December 2010 to June 2011) to singer Jason Mraz. This song pretty much covers what she has to say on that subject ('Just so you know just so you know, I never thought you'd let me go'). A simply divine outing which should be released as her next single.
Song: It's Cool
Artist: Presets, Australia
Album: Pacifica, 2012
Notes: Another terrific track from the electronic duo comprising keyboardist/singer, Julian Hamilton and keyboardist drummer, Kim Moyes, who met at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1995, while studying classical music. Their love of 1980s music is clearly shown here with this New Order-influenced track.
Song: Hey Jesus
Artist: Tyler Hilton, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Forget The Storm, 2012
Notes: A quiet gem from the singer/songwriter's first full album in eight years - and worth the wait. Still so underrated, he's got an uncanny gift for crafting simple, memorable melodies and smart lyrics, delivered with a strong raspy voice. More at www.tylerhilton.com.
Song: Good Looking Loser
Artist: Meiko, Roberta, GA
Album: The Bright Side, 2012
Notes: A change of direction on the follow-up to her 2008 self-titled debut. With the help of Belgian producer Styrofoam, known for his work with The Postal Service and Jimmy Eat World, her new album is replete with electronic beats. In her own words: ''The new songs were all born on the guitar, but I wanted to make this record a little more lively.
Song: Running Down The Aisle
Artist: Morning Parade, England
Album: Morning Parade, 2012
Notes: First class alternative rock, with an arresting coda, from a promising new band from London. Formed in 2009 and fronted by lead singer and guitarist, Steve Sparrow, they toured the US the past couple of months, opening for the Smashing Pumpkins. They'll be on the road again in February and March with Anberlin. More at www.morningparade.com
Song: I'll Love You
Artist: Andrea Davidson, Louisville, KY
Album: Inspirit (EP), 2012
Notes: Outstanding new ballad: it takes a lot of confidence and a steady mind to write and perform a song this simple, this restrained, this perfect. If you like her, book her for one of her house concerts. She'll come to your home and perform - barefoot as always, with your guests making a donation on arrival. More at www.andreadavidson.net.
Artist: Josh Osho, England
Album: L.I.F.E., 2012
Notes: Old school new school R&B from a singer only just out of his teens with a musically and lyrically uplifting track with a terrific rap from actor/writer/comedian Childish Gambino. The son of Nigerian parents brought up in South London, he toured with Emeli Sand� last year and is currently working with Sir Tom Jones.
Song: Oh My Honey
Artist: Sara Jackson-Holman, Bend, OR
Album: Cardiology, 2012
Notes: Classically-trained pianist, singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon offers a sweet, simple pause for thought. Signed to the Expunged Records label which is run by that fab group Blind Pilot. Overall, this new album, produced by Keith Schreiner, sees the Oregonian move into a more electronic direction.
Song: Cooling of the Embers
Artist: Missy Higgins, Australia
Album: The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, 2012
Notes: Painful, all-too-real observations about her grandmother living in a retirement home suffering from dementia and heading towards life's end, slipping away.
Song: How Do You Ruin Me
Artist: Black Prairie, Portland, OR
Notes: Lovely chanson Franco-phile accordion and strings gracing this haunting number. Three of their five members are also alumni of the Decemberists.
Song: In The End
Artist: Royal Concept, Sweden
Album: The Royal Concept (EP), 2012
Notes: A mighty slice of anthemic melodic modern rock from yet another fascinating combo hailing from Scandinavia. Originally called the Concept Store, they're a tight foursome fronted by singer/guitarist, David Larson.
Song: Another You
Artist: Mozella, Detroit, MI
Notes: Trademark Motown sound on a knockout track from her collaboration with the legendary Brian Holland - one third of the iconic Holland/Dozier/Holland hitmaking team of the 1960s and '70s.
Song: Back With Me
Artist: Jason Reeves, Nashville, TN
Album: Songs Are Silent Films, 2012
Notes: A native of Texas who moved to Iowa City when he was three and then to California in 2005, where he began co-writing with Colbie Caillat. Having been signed, then dropped by Warner Bros., he released his current album on his own abeautifularmyoftrees label.
Song: Favourite Thing
Artist: Yuna, Malaysia
Album: Yuna, 2012
Notes: Superb fresh folk-pop-soul from rising Asian songstress, Yunalis Zarai, who describes herself as a cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay. Shades of Dido, she began writing English songs at 19 while studying at law school. Her outstanding maiden English-speaking CD is produced by Pharrell Williams.
Artist: Echocell, Orange County, CA
Album: Babylon (EP), 2012
Notes: An ace rather hypnotic chorus by the fresh synth-pop duo of singer Belinda Kazanci and electronic whiz/producer, Adam Beltran, who came out of Orange County in 2000. They describe their music as 'a catalyst fusing the organic with electronic environment, combining darkness, light and everything in between'.
Artist: Saturdaysun, England
Album: Seagull (EP), 2012
Notes: Too good, a completely unknown, obscure A+ acoustic nu-folk ballad showcasing the vocal grit and instrumental craft of a new British quartet, led by vocalist Alex Hedley. Taking their name from a Nick Drake song, they claim they got together because of 'a mutual love of roast potatoes.' They're in the process of recording their debut album which should see the light of day in 2013. More at www.saturdaysunmusic.co.uk.
Song: Merry Go 'Round
Artist: Kacey Musgraves, Golden, TX
Notes: An unabashed blue collar Country tale but with a charming lilt, clever lyrics and some plucky banjo. Texan gal in her early '20s just getting started on her career, opened for Lady Antebellum on a tour of Great Britain last year and tipped for big things.
Song: Eat Dirt
Artist: Susan Justice, Aruba
Album: Eat Dirt, 2012
Notes: An all-too-real autobiographical account of a questioning teenager trying to break free from a cultish upbringing, domineering parents and trying to break free from religious dogma. Very promising maiden album by the literate songstress.
Song: Keep It On The Inside
Artist: Matthew Perryman Jones, Levittown, PA
Album: Land of the Living, 2012
Notes: One of several worthwhile cuts on his fifth album, partially funded through Kickstarter. Since performing his first gig at the venerable Eddie's Attic acoustic venue in Atlanta in 1997, he has produced a collection of fine music, often heard on US TV, but he still remains largely unknown.
Artist: Rachael Yamagata, Arlington, VA
Album: Heavyweight, 2012
Notes: Another authentic emotional, effortless affair. Such an intelligent, clever script to all of her work, this has a simple piano backing, wrapped in a gorgeous string arrangement, all honeyed up by one of the best voices around.
Song: Everything Is Gone
Artist: Liz Longley, Boston, MA
Album: Inside This Song (EP), 2012
Notes: A graduate from the esteemed Berklee School of Music in Boston, described by the Washington Post as 'destined for a larger audience.' Even John Mayer is a fan, calling her music 'gorgeous, simply gorgeous.'
Artist: Cary Brothers featuring Priscilla Ahn, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Covers Vol. 1 (EP), 2012
Notes: Outstanding ballad, an extraordinary, unrecognizable reimagining of the raucous 2004 alternative-rock hit by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a new treatment from the Nashville-born singer's fabulous new collection of cover versions, teasingly titled 'Vol. 1.'
Artist: Regina Spektor, Russia
Notes: Underscored with her own marvellous piano playing and producer Mike Elizondo's upright bass, the singer's on top vocal form with a song about someone trying to come to terms with losing her dearest love, unable to even consider finding a new one.
Artist: Tegan & Sara, Canada
Album: Closer (single), 2012
Notes: Identical twins now in their early '30s, who began performing together at the age of 15 under the name Plunk. Initially signed to Neil Young's Vapor Records label and have released five fascinating and increasingly successful albums since bowing in 2000.
Artist: Keane, England
Album: Strangeland, 2012
Notes: It's been eight years since the band's 'Hopes And Fears' debut, when they were hailed as the next big thing. There have been a few missteps along the way, but they came back in 2012 after a four-year recording hiatus with arguably their best album to date. Singer Tom Chaplin has never been in better voice. Catch them on their US tour through January.
Song: What Went Wrong
Artist: Until June, Hollywood, CA
Album: Young And Foolish, 2012
Notes: Throwback atmospheric gem from a trio comprising brothers Josh and Dan Ballard and Daniel Dempsey. Starting as Juune in 2002, the band has been quiet for five years, since their song 'What I've Done' was featured on 'Grey's Anatomy.'
Artist: Bill Fay, England
Album: Life Is People, 2012
Notes: One of the most heartwarming stories of 2012. A British singer/songwriter who recorded two albums for the legendary Deram Records in 1970 and 1971, and was then dropped by the label. He went back into the studio in the late '70s, the material from which didn't see the light of day until 2005. Rediscovered by American producer Joshua Henry, his new album is an absolute gem.
Song: The A Team
Artist: Ed Sheeran, England
Album: Plus, 2011
Notes: First played in the US on Lost & Found (in 2011 !), an exceptional tale about the sad plight of a young street girl addicted to hard drugs, a superb paean to the wasteland of street drug culture from the 21-year-old Englishman. Last year he raised more than $65,000 from a gig for the charity One25, which encourages prostitutes to get off the street of the city of Bristol. He's just had two of his songs on the latest One Direction album, and will be touring the US as Taylor Swift's opening act, beginning in March.
Song: Ordinary World
Artist: Cary Brothers/Duran Duran, Los Angeles, CA/England
Album: Covers Vol. 1 (EP), 2012
Notes: Another track from his EP of covers, which also includes reworkings of INXS' 'Never Tear Us Apart' and David Bowie's 'Absolute Beginners.' A superb new treatment of the latter-day Duran Duran pop/rock cracker, with some delicious backup work from Laura Jensen, neatly segued into the 1993 original.