WHETHER you’re travelling by road, rail, air or sea, a suitable soundtrack makes the going easier, especially on those long journeys to reach your destination, or on the trek back home after your break.
I’m rarely without a handy playlist to suit the mood and I’m always listening out for great new music that excites me, adding to my ever-expanding collection of genres past, present and future.
Here’s a Top 10 list of my favourite albums from 2022, a tradition I’ve maintained ever since I started out in journalism almost 50 years ago. You may like or loathe them but give them a listen.
1. CARDINAL BLACK : January Came Close
Long anticipated debut album from the Cardiff band whose stop-start journey has seen them supporting Myles Kennedy and The Struts, headlining Cardiff Castle, and picking up plaudits. Slash is among the band’s fans, championing guitarist Chris Buck whose gorgeous licks adorn songs spearheaded by the soulful vocals of Tom Hollister. A sublime set in every way.
2. GRADY SPENCER & THE WORK : Wait
Contemporary Americana combining Red Dirt, rock and folk served up by the West Texans now on their fourth album. Spencer quit his construction job to pursue a full time music career in 2020, just as the pandemic locked the world down and tour dates had to be scrapped. I’ve loved all of the band’s albums so far – let’s hope they make it to the UK in 2023.
3. MORGAN WADE : Reckless
She supported The Eagles in Hyde Park this year, headlining the second stage, and it’s only a matter of time until the Virginian singer-songwriter plays the biggest stages. This is the deluxe edition of 2021’s debut album, adding extra tracks and including Wilder Days, rated one of the year’s 10 best songs by Rolling Stone. Check out the Wilder Days video here, and here she is live…
4. WHISKEY MYERS : Tornillo
Superb sixth album from the Texan band who combine southern rock, country and Americana roots – and this time they’ve brought company in the shape of an added horn section adding brass punch to their riffs. The Mariachi band who open the album just happened to be playing in a Tornillo street outside the studio, so Whiskey Myers dragged them in to the sessions!
5. A THOUSAND HORSES : Broken Heartland
The Nashville band serve up a set shot through with unashamed country, classic rock and a shot of Jack Daniels on the side. Not afraid to tie enticing hooks to accessible songs, they list among their influences The Rolling Stones, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Petty and Noel Gallagher. Not prolific, it’s only their third album in 12 years but each one has been worth the wait.
6. WEYES BLOOD : And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Second in a planned trilogy by singer-songwriter Natalie Mering, who has performed under various Weyes Blood guises since 2003. It’s the warmth of her vocal that makes you sit up and pay attention as it cosies up to all manner of lushly produced, occasionally experimental, soundscapes. Her voice has been compared to that of the late Karen Carpenter, although I feel Aimee Mann is nearer the mark.
7. THE WANDERING HEARTS : The Wandering Hearts
The Londoners among the vanguard of the British Americana boom serve up an eponymous debut album that ranges from rootsy retro to 60s Laurel Canyon and never fails to charm. The harmonies at times recall Rumours era Fleetwood Mac as the lead vocal swaps between band members, and the performance is casually tight – a feat few can pull off properly. They supported the Eagles at Hyde Park too.
8. SHAWN WILLIAMS : Wallowin’ In The Night
Heartbreaks and hangovers, break-ups and booze, vices and vulnerability all rub shoulders on the New Orleans singer’s fourth outing that serves as a late rainy night soundtrack. Williams describes her work as “alt-rocka countrybilly serial killer blues” and it covers all the angles of a strong set ranging across genres. Just when you thought you had her figured out, Everything You Stood For goes all Radiohead.
9. EDDIE VEDDER : Earthling
The Pearl Jam frontman’s first solo set in a decade offers guest spots to Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Ringo Starr but they’re just a sideshow for an accessible album that includes some of Vedder’s best vocals yet. Highlights include Tom Petty soundalike Long Way, which just happens to be washed by Heartbreaker Benmont Tench’s trademark organ, and the multitracked anthemic – and aptly titled – Invincible.
10. MIKE CAMPBELL & THE DIRTY KNOBS : External Combustion
Speaking of Tom Petty, longtime sideman Mike Campbell is back with a second helping of his Dirty Knobs that, while reminiscent of his late friend, is not the slavish soundalike session of the band’s debut. Sure, there’s plenty here that Heartbreakers fans will lap up, but also more stretching of musical muscle. Most of the time, regardless, you can hear Campbell & Co having a ball in the recording studio.
There was a whole bunch of albums that narrowly missed the cut, including Bruce Springsteen’s Only The Strong Survive, Skeletons from Brothers Osborne, Dorothy’s Gifts From The Holy Ghost and Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown’s Shake The Roots.
I’ve enjoyed albums by Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts; Patrick Droney; Brigitte Demeyer; Ian Noe; Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams; Amanda Shires; Laura Evans; Chagall Guevara; Neil Young & Crazy Horse; The Hu and everybody’s guilty pleasure, Sam Ryder.
And as I restricted the list to studio albums, a terrific trio of legacy live albums fell by the wayside: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rediscovered At The Albert Hall, the Tom Petty Live At The Fillmore 1979 boxset, and ZZ Top’s Raw rockumentary soundtrack.
Whatever you’re listening to, wherever you’re travelling, have a great Christmas or Happy Holiday. You’ve earned it.