December 2, 2012

A Year in Review: Favorite Albums of 2012

With December here, 2012 is almost over.  What better reason to cap the year off with a review of my personal favorite albums of the year?  Herewith is the run-down:

Amy Winehouse - Amy Winehouse at the BBC. Live recordings of the late Amy and her magnificent band. Mostly the same tunes from her albums, but a few new tracks as well. Possibly my favorite release of 2012, but that could be because I’m still high on its recent release.  Well, I thought about it, and it's still my favorite of the year.

Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society. Oh, what’s not to say about Esperanza? Girl’s got it all, in my humble opinion. I discovered her a few years ago, and still can’t get enough of her sweet, jazz slash R&B sound. A little more R&B influenced than her last album, which had a gentle classical flavor, this album is the perfect French macaron: sweet, tender, and complex.

John Mayer - Born and Raised. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first about this release (it could’ve just been the hair – who knows?), but the album, which sounded single-faceted upon a first listen, unfolded with surprising complexity as I played it over a few times. It’s also a great lazy day album.

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE. If this is the direction R&B is going, I think I’m okay with it. It’s modern, sleek, and perhaps a bit hollow instrumentally, but the result is a deep, dark, sexy, and moody sound. Favorite tracks are "Thinkin Bout You," "Sweet Life," and Benny and the Jets'-inspired "Super Rich Kids."

Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions, Volume 2. A fan from day 1, Joss is R&B’s Susan Tedeschi. This album covers some lesser known soul hits from the 1960s and 1970s. All the tracks are great, but if I had to pick one “Teardrops” is five-star.

R. Kelly - Write Me Back. Yes, really. Some good old-fashioned baby-making music here, and this sister knows: I have an ear for this stuff. “When a Man Lies”, “Fallin’ from the Sky,” and “Feeling Single” are top-shelf in my book.

Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos. A new Steely Dan album would’ve been preferred, but I’ll take Donald any way I can get him. Not a huge departure from his other more recent solo albums, which is a good thing, because there’s nothing out there that sounds quite like him.

The Weeknd – Trilogy. A collection of modern R&B in a similar vein as Ocean’s channel ORANGE, except that this album is even darker, deeper, and more melancholy, with strong sexual and drug-infused undertones. The three-disc collection does not have the smoothest sequencing, but if you’re willing to dig, there are standouts that make the album a remarkable timepiece for 2012. Or, I can do the work for you and suggest “Wicked Games,” “Valerie,” and “Twenty Eight.”

Rihanna - Unapologetic (Deluxe version). I don’t know what it is about her, but I scoop everything that she puts out right up. Though not quite as fun as last year's release (Talk That Talk), this is nevertheless some good, bad-girl pop. I don't know about you, but I need a regular Rihanna buzz in my ear when I’m workin' it on the treadmill. Favorite track: “Nobody’s Business.”

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