Top Twelve Albums of 2012: An Old Headbanger's Point of View
With another year behind us, it is a good time to reflect on some of the best music of the past twelve months. There was a time when my top choices for album of the year would have included only the heaviest of the heavy, but the years have... well, I prefer the phrase "refined my tastes" as opposed to "mellowed me out." However you put it, there is little doubt that my current choices show a wider diversity than the choices of my younger years.
But that doesn't mean I have forgotten how to rock. My choices this year still include some great hard rock and metal, but they also include some artists who deliver their intensity in a different way. Maybe most people will not care for everything on my list, but then again, maybe I will help someone on that journey to discover there is beauty in more than just a crushing guitar riff. So without further ado and in no particular order, here are a dozen of what I feel are the year's best albums...
Lita Ford - Living Like a Runaway
It may be more than three decades since Lovely Lita was a member of the legendary Runaways, but she has never lost that special something that makes her one of the hottest ladies of rock 'n' roll. Her latest album includes her usual mix of ballads and rockers that will satisfy the varied tastes of her more mature fans without sacrificing the hard edged riffs that have long been her trademark. Best songs include "Devil in My Head," "A Song To Slit Your Wrists By," "Hate," "Mother" and the title track. A rousing cover of Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back" closes the album in Lita's uncompromising style.
Flotsam & Jetsam - Ugly Noise
Flotsam & Jetsam turned to the Internet to raise money to release their new album by having fans pledge funds before the album was recorded. Those fans received the album first and were almost certainly pleased with the results. The line-up for the new album was back to the line-up found on Drift and High and not surprisingly this is the best Flotsam & Jetsam album since those two masterpieces. Best tracks include "Run and Hide," "Rabbits Foot" and the amazingly awesome "I Believe."
The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
The Avett Brothers' new album continues their journey into legendary status with another batch of amazing compositions from one of the most original and talented bands to come along in years. Leading off with the phenomenal "The Once and Future Carpenter," the album only gets better with the second track, the instant classic "Live and Die." Banjos, cellos, guitars and more meld into a symphonic euphoria throughout this incredible album. Other great songs on the album are "Paul Newman Vs. the Demons," "Down with the Shine" and "Life."
Hardbone - This Is Rock 'N' Roll
I seem to have an unwritten rule that my list each year will include either an AC/DC album or a decent substitute for the same. With no Acca Dacca album out this year and no Krokus or Airbourne album to take its place, that honor falls to Hardbone with their sophomore release This Is Rock 'N' Roll. Lead vocalist Tim Dammann does an excellent job channeling Bon Scott on this raucous album full of youthful energy and rock and roll aggression. Tracks like "Grave Digger," "Young Blood," "Girls & Gasoline" and the title track make this an appropriate follow-up to the band's impressive debut album, Dirty 'N' Young.
Black Country Community - Afterglow
When a supergroup forms, they face a daunting tasks as everyone expects that band to be greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, this is very rarely the case. But when Glenn Hughes (ex-Trapeze, ex-Deep Purple, etc.) and Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theatre) joined forces with solo artist and guitarist extraordinaire Joe Bonamassa and Jason Bonham, the son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, something magical happened. With Afterglow, the band's third release, the band has found a smooth groove that allows them to grow while still maintaining a vibe that consistent with their former releases. This is the best album yet from the band and that is really saying something!
Tygers of Pan Tang - Ambush
When Tygers of pan tang released their first album, I was in high school and it was one of those heaviest of the heavy kind of albums that made my top albums that year. But after original vocalist Jess Cox left the band, things headed downhill as far as I was concerned. Replacement Jon Deverill was a decent vocalist and the band put out some decent albums, but nothing that really excited me. Deverill ended up staying with the band longer than Jess Cox did and many probably consider him part of the band's classic lineup, but it just did not work for me.
Several singers later, the band settled on Jacopo Meille in 2004 and he has been with the band ever since. Though guitarist Robb Weir is the only original member left, the rest of the lineup has been unchanged for more than a decade. This consistency seems to have paid of with the release of Ambush. Tracks like "Rock & Roll Dream" and "Hey Suzie" recall something of the earliest days of the band without sounded dated or at all "retro." Definitely a great album for those who miss the heyday of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Waylon Jennings - Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings
They say legends never die and I suppose this newest posthumous release from Waylon Jennings might be proof of that. Songs like "If My Harley Was Runnin'," "Friends in California" and the title track are classic Waylon. He may have left us a decade ago, but his rough-edged Texas drawl and distinctive outlaw style are as welcome as ever and a refreshing return to better days in many ways. This not the best Waylon album ever, but it certainly holds it own and stands up as one of the best albums out this year.
Texas Hippie Coalition - Peacemaker
Texas Hippie Coalition is one of the most aggressive heavy metal bands to come along in quite some time but that aggression is sweetened by just a little bit of Southern charm. Lead vocalist Big Dad Ritch growls out most of his lyrics in that style that often sounds cliched and overused these days, usually masking a singer's limitations. But it works for THC and adds just the right touch of gravel to the band's self-proclaimed "red dirt metal" style. "Damn You to Hell," "Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll," "Outlaw" and the masterpiece "Paw Paw Hill" are all superior yunes, but then again there is not a bad song on this excellent album.
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Last of a Dyin' Breed
Lynyrd Skynyrd has been around a long time and survived more tragedy than anyone likes to remember, but the simple fact is every album this band puts out has to live up to the legacy of Ronnie Van Zant to be considered a true Skynyrd album. That is not an easy task and I have to say I have not felt that everything they have released has done that. But Last of a Dyin' Breed most certainly does. This is an album Ronnie would have been proud of. Songs like "Ready to Fly," "Poor Man's Dream" and the title track are prime examples of Southern rock perfection. Somewhere above, a free bird is flying high with a big ol' grin on his face.
L.A. Guns - Hollywood Forever
With two versions of L.A. Guns choose from, I always choose whichever version has Phil Lewis singing. I know the band took its name from guitarist Tracii Guns, but then the argument could be made that so did Guns 'N Roses. I was a fan of Phil when he was singing with Girl and he was the reason I checked out L.A. Guns in the first place. So when I picked up Hollywood Forever, I was overjoyed to discover that it is one of the band's best.
Every song on the album just reeks of Hollywood sleaze. It simply revels in the glam metal that it is with no pretensions that it might be anything else. Phil is in top form and rips out tracks like "Queenie" and "You Better Not Love Me" as if he were still strutting down the Sunset Strip with a California blonde on each arm and a major label record deal in his pocket. Maybe a decade or two has passed since those days, but you would never know it from listening to this record.
Kiss - Monster
One of the first albums I ever owned was Rock and Roll Over by Kiss. That album is still one of my all-time favorites. I doubt that Kiss will ever be able to return to the epic heights of their heyday, but their last few albums have been nothing to be ashamed of. Sonic Boom was my favorite Kiss album without Ace Frehley and this, that album's follow-up, while not quite up to that level, is still a fine example of what rock and roll is all about.
It is hard to pick favorites on this one, but "Take Me Down Below" stands out with its shared vocals between Paul and Gene. I always liked that on tunes like "She," "Firehouse" and "Shout It Out Loud." Other great songs on Monster include "The Devil Is Me," "Shout Mercy," "Freak" and the Tommy Thayer tune, "Outta This World," which sounds an awful lot like an Ace Frehley track. Tommy, buddy, that Spaceman make-up might be soaking in a little too deep...
Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth
I have never been a fan of "Van Hagar" though I cannot say it is because I do not like Sammy. His solo stuff ranges from pretty good (VOA, Red Voodoo) to freakin' awesome (Sammy Hagar, Three Lock Box) and his time with Montrose was definitely their best years. But somehow he just never clicked with Van Halen for me. So I was very much looking forward to David Lee Roth's return to the band and this, their first album in more than 13 years.
Happily, the album did not disappoint. From the first notes of lead single and opening track "Tattoo" through the final decibels of closer "Beats Workin'," A Different Kind of Truth delivers 100% classic Van Halen. Choosing the best tracks is almost impossible as every song has strength, but my current favorites include "You and Your Blues," "Blood and Fire" and "The Trouble with Never." It probably helps that several of these songs have roots going back to the band's earliest days, but there is still enough fresh material here to leave fans hoping that Diamond Dave will stick around for another album or two.