2022: Crazy Times

by Jason Warburg

Twenty twenty-two was a year when it seemed like chaos reigned pretty much everywhere, and we were all spun in circles by the lingering uncertainty we’re forced to wade through every day. In the midst of it all, music once again proved to offer so much: a salve for the soul, a source of insight, a reason to dance. And while there wasn’t that one singular album that carried me through the year like there sometimes is, my Best Of 2022 list quickly filled up with an abundance of high-quality material. In that regard, one program note: several albums I enjoyed very much this year don’t show up here because they’re half a century or more old—though I still managed to sneak a couple of non-2022 albums in. And off we go…


I Missed Again Award

Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

I’m slow sometimes; this is widely known. It took me two years to catch up to this terrific 2020 album by Chris Stapleton, already ably reviewed by my colleague Jeff Clutterbuck. Still, it was one of my favorite listens this year. “…nobody wins afraid of losing / And the hard roads are the ones worth choosing / Some day we'll look back and smile / And know it was worth every mile.”


Jazz Continuing Education Award

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery – Jimmy & Wes / The Dynamic Duo

The highlight of my jazz listening this year arrived in the form of this 1967 team-up between organist Jimmie Smith and guitarist Wes Montgomery, a pair of world-class talents whose interplay brings out the best in both players.


Comeback Of The Year Award

The Rave-Ups – Tomorrow

It’s true; I’m a sucker for a good comeback story. The Rave-Ups, a second-half-of-the-’80s power-pop group that rose quickly and flamed out soon after, delivered an astonishingly strong comeback album. “So often long-dormant groups struggle to recapture the spark and fire that made them special in the first place. Not this band; these guys play like 1992 was yesterday.”


Potential Fulfilled Award

American Aquarium – Chicamacomico

One of those albums that feels like a culmination of everything the artist has been striving for up to now. “Loss and resilience—along with the possibility of growth and redemption—are pretty much American Aquarium singer/songwriter/bandleader BJ Barham’s wheelhouse… the most mature, thoughtful, and accomplished American Aquarium album yet.”


Spirit of New Orleans Award

Trombone Shorty – Lifted

“You might expect someone whose principal instrument is trombone to play jazz, and some of these songs have a jazzy feel in places, but Trombone Shorty’s musical vision is widescreen and all-inclusive in way that can feel both startling and obvious… a bravura piece of music-making from a New Orleans original.”


Leaving A Legacy Award

David Longdon – Door One

Eulogizing artists I admire is something I’ve come to accept in recent years as a painful but necessary step. In the final album of his tragically shortened career, Big Big Train frontman Longdon delivers “both an excellent piece of work and a fitting coda for a life well lived,” an album’s worth of deeply personal, Tears For Fears-inflected progressive pop.


Indies Of The Year

(I couldn’t pick between these two… so I didn’t.)

Last Charge Of The Light Horse – Octet

Another remarkable collection of songs from the great Jean-Paul Vest, this time a jangly, luminous meditation on the human need for connection.

Pete Mancini – Killing The Old Ways

“Mancini’s strongest outing yet, a rangy, penetrating, consistently tuneful examination of the current American moment that leaves no doubt you are in the hands of a gifted artist.”


Indies Of The Year / Honorable Mention (in alpha order)

Amy Correia – As We Are (EP)
"...a strong showcase for Correia’s abundant gifts... These songs steadily work their way under your skin like lullabies for the soul."

Gilbert Neal – I’ll See You When I See You
a kaleidoscopic musical journey that’s as entertaining as it is unpredictable, a celebration of the joy of creation..."

Aaron Skiles – Wreckage From The Fire
"...a sense of muscle and swagger... an audacious joyride through six decades of influences that ultimately lands someplace fresh and new..."

Brian Straw – Baby Stars/Dead Languages
"...gripping, intense Americana. For Brian Straw, this set of songs is an exorcism... and you feel those stakes with every note he plays and every word he sings."

Waterslide – Ray EP
a dream landscape full of portent and promise, innocence and guilt, one that’s characteristically both challenging to parse and steadily compelling."

Noam Weinstein -- Undivorceable
"...the sound of a heart breaking and falling to pieces on the floor, only to slowly begin to reassemble itself... both devastatingly honest and immensely tuneful."


Album Of The Year

Big Big Train – Summer Shall Not Fade

The band’s already-legendary 2018 headlining set at Night Of The Prog in Loreley is captured beautifully here on both video and audio. It’s both an emotional experience for longtime fans and a bravura performance worthy of every bit of love that went into this top-shelf presentation.


Album Of The Year / Honorable Mention (in alpha order)

Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet
A strong and diverse album that unfortunately also served as the capstone for David Longdon’s tenure with the band.

Death Cab For Cutie – Asphalt Meadows
Another set of intense, quirky, richly melodic songs from the incomparable Ben Gibbard and company.

Dim Gray – Firmament
The next generation of prog-influenced indie rock is in good hands with these three lads from Norway.

Fastball The Deep End
Because thoughtful power-pop is the best power-pop.

Kirk FletcherHeartache By The Pound
Tracing the continuing growth of talented bluesman Kirk Fletcher.

Sammy Hagar & The Circle – Crazy Times
Mature and reflective suits the eternally-rocking Hagar better than you might expect, and he gets sterling support here from The Circle and producer Dave Cobb.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Live At The Fillmore, 1997
A terrific set chronicling a remarkable run, and one that leaves you wondering what other gems may remain in the Petty vaults.

Snarky Puppy – Empire Central
Soaring, adventurous, surprising, delightful modern jazz from this super-sized collective.

The Most Fun I Had All Year Awards

Larry Lynch: The Daily Vault Interview
A great performer, a great guy, and a bundle of great memories.

Pete Mancini: The Daily Vault Interview (2022)
Another fascinating conversation with one of my favorite indie singer-songwriters.

The Spinners – The Very Best Of The Spinners
I mean, COME ON. Some of the finest Philly soul ever recorded.

Foreigner – Head Games
After 25 years, the word “dunderheadedness” finally made it into one of my reviews.

Books & Music Awards

Among my favorite reads this year were three novels largely set in the world of music, and a fourth book offering an in-depth analysis of a critical juncture in modern popular music:

Songs By Honeybird by Peter McDade (my review)

We Are All Together by Richard Fulco (my review)

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other And Changed Music Forever by Luke Meddings

Happy 2023!

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