It is that time of year.
As the year concludes those of us who write about music get to reflect and indulge our personal preferences by reviewing the offerings of the past year and providing our perspectives on ‘the year’s best.’ I deliberately avoid the word ‘best,’ and always refer to these as my favourites. Blues, Compilations/Reissues, and Roots in general will follow over the next several days. I start with my greatest love, bluegrass.
I love bluegrass music, and have been involved with it at various levels professionally and not-so-professionally for well over twenty years. But the industry has changed, and I no longer receive as much of the music for review. There was a time when I would review forty or fifty bluegrass albums in a year, and buy almost as many. Now? Barely a dozen reviews and fewer than a handful of purchased new albums—and some of those were catalogue.
Therefore, my Top (Kenny) Baker’s Dozen Bluegrass Albums of 2022 is representative of only what I encountered, that which I was serviced with and that which I sought out and purcha$ed. I am sure there are really strong albums that I missed, ones with big hits and hot picking and singing. However, based on what I heard during a recent two-week offering of SiriusXM, I’m confident that even had I heard more albums from mainstream artists, I would have ended up in a similar place; I would have, however, likely have been able to expand the list to twenty spots: I wish I had heard albums from Laura Orshaw, Tennessee Bluegrass Band, Shannon Slaughter, Infamous Stringdusters, and more.
Each of these albums, depending on tastes, are highly recommended.
1 James Reams Like A Flowing River- James Reams was a bluegrass friend of mine. His passing in June both shocked and saddened me to a degree I am unaccustomed to experiencing for people in whose presence I spent a total of about four hours.
In recent years, we exchanged emails and phone calls once or twice annually—as he did with many, I know—but I always left these exchanges feeling better about myself and, in general, life. This artfully curated, two-disc set is a fitting capstone to a 25+ year career in bluegrass. It isn’t perfect, it sure isn’t smooth, but it is everything I want my bluegrass to be—honest, true, original, and inspired. Review here. Serviced CD.
2 The Po’ Ramblin Boys- Never Slow Down One of my favourite bluegrass bands. Review here. Serviced download.
3 Chris Jones & the Night Drivers Make Each Second Count A 2021 release that I didn’t receive for review until well into 2022. This album had 8 #1 radio songs—not many can make that claim. I’m making it fit into this list as I didn’t include it last year. It is a fabulous bluegrass release. Review here. Serviced CD.
4 The Alex Leach Band- All the Way Alex Leach has been part of my bluegrass life since he was in grade school. A WDVX radio host, his Bluegrass Special radio show is a favoured listening destination and has been for years; more frequently now, I wake up to his morning program each day. This album is all killer, no filler. Review here. Serviced download.
5 Peter Rowan- Calling You From My Mountain Few of us can claim to be improving with age. Mr. Rowan could. Review here. Serviced CD.
6 Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway- Crooked Tree Bluegrass with a broader Americana eye (and ear.) A marvelous singer, writer, and instrumentalist, leading a wonderful band of collaborators. Purchased download.
7 Billy Strings and Terry Barber Me/And/Dad A living room album created by some of the finest musicians bluegrass offers. Reminds me a bit of the Wayne Scott album of a couple decades ago. Review here. Serviced download.
8 Cedar Hill- New Chapter Venerable band, no matter who is playing with Frank Ray. Review here. Serviced download.
9 Jim Hurst- From the Ground Up One of my favourite bluegrass voices. Review here. Serviced CD.
10 Dan Tyminski- One More Time Before You Go: A Tribute to Tony Rice Docked a couple places for being only an EP. Review here. Serviced download.
11 Del McCoury Band- Almost Proud Time is passing, and this isn’t the strongest album from the Del McCoury Band. Still, it is good—the performances are mostly enjoyable, but in retrospect (and upon recent listening) the song selection isn’t as stout as we’ve come to expect from Del & ‘Em; the piano bits are superfluous. Review here. Serviced download.
12 Scott Vestal- Bluegrass 2022 Instrumental expertise. Review here. Serviced CD.
13 Junior Sisk- Lost & Alone Consistent. Pretty good songs, solid performances. I’m over the ‘she went out, I think she’s cheating, so I killed her’ songs, but the majority of this set is satisfying. Serviced download.
As always, thanks to all the PR folks, record labels, and artists who took the time to ensure the music got into my hands and ears. All the best in 2023.
2022 Compilations, Tributes, and Archival
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