The Rest of My 2012 Favorites

OK, we've got to get moving and talk about the rest of my favorite releases from 2012, because I want to start talking about 2013. Train's leaving the station, so without further fuss, let's get down to bid-ness.

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Hoots & Hellmouth - Salt

The thing about Hoots & Hellmouth is that when you see them live, or even listen to a studio recording, you're having so much fun that you sometimes forget what a beautiful voice Sean Hoots has. The dude sings like a damn angel. Plays guitar like one, too. If you're unfamiliar with this band of folk superheroes from Philadelphia, I'll tell you the thing my son loves most about them: their stomp boards. Hoots and mandolin/keys player Rob Berliner stand on these plywood platforms, which have tambourines zip-tied to them, and when the tempo picks up and the party really kicks into high gear, they start jumping around on them and all hell breaks loose. Anyway, this album is lovely.

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Andrew Combs - Worried Man

I am such a big fan of this kid. He's a wonderful songwriter (he's a staff writer for Razor & Tie Publishing), a gifted guitarist, and his voice oozes so much old soul that it's tough to believe he's only in his 20s. Hell of a nice guy, too. The album includes some of my favorite Combs songs.

SIDE NOTE: I feel like every time I see Andrew, I have to apologize to him for some half-assed nonsense I pulled the time before. Last time I saw him, I said I was sorry for all the tequila I insisted he drink straight out of the bottle when he was in town to play a show with The Kernal and Mechanical River (don't worry; we'll talk about all of them here soon enough). When he comes to town at the end of January to play a show with my favorite 6'7" English pedal steel player, Spencer Cullum, Jr., I'm going to have to say I'm sorry for when he was here a few months ago and I was sitting at the piano with my friend and hollering Jonny Fritz songs at the top of our lungs until 3 a.m. In our defense, we did not know that Andrew had retreated to the living room (through a doorway, buy only about 10 feet from the piano) to go to sleep. Oops. Sorry, Combs.

If you are in the area (South Central PA), Andrew and Spencer will be at Sign of the Wagon on Wednesday, January 30. Ron Gallo (of Toy Soldiers) will play a solo set to open the evening, and I couldn't be more excited about this line-up. Tickets are $10 each and should be purchased in advance (click here!).

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Diamond Rugs - Diamond Rugs

Diamond Rugs is another John McCauley III (of Deer Tick) supergroup (see also: JJ favorite Middle Brother). It includes fellow Tick Robbie Crowell, The Black Lips' Ian Saint Pé, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Dead Confederate's Hardy Morris, and Six Finger Satellite's Bryan Dufresne. When I first heard who was involved in the project, I said, "wait, who is recording with John? That can't be right." I guess it's not necessarily an unlikely group, but it's an interesting mix of people, for sure. I knew John is a big Los Lobos fan, and as the story goes, he met Steve Berlin after a show and asked him to record with him, then got the others on board, and they recorded in Nashville with Adam Landry and Justin Collins (the same guys who produced Middle Brother's album). So all the buzz in 2011 was about Middle Brother, and all the buzz in 2012 was about Diamond Rugs. Wonder what JM3 will have up his sleeve for us this year?

This is a straight-up rock & roll album. John lives in Nashville, and when he travels from his hometown of Providence, RI or other points north back to Nashville, he sometimes stops in York to rest before the next leg of the trip. On one of his visits, he brought the newest Deer Tick album (2011's Divine Providence - holy crap that's a good record; if you don't have it, go get it now. I'll wait.) and the Diamond Rugs album, both still unmastered. We had a little listening party in the living room at Sign of the Wagon and I was so completely blown away, not only by how good each album was, but with the reminder of how incredibly talented and versatile John is. He's become one of my favorite musicians and favorite songwriters over the last few years, and I try not to go too long without seeing him live. I'm always excited to see what he's going to do next.

I think that day we listened to those new albums was the day Pants had followed John around all afternoon, talking his ear off. Pants ADORES John, which might sound a little funny, since John has a reputation of being the quintessential rock & roller. But the fact is, he's also an incredibly nice guy. The funny part to me is that after spending the afternoon hanging out with John, Pants heard someone reference Middle Brother, whom we listen to ad nauseam. Pants looked at John incredulously and said, "wait - you're John from MIDDLE BROTHER??!" He had no idea. To him, John was just a nice dude he was having a good time talking to.

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Will Johnson - Scorpion

Will Johnson is the frontman of Centro-Matic, a Texas band my friend Daniel Markham (One Wolf) turned me onto this year. Johnson's solo record is spare and beautiful, and a gentle companion to a rough day, a happy day, a cold night, or a warm morning.

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Larry and His Flask - Hobo's Lament

I only saved this for last because it's an EP, rather than a full-length album. This is a six-piece from central Oregon that uses folk instrumentation to play punk rock songs. How many bands do you know of who have a banjo, mandolin, and stand-up bass...and were on Warped Tour??

The first time I saw them was when they opened for my beloved Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls in Baltimore. I hadn't heard of them before that night. Two nights later, when I saw the show in New York City, I was as excited to see them again as I was to see FTHC (well...almost). I sent a few angry text messages to friends who have been longtime fans of this band and did not introduce me to their music (I'm looking at YOU, Broken Headphones!), then checked their tour schedule, and lo and behold, they were scheduled to play Harrisburg, PA (about 20 minutes from my house) a few weeks later.

Of all the acts I saw live for the first time in 2012, Larry and His Flask was, far and away, my favorite. BONUS: their lead singer looks like Robert D. Burrito.