THE AVETT BROTHERS
"The Carpenter" The masterful 2009 album "I and Love and You" was a tough act to follow, but the whip-smart, harmony-loving roots rockers tap another very rich vein, allowing their pop instincts, country roots, and rock energy to mingle like guests at one of the year's most enjoyable parties.
"The Idler Wheel . . . " To paraphrase herself: What she is is what she is, because she does what she does and it is uniquely, joyously her own sphere. Yet, whether soft and tremulous, wild-eyed and flailing, or steely and imperious, Apple extends a hand of accessibility to her personal pop soundscapes.
"Living For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran" Hearing all of Cochran's songs in one place offers a crystalline picture of his many songwriting strengths, including a relatable plainspokenness, an achingly real sense of vulnerability, and sly humor. Johnson wisely enlisted a cast of singers and players — Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and more — who understand those strengths, and the album is a testament to the very concept of timelessness.
"Blunderbuss" With a flair for both grand-scale bombast and intimate late-night confessionals, the longtime band man (the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather) stepped out confidently on his own, moving easily from wobbly old-time boogies to jagged guitar rockers.
While there were many stories about Ocean in 2012, the most compelling narrative was the one found here, in the sumptuous curves of his languid grooves, the allure of his falsetto, and the emotions and imagery of his personal tales.
"Handwritten" If urgency were currency, this New Jersey rock band would be one of the richest in all the land, having pumped out another album that begs to be cranked up loud and sung along with, as a waterfall of words that sound like your own thoughts come tumbling out in a tangle of love, confusion, anger, and joy.
"Boys & Girls" If you couldn't get to one of the quartet's roof-raising, soul-reinvigorating, foot-stomping live shows, in which frontwoman/guitarist Brittany Howard laid it all bare, this buzzed-about debut, bursting with youthful enthusiasm and slow-burning rockers, was a more than acceptable way to pass the time until you could.
"The Truth About Love"
Few current hitmakers know themselves as well as Pink. She traffics in the radio-ready, yet always manages — with the help of key collaborators like Butch Walker, Max Martin, Dan Wilson, and Greg Kurstin — to locate the honest emotions at the core of her hard candy pop. From lighthearted musings to pitch-black despair, from bubblegum-grunge to acoustic balladry, Pink knows her "Truth."
"Locked Down" Whatever mojo Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys worked to relight the fire under Dr. John should be bottled and guarded because the results are a reminder of just how funky, gritty, dark, and delightful the good Dr. can be when he puts his mind to it.
"Human Again" How do you mend a broken heart? Options include writing, laughing, crying, singing, commiserating, ranting, and picking through the wreckage for clues as to what happened and how to avoid those mistakes in the future. Michaelson does all of that and more and, as a bonus, wraps it in hummable pop melodies.
"How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?" The Irish singer-songwriter has endured a tough few years personally, but musically she rebounded in a big way with this vibrant collection that covers her spectrum of interests, from reggae jams to sultry torch songs to full-throttle rockers. Her voice remains a bracing force and her sense of spirit is palpable.