Underground heroes, international icons and emerging upstarts all managed to make memorable statements in the Oklahoma music arena in 2012.
The 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth turned discerning ears toward Okemah, while the emergence of singer-songwriter John Fullbright kept them there.
Garth Brooks was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame one month and threw his enthusiastic support behind former bandmate Tom Skinner's self-titled album release the next.
On the national scene, Sooner State-born and bred hit makers Carrie Underwood and All-American Rejects released LPs that showed marked maturation, while local singer-songwriters Camille Harp and John Calvin left me yearning for more with excellent self-released EPs.
Oklahomans were involved in one of the biggest and best compilation albums of the year, as Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies contributed a song to the soundtrack “The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond.”
Oklahomans also were involved in one of the most star-studded and stellar tribute albums of 2012, as Vince Gill, Leon Russell and Ronnie Dunn helped Jamey Johnson with his “Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.”
Oklahoma music was so good in 2012 that it was tough for me to limit my list of top LPs to just 10. So check out the honorable mentions at the bottom of the list:
1. Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound “Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound” (SideOneDummy Records) — The sophomore LP from the Putnam City High School graduate and her aptly named backing band has stayed on my personal playlist since its release way back in February, and I'll probably keep the swaggering romp “Little Red Wagon,” the toasty-warm ballad “Old Italian Love Songs,” the foot-stomping rave-up “Jebediah Moonshine's Friday Night Shack Party” and more in rotation for another 11 months and beyond. The Oklahoma-born and bred chanteuse wasn't bragging in the album's opening number: She is “The Real Thing.”
2. Ray Wylie Hubbard “The Grifter's Hymnal” (Bordello Records) — The 66-year-old Oklahoma-Texas music icon, who was born in Soper, throws down with a raw rock 'n' roll album that is by turns rootsy, bluesy and twangy but always uninhibited, a little bit messy and a whole lot ornery. The album opens with “Coricidin Bottle,” a blazing romp that boasts wicked-smart lyrics including “I got a Coricidin bottle that I use as slide/And a woman sweet as a Tootsie Roll/When she kissing and licking and cussing and a grindin'/Shakes the mortal coil round my amaranthine soul.” The album stays both rowdy and intelligent for 45 solid minutes. Now that's rock 'n' roll.
3. David Byrne and St. Vincent “Love This Giant” (4AD) — We already knew that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer best known for fronting the Talking Heads and the Tulsa-born singer/songwriter/guitarist also known as Annie Clark were individually capable of creating artful pop-rock. But who knew the divergent experimentalists would make such cohesive collaborators, too? Their deliciously brassy duet album goes down like the musical version of a black and tan, with a full serving of Byrne's coolly creative world music wanderings and a full serving of St. Vincent's darkly cerebral guitar rock layered in perfect balance. And all those intricate horns are like the tasty foam topping this heady sonic brew.
4. John Fullbright “From the Ground Up” (Blue Dirt Records/Thirty Tigers) — When the Grammy nominees for Best Americana Album were revealed last month, it quickly became clear that one of these things was not like the others. The Okemah-area singer-songwriter and his Kickstarter-funded studio debut will compete against Bonnie Raitt's “Slipstream,” Mumford & Sons' “Babel,” The Avett Brothers' “The Carpenter” and the self-titled debut from The Lumineers when the golden gramophones are handed out in February. If we're judging on musical merits alone, though, I wouldn't call him an underdog. From the fire-and-brimstone opener “Gawd Above” to the tender piano ballad closer “Song for a Child,” the authentic album Fullbright built proves that he deserves his shot at Grammy glory.
5. JD McPherson “Signs & Signifiers” (Rounder Records rerelease) — The Broken Arrow singer-songwriter got a well-warranted opportunity last year to take his freewheeling brand of retro rock nationwide when Rounder rereleased his celebrated 2010 indie debut. Recorded with vintage microphones into an old 1960s Berlant 1/4-inch tape machine, McPherson's fun fusion of 1950s-inspired rock, old-school R&B and rockabilly still sounds as fresh and classic as ever. Plus, the rerelease gave the Talihina-bred musician the richly deserved chance to reach a national audience, top the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart and appear as the musical guest on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “Conan.”