Best Albums of 2022

Time for my annual post of my favorite albums released over the last twelve months. Each December, I look back over the music of that particular year and identify my favorite albums. (If you want to look back over my previous rankings, you can find them here or you can work through the archives located on the sidebar.)

If you look back over those lists, you’ll get a feel for the music I love the most: my tastes typically run between indie / alternative rock and country. The list will tell you that I’m a big fan of Radiohead, Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash and anything released by The War on Drugs. But sometimes I’ll come across an instrumental album that really grabs me; Khruangbin’s 2018 release, Con Todo El Mundo, for instance, or Sigur Ros’s 1999 masterpiece, Agaetis Byrjun. This is one of those “instrumental” years thanks to Jackson Bybee’s moving release, evergreen. Despite some strong opposition from fellow Huntsville native Matthew Houck’s The Full Moon Project and Jackson Dean’s stellar Greenbroke, evergreen stands out to me as the most emotionally affecting recording of 2022.

Here’s the full list, complete with some of my comments.

  1. Jackson Bybee, evergreen. After the release of his second album, wildflower, earlier in the spring, I doubt anyone expected Jackson to release yet another album this calendar year. But after pouring his heart and soul into this batch of new songs, he surprise-released it almost one month ago to near-universal acclaim. I would argue that this overwhelming response is evidence of Jackson’s growth as an artist. Pat McRight, a good family friend and a collaborator on many of these songs, described this growth as a shift “from loops to layers.” Sonically, this move is evident in evergreen’s key-work, which evokes a warmer ambience than any of Jackson’s earlier music. In my interview with him prior to evergreen’s release, Jackson mentioned his intentional focus on the connections we experience with people and places. These are what make up the seasons of our lives. Album openers “walden” and “acadia” situate this recording in an autumnal landscape, the unhurried pace reminiscent of a leisurely walk through the woods. This same vibe is felt on the closing title track, as “evergreen” has the listener marveling at the evergreen’s persistence in the face of dawning winter. (I love that image of hope.) But in between these tracks are copious references and homages to the people in our lives, and this is where evergreen truly flies. “i love you always” is an ode to Jackson’s mother, Sunny, and the melody perfectly encapsulates both her sweetness as well as her playfulness. I loved it the first time I heard it. “mimi” is an elegant ode to Jackson’s great-grandmother, Cyclister Shates, who lived with us for a period of time several years ago. This stately piano piece perfectly captures the spirit of this strong but refined woman of grace. (Fun fact: we’ve decided it can also double as a Christmas song!) My favorite track, though, has to be cash and I doubt I’ll be able to fully express what this song means to me. Jackson’s middle name is “Cash” which is a word with many different meanings, one of which is “peace.” But more than that, the name points to my Dad and one of his heroes, Johnny Cash. Cash was something of an outsider, an advocate for the neglected, the overlooked, the forgotten. That resonated with my Dad and it resonates with me to this day. And then there’s the music. Some of my fondest childhood memories are those moments with my Dad, his guitar propped on his knee, singing Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line. These songs served as the soundtrack for my childhood and my relationship with my Dad. When it came time to name Jackson, the idea of “Cash” as a middle name seemed appropriate for the kind of relationship I hoped to have with my youngest son. So you can imagine how excited I was to see a song titled “cash” on the evergreen track listing. Jackson had been digging back into our family line on the Bybee side and he found some poetry: some written by my grandmother; some written by my father (which hangs on the wall in my office); and some written by me. Of course, Jackson had been writing his own poetry / lyrics for quite some time, so there was special resonance to this, prompting him to think of the line “a poet with power, in every generation.” He wrote “cash” as his way of honoring these forebears on the Bybee side — including some lines of poetry recited by my grandmother, Hilda Bybee at the beginning and end. But my favorite moment is the crescendo at 3:07 as the synth solo comes in to accompany the other layered instruments in this beautiful melody. Jackson says that those keys represent his entrance in this long line of creatives from whence he’s come. He’s never met my Dad and my grandmother, yet he honors them so well while also making this work distinctly his own. It brings a smile to my face every time. It is safe to say that no song released this year has carried as much emotional weight for me as this one. And there are so many other pieces I love: the swelling guitar solo in “living proof”; the beauty-from-chaos of “closure”; the quieter and more reflective tone of “flume.” It’s truly a great recording and I’ve loved having such an up close look at the creative process from start to finish. Jackson Bybee’s evergreen is hands down my 2022 Album of the Year.
  2. Phosophorescent, The Full Moon Project. I think this is a cool idea for an album: one song released each full moon for an entire calendar year. That’s the approach Matthew Houck took for the latest release for his Americana / indie project Phosphorescent. I’ve really enjoyed this collection of covers, ranging from Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” to the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” to late-era Bob Dylan on “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.” I think the measured, patient approach really paid off, as I would rate this as the best Phosphorescent album yet.
  3. Jackson Dean, Greenbroke. Six months ago, I had never heard of Jackson Dean. But somehow I came across his most recent release and I immediately fell in love with a lot of these songs. “Don’t Take Much” is one of my most played tracks this year. I also love “Wings” and “Superstitious.” I expect to see Jackson Dean’s name sprinkled across these lists for years to come.
  4. Michael McDermott, St. Paul’s Boulevard. I’ve followed McDermott for over 20 years now. His 1995 self-titled album still stands as an absolute masterpiece in my opinion. He has put out some really good music in the last few years, but St. Paul’s Boulevard is a standout of singer-songwriter craftsmanship. The heart of the record contains a trifecta of five-star songs: “The Arsonist,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Meet Me Halfway.” If you’re not familiar with McDermott, do yourself a favor and take 15 minutes to listen to these three songs.
  5. First Aid Kit, Palomino. These ladies deserve to be Americana legends. Love their sound, especially on this new record. It sounds like they’re having the time of their lives on “Out of My Head.”

A few honorable mentions:

  1. Jackson Bybee, wildflower. It’s a good year for the “Jacksons” that I follow on Spotify, apparently. I have probably listened to this album more than any other this year. It still has some of my favorite songs that Jackson has ever recorded.
  2. Hermanos Gutierrez, El Bueno Y El Malo. Great study music.
  3. Ian Noe, River Fools & Mountain Saints. Really love the “Road May Flood / It’s a Heartache” mashup.
  4. Vieux Farka Toure & Khruangbin, Ali. Khruangbin joins forces with a legendary West African guitarist. Jam music ensues.
  5. The Smile, A Light for Attracting Attention. So I’m a huge Radiohead fan, so it should follow that I would love this record. But I don’t love it. It’s just okay.
2022 Best Albums
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