Our Critics Pick the Best of 2012

It is always fun at the end of each year to celebrate the best of that year.  And 2012 had a lot of great music. And so we've gathered our music critics to each pick their favorites, which we've assembled below. And our Publisher and Music Editor are each giving their own special honors to the best of the best. 

The toughest part of this is limiting the choices, but here are the selections from Chris Rizik (CR), L. Michael Gipson (LMG), Melody Charles (MC), Colleen Rubino (Colleen), Peggy Oliver (PO) J Matthew Cobb (JMC), Christian John Wikane (CJW)  and Howard Dukes (HD).  Also, each album cover is a link to our review of the album. These are uniformly releases with which you can't go wrong -- or so our critics say. Looking for a Christmas gift for a music lover?  Then spend some time with these winners.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR:

Publisher's Pick: James Brown was called "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," but he had nothing on Sy SmithShe's talented and carries a great sense of style, and in 2012 she became a bonafide headliner, issuing her best and most accessible album, Fast and CuriousBut more than that, she is the ultimate role model for independent artists everywhere. Indefatigable and smart, she has not only survived in an independent career, she's thrived. And she finished the year with a bang, becoming the voice of the Ricky Minor Band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It is just the next step in a career that has constantly moved forward on hard work and vision; she's a virtual school for thousands of other artists who are trying to make it. [Click Here to see Chris's full 2012 in review]

Editor's Pick: Sid Sriram represents a forward-thinking artist who gets it. Talented, well-trained, attractive in an Indian skater boy next door sort of way, Sriram relies on none of these attributes. He hustles. He and his team use every social media and web based tool available to him to build a well-branded career, slowly but surely, staying in the public eye with a steady stream of high quality to voyeuristic content. That the 23-year old sings like a classic soulman twice his age helped make his A Conscious Mind: Live Sessions EP one of the most elegantly moving of 2012. That he went completely left (leaving me behind) with his sonically experimental DayDream EP, earned my respect for taking such bold artistic risks and daring traditionalists to come aboard his psychedelic ride. Sid Sriram may not yet be a household name, but he will be one day soon, if his grind combined with his incredible vocal gift has anything to say about it. [Click Here to see Michael's full 2012 in review]

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

PUBLISHER'S PICK   Gregory Porter: Be Good

With last year's Water, Gregory Porter showed himself to be a great song stylist able to re-interpret pop and jazz standards. But with his maxi-single reissue of "1960 What?" and his subsequent sophomore album Be Good, in 2012 he proved himself a first rate songwriter and commentator, both gentle and persistant in his observations. His view of Black America is both positive and positively countercultural, and the beauty of his deep baritone and great songs is matched by his appreciation of the rich legacy of singers, from Nat King Cole to Arthur Prysock, whose work he equals - perhaps even surpasses - on this masterpiece. An instant classic.

Cody ChestnuTT - Landing on a Hundred

EDITOR'S PICK   Cody ChestnuTT: Landing on a Hundred

Cody ChestnuTT more than beat the sophomore blues, he demolished it with a project that captured the beautiful and ugly of this brutally political and tumultuous year. Written and sung by a poetic voice that has grown more agile and complex with time, ChestnuTT digs into the socio-political themes of the time without ever losing the humor, love, and family that’s necessary to survive as well. A melodic classic in the tradition of What’s Going On with the occasional elastic, modernist arrangements of an avant gardist, he’s penned the words and melodies to our now.  

   
Eric Benet: The One - Eric Benet has never received much acclaim outside of his tremendously loyal (mostly female) fanbase. That should end with The One, a brilliant amalgamation of classic soul sounds fronted by an artist whose singing just seems to get better with age. (CR)
Kia Bennett:  Duet of Daffodils (EP) – This versatile stylist is teamed with several of today’s independent producers in a calming bouquet of danceable delights and quiet reflections. (PO)
Barbara Carr: Keep the Fire Burning - Southern Soul is often called ‘grown folks music’ by its loyal fans, while the youngster’s deride it as ‘my daddy’s music. Keep the Fire Burning is simply good music and a reminder that veterans such as Carr knowingly or unwittingly influenced many of today’s R&B divas. (HD)
DivaGeek DivaGeek: He Said, She Said - Sassy fun. With '80s beats, '90s vocals, and new millenial verve, hipsters Vula and Ben brought the party to 2012. With sweaty jams like "Money," "Ooo La La" and "He Said, She Said," if you couldn't catch a cardio groove, then you weren't listening hard enough. Brill! (LMG)
Dwele: Greater Than One - With overtones of jazz, neo-soul and circa 1980's electro-funk, Dwele's Greater Than One is a fearless foray exploring life after the singles scene, ranks among the best in the musician's catalog and easily one of the most intoxicating releases of 2012. (MC)
Faith Evans: R&B Divas - Fueled by the tragic demise of icon Whitney Houston, R&B Divas (a CD companion to the hit reality show) was cemented by the personal and professional bonds of today's most electrifying (yet underrated) soul sisters. Its music gifted fans with truly exciting and inspiring performances. (MC)
Donald Fagen: Sunken CondosThe singing half of Steely Dan pulls off the funkiest rhythm-and-blues record of his solo career. Fagen seems to get better with age as new tunes are still peppered with his witty lyricism and sophisticated jazzy grooves. (JMC)
Corey Glover: The Pledge - A worthy follow-up to Hymns. It's been a long wait, but Corey Glover continues to tell stories as only his voice can, with raw emotion and by surrounding himself with some of finest musicians who marry his vocals to the music in such a meaningful way. (Colleen)
Nona Hendryx: Mutatis Mutandis -- For her first solo album in more than 20 years, Hendryx served up ten tracks that address the current socio-political climate. She doesn't hold back in the lyrics or the kind of funk-rock that she helped originate as a member of Labelle. A stellar example of how the album formatis relevant in 2012. (CJW)
Jazzanova Jazzanova: Funkhaus Studio Sessions - Been told they don't make funk and soul like they used to? Well, Jazznova, with 14 of their career bests and a bevy of talented guest stars like José James and Paul Randolph covering it with passionate heart make liars out of those naysayers. Permanently. (LMG) 
Sean JohnsonSimply a Vessel: Volume 3 – With a smooth blend of neo-soul and praise, Johnson shares his spiritual convictions that brought him to a closer walker with God. (PO)
R Kelly: Write Me Back - R. Kelly showed us again in 2012 that he is as talented as he is maddening. Write Me Back is a disarmingly strong collection of songs aimed straight at the adult population that popular radio and major labels have spent years ignoring. And he was rewarded with big hit album and forgiveness all around. (CR)
Martin Luther McCoy: Love Is The Hero - After many years of writing great songs, this is the first album to bring the finest of his songwriting, vocals and music into a cohesive album all about love (Colleen)
Mint Condition: Music @ the Speed of Life -  In stark contrast to 2011's undercooked and uneven 7, Mint Condition used real-time emotions and events to enhance Music At The Speed of Life. An equal measure of passion and precision, Music.... revealed a synergistic, sharper focus and renewed their status as one of the baddest bands in the biz. (MC)
Me'shell NdegeOcello - Pour une âme souveraine - A Dedication to Nina Simone Me'shell NdegeOcello: Pour une âme souveraine - A Dedication to Nina Simone - Toshi Reagon, Lizz Wright, Cody ChesnuTT and Me'shell each make this tribute to the defiant power and fiercely independent spirit of Nina Simone one of the best cover projects of 2012. Reimagining classics with fresh productions, bold arrangements, and delicious aplomb. (LMG)
rAcemusic: As One - Sometimes, the records you  hear at the start of the year get overwhelmed by those that follow. As One, a  project that included, funk, rock, soul and pop played on constant repeat on all of the various music playing media and deserves to be included among the year’s best. (HD)
Jessica Reedy: From the Heart - The Sunday Best runner-up proved to be a winner on record, as she wrapped her deep, expressive voice around a batch of songs that could appeal to traditionalists and still get young'ens dancing. Saginaw, Michigan should be proud. (CR)
Sensere  Sensere: The Soul of Future Worship, Vol 1. - Channeling The Four Tops, Men of Standard, and Earth, Wind and Fire all at once, this gospel band is more than just good gospel music, they are the ultimate soul experience. (LMG) 
Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society -- Spalding more than delivered on the expectations of her first album since winning the "Best New Artist" Grammy. Call it jazz, call it soul, or call it something in between ... what unites every song is Spalding's musical virtuosity, and grooves and melodies that never wear out their welcome. (CJW)
Yewande: Rebirth --  It’s a crying shame that Rebirth, Yewande’s black girls rock power album, will be slept on by risk averse R&B radio, as well as by rock stations that still ghettoize black artists. This is a record that cries for music fans and gate keepers alike to get out of their respective comfort zones. (HD)
 

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Abiah - Life As A Ballad
Alabama Shakes -
 
Boys and Girls
Jarrard Anthony - 
Ready to Live
Jon Bibbs - Ode to Old Flames
Jeff Bradshaw - Bone Appetite
Brandy - Two Eleven
Jonathan Butler - Grace and Mercy
Paul Carrack - Good Feeling
Gary Clark Jr. - Blak and Blu
Colette - Juneteenth Revolution
Cool Million - III
Alison Crockett - Mommy What's a Depression?
Daley - Alone Together EP
Dr. John - Locked Down
Anthony David - Love Out Loud
Conya Doss - Pocketful of Miracles
Will Downing - Tomorrow EP
Electric Empire - Changin' EP
The Endangered - The Endangered EP
The Floacist - Floetry Rebirth
Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio
Ralph Gum - Never Leaves You
Nayanna Holley - On Love and Fear
Incognito - Surreal 
José James - 
It's All Over Your Body EP
Leela James - Loving You More...
Syleena Johnson - Acoustic Soul Sessions



DJ Kemit - 
Everlasting
Michael Kiwanuka -
 Home Again
Lake Street Dive - Fun Machine EP
Bettye LaVette - Thankful N Thoughtful
Lemar - Invincible
Michael Lynche - Michael Lynche
Miquel - Kaleidoscope Dream
Moonchild - Be Free
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
Ola Onabule - Seven Shades Darker
Brian Owens - Moods and Messages
Emeli Sandé - Our Version of Events
Marvin Sapp - I Win
Saunders Sermons - Just What She Needs
Ryan Shaw - Real Love
BSlade - Live at the WitZend
Valerie Simpson - Dinosaurs are Coming Back
Tank - This Is How I Feel
Tim Terry - The Tim Terry Experience
Steve Wallace - Street Symphony
SWV - I Missed Us
Jessie Ware - Devotion
Amma Whatt - Maybe
Lenny Williams - Still In the Game
Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe
Elliott Yamin - Let's Get to What's Real

 

 

 

 

We know these picks will have SoulTrackers talking. So be sure to comment below to let us know what we did right and what we missed!

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Choice Cut - Kenya - "Favorite Things"
Choice Cut - Sy Smith - "Camelot"
Featured Album - Conya Doss - CLEAR
See The Nominees! - SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards

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