By Katherine Cole
This was a great year for fans of American roots music—so many fabulous releases from bands and solo artists new and old. Alabama Shakes is one of those new bands. 18 months ago, they were having a hard time selling out 500 seat clubs. Now, they’ve got three Grammy nominations and “Hold On” is Rolling Stone magazine’s Song Of The Year.
The Alabama Shakes beat out songs from Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and others to win the top spot on Rolling Stone’s year end list. But that’s not their only impressive feat of 2012. This year, Alabama Shakes opened for bands including the Drive-By Truckers, Jack White and Robert Plant, and sold out shows in the US, Europe, the UK, Australia and South America. When you add in those three Grammy nominations ( Best Rock Performance for Hold On, Best New Artist and Best Recording Package for their debut CD “Boys & Girls”), it all adds up to a great year for a band that didn’t even release their first full length album until April of this year!
It was also an incredible year for The Lumineers.
Friends had been telling me about The Lumineers for a few months before I saw them at South By Southwest in March. I really wanted to like the group, but I was afraid it was going to be a difficult show—-instead of seeing the band in a club or a concert hall, I was going to catch a set in a convention center ballroom. Which means I’d be hearing The Lumineers for the first time in a big, boxy room with concrete walls, floors and ceilings and lots of people standing around talking. But in spite of those obstacles, it was a great set! I loved The Lumineers. And I wasn’t alone—by the middle of the year, everyone was talking about them and The Lumineers were everywhere, including all the big summer festivals like High Sierra and ACL.
The Lumineers wrap up 2012 with two Grammy nominations and a Gold record. The official video for “Ho Hey” is a hit, too. So far, it has more than 20 million official Youtube views.
But it wasn’t just the first timers who were releasing brilliant folk, americana and bluegrass albums this year. There were new albums from Darrell Scott, Gretchen Peters, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Bonnie Raitt, just to name five. And on the bluegrass side, Special Consensus gave us some fine new music, as did The Boxcars and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Mumford and Sons came back in a big way, earning six Grammy nominations for their second album, “Babel.” It sold 600-thousand copies in its first week, proving the British band was no one hit wonder. And the boys also proved they weren’t too big to still have fun, showing up to lend their voices, and picking prowess to a track on dobro wizard Jerry Douglas’ new one, “Traveler.” Jerry told me that when Paul Simon found out they’d gone into the studio to record this version of his song “The Boxer” Paul wanted in on the fun! So he added a couple of guitar parts, some bells and vocals to the mix. The result is absolute magic. But don’t take my word for it, listen and decide for yourself!
And no discussion of 2012 Roots music could be complete without a mention of 24-year old John Fullbright. Unlike the two bands I mentioned already, John’s critically acclaimed (and Grammy nominated) debut “From The Ground Up” was a totally independent release. By that I mean that he put it out himself, without the help of a record label, large OR small. He also raised the money to record the album himself via the fan funding site Kickstarter. I’ll tell you more about John next week —right now, just take a look at him in concert.
Do you have a favorite track of 2012? Maybe a favorite visitor to the Roots studio? I’m thinking of putting together a show featuring some of our best live performances and I’d hate to leave out the one you liked best…..