Only thing better is Conway Bieber .
There comes a time in a blogger's life when the "Best Of List" must be put into play--this often occurs towards the end of the year and probably explains why you've been seeing many of them lately, but that you already know. What you might not know is that in 2012 Seattle had a solid run of, as the Osborne Brothers say, "finger-pickin'-good-Kentucky-fried" albums this year, running the gamut from Americana heartland rock to Appalachian-styled bluegrass, and we thought we'd, well, pile them up and present them to you the best way we know how:
Only thing better is Conway Bieber.
Without further ado, read on for the finest Seattle country--rounded up cattle call style, in no particular order--to hit our eardrums in 2012.
Devil Gets Her Way, The Swearengens: In June, this Seattle country troupe dropped their debut release--somewhere in between an EP and LP at six tracks--chuck full of honky-tonkin' twang and whiskey-swilling grit. Songs like "Out of the Rain," doused in reverby steel guitar, keeps Seattle's alt-country scene alive and drinking heavily in the vein of Davidson Hart Kingsbery, and the title track, with its bluesy guitar and barroom drama, recalls the beer-chugging, heartland rock of Ryan Purcell.
2 Horses, Davidson Hart Kingsbery: In March, gravel-throated country warbler Davidson Hart Kingsbery dropped his debut EP 2 Horses, giving Seattle a taste of his two-stepping, barroom tunes. Since then, the singer's been perfecting his twang, playing to roomfuls of twirling couples at Hattie's Hat every first "honky tonk" Thursday, and 2 Horses keeps the party going. Songs of heartache ("Eyes of Green") and heavy-drinking ("NyQuil And Wine") are custom tailored for Kingsbery's raspy croon, and a reverb-washed, roots rock guitar keeps things good and country.
Makin' Our House a Honkytonk, Rachel Harrington: Seattle has no shortage of lady country crooners: Ballard Avenue is littered with half-assed Emmylou wannabes, but Rachel Harrington ain't one of 'em. Hailed by Q magazine as having a voice that "makes Neko Case sound like Olivia Newton-John," Harrington is both fresh and referential, with a songwriting style very reminiscent of the premier honky-tonk honeys of yesterday, namely Loretta and Dolly. Her stellar track "Wedding Ring Vacation" will certainly rank as one of the year's best among the "Swingin' Doors" set.--Ma'Chell Duma LaVassar
Our Lady of the Tall Trees, Eli West and Cahalen Morrison: On their second release, this "new-old" timey string duo offers up another set of well spun harmonies and finely crafted, Appalachian-fashioned bluegrass.
Old Gold, Zoe Muth: The words "Old Gold" may conjure images of blue collar smokers and vintage cigarette commercials, but the title of Zoe Muth's third offering actually refers to the classic folk covers contained within. Unlike the singer's first two full length releases, rich with uptempo honky tonk sounds and her smooth, lilting croon, this 6-track mini-album is far more mellow, shelving Muth's spritely country style for a folkier take on artists like John Prine, Anna McGarrigle, and Dock Boggs. Like Bill Cantrell's "I've Been Deceived" and Jerry Ragavoy's "Get It While You Can," "Walking The Line," the one song penned by Muth herself, is a little world weary like the rest of them, but her soulful, songbird pipes are clear and unwavering as always; with the steady backing of The High Rollers, Old Gold is another keeper.
Pick Me Up, Ryan Purcell & the Last Round: This album, sung by a man who sounds like an amalgam of John Cougar Mellencamp and Steven Tyler after consuming a half-case of Bud Light Platinums and a carton of Camels at a stock-car race, made me immediately pour myself a glass of bourbon--at 3 on a Tuesday afternoon. That's the mark of a perfect country-rock album; the title track shimmers.--Mike Seely
Bear Creek, Brandi Carlile: After two well-received records with the biggest producers in the business--Rick Rubin and T-Bone Burnett--Carlile turned to a knob-twiddler with decidedly fewer bonafides on the other side of the board: Herself. The result, Bear Creek, is the best album of the Ravensdale-born artist's career. Carlile's voice is more self-assured than it's been in the past, and the songwriting--highlights include "A Promise to Keep" and the Dixie Chick-esque "Hard Way Home"--is as compelling as it's ever been, straddling the strong side of the adult/country line.--Chris Kornelis
Trick of The Eye, Joy Mills: Mills sings with a simple, unhurried cadence, with earthy tones that softly attune bassist Tom Parker's subtle harmonies with her own. Trick of the Eye rings with such sounds, rich in lyrical imagery and twangy pedal steel. Lovely ballads like "Bound To Find You" and honky-tonking numbers like "Best Show In Town" round out the offerings and make Trick of the Eye a fitting listen for fans of Pacific Northwest alt-country from Zoe Muth to Neko Case.
Last Call, Liam Fitzgerald and the Rainieros: We were remiss to overlook this honky-tonkin' country quartet's 2012 release Last Call, but it'll not go unmentioned in our yearly wrap-up. Clean pedal steel, boot-tapping rhythms, and a genuine western swing feel a la Speedy West or George Jones make Last Call perfect partner dancin' country.
Rising Country Bands To Watch: Annie Ford Band, Side Saddle, Ganges River Band: Three fine groups who all picked up traction this year--hope to see albums from these cowpokes in 2013.