On December 24, as our home was aglow with Christmas music — Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn, Don Peris, Loreena McKennit, Louis Armstrong, Vince Guaraldi — and we only had one week left until 2023 began, I began writing my year-end posts.

Eleven days later, I’m still amending them, as I am still exploring and discovering 2022’s wide, wild world of imagination — new releases for sound and for screen that impress and inspire me. And over the next few weeks, just as I have done for decades, I’ll post my annual list of my top 30 (or so) favorite recordings of the year and my top 30 (or so) films of the year.

This is one way I celebrate and express my gratitude, even if I doubt that many of the artists will ever see what I write. This is also my favorite way of offering recommendations for others to discover treasure they might have missed. Your feedback is welcome. I wouldn’t be publishing this if I wasn’t persuaded to continue by the meaningful responses I receive from readers who value the discoveries they make here.

And, as usual, I’m having a terrible time narrowing down the list. There’s just too much good music in so many genres. If an album captures my attention, if it makes me want to read all about the artist and the recording, if it makes me want to spend time with and interpret the lyrics, if it makes me want to play the album over and over again to be enchanted or challenged by the sound, well… it’s going to be on these lists.

Since I’m still organizing my list of the top 30 favorites, I’ll begin by publishing a list of albums that I want to include on that list — records I’ve enjoyed over and over again. Ask me tomorrow, or ask me in six months, and maybe I’ll have changed my mind and found a place for them in my Top 30.

I listened to each of these “honorable mentions” several times this year — usually in the car on my commute, or on a road trip, or while I was grading papers or cleaning the kitchen. Some of them got me dancing while I organized my office. Some of them imparted wisdom, vision, and hope. Some of them gave me ways to name things I had not found words to describe. Again — I am grateful. If an artist or an album show up here, it’s because I’m saying “Thank you.”

“Bonus Materials” — Unexpected Archival Recordings from Rock Legends

David Bowie — Toy

This posthumously released “lost album” doesn’t do much for me in its final form. But the two discs of alternate versions are jam-packed with surprises and treasures, like this gorgeous mix of my favorite song from the project: “Conversation Piece.” Check out thorough and thoughtful reviews at The Guardian and ArtFuse.

Bruce Cockburn — Rarities

A lively zigzag through rough takes touching on so many of Cockburn’s modes and styles, featuring some early versions of songs that evolved considerably before they appeared in their final album versions. Here’s some perspective at Blues Rock Review.

Timeless Live Shows

Prince and the Revolution — Live

It’s been a long time coming, but this ultimate concert from Prince and the Revolution finally got a proper audio release this year.

Levon Helm / Mavis Staples — Carry Me Home

This may be my favorite Mavis Staples album, and the fact that these are all live takes in collaboration with the legendary Levon Helm… that makes this record so much richer and more rewarding.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised): Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Live]

The film came out in 2021, but the soundtrack album came out this year, and it stands alone as an essential double-live album.

The Rolling Stones — Live at the El Mocambo 1977

Peak performance double-live album from the Stones may be my favorite single package of their greatest hits. It’s performed with such wild abandon.

Loreena McKennitt — Under A Winter’s Moon (Live At Knox Church, Stratford, Ontario 2021)

Such great storytelling — by such great storytelling voices! — stitches McKennitt’s performances together. I put it on as background music at Overstreet Headquarters as we were preparing for Christmas, and it very quickly became a Major Event for all of us. Yes, even our new fuzzy family member Special Agent Alonzo Mosely came close to the stereo, curled up in a ball, flipped over on his back, and fell into happy dreams. Great Christmas albums are always events worth celebrating because we know they’ll become part of the fabric of our Christmases for years to come.


Promising New Band

Just Mustard — Heart Under

If I had a “Most Promising New Band” award, I might give it to Just Mustard. There’s a real Twin Peaks darkness to their sound, and some of the Wolf Alice energy that I’m a sucker for.

Exceptional Collections of Covers

Bruce Springsteen — Only the Strong Survive

First on my list of impressive collections of covers this year is Springsteen’s soulful and surprising program of favorites. “Night Shift” is one of those songs I grew up with that I always enjoyed and didn’t realize how deeply it was sinking into my DNA until it figured prominently in Claire Denis’ masterpiece 35 Shots of Rum. The Boss sings it well. Sweet sounds coming down, indeed!

Valerie June — Under Cover

My favorite covers record has the best title for a covers album. How has it never been claimed before? I’ve admired Valerie June for years, but this record got a *lot* of play on my car stereo this year. Every track is a brilliant choice, and every performance is surprising. Here’s my personal favorite — although I really like her covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms,” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” as well.


Lucinda Williams — Funny How Time Slips Away: A Night of 60’s Country Classics

Even though I don’t like the placement of the apostrophe here, I’m so glad this album didn’t slip past me. (It almost did.) I love this project, and I gotta say that almost all of these songs are new to me. Nothing like the blessing of the master to bring them to my attention.

Living Legends Doing What They Do Best

Brian Blade / Christian McBride / Brad Mehldau / Joshua Redman — LongGone

They’re back, they’re live, and they sound like they’re having the time of their lives. The best kind of victory lap for a band is the kind that suggests they’re joyfully invigorated by the knowledge that they still have unfulfilled potential. Blade, McBride, Mehldau, and Redman still have chemistry as great as any other four-man band going. When people say “I love jazz,” they can mean all kinds of things. When I say “I love jazz,” this is what I mean: the thrill of inspired improvisation within community, where it sounds like it might fly to pieces at any moment and then something happens that tells you they’re so in tune with one another that they can make a beautiful hairpin turn.

Elvis Costello & the Impostors — The Boy Named If

With strong echoes of his Spike era, lyrics as literary and ambitious as any he’s written (and sometimes a bit too cryptic because of that), Costello sounds as motivated as ever, singing with gusto that few his age could muster at a microphone.

Bill Frisell — Four

And here’s another quartet of combustible imagination: Bill Frisell with Greg Tardy, Gerald Clayton, and Jonathan Blake. Melodic, playful, and harmonic in a way that makes it difficult to understand if one of them is taking the lead or if each one of them is acting as the front man. A joyful ride in which you feel every player serving the music instead of stepping into a spotlight.

Pixies — Doggerel

Rivaling Midnight Oil for the Veteran Rockers of the Year award, the Pixies’ latest often sounds like Grade-A material from the glory.

Tears for Fears — The Tipping Point

I did not have Tears for Fears delivering an album to rival their best work on my 2022 Bingo card, but this one is so much better than just a visit from old friends. It feels like the kind of comeback album I wish Peter Gabriel would make — sincere, heartfelt grief and longing and hope, drawn from lived experience but applicable to the whole world.

Familiar Names, Unexpected Off-Road Adventures

The Mountain Goats — Bleed Out

Is this the first time they’ve shown up on one of my year-end lists? Perhaps. I’m warming to them, but very slowly — I started listening more than a decade ago. But the good humor of this record, the audacious concept (an album of songs built on action movie cliches and tropes), the playful lyrics, and the pedal-to-the-metal guitar rock of this one have won me over.

Shearwater — The Great Awakening

They could have followed up Jet Plane and Oxbow, their greatest achievement yet, with another big ’80s-flavored, U2-esque rock adventure. Instead, they chose to move inward to stranger, more haunting places. I haven’t yet connected with this album in the same kind of personal way, and there are few moments I find as exhilarating as the sense of inspiration pulsing through the previous effort. But this is still an outstanding, enthralling record with so much on its mind and its heart.

Professionals Maintaining High Standards

Pedro the Lion — Havasu

At Pitchfork, Ian Cohen calls it “the most minimal and insular Pedro the Lion album yet,” and I agree with that. This isn’t the album I’ll recommend if I’m hoping to make somebody a fan of Bazan — it’s so introspective and focused on its storytelling integrity that it is (rightly) less interested in rocking out, catchy choruses, or exhibitions of the band’s particular chemistry and strengths. But Bazan and company achieve what they set out to do: they deliver another complex chapter in Bazan’s serialized memoir of the cities in which he lived and how his experiences there shaped him. Cohen writes, “Whereas their 1998 debut It’s Hard to Find a Friend took an accusatory tone towards those who would sacrifice their principles for social acceptance, on Phoenix highlight ‘Quietest Friend’ and the new album’s ‘Own Valentine,’ Bazan empathizes with his younger self as someone who used manipulation to fill a void of self-esteem.”

Calexico — El Mirador

Differently than Pedro the Lion’s album, El Mirador might be a perfect album for introducing others to Calexico, a band that fuses “the dusty sounds of the American Southwest with spaghetti western soundtracks, cool jazz, and a broad spectrum of Latin influences” (Mark Deming, AllMusic). As Heather Phares at AllMusic writes, El Mirador blazes with “praise for the people as well as the place that made them who they are, and they express that gratitude in songs ranging from the communal vocals of ‘Liberada’ to ‘Constellation,’ which traces the connections between people over winding guitars and flares of brass. The pandemic moved Calexico to celebrate all the good things in life, and this celebration includes the Latin influences on their music.” When things were grey in Seattle this year, I found myself longing to drive open roads in the Southwest, and if I put on El Mirador I felt like I was halfway there.

Death Cab for Cutie — Asphalt Meadows

I didn’t expect Death Cab had another substantial album in them at this point, and I really didn’t expect it would be my favorite thing they’ve done since Transatlanticism. Just listen to the spiritual longing at the heart of this track:

Jack White — Fear of the Dawn

Jack White released two substantial albums this year. This one hits several memorable high points, particularly the opening track (linked). The other one will show up on my top 30 list, so watch for that soon.

Arcade Fire — WE

I had very mixed feelings about this album from the day it arrived — glad to see them scaling back from bloated double-albums, still wishing the air of self-importance would burn away, glad to hear them recapturing some of the near-chaos that made them a singular act both on record and on stage, still wishing that they’d pull back from a sermonizing “We Are the Prophets of Our Age” presumption. But then came the scandal — the exposure of yet another white male of extravagant privilege as a sexual opportunist, and the disclaimers and excuses that then diminished what had been for many a sort of ideal marriage-in-the-rock-spotlight. But I can’t let behind-the-scenes shenanigans interfere with my assessment of the art itself. And, as far as that goes, here’s a record that delivers solid examples of what has made Arcade Fire distinctive and meaningful, even if it doesn’t reveal any notable innovations. And they get extra credit for bringing the voice of Peter Gabriel back to my headphones.

The New Royalty

Florence + the Machine — Dance Fever

I’ve admired this band for a while, but I can’t say I’ve played any of their albums repeatedly over the course of a year with confidence that I will continue to revisit them. This one feels like it has lasting power, and there’s a joy in it that I haven’t associated with the band before.

Mitski — Laurel Hell

There should be some kind of award for a singer-songwriter who contributes the best end-credits song in a movie. And this year, Mistki would be the front-runner, as her collaboration with David Byrne was a highlight in Everything Everywhere All at Once and her cover at the close of After Yang was also perfect for the occasion. Neither of those songs appear here, but the album won’t disappoint anybody who hear either of those songs, got curious, and sought this out. Also, in a time when few musical acts have a broad drawing power across varied populations of young people, Mitski clearly has their ear. There were posters on SPU’s campus advertising a listening party for the occasion of this album’s arrival.

Sharon Van Etten — We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong

A bit of a letdown after 2019’s spectacular Remind Me Tomorrow, but very strong nevertheless. I knew the first time I heard this track that it would be among my year-end favorites.

Lush Symphonic Pop

Basia Bulat — The Garden

If I had been following Basia Bulat before 2022, I would have encountered these songs on first five albums in more conventional pop/rock arrangements. But my introduction to this Polaris-Prize-nominated artist came here, on this special release, featuring arrangements for string quartet. It’s a beautiful collection, and now I want to work backwards to find out what I’ve been missing. Perhaps this song will be familiar to you, or perhaps not. Either way, I suspect you’ll want to play it more than once and then hear the whole album.

Weyes Blood — And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

While this ambitious, lush, and glorious new album feels heavier and darker than Titanic Rising — and how could it not, given the apocalyptic years in which it took shape? — the beauty of it is heartening. Perhaps there’s something reassuring about big symphonic sounds during (and, increasingly, after) years of isolation. I know a few folks who revere every note that Natalie Mering records, and they’re people who eat, sleep, and breathe music more passionately than I do, so I suspect that I will go on warming to this record as I did to the last one. There aren’t any songs that move me like “Movies” did, but at this writing the track that is sticking with me most is this one: “Twin Flame.”

Exceptional Singer/Songwriters

Aoife O’Donovan — Age of Apathy

This Joe Henry production certainly sounds impressive all the way through, and O’Donovan’s songwriting and performances are strong. I can’t say the songs connected with me in a personal way, although I know this was a big favorite of some close friends for much of the year. But this is the first O’Donovan release that has kept me coming back intrigued again and again.


Erin Rae — Lighten Up

One of the year’s big discoveries for me was Erin Rae, a recommendation from my friend and colleague Dr. Traynor Hansen. Rae’s voice is distinctive, her songs a dreamy blend of classic Nashville pop and country sounds blended into a style that goes down easy and sometimes reminds me of She & Him.

Laura Veirs — Found Light

In a sad scenario that recalls the breakup of the dynamic duo T Bone Burnett and Sam Phillips, Laura Veirs was divorced from her husband and producer Tucker Martine, leading to this album of breakup-and-start-again songs, mapping the hard emotional territory of trying to dream up a future while still feeling tangled up in blue. The result is some of Veirs’ strongest work, and the production by new collaborator Shahzad Ismaily is inspired without being flashy. It’s a hopeful and gracious record considering the circumstances.

Veterans Still Trying New Things

Bjork – Fossora

I admire it. But I also endure it. I marvel at it. But I am also perplexed by it. In other words — it’s a late-career Bjork album.

For a deep dive, read this New York Times study by Jon Pareles, or this review by Jill Mapes at Pitchfork.

Nick Cave — Seven Psalms

It’s Nick Cave. It’s poetry. It’s prayer. That describes a great deal of his music, but here it’s a rare and intimate occasion — spoken word, Psalm-like concentration.

For more, visit The Guardian and Pitchfork.


And speaking of prayers, here’s Brian Eno sounding resigned to the fact that a post-human era is coming on this planet. And yet he also sounds hopeful, content, even encouraging. Here is an hour of much-needed zen for hard times as those with their hands on the controls seem blind to the rising tide of trouble.

Here’s Jon Pareles at The New York Times, and Tal Rosenberg at Pitchfork.

Daniel Lanois — Player, Piano

I’d be lying if I said that any album on this list is going to get more play than this one. Daniel Lanois at the piano? I can’t think of anything I’m more likely to reach for, looking for solace during the hundreds of hours I will spend reading and grading papers in the coming year, or seeking a soundtrack as I compose chapters for a new book. This is a playfully creative, predictably meditative, electronically enhanced program of contemplative performances. I already know it well from beginning to end.

New Volumes in Notable Series

Robert Glasper — Black Radio III

Every time I listen, I find myself adjusting the ratings I’ve given the songs on Apple Music. That’s because Glasper weaves the threads of R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop so skillfully that the songs strike me very differently every time I hear them.  Right now, I’m inclined to share this unlikely re-working of Tears for Fears’ gigantic ’80s classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but perhaps I should instead by sharing “Black Superhero” featuring Killer Mike and BJ The Chicago Kid. I haven’t returned often to the first two volumes of this ongoing series, but each one has been a good way for me to hear contemporary sounds sewn seamlessly into a context of classic sounds, and a way to have my assumptions about genres challenges as their definitions dissolve.

T-Bone Burnett / Jay Bellerose / Keefus Ciancia — The Invisible Light: Spells

The Master Producer is still playing the half-mad prophet on this second volume of a series focused on rhythm, electronics, and a technological Apocalypse. As with the first volume, Burnett’s spoken-word delivery is haunting, heavy, and surreal, as if he’s narrating the end of the world in a mix of horror, heartbreak, and wild hope. There are rants, there are chants, and there are strange collage-works of voices, all sailing through swells of Jay Bellerose’s stormy percussion and illuminated by Keefus Ciancia’s keyboard innovations. When Burnett declares “It takes more courage to love than to hate,” he sounds like someone who knows from experience and who is struggling to find the strength to try faith, love, and hope again.

Coming up next: my 30 Favorite Recordings of 2022 …

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