Celebrating the Year in Nonesuch Music
As 2012 draws to a close, and the Nonesuch Journal takes a bit of a hiatus till the start of 2013, it's time to take a look back and remember all of the great and diverse music made by Nonesuch artists over the past year.
Many of these artists and their recent Nonesuch releases have made music critics' and fans' year-end best lists. Several of these albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards, for a total of 14 nominations.
Here, in chronological order (more or less), is a look back at the year in Nonesuch music:
Though it was released last year, on December 6, 2011, The Black Keys's latest album, El Camino—which debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 and was certified RIAA Platinum this fall—led to another banner year for the band, culminating in their recent nomination for five Grammy Awards: Album of the Year and Best Rock Album for El Camino and three for the album's first single, "Lonely Boy," which has been nominated for Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song, that last songwriting award for Black Keys band mates Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney as well as Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). Following the announcement of the Grammy nominations, the Los Angeles Times wrote: “As evidenced by Wednesday's tally, the ragged duo from Akron, Ohio, now relocated to Nashville, has over the decade gradually risen to become one of America's biggest, and best, rock bands. Not art rock, indie rock, rap rock, punk rock, prog rock or dance rock. Rock rock.”
The Black Keys close out the year with an encore presentation of the Austin City Limits television debut on PBS stations across the US on December 29 and with two live concert performances at The Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, December 30 and 31.
The new year in Nonesuch music brought the release of Kronos Quartet's latest album, Music of Vladimir Martynov, which includes three works written for Kronos Quartet by the contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov and features a special guest performance from former Kronos cellist Joan Jeanrenaud on Martynov's Schubert–Quintet (Unfinished), a piece the Times of London describes as "something to treasure" and the Los Angeles Times calls a “masterpiece. The performance, exquisitely recorded, is radiant."
Kronos Quartet continues its 2012–13 in January with performances in California and Ohio, followed in February by the world premiere performance of a collaboration with Laurie Anderson at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.
Composer Philip Glass celebrated his 75th birthday in January with the launch of an international tour of Einstein on the Beach, his career-making 1976 collaboration with director Robert Wilson. The opera returned to the world stage for the first time in two decades, including its UK premiere and performances in Brooklyn, Berkeley, Mexico City, and more. "It's not (just) an artifact of its era, it's timeless," said the New York Times. "Einstein must be seen and re-seen, encountered and savored ... an experience to cherish for a lifetime." In honor of the tour, Nonesuch Records released its three-CD 1993 recording of the opera, which, says the Washington Post, is "more complete than the first recording and superior in both performance and sound."
Recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Who's Feeling Young Now?, Punch Brothers' follow-up to 2010's Grammy-nominated Antifogmatic, was produced by Grammy Award winner Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse) and features ten songs written by Punch Brothers, with the band’s friend Josh Ritter co-writing lyrics on two tunes, plus the group’s take on the Swedish group Väsen’s “Flippen" and what the New York Times calls a "mind-boggling cover of Radiohead’s 'Kid A.'" The album shows "why they are so special," says the Guardian. "This is a remarkable band." Paste says that "every track is a small wonder ... They may have created a masterpiece."
Who's Feeling Young Now? is listed among the Best Albums of 2012 according to Paste, American Songwriter, and Songlines magazines. The Guardian places it at No. 2 on its list of the year's Best World and Folk albums, saying the album "shows why they are so special. The unexpectedly jaunty melodies come wrapped in complex arrangements, as fiddle, banjo and guitar weave around the remarkable mandolin work and sometimes more fragile vocals of Chris Thile."
Punch Brothers close out 2012 with a three-night residency at Bowery Ballroom in New York City, December 29–31. "If you're in the mood for an uplifting end to 2012," says Time Out New York, "you could hardly go wrong with the Punch Brothers."
In February, the Carolina Chocolate Drops followed their Grammy-winning album Genuine Negro Jig with Leaving Eden, a record of original compositions, covers, and traditional songs produced by Buddy Miller (Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Solomon Burke). They “may take their cues from 1920s string- and jug-band music," says USA Today, "but they're simply a great band.” The Observer calls them "the most electrifying acoustic act around." Rolling Stone gives the album four stars. The BBC says: "It's plain terrific." (For Record Store Day, the band also released a limited-edition 7" vinyl single with their take on Run-DMC's "You Be Illin'" on one side and the original on the other.)
Leaving Eden landed at the No. 1 slot on PopMatters list of the Best Americana Albums of 2012, with the site exclaiming: "One year ago, the Carolina Chocolate Drops were presented with golden gramophones in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album for their 2010 release, Genuine Negro Jig. But for it’s diversity, experimentation, and excellent performances, Leaving Eden is even better." The album appears on similar lists from Uncut and NPR. "Carolina Chocolate Drops are embodying traditional music in a way that is remarkably current and relevant," says NPR. "This is folk music at its truest, most artful and unadulterated."
Leaving Eden has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album.
In 2004, Caetano Veloso curated a week of special concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall and invited his longtime friend and collaborator David Byrne to join him for the show captured on their new album Live at Carnegie Hall. Each performs an acoustic set of his own songs and also perform together. The Seattle Times calls the concert "an absolute jewel." The Observer gives the album four stars, calling it "an entrancing showcase of their respective talents ... and even on disc a sense of joy and spontaneity is palpable." The Herald says it "leaves the listener grinning from ear to ear."
In November, Caetano Veloso, an eight-time Latin Grammy winner and two-time Grammy winner, was celebrated as the 2012 Person of the Year by the Latin Recording Academy.
Works by Krzysztof Penderecki—"Poland's godfather of the musical avant-garde" (Independent)—are paired with the works they inspired by composer/guitarist Jonny Greenwood on this album released in March: Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and Polymorphia (for 48 strings), which inspired Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver and 48 Responses to Polymorphia, respectively. "The results are ear-tingling," says NPR. "What we hear on this album is a meeting of two artistic visionaries connected in a real dialogue." Shortly after the album's release, NPR listeners voted to include it among they year's best so far.
Nonesuch released an album of original songs from the Brad Mehldau Trio—Ode—on March 20. The record, which is the first from the trio—whom the New York Times calls "a graceful powerhouse, equally savvy about groove and harmony"—since 2008’s live Village Vanguard disc and the first studio trio recording since 2005’s Day Is Done, features 11 previously unreleased songs composed by Mehldau. Many were written as tributes, or “odes,” to real and fictional people, like the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, a character from the film Easy Rider, and the guitarist Kurt Ronsenwinkel. "Ode is an often scintillating and always joyful listen from beginning to end," says MusicOMH. The Chicago Tribune finds Mehldau "in prime form as composer, improviser and bandleader." The Montreal Gazette says: "This may well be his most interesting, absorbing album to date." The Financial Times calls it "benchmark piano-trio jazz."
DownBeat readers named Brad Mehldau the year's best in piano. PopMatters names Ode to its list of the Best Jazz of 2012, saying: "Through it all is the leader’s astonishing pianism, particularly the many passages in which Mehldau’s left and right hands engage in a conversation that is raises the temperature of the music several notches."
Ode has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo for Mehldau's performance on the title track.
On the acclaimed Mermaid Avenue albums, Billy Bragg and Wilco put music to lyrics by the late folk legend Woody Guthrie for which he had not written music or made recordings. Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions, released on Nonesuch in April in advance of what would have been Guthrie's 100th birthday, includes the original two volumes (the second re-mastered); a third volume with 17 previously unreleased recordings from those sessions; the 1999 documentary on the sessions, Man in the Sand; and a 48-page booklet with new liner notes by Nora Guthrie, lyrics, archival photographs, and facsimiles of lyric sheets and sketches by Woody Guthrie. "Nobody has picked up on Woody as effectively—or unexpectedly—as this transatlantic get-together," says the BBC. "What's remarkable," says Pitchfork, is "the number of gems these sessions produced." Uncut includes Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions on its list of the Best Reissues of 2012.
For much of the year, Billy Bragg celebrated Guthrie's centennial by performing the songs of Mermaid Avenue on a worldwide tour titled Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me.
Storied musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John—Mac Rebennack—released Locked Down, a startling album that marks a significant departure from his recent efforts. The new album, produced by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, is an entirely new approach for the iconic Dr. John, featuring as it does his collaboration with Auerbach and a band of young musicians Auerbach hand-picked to make Locked Down at his Nashville studio. "Full of muscled, vintage R&B grooves, fevered soloing, psychedelic arrangements and oracular mumbo jumbo," says Rolling Stone, "it's the wildest record he's made in many years." Dr. John, says NPR, "proves that now, as always, he's the ruler of American roots music."
Rolling Stone, Mojo, Uncut, Paste, Rough Trade, musicOMH, and Amazon UK all include Locked Down among the Best Albums of 2012.
Locked Down has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album.
While Folila, Amadou & Mariam's first studio album since 2009's acclaimed Welcome to Mali, was released in April, the first sounds from the album appeared in January with the release of the Dougou Badia digital EP, featuring the album's opening track, co-written and with vocals by Santigold. Folila was helmed by longtime producer Marc-Antoine Moreau and epitomizes the duo's embrace of collaboration, with contributions by Santigold, TV on the Radio, Nick Zinner, Theophilus London, Bassekou Kouyate, and others. PopMatters places Folila on its list of the Best World Music of 2012.
Folila has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
Sun Midnight Sun, Sara Watkins' second solo album, features guest appearances by Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Sean Watkins, and more. The album, produced by Blake Mills, includes songs written by Watkins, several collaborations with Mills, songs by Dan Wilson and Willie Nelson, and a duet with Fiona Apple on The Everly Brothers' “You’re the One I Love,” which was released as a 7" vinyl single for Record Store Day with the original Everly Brothers recording on the flip side.
The Los Angeles Times calls Sun Midnight Sun "excellent." USA Today calls it "flawless" and "a gorgeous pop masterpiece ... pure musical pleasure." The Wrap says "it might be the finest album of the year."
Ligeti/Beethoven, the label debut album from acclaimed pianist Jeremy Denk, features Ligeti’s Piano Études, Books One and Two, and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111. "The result is dazzling," says the Observer. "The Ligeti is crisp, nuanced and technically flawless, the Beethoven beautifully shaped and flexible." NPR says: "Denk plays masterfully, opening up each puzzle box in turn with vitality, wit and absolute assurance." The Independent gives the album four stars. The Arts Fuse calls it "revelatory."
Time Out Chicago and the Star-Ledger include Ligeti/Beethoven among the best classical albums of 2012, as does NPR, which also cites the Ligeti etude "Automne à Varsovie" as one of its 100 Favorite Songs of 2012
A collection of 11 songs—eight written or co-written by Shawn Colvin—All Fall Down is Colvin's eighth studio album and the first to be produced by her longtime friend and cohort Buddy Miller (Robert Plant, Solomon Burke). Recorded in Nashville, All Fall Down features performances by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Jakob Dylan, Bill Frisell, Viktor Krauss, Brian Blade, Stuart Duncan, and Julie Miller, among others. The songs are "rich, knowing, smart, draped in discreet and intelligent shades of folk, country and rock," says the Irish Times. The Boston Globe calls the album "superb."
The June release of All Fall Down also brought the publication of Colvin's first-ever memoir, Diamond in the Rough (HarperCollins), in which Colvin shares her candid, colorful coming-of-age story, including more than three decades of touring, writing, and living to make music. The wit, lyricism, and empathy found in the book are traits that have long characterized Colvin’s songwriting and her live performances. "There are humor, remorse, and gratitude in her narrative," says the Boston Globe. "Colvin illuminates the magical blend of craft and happenstance that leads to powerful music."
Shawn Colvin rounds out the year with two sets at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado, on December 28.
For the first time since his 1980 release 80/81, Pat Metheny has recorded with a band that features tenor saxophone. Unity Band introduces a new Metheny ensemble of the same name with Chris Potter on sax and bass clarinet, longtime collaborator Antonio Sanchez on drums, and the up-and-coming Ben Williams on bass. The album features nine new Metheny compositions, "each one exquisitely performed and uniquely absorbing," says the Observer. All About Jazz says Unity Band is "unequivocally one of Metheny's finest—an album that's sure to find its way to 'best of' lists for 2012."
DownBeat readers named Pat Metheny the year's best in guitar.
Unity Band has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
Even before the release of her debut album, Lianne La Havas emerged as one of the UK’s most buzzed-about new talents, with critically acclaimed EPs, sold-out shows worldwide, and nods from the likes of Bon Iver and Ryan Adams. When the debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, was released in August, it was met with still more critical acclaim. The album, produced by Matt Hales (Aqualung), "is not just one of the year's best debuts," says the AP, "but one of the year's best albums." Says the BBC: "It’s always been clear that La Havas has a special voice, and so it proves here. It’s a voice that invites you in, and only the hardest heart will resist the offer." The San Francisco Chronicle exclaims: "It's hard not to want to shout, 'Viva La Havas!"
iTunes UK has chosen Is Your Love Big Enough? as its Album of the Year. NPR names the title track one of its 100 Favorite Songs, and NPR's Stephen Thompson includes the album among the Top 10 Albums of 2012, saying: "La Havas crafts a timelessly accessible but sophisticated sound world on Is Your Love Big Enough?—part pop, part jazz, part rock and part coolly slow-burning balladry." The album makes year-end best lists from the Associated Press, KCRW, Mojo, Exclaim, PopMatters, and Amazon.
Lianne La Havas returns to the United States for a headlining tour starting in March.
Ry Cooder conceived of Election Special as a wake-up call for the 2012 US election. On the album, which he produced, Cooder plays mandolin, guitar, and bass and wrote all of the songs, co-writing one with Joachim Cooder, who plays drums on the record. Mojo gives it four stars, saying: "Ry has proved equal to the crying need of the times." The Guardian gives the album four stars as well, calling it "an entertaining, thoughtful and bravely original set." Rolling Stone, in its four-star review, exclaims: "A guitar great takes a shot at political satire and hits the mark."
Uncut included Election Special its lists of both the Top 50 Albums and the Best Americana Albums of 2012.
Election Special has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album.
On Fatoumata Diawara's debut album, Fatou, the singer/songwriter—whom the Telegraph calls “the most beguiling talent to hit the world music scene in some time” and Mojo calls a "spell-weaving new voice"—uses elements of jazz, pop, and funk along with her ancestral Wassoulou tradition. John Paul Jones, Toumani Diabate, and Tony Allen all make guest appearances. Uncut gives Fatou four stars; Pitchfork calls it "beguiling." The Washington Post says "her well-crafted songs are quietly powerful."
NPR lists the album track "Bakonoba" among its 100 Favorite Songs of 2012. "The French-Malian actress and dancer with a smoky-sweet, Sade-like voice glides atop a West African groove on her debut album," says NPR. "More, please."
Jonny Greenwood’s second Nonesuch album this year, the soundtrack to writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film The Master comprises 11 compositions by Greenwood, which The New Yorker calls “rich and inventive," along with four recordings from the post–World War II era in which the film is set. Rolling Stone says the film's "visual poetry is matched by Jonny Greenwood's haunting, hypnotic score." Soundtrack performers include The London Contemporary Orchestra, AUKSO Chamber Orchestra, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. Mojo includes The Master on its list of the Best Soundtracks of 2012.
The Brad Mehldau Trio’s second Nonesuch album of the year, Where Do You Start, is a companion disc to the critically acclaimed Ode. Whereas Ode featured 11 songs composed by Mehldau, Where Do You Start comprises the Trio’s interpretations of ten tunes by other composers, along with one Mehldau original, "Jam." "The pianist builds his improvisation like a master storyteller," says NPR's Fresh Air. The album, says the BBC, "points to Mehldau entering a new prime phase in his career."
Randy Newman’s song “I’m Dreaming” was made available as a free download in advance of the US Presidential election. With lyrics from the viewpoint of a voter who casts his ballot solely based on skin color, the song draws attention to something Newman has noticed and written about for 40 years: racism in America. While the song, which Newman performs solo at the piano, remains free to download here, anyone wishing to contribute is encouraged to donate to the United Negro College Fund.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Randy Newman will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2013.
Released on what would have been Glenn Gould’s 80th birthday, The Art of Instrumentation: Homage to Glenn Gould, from violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra, comprises 11 pieces and arrangements by contemporary composers that quote from or are inspired by works, mostly by Bach, that Gould famously recorded during his career. It is "lovely and alluring," says NPR. "There are many moments in this album to make you smile, wonder and simply bask in the beauty of the music." The CBC calls it "a haunting, highly personal homage from one great musician to another and a deeply affecting tribute to Gould's enduring genius."
Recorded during the Nashville sessions for Punch Brothers' critically acclaimed 2012 album Who’s Feeling Young Now?, the five-song EP Ahoy!, also produced by Jacquire King, features songs by Josh Ritter ("Another New World"), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ("Down Along the Dixie Line"), and Mclusky ("Icarus Smicarus"); a traditional tune arranged by Punch Brothers ("Moonshiner"); and a new instrumental track by the band ("Squirrel of Possibility").
Nonesuch released The Metropolitan Opera’s performance of John Adams’ Nixon in China, with the composer conducting, on Blu-ray and DVD together in one package. The Met’s production, staged by Peter Sellars and first created by the English National Opera, stars James Maddalena as Richard Nixon, a role he originated at the opera’s world premiere in 1987. The performance seen on the Blu-ray/DVD was first broadcast live in movie theaters around the world as part of The Met: Live in HD on February 12, 2011, ten days after the opera received its Met premiere. The San Jose Mercury News included Nixon in China its its year-end gift guide of the Five Gifts for Fans of Classical Music.
The final Nonesuch Records release of the year, the eight-CD box set Hommage a Piazzolla brings violinist Gidon Kremer’s six previously released recordings of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s music together for the first time, along with a seventh album featuring a previously unreleased live recording from the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio. The Boston Globe has praised "both Piazzolla’s and Kremer’s ability to transcend genres and communicate a depth of emotion in which the best of classical, jazz and world music come together smoothly.”
AND MORE ...
There is, of course, more great music to come in 2013. Pre-orders are already available for Pat Metheny's latest album, The Orchestrion Project; Nataly Dawn's Nonesuch debut album, How I Knew Her; and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's new duets album, Old Yellow Moon. The new year will also bring Mala, the Nonesuch debut album from Devendra Banhart; the latest from Rokia Traoré; and much more.
All of the 2012 albums can be purchased in the Nonesuch Store, where all currently released CDs, LPs, and DVDs (pre-orders excluded) are 34% off suggested retail price—that's about 20% off the price listed on the site—through New Year's Day in celebration of the store's fifth anniversary; final discount is shown at checkout.
Happy Holidays from everyone at Nonesuch Records!
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