Local vocals (and instrumentals): Sixteen albums we loved in 2012

Goosebumps on Pangea by Chachillie: "Stars" is among the strongest tracks, and the title track in a way. A lithe rap name checks the prophets from nearly every major religion, and the album's liner notes offer a glossary of terms. The elastic snap and bounce of rhymes paired with the silken tones of Charles “Chachillie” Stewart's singing voice showcases his range. Full review: http://avl.mx/og

Quit Trying by The Decent Lovers: Upbeat quirk-pop single “Abilene" is all misfit good vibes from the xylophone hits to the raw guitar chords. “Liquor shelf to yourself, you still seem as cool to me as when we were 16, I fell in love with the pawnshop prom queen,” Elijah Wyman sings. It’s a complicated tune that comes off as simple. http://avl.mx/gi

Something In the Water by Leigh Glass & the Hazards: The record's title track sets the mood, opening with pure rock guitar, menacing as a motorcycle. It's only a minute in before Glass' vocal takes off. She's a big singer with the kind of voice that can belt without betraying the effort. But Glass also knows how to rein it in, allowing the intensity to build. http://avl.mx/oh

R&S/Cedars by Marley Carroll: The three-track album begins with "R&S," a slow climb into layered sound, its build unhurried though it pulses and undulates in thick bass and jingling percussion. The melody lives behind the vocal, a single syllable that may not even be human. This is artful minimalism, stripped of instrumentation and players which, instead, float bodiless in some warm space, free of gravity. http://avl.mx/oi

Self-titled by Alarm Clock Conspiracy: "Tomorrow's Past" is a wistful song, soaked in '70s-era California country rock glimmer. "On Me" moves farther into that territory, its sound the breeziness-juxtaposed-with-longing that The Eagles captured so perfectly during their heyday. The guitars shimmer, matched by a light, brushes-on-snare percussion. It crackles with electricity. http://avl.mx/oj

Make Believers by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: Skidoo raps to vintage jazz on “Space Cadet.” No hip-hop beats here; the pulse comes from a snare and a tuba. “Rocketfuel,” a collaboration with the Secret B-Sides, is a standout track. Here, Skidoo’s rap is a syncopated skipping. Words trip like flat stones cast over a lake, barely breaking the surface. http://avl.mx/ok

Backroads & Bonfires by CrazyHorse & Colston: "Cruise Control" takes its cues from an unspoken but documented tradition of naming places (think: Dion's "The Wanderer"). "Mirage" is underscored throughout by a sample of symphonic strings. "Where the Water Runs Deep" has a hooky chorus and some thoughtful spoken word parts that reveal a spiritual bent (one more concerned with nature than the church). http://avl.mx/ig

The Spectrum by CaroMia: "Just A River" is a standout track, rife with atmosphere and building excitement. CaroMia Tiller's vocal bounces and sweeps, much like the river she sings about. But it's the background that really elevates the track: support vocals from Mary Ellen Bush and Matt Williams and tasteful strings arrangements. "Nothing Like You" edges up against Otis Redding-type soul, but where Redding might have added horns, CaroMia brings in mandolin, steel guitar and the heavy thump of stand-up bass. http://avl.mx/ol

You Gotta Roll by Woody Pines: "Long Gone" kicks off the album with the kind of snap and drive that followed swing and predated rock. The groove sits on a sturdy bass line allowing for some fancy clarinet work. "Red Rocking Chair" is a gathering thundercloud, trading the brightness of the first track for minor chords and a spooky fiddle so eerie that it sounds almost like a ghostly voice. http://avl.mx/om

Late Bloomer by Night's Bright Colors: In an era of five-song EPs, 15 tracks seems epic, but few of those on Late even reach the three-minute mark. Such is Jason Smith's trademark touch: light, brief, lingering just long enough to say what needs to be said. The title track is sung at almost a whisper. Close to the mic. Pillow talk, though not necessarily of the romantic variety. http://avl.mx/on

Get Outside by Josh Phillips Folk Festival:
Opening track "Angelina" is an Appalachian approximation, a country death song filtered through Phillips' funk/soul filter. Here, Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers) lends a searing fiddle part while a cymbal shimmers with the hiss of a rattle snake and the dark thump and snarl of the song is flush with banjo, guitars and foot stomps. The title track is, perhaps, Phillips at his best. There's a luminosity to the song, a sleepy hush paired with wide-eyed wonder. "And I think I'll just get outside and find a spot and lay down, wherever it looks inviting, and listen to the water flow," sings Phillips. http://avl.mx/oo

Orange by Shod My Feet:
Slow, contemplative (and, at turns, tongue-in-cheek) "Fake Break Up" is a solid song, but the album's real surprises come later. Like the spastic hand claps (or, perhaps, foot stomps?) that give way to perfectly timed drums at the beginning of "Poor Boy," and the way Keebler's vocal on that songs hints at Grace Slick. "Happy Song" has shades of a comedic role in Keebler's voice, but it's the album's title track that really introduces Shod My Feet's ability to pair earnest musicianship with a sense of whimsy. http://avl.mx/op

Geekamongus by Will Chatham: The predominant high hat and the stuttering rap of "Get Back Fellas" is a far cry from your garden variety geekery. Instead, that track — like much of Geekamongus — is equal parts stylized strut and sly wink. "At The Right Time" flashes jazz teeth, shoulder dipping along church choir vocals, hand-drums, beat boxing, jingle bells and a sort of ambling Vince Guaraldi-esque melody line. Disparate, yes. But the whole picture, when all the pieces are assembled, reveals a warm grin. http://avl.mx/oq

The Ghost of Galapagos by The Hermit Kings: This is a song cycle that whispers and screams, tiptoes and stomps, waltzes and slam dances. The songs are (like the album title suggests) haunted and strange. "Flesh and Blood" rails against bad parenting and imposed ideas of normalcy. This song is the album's longest (nearly seven minutes) and devolves from a loping beat into a spooky carnival of percussion and menacing guitar. http://avl.mx/or

Anniversary by Angela Faye Martin: Martin’s is a unique voice and style that draws on deep roots and deeper mysticism. "Honey" slinks through the snarl of guitars and dark washes of bass. Martin's voice sweeps easily between a low whisper and a high lilt. Her sense of dynamics is impeccable, as is her ability to marry mountain balladry with modern electronics and hooks that are catchy if not completely poppy. http://avl.mx/os

Crooked Hollows by Ty Gilpin: This is High Windy mandolinist Ty Gilpin's solo project, but it's hardly a solo effort. The mandolin player tapped "the best of the Asheville roots music scene.” Country waltz, "Smiling for the Camera," includes Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range) on guitar, Sav Sankaran (The Dixie Bee-Liners) on bass, Matt Smith (Pierce Edens) on pedal steel and Tim Gardner (High Windy) on fiddle. The final track is a remix of moody, lyrical "Queen of the Crows," crafted by local produced Danny Peck (aka dep). Here, the mandolin still stars, but organic percussion also surfaces like a cold rain, a hard frost, a flurry of bird wings taking flight. http://avl.mx/ot

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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