AARP’s Best 12 Albums of 2022
Award-winning music critic Jim Farber gives his picks for the year’s best records
It’s been a great year for new music from veteran performers such as Bonnie Raitt; breakout newcomers, including Wet Leg; and acts with talent that reached a mid-career high, such as Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The robust market created by music fans played a key part in encouraging this. Their clout is evidenced by the fact that more than 50 major talents over 50 are still touring to acclaim, including Willie Nelson, 85, Herb Alpert, 83, and Cher, 71.
In fact, most of the year’s top-earning tours, including Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Billy Joel were powered by fans.
Their fans are hungry for new music as well. Happily, a flood of albums arrived this year that are well worth a grownup's time. Here are the dozen that rate as the best of 2022:
Janis Ian: The Light at the End of the Line (January 2022)
Fifty-five years after her debut album, Janis Ian, 71, decided to bring her career to a close this year. Before she did, she created an album with the literary lyrics, fine musicianship and intimate vocals that long ago made Ian one of America’s most frank and sensitive songwriters. From pieces about the state of the world to several about aging, to one that offers a frank assessment of her complicated friendship with Nina Simone, Ian’s swan song offers a worthy, and moving, goodbye.
Cécile McLorin Salvant: Ghost Song (March 2022)
Is there anything Cécile McLorin Salvant can’t do with her voice? You’ll be asking yourself that as you listen to her loop-the-loop vocal workouts. Known initially as a jazz singer with a tonal resemblance to American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, Salvant, 33, now can’t be bound by any category or comparison. On Ghost Song, she moves effortlessly from an acrobatic cover of Kate Bush’s tricky-to-sing classic “Wuthering Heights” to an even-more-animated-than-usual version of “Optimistic Voices” from The Wizard of Oz. Salvant wrote more original material than ever before, proving she’s just as dynamic a composer as she is a chanteuse.
Midlake: For the Sake of Bethel Woods (March 2022)
Nearly a decade has passed since we’ve been graced by an album by Midlake, a Texas-bred band who make some of the most ravishing folk-rock. Inspiration came from a dream their keyboardist Jesse Chandler had in which his late father told him to record again after a nearly 10-year hiatus. The album’s title comes from the area where the original Woodstock festival took place. Chandler’s dad attended that historic event when he was 16 and, true to that spirit, Midlake’s album has a dreamy grace.
Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That (April 2022)
Losing loved ones is a natural part of the aging process, and for her latest album, Bonnie Raitt, 73, faced those sorrows with defiance and pluck. In the title track and “Livin’ for the Ones,” she uses her pain to stoke appreciation. “Waitin’ for You to Blow” finds her honestly addressing subjects from the temptations of excess while “Down the Hall” shares unexpected expressions of human kindness. Raitt’s albums are always reliable affairs, but this time she went deeper, creating songs that fully embrace her life right now.
Wet Leg: Wet Leg (April 2022)
Last year, Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, both 27, became viral sensations with their hilariously demented videos for “Chaise Longue” (their debut single) and “Wet Dream” (their second single). One wondered if their full-length debut could make them more than just a novelty act. Remarkably, it has. Wet Leg is packed with neo-new wave hooks, zippy melodies and more of the duo’s patented stoner/surreal lyrics. Not since classics like “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s (whose farewell tour ends in 2023) or the Ramones’ “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” have “dumb” anthems sounded this smart.
Soft Cell: Happiness Not Included (May 2022)
Twenty years have passed since we’ve received new music from Marc Almond and Dave Ball, the British pair who pioneered the synth-pop movement with their 1981 smash “Tainted Love.” On their bracing comeback, lyricist and singer Almond embraces the full arc of his 65 years. With candor and wit, he assesses his elaborate past, offering a song about his riotous encounter with Andy Warhol in the ’80s and another that covers his early obsession with T. Rex guitarist Marc Bolan. Almond is equally honest when writing about his narrowing present. Ball’s music weds Almond’s keen observations to the sort of dark, minimalist electro-pop that has always given Soft Cell a louche charm.
Tedeschi Trucks Band: I Am The Moon (June, July and August 2022)
The latest release from the sprawling band led by singer Susan Tedeschi, 52, and her guitar czar husband, Derek Trucks, 43, clearly rates as the most ambitious project of the year: A collection of 24 songs spread across four albums, issued over as many months. No one familiar with TTB’s classic-rock influences will be surprised to learn that the set’s inspiration is the same one that spurred their mentor Eric Clapton to create his 1971 masterpiece “Layla.” Namely, the poem Layla and Majnun, by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Unlike Clapton, TTB included Layla’s point of view in the story. The music has just as fresh an angle, combining blues, soul, gospel, rock and R&B in songs that burst with yearning and wonder.
Dawes: Misadventures of Doomscroller (July 2022)
No one writes more incisive and far-reaching lyrics these days than Taylor Goldsmith, 37, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the American folk-rock band Dawes, based in L.A. It’s no exaggeration to say his work compares to that of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne in their primes. On his first albums with Dawes, Taylor’s melodies mined the vaunted sound of Laurel Canyon ’60s folk-rock. This time, on Misadventures of Doomscroller, the music takes more influence from the sleek jazz-pop of Steely Dan and the erudite rock of Dire Straits. The most furious track, “Ghost in the Machine,” even channels the jam-band peak of The Allman Brothers Band. Conceived as a seamless piece, Doomscroller creates a 46-minute suite you’ll wish would go on forever.
Tommy McLain: I Ran Down Every Dream (August 2022)
Back in the ’60s, Louisiana legend Tommy McLain had just one national hit, a cover of the country classic “Sweet Dreams.” But New Orleans locals knew him as a pioneer of the swamp-pop sound, a mix of R&B, country and Cajun music that, thanks to exposure on the BBC in the ’70s, made an improbable impression on then-young stars Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Costello and Lowe have paid McLain back by singing and writing with him on his first album in 40 long years. At 82, McLain’s soaring voice sounds more robust than ever, and the quality of the new songs made the album’s great delay worth the wait.
The Bad Plus: The Bad Plus (September 2022)
More than a decade ago, the brilliant New York jazz combo The Bad Plus made its reputation by treating classic rock songs by stars such as David Bowie and Black Sabbath like pieces of origami, twisting them into the most unexpected shapes possible. They were a trio then: bass, piano and drums. For their latest work, they blew up the formula, combining their core rhythm section (Dave King and Reid Anderson) with a guitarist (Ben Monder) and a saxophonist (Chris Speed) for the first time. The makeover couldn’t be more successful, resulting in a mix of prog-rock and fusion jazz that’s beautiful and bold.
Barbra Streisand: Barbra Streisand Live at the Bon Soir (November 2022)
It may have been recorded half a century ago, but only this year did fans finally get to hear the full live recording Streisand originally intended to be her debut album. Audio issues at the Bon Soir, a small Greenwich Village club where the set was recorded in 1962, caused the delay. Thanks to the fixes made possible by modern technology, we can now bask in the incredible range and invention of the singer’s style when she was just 20. Streisand’s actorly readings of the decades-old songs she performed there, by writers such as Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers, makes them sound not only fresh but radical.
Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (November 2022)
Anyone drawn to the wan beauty of Karen Carpenter’s voice will swoon for Natalie Mering, 34, who performs under the name Weyes Blood. Her instrument has the resonant sadness of Carpenter’s, but with a timbre and character of her own. For her fifth release, she found the perfect partner for her voice — a lustrous brand of chamber-pop that brims with strings, horns and woodwinds. Sometimes the sound recalls the more contemplative moments of the still-touring (and squabbling) Beach Boys; no surprise given Mering’s Southern California roots. Lyrically, she excels as well by looking beyond her personal pain to tap into the difficult feelings that affect us all.
Jim Farber is a contributing writer who was the New York Daily News music critic for 25 years. He writes for AARP, The New York Times and The Guardian, and twice won the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor Award for America’s best music writing.
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