When the world pivots from viruses to political divisions to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, music is a constant. A place to turn for hope, celebration and nostalgic relief.
2022 was sonically triumphant, a return or near return to normalcy for live performance and tours both big and small.
Studio releases fueled those concerts, from new songs sprinkled in at the Journey show at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to album release shows by Akron-Canton area groups such as The Buffalo Ryders and The Ohio Weather Band.
Personally, it was an extraordinarily satisfying year, affirming my love for established musical artists while uncovering newer indie and alternative acts.
Here’s a review of my favorites, a smorgasbord of local, regional and national artists, from alt-country to indie rock to retro rock to mainstream pop.
Eddie Vedder, “Earthling” − Vedder’s solo work inevitably causes me to ponder what would have become of Kurt Cobain musically.
The two icons were bookends to the grunge rock era: Pearl Jam compared to Nirvana and vice versa. Even after Cobain’s suicide in 1994, the comparisons persist. So what would Cobain’s solo material have sounded like? Weird, esoteric noise rock? Hushed acoustic music overtop a bed of cello and violin? Straight-forward alternative rock with pop sensibilities?
The mystery is obviously unanswerable, but for Vedder, the results of his latest studio work are refreshingly pleasing, exceeding Pearl Jam’s most recent album with its newness and breadth of sound. From a peppy show tune-evoking number with Elton John, “Picture” to “Power of Right,” which proves that despite his current role of classic rock elder statesman, Vedder still possesses a streak of “Crazy Eddie,” the early ’90s Pearl Jam frontman who was a juggernaut of punk rock energy and attitude on stage.
More:Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder calls astronauts on space station for Earth Day chat (video)
Other highlights include the lovely “Mrs. Mills,” a piano-rich, orchestral track reminiscent of The Beatles. Triumphant, tempo-shifting rockers include “Invincible” and “Brother the Cloud.” Mellower tracks include “Long Way,” a leisurely, melodic song imparting a Tom Petty vibe.
Nikki Lane, “Denim & Diamonds” − After a roughly five-year hiatus, alt country rocker Nikki Lane released a new album that is catchy and groove-laden while alternating between fast-charging numbers and a few songs reminiscent of classic country crooning.
Lane is equally adept at both, quickening the pace on “Born Tough” and easing off the gas a bit for a sweet tribute to the enduring marriage of her grandparents on “Good Enough.” Regardless of style, her signature country girl sass and indie artist irreverence remain fully intact.
Toggling somewhere between vintage country and alternative rock, the results are fantastically unique, the comforting riffs and steady guitar strumming anchored by the sweet rasp and authenticity of Lane’s vocals. Favorites include the opening track, “First High,” which hums along with the wind-blown ease of a desert highway road trip in a Cadillac convertible.
Lane sings inspired lyrics with the confidence and swagger of the coolest gal in a honky-tonk: “Oh, take me back to the first dream, 501 blue jeans, tighter than goddamn Springsteen, take me back to the first show, right back to the first note, when I knew my heart was pure rock and roll.”
The Buffalo Ryders, “Going Nowhere” − The Akron area alternative rock band returns with a second album that both faithfully echoes the stellar 2021 release, “Where the Liars Go” and breaks new ground with mid-tempo, subtly pop-rock influenced songs “For a Moment” and “Take it if it’s Easy.”
Most times, however, the band resembles a three-man army of sound, plowing straight ahead with heavy hitter songs like “Going Nowhere” and “Holy Ones.”
The Buffalo Ryders is yet another regionally-based group deserving of national notoriety and high-volume streaming. And a recent concert at Musica in Akron only intensified my appreciation for the band’s guitar heft, moody vocals and alt rock legitimacy.
JD Eicher, “Majesto Sessions” − Doting dad, street tough Youngstown area native, exquisite songwriter and impassioned vocalist − JD Eicher is the total package.
Eicher’s 2022 effort “Majesto Sessions,” paired with a novel he authored, is also a prime example of when less is more.
More:Northeast Ohio’s JD Eicher makes music and tells stories with album, novel
A lean, eight-track effort, the album juxtaposes moments of indie pop rock brilliance like “Vacation” and “Kamikaze” with the soulful serenity of “Back To Me” and “Cloud In My Head.” Eicher sings each note with trademark conviction, rising and falling in pitch and intensity without ever being overwrought.
Kudos to famed romance novelist Nicholas Sparks for plucking Eicher out of obscurity to pen a handful of songs as a companion to the 2016 book, “Two by Two.” The creative partnership raised Eicher’s profile, but I’m still left wondering why a hit Netflix, Amazon Prime or Apple TV show hasn’t tapped Eicher’s talents for a soundtrack.
The Ohio Weather Band, “High Noon Glow” − Vocalist Corey King shines on this 12-song record that is difficult to nail down in terms of genre but reliably and enjoyably varied in sound.
Skillfully produced, the Americana, roots-oriented album mixes the beat, tempo and song structures on a number of gems, including the propulsive, storybook of a song, “Rubber Town.” Formed in Alliance, the band also has a fun side, examples including the piano-complemented ramble of a tune, “Red Eyes” and the bar room stomp and ode to life on the road, “See Ya on Stage.”
King demonstrates full command of his voice, swinging between restraint and a heartfelt, tempered howl. Candidate for song of the year, “Found Her Hangin” spotlights the frontman at his very best on a soft, affecting ballad where King sings overtop sparse but lush instrumentation.
Charlie Hickey, “Nervous At Night” − This was my most unexpected musical discovery of 2022.
Opening for Wolf Alice at Beachland Ballroom this past spring, Hickey immediately drew me in with the depth of sincerity he projected on stage with a single bandmate. Rarely have I seen a musician immerse himself so personally in every word, every note, every chord.
I call it window sill pop, Hickey strumming a guitar to the backdrop of understated instrumentation. Weaving stories about adolescence and young adulthood with novel details about fake IDs, strawberry moons, throwing rocks at windows in romantic yearning, drawing on jeans with a Sharpie, and falling asleep in a theatre seat with a water bottle full of wine.
“Nervous At Night” ranks as the pinnacle of the 11-track album and is a clear song of the year candidate.
Hey Monea, “Banner Year” − Featuring the seasoned pop rockers Dan and Nate Monea, this longtime Stark County-based regional favorite is in top form on an album brimming with melodies and hooks.
Dan Monea’s voice is distinctively pleasant while he scales notes low and high, always sounding confident and at ease within the framework of the songs. Pliable vocals, rich harmonies, efficient songwriting and sprightly guitar work sparkle on every tune.
Savvy production at the band’s Little C Studios also adds to the polish and snappiness of the tracks. Among the best are “Give It to You,” “Lipstick,” “Duval” and “’90s Radio,” which is a festive and nostalgic callout to another era.
The new album was released during a busy year for Hey Monea, which also embarked on the project, “52/22,” where the band covered one song weekly for every year from 1970-2022. The splendid results are a must watch and listen for music junkies and casual fans alike, with the Monea brothers and supporting musicians curating an eclectic trove of classic songs in an array of genres, including country, pop, glam rock, new wave, metal and more.
Recorded in a variety of studio settings, tracks include Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil,”; Men At Work and “Who Can It Now?”; “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson; “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy; “To Be With You” by Mr. Big; Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”; “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones; “The Bones” by Maren Morris; Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do”; “Jealous” by Nick Jonas; Madonna’s “Material Girl”; Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”; Meredith Brooks and “Bitch”; “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel; “Trouble” by Coldplay; “We’re Going to Be Friends” by The White Stripes; and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M.
Other new albums to check out: Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, “Cool It Down”; Wet Leg, “Wet Leg”; The Black Keys, “Dropout Boogie,” The Paris Accord (featuring Scott Paris), “Music for Space Exploration”
EP of the year: Urban Honey, “Nectar” − The Canton-based band’s inaugural release is such a tease, the four songs leaving me wanting more, more, more.
Originating as a purely instrumental group in 2021, Urban Honey added dynamic vocalist Christine Reichard. At first, I wasn’t convinced she completely fit based on an early show at the former Buzzbin in downtown Canton. But every doubt has since been erased.
More:New local music from Ohio Weather Band, Urban Honey, Paris Accord
“Nectar” showcases the band’s deft grasp of riff rock, old school blues, instrumental jamming and songcraft. Reichard is the not-so-secret weapon, scaling notes with ease and glass-shattering power.
A blend of garage rock rawness and studio refinement, notable songs include the hot banger, “JayBird” and the upbeat cure to sadness, “On My Mind.”
Full of promise, Urban Honey has been hard at work on new material at Realgrey Records. Piano and superb local saxophonist Matt Corey apparently will be making guest appearances on the next batch of songs. Can’t wait.
Best live record: Brian Lisik & Hard Legs, “Hotsy Totsy!” − Eager to watch Brian Lisik live in late October at The Auricle in downtown Canton, I missed out on my chance, unable to be two places at once when Urban Honey was performing at Patina Arts Centre.
But “Hotsy Totsy!” is easily the next best thing, a 12-track show recorded at The Rialto Theatre in Kenmore.
Capturing the unvarnished intimacy of a club show, Lisik thankfully refrained from overproducing the album, maintaining the ragged edges and spontaneity of a jam at a neighborhood bar while evoking what Paul Westerberg would have sounded like in his early days.
More:Singer, songwriter Brian Lisik has a strong new album
Easily ranking among my all-time favorite live records, “Hotsy Totsy’s” setlist was wisely curated with both recognizable favorites like “Junior High School” and a random but endearing cover of “Under the Boardwalk,” complete with a few forgotten words.
Best concert: Journey in Canton: Journey headlining the Concert for Legends was simply terrific.
More:Journey and Donnie Iris electrify stadium crowd with rousing HOF Fest show
A virtual jukebox of hit songs, the iconic band was musically flawless and wonderfully enthusiastic on stage at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival. Even without former vocalist Steve Perry, it was a wholly satisfying spectacle. Arnel Pineda was a human pinball of energy who reached skyscraper notes with precision and seemingly with ease.
Standout moments were aplenty − “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” “Faithfully” and “Lights” among them. And equally memorable was opener Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, the band leader a freak of nature at age 79, ripping guitar leads, shrieking on pitch and smiling endlessly as he convincingly declared, “Love Is Like A Rock.”
The Power of Taylor: Taylor Swift is undoubtedly the biggest star in music at the moment, the country singer-songwriter turned pop diva proving it when online ticket sales for her tour next year overwhelmed Ticketmaster with demand.
Another sign of Swift’s sweeping popularity is within my own household. My 17-year-old daughter has never been the rock god worshipping teenager I was in the 1980s … until Swift released her new album, “Midnights.”
She’s been a casual music fan, liking individual songs and attending a few concerts, but never with an unwavering allegiance to a band or musical artist … until she became entranced with all things Taylor.
It’s been fun to watch my daughter plead with me to play Swift’s new songs from “Midnights” on car rides. Or listen to her strategize a plan to pounce on concert tickets online. Most heartwarming was when she personally connected with the synth-enhanced jewel of a song, “You’re On Your Own, Kid.”
She explored the lyrics, even discussing them with dear old dad, a fossil of the eras of ’80s hair metal and ’90s grunge.
Thanks, Taylor, for introducing my daughter to the sonic elixir known as popular music.
Best small live show: Joe P at Erie St Vinyl in Massillon − Another exciting musical discovery was New Jersey-based indie rocker Joe P performing on a stool with an acoustic guitar while surrounded by shelves stocked with vinyl records.
More:Black Friday retro style: Quonset Hut offers vinyl treasures on Record Store Day
Credit Erie St Vinyl owner Sam Heaton and The Summit 91.3 FM in Akron for partnering on the supremely cool and deeply enjoyable show in front of less than 100 people.
The personable, playful and engaging Joe P showcased songs both from his 2021 EP, “Emily Can’t Sing” and the 2022 effort, “French Blonde.” Both releases are excellent and rank among the best music I’ve heard in the last two years.
Vocally and musically, it’s indie rock with an energized spin while detouring for moments of introspection. Lyrically imaginative and aurally nuanced, Joe P, formerly of the band Deal Casino, should be a reliable creator on the alt rock scene for years to come.
Think Pete Yorn meets The Dandy Warhols meets a style that is uniquely New Jersey bred, an indie pop rock version of Bruce Springsteen.
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected].
On Twitter @ebalintREP