AnalogPlanet’s Top LPs of 2022, Part II: The Best New Releases of the Year

Last week, I recounted how AP editor Mike Mettler’s request to come up with a list of my Top 10 vinyl releases of 2022 has been harder than I imagined it would be. Paring down all the vinyl releases I’d listened to in 2022 into a list of just 10 choices? There are, of course, no “right” answers to this challenge, but my scenario is unique in that there are plenty of 2022-released recordings I have simply not yet had the opportunity, time, or space to listen to and/or review, many of which are excellent in their own right. [And, as I also noted here myself last week, I continue to relate to those latter sentiments!—MM]

To make this task a bit easier, I set some parameters for myself, wherein I chose to consider a) the significance of the release, b) the quality of the music, and c) the quality of the pressing and packaging overall. With all that in mind, the following is the second half of my Top 10 LPs of 2022, this time focusing on new releases that include some artists you may be familiar with from the classic rock era, plus some newer artists in soul jazz, progressive R&B, world music, and vocal jazz.

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The Boy Named If. Capitol.
This great, hard-rocking Elvis Costello & The Imposters album was just what some of us needed to make it through 2022! Elvis delivered a kicker of a record at the beginning of the year — one full of hooks, riffs, and most importantly, a driven sense of purpose. The album became an instant favorite, made even better when I got to see Elvis & The Imposters perform some of this material live on tour this past summer.

As a fan of Elvis pretty much from the beginning of his career (I got onboard in 1978 with This Year’s Model), I was taken with how The Boy Named If seems to double as a handy sampler of the many musical flavors Elvis has explored over the years. This is all conjecture, but many of the songs seem to echo earlier tunes, something that is really not an easy thing to pull off as a songwriter — i.e., new music that references the past without sounding like a retread. I was also happy as the opaque-purple 2LP pressing I took a chance on buying actually sounds pretty sweet, and both discs are quiet and well-centered. Elvis’ inspired singing, songwriting, and his fine guitar playing combine here with the brilliant backing of his band The Imposters to make The Boy Named If a total winner.


Red Balloon. Verve Forecast.
This amazing, fascinating, inspiring, and wondrous progressive group from New Orleans gleefully mashes up their influences — soul, R&B, hip-hop, funk, jazz, rock, pop, and poetry — without fear, creating a sumptuous feast for the ears. I became an instant fan after seeing them at The Monterey Jazz Festival a few years back. On record and onstage, they remind me of no less than Frank Zappa at his finest, delivering plenty of melodies and surprising changeups, with the band turning on a dime like James Brown’s well-oiled backing bands. And they just keep getting better and better — which is really saying something, as they were fantastic to begin with!

The group continues to wow and impress with each new release, and their latest album, Red Balloon (their second on Verve Forecast), has been nominated for a Grammy Award (as was its predecessor, 2019’s Green Balloon). Red Balloon delivers at times a classic ’70s soul R&B feel — tracks like “Mr. Bluebell” and “Why Try” break out vintage Stevie Wonder vibes, presented through the band’s prismatic, 21st century looking-glass perspective. “Stolen Fruit” is a gorgeous affirmation of life that feels kind of like if Stevie Wonder was backed by a group like Earth, Wind & Fire. Betwixt and between, there are fun, rap-like moments like “Big,” “Oak Tree,” and “Anxiety,” which can all be pretty trippy (in a good way). Listening to Red Balloon is almost like tuning channels between different radio stations at times, which makes for a fun and engaging listen that keeps you on your toes (which you may find are usually tapping or dancing as you do so, by the way).

If you decide to purchase Red Balloon, I recommend going for one of the deluxe editions that spreads the album’s 15 tracks over three sides on 2LPs, which no doubt gives the music more room to breathe in the mastering stages. (There is a 1LP version available that might be a bit more compressed-sounding.) The red vinyl deluxe edition also comes with a bonus track. Either way, Red Balloon is a 21st century magical mystery tour worthy of your exploration.


For Free. BMG.
This living legend’s most recent studio album was initially released digitally in 2021, but the vinyl edition came out in 2022. For Free is indeed a fine record, continuing this masterful songwriter/guitarist/vocalist’s late-period renaissance. If you haven’t been following him of late, David Crosby has been putting out some of the best music of his career over the past 20 years, and I can attest, having seen him live in concert in 2017, that his voice is still in fine form. [Editor's note: Mark rechecked his ticket stub for the Croz show and realized it took place in 2017 and not 2014 as originally posted, so the year has been duly revised here in the text—MM]

For Free is melody rich and harmony rich, revolving around a sweet blend of acoustic pop and jazz flavors, and at times reminiscent of no less than Joni Mitchell (whose 1968 self-titled debut album Crosby produced, as some of you may know). It is not surprising the title track here is a cover of Joni’s classic tune of the same name. It is also no secret that Crosby’s favorite band these days is Steely Dan, and one of the album’s new songs — “Rodriguez for a Night” — was actually co-written with Dan co-founder Donald Fagen. It feels like a lost classic Dan tune, replete with punchy horns, tight harmonies, and a stinging guitar solo. The album-opening "River Rise" features another Dan alumnus, Michael McDonald, on backing vocals, giving the song a classic sound like so much sweet buttercream icing atop the tastiest of devil’s food cupcakes.

I purchased the opaque fruit punch color vinyl edition of For Free at Barnes & Noble, and was pleased to find it sounding perfectly fine, well-centered, and quiet. This is a lovely recording.

[Hmm, sounds like Mettler should interview Crosby for a post on AP in the near future — and I’ve recently done just that! Stay tuned for that post, coming soon!—MM]


Live in Loveland! Colemine Records.
This was an essential Record Store Day release this year, capturing a sweet, hour-long, live-in-the-record-store set by this great, rocking, funky-soul jazz organ trio from Seattle. Pressed on beautiful —and happily quiet, and well-centered — pink translucent vinyl and spinning at 45rpm, Live in Loveland! smokes. The album delivers deep Hammond organ tones, killer grooves, and some sizzling electric guitar and keyboard solos. Some of my favorites here include sweet covers of James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”

You can still find this edition in stores, if you look around a bit; it is also available on the Colemine Records site. Also, don’t hesitate to pick up the band’s latest studio release, Cold As Weiss, which is another fine slab of swinging, organ-driven funky groove jazz, also released in 2022.


Here and There. Flying Carpet.
This indie release by a new artist who l learned about from several friends and record store folks who were recommending it highly was one of 2022’s pleasant surprises. I bought the album blind without even hearing it first, and I was not disappointed. Don’t let the “indie” designation sway you — Here and There is produced to a very high standard, and it’s presented in a vintage-style, thick cardboard gatefold jacket — a 2LP set — with high-quality graphics. The standard-weight vinyl is dark black, well-centered, and quiet. You don’t always get this kind of experience from an “indie” release.”

What does Kibrom Birhane’s music sound like, you ask? Well, Kibrom’s site sums it up best: “In this album, Kibrom has woven Ethiopian Jazz, East-African Funk, Spiritual, and Soul Jazz with Psychedelic threads into a rich tapestry of musical colors.” The passionate, mood-setting music on Here and There is both introspective and uplifting, funky and grooving, and beautiful, weird, and wooly. I dig it.


Honorable Mention
Lady Blackbird: Black Acid Soul. Foundation Music.
My hands-down favorite vocal jazz album of 2021 was reissued late in 2022 as an expanded edition 2LP set. The bonus disc adds numerous remixes and several unreleased songs, some of which I consider essential additions/complements to the original album. For me, the really big standout on this new edition is Lady Blackbird’s jaw-droppingly slowwww, utterly beautiful, and achingly spare rendition of “I Am What I Am,” which is easily the most powerful version of this song I’ve ever heard. Originally written for the legendary Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles and transformed into a dance floor anthem by Gloria Gaynor in the early 1980s, Lady Blackbird’s tremendous rendition presents her Nina Simone-like vocals backed by the sparest of acoustic piano and bass. And that is all that is necessary to deliver such a tour de force. Lady Blackbird’s voice and interpretation of the song will take you to another place. Take a few parts of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, and Chaka Khan, balance it all with a heaping portion of Nina Simone, and you get Lady Blackbird, one of the most expressive singers I’ve heard since Patti Cathcart of Tuck & Patti.

This heartfelt, moody, vocal jazz-informed music was wonderfully recorded at Sunset Sound in L.A. The well-centered and quiet black vinyl was mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman. Lady Blackbird’s Black Acid Soul sure has got some strong pedigree happening for a first album by a new artist. A recording of many surprises and riches, I can’t recommend Black Acid Soul enough.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)

MM’s end-of-year AP postscript: And that’s a wrap on 2022, the Year in Vinyl Review! Mark, myself, and a few other select, highly knowledgeable analog-centric writers will be reviewing many, many more new and archival LPs and vinyl box sets/reissues galore in 2023. Until then, we here at AnalogPlanet wish that each and every one of you have a safe and healthy New Year — and, lest we forget, happy listening, everyone!

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HiFiMark's picture

of 2022:

Joel Ross - Parable Of The Poet (planning to plumb his back catalog, small though it is)

Charles Lloyd Trio - Chapel (looking forward to picking up the others...)

The Flower Kings - By Royal Decree

Kurt Knuffke Trio - Gravity Without Airs


John Coltrane - Blue Train Complete Masters

Albet Ayler - Revelation (so, so good. Perhaps my favorite of all...)

Beach Boys - Sail On Sailor

Cecil Taylor - Return Concert

Charles Mingus - The Lost Album

PeterPani's picture

To be honest, there were only two records that impressed me in 2022. The first one was Vikingur Olafsson's Mozart-LP, but that was produced 2021. And the second Lady Blackbird, mainly 2021, too...

HiFiMark's picture

the Olafsson. How's the recording quality?

PeterPani's picture

It is a digital recording.. The sound of DG is sadly always slightly too low-level recorded.
Never-the-less, the sound is not too bad (I would rate it 7, and the performance 11). No tics on the pressings, quiet vinyl.
But, any lover of Mozart has to buy this one anyway. There are passages of such a beauty in Olafsson's playing that will overwhelm you.
And I compared HiRes-Digital to Vinyl. It seems that my DAC (Nagra) is not that good than the DAC they used at DG for transfer on vinyl - means the vinyl sounds more lively than the digital stream on my system (Thorens TD124 with Ortofon Jubilee into tubed preamp).
Would wish they would have recorded him analog...
Anyway - buy it. You must!

Mike Mettler's picture
Great choices, folks. I have a few choices of my own I will be highlighting here in the next week or so. SpinMark3313 reminds me I need to get that Flower Kings album on wax, so thanks for that!

I would also say if Wilco had been able to put their latest album Cruel Country out on vinyl in 2022 -- it's scheduled for a 2LP release on January 20 -- that would have been a top contender for me. That said, I suspect it will definitely contend for top honors at the end of this year.

Chemguy's picture

Thanks, Mark. Nice job!

Do realize you said that you can attest to DC’s voice being in fine form, having seen him live in 2014? Um...that was 9 years ago, Mark. That made me chuckle.

Mark Smotroff's picture

I just re-checked my review (elsewhere on the net) of the "Sky Trails" album I purchased at the show. That said, I hear you. The point was to address those who might automatically assume that someone like Croz -- who no doubt led a hard life for many years -- might have ruined his voice. That is not the case here. He is still singing like an angel. Here is a clip from a recently released live DVD from 2018 to give you an idea...

Thanks again for the kind words. Much appreciated!

Mike Mettler's picture
I've officially revised the year to 2017 in the body text accordingly, with an added parenthetical for further clarification. Croz on!
Tom L's picture

We saw and heard David Crosby with the Sky Trails band in May of 2019. They started with a couple of relatively quiet songs, In My Dreams and Morrison, then let it rip. He still had plenty of volume available, enough to blow his talented young accomplices right off stage on songs such as Long Time Gone, Wooden Ships and the encore of Ohio. He had the same distinctive vocal quality we remember from many years ago. So glad we went, it was incredible.
During the pandemic DC said on Twitter that his touring days were over, but he recently sang with some unnamed people who started him thinking about doing a few more shows. Yes, he's 81 and has been through a lot but his recent music puts the output of his old CSNY cohorts to shame.

Mike Mettler's picture
As I noted in one of my parenthetical adds to Mark's piece, I had the honor of interviewing David Crosby recently for AP, and hope to post that discussion here soon -- possibly later this week, if the fates allow.
Mike Mettler's picture
Here's the link to my newly posted David Crosby interview, in case you haven't checked it out yet... enjoy! Click here.
fstanke's picture

Could you say which of the reviewed LPs are AAA, i.e., pure analog with any digital links in the chain?

fstanke's picture

Could you say which of the reviewed LPs are AAA, i.e., pure analog with any digital links in the chain?