In case you're already blinded by the golden aura of 2012's major releases -- The Shins, T.I., Soundgarden, Nicki Minaj, Mumford & Sons, Muse, Sigur Ros -- we want to make sure you don't forget about some other sure-to-be-top-notch albums that will see release next year. They may not shine on the iTunes chart, but it won't be for lack of quality.
Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur (Rounder) The latest album from the Canadian singer shows definite signs she's departing from her alt-country past and heading in the direction of her current beau, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. The songs she played from this album at her September Dallas show made us feel the wait has been worthwhile.
Big K.R.I.T., Live From the Underground (Def Jam) Another stud who's made a serious name by putting out killer mixtapes and busting out genius collabs with some of the best in hip-hop. The album was pushed from a late 2011 release, so last year's loss is 2012's gain.
Joe Pug, The Great Despiser (Lightning Rod) The former Chicagoan has been folkin' it up in Austin for a little over a year now. The location proved to be rather fortuitous, as he was able to snag the Hold Steady's Craig Finn for a guest vocalist spot while the king of the sing-talkers was in ATX recording his own solo album. Pug's 2010 full-length, Messenger, was possibly the best modern folk album of that year.
Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes (Vagrant) Speaking of the geeky-cool frontman, when it was time to pick a few collaborators to help out with his first solo album, Finn grabbed Centro-matic's Will Johnson, among many other Austin-based ass-kickers, to lend a hand. Even the album's title has an Austin tie-in, but you'll have to figure that one out for yourself.
Lauryn Hill Reports have been popping that Hill will be following up her slate of 2011 live shows with a 2012 album from Island Def Jam. Even if the new collection's half as unreal as her instant-classic 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, it'll be worth more than a few listens.
Jamey Johnson Perhaps the only real outlaw in mainstream country these days, Johnson will soon follow up his last two risk-taking records with an LP that one must assume will be anything but safe, let alone predictable.
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Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit (Rounder) This Matt Vasquez-led batch of Californians has increased the gloss, but not the schlock over the course of releasing their past two albums. 2010's History From Below was a great example of an album that boasted polish, yet retained grit that can come through only when a song is written just the right way. Simply dismissing this band as a sun-soaked, pseudo alt-country act will likely be impossible after this year.
Melanie Fiona, The MF Life (Universal Motown) The insanely sultry Canadian steamed things up a couple years ago with her debut album,The Bridge. While a few singles from the new album have already been sent to radio, look for Fiona to grab a hefty slice of the R&B superstar pie in 2012.
The Will Callers, The Will Callers (Shiner Records) There are a ton of local records that we're looking forward to, but thanks to the group's history, this one has added importance. The long-awaited Ray Wylie Hubbard-produced debut from the best young honky-tonk act in North Texas will finally see the light of day.
Dr. Dre, Detox (Aftermath/Interscope) Who knows if it'll actually drop this year, but hip-hop's Chinese Democracy just has to be better than Chinese Democracy, right?