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The 2022 Graham Awards
As broadcast on WVIA Radio December 28, 2022

This is Mixed Bag and this is George Graham. And it’s time for an annual ritual in these parts, yet another meaningless awards segment, the 2022 Graham Awards. This is like one of those silly old rituals that has been going on for generations and which nobody knows why, but you keep doing it anyway. With the internet and social media, there are probably even more of these awards things than ever before. But at least we have the confidence of knowing that we have been doing this relatively pointless exercise for over 45 years. So maybe that counts for something.

Of course, when we started the Graham Awards, the principal medium for music was still the LP, with cassettes soon overtaking vinyl. And then along came CDs for a couple of decades, and then to the chagrin of many like myself, most music fans don’t have a physical recording but stream the music. But now we are getting back to LPs again, with the vinyl in some cases outselling the physical CDs. Go figure. What goes around, comes around.

As mentioned, I am not a fan of streaming. Back in the day, we used to take pleasure in our record collections, and sometimes spent time trying to figure out what the albums cover meant. Now people can get away with not having any physical recordings at all, and your music library is subject to the whims – or legal machinations – of the streaming platforms. You music could just disappear like that.

The proliferation of streaming has pretty much eliminated the need for the big record labels of old, who were the gate keepers, deciding what music would be released, and what artists would be turned away. Now, anyone with a laptop in a bedroom can use music software to make virtual records, and put them on the streaming platforms, pretty much without any filtering. That has certainly democratized the music. But the other side of the story is that there is a huge amount of bad music out there, and it’s tough to find the worthwhile material. That is what I try to do for you, but it can be pretty daunting when I get as much as 50 or more download links for music each an every day. By the way, on the air, we still use good old durable, fileable, physical CDs.

But whatever the medium, and despite what has come to dominate the commercial media, there were a lot of worthwhile albums that fell into the realm we cover on Mixed Bag. So of the over 500 new releases to which we introduced you in 2022, here are my top 10 favorites. And it turns out to be a nicely varied list. So, ladies and gentlemen, here are the Graham Awards, given in reverse order, so generate a tiny bit of suspense. Actually, I’m going to start at number 11, since this is a short format album, an EP.

So number 11: the eponymous recording by Anais Mitchell, who has had great success, winning a Tony Award for her musical “Hadestown.” She released a nice EP of stand-alone songs marked by great writing and her charming vocals.

Now for the full-length albums: Number 10: Duke Robillard: The Called It Rhythm and Blues a great retro album of music influenced by the rhythm and blues of the late 1940s and into the 1950s.

Number 9: Paris Combo: Quesaco? It’s the final album, released posthumously, featuring the wonderfully whimsical and very French chanteuse Bell DuBarrie.

Number 8: Loudon Wainwright III: Lifetime Achievement. The veteran folkie recently turned 75 and that was on his mind as he created a great bunch of songs that run from the introspective to the cleverly humorous, sometimes at the same time.

Number 7: 100 Mile House: Love and Leave You a very nice folkie duo album by a pair of musicians who became marital partners as well as musical partners.

Number 6: Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That. Roughly coinciding with the 50th anniversary of her debut album, Bonnie Raitt shows that she has not lost it. I think it is one of her best in years.

Number 5: Lyle Lovett: 12th of June. The witty, sometimes quirky Texan, who attracts impeccable musicianship with his Large Band, always provides an occasion for rejoicing at each new album. This one, interestingly, features more cover tunes than usual.

Number 4: The Foreign Landers: Travelers Rest. This is another outstanding folk influenced recording by a pair of musicians who became husband and wife, after being separated by an ocean. Some of the songs reflect their journey to each other, in the context of the pandemic.

Number 3: James Kahn: By the Risin’ of the Sea, album of 21st Century sea shanties – some taking up the issues and challenges of the day.

Number 2: Shemekia Copeland: Done Come Too Far. I think Shemekia Copeland is one of today’s best blues singers, and with her songwriting partners, she has created album of song very relevant to today, ranging from a serious look at the reemergence of racism to a fun novelty song.

And Number 1: Jake Blount: The New Faith. I can say I have not run into an album quite like Jake Blount’s. He’s a bluegrass and old-timey banjo player who created a suite of songs, a concept album, that is a kind of dystopian science fiction story about a collapse of society from climate change, with a small band of African Americans making their way north to an island haven.

And there you have it, the Graham Awards, good for no more than the time it takes to mentioned them on the air. Later on, we’ll have another long-running tradition, the annual music obituaries for the year.

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