Best Albums of 2012: Music That Pads the Wagering Bankroll

I cashed more tickets listening to Alejandro Escovedo than any other artist in 2012

Handicapping over 3,000 horse races a year can be a daunting task, and one of the things that keeps me from going completely insane is being able to crank up the music as I work.

I am lucky enough to have a job where if the mood strikes me I can mute the televisions, bypass the recommendations from the talking heads at TVG to fire away at the next Pick 4, direct my phone calls to go right to voice mail, insert ear buds to drown out the wife from suggesting I take the trash out or find a real job, and enjoy great music.

I published a list in 2010 of my favorite “handicapping music” in which the most popular response was “Why have I not heard of any of those groups?”

So I thought I would follow that article up with my favorite music of 2012. These are the dozen albums I listened to the most over the past year.

Feel free to download these albums as I would not steer you wrong, and if any of these groups come through your town go see them live.

Listening to this music while you handicap and wager is surely going to help your bottom line:


12. Todd Snider “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables”

His latest album has a fitting name, as “Stoner” would be a fitting description for my favorite folk singer.  After seeing the legendary Jerry Jeff Walker perform an acoustic show Snider exclaimed, “Shit, I can do that,” and bought himself a guitar. Since that time Snider has traveled across the country telling stories that rhyme, and telling a few stories that will have you laughing until you cry. In addition to his latest album, his double CD “Todd Snider: The Storyteller” is probably his best work.



11. Rhett Miller “The Dreamer”

Miller is the front man for the alt-country band The Old 97’s and has put out five solo albums. His latest is probably his best work. While his previous albums were more Pop oriented, his latest has more of a country feel to it. “Out of Love” and “Picture This” are two of my favorite songs on the album. The Old 97’s are getting ready to head out on tour and Miller usually does an acoustic set as an opener featuring some of his best songs.



10. Justin Townes Earle, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now”

The son of legendary singer songwriter Steve Earle, Justin has carved out his own niche with five albums, his latest the best. It is a mix of country, blues, and folk that just works, and he has shown in his latest work he has the pedigree to be a good songwriter in his own right. He has had issues with drug addiction, and was arrested for public drunkenness and resisting arrest just three days after the release of his most recent album. “Am I That Lonely Tonight” is one of the best songs of the album.



9. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit “Live from Alabama”

Isbell’s album “Here We Rest” included “Alabama Pines” which was named Song of the Year at the 2012 Americana Music Awards. “Live from Alabama” includes his best songs from his first three albums since he left the group Drive By Truckers for a solo career. “Goddamn Lonely Love” and ‘Danko / Manuel” along with “Alabama Pines” are the highlights of the album.  One of the best young songwriters out there, he also is a must follow on Twitter.



8. Billy the Kid “Stars, Exploding”

I first came across Billy Pettinger’s album “Ours”  which was a phenomenal album with great songwriting and a voice that is a cross between Jewel, Lucinda Williams, and Kasey Chambers. She put a drive together at Pledge Music and raised enough funds to produce a new album with producer Jamie Candiloro, known for his work with Ryan Adams, who happens to be one of Billy’s (and mine) favorite artists. The collaboration produced her best work. The nine songs on the new album are strong from start to finish. She is a star in the making.



7. The Avett Brothers “The Carpenter”

The group became mainstream with their album “I and Love and You” in 2009, and I honestly did not think they could top that. They came out with “Live, Volume 3” which reproduced their raucous live shows, and “The Carpenter” came out this year. Brothers Scott and Seth along with bass player Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon on cello are just as comfortable singing a ballad as they are diving into a song that sounds like punk rock with a banjo.



6. Mumford & Sons “Babel”

Speaking of banjos, Marcus Mumford and his fellow bandmates produced another amazing album with “Babel” this year. At first listen I thought to myself that the album sounds a bit too much like “Sigh to More” which was their debut album, which garnered plenty of attention including Grammy nominations. It gets better each time I listen to it and the band is up for six more Grammys this year including Album of the Year and Best Americana Album. Who would have guessed banjos would rule in 2012 and 2013?



5. Sons of Bill “Sirens”

An alt-country band of out Richmond, Va., Abe, James, and Sam are really the sons of Bill Wilson, hence the name of the band. Their third full album, “Sirens” is their best work to date. My favorite songs are “Santa Ana Winds” and “Find My Way Back Home.” The group has a free download available on their website for one of their live performances.  A younger version of groups like Drive By Truckers and Old 97’s, these guys have a bright future.



4. Dwight Yoakam “3 Pears”

I have been a fan of Dwight Yoakam forever. He plays authentic country with a Bakersfield sound, and after selling over 20 million albums I wish some of today’s top bubble gum country acts would learn a thing or two from the master. “3 Pears” came out this year, which was his first album in seven years, and it may be his best. Fans of rock or country will find songs on this album they like. From the rocking “Take Hold of My Hand” to the ballad “Long Way to Go” this album is really good.



3. Lucero “Women & Work”

Every time I listen to the Memphis rockers Lucero I want light up a cigarette and do a couple of shots of whiskey. I was a casual fan of the group for years, but when they added a horn section for their last two albums it took them to an all new level. I am not even sure how to describe their music. It is rock with some country with some punk with a little blues mixed it. They are one of the hardest working bands going, constantly on tour. I caught their show a few months ago and they tore it up. Lead singer Ben Nichols’ gravelly voice fits well with the hard driving music of the band, who look like they just got kicked out of a biker bar.



2. Kevin Gordon “Gloryland”

Gordon is one of the best songwriters on the planet, just not that many people know it. “Gloryland” is his first album in seven years and hopefully we will not have to wait that long for another one. A native of Louisiana, Gordon studied poetry and graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he also is an accomplished artist. The title track “Gloryland” is one of the highlights of the album along with the 10 minute “Colfax” which is an amazing story about his time in his high school marching band. It is real storytelling and real music told by a poet with a guitar. I don’t know why everyone has not heard of this guy.



1. Alejandro Escovedo “Big Station”

So my favorite album of 2012 is by an artist ten years my senior. Who would have guessed? Alejandro Escovedo just celebrated his 62nd birthday, and he is rocking as hard now as he did back in the 70’s with his punk rock group The Nuns or his alt-country band Rank and File in the 80’s. Today he is one of the most respected singer/songwriters in Texas. After living with Hepatitis-C for many years, he fell critically ill in 2003 and nearly died. He just gets better with age. His collaboration with fellow songwriter Chuck Prophet has produced some of his best work. The duo co-wrote all of the songs on the 2008 release “Real Animal.” His latest release “Big Station” includes stellar songs like the the ballad ‘San Antonio Rain” and the hard rocking “Man of the World.” Alejandro is the coolest dude in music today.



Michael Dempsey provides his full card handicapping report each racing day from New York. His Aqueduct Report is available every day Wednesday through Sunday. Michael has covered the New York circuit daily for more than two decades.


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