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Essential 2012 Albums from the South 

Avett Brothers
The Carpenter

The Avett Brothers have always been about heart-on-the-sleeve honesty, but on their second album for Rick Rubin’s American Recording’s label, North Carolina’s native sons get particularly personal. Through intimate finger-picking that channels some of their early independent albums, the Avetts share emotional introspection on parenthood (“A Father’s First Spring”), losing loved ones (“Through My Prayers”) and the emptiness of materialism in the tastefully horn-accented “Down with the Shine.” The end of the album has a couple surprises, including a veiled rebuke of over-development and prejudice through the infectious piano of “Geraldine” and a cleanse-my-soul unleashing of alt-rock energy in “Paul Newman vs. the Demons.”

Band of Horses
Mirage Rock

Who was the right man to reign in the Charleston, S.C.,-based indie rock heroes? Legendary producer Glyn Johns, whose resumé boasts work with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, nuanced the Horses’ usual distortion and reverb into some blissfully mellow moments of vintage folk rock. Front man Ben Bridwell channels the melancholy of Neil Young on the dusty ballad “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” but there’s still plenty of freewheelin’ fun in the jangly rock dance tune “Knock Knock.” Asheville tunesmith Tyler Ramsey (now the Horses’ lead guitarist) also gets to sing his “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” a Laurel Canyon-flavored country shuffle that’s another example of how this group is ripe with versatility for the long haul.

Alabama Shakes
Boys & Girls

This debut effort from a major buzz band lived up to the hype. The Alabama Shakes deliver gritty garage soul that’s propelled by the vocals of front woman Brittany Howard, whose range fluctuates between the sensual groove of Aretha Franklin to the wailing howls of Robert Plant. Boys & Girls pays homage to old school Muscle Shoals in the context of kids who grew up on Nirvana—gritty rock club energy that channels ghosts of the past.

Widespread Panic
Wood

Before shelving their instruments for a year-long break, Panic played a brief acoustic tour. It’s documented on this two-disc set, a compilation of the 12-show run that finds the band digging into stripped-down takes of many of their classic Southern fried jams. Highlights include the bluegrass treatment of “Imitation Leather Shoes” and the juke joint dance groove given to “Tall Boy.” Key to this collection are the choice covers, including John Lennon’s “Ballad of John and Yoko” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross.” Here’s to hoping for Wood Tour round two.

Shovels and Rope
O’ Be Joyful

As Shovels and Rope, husband and wide duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst deliver gutsy roots rock that features stripped-down arrangements on acoustic guitar, a salvaged junkyard drum set, and the occasional addition of harmonica or keyboards. The group’s debut album channels the energy of their reality—young lovers traveling around the country in a Winnebago, belting out rowdy country-tinged foot-stompers with heartfelt ragged harmonies and all the power that can be mustered from weathered acoustic instruments. Throughout the record they swap instruments and lead vocals, Hearst accentuating a sultry howl on the punk-blues collision of the title track, while Trent favors a rambling folk drawl on the hypnotic crawl of “This Means War.” Without much instrumentation, the album’s appeal comes from raw emotion, but as the duo sings together on the opening track: “It ain’t what you got, it’s what you make.” •

5 New Year’s Eve Shows

Avett Brothers
Greensboro Coliseum • Greensboro, N.C. 

In their native North Carolina, the Bros. will play their biggest headlining show to date with help from folk-soul crooner Amos Lee.

The Infamous Stringdusters
Jefferson Theater • Charlottesville, Va.

The expansive bluegrass heroes will deliver blistering steel and wood jams in the intimate confines of the Jefferson in Charlottesville.

Pretty Lights and Bassnectar
Hampton Coliseum • Hampton, Va.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more epic dance party, as two of the biggest EDM acts team up for a two-night (December 28-29) arena blowout at the Mothership.

The Roots
The Fillmore • Silver Spring, Md.

Hip-hop’s premiere live act—now best known as Jimmy Fallon’s house band—will deliver their soul-drenched grooves to the latest extension of the iconic Fillmore.

Old Crow Medicine Show
Ryman Auditorium • Nashville, Tenn. 

Culminating a triumphant comeback year that included a revised line-up and a solid new album, Old Crow will reprise their big end-of-the-year party at the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

5 more albums

The Mountain Goats
Transcendental Youth

Bowerbirds
The Clearing

Malcolm Holcombe
Down the River

Beach House
Bloom

Justin Townes Earle
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

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