The last 12 months have yielded an interesting and unusual crop of Memphis albums. Among the best were a number of long awaited and much delayed releases, records once thought permanently lost, and others that were shelved and simply forgotten. The following is a list — in no particular order — offering picks for the top local LPs from 2012, plus some favorite records made outside of town.
Barbaras, 2006-2008, (Goner): A survey of the brief but stellar career of lamented Memphis group Barbaras, which released only a handful of tracks before breaking up, and whose members went on to greater glories with other outfits (Wavves, Magic Kids, etc.). This 15-song set collects a chunk of material that was recorded and thought to have been lost among the effects of the late Jay Reatard. It proves a surprisingly accomplished collection of pop songs that mix a host of '60s influences — from titans like the Beach Boys to one-hit wonders like Lou Christie — with a sense of arty experimentation.
Ray Stinnett, A Fire Somewhere, (Light in the Attic): A new, old record, this 1971 platter by Memphian Ray Stinnett — a former Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs' guitarist who chased the hippie dream to California — went unreleased at the time by A&M Records. The record was rescued from the dustbin of history 40 years later by reissue label Light in the Attic (who also put out a fine collection of singles and rarities by Stax soul songstress Wendy Rene in 2012). With Booker T. Jones as executive producer, the album is a revelation, filled with Stinnett's spiritual psych-soul musings, placing him on the same path as fellow travelers like Love's Arthur Lee and Moby Grape's Skip Spence.
Yo Gotti, Live from the Kitchen, (J Records): After years of delays due to label upheaval and corporate machinations, Yo Gotti's much anticipated RCA Records debut finally dropped. Given the buildup, the release felt anticlimactic — a fact reflected in the somewhat middling reviews and sales that greeted the disc. However, Gotti's effort here is among his best, ranking alongside, if not above, indie album classics like 2003's Life. A hard hitting collection of hustling street songs, Gotti has rarely sounded as assured or engaging as he does on Kitchen.
Don Trip, Guerrilla and Help Is On the Way (Mixtapes): Like Yo Gotti, Don Trip is the latest Memphis rapper to be scooped up by a big label. Signed by Interscope in 2011, he's been readying what promises to be the most anticipated local record of 2013; Trip's been working with Dr. Dre and Cee-Lo among other big names. In the meantime, Trip dropped a pair of mixtapes in 2012 that served as clarion calls to rap's true believers, and offered a tantalizing preview of things to come.
Scruffs, Kill! Kill! (Scruffsville): Back in his native Memphis after years in Europe, Scruffs' main man Stephen Burns offered a powerful comeback with Kill! Kill!, a disc that scales the same lofty heights as the band's revered 1978 debut Meet the Scruffs. Released in a stereo/mono double disc package, the songs pay unapologetic homage to the Beatles, with Burns hewing close to the Southern power-pop template he helped create.
Five more picks from across the country, and around the world:
Low Cut Connie, Call Me Sylvia, (Low Cut Connie): Album No. 2 from Low Cut Connie, the collaboration between East Coast piano man Adam Weiner and U.K. garager Dan Finnemore. Sylvia offers a second helping of the group's sharp pop, greasy rock, cockeyed love songs and beautiful loser balladry — a record that rocks and rolls, cries and swoons.
Nude Beach, II, (Other Music Recording Co.): Another sophomore album success, Nude Beach's II finds the band working up a besotted, ramshackle American rock sound, but with the added benefit of great songs.
Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL Recordings): R&B survivor Bobby Womack makes a contemporary classic, with an assist from producers Richard Russell of XL Recordings and Damon Albarn of Blur. Womack imbues the album's modern sounds with his old soul, turning the recording into a powerful reflection on his turbulent life's journey
Richard Hawley, Standing At Sky's Edge (Mute): Pysch excursion for the Sheffield, U.K., roots maven, a departure that shows Hawley's range as a songwriter, guitarist and musical auteur.
John Murry, The Graceless Age, (Bucketfull of Brains): Though it won't officially be released in the U.S. until March, this album by Mississippi native and ex-Memphian Murry has earned massive raves in England, where it came out earlier this year. The praise is well deserved as Murry has constructed a mesmerizing masterpiece of dark folk-pop.