Albums of The Year? – 2012 Edition

billboard_logo_a_lBillboard has released their year-end list of the top albums in bluegrass music.

As always for the magazine’s charts, these are strictly based on sales as measured by SoundScan, and dependent on both Billboard and SoundScan’s definition of “bluegrass.”

Here is their 2012 list:

15. Bright Morning Stars — The Wailin’ Jennys

14. Nobody Knows You — Steep Canyon Rangers

13. Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ — Rhonda Vincent

12. An Appalachian Christmas — Mark O’Connor

11. Traveler — Jerry Douglas

10. Follow Me Down  — Sarah Jarosz

9. Why Can’t We — The Isaacs

8. Leaving Eden — Carolina Chocolate Drops

7. Who’s Feeling Young Now — The Punch Brothers

6. Rare Bird Alert — Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers

5. Carry Me Back — Old Crow Medicine Show

4. Paper Airplane — Alison Krauss & Union Station

3. The Gospel Side of Dailey & Vincent — Dailey & Vincent

2. Stars & Satellites  — Trampled By Turtles

1. The Goat Rodeo Sessions — Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma

To say this list has a few surprises, would be an understatement. Once again, we must keep in perspective that Billboard bases their charts purely on sales. I’m sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but even if it is a great album from Jo Schmo & His Hoedown Homeies (I better copyright that name before someone steals it), there is little to no chance that it will outsell such bands as Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled By Turtles, and The Punch Brothers, who appeal to both the bluegrass and non-bluegrass crowds. That is why this list is not always an accurate depiction of the best in bluegrass. I will do my best to show why.

Daniel MullinsHere are, in my opinion, the Top 5 Albums that did NOT make Billboard’s Top 15 Bluegrass Albums for 2012. (Sorry, but Jo Schmo & His Hoedown Homeies did not make the cut.)

Disclaimer: I did not include Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers’ They’re Playing My Song in the Top 5 to avoid being accused of being biased. I do, however, believe it is one of the top bluegrass albums of the year, and I encourage you to check it out for yourself and see if you agree.


5. Foggy Mountain Special: A Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs — Various Artists

2012 has been one of the toughest years for bluegrass fans, as we lost so many of our favorite artists. Musical icons of the highest caliber, it is with heavy hearts we had to bid farewell to Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Everett Lily, Doug Dillard, and, most recently, Mike Auldridge. Foggy Mountain Special was released in response to the loss of Earl Scruggs. Featuring a dozen of the best Scruggs-followers (Tom Adams, Ron Block, J.D. Crowe, Charlie Cushman, Kenny Ingram, Jim Mills, Joe Mullins, Larry Perkins, Craig Smith, Ron Stewart, David Talbot, Tony Trischka) as well as an all-star band (Dan Tyminski, Jason Carter, Barry Bales, Ben Isaacs, Randy Kohrs, Clay Hess, Adam Steffey, and more), bluegrass’ best tackles some of Earl’s most well-known tunes for an exceptional tribute to the Father of Modern Banjo.

Key Tracks: Foggy Mountain Special (Ron Block), Pike County Breakdown (Ron Stewart), Earl’s Breakdown (Joe Mullins)

4. What Really Matters — Larry Stephenson

Larry Stephenson has been around the block for a while, and never fails to deliver first class bluegrass with a great band and great songs. The Larry Stephenson Band has included such heavy-weights as Kristin Scott Benson, Aaron McDaris, Randy Barnes, and Mickey Harris. Larry’s current lineup includes Kevin Richardson, Danny Stewart, and banjo legend, Kenny Ingram. What Really Matters is one of Larry’s best albums, which is really saying something considering he has been playing music for over twenty years. With material from such powerhouse writers as Randall Hylton, Harley Allen, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, and Ronnie Reno, Larry has compiled a great collection of songs sure to please any bluegrass fan.

Key Tracks: My Heart Is On The MendBig TrainWhat Really Matters

3. All In — The Boxcars

The bluegrass community was turned on its head when news of The Boxcars’ founding became known a couple of years ago. They quickly became one of the top acts in bluegrass and haven’t looked back. A true all-star band, their members’ resume speaks for itself with stints working with The Isaacs, Mountain Heart, Alison Krauss & Union Station, J.D. Crowe & The New South, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Mountain Heart, and more. All In picks up where their self-titled debut album left off, delivering more hard-hitting bluegrass with powerhouse instrumental work, stellar vocals, and memorable original songs. There is a reason why All In was nominated for Album of The Year, and it’s heard in every note on the latest album from The Boxcars.

Key Tracks: Jeffrey’s Hell, Born And Raised In Covington, Ol’ Lonesome Won’t Leave Me Alone, Don’t Fall In Love With A Girl Like That, Prison

2. Catch Me If I Try — Kenny & Amanda Smith

Kenny and Amanda Smith fans, myself included, have waited four years for a new album, but it has been well worth the wait! Catch Me If I Try has been the album’s hit single, topping Bluegrass Today’s Radio Airplay Chart multiple times. There is more than just this hit title track on Kenny Amanda’s latest, a lot more. Whether it’s a rousing foot-stomping number or a tender ballad, Kenny & Amanda know how to execute with precision and sincerity. Newcomers Cory Piatt and Austin Ward have really grown under Kenny and Amanda’s tutelage, and are sure to raise eyebrows and drop jaws with their contributions to this great record. Kenny’s guitar has never sounded better, and Amanda’s voice has never been sweeter. Make sure you don’t miss out on Catch Me If I Try, Kenny and Amanda’s best yet.

Key Tracks: Catch Me If I Try, Run Away Boys, Jesus, King Of Heaven, Tuggin’ On My Heartstrings, When Tears Come Falling

1. American Drive — American Drive

Now that 2012 is on the books, we must begrudgingly wish J.D. Crowe a happy retirement after decades on the road making bluegrass history. Now that we wave goodbye to J.D., we can wave hello to American Drive! American Drive (aka “The Old New South”) have been picking together for years, which is definite advantage they hold over most bands just starting out. I was proud to have been in the audience for their debut performance at this year’s IBMA, and have been hooked ever since. American Drive is already making their mark on bluegrass with their self-titled debut album. If you think American Drive is just The New South minus J.D., you are selling yourself short. American Drive is making a name for themselves by making great material all their own. Dwight McCall’s original, Long Haul Truckin’ Man has been a bluegrass hit across the country. With a great balance of old chestnuts and new gems, American Drive have made a powerful statement with their debut album. This is, without a doubt, one of the best bluegrass albums in years and a must have for any fan of our music.

Key Tracks: Long Haul Truckin’ ManCowboys Still Act Like CowboysWillow Creek DamSome Broken Hearts Never MendGotta Travel On, Son Of A Miner


2012 was truly an exceptional year for bluegrass, and 2013 looks to be even better! There are more bluegrass bands now than ever before, and the future is looking bright.

What were some of your favorite albums of 2012, and what albums are you most looking forward to in 2013?

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel Mullins is an IBMA award-winning journalist and broadcaster from southwestern Ohio, with an American Studies degree from Cedarville University. He hosts the Walls of Time: Bluegrass Podcast and his daily radio program, The Daniel Mullins Midday Music Spectacular, on the Real Roots Radio network. He also serves as the station’s music director, programming country, bluegrass, and Americana music.