5) Luke Cunningham, “Heart Pressure”

Luke Cunningham is one of those rare singers that seems to be aware that he possesses some serious songwriting chops, and yet refuses to let it go to his head. Heck, I can tell you that if I had written even one of the better tracks such as “For the Best” or “Amnesia,” I’d be taking out advertising space on highway billboards to let the world know. As if his songwriting talent isn’t enough, when Cunningham gets up on stage to perform, he delivers a satisfying and energetic live show. Local guitarist Micah Nichols, formerly of Crowfield, produced the album, and Cunningham recently got the chance to show off his talent at the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn. Well, maybe “show off” isn’t the best term, given the artist’s humble attitude, but based on the strong material on “Heart Pressure,” Cunningham is definitely going places.

4) Oh! Ginger, “Oh! Ginger”

I’ve been a fan of Lindsay Holler’s kind of music ever since I first saw her perform with her old band, The Dirty Kids, five or six years ago. The best thing about Holler’s music, though, is that she rarely sticks to a single style, flirting with the likes of alt-country, jazz, classic rock and Cuban, among others. Oh! Ginger was one of Holler’s projects she pursued this past year, a collaboration with former Dirty Kids bandmate Michael Hanf. As usual, the music produced by the pair didn’t sound much like anything either had produced in the past. Mostly composed and recorded through correspondence between Holler’s home here and Hanf’s in New York, The Oh! Ginger EPs, which saw two of its planned three parts released in 2012, featured a dizzying mix of styles and moods, and I eagerly look forward to the final installment and whatever both Holler and Hanf have planned next.

3) Crowfield, “The Diamond Sessions”

Funded by a Kickstarter.com project and dedicated to late local manager and producer Johnny Diamond, Crowfield’s third studio album was as emotional to listen to as it obviously was for the band to record. Six months after its release, I still get a lump in my throat when I listen to frontman Tyler Mechem sing on tracks such as “Measure of a Life” and “Black Hills.” The personal feelings and experiences Mechem pours into his songs is part of what makes him one of Charleston’s best songwriters. While the band had seen some pretty major lineup changes since even before “The Diamond Sessions” was recorded, the core of Mechem and drummer Parker Gins still make sure that listeners to the band’s albums get a quality experience.

2) The Royal Tinfoil, “Well Water Communion”

All too often when you see a band play a great live set and then buy its studio album, those studio tracks just don’t capture the spirit of that live performance. The Royal Tinfoil comes about as close to matching the looseness and spontaneity of its live show on “Well Water Communion” as any band ever will. The sweet yet strong voice of Lily Slay mixes well with that of fellow vocalist Lamont Boles, which reminds me of New Orleans stalwart Dr. John. Just listen to him sing “Fill up the car with gasoline, let’s go someplace we’ve never seen” on “Run Away.” You can hear the emotion behind the words. I also still get goosebumps from Slay’s “Excuuuuse meee!” that starts the song “Die Already.” Grab the CD and enjoy it, but still go see this band live the next time it plays locally.

1) Shovels & Rope, “O’ Be Joyful”

I probably can’t heap any more praise on this album than what has already been written by music journalists all over the country, but since Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are local folks, I’ll take a shot at it. The husband and wife team, who go by the name Shovels & Rope, had already had underground success both as a duo and by themselves. When “O’ Be Joyful” was released earlier this year, though, all those years of playing bars and clubs and logging thousands of miles on the road finally came to fruition. Much like acts such as The Civil Wars and June Carter and Johnny Cash, the voices of Trent and Hearst just seem to meld together like one beautiful sound. Songs such as “Keeper” and “Tickin’ Bomb” show off that unearthly blend, and I dare you not to get goosebumps while listening. While a country twang permeates the body of the album, the duo touches on aspects of garage rock, blues and folk too. “O’ Be Joyful” has shown up on many a critic’s best-of list for 2012, and I’ll gladly add my name to that tally.

By Devin Grant