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Best of 2015 in Music

January 8, 2016

I am not a singles guy, but an album guy.  So my “best of” is my favorite albums for 2015.  I am behind schedule, but better late than never right?

Kamasi

I will cut to the chase, my favorite album of 2015 is Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. This is a very ambitious jazz album: 3CDs/3LPs, choir, strings and famous friends (Thundercat).  I got to see Kamasi’s touring band and that was pretty ambitious too (e.g. two drummers and a vocalist).  The music has a 70s soul jazz feel for the most part, but also there are some John Coltrane moments.  This is very accessible jazz, yet it is not light.

The rest of this list is in no particular order.

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Another ambitious album is Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy. This a rock opera by a punk band. I would be dismissive of that description – but don’t let it dissuade you from checking this album out.

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Titus Andronicus reminded me of Springsteen.  Continuing with the “ambitious” theme, Bruce also had an ambitious release The Ties That Bind: The River Collection.  I did not get a chance to review that collection, so I will share a bit here.  Springsteen had been on a roll with some great albums, but they did not catch the magic of his live shows. Springsteen’s goal with The River was to capture some of that live magic.  It worked, The River had a great bar band feel and it yielded Springsteen’s first top 40 hit with “Hungry Heart” (written in few minutes as a for the Ramones).  It turns out Springsteen wrote a boatload of unreleased material for The River and the purpose of this collection is to pull all the material together.  This is truely bonus material – these are not leftovers that should have never seen the light of day – this is a great desert to a gourmet dinner.

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Yet another ambitious release was from Bob Dylan: The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol.12: Collector’s Edition.  I am embarrassed to admit I laid out $600 for this epic collectable.  Allegedly every thing cut to tape in the studio during Dylan’s most important period (Bring it Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde).

What do we learn from this collection of master takes, alternative takes and stops and starts?  That Dylan was pretty spontaneous in the studio and at the same time pretty concise (18 CDs for 3 albums originally spread across 4 CDs does not seem like a lot of excess junk to me).  My favorite cuts are the deconstructed multi-tracks of “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The 18 CD edition includes Dylan’s original nine mono 45 RPM singles released during the time period, packaged in newly created picture sleeves featuring global images from the era. The limited edition includes rare hotel room recordings from the Savoy Hotel in London (May 4, 1965), the North British Station Hotel in Glasgow (May 13, 1966) and a Denver, Colorado hotel (March 12, 1966) as well as a strip of original film cels from “Don’t Look Back.”  In addition you have the privilege of downloading a pile of MP3s of live material from the period.  I am still working through all this material.

This is for the truly obsessive – but their are less expensive choices too – including the Spotify sampler below.

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Bob Dylan Shadows

This could have been so bad: Dylan as crooner singing songs made famous by Sinatra, but it worked. Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Light was so enthusiastic and genuine that it was impossible to deny.  In addition to being a labor of love, I think the reason it worked is because the arrangements were pulled together from Dylan’s regular working band.

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Chris Potter Underground Orchestra’s Imaginary Cities is a very nice jazz piece.  Similar to Kamasi Washington it is accessible without selling out.  Unfortunately ECM releases are not available on Spotify so if you want to check this out you will have to layout the cash.

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I was not a Gov’t Mule fan before hearing this release.  The hook for me was John Scofield.  Sco-Mule is a treasure and turned me into a Gov’t Mule fan.  Unfortunately the live show promoting the album I saw at the State Theater in Minneapolis was a disappointment – Sco phoned it in.

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Knopfler never disappoints – Tracker was another success.

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As great a studio band as Weather Report was, they where just as good (if not better) live. This collection captures them in the era when I saw them live.

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Coldplay is a guilty pleasure.

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Adele’s 25 is good, but you know that because it is the last album that everyone bought.  Congratulations Adele for getting people to actually buy music.

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If you have not heard St Germain, you don’t know what you are missing and you have to check this out.

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Last year’s Pink Floyd leftovers was a nice little gift, but this year’s David Gilmour solo was a shock – had no idea it was coming and so it was extra special.  Extra kudos for taking advantage of modern technology.

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Low is such a wonderful quite storm.  Here is another gorgeous slow burner from them.

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Wilco delivered a sneak attack with Star Wars.

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If not for Kamasi Washington, Ferry’s Avonmore may have been my #1.

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Father John Misty put out a great album and he rivaled the Stones for the best live show I saw this year.

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Every bit as good as her last album, Short Movie got slighted in my listening when it first came out, but I made it up by listening to it later in the year.

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I have a half-written review of this album in my draft posts- I doubt it will ever see the light of day.  But don’t that let that suggest that Crosseyed Heart isn’t a great album.  I saw the Stones live this past summer and they where shockingly good – better than when I saw them in the 80s.

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Another half-written post, that will likely never see the light of day.  Unlike Dan Auerbach, Craig Finn is not afraid to try something different when he is away from his day job.

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It took me a while, but I finally learned that T-Swift is a talent. It took Ryan Adams to convince me.

Finally…
The most amazing performance I witnessed in the last year was Aretha Franklin on the Kennedy Center Honors. CBS does not make it easy to witness it.  But if you go to this link and fast forward to about the 1:25 mark and endure the commercials you will have your mind blown.
I can’t forget my perennial best of: the love of my life, the lovely Laura.   For tolerating – no fanning my music passion (and other passions).  For example, she is the one who insisted that I sit down and watch the Kennedy Center Honors.  I want to thank her for discovering pre-sales for concerts, making Record Store day a family event, and making our home a shrine to music.  Love you Pea! 
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One Comment
  1. It’s funny, I don’t subscribe to Oscars, Hall of Fames, Grammy’s, Top 10 lists etc. I skip over them without blinking. But when I trust someone I really do pay attention. A lot of your choices on here have my attention and will nudge me for a couple plunges.

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