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Best of 2016

December 26, 2016

First of all, every album I reviewed in 2016 is good. I don’t write bad reviews. There is plenty of music I don’t like, but I don’t have the energy to write a bad review.  I have no desire to shine a light on bad music – even if it is a bad light. My ultimate musical insult is to ignore the music I don’t like.  So anything posted on this blog is worth your time.   Yet each year there is some music that is truly remarkable and the purpose of this post is to highlight 2016’s remarkable albums.

My favorite album for 2016 is Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. When I first reviewed it in April I was struck by its combination of soul and country music.  This is fun music, but is ambitious too: the LP is a concept album – a time capsule of life’s lessons for Sturgill’s young son.  Sturgill has got it all: great songwriter, great voice and great arranger.

The rest of my favorites are in no particular order.


I am really not in a Nashville state of mind in 2016 despite my favorite album being country (Sturgill) and my next favorite is Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter being country too (ironically we took a great family trip to Nashville this year also).

In my original post on this album I stated: “With a voice somewhere between Emmy Lou and Dolly and with the pen of Loretta Lynn, Margo Price storms out of a Memphis studio in a Nashville state of mind. This is one hell of a debut.”  I have continued to enjoy this album all year.

Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz were featured on two great albums in 2016:

The two albums could not be more different – one by a jazz icon and one by a alt-country icon.

Sorry the Lucinda album is not available on Spotify.


I love rock biographies and autobiographies.  One of my best reads in years was Trouble Boys The True Story Of The Replacements  by Bob Mehr.  Mehr brilliantly tells the tale of a great band that did everything in its power to shit can its career – and succeeded.  As best I can tell Mehr got the story pretty accurate. Orignal post here.


I am not a huge David Bowie fan, but I was instantly captured by Blackstar on album release day only to learn of Bowie’s death a few days later.  This would have been a brilliant album at any point in his career, but the fact that it was his final statement is unbelievable.  Bowie does jazz.


If you ever wondered (and I wonder these kinds of things) what Miles Davis would sound like produced by Manfred Eicher on an ECM release, well then you have it with this Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith release: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke.  In my original post I stated: “I would not have thought a duo of quiet piano and trumpet could deliver such a powerful punch. As mellow as Smith sounds there is an edge – a gentle hint of atonal avant-garde jazz.”  Of course ECM does not make their catalog available on Spotify.

The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab.

In the original post I stated: “It is rare that an album does not have a single stiff – Wild Stab is all gems. In the video interview Peter Wolf describes the album as a very romantic, spontaneous collaboration, with multiple layers of feeling. ‘It’s like a nice jewel,’ he says, ‘you just keep rubbing it, and it starts shining.’  I couldn’t agree more.”


One of my more ambitious posts was for Parquet Courts – Human Performance  (well at least it took a long time to compose).   At the time I wrote: “My musical taste was primarily formed in the late 70s and early 80s. Parquet Courts seem like they are right out of that period. They remind me of the Modern Lovers, Lou Reed/Velvet Underground and Television. But they also have some late 80s/early 90s in them too: Pavement and Sonic Youth come to mind. But given the current scene they sound original even though they are not. I don’t mind how derivative this is because nothing in rock is original anymore. All the same this is creative and entertaining music. Lyrically clever with equally clever arrangements.”


Long time readers of this blog know I have a complicated relationship with Radiohead. When  A Moon Shaped Pool was released this year they made it hard to get.  I got to see the band live for the first time (honestly a bit disappointing as they were a bit too professional – bordering on phoning it in).  But in the end the bastards made  another masterpiece.

The Grateful Dead have been hugely influential – in essence creating sub genres: alt-country and jam rock. The  Red Hot organization, a not-for-profit dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture, has created another great compilation, this time it is focused on the Dead’s various progeny. Day Of The Dead is nice survey of their greatest hits lovingly covered by a wide variety of disciples. My original post gives some of the back story.

Late in his career Paul Simon is still churning out great music.   Stranger To Stranger continues Simon’s brilliance at leveraging a zillion styles.  My wife and I had the good luck to see Simon’s tour in support of this album.  In my original post on the album and show I noted: “It is lyrically clever, rhythmically adventurous and the arrangements are ambitious. Yet at no point does it come off as pretentious – it is well crafted pop.”

Simon had a cool remix done.  He enlisted members of the The Social Experiment Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet) and Nate Fox for the remix. The pair of regular collaborators with Chance The Rapper took the Stranger To Stranger songs “The Clock” and “The Werewolf” and came up with a new track “Stranger.”

In my original post I said: “I will pretty much consume everything Pat Metheny creates. I particularly value when he serves as a sideman, as it often turns me on to a new artist I am not familiar with. Metheny’s voice plays so well in so many different contexts – whether the pop of Joni Mitchell or the avant-garde jazz of Ornette Coleman.  On  Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, Metheny is the perfect foil to this band. Metheny sounds like he belongs in this band – he does not sound like a guest. This album shows the power of improvisational music when played by sympathetic masters: majestic beauty. It is like listening to a brilliant conversation.”


Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer – In my original post I reported that “Beck appears to be quite inspired by the young unknown players who accompany him on this album. According to the PR machine for this album, Beck met a young women at Queen drummer Roger Taylor’s birthday party: guitarist Carmen Vandenberg. Vanderberg then introduced Beck to her musical buddies: singer Rosie Bones and producer Filippo Cimatti. Cimatti then recruited drummer Davide Sollazzi and bassist Giovanni Pallotti – Beck had himself a band. Most of the songs were written by the trio of Beck, Bones and Vanderberg.”


I am not much of a hip hop guy, but I love me some Atmosphere.   Fishing Blues is one of the best things they have done in a while.  In my original post I said: “Over all this is a great album – hip hop for adults. As always there are great Ant grooves and clever Slug lyrics. I love it when a band has a genuine career and constantly delivers quality year after year – true craftsmen.”


I did not manage to review Wilco’s Shmilco, but I did see a great show in support of the album.   Nice little album. My wife won some cool Wilco swag at the album release party at the Electric Fetus too!


Norah Jones gets back to her jazz roots with  Day Breaks.  My original post stated: “I have every Norah Jones album (and most of her cameos and other projects), but none of them quite enchanted me the way her debut Come Away With Me did unit now. Day Breaks is a masterpiece – pulling together everything she has learned over the last 15 years as a pop star. It is jazz and it is pop. It is challenging, yet easy. It is mature, yet fresh. Jones is often dismissed as creating merely pretty music, jazz-light and worst of all boring (Snorah Jones). Jones is deceptive – there is a great depth to her music that can get disguised by its superficial beauty. Listen carefully to her vocal phrasing, her easy touch on the keyboard, exquisite arrangements, amazing sidemen and you will begin to understand what a ‘musician’s musician’ she really is.”


The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome is a cherry on top of their great career.  Per my original post: “The Stones are fundamentally a blues band. Their take on the blues has been wonderfully inaccurate, but totally authentic. Rather than doing historically accurate blues covers, they have just been themselves: British, punk, boozy, irreverent, but in love with the blues. Being purists was not their thing, being The Rolling Stones is their thing.”

Metallica- HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT,  is in my mind, the best thing they have done since the Black album.  I wrote a long post reflecting on my being a fan of the band and a review of the album.  Please check out the deluxe edition.


St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Sea Of Noise.  I had a draft post on this album that I never published.  It went like this:

Doing retro-soul well, is a fine line: on the one side is parody and on the other side is a tribute act. But when you ride that line it is pure genius. St. Paul & The Broken Bones ride that line and for them that line looks like a four lane highway. Why it works and why it sometimes does not is a mystery to me.

I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Half The City, but I was motivated enough to drag the family to see St. Paul & The Broken Bones live. They did not disappoint. I remember walking out of that show wondering how long would it take before singer Paul Janeway would blow out his vocal cords. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I would never hear from him again.

But those gifted pipes have survived and the voice and the band have delivered a second album that is even better than their first long player. Half The City was bit too much on the tribute side of the ledger. Sea Of Noise is more original.

Teenage Fanclub – Here.  In my  original post I made the following comment: Here has taken the sound I loved on Bandwagonesque and quieted it down.  Over 25 years the band has aged well.  The band always had great harmonies, but with a quiet sound those harmonies really shine.  The album reminds me a bit of early 80s album by the Moody Blues called Long Distance Voyager which was wonderful beatlesque pop.  Here is mellow and upbeat at the same time. There is nothing better than lush pop and Here is luscious.

Well that wraps it up – if you made it though this whole post – thanks for your patience and interest.

PS: Prince RIP.

Ammendments – the ones I missed:

Anderson .Paak – Malibu

 

 

 

 

 

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