Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016 Bakers Dozen

Ok, so I blew one of my 2016 resolutions last year---to keep an active, monthly music blog…Nice idea, but just didn’t keep up. Not going to make the same declaration, but since I’m almost done with a new recording, which should be out out in the next month or so, I figure I’ll jump start this process again.

So now that 2016 is gone, I can publish my “Best of” list. I usually wait until the first week in January just in case someone drops a great, phenomenal record the night of Dec. 31, before midnight. Nothing caught my ear, since New Year’s Eve, so here goes. Usual drill, I’ll give you my absolute favorite, and then in no particular order a loose approximate top musical dozen IMHO for 2016. This was a good year-lots of great stuff-my fave:

Peter Wolf-“A Cure For Loneliness” - Just a real simple, rootsy album, with great feel, and great songs. Everyone of this guy’s solo discs have been strong, and this one is no exception. I’ve always been a fan of the Geils band, even in its ultra commercial success mode, and part of that admiration was the relentless commitment and energy that Wolf brought to the mix. You hear that on the this record-this guy is singing from the heart, he’s laughing, he’s got the blues, and he can toss out a full blown rocker. I caught him at the Bowery Ballroom this past February. Best concert I saw all year. Hands down. Maybe someday I can make a record this good-but I doubt it.

Other records I couldn’t stop playing this year:

Sturgill Simpson- “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” - Yea I know it’s nominated for album of the year. but even the Grammys get it right once in a while. This album is like a beautiful painting. Aching tunes, rich musical texture, and stellar musicianship. And a great Nirvana cover.

Yarn- “This is the Year”- From Tennessee, then Brooklyn, then back down south, if you have a chance to catch Yarn live, do it. They’ve been kicking around for a while, and have a number of records out. This is the first one I’ve picked up, and I love it. Low key, great country flavored tunes-just bar room solid. These guys tell great stories and make them real easy to listen to. One of my favorite songs of the year- “Sweet Dolly”- the band’s ode to Ms. Parton. Just an honest, innocent remembrance of falling in love with her when she appeared on the Tonight Show. How can you go wrong when a tune makes you smile?

Cymbals Eat Guitars- “Pretty Years”- All I really know about this band is that they allegedly come from Staten Island, and this is their fourth release. This is no country album. A fair share of distortion, guitars and overdriven production across all the tracks, but good tunes. There’s something in this mix that reminds me of the Clash….not sure if its in the guitars or the Strummer/Simonon/Jones flavored vocals. “Wish” is my favorite song of the year-play it loud.

Alejandro Escovedo -“Burn Something Beautiful” -Escovedo is just a badass. Simple tunes, telling stories, with guitars. His past few records have been stellar, and this one doesn’t miss. Lot’s of NYC tribute references here- somebody spent some time on the lower east side at one point, but he also writes a killer love tune. AE gut-punches you on the opening track with massive guitar chords- but somehow, like with so many of his other albums, he puts across songs with both energy and sensitivity that is sustained tune after tune. If there’s one singer-songwriter who can plug in and roll a little louder than the rest, its this guy.

Bombino-“Azel"- This guitarist from Niger is amazing. I can’t remember anyone taking on a Stratocaster in such a unique style since the first Dire Straits album. But Bombino is no Knopfler wanna be. Totally in command of the grove, the melody and passion, he and the band just push it from the get go, and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, it just doesn’t matter. Afraid “world music” is too granola for you? This ain’t finger cymbals, pan flutes and twangy sticks. Read this guy’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll learn where this music comes from. This is a guy who has risked his life to play music and you hear it in the album. Check the live archive at for a live recording of this guy. Then buy this record.

Kyle Craft-“Dolls of Highland” - The first time I heard this guy I immediate bought the disc. Still trying to figure it all out. There’s a well orchestrated recklessness that jumps out of this dude. It’s  like Meatloaf meets T-Rex meets the Kinks, without the distortion. Unique vocals, unique writing, almost theatrical in a way, and maybe too over the top for some people, but I liked it. “Berlin” is a great tune about a stripper…..Another KEXP live performance worth watching...

Anderson.Paak-“Malibu”—The best thing I’ve heard out of the hiphop world since The Roots released “How I Got Over”. Anytime a hip hop artist throws it down with a real drum kit, that is worth a listen. And this isn’t just rap- it oozes serious funk, soul and r&b and real lyrics. Kinda gives me hope for the genre.

William Bell- “This is Where I Live” Seventy-seven year old singer with a voice like soul butter bourbon. Can make you cry. Why mess with a good thing? This guy is a treasure, did it back in the 60’s, and is still doing it…-

Eli Paperboy Reed- “My Way Home”- Reverend Eli sets up church in a garage. Raw energy. Great tunes. Sounds like it was recorded in 1966. Grit and soul saving rock n’ roll. Best reverb I’ve heard in years. Lock up your daughters, pass the hat…this ain’t yo’ mamma’s preacher.

Okerville River-“Away”- Will Sheff is a sneaky guy. He kinda made us think this band was through with “The Silver Gymnasium”. Then this record dropped out of nowhere. This takes a listen or two to catch the nuance of this album- it comes across real quiet, but he is writing his ass off, and it just grows and grows on you. Remember when a song could make you throw your fist up in the air?- Sheff is kinda reminiscing about that, but he also delivers it. Hopefully not their last effort, but if this is it, its a great way to go out.

The Jayhawks-“Paging Mr. Proust”- I do like it better when Mark Olson is in the band, but Gary Louris manages to pull this off. “Quiet Corners & Empty Places” is pure Jayhawks ear-candy fair, totally worming its way into your head. There are catchy hooks across the whole recording-sometimes a bit Byrd-like, but you also hear a band playing rough around the edges a bit….sorta like Wilco occasionally does. But the songs are good, and I listened to this one enough this year to have it round out the list. It’s a little different than some of those really clean, slick Jayhawk classics, but it still does it for me.

That’s it. Naturally looking forward to the next year unfolding. And of course, the new Dirt Napper record should set a pretty high bar for everyone across the joint. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.- fm 1/5/17

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