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Top 10 of 2017

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As promised, here’s the list of my favorite albums of 2017. If you’re here, you likely already know that I’m drawn particularly to Americana and other roots-y sounds. That’s definitely true this year, too. But I may surprise you once or twice.

10. Mario Batkovic, Mario Batkovic  Naturally enough(?), I begin with a solo accordion project. Batkovic’s tool is surely unfashionable. But little else I heard in 2017 seemed so, well, 21st-century. The opening track, “Quatere,” draws you in (wow, that’s an accordion?!) with its accessibility. The tracks that follow take you into more experimental terrain. You’ll want to go.

9. Típico, Miguel Zenón — The Puerto Rican saxophonist’s 10th album showcases his talented quartet, all of it. I struggle to find the right words to describe the music. Latin, sure. Modern, too. Mathematical? Sophisticated? Enjoyable.

8. The Mavericks’ Brand New Day  I’ve always been drawn to The Mavericks’ rootsy/jazzy/Tejano/country/retro-poppy vibe. But I fell for this album like no other Mavericks album before. Happily enough, Raúl Malo’s voice is as big as ever, and it pairs so well with a set of up-tempo, optimistic songs. Start with the title track.

7. Prisoner by Ryan Adams — This album is just so damn listen-able. Infectious, even. And I’m not just saying that because one of the tracks, “Doomsday,” was (ironically?) stuck in my head in February when I found myself on the way to the emergency room. (All’s well.) Honest, well-made rock. As always.

6. John Moreland’s Big Bad Luv  Moreland returns to my Top 10. This year, as the Oklahoma singer-songwriter’s new album dropped, I noticed that many of the reviews mentioned Bruce Springsteen. When you hear the songs, and Moreland’s delivery, you know why. I’m blown away by the whole album, but I’m particularly drawn to “Sallisaw Blue” (p.s. I grew up just down the road from Sallisaw), “Lies I Chose to Believe,” and “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before).”

5. Masseduction by St. Vincent — In 2017, I doubt you needed any reminder that life can be messy and chaotic. But you got a good one here. Relationships as plane crashes? Lost friends and lost homes? Pharma crisis? Über-superficiality? It’s all chronicled on Masseduction. And I couldn’t—didn’t even want to—look away. Picks: “Hang On,” “New York,” “Los Ageless.”

4. The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit  Isbell is a mainstay on my annual Top 10 lists. This year, he brings along his bandand smart, near-timeless songs about love, race, inner life, the rural economy, and so much more. Stunning work. My favorites: “When We Were Vampires,” “Anxiety,” “Cumberland Gap.”

3. ism by Steelism — ism combines some of my favorite things: twang, pedal steel, all-instrumental Americana. And the zany spaghetti Western and surf overtones don’t hurt, either. Swoon. Standout tracks: “Re-Member” and “Eno Nothing.”

2. Iron & Wine’s Beast Epic  I laughed for weeks about an AllMusic email that described Sam Beam’s latest as “reliably autumnal.” The hell? That was probably code for Beam’s return to a stripped-down sound. But the songs“About a Bruise” and “Thomas County Law” are faveswork in all seasons, I assure you.

1. Philip Glass: Piano Works by Vikingur Ólafsson — You might think that a collection of Glass’s piano etudes—composed as technical explorations more than anything else—might be a bit cold. But there’s nothing at all sterile about Ólafsson’s rendering of these compositional studies. Glass’s logic is there, to be sure, but so is the pianist’s delicate, almost tender, touch. Too, Ólafsson presents the etudes out of order, and the result is a collection that truly hangs together, with one piece seeming to destine the next. Highly, highly recommended!

Honorable Mentions: Life Will See You Now, Jens Lekman; JD McPherson’s Undivided Heart & Soul; Diet Cig’s Swear I’m Good at ThisThe Order of Time, Valerie June; Caroline Spence’s Spades and Roses; and Ladilikan by Trio Da Kali and the Kronos Quartet.

Written by Jimmy

December 31st, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Music

Favorite Songs of 2017

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I will soon post the list of my favorite albums of the year, but I’ll begin this year—like I did in 2016—with a list of my favorite songs. (These are in alphabetical order.)

  • “About a Bruise,” Iron & Wine
  • “Academia,” Miguel Zenón
  • “Akira Kurosawa,” Ben Miller Band
  • “American Flowers,” Birds of Chicago
  • “Anxiety,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • “Arkansas,” Ha Ha Tonka
  • “Astral Plane,” Shamir
  • “At the Purchaser’s Option,” Rhiannon Giddens
  • “Bad Bohemian,” British Sea Power
  • “Beacon Hill,” The Royal Alberta Advantage
  • “Brand New Day,” The Mavericks
  • “Cairo,” San Fermin
  • “Champagne Corolla,” Justin Townes Earle
  • “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do,” JD McPherson
  • “DNA.,” Kendrick Lamar
  • “Don’t Be Afraid to Call Me,” Marc Broussard
  • “Doomsday,” Ryan Adams
  • “Find Yourself,” Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
  • “Gas Station Rose,” Sean Rowe
  • “Gentle on My Mind,” Robert Ellis & Courtney Hartman
  • “Hang On,” St. Vincent
  • “Hollywood,” Lee Ann Womack
  • “Is It Too Much,” Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer
  • “K.,” Cigarettes After Sex
  • “Lies I Chose to Believe,” John Moreland
  • “Long Lonely Road,” Valerie June
  • “Make It Me,” Max Gomez
  • “New York,” St. Vincent
  • “New York,” Peter Silberman
  • “The Night David Bowie Died,” Lilly Hiatt
  • “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore,” Marlon Williams (feat. Aldous Harding)
  • “The Perilous Night,” Drive-By Truckers
  • “Quatere,” Mario Batkovic
  • “Re-Member,” Steelism
  • “Restart,” BNQT
  • “Sallisaw Blue,” John Moreland
  • “Sauce It Up,” Lil Uzi Vert
  • “Sixteen,” Diet Cig
  • “Strange or Be Forgotten,” Temples
  • “Tennessee Waltz,” Cassandra Jenkins
  • “Thomas County Law,” Iron & Wine
  • “To Know Your Mission,” Jens Lekman
  • “A Tornado Warning,” The Turnpike Troubadours
  • “Visions of Gideon,” Sufjan Stevens
  • “Voices Carry,” Eric Whitacre & Hila Plitmann
  • “Walls, MS,” Cory Branan
  • “Wasted on Fidelity,” Cameron Avery
  • “When We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • “You Don’t Look So Good (Cocaine),” Caroline Spence
  • “You Must Be Drunk Again,” Charley Crockett
  • “Your Hometown,” Porter and the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes

P.S. I sorta love that there are two different songs with the same name on this list.

Written by Jimmy

December 23rd, 2017 at 11:28 pm

Posted in Music

Top 10 of 2016

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Here’s my list of the albums I enjoyed most this year. I’ll just note, as I usually do, that these choices reflect my fondness for roots-y music, especially Americana. But as you’ll see, my interests extend beyond that. Let me know, of course, if anything catches your ear.

10. Orphée, Jóhann Jóhannsson — This set of moody, impressionistic sketches from the well-loved Icelandic composer was the soundtrack to much of my 2016. Highly recommended!

 9. Cleveland Summer Nights, Wink Burcham — Oklahoma comes through again this year with a real contender. On Cleveland Summer Nights, Burcham gives you the tour, too. For instance, you can hear near-textbook Tulsa Sound on songs like “Case of the Blues.” But it’s the folk and honky-tonk sounds that kept me coming back. Highlights: “I’ll Never Leave the Honky Tonks” and the title track.


8. Christian Kjellvander’s A Village: Natural Light — What if I said that today’s greatest country singer was from Sweden? What if I said he had a new album?

7. Por Favor by Brett Dennen — Fair warning: Dennen’s voice is quirky and, well, (like every review ever written about him says) an acquired taste. But I’ve acquired it. And that voice pairs awfully well with this set of relatively adult, not-so-upbeat songs. His best album yet? I’d say so.


6. Mount Moriah’s How to Dance — I put Mount Moriah’s second album, Miracle Temple, on my Best of 2013 list, so it’s clear that I was already a fan. But I found some real surprises on How to Dance, not least among them just how much more comfortable Heather McEntire sounds. In 2013, I thought of her as a bit of a hipster who was trying on/out, if successfully, a country voice. She owns that voice now. Highlights: “Calvander,” “Baby Blue,” and the title track.

5. Good Advice by Basia Bulat — In the past, I’d always admired Bulat’s pretty voice. I’m enjoying it now, perhaps because the songs on Good Advice are her best ever; they’re smart, relatable, and just poppy enough to bury themselves—in a good way!—in your skull. I hope this is a breakthrough album for Bulat, a Canadian who isn’t nearly as beloved in the States as she ought to be. Check out: “La La Lie,” “Let Me In,” and “Fool.”

4. Buenaventura, La Santa Cecilia — I don’t know southern California all that well, but this album is what my mind wants it to sound likea glorious mash-up of Spanglish, rock, norteño, pop, accordion, R&B, conjunto, and on and on. And the vocals on Buenaventura, especially from lead singer Marisol Hernández, are beautiful and infectious. It’s hard to choose favorite tracks from an album this strong, but you can’t go wrong with “Nunca Más,” “I Won’t Cry for You,” and “Sucede.” Aside: Seeing La Santa Cecilia (upstairs) at Philly’s World Café Live was my favorite concert experience of 2016. I didn’t leave my chair, but—like everyone else in the room—I was dancing.

3. Robert Ellis by Robert Ellis — Ellis’s debut, The Lights from the Chemical Plant, was my favorite album in 2014, so I had high hopes for this follow-up. Expectations exceeded! The new album rests on a quality set of songs—written largely from the point of view of a heartbreaker. And Ellis’s quirky delivery is as charming as ever. Swoon. Highlights: “Perfect Strangers,” “California,” and “You’re Not the One.”

2. Drive-By Truckers’ American Band — I’m not going to get into the politics of the album (you’ll have to buy me a beer to get into that!), but it’s obvious that DBT is energized. The hard-driving guitar matches perfectly with the topical, passionate lyrics. I didn’t need any more proof that DBT is a national treasure, but, well, here it is. Standout tracks: “Ramon Casiano,” “Surrender under Protest,” and “Ever South.”

1. Steve Reich by Third Coast Percussion — I have a real thing for percussion ensembles, and I have another thing for so-called “minimalist” composers like Steve Reich. So I was probably destined to love Third Coast’s survey of Reich’s pieces for percussion. The entire album is a treat, but I really can’t resist Third Coast’s treatment of Reich’s Mallet Quartet. There’s a warmth there to the sounds that you don’t always get with Reich. Highly, highly recommended!

Honorable Mentions: Modern Country, William Tyler; Alejandro Escovedo’s Burn Something Beautiful; St. Lenox’s Ten Hymns from My American Gothic; and The Very Last Day, Parker Millsap.

Written by Jimmy

December 31st, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Music