Archive for December, 2016
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 like—a 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.
I always post a list of my favorite albums of the year—I’ll do that shortly, I promise—but I begin this year with a list of my favorite songs. (These are in alphabetical order. It took me a week to rank my Top 10 albums, and I just can’t bring myself to tackle another ranking project.)
“California,” Robert Ellis
“Drone Bomb Me,” ANOHNI
“Gardenia,” Iggy Pop
“Hands of Time,” Margo Price
“Heaven,” Lydia Loveless
“I Got off the Bus,” Richmond Fontaine
“I’ll Be Your Woman,” St. Paul & the Broken Bones
“I’ll Never Leave the Honky Tonks,” Wink Burcham
“I’ve Been Drinkin’ More,” Jason James
“La La Lie,” Basia Bulat
“Marfa Lights,” Paul Cauthen
“Moon River,” Mark Kozelek
“Morning Blues,” Parker Millsap
“No Problem,” Chance the Rapper
“Old Friends,” Pinegrove
“Ramon Casiano,” Drive-By Truckers
“Simple Song,” John Paul White
“Steve McQueen,” Brian Fallon
“Thurgood Marshall,” St. Lenox
“Young in All the Wrong Ways,” Sara Watkins