Saturday, November 28, 2015

Best Of 2015: Kamasi Washington, Jeff Lynne, Jon Cleary, FFS and more.

This was no easy task, this year-end list compiling. I joked back in July that midway through 2015, I didn't even like some of my favorite records of the year. Well, here we are at the end of the year, and while I have a few that I like enough to mention, I have fewer that I love.

Some records I enjoyed but admittedly have not spent enough time with...

Dwight Yoakam-Second Hand Heart
Daniel Romano- If I've Only One Time Asking
Ike Reilly-Born On Fire
Whitney Rose- Heartbreaker Of The Year
The Darkness-Last Of Our Kind
David Gilmour-Rattle That Lock

Some records I like a lot, but just don't feel comfortable including on the Best Of The Year list...

Paul Weller-Saturns Pattern
Richard Thompson- Still
Pugwash-Play This Intimately...
Dave & Phil Alvin- Lost Time
The Rails-Australia E.P.

Some records I've yet to listen to...

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell-The Traveling Kind
Chris Isaak-First Comes The Night
Billy Gibbons-Perfectamundo
Tommy Keene-Laugh In The Dark
Donnie Fritts-Oh My Goodness
Jim Lauderdale- Soul Searching
GP & The Rumour-Mystery Glue

Some records you love that I need to listen to...


But now, in no particular order, are my 10 favorite records of 2015.


Early in Glenn Tilbrook's and Chris Difford's career, comparisons were made to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I would normally jump on a statement like that, but after close to 40 years of making music, together or apart, these two men known as Squeeze have continued, if a tad inconsistently, to release some of the smartest pop music on the planet. While the casual fans recall only the hits, diehards like myself will place some of their lesser known works like 1991's brilliant release "Play" and the truly fantastic "Ridiculous" from 1995, right up there with anyone's best work. And "Cradle To The Grave" is another solid entry in Difford and Tilbrook's very impressive career. It's been a long time coming and maybe a few songs miss the mark, but the title track, "Sunny," "Honeytrap," and "Haywire" are as good as anything these boys have written.


The first time I saw these guys play live, my mind was blown. It was a tiny room, half-filled, and the band attacked the music and assaulted the mini-crowd as if they were Led Zeppelin playing Madison Square Garden. A lot has happened since then. One brilliant, unreleased debut record, one completely different, not bad official debut, an almost life-ending car accident and now "Here Come The Girls." Tash Neal and Chris St. Hilaire write and perform music that comes from the best possible sources, whether it's hard rocking, British blues like the aforementioned Led Zeppelin or Free, or harmony-filled tunes like late period Beatles, or a bit of psychedelic soul like the best tunes from "Axis:Bold As Love," The London Souls manage to stay fresh and never sound retro.


Sure, it's another album of covers. But Boz and company nail it. Steve Jordan manages to not screw things up the way he screwed up the Keef album, and his band featuring Willie Weeks and Ray Parker Jr. add style and grace to a terrific selection of tunes. There are two Bobby Charles tunes, "Small Town Talk" and the title track, both of which shine in their simplicity. There are absolutely gorgeous takes on the Spinners "Love Don't Love Nobody" and Richard Hawley's "There's A Storm A'Comin'." And there is the unlikely winner in "Full Of Fire," the Al Green song that should have been on Boz's previous covers LP,  "Memphis." The only misstep is the duet on one of my favorite tunes, The Band's "Whispering Pines." Boz should have handled it alone, but instead has Lucinda Williams adding her warbling to the festivities. I love Lu, don't get me wrong. But, she is an earsore here.


I rarely write about jazz anymore.  I am no longer out and about catching live performance as I once was and my subscriptions to both Down Beat and JazzTimes ran out years ago.  Plus, my once unlimited access to so much jazz at my shop has obviously ceased. So while I still listen, it is usually to the tried and true and not the young and new. In much simpler terms, I'm out of the loop. But the buzz about Kamasi Washington was so loud that I could not resist. And in the case of the epic, "The Epic," this was one of the very rare times, the result was greater than the buzz.

Kamasi Washington might be familiar to those who love Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly," a record that will most likely top every critic's list this year. I was more interested in Washington's own playing and composing and no words can properly describe the joy of what happens over the three hours of "The Epic." Washington is a master tenor, and like John Coltrane pushes the envelope to amazing results. I don't care for the term "soul jazz," which is what this record has been labelled, but over the course of the 3 LPs, we get music that is so grand and complex and yet so absolutely musical and soulful, that it seems fruitless to argue the point.

"The Epic" is monumental and so I've posted three songs, two Kamasi Washington originals and a stunning take on Debussy's "Clair de Lune.


The move to New Orleans helped Rickie Lee get her mojo back and this new record, featuring the cream of the Crescent City's crop of musicians is the best thing she's done since 1982's "Pirates." No more dabbling in trip-hop or the avant-garde. No more covers of standards. This is RLJ swingin' it up, telling her stories and breaking your heart. For fans of New Orleans and its musicians, the following names will mean something to you: James Singleton, Jon Cleary, Matt Perrine, Doug Belote, David Torkanowsky and the Lost Bayou Ramblers. For those unfamiliar, trust me. These are the guys you want playing on your record. While songs like the Cajun beauty "Valtz de Mon Pere," the Fats Domino swamp of "J'ai Connais Pas" and "Christmas In New Orleans," have an obvious nod to the city, "TOSOD" is not all waltzing and second-lining. The opener "Jimmy Choos" is the obvious single, having an upbeat, pop-feel like Rickie's first single "Chuck E's In Love." But it is the trio of songs, "Infinity," "Haunted" and "Feet On The Ground" that stand-out. The latter, a naked and soulful hymn, with help from Jon Cleary on vocals, is worth the price of admission alone.


And speaking of Jon Cleary... Born In England, Cleary finally settled for good in New Orleans over 25 years ago and has been the foundation of so much of the music we love to listen to from that city. His 2015 release, "GoGo Juice," is one of those perfect New Orleans records. It doesn't pander to the NOLA passers-by, with obvious nods to Bourbon Street and gumbo. This record is solid funk and R&B, with soulful vocals and arrangements, and all of the sounds and nuances that keep it, unmistakably, New Orleans made.


Darryl Mather, formerly of the Lime Spiders, formed the Orange Humble Band in 1995 with the help of some friends that included indie songwriter/producer extraordinaire Mitch Easter, Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and Big Star's Jody Stephens.  Two records, one in 1997 and one in 2001, had their moments of pop brilliance, with 2001's "Humblin' (Across America)" often referred to as one of the greatest power pop records of all time. I like that record, but I don't love it. I do love "Depressing Beauty," the new Orange Humble Band record and their first in almost 15 years. Aided once again by Mitch Easter, Jody Stephens and Ken Stringfellow, Darryl Mather also employs Dwight Twilley, Susan Cowsill, Jon Auer (Stringfellow's partner in Posies crime) and Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham for the ride and recording at the legendary Ardent Studios. One of my biggest complaints about new music is that I can never remember any of it. There is always something lacking, usually a hook or melody, and I rarely want to go back. First pass through "Depressing Beauty" and I immediately wanted to go back. So much jumped out at me. Maybe you'll feel the same.


"Fast Forward" is worth your time. Joe Jackson continues to impress with his love of all music, his ability to wear many different hats convincingly, and his unique working combination of creating music that satisfies both his fans and himself. Unlike so many other rock legends who desperately try to stay current by throwing their antes in games they have no business playing, Joe Jackson's records, whether paying tribute to heroes like Duke Ellington or Louis Jordan, or taking a stab at classical music, never feel misguided. They don't all work, but I'm convinced that Joe's intent was heartfelt. There is integrity in Joe Jackson's work and this is why I will continue to be a fan, see him live and jump on new music as long as he sticks around. "Fast Forward" works as 4 separate EPs, with each side recorded in a different city with musicians from that city.  New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans are represented, and while not every song in every city works, JJ's "Fast Forward," as a whole, works as one of his very best. Some standouts include the brilliant N.Y. take on Television's "See No Evil," "If I Could See Your Face," from Germany and really, all of the New Orleans side, which includes the band Galactic and "Big Chief" Donald Harrison.


Sparks has had a long and interesting career. They lost me a bit somewhere between their first six outstanding albums and their last few, equally amazing records. The 80s and 90s found the Mael Brothers releasing some very uneven records, but they have always been worth paying attention to. Franz Ferdinand has made a name for themselves, as well, though I can't say I loved anything they've released. Honestly, they are another one of those bands whose music I liked enough not to turn off, but couldn't hum a single note if I was being threatened with a Ginsu. Together, Sparks and Franz Ferdinand have created one of the best and most unique records of the year in "FFS." It is a perfect marriage of what these two bands do best. Bold, hilarious, musical. It even has a good beat and you can dance to it.


It's right in my wheelhouse, what can I say?  I can't and won't split hairs about "Alone In The Universe." I don't care about what it should have been, or why it took so long, or why he likes the drum sounds he's been using for the last 25 years. This is a near-perfect half hour of hooks, melodies, harmonies. It's Jeff Lynne, unashamedly showing his influences and it is my favorite record of the year.


jeff said...

Always look forward to this, and it’s a typically great compilation.Thanks. And as for the Donnie Fritts and Chris Isaak, both would be high on my list. They are terrific records.

William Repsher said...

I'm impressed with the Squeeze album, but slightly let down that Difford's lead vocal abilities were resigned to a bonus track/Lou Reed cover (and a great one at that). His past few solo albums, Difford has surely proved his worth as a lead singer, surprisingly, and grown leaps and bounds as a songwriter, if only by expanding his subject matter to the hardness/intricacies of life as people age. That said, it's a very good album, on par with their best work, and I guess they had to regress to the formula of Tillbrook singing lead. His voice hasn't changed one iota in decades, and his solo work has been pretty good, too. The title track in particular strikes me as something that wouldn't be out of place on a greatest hits album.

I wouldn't even know how to put together a best (or worst) album of the year list anymore. My listening patterns are so fragmented/song driven that I'll usually only get a few listens to an album in a traditional sense and buy the entire album digitally much, much less than I once bought physical product. But I guess even in this fragmented state, I can tell when an album is good simply by the number of tracks that register and get pulled into my repeated listening sphere.

And don't hold your breath waiting on 25!


Oh Man ... I have work to do!

Thanks Sal.

Anonymous said...

It's not even December yet. With much music yet to be released aren't you jumping the gun?

Capt. Al

Sal Nunziato said...

"It's not even December yet. With much music yet to be released aren't you jumping the gun?"



Anonymous said...

To the moon Alice!

Capt. Al

cmealha said...

Couldn't agree with you more on ELO. I was a bit disappointed with both the Squeeze and Joe Jackson albums. Nothing on them made me want to go back. Surprised that Darlene Live didn't get a mention. Thought you had really liked it a lot. I'm. Big fan of Pugwash as well but their latest left me wanting as did Chris Cornell, whose first 2 albums I loved. Looking forward to digging into FFS as I did enjoy their performances on Jools' show. Likewise have to get to Riki, Boz and Jon Cleary

Sal Nunziato said...

@cmealha. I think the Darlene Love wore thin pretty quickly. I love her and SVZ for doing it, but in the end I found it had more bells and whistles and not enough meat. Truth is, I forgot about it, otherwise I would have at least listed it up top in one of those other categories. Surprised by how you feel about the Joe Jackson.

Troy said...

My favorite of 2015 is Allison Moorer's "Down to Believing". IMO, it is a fantastic return to form.

Rounding out the list are Joe Jackson , The Bottle Rockets , Warren Haynes, Jeff Lynne's ELO, Jon Cleary, Dwight Yoakam, Los Lobos, Squeeze (wanted to love this more than I do, but it is still very good) and Jason Isbell.

Rob said...

Like Jayessemm, I think I may have some catching up to do, particularly as regards Joe Jackson, who I've enjoyed greatly over the years but lost touch with recently. I'm in absolute agreement with you about the Jeff Lynne album though, which I thought was a thing of beauty and delight. Can I put in a recommendation for Ian Siegal's The Picnic Sessions? Nothing startlingly original, just a bunch of musicians having a very relaxed good time, which is what I ended up having too, and that's no bad thing.

cmealha said...

Re: Darlene Love
Felt the same way. The single and overall production was great but it didn't have staying power.

Re: Joe Jackson
I've only given it one listen and it was after the high of ELO. So I'll get back to it. In the meantime I'm digging the Boz Scaggs album

Noam Sane said...

Sal, I value your recommendations and will spend some time with this stuff here at years-end, as things (at least around my place) slow down. Thanks for this invaluable blog and the time you spent on it in 2015. Peace to you and yours my friend.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thank you, Noam. Same to you and yours.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I, er, acquired about 72 releases in 2015, of which half are re-issues. I haven't listened to all of them, and many are FLAC remaining unconverted.
None are on Sal's list.
I'm interested in hearing more Kamasi Washington, and The London Souls (especially that unreleased debut).
Joe Jackson sounds just like he did, in a good way, as do Squeeze, Jeff, and Boz.

I spent time with:
VA - Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels The Blissed-Out Birth of Country Rock, Vol. 1-5
JD McPherson - Let the Good Times Roll

I enjoyed, or things I played twice or more:

Christopher The Conquered - I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll
The Mavericks - Mono
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The Libertines - Anthems for Doomed Youth
Galactic - Into the Deep
Damaged Bug - Cold Hot Plumbs
Tamikrest - Taksera

Heard once, and plan to get back:

Pond - Man It Feels Like Space Again

Looks promising but haven't heard even once through:

The Word - Soul Food
Mew - + -
Noveller - Fantastic Planet
Hanni El Khatib - Moonlight
Sick Sad World - Fear and Lies

Anonymous said...

The Emmylou and Rodney disappoints only in that includes a lot of overly familiar covers. I liked the Kamasi Washington, too, for its evocation of Tyner's and Sanders' early 60's/70's vamps but, like the DBT's live album, it could have been edited. Dwight Yoakam is great.

glad to see the Alison Moorer praise. have had it on reserve at the library forever. my most played this year have been the latest by James McMurtry, Sonny Landreth, the Landreth Bros (no relation), Calexico, Giant Sand, Frank Vignola (Django-ish western swing), and the DBTs.

Shriner said...

Hey Sal -- are we posting our own "best of 2015" lists here? Or will you solicit contributions like you did last year?

A walk in the woods said...

Nice list... a reminder that I need to get the Rickie Lee. I liked the Kamasi you posted, and the Orange Humble Band.

The Joe Jackson is definitely one of my tops of the year, and the show I saw in Atlanta on this tour was just stellar. One of the very, very few times I've ever seen a show where all the brand new songs he played (from this LP) were as good or better than the oldies.

And I def need to get that Jon Cleary, that's a winner.

Michael Giltz said...

Woohoo -- I'm glad Darlene Love is NOT on the list. She deserves a better album but I guess we'll have to wait 20 years for another stab at it.

Joe Jackson -- I think the lyrics are his strongest batch in a looooong time. Musically not quite as good but overall a very good album I need to listen to more.

Like many others, you've given me a lot to listen to, along with the comments referencing other albums.

having just read Rolling Stone's list before this one, I'm distraught that neither includes two of my top albums. I'm hoping you just haven't bothered yet to listen to Sufjan Steven's heartbreaking, lovely Carrie & Lowell. I assume you feel you already know The Tallest Man On Earth and just aren't sold.

Some others I've really loved not yet mentioned:

Iris Dement -- The Trackless Woods (mountain woman sets Russian poetry to music, and perhaps even translated some of it, or am I imagining that? dement's voice always hits me, though she's been erratic and mostly invisible over the years. But her last album and this are excellent.

Tony Bennet and Bill Charlap -- The Silver Lining: The Songs Of Jerome Kern. Charlap is an excellent pianist and sympathetic accompanist to his mom and now here bennett which deserves the obvious comparison to the Evans albums.

Jill Scott -- Woman -- excellent album, why you men afraid of a strong, black woman?? :) It has some hilarious, randy tracks. Prince ain't deliverin' but she is. (Not Prince-like as such, but has that sort of vibe somehow or maybe it's just cause it's sexy)

The Fratellis -- Wide Eyed Tongue Tied -- I've always had a thing for British lads and their bands, Loved The Fratellis debut and this is v strong.

Kasey Musgraves -- Pageant Material
Lindi Ortegi - Faded Gloryville (strong improvement on her last)
Eric Church -- Mr Misunderstood --
Carrie Underwood strong country, all four though the last two need more listens

Amy Lavere and Will Sexton -- Hallelujah I'm A Dreamer -- duet project of the year for me

Shakey Graves -- Nobody's Fool (along with kendrick Lamarr who will win Pazz & Jopp handily)

Bones -- esp his Powder (released three batches at least; I dig the production)

Hamilton -- all of middle america is listening to this, which is cool. I know, because I've gone there and watched them rap along, even the parents.

Garnett Simms -- I'm still wowed by this compilation. Been a constant source of pleasure.

My list as yet is in no particular order after the top few.

Thanks for bringing some great music to my attention. And how did I miss a new Ron Sexsmith?

Sal Nunziato said...

Shriner, yes please. Offer up your Best Of here.

Michael Giltz- I have not heard Sufjan. I haven't cared for anything in the past, though everyone seems to think this is the one. As for Tallest Man...I just don't get that at all.

Michael Giltz said...

But he's so tall!!!

Re: Sufjan, holiday music aside, easily his best since Illinoise. Very melancholy.

I'll give Rickie Lee Jones another shot, along with some others I liked but didn't love.

But I have a dilemma: is it Jeff Lynne's ELO? As in Jefferson Starship as opposed to Jefferson Airplane or Starship? Some new entity or just a new way of referring to the same ole band? And do I file under J or L or E? I'm leaning towards E and screw the marketing, though it's interesting they think using Jeff Lynne in name is a better hook than just ELO. Sal Nunziato's Burnwood Tnite!

Shriner said...

Because I don't have my own blog, this is what I wrote up about this year so far which will probably end up on Facebook at some point:

Favorite albums from 2015 (so far!) in no particular order with two recent additions:

Tommy Keene — Laugh In The Dark
The Sonics — This is the Sonics
The On and Ons — It’s The On and Ons Calling
Nada Surf — Live at the Neptune Theatre
Dawes — All Your Favorite Bands
Pugwash — Play This Intimately [As If Among Friends]
Jeff Lynne’s ELO — Alone In The Universe
Neil Young & The Bluenotes — Bluenote Cafe

Pretty Good (but not fantastic) Efforts:

Third Eye Blind — Dopamine
Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell
The Darkness — Last Of Our Kind
Cloud Eleven — Record Collection
The Connection — Labor of Love
Hollywood Vampires — Hollywood Vampires
Joe Jackson — Fast Forward

And four solid “reunion” albums that do not hurt their legacy:

Juliana Hatfield Three — Whatever, My Love
Squeeze — Cradle To The Grave
Veruca Salt — Ghost Notes
The Orange Humble Band — Depressing Beauty

Two really good Tribute albums:

Never Surrender (Tribute to Cheap Trick)
Beyond Belief (Tribute to Elvis Costello)

Albums I remember liking at the time, but haven’t found the time to go back to (which I shamelessly stole from your categorizing):

Belle & Sebastian — Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
The Grip Weeds — How I Won The War

Catalog discovery of the year (old artist I’d never heard of before): Green Pajamas. All of their stuff is uniformly excellent.

Runner up: The Shazam. I dismissed them the first time around, but came back around to their catalog this year and realized they are a lot better than I gave them credit for a decade ago

steves said...

Thanks again, Sal. I still need to check many of your picks, but I can get on board with Rickie Lee, FFS and Jeff Lynne (still on the fence with Squeeze, however).

I'm just love for Father John Misty? I don't care if his whole shtick is some sort of acid-drenched pose, the guy is making some of the most original pop music out there, and I'm not ashamed to say I like it.

Charlie Carr said...

Nicely done! It always takes me awhile to get over my annual "where-do-people-find-the-time-for-that-much-new-music?" resentment. I already grabbed a couple of the selected (London Souls & Kamasi Washington) and can't wait to play catch-up. Rickie Lee and Jon Cleary on deck - to be purchased closer to the source . . .
Great job to all.