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
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.
SQUEEZE-CRADLE TO THE GRAVE
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 LONDON SOULS- HERE COME THE GIRLS
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.
BOZ SCAGGS- A FOOL TO CARE
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.
KAMASI WASHINGTON- THE EPIC
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.
RICKIE LEE JONES-THE OTHER SIDE OF DESIRE
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.
JON CLEARY-GOGO JUICE
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.
ORANGE HUMBLE BAND- DEPRESSING BEAUTY
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.
JOE JACKSON-FAST FORWARD
"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.
JEFF LYNNE'S ELO-ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE
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.