Let me get right to it. My favorite record of the year is The Flat Five's "It's A World Of Love & Hope." The twisted, often hilarious and occasionally beautiful music of Chris Ligon takes on a whole new life under the care of NRBQ members Scott Ligon (Chris's brother) and Casey McDonough, Alex Hall, and two of the purist voices in music, Nora O'Connor and the otherworldly Kelly Hogan.
The hype sticker on the record describes the band as a "sunshine pop vocal group," but these five people are musicians of the highest order, seamlessly switching from straight 70's pop like "Almond Grove" to cool bebop on "You're Still Joe" to the breezy Brazilian sounds of "This Is Your Night." Chris Ligon's lyrics will take you by surprise, like on the sweet, gorgeous love song "Bottom Buck." The song's harmonies are to die for, as the band sings:
"Whistle while you work, that was her motto, till she won the lotto, now she doesn't work. Said I was a jerk, for smoking potto, she called me crazy Otto, said I was a jerk."
Silly, of course. Also makes you breathe a sigh of relief that "She's Only Five" is an instrumental.
The music is irresistible, as are the voices. No record made me as happy this year, as the Flat Five. AND, they cover this:
I wanted to like The Pretenders record. But leave it to Dan Auerbach to get both a Dr. John record and a Chrissie Hynde record to sound the same. "Alone" has a few good tunes, but the production doesn't work behind Miss Hynde.
Another well-received Drive By Truckers record, another Drive By Truckers record that bores me to tears. This is a band I really, REALLY don't get.
I was very excited about Syd Arthur's "Apricity." I thought their debut sounded like Pink Floyd, Yes and all the good stuff from 60's pop/psych singles. This new one, which has my hero Jason Falkner behind the scenes, sounds very one-note. Another bore.
Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" is one of my favorite records of all time, so it was beyond thrilling to hear something forty years later doing its best to give that record a run for its money. "Post Pop Depression" is not quite "The Idiot," but you couldn't ask for much better from Iggy as he winds down his career. Props to producer Josh Homme for understanding the artist.
I am still getting anonymous threats because I don't like the new Rolling Stones record. It's disturbing to have a troll, especially when you've figured out who it is, or at least have an idea. I still think "Blue & Lonesome" is a big swing and a miss.
And about those Lemon Twigs. Man, did I love that performance on The Tonight Show. But man, does their debut need some work. "Do Hollywood" has a billion great ideas and maybe three songs to show for it. I look forward to record #2.
I can't believe in the year 2016, I'm saying that The Monkees released one of my favorite records of the year. Even more amazing is that the Ben Gibbard track, "Me & Magdalena" might be my favorite song of the year. There are no surprises on "Good Times." Thankfully!! It's The Monkees with some very talented people helping out and it's a blast. In my Top 5.
Another year and another terrific record from Southern Culture On The Skids. Always fun. They can rock. They can get funky and greasey. And Mary Huff can do a number on you with a heartbreak ballad. The new one, "Electric Pinecones," is as good as anything they've done. Try to find it.
Dinosaur Jr.'s "Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not" screams right out of the box with the opener, "Goin' Down," another fave song of the year. But again, the record fails to sustain. Nothing else is as exciting as track one.
"Nothing More To Say," the debut on Daptone from The Frightnrs should have been a major source of joy for the reggae band from Queens. But soon after its release, singer Dan Klein lost his battle with ALS. What he left behind is one of the best records of the year. Evoking the spirit and sound of some of the great rock steady records from Jamaica, "Nothing More To Say" is a complete joy from top to bottom. In my Top 5 of the year.
Two more records that pleased me were Cheap Trick's "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello" and Margo Price's "Midwest Farner's Daughter." Early visits with the Cheap Trick record had me thinking it was their best record in years. And then my recent revisiting of the record before, 2009's "The Latest" made me realize THAT was their best record in years and "Bang Zoom" was simply a solid return. As for Margo Price, it's wonderful to hear someone young, smart, clever and talented. Price has an edge, but she has no problem sticking with traditional C&W sounds. This record can play on shuffle with classic George & Tammy and not feel out of place.
Michael Kiwanuka's debut, "Home Again" might have been my favorite record of 2012. I was so ready for the follow-up, "Love & Hate." It didn't happen. "Love & Hate" has some moments, but too much of it meanders. "Home Again" felt fresh, while "Love & Hate" does not. Good stuff, but a disappointment.
Allen Toussaint's last recordings were captured perfectly by producer Joe Henry on "American Tunes." This record is both stunningly beautiful and an absolute joy. Toussaint is a master and even at 76, hadn't lost a bit of his chops on piano. He turns American standards and New Orleans classics into something all his own. One reader mentioned how he didn't think we needed another version of Paul Simon's "American Tune," but then changed his mind after hearing Toussaint's heartbreaking take. One of the top five records of my year.
Lydia Loveless released one fantastic set of tunes on this year's "Real." Not quite as traditional as Margo Price, Loveless still has a bit of twang in her voice as she sings songs that teeter between country and power pop. I want to thank Captain Al for relentlessly pushing this record. It's as good as he's been saying.
Ian Hunter is 77 years old. He continues to stay relevant, writing fresh material that reflects his age and never turns his back on his fans. Not sure I could have wanted for anything more that what I got from "Fingers Crossed." Another top five record of 2016.
The Posies turned in a keyboard driven set of tunes on "Solid States" and gave me one of my favorite Side Ones of the year. Wilco's "Schmilco" started to grow on me, but I decided I had given it enough time to take. It ain't happening and neither is Radiohead's record.
Still have not heard a note off of this year's records from:
Corinne Bailey Rae
The Steven Tyler country record is not as horrible as you think. It's kind of horrible, just not as horrible as you think.
Field Music's "Commonwealth" is a grower. The first cut, "The Noisy Days Are Over" is an absolute killer. And not much else on the record sounds like it. But these brothers have a lot up their sleeves and they execute it beautifully. A great, great record.
The Jayhawks, Dion, William Bell, Mudcrutch and yes, Sting, all put out very fine records this year. So did Bonnie Raitt, which featured another of my fave tracks of the year, "I Knew."
I had hoped to love the Emitt Rhodes, but I don't. I do love a few tunes, though, especially, "Isn't It So."
I also had high hopes for the Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle record. I dig the originals. They missed the mark on the covers.
And finally, David Bowie's "Blackstar," a record that came with a whole lotta baggage. I can't think of an album that evokes so many feelings. Am I listening to the music? Am I searching for clues? Do I like it for the wrong reasons? Eleven months after his death, David Bowie's "Blackstar" remains a solid piece of work from one of my music heroes, but the truth is, I just don't love it.
On the other hand, the cast recording of "Lazarus," featuring theatrical arrangements of Bowie's catalogue, including three unreleased tracks from the "Blackstar" sessions in versions by both the cast and Bowie himself, is one of the great delights of the year.
I don't know if the John Sally Ride record, "A New Set Of Downs" will end up on anyone's "Best Of '17" list, but I am proud of the music on that record. It is also a personal fave of this year, though only three of us have heard it all. Take a listen below this post to the two advanced tracks and hopefully you'll dig it.
I know I am missing a ton of music that was released this year. But this is all I can manage right now.