Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016: Faves and Not So Faves

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:

P.J. Harvey
Paul Simon
John Doe
Charles Bradley
Corinne Bailey Rae
Teenage Fanclub

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.


FurryBootsCityBoy said...

Loved "This Is Your Night" - cool and quirky. Gorgeous harmonies.

cmealha said...

My favorite 2 albums of the year are Lemon Twigs just beating out Field Music. I hear what you're saying about all the ideas floating around that album. The Beatles were masters of putting 'bits' together. The Twigs have a long way to go but the 'bits' are fun and full of sheer lunacy which I love. They and Field Music put out records that were inventive and different from what I've been used to recently. I went all in on both of them.
I do love Bowie's album but I'm unsure as to the reasons. There's do much attached to it as you said but I still go back to it. I will check out the cast album though only to hear Dexter belt out some Bowie tunes.
One of my other favorites, for now, is the soundtrack to La La Land. I thought most of the tunes were just great examples of songwriting. Of course I'm probably still coming off the high of seeing the movie, which I loved.
I loved the idea of Hunter's album more than I actually liked it although there were some superb songs on that album.
Feel like you about the Cheap Trick album. I was anxiously awaiting it but it was a bit of a letdown after "The Latest" although it was still ok.
last but not least, Jeff Beck is always satisfying. I know a lot of people dismissed "Loud Hailer" but I loved it.
I was excited about the Pretenders at first but after several listens I culled it down to about 2-3 cuts.
That's all I got from the top of my head. Back to work.

Allan Rosenberg said...

And my favorite line of the year:

"The Steven Tyler country record is not as horrible as you think. It's kind of horrible, just not as horrible as you think."

I have not heard the Steven Tyler record, have no intention of ever hearing the record but I sure wish I had thought up that comment about it. Brilliant. A perfect bit of R&R criticism.

Captain Al

Troy said...

For me, the highlight of 2016 was Michael McDermott's 'Willow Springs'. To me, this is a well crafted song cycle, not just a bunch of tunes that I happen to like. Michael continues to be one of the very best songwriters around. He got a lot of very favorable reviews on this one, and every one of 'em was deserved. He and his side band, The Westies, also released an album '6 on the Out' back at the beginning of the year that was terrific. We're going to see him on Friday night, and I can't wait to congratulate him in person on a terrific year.

As for the rest of the best, I also really enjoyed Bonnie Raitt, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Cheap Trick, The Jayhaws, Blue Rodeo, and William Bell's stellar album, 'this is where i live'.

More: I spent some time with, and enjoyed, Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, Sting, and Peter Wolf.

Finally, to me the single biggest disappointment and ultimate turd of the year goes to Hothouse Flowers' "Let's Do This Thing". I love HHF, but this was an uninspired, tuneless batch of half baked ideas and unfocused noodling. It also sounded like shit. Biggest disappointment in many a moon.

Thanks for continuing to keep the doors open here, Sal, so we can share our thoughts and musical discoveries with each other. Best of luck with your new album in 2017, I will look forward to checking it out.

daudder said...

Monkees 'Good Times', Jim James 'Eternally Yours', The Pretenders 'Alone'

Heather Taylor said...

Charles Bradley's "Changes" is just wonderful. It's the neo-soul blast from '70 that you'd expect from him and yet, while the sound is familiar, he's original and passionate. One of my favorite records of the year. When was the last time that you heard the new record then caught the artist live, getting the new songs confused with the deeper cuts from the early catalogue? May he be healthy in 2017.


buzzbabyjesus said...

My favorites of 2016 can be found on the "Unhappy Holiday" Weekend Mix from a few weeks back.

The Flat Five are all that.

I really wanted to love The Lemon Twigs. That performance Sal posted knocked me out.
I shared it with my bands (Foglizard/Smoove Sailors) and it went over, but someone pointed out the song itself was the weakest link.
I listened to the album intently and discovered it was the only real song on the album.
Hopefully they'll write some for the next one, but I'm not holding my breath.
None of those "bits" added up to anything. I listened to it once and will not revisit.

Usually bad presidents inspire good music. 2017 is looking good.

Charlie Messing said...

Sal, you done great. Lemon Twigs are a standout, as you said. I haven't heard their album, nor most of those you mention - both of my brothers bought the new Stones, and I plan to hear a burned copy soon, but from what I've heard so far I want to strangle Don Was. Almost everything I bought this year (and consequently heard) was old stuff I'd missed (Annie Haslam produced by Roy Wood?) and dozens of other old LPs both from AM/PM and from trading in local stores. The last 3 I got were black for whatever reason - Black Monk Time, Blackstar, and You Want it Darker. Funny! [I look forward to hearing Lazarus.] Oh yes - the Captain Beefheart Box Set is quite fine (Sun Zoom Spark) since I missed all those in the early 70s. Just as I've discovered dozens of great albums from 79 to 82, I've discovered dozens from 69 to 72. It's been a heck of a year for discovering the music of other years. Etta James live in 1954? A double LP of James Brown's earliest Federal sides? Amazing. Thanks for all the wood you burn, and don't forget to watch "Fairy Tale of New York" by Xmas. And hear Lord Buckley's "Scrooge". Happy holidays - you da man.

Shriner said...

I need to sit and think about my faves for 2016. I know "Good Times" will be on that list. Maybe I'll have a few minutes tomorrow to dash off a list.

And, man, I tried -- and tried hard based on the raves -- but I could *not* figure out The Lemon Twigs *nor* The Flat Five.

Shriner said...

As promised (and with hope it makes others generate their lists):

2016 favorites: These are the 5 albums I have gone back to multiple times during 2016 and still am not getting tired of them.

The Monkees — Good Times. *Extremely* high expectations and it surpassed every one of them.
Winterpills — Love Songs
Southern Culture On The Skids — The Electric Pinecones
Nada Surf — You Know Who You Are (honorable mention to the “Peaceful Ghosts” live set.)
Cotton Mather — Death of the Cool. Came out of nowhere and is awesome!

Honorable mentions (solid efforts but not as good as the above and I'm fairly sure they are all 2016 releases...):

The Well Wishers — Comes and Goes
Teenage Fanclub — Here
Starling Electric — Electric Company
Seth Swirsky — Circles and Squares
Posies — Solid States
The Nines — Alejandro’s Visions
Nick Piunti — Trust Your Instincts
Neil Young + Promise of the Real — Earth
Letters to Cleo — Back to Nebraska EP (where have they been?)
Liz Longley — Weightless
Gretchen’s Wheel — Behind the Curtain
Greg Pope — Guiding Star
The Feeling — The Feeling
Explorers Club — Together
Cheap Trick — Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello

Band I discovered this year that I now love: Winterpills. Their catalog is top notch!

Reissue of the year: The Turtles “Complete Original Album Collection” along with “All The Singles” — the best sounding these have ever been released in from a band that has more to them than “Happy Together”. This, over and above “Live At The Hollywood Bowl” (which was also great!) and the Skylarking blu-ray reissue.

I wanted it to be better than it was:
The I Don’t Cares — Wild Stab (a good effort, but I love JH and PW and wanted something outstanding)
Emmit Rhodes — Rainbow Ends (good, but expectations were really high)

Comedy album of the year:
The Dean Ween Group — The Deaner Album. I laughed all the way through it.

Disappointments of the year:
Look Park — Look Park
Butch Walker — Stay Gold

Bands I just did not get:
The Lemon Twigs
The Flat Five

DaveF said...

Loved Ian Hunter and The Monkees 2016 releases. Record of the year has to go to "Sweet Little Messages" by Charlie Faye & The Fayettes...gorgeous pre-Beatles girl group pop songs. Check them won't be disappointed.

Michael Giltz said...

Thanks for sharing Sal! So glad you convinced me to pay attention to the Monkees' album, which is def in my Top 5 (however long my Top 5 may become!). I'l be checking and double checking others on your list, including Margo Price which my friend in Minneapolis touts as his favorite of the year. I appreciated it but haven't returned to it much and now I'm eager to see how it plays again. I hope you get handkerchiefs under your tree on Christmas Day!