Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Favorite Records of 2017

                                                           (screenshot of my friend's Spotify account)

First, these.

I was happy that Aimee Mann kept me interested with "Mental Illness" longer than a few minutes, for the first time since her brilliant "Bachelor No. 2" oh, so many years ago. A good record, but not a great record.

I can't say the same for Matthew Sweet and "Tomorrow Forever," which bored me to death. But man, he had some run starting with "Girlfriend" and ending with "Blue Sky On Mars." Not sure what's been missing, but it has been a long time since Matthew Sweet has put out something I can sink my ears into.

I am on the fence, still, about the new record from Squeeze. Difford and Tilbrook remain two of my favorite songwriters in music history and their last record, "Cradle To The Grave" was a fave of that year. But there is something about "The Knowledge" that is rubbing me the wrong way. I think part of the wrong rubbing has to do with it not really sounding like a Squeeze record. "Cradle To The Grave" took some chances sonically and I loved it, so maybe the songs on "The Knowledge" just aren't doing it for me. Undecided, but will stick with it, because these boys haven't really let me down...ever.

Every record Jason Isbell releases mesmerizes me and "The Nashville Sound" was no different. I loved it...the first time I played it. He truly is one remarkable songwriter. But nothing ever sticks. I'll hear songs like "Dress Blues" and "Elephant" and If We Were Vampires" and think, "Holy crap!" Those three songs alone are enough to secure Jason Isbell a permanent spot among the music elite. But whenever I reach for the record, it feels like too much work. I recognize the brilliance of Jason Isbell, but I just prefer listening to someone else.

Mojo Magazine's pick for Best of 2017 was LCD Soundsystem's "American Dream," which I only just listened to. I liked what I heard, but grew impatient, as every song was twice as long as it should be. Maybe that's their thing, but there was enough on that record to remind me of what I like---David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music. None of it as good, and all of it too long. But okay, Mojo, I doubt my Top 15 appears anywhere at all in your Top 50, so whatever.

Many of you have a hard time listening to Sparks, mostly because of the vocals. I understand, because Peter Perrett's record, "How The West Was Won" got raves all year, and during the entire spin I thought,"Good song. Hate his voice. Good song. Hate his voice."

The Magpie Salute consists of the friends and musicians Rich Robinson got in the divorce from brother Chris, whose As The Crow Flies will debut the friends and musicians he got this coming summer. As a long time fan of the Black Crowes, I wish this would all stop and they'd just do what they do best, and that is make music together. That being said, I really like The Magpie Salute, an album featuring a new tune, some Crowes tunes and some choice covers. And don't tell anyone but, I kind of like singer John Hogg. I don't miss Chris Robinson. Still, this is all too messy and as good as it is, it didn't make the final list.

Whatever people have been hearing in The National has escaped me for years. But with "Sleep Well Beast," I was intrigued enough to try again. It was a #1 record in the U.K., and the raves just kept coming in. And...nope. I was left cold. I don't hate U2, but when I do, it's because they sound like "Sleep Well Beast."

Speaking of U2 as a fan and not a hater, the new one is growing on me. "Songs Of Innocence" was by far, their worst record, so I guess anything that followed would be better. But I am hearing a lot I like on "Songs Of Experience."

I thought the Paul Weller record really stank.

And now, my Top 15 of 2017, in absolutely, positively random order.

Wesley Stace featuring the Jayhawks- Wesley Stace's John Wesley Harding

I loved this album's opener, "I Don't Wanna Rock and Roll No More," so much, it wouldn't matter if the rest of the record sounded like Jim Nabors, God rest his soul. Thankfully, it does not. What it does offer are some of Stace's best songs handled beautifully by the very capable Jayhawks. Truly a marriage made in heaven and one of Stace's very best in a long, respected career.

Todd Rundgren- White Knight

Having Todd Rundgren on my year-end list is not a gesture or a favor. You all know I am a fan, but I am the first to call him out when a record feels lazy, uninspired or just unpleasant. "White Knight" is none of those things.  Sure, Todd fans can quibble about handing off lead vocals on such outstanding ballads as "That Could Have Been Me" and "The Beginning (Of The End)" to Robyn and John Boutte, respectively. But both deliver in a big way and so does Todd, on what I feel is first truly cohesive record since 2004's "Liars." "Tin Foil Hat," the duet with Donald Fagen, came at the right time, and is as catchy as heck and the collaboration with Joe Walsh, "Sleep," is simply gorgeous pop, something Rundgren fans have been craving for years.

Stanton Moore Trio- With You In Mind: The Songs Of Allen Toussaint

Talk about a record in my wheelhouse! The trio, comprised of Stanton Moore, James Singleton and David Torkanowsky is augmented by the Crescent City's finest, including a brass section featuring Trombone Shorty, Nicholas Payton, Mark Mullins and Donald Harrison Jr., as well as the soulful vocals of Brother Cyril Neville on five of the tracks, one of which is an impossibly funky version of "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky."  Neville also lends his vocals to "Night People" and Ernie K-Doe's "Here Come The Girls," both of which, again, have been reimagined in ways only this fine trio can produce. Another highlight, is also one of the most beautiful pieces of music you will hear this year, an absolutely stunning take on the title track, showcasing the enormously talented David Torkanowsky on piano. You will be moved.

Shelby Lynne & Alison Moorer- Not Dark Yet

"Not Dark Yet" is not for the faint of heart. It may appear to be another "covers" record, but there is something going on here that is very special. I am sure it has something to do with Shelby and Alison being sisters, but every song is hauntingly beautiful. Their take on Nirvana's "Lithium" gets under your skin, just as the original did, in the best possible way. And "The Color Of A Cloudy Day" might be my pick for most devastating performance of the year. Just typing that last sentence put a lump in my throat.

Roger Waters- Is This The Life We Want?

If you're not a fan, I can't imagine this record changing your mind. But if you are a fan, I can't imagine not loving everything about "Is This The Life We Really Want?" It's a stunning collection of songs addressing love, hate, power, religion and war. It is beautiful and tragic, and classic Roger Waters.

Don Bryant- Don't Give Up On Love

Records like this can be hit or miss. Take a legend and give him new life with a new producer. Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash? Bingo! Rick Rubin and Neil Diamond? Swing and a miss. In the case of "Don't Give Up On Love," R&B legend Don Bryant's first secular record in almost 50 years, there wasn't any high profile producer looking to incite a comeback for Bryant. Just two southern guys, Scott Bomar and Bruce Watson, with smart ears and the Hi Rhythm Section. It also helps that Bryant's voice is still a powerhouse. This record might as well have been recorded in 1969. Every track a winner, especially the take on the late great David Egan's "First You Cry."

The Darkness- Pinewood Smile

I've gone on about The Darkness and their 2012 release "Hot Cakes" a number of times on these pages. It is a record that continues to get some seriously heavy rotation. If "Hot Cakes" set out to keep the hard rocking and glam sounds of Queen, Sparks, and AC/DC alive, the follow-up, "Last Of Our Kind," if you could somehow accept this, sounded more like a parody than the parody that was already the band itself.

Now we have "Pinewood Smile." While it may be more of the same....a very good thing...it is more of what grabbed me on "Hot Cakes," with as many hooks and crunching riffs as one could handle, and the addition of new monster drummer, Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen drummer, Roger Taylor. It is no wonder then that the patented, operatic harmonies of Queen are more prevalent than ever. This is what a rock album is supposed to sound like. Fun, damnit!!

Valerie June- The Order Of Time

It's been 4 years since "Pushin' Against The Stone," Valerie June's major label debut and a record that was one of my favorites of 2013. I honestly forgot all about her and that fabulous record. But with the release "The Order Of Time," she is back on my radar for good. This is a fantastic follow-up. June does not abandon the raw blues, folk and gospel of her roots. She only tweaks it a bit, making the same heartfelt music with just a bit more polish. I love this record, maybe more than "Pushin' Against The Stone."

Cheap Trick- We're All Alright

Well, y'all know how I feel about Cheap Trick. I've been here since day one. And I love the fact that 2009's "The Latest," a record over 30 years after their genius debut, is one of my five favorite CT records. Now, we get another record less than a year since their excellent "Bang, Zoom, Crazy, Hello!" As much as I loved "BZCH," I love "We're All Alright" even more. It opens with a relentless rock assault of five bashers in a row and then settles into the gorgeous, "Floating Down," a new classic in the vein of "Mandocello." The Move cover, "Blackberry Way" is what it is, but there are few missteps on this one.

Neil Finn- Out Of Silence

One of my favorite songwriters of the last 40 years returns with another left turn and it is a heartbreaker. Unlike Neil Finn's last, "Dizzy Heights," "Out Of Silence" is missing the textures, electronics, beats and sonics that made "DH" different than any of Finn's previous releases. "Out Of Silence" is beautifully orchestrated with piano, strings and voices and will leave you breathless by its finale. Finn seems to have abandoned the pop hooks of Crowded House for a more unconventional way of expressing himself. This is not to say he is no longer musical. Not at all. But like "Dizzy Heights," this new one kept begging me to come back and with each spin, I embraced something new and amazing.

Living Colour- Shade

Man, did I want this to be great!  I am not embarrassed to say, I was a Living Colour groupie for about 5 years. I saw them as an instrumental trio. I saw them with D.K. Dyson on vocals before Corey. And then, it seems like all I did was see them with the classic quartet. "Vivid" was my record as much as it was Living Colour's record. Countless nights in CBGBs and Tramps, watching this band get better and better. Now, 30 years later, we have "Shade" and it is a monster! Corey Glover's voice is better than ever. Vernon Reid has fine tuned his playing for the better, if that is possible. It has matured, it's as if he shreds with melody. Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun are still a rhythm section like no other. "Shade" is a keeper, still on heavy rotation.

Sparks- Hippopotamus

You are either in or your out with Sparks. As I mentioned up top, one man's Peter Perrett is another man's Russell Mael, or Rufus Wainwright or Geddy Lee. These artists have a distinct instrument in their voice, and if you can't embrace it from the word go, then it will be an uphill climb. That said, I have loved Sparks since "Kimono My House" and it couldn't thrill me more to see the Maels release one of the greatest albums of their career over 40 years after that classic. Critically acclaimed, totally unique and absolutely hook-filled... if you like songs about Ikea. And who doesn't? I know I said this list was in random order, but "Hippopotamus" is very close to the top.

Chris Hillman- Bidin' My Time

Here's one of those records I was talking about earlier. A rock and roll legend and a high profile producer. This time it's Chris Hillman of The Byrds and Burrito Brothers with Tom Petty taking over as producer. Of course, neither knew what was to come so soon after "Bidin' My Time" was released. The sudden death of Tom Petty shouldn't add any melancholy to an already gorgeous record. It does, but try not to let it.  This record was brilliant before we lost its producer. Petty nailed it. It is understated, with just the right amount of slick to keep you honest and remind you that this is 50 years after The Byrds. Still, "Bidin' My Time" is pure. Hillman and Herb Pedersen's harmonies will make your hair stand on end. This record is a subtle masterpiece.

Finally...my top two favorite records of 2017.

Dion- Kickin' Child

I don't think I played a record this year as much as I played "Kickin' Child." On paper, this could have gone either way. The final product, a stunning reissue from Norton Records, both visually and sonically, is a masterwork. Dion's lost record of 1965 stands up to any of what would have been its competition, if it had been released along side those classic albums, such as The Beatles "Help," Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," or The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man." Everyone should own this record.

The John Sally Ride- A New Set Of Downs

My friend sent me his Spotify screenshot this morning. I posted it at the head. He was very excited that one of his top tracks of 2017 was by The John Sally Ride. Maybe some of you saw this coming and maybe not. A shameless plug? Sure, why not! But sincerely, I couldn't be more proud of the work on "A New Set Of Downs." I've been in and out of bands for 40 years and as any musician could tell you, it's not always fun. Sometimes, it's work and you forget you're even playing music. But with songs as amazing as this set from John Dunbar, you not only rise to the occasion, the words and melody make you sing and play better. Just listen to Sal Maida's bass playing. Here's a guy who played and toured with the best, and somehow he managed to put some of his greatest work down behind John's melodies and me as his drummer. As I always say, it always starts with the song, and I know...and those who know me know, I would NOT have been here if I didn't like the music. Thank you John Dunbar. Thank you Sal Maida. The John Sally Ride is my favorite record of 2017. I am thrilled to be singing and playing with such talent as you two kids. Everyone should own this record.

I look forward to your comments, picks, misses, disappointments and suggestions.



Okay ... two things:

* Man, I wish I was organized enough to remember my records of this year (I can hardlt recall what I had for breakfast)

and ...

* I have work to do!

Thanks Sal.

Shriner said...

Shriner's comments:

Pugwash — Silverlake — a late release in 2017 but I’ve listened to this at least 4 times already and I think it’s one of their best

Partner — In Search of Lost Time. I think “Everybody Knows” is my favorite song of the year. Just skip the "comedy" tracks

The Stanleys — The Stanleys. One of my favorite debut albums of the year.

The Darkness — Pinewood Smile. Favorite of the Year? Maybe? Most listened to, definitely!

Somerdale — Maggie Says It Again. OMG, this is a fantastic album.

Lorde — Melodrama I really think there's something *there*, there. You know? "Green Light" is a monster song.

Juliana Hatfield — Pussycat Super-pissed-off Juliana tosses off her best album in years.

Robin Hitchcock — Robyn Hitchcock This is *amazing* for what is his 30th album or something like that. Brendan Benson was an inspired choice for producer and the Nashville setting brought out some of his best -- and most accessible --songs in a decade.

And the 3 live ones I loved:

Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell Live
Raspberries — Pop Art Live. If this was sweetened, I don't care. It's great!
The Replacements — For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986. I had never heard this boot previously, so the official release knocked me out.

Didn't make the cut, but I liked them enough: Plasticsoul, Roger Waters, Cheap Trick, New Pornographers, the reunion albums by Fastball and Ride, Gretchen's Wheel and Chuck Prophet.

Reissue of the year: XTC — Black Sea. The Steven Wilson Remix is sooo awesome. Better than the Sgt. Pepper reissue. Seriously. And, sue me, I liked the reissue of “Semi-Charmed Life” from Third Eye Blind. And REM’s “Automatic for the People” reissue was pretty darn good, too. As was “Purple Rain Deluxe” and McCartney’s “Flowers In The Dirt” reissue. All-in-all, a good reissue year. Bring on 2018 with (hopefully) another XTC remix.

Hard to categorize as a "reissue" or "catalog" or "live" release, but *I ABSOLUTELY Loved This*: Frank Zappa — Halloween ’77 — the entire 6 shows. “Sheik Yerbouti” is probably my favorite Zappa album and this was the tour right before they cut that one. You’d think 6 shows of (basically) the same set would get tiring? No! I could listen to another 6 and love it just as much. Bozzio? Belew? Recorded/filmed for “Baby Snakes”? "Ask me what he’s doing. What’s he doing? He’s eating." Something like 15 hours of live Zappa with this crack band. (This must be how those Dylan guys gush about live stuff...now I get it...) For as much shit as Ahmet (rightly) gets for the "Hologram Zappa" idea, this was a *great* release from the ZFT.

Catalog artist I rediscovered this year: ABBA. Don’t laugh. Pop perfection. They have a bunch of great songs that were not the monster-smash-hit singles.

Fave new band that I discovered who didn't have a release this year: The Cherry Bluestorms. Two albums that made me want a whole lot more from them.

Bored me beyond belief: the new U2 album. Maybe I was in a bad mood, but not so much I really want to listen to it again. Runners-up: The Colin Moulding/Terry Chambers EP -- which I had such high expectations that I was ultimately disappointed with the final results. The Jeff Lynne "Wembly or Bust" ELO album was -- fair. (I have tickets to the Detroit show next August and will probably love it live, but I should have just skipped listening to this...)

I now anxiously await to hear from the rest of you!

Sal Nunziato said...

This is a comment from Bill that I accidentally deleted.

Regarding the new Squeeze, I think The Knowledge is a notch below Cradle to the Grave. But Innocence in Paradise and Patchouli are both cracking tunes. Got a chance to see them live in Red Bank last month, and the show was great. The new songs all benefitted from the live setting, and they have such a catalogue of hits that you can't help but be happy at one of their shows.

Added bonus of John Wesley Harding/Wesley Stace opening up!

Michael Giltz said...

Thanks Sal for the great run down of the best of 2017. Can't wait to check out some I was missing, listen again to some I'd passed over, etc etc. The best kind of homework....

jeff said...

Thanks for the great list, as usual Sal. Lots of stuff to catch up on, except for that Sally Ride on. I know that record and had included it among my favorites, and I'm not saying that because I know the drummer.

I'm not saying these are the best records of the year, but they were my favorite (and I apologize if some were actually from 2016).
The one artist who dominated the year for me was Bruce Springsteen, via his self-released live concert site. There is usually one new one a month, and I loved all of them. The most recent is his first Seeger concert in New Orleans, what a treat.

The other re-release that hardly got off the player was the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. I sprung for the deluxe with the extra disks, book and 3D but it's the sound of the original record remastered that grabbed me and still does. I even like "Within You Without You" now.

Speaking of releases of old stuff, for me the. Elvis Studio Sessions '56 and the Here's Little Richard disk are a total treat. I also enjoyed the Ramones re-releases. Also, my favorite old soul releases were three records out of Detroit under the title "Pied Piper presents." Great great stiff.

If you are a Neil Young fan, you have to hit the Neil Young Archives. I expect to spend the better part of this year there.

I think the two records by the Gallagher Brothers make for one brilliant record and very very good ones. I'd say the same for the Van Morrison r&b records, Roll With the Punches and Versatile. Another duo I loved was Ray Preston and Willie Nelson doing Django and Jimmy (might have come out the year before).

I loved the Jose Feliciano and Jools Holland record and it got me to go back through Feliciano's catalogue, and while he could get schmaltzy, there's just so much to love there.

There were some new albums released this year. My favorites: Undivided Heart & Soul by JD McPherson; Manic Revelations by Pokey LaFarge; Joe Hill's Last Will by John McCutcheon, It's a World of Love and Hope by the Flat Five and probably my favorite, Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie, to me the perfect pop record.

I'm sure tomorrow I will have ten more favorites that I have forgotten.

Sal Nunziato said...


I agree with you about the Pugwash. I really did not like the last one and it kind of poisoned the well for me on what I did like. But I love Jason Falkner and I could hear him all over it. Great bounce back.

I've been defending Abba for years.

And yeah, that Colin/Terry E.P. was a major disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Phrophet, Elbow, Robyn Hitchcock, Roger Waters, Old Crow Med Show, Sparks, North Miss Allstars, Steven Wilson, Filthy Friends, Dream Syndicate, Offa Rex, Hudson, Kris Delmhorst, Robert Plant, Margo Price & Joe Henry. Dylan & Stones. Fav- Phrophet. - Sid.

Anonymous said...


"Not sure what's been missing, but it has been a long time since Matthew Sweet has put out something I can sink my ears into."

What's missing from Matthew Sweet is a singular talent that doesn't revolve around the ability to ape other peoples' gifts.

I agree with Mojo re: LCD Soundsystem. A monumental effort. I agree with you - stuff gets long. Also agree that the new U2 has potential. Too soon to tell.

More reactions:

- Stanton Moore Trio - This record has a LOT of staying power.
- Shelby Lynne & Alison Moorer - Like a goodly number of duos, vastly better together than apart.
- Roger Waters - Really? I felt just the opposite, but I'm willing to suspect it's more a failing in me.
- The Darkness - You've almost pushed me into giving them another try after bailing on their first album.
- Valerie June - Something's definitely happening here. Keep a close watch!
- Cheap Trick - Don't know/haven't cared for a long time.
- Neil Finn - Who has the patience? And I'll tell ya something else - even the greatest hits are a really only a slight drink of water and not the gusher he's taken for. There are so many superior songwriters in the world.
- Living Colour has always been appalling. Almost adamantly unmusical, in fact. There's reason to be embarrassed!
- Sparks - The appeal has always been elusive. Off-putting then, no different now.
- Chris Hillman - One man's understated is another man's underbaked. Still, nice enough.
- Dion - Spot on, Sal! A winner through and through and ditto, I imagine, for the John Sally Ride!

In light of your almost unerring good taste, I found this year's list a little off-kilter but that goes for the year itself, I'd say!

Happy Holidays!

M_Sharp said...

Here they are, the albums I came back to most often:

JD McPherson - Undivided Heart & Soul, my favorite of the year
Robyn Hitchcock -
Ron Gallo - Heavy Meta
Cheap Trick -
Shannon McNally - Black Irish
Shelby Lynne & Alison Moorer -
Living Colour -
Emiliana Torrini with The Colorist
The Texas Gentlemen - TX Jelly
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm
Valerie June -
Benjamin Booker - Witness
Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures (Part 1)
Slobberbone - Bees And Seas, a Best Of
Todd Rundgren
The Darkness
Eilen Jewell - Down Hearted Blues
Jeb Loy Nichols - Country Hustle
Don Bryant
Van Morrison - Roll With The Punches
Scott H. Biram - The Bad Testament

Best Single - Ron Gallo “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me”

Biggest Disappointment - The Strypes… maybe it’s the flat production, I’ll give it another listen

Best new band name - Madonnatron

Album Of The Year, every year since 2008: Andre Williams - Silky

kevin m said...

Here are the artists that released new music this year that I spent the most time with and enjoyed. In no particular order:

Jesus & Mary Chain
Benjamin Booker
Magpie Salute
Greta Van Fleet
Dream Syndicate
Joan Osborne
War on Drugs
Stanton Moore (thanks for the tip Sal)
LCD Soundsystem
Gov't Mule
John Sally Ride (honestly!)

I like the new U2 a lot but since it's only a week old, have not fully digested it yet

And my vote for best song of the year is Endless Boogie's "Back in 74"

kevin m said...

And if I may add one more: Hurray for the Riff Raff

Jeremy Dutton said...

I was about to add the same comment: Hurray for the Riff Raff's "The Navigator" is my no. 1, and they are also a great experience live.

Gene Oberto said...

I put Burning Wood's 2017 up on a playlist on Spotify. It's called Sal's Songs 2017 and you can find it here:

I rounded it out with some of my favorites from the same albums.