My Favourite Music of the Year: 2017

December 19th 2017

NEW ALBUMS

  1. The Visitor – Neil Young and Promise of the Real

Neil Young’s roving and rocking spirit look at the America of today. Hit and miss in places – but some hard rock and roll such as opener ‘Already Great’.

  1. Dark Matter – Randy Newman

Newman in typical sardonic form with his first album in nearly a decade and trademark laidback musical style and acerbic lyrics, ‘Putin’ being one of the best.

  1. Damn – Kendrick Lamar

Not as stellar and pathbreaking as ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ from 2015 but this is R ‘n’ B with personal reflection and social conscience.

  1. How the West Was Won – Peter Perrett

The uplifting music story of the year – once singer of new wave legends The Only Ones gets his life in order and returns with great tunes, lyrics and guitars.

  1. Soul of a Woman – Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Jones made it as a star in her 40s and her soul sound gave Amy Winehouse her ‘Back in Black vibe. Sadly she died in 2016 and this is her last album filled with the spirit and passionate vocals she was known for.

  1. Chain Up the Swings – Alice Marra

A fitting tribute to Michael Marra by his daughter with heartfelt versions of some of his best songs including ‘Frida Kahlo’s Visit to the Taybridge Bar’ and ‘Mother Glasgow’.

  1. Harmony of Difference – Kamasi Washington

What do you do after a triple album classic such as ‘The Epic’ as your debut? Answer: release a mini-album. A couple of Kenny G moments in the mix, but closer track – the 13 minute ‘Truth’ – is a classic worthy of his debut.

  1. Vibe Killer – Endless Boogie

This is killer, intelligent rock and roll, knowing but not too knowing – stoner rock which transcends its influences. Endless Boogie have been at the margins for years as a NYC band and were one of my discoveries of the year.

  1. Reflections: Mojave Desert – Floating Points

Sam Shepherd’s musical journey continues. This time influenced by the desert and empty spaces; the influence of prog and early Pink Floyd is obvious in every note.

  1. Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Father John Misty is the moniker used by alt-folkster John Tillman. This is a magnificent album covering the gambit of life, love, heartache and the world with stunning lyrics and melodies. The only down is it is a bit long at 75 minutes.

  1. Uyai – Ibibio Sound Machine

A hypnotic culture clash from Uyai combining African rhythms with funk and electronica. Characterised by the enchanting voice of Nigerian-London born Eno Williams (Ibibio being the language of southern Nigeria) and filled with warmth, energy and honesty about the travails of life.

  1. No Luscious Life – Golden Teacher

Glasgow sextet on Optimo bring out their dance debut album. ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal’ has such a vibrancy that it almost feels like a take on the street late at night. Many thanks to the brilliant site The Vinyl Factory for the tip off.

Also Recommended:

The Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell (once of the Drive-By Truckers) continues his hot run of Americana albums.

Luciferian Towers – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Canadian post-rockers on their comeback take aim at the military-industrial complex. Hard stuff and maybe a little less compelling than their previous two records.

Find Me Finding You – Laetitia Sadier

Former co-lead singer of the mighty Stereolab with her fourth solo album. No one sings of revolutionary optimism in such a catchy, upbeat way!

The Navigator – Hurray for the Riff Raff

Have just got this: a mix of folk, doo-wop and dance, all contributing to a compelling Puerto Rican take on urban America. Will be listening to this more in the coming year.

BEST COMPILATIONS

  1. A Little Magic, A Little Kindness: The Complete Mono Albums Collection – Laura Nyro

Nyro’s first two albums from 1967 and 1968, including the legendary ‘Eli and the Thirteenth Confession’, never sounded better.

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

A major confession – despite loving the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper has always annoyed me with its whimsy and its obvious fillers. But finally you can fully hear what a revolutionary sound the Fab Four created.

  1. Hitchhiker – Neil Young

Neil Young in one session in 1976. Ten acoustic songs including such legends as ‘Pochantus’ and ‘Powderfinger’ (the latter in very different form from 1979’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’).

  1. 1967: Summer Tomorrow – The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys never recovered after ‘Smile’ stalled, but this is what they did creating the mini-marvels of ‘Smiley Smile’ and ‘Wild Honey’, while also planning an aborted live album in Hawaii.

  1. Singles 1978-2016 – The Fall

Does the world need another Fall compilation? This is the most complete gathering across seven CDs every A side and most B sides over a near 40 years.

  1. An Intimate Piano Session – Duke Ellington

Late period Duke in 1972 in a New York session. Everything Duke did in his long career is worth investigating and listening too.

  1. Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power – Various Artists

Another great comp from the folks at Soul Jazz. Their ‘Tropicalia’ years ago opened up my mind to such Brazilian music. This has some rare gems including Duke Edwards and the Young Ones lament for humanity: ‘Is it Too Late?’

  1. Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Thirty years of Nick Cave as a troubadour compiled by the man himself and founder Bad Seed Mick Harvey. The four CD set digs deep into their dark side.

  1. Soul on Fire: The Detroit Soul Story 1957-1977 – Various Artists

Timed for release of the film ‘Detroit’, a mammoth three CD 86 track trawl through some of the great soul gems and overlooked classics of the city.

  1. Out of the Blue – Electric Light Orchestra

A guilty pleasure for sure (but not my worst of the year), overblown and not as focused as the previous ‘A New World Record’. From another age (1977) when mainstream records could be this ambitious, successful and melodic.

And a special mention for …

Yoko Ono’s 1970s catalogue has been getting reissued and remastered. Have always been impressed by Yoko since first hearing ‘Walking on Thin Ice’. Her music of this period: ‘Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band’ (issued at the same time as John’s famous primal scream album) and ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ are not only daring and years ahead of their time, but influenced a whole host of new wave acts.

OLDER ALBUMS GETTING INTO FOR THE FIRST TIME

  1. A Tábua de Esmeralda – Jorge Ben

This might well be my fave album of all year. From 1974, Brazilian Jorge Ben explores the power of mysticism and theosophy with stunning melodies.

  1. Coals to Newcastle – Orange Juice

A comprehensive guide to the soul boys catalogue. Originally issued in 2010 and then frustratingly deleted. Was given a small reissue this year.

  1. Complete Rarities: IRS 1982-1987 – REM

REM were on continual heat in the IRS era. This comp collects every B side of the period going beyond ‘Dead Letter Office’. Only released in digital form; a friend downloaded it with full colour artwork for me and printed labels.

  1. Stoned Live – Lewis Taylor

Lost British soul genius Taylor cut a series of compelling albums between the late 1990s and early this century that impressed musos but never sold. Bewildered Taylor retired and this EP captures three of his grooviest songs live.

  1. Soroky – Andrew Wasylyk

Scottish writer Wasylyk (an alias for Andrew Mitchell) has created a number of compelling music soundscapes. This, his debut album from last year, mixes Steely Dan and Danny Wilson. Definitely one to watch in future.

BEST BOOTLEG

  1. ESG Live! – ESG

The joyful sisters of ESG: arguably one of the most original, intoxicating and influential bands of the last thirty years. This captures them live in 1995.

  1. Unreleased – George Michael

After George Michael lost his way, he issued numerous digital and difficult to find tracks and this captures most, if not all the ones that matter. Still not sure of his version of ‘True Faith’.

  1. The Last Concert – Wham!

The famous Brixton concert of 1986 of George and Andrew calling it a day on their teenybop era.

OLDER ALBUMS RETURNED TO FOR A WHIRL!

  1. Southern Rock Opera – Drive-By Truckers

The Alabama Senate election took me back to this 2001 release from legendary Southern rockers the Drive-By Truckers. Rock and roll rarely gets this honest – songs of growing up in the South and as a young man, the power of music, and issues of class and race are all explored without getting preachy.

  1. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century – Gang of Four

The funk rock of the Gang of Four still sounds as intoxicating and daring, and spawned too many acts who were pale copyists.

  1. Cheap Trick at the Budokan – Cheap Trick

One of the great live albums from the classic era of live albums. Recorded at the Budokan, Tokyo in 1978. Nearly every track here sounds better than the studio version.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Duke – Genesis

The cross-over point for Genesis where their pop sensibility kicked into the full but they retained an arty sentiment. ‘Turn It On Again’ remains a cracking single.

HAPPY TO GIVE A MISS

Low in High School – Morrissey

Morrissey has been provoking his fan base for decades but this year he went too far. Musically he hasn’t progressed for years, while the same is true of his loner, misanthropic lyrics.

BEST CONCERT

Chic – Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards gave the world such wonderful music: some of the most evocative dance tunes of the 1970s. Great that Nile has been able to tour in recent years. This gig at Kelvingrove Bandstand was on the evening of the Scotland v. England World Cup qualifier where Leigh Griffiths scored two late wonder goals, but still the Scots managed not to win. I chose the Chic gig!

And a thought for the future …

It is an indictment of our musical times that the most high profile comments on the times we live in come from aging artists such as Neil Young and Randy Newman (along with the likes of Roger Waters’ latest and for me unlistenable album). Also why is the most overt musical commentary on the state of England and Brexit from Mick Jagger with ‘England Lost’? Yes I know acts such as Hurray for the Riff Raff are commenting on social issues. But more contemporary music has to have some relationship with the huge issues humanity and the planet faces … while saying something interesting musical. Just a hope for the future.