Best Of 2017: Albums Through April
÷ (Divide) – Ed Sheeran – This is his FutureSex/LoveSounds moment, an undeniable pop triumph from EDM to Irish jigs, Motown soul to big pop ballads, Sheeran wrote or co-wrote every song and the only other hand I can clearly see is son of Derry Johnny McDaid. The only pop masterwork of 2017 with a chance in hell of bettering it is the upcoming Taylor Swift. But this is the best pop record since 1989, a flawless pop stroke that puts Sheeran at the top of the pop firmament
A Crow Looked At Me – Mount Eerie – Phil Elverum, reeling from the death of his wife musician Geneviève Castrée at the age of 35, made an album about it. It opens eleven days after her death and closes three months after her death and is an accurate vision of grief and mourning. Early, very early, Elverum sings death is not for making art or singing about, and dismisses poetry. So what s it? It is a utilitarian album for use by the stricken
Prisoner And Prisoner (B-Sides)– Ryan Adams – Classic rock meets singer songwriter Geffen style on Adams dissection of the emotional devastation leading to divorce, plus he may well be a complete dick, but Prisoner is one of the best albums of the year abd B-sides, odds and sods that didn’t make it on the album is almost its equal. 17 songs of unfailing and unflinching emotional devastation
Freedom Highway – Rhiannon Giddens – Story songs of slavery and its aftermath that peaks sky high and never falters, it moves through the blck experience with its eye firmly on the prize of ebony Americana
Kiddo EP – Jessie Reyez – Toronto stripper via Columbia, Reyez joins the Weeknd world of pitch black r&b with the exception of the dancey “Blue Ribbon”. All of it works, “Fuck It” could be a hit and “Shutter Island” should be a hit. I am notoriously lousy at A&R but I predict big things for this woman
Memories… Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers – The EDM duo had a terrific 2016, a better 2017, and with the release of this debut album have proven themselves a hit making machine, with one slice of mainstream pop after another. By the end of the album they do the undoable, they make Florida Georgia Line sound real good
The Fate Of The Furious: The Album – Various Artists – Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, Migos,A Boogie Wit Da Hood -a virtual who’s who of upcoming Atlanta rappers, plus some other stuff… a great way to catch up, but also give Kodak Black’s album a listen
Triplicate (Sampler) – Bob Dylan – The entire album is a must buy, till then then the sampler is available for streaming. Ten songs and it stands as simple proof that Dylan was quite right to triple down. While his reasoning is perplexing (and we could sure use some new Dylan composed song), consider this as a place where the shifting sands of time come home one more time: it stands as a monument to everything Dylan destroyed. If you are going to go for the entire album, it starts near the top with a terrific “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plans
HNDRXX – Future – In which Future discovers he has the skills to perform r&b and The Weeknd and Rihanna are the icing on the cake.
Windy City – Alison Krauss – She hasn’t released a solo country album this century so these covers of country nuggets would be welcome anyway. But it is more than welcome because it is Moondog Matinee obscure and yet if you love this stuff you’ll love it maybe as much as I do
Strength Of A Woman – Mary J. Blige – A powerful testament to the elastic heart that is Mary J., who recovered from an “All ABout Eve” type betrayal and divorce with last year’s excellent tour and this battled down, beautifully sung, brimming with rage and beauty, break up album. One of her best to date. “Set You Free” is a new height
Dreams Don’t Come True – Angeleena Presley – A little on the slow side but the songs are pretty stellar and there is a reason why Presley is a Pistol Annie in her spare time: she is a sincere woman who knows her way round a straight up country song, and anyway, how many BPMs do we really need?
Gang Signs & Prayers – Stormzy – Stormzy has been pushing this like the second coming, he said to the Guardian: “The main thing with me is my young black kings and this ain’t to ostracise young black women or old white men, or Asians, it’s not to ostracise anyone, it’s just to say, ‘OK, young black men in my country, when it comes to who is going to achieve, you are always the very last.’ So I need to talk to my young black kings, because I’m one of you, we who are always last. ”The album opens with a declaration of selfhood: “I ain’t never been a victim, never been a target.” And then the album works a middle ground
Carrie And Lowell Live – Sufjan Stevens – The entire album, plus two songs off The Age Of Adz and a cover of “Hotline Bling,” recorded on November 9th, 2015 at North Charleston Performing Arts Center in South Carolina
Paradise EP – ANOHNI – “I don’t wanna ricochet…” “Ricochet,” from this strange and disturbingly gorgeous alt by other means EP is a highlight, but it is only a matter of degrees, another vision from a sound that moves from ambient horror to quasi folk mood, all with her terrific voice
Godfather – Wiley – “I know what I’m like and I know what I’m not like”, the Godfather of grime warns early, and here the London legend has a flow equal to all but the best of his US counterparts: the samples are minimal, the beats irresistible, and the rhymes overpowering. This is his 11th album… also it may be his best, and his others were great, and, astoundingly, he initially refused to release it
The Psalms – Jessi Colter – Here is an unwitting guest overview off Allmusic.com: “Jessi Colter recorded The Psalms with Lenny Kaye, the guitarist best known for his collaboration with Patti Smith. The pair became acquainted when Kaye was assisting Colter’s late husband Waylon Jennings in writing his autobiography and, during this time, the writer discovered that the singer would often sit at her piano and improvise melodies to passages from the Book of Psalms. Kaye held two sessions in 2007 and 2008 then spent the next several years augmenting the spare sketches with tastefully chosen musicians.” Astonishingly powerful stuff, this is what Christian music should sound like
50 Years Of Blonde On Blonde (Live) – Old Crow Medicine Show – This would be easy to screw up and these bluegrass rockers don’t come close. Listen to the violins on “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” to the respectful rockabilly of “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” the speeded up “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”: it is unmistakable, Old Crow Medicine Show nail every single thing they need to and come out with their reputation enhanced. Actually, I prefer their “Sad Eyed Lady…”
I Decided – Big Sean – In which Big Sean looks back (again) and forward (surprise), solipsistic sure but what he knows he shares, same as ever. And “Bounce Back” is a great single that should have done better.
Bless Up – Shinobi Ninja – There was a time when Shinobi Ninja were AC/DC for a new century, they did what they did, funk rock, they did it exceedingly well, and then they did it again. But that was some eight years ago, and Bless Up is a wide ranging soundscape that includes everything from rap to Americana, mood psychedelic garage and folk in wolves clothing. An exceedingly enjoyable return not to form (the worse you even say about the Ninjas is that they’re better live) but on what amounts to their tenth album, a doubling down on their skills and charm as they emerge from their unique sound with a new set of skills
We All Want The Same things – Craig Finn – More songs about low lifes in the Twin Cities, except this may be as good a solo album as Finn has ever recorded. While there is no “Honolulu Blues” or “Balcony,” still much more than on the spotty Faith In The Future, he narrows his vision and sharpens his songs
Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray – I saw this cat a coupla years ago holding his own between Buddy Guy, BB King, and Eric Clapton, so he knows the blues. but does he know soul? Here Cray gets the late Willie Mitchell’s house band the Hi Rhythms and performs some ace soul songs from the likes of Bill Withers and Tony Joe white along with some originals, and comes out sounding just great
I’ll Bet I Can Make You Love Me…At Gunpoint – The Freudian Sluts – Say what you will about John Mendelssohn, he has the power of his convictions, and on the first album from his UK iteration, he has pieced together a high drama quotient rock album with a world class lead singer and the sort of songs Stephin Merritt dreams of writing. Sometimes you think its cheekiness is gonna get the better of the band, “I Married A Knobhead” is better than in sounds, but at its best, the first two songs will stop you dead, it is a as original as Mendelssohn claims it is, maybe more so
Future – Future – Vastly superior on record than on stage, these seventeen outstanding tracks find him shoplifting, cooking crack, and making money on the would be autobiography that cuts the difference between trap and goth nightmare tracks. As always, it’s the voice, one of the top five around, sells it from one end to the other
Deadbeats Compilation Volume 1 – Various Artists – Very impressive all beats and electronica all the time from the EDM label headed by Zed, including the Dead one himself , who is no better than Pusher and Kid Froopy -who opens the album somewhere entirely
The Navigator – Hurray For The Riff Raff -Alynda Segarra – The former poster child for superior Americana delves into her Puerto Rican heritage, though despite the title track it sounds much the same and just as good. As protest music goes, I’ll certainly take it. “Living In The City” needs no such caveat and “Pa’lante” is big time artistry, “I just want to fall in love and not fuck it up and feel something,” she claims. Can I get an Amen?
Painting Pictures – Kodak Black – Black was raised in the Pompano Beach public housing project and at the tender age of 19 has already been to jail, but if he can keep it together his voices grates like a teenage hoodlum and he looks back not in anger but with an unblinking cynicism. This is the post-Atlanta generation coming into their own and the tracks are constantly clever and vicious self-regard with love from Haiti
Outlaw: Celebrating The Music Of Waylon Jennings – Various Artists – Not bad live tribute album, Chris Stapleton kills “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” Lee An Womack is represented twice, wife Jessi Colter represents, Jamey Johnson has his best vocal in years, Alison Krauss, who has already had an excellent year, represents, with Jamey on one song and solo on the other, Eric Church rips it up, Kris Kristofferson is on hand and another Highwayman, Willie Nelson, sings the last five songs. An outstanding tribute
Savage Times – Hanni El Khatib – The enemy of Trump nation, a half Mexican, half Palestinian guitarist, gets his world music garage rock pop side on with this constantly smart rock album,. A coupla more tracks tracking the line between us and them as strong as “Gonna Die Alone” -a monolithic pop track waiting on a rap verse, and he could well crossover as he compiles his last handful of EPs in one place
Rules – Annie Hardy – “Here comes the train, it takes my baby away…” Hardy repeats throughout this derailment of an album memento mori to her late baby son and her late significant other. So uneasy to listen to, it shines a light into the darkness and only finds more darkness
The Chief – Jidenna – The Nigerian soul man broke through with “Classic Man” a coupla years ago and when I saw him live he was holding his own and then some between Vince Staples and Future. On his first album, he is a classy classic man with sure the usual but also a sort of disquiet dignity unlike his contemporaries. This has excellent r&b songs and hard hitting flows that sounds like nothing else in hip hop today
Billy Porter Presents: The Soul Of Richard Rodgers – Billy Porter – The terrific Broadway performer doesn’t quite update the brilliant composer and more sticks him in a bathhouse in 1975… and who am I to complain? “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” is earth shattering. The featured artists are first rate, the sound as much fun as you think it is
Double Parked – Luxuriant Sedans – Flawless blues rockers like the last 40 years never happened. Imagine the Fabulous Thunderbirds shooting black jack shots in a blue collar bar. Got it? This is the band playing in the backroom
Heart Of Love – Phoebe Legere – The cabaret alt star of your dreams goes honky tonkin’ on this terrific set of original weirdness
Tremaine The Album – Trey Songz – It’s a Christmas miracle, Trey makes a good album. The r&b singer with the abs who puts the pussy in pussy, has recorded a fine collection of ear tingling straight up, emotive, soul. I am shocked… start with “#1 Fan”. ps I hated all the singles at the time, only now I love em in context…
Apocalipstick – Cherry Glazerr – For an album to be as good as this title, Apocalipstick, it better be pretty good and for a song to be as good as this title “Told You I’d Be With The Boys”, it is gonna have to rock as hard as the Stones (if Mick Jagger was a girl), and it is both. Meet Clementine Creevy -a superb songwriter with a good garage pop band
The Trigger Complex – T.S.O.L. – The early LA punks 11th album is as good as punk gets: hard, sweet, smart rocker after another and really, what else do you need?
Intoxicated Women – Mick Harvey – In which Bad Seed Mick continues translating bad ass Serge Gainsbourg into English, except for Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” which he translates into German
Culture – Migos – The click clack of trap and an attitude wearying in its nastiness. But really, it ends up addictive (you probably notice how good “Bad And Bougee” sounds right now) and it is absolutely the sound of today and the best at it.
Live In Paris – Sleater-Kinney – I saw em on this tour and they sucked though that was due to the venue. This live one isn’t bad at all, I wish I’d seen it. Plus, from “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” to “Dig Me Out”, they take care of us old timers
Mr. Misunderstood On The Rocks: Live And (Mostly) Unplugged – Eric Church – The only problem with this 32 minute EP from November 2016 (though new to streaming) is that it may mean we will miss a live album from his current three hour show. Still, that opening track is very very good
You Only Live 2wice – Freddie Gibbs – A mad match half hour of full on rap, eight tracks of flow and more flow highlighted by the peerless “Crushed Glass”. Gibbs best work in maybe six years
The Authorized Bang Sessions – Van Morrison – “The first disc focuses on the original masters from Morrison’s Bang sessions, the second I is rarities from the sessions” but the third!!! “dubbed the Contractual Obligation Session, as it closed Morrison’s tenure with the label – contains 32 short, stripped-down and less-refined songs”. I hadn’t heard “Shake It Mabel” before… Sublime
Timeless – The All-Time Greatest Hits – Bee Gees- Oh yeah? where is “One” then? “Islands In The Stream”? – the Bee Gees were the least great greatest band of all time, and if it wasn’t for the disco era they wouldn’t be that. This is an alright primer for the beginner