Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 10 CDs of 2017

Let’s be honest the concept of top or best or favorite is completely based on preference. There is no way to truly quantify the value of recording in away that it would be universally accepted. So, I do not apologize for having an opinion or attempting to rank the music that moved me. Having written and published a public list since 2009, I have adopted some standard rules that I apply to drive consistency from year to year, but even those are subject to change based on the way the wind moves from one day to the next, and now that I have a family that likes to insert their influence on the list all bets are off, really.

Just to refresh everyone, here are some of the items that will influence my placement of an album on the list: as in years past, to make the list, I have to own the CD. Like most, I subscribe to a variety of streaming services, so I end up listening to a lot of music, but in order to be considered for the Top 10, the recording had to be so good that I opened the wallet and dropped some cash for the CD.  Other factors that are taken into consideration, vocal quality – what can I say, I like big voices, unique voices, solid voices – total spins, lyrical content, and the ability to pull it off live. I realize the last shouldn’t be in consideration for album of the year, but it’s my list, so… Also, I will not consider EPs. Don’t get me wrong, I like EPs. I listen to EPs, but they always leave me wanting more. The last factor that often comes into play is an artists ability to grow, to expand…to be their best versions of themselves, to drop a disc that was better than their other efforts.

This is the moment where I drop a caveat. From year to year there tends to be at least one recording that I want to recognize, but I just couldn’t add it to the list for one reason or another. This year it is moral. I love 4:44. I think it is a great recording. The production is solid. The beats are tight. The lyrics are forward moving and exceptional, but I am just done supporting adulterers. Keep it in your fucking pants. Seriously. You are married to Queen Fucking B. You have everything. But everything is not enough? But you are sorry; right? Fuck that.

With all the dirty laundry out of the way let’s get into it.

It’s rare that a band appears in back-to-back years. It has happened. Samantha Crain comes to mind, but, again, it is rare. Luckily, Daughter is just bad-ass enough to make it happen. Hitting the list at #7 last year with Not to Disappear, they are back this year with their soundtrack to Before the Storm. What I love most about Daughter is the atmosphere they create with their music, so many layers and textures to lose yourself in. They create the perfect get shit done music, which seems totally appropriate for an episodic video game. If I had one request, it would be more lyrical content. I get that they are creating the soundscape for a video game, but can’t the moments be made more powerful by using lyrics to express the feelings of key characters? Also, it would let us hear more of Elena Tonra’s voice, and that’s really what we want, isn’t it?


Belle of the West was last CD added to the list, but Samantha Fish has been on the list since March. How in the hell is that possible, you may ask. Well, Ms. Fish opted to drop two CDs in 2017 because, fuck it, why not, right? For months I was groovin’ to the up-tempo jams on Chills and Fever, and then she curve balled me, dropping Belle of the West in November. Maybe it is recency bias; maybe it’s just my singer/songwriter sensibilities; maybe it’s my appreciation for Luther Dickinson’s production; but when listening to these two excellent recordings that exist on totally different spectrums, I am drawn to the more acoustic, more reflective, down-tempo recording. Standout tracks like “Blood in the Water,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” and “No Angels” add just enough sultry stank to set the recording apart from other singer/songwriters dropping CDs in 2017. Throughout the disc, the Delta influence is present, and I also hear shades of Bonnie Raitt, but the net result is a disk that is very Midwest, very bluesy, very country, very Americana, and very Samantha Fish.


The Wild Reeds are another band that I found while I was binge listening to Audiotree. Their harmonies immediately grabbed me, so I started down the YouTube rabbit hole landing on several quality live performances, which pushed me to hit up iTunes and buy their catalog. I had been enjoying Blind and Brave; Songs for the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening; and the live Audiotree recording when I caught wind of a new release. I jumped out on iTunes and purchased without a preview. Like previous recordings, the World We Built offers the same powerful harmonies and distinct phrasings; strongly penned songs and emotional delivery, but it does it with a fuller, more electric accompaniment. While I genuinely appreciate the acoustic, bluegrassy, vibe of the previous discs, I loved their desire to grow and expand. The inclusion of synths adds new textures that make the recording interesting and kept me captivated from start to finish. Another item that really grabbed my attention on this disc was the production quality. The kit sounds incredible throughout – punchy kick with just the right kiss of reverb and a nice snap of the snare. The guitars are nicely separated, leaving the middle free of muddle which can be found in bigger bands. The bass hits nicely with the sub engaged, and can we go back to that kit? Damn, it sounds so good.


The 21 year-old sailor bouncing between gaslight open mics with a cassette of Manic Compression guiding the trips between coffeehouses just threw up two fingers and rejoiced that Quicksand is still making killer music. With labels like post-hardcore and 90’s alternative thrown about, it may be hard to classify Quicksand. So for those not familiar, when I am building playlists, I often find them hanging out with Tool and Helmet, but they would be equally comfortable paired up with Kyuss or some of the more aggressive Seattle bands. Heavy with quick beats and resounding vocals, all of which are highlighted on Interiors. Vega’s fuzzed-out bass creating the drone the moves the tracks along, allowing Cage to showcase his quick wrists, while Capone and Schreifels deliver those anthemic rawk builds, providing the tension and release so integral to the genre. The disk is solid throughout. You can put it in at the start of any roadtrip and let it guide your voyage without the need to skip tracks.




Come on Chris, what are you trying to do to me You know I’ve got rules and shit. Why did you have to throw me a deep sinker and drop two volumes within the same year. What am I supposed to do with that? Judge them separately? Rank one above the other? Well, it is my list, and I am calling it one CD that is brilliant. Deal with it. For those reading the list that really know me, you know Stapleton is everything I aspired to be. Big-ass voice. Killer guitar tone. Writing the most heartfelt songs you ever cried to. While the collection of songs assembled for From a Room offer some uptempo ditties designed to lift the soul, I defy you to give it a good headphone listen from cover to cover without spilling a tear or two. If “Either Way” doesn’t get you, “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight” certainly will.


It is so rare for a CD that was released in February to make the final cut, but Notes of Blue is that rare kind of CD. All the social commentary and middle-America earnest lyrics that you’ve come to expect from Son Volt, delivered by a voice that could only be Jay Farrar’s. This go around, Son Volt offers a Delta inspired exploration into crunchy guitar goodness. “Static” is a standout for me. I get stank face just listening to it. Of course, any local reference gets this St. Louisian excited, so “Cherokee St.” also jumps out to me, but the disc is filled with solid tracks, and so much dirty delta goodness. Sown through the dusty fabric of the recording are acoustic gems like “the Storm” and “Cairo and Southern.” My admiration of Farrar and Son Volt is well documented in my past Top 10 lists, but this recording is really special, a must own.





Folks this is where things get real tricky. I found it next to impossible to rank 4 through 2, so I am not. That’s right. It’s my damned list, and if I want to give you three 2s, well that is what you are gonna get. The problem is there is no empirical way for me to differentiate these disks. I saw 2 of them live this year, and they killed it. They had equal distribution of play, with the one that I wasn’t able to see live garnering slightly more spins than the other two; if I were to poll members of the family, they would each pick a different one, so there was no help to be had there. Actually, if I were to ask Wendy Mae, she would likely list Tank and the Bangas as her Top CD in 2017, and she doesn’t give any Fs that their two disks were released in 2013 and 2014. My arbitrary rules are of no consequence to this fiercely independent 10 year-old.  I once heard her listen to “Crazy” 27 times in a row. Twenty. Seven. Times.

So here you go, The 2s in alphabetical order.

The undisputed #1 for my 8 year-old, Sleeping Through the War was played before every football practice and game. It was his get-up disk. It is the reason he got a bass for Christmas and wants an All Them Witches tapestry to cover the grill on his amp thanks to their Rig Rundown. For me, the CD reminds me of my best jams in So Much Closer, Whiskey Daydream, and EKe. It’s the direction So Much Closer was headed before we split and where I’d likely land, if I started a new band. Their dynamic shifts; unabashed use of guitar, bass, and Rhodes effects; and poetic lyrics are all staples of my musical interests. Through six disks their growth continues to inspire, and with Sleeping Through the War I believe they tapped into something remarkable. It offers just the right amount of studio magic without seeming over-produced. The energy of their live performance can still be felt on every track while offering enough layering to keep the disk interesting from first note to last. “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and “Am I Going Up?” are standouts for me, but I never feel the need to skip a song.



From the moment I pressed play I was in love, and at exactly 3:32 of the second track “Appointments” I knew this CD was worthy of a #1 placement. I am often drawing comparisons between the artists on this list and my own music. At my core is a Julien Baker. Six strings. One voice. And fearless creativity. While I have loved every band I have been in and cherish those moments recording and touring, I am most me when it is just me, my guitar, and some effects on stage. What I love most about this recording is she stayed true to her formula. On the heels of a successful first solo effort, it is so tempting to pull together a full band and expand the sound because that’s really what is expected. It’s what I did. The release of my 2nd full length was also the first time I played with a full band. It is what I thought would take me to the next level. Thankfully Julien has enough confidence to know that is not true. Julien has been able to do what I couldn’t. She has created something so moving and powerful that she doesn’t need any other instrument; she doesn’t need anyone else on stage with her. She strips herself bare, opens her mouth and lets all of us into her world, her fears, her anxieties, her passions, her salvation, and it is enough. We ask for nothing more, and thank her for sharing her gifts with us.



Come on; y’all knew it was coming. The disc is incredible. As far as I am concerned, Isbell continues to be the best songwriter of his generation. The Nashville Sound offers a somewhat retro look into his rockier past, highlighting the sonic force that is the 400 Unit while still offering up some intensely introspective yet universal lyrics. When played in the car, there isn’t a family member that doesn’t sing along. The opening tracks of “Last of My Kind,” “Cumberland Gap,” and “Tupelo” perfectly set the mood for the recording, but the hidden gems are still to come. “If We Were Vampires” is the love song all songwriters wish they would have written for their lover, while “Hope and the High Road” provides the hope we all need during these dark days of the new world order. The Nashville Sound spent the vast majority of the year as my #1, but Turn Out Lights which was a late release caused me to question its position, sending me into an intense internal debate that resulted in a totally different direction. 



So, how did we land here? Well, for a period I had four #1 CDs, but then my new found fuckit caused me to look at things through a slightly different lens. If Christ Stapleton could drop two volumes and Samantha Fish could release two separate CDs in one year, then I could pair The Echo Mountain Sessions (also released in 2017) with What Now when making my final assessment. On its own, What Now was my wife’s pick for #1. It was probably Wendy Mae’s pick, if I was able to confine her to CDs released in 2017. We took a family roadtrip to Indianapolis to see Sylvan Esso kill it live, and I spun the disc as much as any CD this year. It is another go-to for me when getting shit done. Also, it is impossible for me to not move when listening to What Now. Truly, it is worthy on its own, but the Echo Mountain Sessions really pushed it over the top. Watching and hearing them remix four of the tracks using actual instruments blew my mind. The artistry. The talent. It was all just simply too much to ignore. When you pair all that with lyrics that are actually saying something, it became apparent that I had found my #1. What Now eases you into the fun with a couple subtle tracks more focused on the lyric than the beat, but the dance party kicks into action with the third track, “Die Young.” When “Radio” comes on, you cannot stop your body from moving, as you sing at the top of your lungs because Amelia’s pissed and so are you! It’s a wrap with “Kick Jump Twist.” Lights have been turned off; glow sticks have come out; and your arms are a jumbled mess of hippie moves and failed attempts at animation. Thankfully “Song” provides a brief respite from the dance party ‘cause I am too old and fat to keep up, but they are only giving you one song to breathe. “Just Dancing” is everything you need to let lose and dance like no one is watching before the disk fades out with three numbers that have you thinking as much as moving. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 10 CDs of 2016

Well, it’s that time again. The time when I remember that I actually have a blog – oh my pour unused blog. The time when I ramble in an effort to let you know what albums I think were the best in 2016. But not so fast. First we need to cover some details about my list, talk about music consumption, and ease you into the music that got me moving in 2016.

I posted my first public top 10 list in 2009, over the last seven years the requirements of the lists have remained pretty consistent, but for new readers I like to provide a quick review. My list tends to be singer/songwriter heavy. I am a singer/songwriter, so it stands to reason that I enjoy listening to other singer/songwriters. As in years past, to make the list, I have to own the CD. Like most, I subscribe to a variety of streaming services, so I end up listening to a lot of music, but in order to be considered for the top 10, the recording had to be so good that I opened the wallet and dropped coin for the CD.  Other factors that are taken into consideration, vocal quality – what can I say, I like big voices, unique voices, solid voices – total spins, lyrical content, and the ability to pull it off live. I realize the last shouldn’t be in consideration for album of the year, but it’s my list, so… Also, I will not consider EPs. Don’t get me wrong, I like EPs. I listen to EPs, but they always leave me wanting more. I understand that that is often the point, leave them wanting more has long been the motto of many a performer, but I want to be satiated by the music. I want to be fat-full. Laying on the couch in a tryptophan stupor, full. I want a post-orgasmic state where the body can do nothing but tingle as the mind reflects on what just happened. That rarely happens in four songs.

So, let’s talk about what has changed for me – consumption. For years I’d sit in my office and work the day away as Pandora spoon fed me new artists that they felt were similar to artists that I was already enjoying. I learned about a lot of new artists that way. Well, I changed jobs this year, and my new employer blocks all streaming services. ALL. STREAMING. SERVICES. However, YouTube is wide – the fuck – open. As a result, YouTube has become my new radio, and sites that share consistently great new artists like Audiotree, KEXP, and NPR Music have really had an impact on what I am listening to this year.

Now, before I get into my actual list, we need to address the incredible elephant that is in the room. I am a 42 year old dad that hasn’t toured with a band in 5 years. I work my 7 to 3, spend my free time coaching my son’s 2nd grade football team and playing fantasy football. Sure I go to concerts frequently, will even travel with the family to see bands we love, and I still play the occasional solo show, mess around making crazy experimental loops in the basement with the kids, and have friends over once and a while for a good jam to knock off the rust, but my hip-factor is as fleeting as my hairline. While I’d love to claim to be current with the new musical trends and groups, every once and a while great new artists slip by me and they miss their shot at the list. If I am being completely honest, the three artists that got the most play this year did not release full lengths in 2016 – Julien Baker, William Wild, and Sylvan Esso.

Although I knew the name Julien Baker because she made just about everybody’s 2015 list, I consider her to be an Audiotree find. It was the end of the year. I was reading other people’s lists, and I didn’t think it was right to rearrange my list just because everyone else was infatuated with this girl, so I didn’t really dig in. Well, I was wrong. I should have. I watched her Audiotree performance and was mesmerized. Six string, one voice, and some ambient delays. She is incredible. She is intelligent. She is thoughtful. She is everything I love about singer/songwriters. I just kept replaying the video. I bought the Sprained Ankle CD, bought the Audiotree recording and she entered into weekly rotation. I have listened to her CD at least once a week since first watching the video.




By the time I found William Wild, I was already allowing Audiotree to think for me. Daily I go out and look for the new releases, and no matter what it is, I listen. Sometimes its thick sludge rock, sometime hip-hop, sometimes it is new artists still struggling with keeping pitch, sometimes it is seasoned pro’s that are graciously offering up themselves to hungry ears, sometimes it is new cats whose voices are gifts. That was William Wild, aka Garrett Sale. If I had a formal tracking system, I’d bet William Wild and Julie Baker are tied for most plays this year. Like with Baker, I purchased everything I could from William Wild. While the rest of the world was on a collective conscious journey to merge electronic and folk-rock, Garrett and crew keep it pure, understated but expert production featuring heavenly guitar tones and all the pedal steel my happy ears could handle, and as mentioned his voice is a gift. It is the kind of voice that makes other singers wish they sang like him.




While Julien Baker and William Wild definitely got the most plays at home, Sylvan Esso most certainly got the most plays at work. There is nothing better than making sense out of rows of data, fully in the zone, and chair dancing to the fresh grooves concocted by Nick Sanborn while losing myself in Amelia Meath’s incredible voice. I have not created an Excel chart, PowerPoint presentation, or status report in 2016 without the assistance of the Sylvan Esso dance party. Unlike the other two artists, I found Sylvan Esso during my weekly Tiny Desk Concert search which often results in me falling down an illuminated rabbit hole of Tiny Desk performances, as YouTube serves me up artist after artist. Most become background for my work, but not Sylvan Esso. They took over the moment and produced multiple queries as I sought to learn more about this band. Like the others, I purchased everything I could find and wait patiently for more.



So, while none of them can make the official Top 10 CDs of 2016, these three were my top new finds of 2016. 


EPs – since I do not include EPs in my Top 10 CDs of the year, I did want to mention a few artists who released EPs that would have probably made the list, had they added a few more incredible songs: The River Kittens, The Sleep Rubies, The Wild Reeds, and William Wild.

Now that the EPs are out of the way, and you know who I've been listening to that didn't release a CD this year, let's take a look at my Top 10. This is the complete list #10 - #1, for those that don't mind a long read.

This spot is always the hardest for me because there are approximately 20 albums all fighting it out for the final position on the Top 10 list. This year an instrumental band won, despite my clear, and unapologetic, love for great singers. Like many I learned about Explosions in the Sky through the Friday Night Lights movie and subsequent TV show. As a collector of football movies, I was a fan of both and became a fan of the music. With the exception of my collection of jazz recordings, the only other instrumental CDs I own are all from Explosions in the Sky, and I own everything they’ve put out. Their music speaks to the closet looper in me. The kid that recorded his first full length on an old 4-track using anything he could get his hands on to add layers and textures to the recording. So, I had to show this incredible four piece some love. The Wilderness is everything you would expect from Explosions. What they have created is much more than a painting on a canvas. It is a movie with expansive soundscapes that open up the mind and beg it to create the visuals and emotions that accompany the soundtrack.


I forget when I first learned about Warpaint, but I’ve been following them for a while now. Their 2014 self-titled release was probably #11 for the year, just outside of my Top 10. What helped them crack the top 10 this year was clear and decisive growth. This album shows maturity of voice and confidence of direction. They are doing their thing, and I am pretty sure they give zero fucks if anyone has a problem with their direction. You can always tell when a great band is being controlled by the machine because they put out some bubble gum piece of shit album that sounds like they are trying to sell CDs to the cool kids at the junior high lunch table, not the kids sitting in the back of the cafeteria writing poetry and losing themselves in their doodles. While I acknowledge a recording is an opportunity to expand beyond what a band can do live, it shouldn’t cause the listener to question the voice of the artist. Although Head Up is a great example of a band pushing themselves, of pushing boundaries, you can tell they are the ones driving the car, and the roadtrip they are taking us reminds us why we love to be on the road.  





Every time I put a curveball on the list I feel like I need to spend some time explaining, and for those that follow my blog, my Facebook page, or my Twitter page this selection may seem like a curveball. Those that really know me know my music collection is pretty diverse. What you see me posting daily is usually what I listened to the night before as I was going to bed. My wife has some very definitive opinions on what sleepy-time music is, so I am usually posting things on the softer side. That doesn’t mean that that is all I am listening to. While this is my first Beyonce CD, I do have a pretty good collection of female R&B singers, lots of Erykah Badu, India Arie, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keys. To this point, Beyonce always seemed to be speaking to a younger generation, but as folks get older the gap diminishes. Lemonade is powerful. It speaks to the musician in me. It speaks to the lover of big voices and expertly placed runs. It speaks to the poet soul that loves a good story. Most importantly it speaks to the step-dad who wants to encourage his very independent little girl to continue to be strong and brave, to never take shit from a man because no one deserve that. In all honesty, this could have been my #1 of the year. It is that strong, but it just didn’t get the same amount of spins as some of the other CDs. As I am listening to it now, I am not sure why, probably because it is too powerful for sleepy-time music.


I was bouncing between videos on KEXP; I heard Elena Tonra’s voice and the atmospheric guitars, and I was hooked. I went to my friend iTunes and bought everything I could. I am pretty sure I listened to nothing but Daughter for the entire month of February. It is rare that an album released in January makes my Top 10 list. The CD has to maintain relevance for 12 months, as I am continually distracted by new releases, but Not to Disappear did not disappear (Yeah, I just did that; come on, you telling me you weren’t thinking it? Please). I’ve mentioned this in other Top 10s, but I love when a recording gives space to the instruments. It’s so easy to set the beat and let it carry the song, but when there is space and movement it gives life to the songs. Daughter does an excellent job of allowing things to breathe in this recording. In addition to Tonra’s distinctive voice and the energy of the recording, when you peel away the instrumentation the lyrics are incredible:



No Care

No one asks me for dances because I only know how to flail
I always hit like I'm drowning, dead arms around him
I'd rather stand still, hold tightly to the walls

No care, no care in the world
No care, no care in the world
I don't care, I don't care anymore
I don't care, I don't care

Love you in a panic because I prefer to sit on fences
Spit-kissing on my sickbed
I'm not searching for replacements
But we are like broken instruments
Twisted up and wheezing out the runnels
Sleepless folks watching light grow
Through their early morning windows

I don't care, I don't care anymore
I don't care, I don't care

Oh, I'm too drunk to fight, hurlings curses at your surface
Because I'm aware, because it hurts that I'm in love again
And you have kissed my neck so your arguments are insane
Fighting over the way something was said
Well, I'm still here like a cheap threat

No care, no care in the world
No care, no care in the world
I don't care, I don't care anymore
I don't care, I don't care

Oh, there has only been one time where we fucked
And I felt like a bad memory
Like my spine was a reminder of her
And you said that you felt sick
I was so heavy hearted, lying side-on with you afterwards
How I wanted you to promise we would only make
How I wanted you to promise we would only make
How I wanted you to promise we would only make love
But my mouth felt like I was choking, broken glass
So I just slept it off
You see, my mouth felt like it could talk the end of us
So I just slept it off, slept it off

No care, no care in the world
No care, no care
I don't care, I don't care anymore
I don't care, I don't care

Ah, I'm too drunk to fight
I only wanted you to promise me we would only ever make love
But my mouth felt like I was choking, broken glass
So I just slept it off
Wanted you to promise me we would only ever make
Wanted you to promise me we would only ever make love


It was September 2008, Hotel Café was coming to Blueberry Hill, and I was going to see Rachael Yamagata for the first time. She did not disappoint; I’ve seen her five times since, including a roadtrip to Indianapolis, and she never disappoints. She is prolific, a sought after collaborator that is equally powerful behind 88 keys, 6 strings, or a microphone stand. Had I been doing a Top 10 list in 2008, Elephant… Teeth Sinking into Heart, would probably have been #1. I wore that album out. Listening to Tightrope Walker, I am sad that I haven’t had a chance to listen to this more. It is Yamagata at her best. The instrumentation strikes a beautiful balance between luscious acoustic instruments (“I’m Going Back” has some of the best strings I have heard recorded) and driving electro-pop. Her songwriting is earnest and thoughtful, and her voice is the smoke cloud where dreams are born.






Do y’all know that the Allman Brothers Band is my all-time favorite band? Well, it is. The combination of Greg’s vocals and Duane’s guitar cannot be duplicated, and even after Duane left us: Dickey, Dan, Warren, Derek, and Jimmy kept the music alive. Many bands can point to the Allman Brothers as an influence, but few can claim legacy status; few are fronted by a couple so clearly in love for over a decade; few marry the soulful vocals of Susan Tedeschi, her distinctive single-coil licks, and the incredible slide work of Derek Trucks; few feature 11 people on stage; few are this damn good. I am kind of obsessed with slide guitar, so when I listen to Let Me Get By that tends to be what I focus on, but there is really something for everyone in this recording. When the piano makes an appearance it is woody and resounding, providing the perfect amount of travel across the keys. The organ swells help thicken tracks, as do the backing vocals throughout. With 18 tracks it is hard to find a standout, but “Hear Me (Alternate Mix)” always come to mind. It is more subtle than the earlier mix. It allows the emotional duet of Tedeski’s voice and Truck’s slide responses to be the focal point.





While the rest of the world seems to be flirting with electronic music, Norah has returned to her roots giving us the smokiest jazz that she has released to date. You see, Norah doesn’t need to do the electro-dance; she did that on 2012’s Little Broken Hearts which was produced by Danger Mouse, proving once again that Norah sets the trends and the rest of us are just clambering to keep up. With an October release date, Day Breaks didn’t have much time to get spins, but I knew from the moment the silky double bass notes of “Burn” announced the immediacy of this new recording that it would make my list. It has been in my weekly rotation ever since. Day Breaks offers the kind of music that spills onto the hot humid streets of New Orleans, the kind of music that is the perfect backdrop to any passionate love scene, the kind of scene where the lovers just have to have each other and they don’t give a fuck that they are presently stuck in an elevator 13 stories above their death. In that moment being together is all that matters.  Picking my favorite track is really challenging because the album is consistently incredible. The three covers: "Don't Be Denied," "Peace," and "Fleurette Africaine" perfectly compliment the nine new tracks, but based on instrumentation I tend to be drawn to “Burn” and “Sleeping Wild.” I love the simplicity of a three piece: drums, upright bass, and piano.  


Amidst the likes of Beyonce, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Norah Jones, we have Lucy Dacus whose Wikipedia page doesn’t even have enough information to scroll, but damn if that voice isn’t distinctive. I learned about Dacus through her Audiotree recording and she quickly moved into heavy rotation. It is to the point where my kids can sing along with most of her CD. While her Audiotree performance presented her as a reserved, but effective, three piece, No Burden fills things out with well-placed harmonies, alternate guitar lines, and some distant keys. “Dream State” stands out to me. After the first chorus the band kicks in, driven by a nice brushed beat, and then it happens – the build. I am sucker for a nice cacophonous build, and underneath it all are these beautifully contemplative lyrics.





“Dream State”

We woke up to the thunder.
We huddled under covers.
We didn’t say anything.
If you hadn’t come over,
I would be so much colder.
I would be much less confused.

Then the water came
and washed it all away.
It left me with nothing to say.
Could not believe my eyes,
I could not recognize
your face in the rubble.

Without you, I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you, I am surely the last of my kind.

We had a lot to measure.
We had more past than pleasure,
and time grows deep like weeds.

You catch me when I’m falling.
Sometimes, I wish you wouldn’t.
I can’t tell if I’m learning.

And then the water came
and washed it all away.
It left me with nothing to say.
Could not believe my eyes.
I could not recognize
your face in the rubble.

Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.
Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.
Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.





In 2012 the Lumineers’ self-titled release just cracked my Top 10 securing the 10th spot based largely on the strength of their Southern Ground performance and the domination of “Ho Hey.” Four years later they find themselves at #2 on my list. After such a long hiatus, I am not sure anyone knew what to expect from their sophomore release. I am here to tell you it is good. Damn good. Not a bad track in the bunch. Wesley Schultz’s vocals are strong throughout the recording. The instrumentation, featuring excellent recordings of the acoustic guitar, cello, and bass, leave you feeling that you are in the studio with them, watching it all go down. You can hear the pick rake the steel strings, the wood of the cello as it breathes life into the songs, and the clank of the hammer on taunt piano strings. The exquisite production is matched by strong songwriting and storytelling.  Cleopatra presents itself as a fitting counterpart to the current trend in electro-folk music. Again, when a recording is this good, it is next to impossible to pull out a favorite track. For those that got the deluxe edition, “White Lie” shines. There is a haunting electric guitar part in the background; on a mostly acoustic album, it perks my ears and begs me to pay attention.


It was September 2008, Hotel Café was coming to Blueberry Hill, and I was going to see Rachael Yamagata for the first time. That should sound familiar, if you read #10 – #6. I was introduced to Thao Nguyen at that same show. I left Blueberry Hill with a copy of We Brave Bee Stings and All, and I have remained a fan. A Man Alive is one of those recordings where I know…I just know it is going to make the list from the moment I first listened to it. Other CDs take time to secure their place on this list. Throughout the year they’ll move on and off the list, until I get to the final week where I really focus on my selections, but this CD never left the Top 5. I love everything about the recording. Thao’s unique vocals. The boundary pushing. The merged influences. The lyrical intensity juxtaposed against the whimsical instrumentation. While several bands danced with beats and bass this year, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down pulled it off without seeming campy. The result is a recording that exists as an authentic tribute to hip-hop influences and an exploration of the relationship with her estranged father. She tackles the weighty subject matter with dignity, never losing the power of her pen to the power of her emotions. 




There is one more recording that I do want to mention. I have never done this before, but my friend Rob posted his Top 6 CDs, and Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle was his #1 of the year. Rob and I are birds of the same feather (with the exception of the Uncle Tupelo split – he is in Camp Tweedy, and I am a documented Farrar devotee).  So, I had to take a moment and give a CD I hadn't even heard of a spin. Had I known about The Bird & The Rifle in July when it was released, I am confident that it would have made the list and probably the Top 5. Sadly one week with the recording is just not enough time to give it full consideration, but I encourage you to check it out. Incredible songwriting.

There you have it, my Top 10 CDs of 2016. As always I welcome comments and feedback, and I’d love to know what recordings you think I missed.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 10 CDs of 2016 - #5 - #1



Here is what you’ve been waiting for #5 – #1 on my list of the Top 10 CDs of 2016. Okay, that’s presumptuous of me and a bit egocentric, like you’ve really been waiting to learn what CD I think was the best of the year. It’s doubtful, but hey, you’re here, so let’s get into it.

For those landing here for the first time, not sure who I am or why you are reading this, I am just a singer/songwriter who loves music more than most love life. HERE is the Preamble I posted on Wednesday; go read that so you can understand EP situation. If you found your way here on a search and haven’t read #10 – #6, you can check out those picks HERE.

EPs – since I do not include EPs in my Top 10 CDs of the year, I did want to mention a few artists who released EPs that would have probably made the list, had they added a few more incredible songs: The River Kittens, The Sleep Rubies, The Wild Reeds, and William Wild.


Do y’all know that the Allman Brothers Band is my all-time favorite band? Well, it is. The combination of Greg’s vocals and Duane’s guitar cannot be duplicated, and even after Duane left us: Dickey, Dan, Warren, Derek, and Jimmy kept the music alive. Many bands can point to the Allman Brothers as an influence, but few can claim legacy status; few are fronted by a couple so clearly in love for over a decade; few marry the soulful vocals of Susan Tedeschi, her distinctive single-coil licks, and the incredible slide work of Derek Trucks; few feature 11 people on stage; few are this damn good. I am kind of obsessed with slide guitar, so when I listen to Let Me Get By that tends to be what I focus on, but there is really something for everyone in this recording. When the piano makes an appearance it is woody and resounding, providing the perfect amount of travel across the keys. The organ swells help thicken tracks, as do the backing vocals throughout. With 18 tracks it is hard to find a standout, but “Hear Me (Alternate Mix)” always come to mind. It is more subtle than the earlier mix. It allows the emotional duet of Tedeski’s voice and Truck’s slide responses to be the focal point.





While the rest of the world seems to be flirting with electronic music, Norah has returned to her roots giving us the smokiest jazz that she has released to date. You see, Norah doesn’t need to do the electro-dance; she did that on 2012’s Little Broken Hearts which was produced by Danger Mouse, proving once again that Norah sets the trends and the rest of us are just clambering to keep up. With an October release date, Day Breaks didn’t have much time to get spins, but I knew from the moment the silky double bass notes of “Burn” announced the immediacy of this new recording that it would make my list. It has been in my weekly rotation ever since. Day Breaks offers the kind of music that spills onto the hot humid streets of New Orleans, the kind of music that is the perfect backdrop to any passionate love scene, the kind of scene where the lovers just have to have each other and they don’t give a fuck that they are presently stuck in an elevator 13 stories above their death. In that moment being together is all that matters.  Picking my favorite track is really challenging because the album is consistently incredible. The three covers: "Don't Be Denied," "Peace," and "Fleurette Africaine" perfectly compliment the nine new tracks, but based on instrumentation I tend to be drawn to “Burn” and “Sleeping Wild.” I love the simplicity of a three piece: drums, upright bass, and piano.  


Amidst the likes of Beyonce, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Norah Jones, we have Lucy Dacus whose Wikipedia page doesn’t even have enough information to scroll, but damn if that voice isn’t distinctive. I learned about Dacus through her Audiotree recording and she quickly moved into heavy rotation. It is to the point where my kids can sing along with most of her CD. While her Audiotree performance presented her as a reserved, but effective, three piece, No Burden fills things out with well-placed harmonies, alternate guitar lines, and some distant keys. “Dream State” stands out to me. After the first chorus the band kicks in, driven by a nice brushed beat, and then it happens – the build. I am sucker for a nice cacophonous build, and underneath it all are these beautifully contemplative lyrics.





“Dream State”

We woke up to the thunder.
We huddled under covers.
We didn’t say anything.
If you hadn’t come over,
I would be so much colder.
I would be much less confused.

Then the water came
and washed it all away.
It left me with nothing to say.
Could not believe my eyes,
I could not recognize
your face in the rubble.

Without you, I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you, I am surely the last of my kind.

We had a lot to measure.
We had more past than pleasure,
and time grows deep like weeds.

You catch me when I’m falling.
Sometimes, I wish you wouldn’t.
I can’t tell if I’m learning.

And then the water came
and washed it all away.
It left me with nothing to say.
Could not believe my eyes.
I could not recognize
your face in the rubble.

Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.
Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.
Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
Without you I am surely the last of my kind.




In 2012 the Lumineers’ self-titled release just cracked my Top 10 securing the 10th spot based largely on the strength of their Southern Ground performance and the domination of “Ho Hey.” Four years later they find themselves at #2 on my list. After such a long hiatus, I am not sure anyone knew what to expect from their sophomore release. I am here to tell you it is good. Damn good. Not a bad track in the bunch. Wesley Schultz’s vocals are strong throughout the recording. The instrumentation, featuring excellent recordings of the acoustic guitar, cello, and bass, leave you feeling that you are in the studio with them, watching it all go down. You can hear the pick rake the steel strings, the wood of the cello as it breathes life into the songs, and the clank of the hammer on taunt piano strings. The exquisite production is matched by strong songwriting and storytelling.  Cleopatra presents itself as a fitting counterpart to the current trend in electro-folk music. Again, when a recording is this good, it is next to impossible to pull out a favorite track. For those that got the deluxe edition, “White Lie” shines. There is a haunting electric guitar part in the background; on a mostly acoustic album, it perks my ears and begs me to pay attention.


It was September 2008, Hotel Café was coming to Blueberry Hill, and I was going to see Rachael Yamagata for the first time. That should sound familiar, if you read #10 – #6. I was introduced to Thao Nguyen at that same show. I left Blueberry Hill with a copy of We Brave Bee Stings and All, and I have remained a fan. A Man Alive is one of those recordings where I know…I just know it is going to make the list from the moment I first listened to it. Other CDs take time to secure their place on this list. Throughout the year they’ll move on and off the list, until I get to the final week where I really focus on my selections, but this CD never left the Top 5. I love everything about the recording. Thao’s unique vocals. The boundary pushing. The merged influences. The lyrical intensity juxtaposed against the whimsical instrumentation. While several bands danced with beats and bass this year, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down pulled it off without seeming campy. The result is a recording that exists as an authentic tribute to hip-hop influences and an exploration of the relationship with her estranged father. She tackles the weighty subject matter with dignity, never losing the power of her pen to the power of her emotions. 




There is one more recording that I do want to mention. I have never done this before, but my friend Rob posted his Top 6 CDs, and Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle was his #1 of the year. Rob and I are birds of the same feather (with the exception of the Uncle Tupelo split – he is in Camp Tweedy, and I am a documented Farrar devotee).  So, I had to take a moment and give a CD I hadn't even heard of a spin. Had I known about The Bird & The Rifle in July when it was released, I am confident that it would have made the list and probably the Top 5. Sadly one week with the recording is just not enough time to give it full consideration, but I encourage you to check it out. Incredible songwriting.

There you have it, my Top 10 CDs of 2016. As always I welcome comments and feedback, and I’d love to know what recordings you think I missed.