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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

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My Favorite Albums of 2016
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Let's not kid ourselves. 2016 sucked. We lost Prince, we lost Bowie, we lost Glen Frey. We lost Paul Kantner, we lost Leonard Cohen. I'm not going to run down the whole list; we'll remember this as the year a lot of the music died. Then reason and common sense died with it, and we put Donald Trum in the White House.

For a while I thought I wouldn't be able to come up with a full 20 picks; it was a lighter-than-usual year for me as regards new music. But I'm actually pretty happy with this collection; indeed a couple of good ones slipped off the list.

As always, RIYL is "Recommended If You Like."

1. Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like a Levee
I'm relatively new to this band; their last album placed 12th on my 2014 list, and it's the only other thing I've heard from them. Like that album, Heart Like a Levee was a "creeper." it doesn't smack you in the face on first listen; rather, it sort of seeps in, insinuating itself on your consciousness with repeated listening.  Heart Like a Levee is the kind of record I love; it breathes, it sounds warm and welcoming and out-of-time (by which I mean, you can't guess what year it was made based on how it sounds.) And there is a fundamental and exquisite tastefulness about it; if the song needs six seconds of dobro, then there's six seconds of dobro-- no more, no less. Singer-songwriter MC Taylor and engineer Scott Hirsch are Hiss Golden Messenger, and they are serious about their folklore and their Americana. Many different tributaries of American music converge here-- mainly folk and folk rock, but also blues and soul and southern R'n'B. When I wrote about their last release on my 2014 list, I said that it sounded like they were playing the music in a log cabin in winter in North Carolina (where they're based.) This one comes from that same log cabin. With pretty much no fanfare, they've become one of my favorite bands. RIYL: Iron and Wine, Calexico, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bon Iver, new folk music that sounds timeless.

2. Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate
I've gone back and forth on the ordering of this list, and every time I do, I flip-flop Kiwanuka and Hiss Golden Messenger; this could very easily be my album of the year. Kiwanuka is a Brit soul man, and Love & Hate, his second album, immediately reminded me of Lewis Taylor's Lost Album in the way it blends searing, guitar-driven classic rock with lush soul. (Taylor, in turn, immediately reminded me of Todd Rundgren, something of a touchstone as far as melding together influences from both the white and black halves of '60s radio.)  Kiwanuka also layers in a reggae-- I want to say "lilt," but it's really more of a drive, a reggae groove that serves to propel the songs forward. This is only his second album, and I haven't heard the first. But Im keeping an eye on this guy. RIYL: Lewis Taylor, Todd Rundgren, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, D'Angelo, Bob Marley.

3. The Jayhawks, Paging Mr. Proust
It's tough to overstate how good this band is at their best (e.g. Hollywood Town Hall.) The Jayhawks combine influences like Gram Parsons, The Everly Brothers, the Eagles, and Neil Young into a warm, modern but organic country rock, with an emphasis on the rock. The principals are singer-songwriter-guitarists Gary Louris and Marc Olson; Olson left the band after 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass, even though he and Louris have continued to tour and record together; but he was back for 2011's Mockingbird Time. His return was welcome news; surprisingly, that album didn't make much of a dent in my psyche. Yet this one, with Olson gone again, is I think way, way better. It's just dripping with songcraft and melody, from he first track onward, and don't miss the ear candy of "Lovers of the Sun." By the way, I supported this on PledgeMusic, so you're welcome. RIYL: Zuma-era Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Poco, the Eagles, Rainy Day Music.

4. Kaleo, A/B
A/B is the first album by Kaleo, a young blues-rock band from Iceland that sounds like they learned about rock'n'roll driving around Long island in a Camaro in 1974. Who knew there was such a thing as Reykjavik Boogie? This is music deeply influenced by old time delta blues, but presented in a big, loud electric package; I'm thinking Humble Pie or Bad Company. They totally shred, and they sing in English (the exception being "Vor Í Vaglaskógi") Of course like all good badasses, they know how to weave a good power ballad ("All the Pretty Girls.") Indeed the second half of the album-- what we once would have called "side 2"-- is a little less bluesy and a little more, play-this-side-for-your-girlfriend after you buy the 8-track. RIYL: Black Keys, Humble Pie, Bad Company.

5. Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful
If you rejoice at the sound of loud electric guitars being deployed with abandon... prepare to rejoice. Escobedo is one of the best rock'n'rollers we have, and a truly unsung hero. This is his first album in four years, although he was in the Fauntleroys (with Ivan Julian), who put out a searing EP in 2014. After three albums with the same core crew (Bowie co-hort and producer Tony Visconti, alt.country rocker Chuck Prophet), Escovedo is working here with a new crew, anchored by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, and R.E.M. touring guitarist Scott McCaughey. The result is hard-edged and bracing yet melodic; harsh gritty world-weary songs full of tone and vibration and color. I think one of his better albums. RIYL: Lou Reed, Ian Hunter, edgier Walter Salas-Humara,  the Minus Five.

6. The I Don't Cares, Wild Stab
This is a collaboration between Juliana Hatfield. best known to me as early-90s alt.rock power popster, and Paul Westerberg of the Replacements. Both of these artists have a childlike quality to their work-- Juliana, more innocence, Westerberg, more irresponsible misbehavior-- so there is a definite childlike quality in this bashed-out, charming, lo-fi affair. I mean, not that they're having an affair.... His sloppiness and her pop songcraft compliment each other perfectly; the record sounds tossed-off, but in the best possible way. A couple of guitars, drums, songs, some harmonies, and before you know it, you've got an album. The charm is palpable. RIYL: Grandpaboy, Rockpile, Lemonheads, your kid's middle school music recital.

7. The Candles, Mind + Spirit
I know the '60s are hipper, but I've always had a soft spot for the music of the '70s, and thus for records that invoke a '70s vibe. The Candles, who have worked as Norah Jones's touring band and are led by singer/songwriter/guy-who-gets-a-lot-of-work Josh Lattanzi, do just that. This is their third album, and i don't know the first two. But this is a breezy  slab of country rock Americana that makes you feel like you're just runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen your load. Good songs, harmonies, organic instrumentations.  This is a short album-- nine songs and about 32 minutes-- and in this era it could have easily been called an EP. But All that means is you want to hear it all again soon. RIYL: Jackson Browne, the Dawes, Blake Mills, Taylor Locke, Ventura Highway in the sunshine.

8. Mudcrutch, 2
Speaking of records that evoke the '70s... Mudcrutch, of course, was the band that morphed into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They reconvened in 2008 for album and tour, and in 2016 did it again. The album kicks off with "Trailer," a new recording of a song that was a Heartbreakers B-side (and a good one) circa Southern Accents. the 'crutch is a country rock band, with Petty on bass instead of rhythm guitar and Tom Leadon, brother of original Eagle Bernie, joining the incandescent Mike Campbell on guitar. Everyone sings,, although of course the Petty-sung tunes tend to be the best. Simple and fun. RIYL: Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

9. Walter Salas-Humara, Explodes and Disappears
WSH is one of my famous singer-songwriters, and he's been on a prolific run of late, putting out solo albums each of the last three years. He's best-known via his band the Silos, an under-appreciated founding alt.country band from the mid-80s and still going strong. Explodes and Disappears is another ten earnest, simple, direct songs that are real and true and that are imbued with the feeling and spirit of family and friends, because that's how he makes his records. One day I'm going to have him do a house concert at the beach. RIYL: Silos, Alejandro Escovedo, Bodeans, Los Lobos.
10. News Cline, Lovers
A prolific avant jazz guitar player who's best known as a member of Wilco and who I've seen tear it up sitting in for a half hour-plus with the Allman Brothers, Cline has made a double album of what can best be called soundtrack music for an imaginary, sweeping, romantic old  movie. I confess this is the only solo work of his I've heard, so I lack context. But this is all melody and romance, no stinging guitar solos; you could play it for your mom and she'd love it. All instrumental, and covers of composers like Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Gabor Szabo, alongside a cloth of originals that blend right in. I should probably look more deeply into this guy's catalog, because everything I've heard of him, I like. RIYL: West Side Story, An Affair to Remember, Henry Mancin

11. Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, Shine a Light: Field Recordings From the Great American Railroad
A high concept piece of art; Bragg and Henry took a train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles, and recorded this collection of old train- and rail-inspired songs at stops along the way. (Maybe for their next collaboration, they the a raft down the Mississippi and do a record of flood songs?) As cheesy as it may sound though, this is definitely a case of the whole exceeding the sum of it's parts. Just two acoustic guitars, two voices, and some ambient train-related noise in the background, if you listen for it... but the two dry, crusty, brittle old voices sound remarkably good together, and while you've almost certainly heard a bunch of these songs covered elsewhere, they just work here. A special treat is This is an extremely likable record, elegant for its simplicity, and it may make you want to pack a kit and hop a freight. RIYL: Mermaid Avenue, Elvis Castello's King of America, trains.

12. William Bell, This is Where I Live
Bell is one of the original architects of the classic '60s Stax/Volt sound, a true and authentic southern soul man; he's the author of "You Don't Miss Your Water" and Born Under a Bad Sign," and had a hit with the former. (Indeed I was fortunate to see Bell sit in with the Warren Haynes Band at the Beacon in 2011, where he performed both these numbers with Haynes; you can listen to the show here.) You know this record has the mojo about four seconds in, bringing southern soul, R'n'B, and gospel into the 21st century, sounding neither contemporary or dated (that pretty much leaves, "timeless.") It is familiar in an instant, and it gets better with repeated listening. He's paired here with writer/producer John Leventhal, best known for his work with artists like Shawn Colvin and Roseanne Cash, but who manages to either bring out Bell's best, or to stay sufficiently out of the way and let it flow. Either way, a real sleeper, and one of my favorites of the year. RIYL: "You Don't Miss Your Water," Al Green, Bobby Womack, Solomon Burke, the Mavis Staples records with Jeff Tweedy.

13. David Crosby, Lighthouse
Honestly, who in their right mind would have predicted a career resurgence for David Crosby, of all people, now closer to 80 than 70? Hell, who would even have bet he'd still be alive? But he is, both alive and resurgent, and if I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it. Croz, his 2014 release, was almost certainly his best solo record since 1971, and this one isn't far behind. Lighthouse is downright minimalist, there and not there; sparse and airy, full of those hanging, open, dramatic David Crosby chords. If you find yourself muttering, “I can’t believe it’s still dark out and I’m already up,” that’s probably a great time to listen to this album. Sonically it's built around Crosby's pretty if now-brittle voice, acoustic guitar, harmony vocals, and a smattering of spare but tasteful accompaniments that weave in and out as needed, in as unobtrusive a fashion as possible. RIYL: If I Could Only Remember My Name, Another Stoney Evening, CPR.

14. case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs
I'm not familiar with Laura Viers's work, but lang is a long-time favorite, and I'm a fan of Neko Case's sort-of-country solo records (and the Ukrainian folk), and of course she's a mainstay in the New Pornographers. I like to think there's some alternate universe where lang and Case are country stars. lang's songs here are airy and seductive; this is probably the most memorable record of hers for me since Invincible Summer. But the whole thing is gentle and lush, full of strings, acoustic guitars, and pretty voices. This is a pretty record that would sound great at 4AM, and that your wife will like. It's easy on the ears, with solid songwriting, and when the harmonies break out, you'll wanna soak them up. RIYL: Ingenue, harmonies, Suzanne Vega, collaboration.

15. Drive-By Truckers, American Band
An urgent rock'n'roll record, with guitars snarling; you hear the fire five seconds in, and it really doesn't let up. Something about the vibe here reminds me of mid-70s Rolling Stones, and you know that's good. The Truckers are what southern rock sounds like today-- loose, questioning, propulsive, political, electric, articulate. Singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have different voices, but both write thoughtful songs that are charged with the hard but beautiful truths of everyday life. RIYL: It's Only Rock'n'Roll, Southern Rock, Jason Isbell, the more rock'n'roll stuff by Ryan Adams.

16. Rolling Stones, Blue and Lonesome
The buzz on this is that it's the best Stones album in years; for that though I direct you to disc one of the Voodoo Lounge outtakes bootleg, Voodoo Brew, which is ostensibly Keith's mix of that 1994 album. It is nice to hear the Stones chugging fast and loose through a bunch of sloppy blues covers, although I do keep waiting for a Rolling Stones record to break out. And It's not as good as Keith's last solo album, Crosseyed Heart. Still, if this is to be the last Rolling Stones record, they could do worse. RIYL: Chicago blues, Buddy Guy, old Stones blues tracks, Crosseyed Heart.

17. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Let Me Get By
I have to say, I'm torn on the Tedeschi Trucks Band. I love-- LOVE!-- Derek, and I love Susan Tedeschi. But that's sort of the thing. The TTB is a 12-piece ensemble, and sometimes I think the distinct instrumental voice of Derek Trucks-- one of a very small handful of the greatest guitar players today in the rock/blues/jazz/soul idiom-- is lost in the mix. I miss the 12-minute excursions on "Afro-Blue" or "Maki Madni" from the Derek Trucks Band. I also think Tedeschi is a fabulous blues/soul singer. But I find myself wishing that the band was smaller, and thus more reliant on these two distinctive voices. Let Me Get By is gritty and soulful, but the songs strike me as being short; that's what comes from becoming exposed to a player like Trucks through the lens of the Allman ("Whipping Post!") Brothers. This is ultimately a band you want to hear live; the double live set Everybody's Talkin' from 2012 is still the place to start, for my money. RIYL: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, a big bowl of Memphis Soul Stew.

18. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
My wife is the Lenny fan in the family, and she's responsible for my appreciation of him. Cohen essentially creates his own musical eulogy here, assisted by his son Adam, who produces; "I'm ready my lord," the 82 year-old Cohen sings (I mean if you want to call it singing) on the title track, which kicks things off. I guess it's an inevitable consequence of aging that more and more of the musicians I grew up with are addressing their own mortality directly on record; Cohen does so the way he lived, which is to say, with honesty, directness, and poetry. And that voice, the voice that make Johnny Cash sound like a schoolgirl (not really.) It's a voice you feel as much as hear, the way you feel the bass. Godspeed Leonard. RIYL: Cohen's later work, the great abyss.

19. Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20

For years Lucinda Williams was known for sporadic output—when Car Wheels came out in 1998, it was her fifth album in 19 years. So it’s a little jarring to think that this is her second double album in three years. The melodies, such as they are, are monotonous. The songs tend to proceed at the same pace, and it’s not fast. And there’s a general sameness to them. It's not a happy record… but the sound of the guitars is beguiling, and draws you in; not twin leads; more like two voices existing in a state of laconic co-habitation. Credit Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, two masterful old pros; the latter, I swear, shows up on a couple of albums every year on my top-20 list, and the list of stuff he's been on is staggering. RIYL: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, Greg Leisz, Lu's world-weary slur.

20. Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, The Rarity of Experience, I and II
I thought 2014's Intensity Ghost was a masterpiece; this is more of the same brand of psychedelic, colorful, instrumental guitar music, evocative of Television at one end of the spectrum, and jam bands at the other. The line-up is the classic guitar/guitar/bass/drum, with some keyboards tossed in for texture.The music is rock'n'roll, but mostly without vocals; as waves of electric guitar wash over you, the music shifts, slashes, changes shape, and paints vivid color schemes across your mind. Indeed when there are vocals, they're distracting; I'd have put this higher if there was no singing.  RIYL: Marquee Moon (specifically, the 7-or-so-minute jam in the middle of the title track); Velvet Underground, Nels Cline, Jim O'Rourke.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:10 AM  0 comments

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