Thursday, February 2, 2017

Best CD's of 2016

For me, 2016 was a fantastic year for new music. I had a really hard time narrowing down my picks, thus I did 2 lists this year; "jazz-ish," and everything else. First off, a few disclaimers: Yes I have the new phish and have listened to it few times and it hasn't yet blown me away. I am still listening, it's still in evaluation mode. I also am aware of the new Bobby CD but I haven'd heard it yet, I was always a Jerry guy. I am also aware that Metallica and Megadeth both have new albums out that are getting rave reviews. As of now, I have heard neither. I'm sure I'll hear both eventually, but am not currently in that head-space... I designate 2016 the year of the Black Crowes. Why the Crowes? Because Chris Robinson, Rich Robinson, and Marc Ford all released CD's which appear on this list. Alternatively, it could also be the year of the Rolling Stones. Why the Stones? Aside from the fact that there is a Stones album on this list, there are several other bands (including the aforementioned Crowes related CD's) on this list whom wear their RS influence on their sleeves, some more brightly than others... 

My only rule is that the CD has to be commercially available in hard copy form. Legit live downloads from or muletracks/livephish etc do not qualify. Generally, I tend to not list live recordings, period, but in past years there has been an exception or two.

I am unable to nail down my favorite disc of the year; but I'll throw out there my top 5 for the year (no particular order), Scofield, Mike Neer, Hard Working Americans, Drive-By Truckers, and the Stones. Let me know of anything I might've missed, via email or the comments section below. Thanks for reading and onward to the list(s):

Top 20 CD's of 2016 (excluding jazz-ish genre)

* David Bowie - Blackstar
There was a lot of hype for Blackstar long before it was released. It was on my radar because I knew he had hired a working band of NYC jazz heavyweights to be his backing band; including guitarist Ben Monder and bass player Tim Lefebrve, both of whom have been on my radar for several years. Like a lot of David Bowie recordings, this defies categorization; it's definitely not jazz, despite his band... Is it David Bowie doing his Steely Dan album? Is it experimental art rock?  The fact that he died days after this CD was released makes this music even more powerful, especially when considering the lyrics and his timeline.

* Doyle Bramhall II - Rich Man
This CD didn't blow me away the first time I heard it; but it grew on me after repeated listenings and in my opinion is a blues rock masterpiece. 

* Luther Dickinson - Blues & Ballads (A Folksingers Songbook) Volumes I & II
This is a great CD. Mostly acoustic music, with sparse instrumentation here and there, including some great guests. Listening to this makes it seem like you're somewhere in the boonies of TN, with Luther and a few friends pickin' on your back porch.  The entire CD is Luther penned songs, but some are newly arranged versions of tunes from the North Mississippi All Star's Electric Blue Watermelon CD. 

* Drive-By Truckers - American Band
I loved the Truckers in their early days, but I lost some interest in them after Jason Isbell left the band. With this latest release I am back on board all the way. Think Rolling Stones meets Neil Young, with a dash of Tom Petty. 

* Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters - Maxwell Street
This tone-master's latest greatest is dedicated to his recently departed piano player, and named after the Chicago blues mecca that was Maxwell Street. If you like electric blues you'll probably like this disc. I wish Ronnie Earl would do a proper west coast tour.

* Marc Ford & The Neptune Blues Club - The Vulture
This is another crowdfunded CD in which I was very happy to order an advance copy of. Marc is a very underrated guitarist who doesn't always get the accolades he deserves. He mostly flies under the radar of the general music-listening public; but all his solo albums, post Black Crowes, have been top shelf and this is no exception. I hear, in this music, traces of the Crowes and 70's Jeff Beck Group and Neil Young's Crazy Horse.

* Hard Working Americans - Rest in Chaos
One of my current favorite bands. They're continuing in their same classic American rock and roll vein, which is fine with me. Guitar-slinger Neal Casal is severely underrated, and Todd Snider is one of my current favorite lyricists, and I like his voice too - He sounds like a gruff Mark Knopfler. I also like that Jesse Aycock, lap steel player from their touring band, appears on this recording.

* Steve Kimock - Last Danger of Frost
This is a beautifully recorded mostly solo-guitar album. It sounds especially good early in the morning while drinking coffee and contemplating the upcoming day... I suspect it would also serve well as "coming down Music" for the Trippers ;-) 

* The Markus King Band (Self-Titled)
I'm a little late getting on board this train. Markus King is a very young man with a very old soul. Blues based rock not unlike Allman Brothers along with a soul/R&B horns groove. This is a Warren Haynes/Hardhead produced CD, and both Warren and also Derek Trucks appear on this; as does Kofi Burbridge and Todd Smallie, The Markus King Band gives me hope for the future of rock & roll.

* Reed Mathis - Beathoven
Reed is one of the busier musicians in my locale, the bay area. He's a bass player who just this year ended his tenure with Tea Leaf Green (member since 2008), and prior to TLG he was a member of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey for around 14 years. In the last decade, in addition to TLG, he has also toured with Steve Kimock Band, the Marco Benevento Trio, 7 Walkers, and Billy (Kreutzmann) & the Kids. Reed's sidemen on this Beethoven inspired project are a who's who of today's current jam band scene:  Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, Stanton Moore, Robert Walter, Mike Dillon, Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Matt Chamberlain, and others. I'm not sure how to classify this instrumental music... Is there such a genre as "psychedelic classical jam groove?" Enjoy this sample, Rebirth.

* Opeth - Sorceress
This is a very proggy affair, as mellow as anything Opeth has recorded. I also loved Damnation, which was also more mellow than the usual Opeth. When I say mellow, I mean no cookie monster lead vocals; it is still, at times, very heavy music. This is by far my favorite of Opeth's albums, and I hope they continue in this prog direction.

* The Rides - Pierced Arrow
Blues rock superband? This is their sophomore effort, I somehow missed hearing about 'em the first time around. Stephen Stills drew me in, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays on this too, as well as Barry Goldberg on keyboards. I must say Kenny Ray is sounding pretty tasteful these days, he has matured since Ledbetter Heights; although I did also like his 10 Days Out CD from a few years ago. Anyway, back to the Rides, this CD completely exceeded my expectations and is very worthy of inclusion on this list. 

* Chris Robinson Brotherhood - If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now
As long as Neal Casal is ripping lead guitar in Chris'es band, then Chris'es CD's will likely continue to be on my yearly best of lists. While I do still hear some Grateful Dead influence, this sounds less overtly like 70's Jerry Garcia Band, and I am hearing more country rock and roots and southern rock influences; but still very psychedelic music overall.

* Rich Robinson - Flux
This is a continuation of the "classic rock" direction Rich was headed in on last CD, fresh off the road from touring with Bad Company in summer of 2016. Nothing groundbreaking here; simply very good rock and roll played by a very capable band.

* Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome
This RS blues album is quite a surprise, all covers, lots of Chicago blues. Best Rolling Stones studio effort since Some Girls (1978). 

* The Shelters (Self-Titled)
I stumbled upon the Shelters when I saw them open for Mudcrutch. This excellent CD was produced by Tom Petty, I actually like it better than the new Mudcrutch album (which didn't really do it for me and is absent from this list). Rock & roll: I hear Beatles, I hear Jane's Addiction, I hear a tiny hint of the Doors.

* Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
In my opinion, Sturgill SImpson is country music's savior. The fact that he followed up 2014's most excellent Metamodern Sounds CD with something of this magnitude; that is a feat in itself. At the time I composed the list, He has received two nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards - Best country album, and the all-genre album of the year.

* The Steepwater Band - Shake Your Faith
I discovered the Steepwater Band a few years ago, via Marc Ford (he produced an earlier album for them). This is a really good album, their best yet in my humble opinion. Think Bad Company meets Lynyrd Skynyrd; a 70's classic rock/southern rock vibe featuring strong slide guitar.

* Tedeschi Trucks Band - Let Me Get By
Derek Trucks is one of my favorite current guitar players. It's taken a few years, for me, for this band to get past the shadow of the Derek Trucks Band and also the Allman Brothers Band; but they have indeed gone beyond both shadows. I do understand Derek not wanting to take a 10-15 minute solo on every song. As far as I'm concerned, currently there is no better live band out there doing it (in comparably sized venues). This is their 3rd studio release, and they have stepped it up a notch since the last one. Mike Mattison sings lead vocals on 2 tracks, bonus! If you're solely interested in Derek Trucks guitar solos, this should fill your cup (they're shorter than dTb solos, but sweeter than ever); however, there are 12 musicians in TTB, all are virtuoso's and this is a band album.

* White Denim - Stiff
I've been a White Denim fan for a few years now. Based in Austin, they are considered retro garage from what I have read. I do hear a retro seventies sound with traces of the Beatles, Cheap Trick, maybe a bit of Doobie Brothers, and Free, plus a sometimes falsetto-voiced horn-laden soul groove. 

Top 10 jazz CD's of 2016

* Amendola Vs. Blades - Greatest Hits
Drums and B3, Scotty Amendola and Wil Blades are bay area groove masters who've been honing this duo for years. This is a crowdfunded CD I was very happy to advance order my copy of. 

* The Bad Plus - It's Hard 
This is an album of pop song covers. You may or may not like it, jazz purists won't like it, I love it. My favorite tune on this disc is Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers.

* Will Bernard - Out & About
I haven't heard much about this album... It wasn't promoted very well, which is a shame; as I consider it his finest work yet. This is mostly modern straight ahead jazz, all original tunes. Will on guitars, and augmented by a BADASS band: organist Brian Charette, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Allison Miller. 

* Jakob Bro - Streams
This is a guitar trio album, with Thomas Morgan on bass and the great Joey Baron on drums. I discovered Jakob a few years ago via a Paul Motian CD. This is mellow textural music (at times a bit Frisellian), not unlike a lot of stuff on the ECM label. 

* Bill Frisell - When You Wish Upon a Star
I love Bill Frisell's guitar playing. To me, he is the David Gilmour of jazz; he is all about phrasing and tones over super fast scale runs. Anyway, pretty much anything he records these days is on my list. In this case he has Rudy Royston on drums, the last drummer of recent memory who really made my jaw drop (Village Vanguard, March of 2014 - I saw Bill Frisell with Rudy on drums. I'd never heard of him and he completely melted my face off!). This is all interpretations of film soundtrack music. Petra Hayden on lead vocals (vocals being a rarity on Bill Frisell recordings). 

* Charlie Hunter - Everybody Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth
Nothing ground breaking here, just Charlie Hunter being himself and further pushing the limits on his 7 string bass/guitar. In my opinion he gets better with age and this is as good as anything he's previously recorded. His bandmates on this CD are Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Bobby Previte (drums), and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone).

* Brad Mehldau Trio - Blues And Ballads
I don't know much about Brad Mehldau, but I do believe he is pretty important as far as modern jazz piano players go. This is a piano trio playing mostly standards and a couple Paul McCartney penned tunes.

* Mike Neer - Steelonious
This is far from 100% jazz despite the fact it's all Thelonious Monk tunes. In addition to jazz, I hear some country, some rockabilly, some church music, and some Hawaiian music. If you're a fan of lap steel guitar, this CD is absolutely not to be missed; however, there is something here to like for any fan of good instrumental music, including jazz, period.This is yet another crowdfunded CD in which I was very happy to order an advance copy of.

* John Scofield - Country For Old Men
Another amazing album from the Maestro; a completely different direction than last year's album, Past Present, but equally BADASS! All covers from the country western genre, but remade with Sco's unique footprint. Give a listen to this OUT version of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.  

* Vinnie Zummo - The Coyote 
My favorite artist whom I discovered years ago via Myspace has finally recorded the album I was waiting for, a studio jazz album. Vinnie is a guitarist based in NYC (and drummer, and accordionist), a heavyweight, and Joe Jackson's former hired gun. This CD is mostly originals along with some choice covers (Coltrane, Lee Morgan) , and he has a great band backing him, and a few guests; some of whose names you might recognize in addition to Joe Jackson; including Will Lee, Mark Egan, and Bill Stuart. 

Honorable Mention CD's of 2016

Jon Anderson/Roine Stolt - Invention of Knowledge
I am partial to Yes-like music at this moment in time, so this could be a biased pick. I've been bingeing on Yes since seeing a couple incredible Anderson Rabin & Wakeman shows back in December. Roine Stolt is from a band I am unfamiliar with; the Flower Kings. More than one review I have read refer to this CD as a continuation of Yes'es Tales From Topographic Oceans.

* Jeff Beck - Loud Hailer
Jeff Beck albums can be hit or miss. This is his 18th studio recording in 48 years! I suspect it must be hard to continue to find inspiration after such a long career; but this is a pretty damn decent effort. This CD also features Carmen Vandenberg and Rosie Bones, from Bones (a UK band).

* The Claypool Lennon Delirium - Monolith of Phobos
Odd superband pairings don't always work out, but in this scenario it works brilliantly. While it's no secret Les Claypool is a fan of progressive rock music, based on his past live covers of King Crimson and Pink Floyd, I did not expect him and John Lennon's son to record a prog CD; but that is exactly what they did.

Harvey Mandel - Snake Pit 
Harvey is a guitar master and founding member of Canned Heat. I'm just now finding out about this late November release; an instrumental blues rock thing, Harvey's first studio CD in quite a few years. This is also his first release since winning a nasty fight with nasal cancer that required facial reconstruction. He recorded it in 2 days with a rhythm section from Chicago whom he had never played with prior, plus local (San Francisco) conga man Jose Najera. Combine all that with the fact Harvey is 71 years old, and this music is amazing! This cd is filled with blistering guitar tones. Check out the title track: 

* Jeff Parker - The New Breed
I've been following Jeff for decades. I first discovered him via Tortoise, and then Isotope 217. While I consider those 2 above noted bands to be avant garde jazz, this recording leans more in the direction of funk/soul/hip hop grooves.

* Triple Fret - Fall Risk
The bummer for Mike Babyak, Triple Fret's band leader, facetiously speaking, is that he and guitar monk Steve Kimock are best buds since childhood. Consequently, a percentage of people listen to his music in comparison to Mr. Kimock's, and those are very big shoes for anybody to fill. This CD is strong enough to stand on its own merits. Its a rock album, but a very wide range of musical styles are displayed, and there is a lot of lap steel of various vintages, and a bit of Hindustani slide guitar. Mostly originals and a couple of very choice covers (Les McCann, and Black Dub). Lyrically, a few of the songs are really hitting home, as we settle into the the first month of the Trumpocalypse. I highly recommend this music. Preview it here, and then go snag a copy at the above link, bargain priced at $9.99!

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