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Showing posts from December, 2016

The 30 Songs I Digged Most In 2016

After a two-year hiatus, here is my list of The 30 Best Songs of 2016.

Of course, this is subjective.  I only considered songs released in 2016 that were included in the 190, or so, postings on this blog.  Although I had no set "evaluation criteria," songwriting, performance, and how much I dig the tune were undoubtably considered.

Every year, I miss dozens of great songs.  If you have any recommendations, please leave a comment or shoot me a note.  I always appreciate it.

Anyhow, here is this year's list...

1.  Black Man In A White World - Michael Kiwanuka

2.  You Want It Darker - Leonard Cohen

3. I Don't Want To Be Funny Anymore - Lucy Dacus

4.  Dance Like Fire - Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

5.  Drag - Cat's Eyes

6.  To All The Cowboys - Ariel Bui

7.  Girl In Amber - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

8.  Berlin Got Blurry - Parquet Courts

9.  Dorothy - Kevin Morby

10.  Romantic - Mannequin Pussy

11.  St. Anne's Parade - Shovels & Rope

12.  Since …

A Willie Nice Christmas - Kacey Musgrave

from the album A Very Kacey Christmas (2016)

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, walking out to the tree, and finding Willie Nelson sitting beside the fire, strumming his six-string, singing you a holiday song.

It would be mellow and tasty, with a sweet country twang.  His road-weary voice taking you to the place where goosebumps live.  What could be better?

Well, if that isn't happening, perhaps you can give A Willie Nice Christmas, a sassy little duet by Kacey Musgrave and Willie Nelson.  I dig Kacey, particularly her song Biscuits with the clever refrain "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy."

A Willie Nice Christmas has a laid-back Hawaiian vibe and espouses a chilled-out holiday, while you have a "really, really, really, a really, really, willie nice Christmas" while hoping that "we stay higher than the angel on top of the tree."

Merry Christmas...

Click Here to listen to A Willie Nice Christmas.

I Shoulda Left You - Jeremih & Chance

from the mixtape Merry Christmas Lil' Mama (2016)

Just in time for Christmas, Jeremih and Chance The Rapper have put out a mixtape of original tunes.  If you are looking for some hip hop & rap for your Christmas Eve, this is your ticket.

The songs are tender and loving, in a rap kinda way.  The music and the lyrics are tremendous.

One of the standout songs is I Shoulda Left You.  It is not a "holiday" song in the way that the rest of the record is, but rather an emotional outburst against a year that was pretty damn tough.  My two favorite lines are "Fuck 2016" and "Please can we get Prince back?"  I can relate.

But anyhow, the rest of the record is splendid and more appropriate for the season.

Wishing you all the best...

Click Here to listen to the mixtape Merry Christmas Lil' Mama, including I Shoulda Left You.

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry - John Scofield

from the album Country For Old Men (2016)

This year, the great jazz-rock guitarist John Scofield released Country For Old Men, a collection of instrumental jazz interpretations of country music standards.  It is phenomenal.

Top of the list is the "cover" of Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.  This is some of the best guitar soloing (and drumming) that I have heard in recent memory.  I also really dig the organ and bass.

Click Here to listen to John Scofield's interpretation of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.

I Wish The Guardian Believed That I Exist - Grace Petrie

from the EP There's No Such Thing As A Protest Singer (2016)

With the song I Wish The Guardian Believed That I Exist, protest singer Grace Petrie protests a declaration by British newspaper The Guardian that there are no longer any true protest singers.  Isn't it ironic?

I particularly dig lyrics.  Try this on:

Well I know you miss the good old days
Of picket lines and flags
When The Specials and The Jam all ruled the charts
But if you're really looking for this generation's Billy Bragg
We are all here with a fire in our hearts
But we're not on the radio
Because they don't want to know
And by this point it's really pretty clear
That the mainstream music press
Well they just couldn't care less
But its The Guardian keeps shouting we're not here

Oh there's no such thing as a protest singer
We don't have none of those
There's no such thing as a protest singer
We lost them when the mines all closed

It's been far too long since I've heard a protest s…

Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge - William Bell

from the album This Is Where I Live (2016)

Someday, someone will take a retrospective look at how the Vietnam War derailed the careers of many rising soul singers and how this caused a pivot in American music.

William Bell would be one of the people I would like to interview for this would-be documentary.  A rising star at Stax Records, he was instrumental in creating the Memphis Sound as a performer and songwriter.  He even co-wrote Born Under a Bad Sign with Booker T. Jones.  His ordinal recording of To Be A Lover would later be covered by Billy Idol.

Unfortunately, the release of his debut album was delayed until he finished his tour in Vietnam.  During that time, the music market shifted and that fine record never reached the heights it might otherwise have.  Meanwhile, his contemporaries - like Otis Redding - became legends.

Still, he has had a great career and created a legacy of incredible music.

This year, at age 77, he released This Is Where I Live, a splendid traditional sou…

Working Poor - Fantastic Negrito

from the album The Last Days Of Oakland (2016)

One of my absolute favorite records of 2016, The Last Days of Oakland is relevant and diverse unlike any "blues" record this decade.

The tune I dig most is Working Poor.  In spite of all its varied elements, this song is pure vibe.  Funky and lush.  Melodic and muscular.  A pure delight...

Hope you enjoy.

Click Here to listen to Working Poor.

Aunt Peg's New Old Man - Robbie Fulks

from the album Upland Stories (2016)

Storytelling is a natural way for humans to communicate.  From the Bible to Springsteen songs, stories - with their characters and lessons - help define the fabric that connects us all.

In my mind, storytelling is what helps differentiate American song.  It is a long tradition that continues across most genres today.

Aunt Peg's New Old Man by Robbie Fulks is a great example.  As you listen to this country folk tune, you see people you may know in Aunt Peg, her new old man, and their American family.  You also get to enjoy the subtle lessons in their story.

This year, Robbie Fulks was rewarded with a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album for Upland Stories.  I'm rooting for him.

Click Here to listen to a live rendition of Aunt Peg's New Old Man.

The World's Smiling Now - Jim James

from the album Eternally Even (2016)

I always enjoy when a musician takes risk and expands into previously unexplored genres.  I particularly dig it when the motivation in artistic (as opposed to mercenary).

Such is the case with Jim James new album, Eternally Even.  Most noted as the frontman of the rock band My Morning Jacket, he has on occasion followed Dylan down the folk rabbit hole to ultimately perform the music of Woody Guthrie.  Great stuff.

However, on this album he explores R&B and Soul vibes.  In my mind, these are dangerous waters.  Rockers can go Folk, Country, or Blues with relative ease.  Even Jazz is accessible to a well schooled musician.  But Soul music is a different kind of thing.  I believe that Soul music - particularly the vocals - come from a place deep inside and that this ability is God given.

Soul singing involves things that are simply intangible.  You "feel" it in the space between a vibratos highs and lows.  When it is right, there is nothi…

Jet To The Jungle - Autoramas

from the album O Futuro Dos Autoramas (2016)

I have a very soft spot in my heart for Autoramas.  Back in June 2012 - a few months after starting this blog - my post on their cover version of New Order's Blue Monday went relatively "viral" giving me that first taste of the power of online publishing to reach a large audience.

I also have a soft spot in my heart because they hail from Brazil, home of the most beautiful land (and people) I have yet to visit on this earth. and lastly, they play a combination of punk and surf music!!!

I dream of attending a gig of theirs in a small Río club.  One day...

But for now, I find myself listening o their latest album and digging on the tune Jet To The Jungle.

This song features overdriven guitars, thrashing drums, and head banging vocals.  As the song title implies, this is the perfect tune for your post-punk excursion to the Amazon.

Click Here to watch the official music video for Jet To The Jungle.

Click Here to read my June 2012 bl…

Valdez Off Crenshaw - Terrace Martin

from the album Velvet Portraits (2016)

Although Terrace Martin's music is classified in the jazz genre - largely on account of his being a saxophonist - his music is so much more.  Hip-hop, funk, and soul abound in his music, defying labels.  I dig that.

And I particularly dig the tune Valdez Off Crenshaw. As the name implies, we are being taken on a ride through Los Angeles (always a treat).  The sax is smooth.  The synths are timeless. The beat has some funk.  Hot guitar licks leave you wanting to taste some tequila. And the groove puts a little sex in the air.  Welcome to LA.

As you listen to this song, you will be reminded that life is good.  Particularly if you act on your impulses.

Click Here to listen to Valdez Off Crenshaw.

Old Masters - Lambchop

from the album FLOTUS (2016)

Aah, the craft of making music !!!

For nearly 20 years, Lambchop has been making incredible music that is poetic, melodic, and altogether original.  On their latest record - FLOTUS - they have decided to craft an altogether new sound, one that incorporates beats, long-form musical patterns, and vocoder-heavy lyrics that allow Kurt Wagner's magnificent voice to become "another instrument" in the ensemble.

I think of the care that must have gone into creating this sound.  The hours of playing and listening.  The self-reflection.  The subtle tweaking of tone and dynamics.  It must have been a labor of love.

For me, I enjoy listening to this album in its entirety.  Loosing myself in the rhythms and melodies.  By the time I get to track six - Old Masters - I have been transported to a beautiful listening state.  It is here that the the bass guitar playing of Matt Swanson brings me to my knees.  His playing is the thread that connects the album, an…

Born Again Teen - Lucius

from the album Good Grief (2016)

Brooklyn's Lucius is a five piece band whose sophomore album - Good Grief - is largely loaded with 80's-styled synth music.  This includes songs like Born Again Teen that will lift your spirits and remind you of some really bad haircuts.

This well-assembled song commands you with its thick grooves.  It commands you to move your head.  It commands you to drive faster.  It commands you to dance.

It commands you to forget whatever is on your mind and to live in the moment.

Is there anything better than that?

Click Here to watch the official video to Born Again Teen.

White Christmas Blue - Loretta Lynn

from the album White Christmas Blue (2016)

Two of my favorite holiday tunes are White Christmas and Blue Christmas.

White Christmas, with Bing Crosby crooning of idyllic images and memories from Christmas' past while writing a Christmas card to someone he loves.   Blue Christmas, with Elvis Presley of the lonely side of Christmas we all encounter when that someone special is not there to share in the festivities.  Iconic songs with iconic singers.

My favorite new holiday tune of this year is White Christmas Blue by Loretta Lynn.  Here the themes of these two great songs are brought together magnificently by the 84-year old country gal.  Set to the warmth of a tight country band - complete with piano, mandolin, and fiddle - the great Loretta Lynn falls right into the pocket delivering a string of great images and rhymes as only she can.

My favorite line:  "I should be saying Ho Ho Ho, instead of Boo Hoo Hoo".  Loretta Lynn is simply the best.

I bet I'll play this song …

Darkness And Light - John Legend

from the album Darkness And Light (2016)

I was recently listening to Jon Peter Lewis' cover of Bob Dylan's Not Dark Yet.  I found the background singers's voice to be captivating.  With a little research, I discovered that it was Blake Mills.

Blake Mills has a curious way of unexpectedly popping up in my musical listening.  It figures since this 30-year old is one of the most sought after cats in Los Angeles these days.  This is based on his mastery as a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, and producer. Wow.

My favorite accomplishment by Blake Mills is his production of Alabama Shakes second album, Sound & Color.  This record has been a favorite of mine since its initial release.  I equate it to a modern version of Led Zeppelin in their prime.  The production is stellar.

So, when the new John Legend record came out last week, I read that Blake Mills was the producer.  This is the big time.  He is now working at the highest level of the recording industry.  I had…

Ngo Kuivu - Bonga

from the album Recados De Fora (2016)

It is amazing to study how the relocation of humans - through exploration, colonization, immigration, and exploitation - effects the varied regions of the world.

"African music" is not ubiquitous.  The music of Nigeria differs from South Africa, Uganda, or Ethiopia.  This is largely the result of European colonization.

Consider the music of Angola.  This country is wildly influenced by the Portuguese colonization of the early 1500's.  Angolan music sounds different tun other African music.  Interestingly, it also sounds different than Portuguese colonies in other parts of the world, like Brazil.

In the west, Angolan music somehow found its way to Cuba and influenced the Cuban sound.  With the rise of Fidel Castro, this sound was transplanted into South Florida by refugees.

Take a listen to Ngo Kuivu by the Angolan music legend Bonga.  Listen to how the guitars and horns play off of African rhythms.  Think about how this sounds differ…

'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore - David Bowie

from the album Blackstar (2016)

The opening three seconds of 'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore, David Bowie inhales and exhales through his nose over some background tape jabber.  It captivates me more than almost any song introduction I can recall.

How many breaths did Bowie have left during this recording?  In the big picture, too few.

What makes these breaths more fascinating is that he is counting out the meter of the song.  Note that the drums maintain the beat to the breaths throughout the song.

Over this enters the incredible sound of Donnie McCaslin's jazz combo, as it leads into Bowie's vocals, culminating into his trademark falsetto.  It is pure magic.

As I listen, I envision music as smoke, emanating from his nose and enveloping the room, the sound creating a lush cocoon for the listener.

I could stay here forever.

Click Here to listen to 'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore.

Since You Put Me Down - Margo Price

from the album Midwest Farmer's Daughter (2016)

I often save my country music listening sessions for driving alone on the interstate.  This allows me to crank it and sing it without fear of repercussion from the anti-country snobs.  Lately, this is almost exclusively the album Midwest Farmer's Daughter by Margo Price, far and away the best country debut I have heard this decade.

My favorite track is Since You Put Me Down, a classic country tune that strikes the at your heartstrings and makes you want to spread sawdust on the dance floor.

It is everything a country song should be.  Listen to the vocals, the country piano, the fiddle, the hot guitar licks, the petal steel, and the incredible rhythm section.

Great songwriting and great vocals.  Here they are...

Click Here to listen to Since You Put Me Down.

Love As A Weapon - Little Scream

from the album Cult Following (2016)

One of my funky friends contends that The Rolling Stones' song Emotional Rescue is the prototype for many of Prince's greatest tracks.  I am not certain that I agree with her, but how I would have loved hearing Prince cover that song.

This proposition really comes to light when I listen to Love As A Weapon, a delightfully infectious tune by Little Scream (a.k.a. Laurel Sprengelmeyer).

It is really all about tone - in particularly the tone of the rhythm guitar, coupled with the falsetto vocals - and the groove.  I really dig how the bass lays back in the track: fat and confident, not needing to be out front, while still commanding the listener to dance.

The song is also well structured and crafted.  I dig how it follows the structure of all great dance tunes (particularly the chill down) without being too obvious about it.  Good stuff.

Hope this song makes you dance...

Click Here to watch the official video to Love As A Weapon.

I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore - Lucy Dacus

from the album No Burden (2016)

As readers of this blog may remember, I have a mild obsession with Track One on an artist's debut album.  This is their declarative statement.  Their artistic manifesto.  Blitzkreig Bop by The Ramones.  Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix.  Break On Through by The Doors.  The list is long.

I also believe that women represent the future of rock and roll.  For men, most conceivable archetypes have been explored.  Very little room is left for anything but retreads.  However, that is not the case with women.  They are more nuanced, offering more possibilities than the bad girl, or the party girls that we typically find.  The future is theirs.

I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore is the Track One on Lucy Dacus' debut album, No Burden.  Here, in the wrapper of a singer-songwriter, she presents herself as a master of many domains.  Raw & Powerful.  Melodic & Orchestral.  Yearning & Intelligent.

The lyrics and driving with-note rhythm are what initially …

Know Your Rights - Lynval Golding & The Contra Group

from the EP Know Your Rights (2016)

I've been thinking a bit about Joe Strummer lately.  Thinking about his music and voice as instruments of social justice.  Thinking about how much he would dig other people covering these songs.

One song that has been on my mind is Know Your Rights, the lead track on Combat Rock.  I remember the day the album came out and racing to the record store to pick it up.  The opening guitars followed by Joe proclaiming "This is a public service announcement... with GUITARS" seemed so brilliant that day, as did other lines from the tune like:

You have the right, not to be killed
Murder is a crime
Unless it is done by a policeman
Or an aristocrat

Why has this song not earned its due in the long list of great Clash tunes.  I don't get it.

Well, apparently neither does Lynval Golding.  The great MC for The Specials has recorded an EP with the Austin, Texas' The Contra Group that features a stirring cover of this favorite tune.

The song lends i…