Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Best Of 2015 In Music

Make no mistake this year was perhaps the least amount of new music that I reviewed this year.  The disappearing of music stores, the major labels morphing into the Big 3, focusing on bad bro country, processed beats and mainstream alternative modern rock.  Gone are the days of major labels giving bands a two to three album window for improving their craft, you're lucky if they can put one album out that sells enough to do a second album.  Things have gotten worse to the point that when a awards show comes on, it looks more like a trainwreck in the making.  Who thought the cutting edge rocker would be Miley Cyrus. Who thought the future of country rock would be Old Dominion or FGL?  No wonder the masses quit caring and stayed with the music they grew up with.  No wonder classic rock radio still plays stuff from 40, 50 years ago.  Even grunge is 2 decades into the game.

While there still are lots of new music out there released, FM radio will not play the local artists. Corporation grabbed most of the stations out there and turned them into same shit different format. When a station does get into a up and coming band, their music is already months released.  Walk The Moon's single which was the best thing off their album turned out to be a channel changer.  After hearing it twice in one hour will make you chance the channel.  Country music is not much better, even though Chris Stapleton stole the show on the CMA's K-HACK playlist is bro country ass scratching bad and still the Luke Bryan requests keep coming in.  But this is not about the radio.

Records do keep coming out and of course Rolling Stone put together their 100 best of, which is about half of what I bought this year and when Keith Richards latest makes the top 20 something is wrong with this picture.  Main Offender would have made top 5 had that come out this year, call it lower expectations of a main rock and roller who is still around.  There's not too many of them left, B B King checked out, so did Scott Wieland, Lesley Gore, Allen Toussaint, Billy Joe Royal, Don Covay, Ben E King and a few others.  While Rolling Stone's best of 2015 is not as laughable as years before hand, most on the top ten are rap albums (Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly) and Adele number 2 with 25.  Basically Adele's album is the best non autotuned album, she does sing with the best of them and while I like the album and bought it as a FU to Bob Lefsetz' Spotify promos, it didn't make the top 10 this year.  Top 20 maybe, but  that shows you how thin the cupboard was this year with new music.

The biggest problem was trying to locate copies of albums since the big box stores took out the Mom and Pops stores in town and Half Priced Books was spotty in getting them in.  Samantha Fish suffers from this, her new album nobody had. I'm sure it rocked but since nobody had it, it didn't make the cut. Even Best Buy was lackadaisical, I basically had to go to Moondog Music or Ragged Records to locate Graham Parker's latest or James McMurty's Complicated Game (on vinyl no less).  Rock reissues were more spotty, as scrapings from the bottom of the barrel came from the Led Zeppelin remasters part 3, only two were worth getting: the first Led Zeppelin album with a bonus live disc and Coda which finally tacks on Hey Hey What Can I Do as a legit track, something that Swan Song should have done in the first place back in 1982.  The only reissue label that did anything was Real Gone and they ended up putting out the The Complete ABC/Dunhill singles by Steppenwolf and the Complete ATCO singles by King Curtis.

That said, The Best of 2015 is more of the better albums and independent releases that are noted rather than the Craptastic Rap of Drake or Kendrick Lemar or the overrated Star Wars by Wilco (to which a few Wilco die hards call it the worst their career).  Nothing against rap but it's not rock and roll to me and never will be.  Most of the offerings are from veterans and from local bands but that's the wave of my future.  I'm too old to give a shit about the new pop star of the day, or Bro Job Country that never been a fave, but rather trusting bands that put out quality music that doesn't get played on FM radio and that's a shame.  And Timesquare Media's loss....and Spotify for that matter. For music on demand, CDs have been my way of going for many years and that will not change.  Like previous best ofs, some will endure, some will fade out but all do have one thing in common:  that these made the most impact on me in a year, to which the best way to hear these are on net radio, or in your stereo.

The Best.

Blackberry Smoke-Holding All The Roses (Rounder)

The best of the year was the first record reviewed.  And by all means Holding All The Roses is solid rock and roll, the way that I remembered it back then and still enjoy now.  And I do wish more bands would follow suit.  I never get tired of hearing the same chords re-imagined with new set of words to go to.  This is the anti Bro Country, the big middle finger to FGL and Bobby or Billy Bones or whatever the hell his name is. And lead track Let Me Help You Find The Door really nails about the state of radio and music and same damn song.  Best song still remains Wish In One Hand (shit in the other) which would be standard fare for your local bar band.  Not to surprised that Rolling Stone didn't include this in their precious top 50 albums but this is number 1 in my book.  I believe I'm more trustworthy than they.

Tommy Bruner-Miles To Go (Self Released)

A close second to best of the year, Tommy's record is downright more varied than the straight ahead Boogie rock of Blackberry Smoke but he's been around for so long he can do just about anything and make it sound easy.  He mixes up the swampy Lena River with the Tom Petty sound of  It Don't Work Like That and Mark Knopfler influenced Seven Sisters and that's the first three songs of this record.  There's a bit of controlled chaos on Middle Of Nowhere with squealing feedback, and plenty of beautiful love songs such as The Rest Is History, and Square One, a song that I still think Stephen Bishop would be at home singing.  A great album is like a great book, every song is a chapter upon itself and like a good book it will keep you listening to the final song.  Miles To Go is such a album that will keep you listening, and then listen to it all over again.

Killing Joke-Pylon (Spinefarm)

Ever since coming out of mothballs in 1994, Jaz Coleman and company kept coming up with good to great albums, the 2003 S/T and Hosannas From The Basement From Hell their highwater mark and when Paul Ferguson returned, the original band was back together. MMXII revealed somewhat stagnant and somewhat not up to standards but they corrected that and come back with their most angry album since Hosannas with Pylon.  I rather enjoy the same chords played over and over till they get into a frenzy and things blow up big time (New Jerusalem, Delete, I Am The Virus), the latter sounding like a shorter rewrite of The Light Bringer from Hosannas.  The Gloom and Doom continue on to a bonus disc and reaching a peak with Panopticon.  If anybody is good at playing gloom and doom and rocking it, Killing Joke has no other competitors.

Delta Moon-Low Down (Jumping Jack)

While No Depression touts a different best of 2015, they seem to overlook Delta Moon, which they did once again.  Low Down continues Tom Gray and Mark Johnson's journey into the delta blues via Creedence, with  Franher Joseph being the secret weapon, the deep bass vocals and the band adding a Little Feat/New Orleans groove in the process and even covering Dylan's Down In The Flood and Tom Waits' Lowdown too.  Still Tom Gray remains a great songwriter about the seedy side of things and love gone wrong.  Wrong Side Of Town and Open All Night my personal favorites.   Strange that in our little blues radio world, Delta Moon hardly gets played (why is that KUNI or KCCK?) the one two punch of Johnson and Gray on steel slide guitars are the stuff of legends.  And Low Down continues a winning streak of great albums from Delta Moon.

Wooden Nickel Lottery-On My Way (Violet Isle)

This years' 2015 has been focused on the local artists front.  Most local music is a hell of lot more honest than what you hear on the radio and if you're a fan of the band, you're a fan of their music and do anything to get a copy, the way music used to work.  The music of Wooden Nickel Lottery is something that Thomas Ruf of Ruf Records would take a chance on and put out, and if he lived here in Iowa, this surely would get a national release.  With Rich Toomsen doing the writing and playing blues guitar in the way of Johnny Lang, Joe Bonamassa, Jess Tommsen is one of the more underrated bass players around and drummer Delayne Stallman keeping things nice and tight.  They are blessed with Rick Gallo's soulful vocals and these songs are the result of playing live and fine turning them as they go. Child Of Sorrow is a song that Bonamassa would like to write.  In some ways Jimmie Bowskill is what I more reminded of, though Fall Down Blues owes to Ricky Medlocke and Blackfoot, Wait For Me their most rocking.  On My Way, is an album that showcases their talent on record, but it's best to see them play live and hear how these songs come to life on stage.  Their future is bright.

Graham Parker And The Rumor-Mystery Glue (Cadet Concept)

Believe it or not, the old crank got better with his back up band the second time around. In fact, Graham made his best album since Squeezing Out Sparks. While Three Chords Good was a nice reunion with The Rumour, it seemed a tad bit safe, Mystery Glue, Parker does break out the dry wit on Slow News Day and Swing State.   Plus he has his old band backing him up.  Works for me.

Blur-The Magic Whip (Parlophone)

It's a messy comeback album but they have never sounded this good since the S/T album which was a mess upon itself too. In some ways, this does owe a lot to sound of say Song 2 via I Broadcast and Thought I Was  A Spaceman owes Bowie, there's a few songs that do harken back to the days of Parklife and The Great Escape an album that Damon Albarn disowns. But they haven't sounded this convincing since Park Life. At least to me that is.

The Bottle Rockets-South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot)

Since Lean Forward, I kinda lost track or interest in them, passing on their acoustic album. But make no mistake Brian Henneman remains one of the best storytelling singer songwriters out there and South Broadway Athletic Club is their best since 24 Hours A Day, their last for Atlantic.  It helps having Eric Roscoe Ambel back into the producer's chair and Henneman's songs about every day life and working to pay the bills still rings true and even the song about Dogs shows he could do a children's album and get away with it.  This is the Bottle Rockets as I know and love.

Chris Stapleton-Traveler (Mercury)

He's really no stranger to country music, he even makes Luke Bryan sound good, and helped out other country stars such as Miranda Lambert and many others.  A couple years ago he put out a fine single called What Are You Listening To and it's a shame that nothing came out from that song, till Chris finally finished this album up and issued it in May, which No Depression picked up and more of the traditional country fans.  He was a well kept secret till the CMA's and Justin Timberlake came calling and perhaps I'm being very generous in giving this in my top ten.  But Stapleton has made a great collection of songs done stripped down, very anti bro country, and plenty of songs about whiskey, love, failed love and so forth.  Somewhat outlaw country that Waylon and Willie used to make.

Lana Del Rey-Hollywood (Polydor/Interscope)

Strange how the last album made the worst of 2013, I just did not get into Ultra Violence.  Hollywood is a bit more different although Del Rey is the new generation's Nico or Marianne Faithful.  With Dan Auerbach out and on to other things (The Lacs) Del Rey goes with Rick Nowell and Kieron Menziel and their dreamy trance pop works much better.  We both know it's not fashionable to love me might be one of the best led off lyrics in many years and unlike Ultra-violence, Hollywood gets better with repeated listenings, Del Rey channeling her inner Billie Holliday and Nina Simone, namechecks the former and on the latter cover of  Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood as if she was Simone herself.  After her fine but uneven debut Born To Die and the even worse Ultra-violence, Del Rey finds her true spirit and music on Hollywood.  The shock of the year.

Reissue Of The Year: Fare Thee Well-Celebrating 50 Years Of The Grateful Dead (Rhino)

20 years after Jerry Garcia's passing, The Dead reunited for a summer series of shows out on Soldier Field and while you can get all three nights of the complete show, I can settle for a nice 2 CD overview of their best songs. Of Course, some songs are on the complete box set, (no Casey Jones) and Truckin is probably the most ragged ever recorded, even Bob Wier messes up on the words.  Still, I find myself going through the whole 16 minutes of Drums and this version of China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider is classic worthy.

The rest of the best.

James McMurtry-Complicated Game (Complicated Game Records)
John Mayall-Find A Way To Care (Forty Below)
Buddy Guy-Born To Play Guitar (RCA/Silvertone)
Queensryche-Condition Human (Century Media)
Mark Knopfler-Tracker (Verve)
Don Henley-Cass Country (Capitol)
Los Lobos-Gates Of Gold (429)
Uncle Acid-The Night Creeper (Rise Above)
Melody Gardot-Currency Of Man (Verve)
Barrence Whitfield And The Savages-Under The Savage Sky (Bloodshot)

Honorable Mention
The Darkness-Last Of Our Kind (Canary Dwarf)
The Townedgers-Fitting Finales (Radio Maierburg)
Alison Moorer-Down To Believing (E One)
Collective Soul-See What You Started By Continuing (Vanguard)

Adele-25 (XL Columbia)

Late To The List:

My Son The Bum-Follow Me Like Me (Self Released)

The internet provides diamonds in the rough or perhaps out there in the dark corners garage or bedroom classics in the making.  From the mind of Brian Knoll, who submitted a song on the Townedger Radio Music page a video of a song Flight Deck For Christmas which has to be my favorite new Christmas song of the year.  Elements of power pop intertwined with hard rock.  The vocals in a line between Dwight Twilley and Marilyn Manson which may not been the the intent. Regardless, the 9 song album is available as a free download, which makes this a solid newcomer to the best of 2015.  I'm sure there's plenty other guys and bands out there toiling away to make their grand statement.  The videos that Knoll have made have been a labor of love and can be found on You Tube.  The audio Cd is just as good.
Grade A-

Cam-Untamed (Arista/RCA)

While Bro Country continues to be the crap of radio, the best country albums have come from women and continue to be suppressed, unless Outlaw Radio is playing them.  Hard to fathom that Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood have now been the mainstay women country singers for the past decade, while the latter got into country via the crafty folks of American Idol, it turns out her staying power exceeded limits although Underwood has gotten more listenable,  Miranda had her beaten with her albums over the years.  But there are new girls on the horizon ready to step in into the light, enter Camaron Ochs who has written songs for Maggie Rose and even Miley Cyrus but turned down a publishing deal to strike out on her own.  Her surprise hit of the summer was Burning House which was featured on a EP Welcome To Cam Country to which now has 7 new songs added on and retitled Untamed.   This album has nothing but Ochs' own compositions, mostly written with Tyler Johnson and producer Jeff Bhasker (fun, Bruno Mars) with  a ton of A & R folks to boot.  That said, Cam has put together a nice debut that if it was 1975 would have been country rock than plain country but music lines are blurred in this day and age.  If anything Ochs does have a nice gift of feisty country rockers, that is part Linda Ronstadt, part Miranda Lambert and part Patsy Cline although she has mentioned that Bonnie Raitt figures into the equation.  It's country by association but it's also rock via Mumford and Sons (Runaway Train, with the thump thumping drums). I can see Bonnie Raitt influence on Hungover On Heartache, and there's a bit of sassy in Country Ain't Never Been Pretty in the style of Miranda Lambert although I'm sure that's not who Cam is singing about.  What brings this record together is that Cam has a nice natural vocal that she does not oversing. She does real country in Half Broke Heart, then goes pop on Want It All.   She certainly is deserving of the kudos of her hit Burning House as well as her failed first single My Mistake which stalled at number 52 earlier in the year.  But for a debut album, the last time any country woman grabbed my attention this way was Lambert's Kerosene album.  If Sony Nashville even gives her some attention like they did with Miranda, Cam might be around for a long time.  A promising debut.
Grade A-

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