Welcome to the only blog post I have done this year!
Here is my Spotify playlist of music from 2017, 202 songs and 13 odd hours (at time of writing, I am still tinkering) and a more eclectic mix of music than you’ll find below which is confined to the “roots/Americana” area. I listen to a fair bit of jazz, “world”, try to keep up with hip hop and so on in my civilian life but find I don’t have much to say about it beyond “Hey I like that!”
Try to spend as much actual money on music and musicians as you can, would be my advice.
Best Music Themed Podcasts
Best Bob Dylan Album – The Bootleg Series 13 Trouble No More
I’ve been a long time defender of Dylan’s “gospel period”, not so much the studio albums but absolutely the live shows from that time. This set also makes the wise choice of omitting his between song sermons which have really not aged well and are safe to never hear. The most outstanding track on the Deluxe audio set is the rehearsal version of “Caribbean Wind” and from the accompanying DVD is the below, “Abraham, Martin and John” (written by Dick Holler, hit for Dion) with Clydie King. WATCH THIS if you watch no other video on this page. WOW! I could watch it on repeat all day.
Second Best Bob Dylan Album – Triplicate
Yes, three (more) discs of Sinatra covers but there are some real gems within. I was listening to a recent bootleg from Buffalo New York in November and his rendition of “Why Try to Change Me Now” particularly stood out for the care he’s taking in the vocals. Very powerful. In lieu of a Triplicate track, let’s take a minute to pay tribute to the creative team that decided to use a Bob Christmas song in a Target ad and shepherded it all the way to your screens ….
Favourite Albums by Australian Women
Gretta Ziller and Fanny Lumsden both put out great records this year, impactful music from the heart and the heartland.
Best Deluxe Edition Re-Issue of 2016 Album I Wanted Another Excuse to Talk About
I had Becky Warren’s War Surplus in my 2016 Favourites list from last year:
War Surplus is a concept album of sorts about a veteran with PTSD and his wife, based loosely on Warren’s own experience with her ex-husband but strongly fictionalised. I came to this one late in the year (via Bitter Southerner‘s best of list) and it knocked me flat. What out of context sounds like a perfect little country drinking song takes on a new meaning in the context of the trauma the booze and bar room punch ups is masking. You’re suddenly aware of the highly unreliable narrator who says hey, it’s just a whiskey after a long day’s work … This is not a capital P Political album, a passing reference to lying politicians in as close as it gets to protest music in the classic sense. But it is something perhaps harder to do – cause you to reflect upon the serious topic of the human cost of war, but smuggled in in top shelf show-don’t-tell songwriting and memorable melodies.
It was a late entry though having only discovered it in December. Since then I have kept returning to it often and, you guys, I don’t think people realise just how EXCELLENT this album is. She released a “deluxe edition” with a couple extra songs on it this year though which is the thin sliver of justification I need to put it in front of you again.
Top 50 or so Favourite Albums
Colter Wall – Self-Titled
When I heard the first song on this record “Thirteen Silver Dollars” it put me in mind of those old country songs in a genre I’d call “philosophical first person narratives of ‘bums.'” Something like Haggard’s “I Take A Lot of Pride in What I Am.” This may be total confirmation bias but it feels to me like these sorts of songs were a thing at one point but I don’t hear many of them these days. “Thirteen Silver Dollars” has a more light hearted tone but that’s where it made my mind go, which is a pretty good start to a debut album. Overall, this is certainly the 2017 album I listened to the most often – 11 fine-to-great songs with light-touch (but not none) production and the additional pleasure of having discovered someone new.
Lost Bayou Ramblers – Kalenda and Feufollet – Baby’s on Fire
A bonne année for fans of psychy progressive Cajun music with these two excellent records, of which I would put Lost Bayou Ramblers in my my top 5.
Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
After I listened to this a bunch, I had an urge to listen to Odetta a bunch which is the supreme complement. I think we’re lucky to be living as Rhiannon Giddens continues to make music.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
“Hope the High Road” is the song I pounded on repeat for a long time earlier this year, and “White Man’s World” is the one the articles about artists responding to current events all mention but it seems “If We Were Vampires” is the culture’s choice for the break out song, and definitely the one you’ll be hearing on wedding/funeral playlists for a while to come.
Willie Watson – Folk Singer Vol II
Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
Zephaniah Ohora – This Highway
The Morrisons – Self-Titled
Billy Strings – Turmoil and Tinfoil
Growing up, Strings’ allegiances alternated between bluegrass and metal, but by the time he arrived in Nashville last year, he’d realized that he could have it both ways. His first solo album, produced by Glenn Brown of like-minded band Greensky Bluegrass, blends blistering picking with trippy psychedelic-rock flourishes.
Jason Eady – Self-Titled and John Baumann – Proving Grounds
I put these two together because the albums are twinned in my mind as both having a distinctively Texas kind of mainstream shine but still with that state’s rather unfair allocation of lyrical poetry.
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real – Self-Titled
This video is not really representative of the sound of the album (the Willie and the Boys album is a nice listen, as was Willie’s own God’s Problem Child from this year) but it sure is pretty anyway.
Lonely Boys – The Hunter
Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives – Way Out West
Man, I want to see this band live – what’s the hold up getting them to Australia?
Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls – Four Lost Souls
Chicago’s most important Welshman …
Benjamin Booker – Witness
Turnpike Troubadours – A Long Way From Your Heart
Nicholas Connors – True Love EP
Sam Outlaw – Tenderheart
Margo Price – All American Girl
Dori Freeman – Letters Never Sent
Chris Gantry – At the House of Cash
This is not really part of the list since I’ve only heard bits of pieces but it just got reissued and I read this interesting article on Bandcamp about it.
Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator
Rachel Baiman – Shame
Rachel Baiman is at the PBC in Sydney in the first week of January, 2018’s first must see gig.
The Turner Brown Band – Sneak Attack
OK, now these folk were among the best live act I saw this year. I emphasise the live because the albums (a full length and an EP) are great, it is in concert that the supernatural energy of Dom Turner’s blues guitar and Nikki Brown’s indescribable sacred steel really hits you hard. (Australian, in part)
Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Got Soul
More sacred steel gone secular …
Valerie June – The Order of Time
John Moreland -Big Bad Luv
Zachary Richard – Gombo
Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream
The Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore
Songhoy Blues – Resistance
Otis Taylor – Fantasising About Being Black
High Performance – Cajun Cool
Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up on Love
Langhorne Slim – Lost at Last Vol 1
Lee Anne Womack – The Lonely, The Lonesome and the Gone
Ray Wylie Hubbard – Tell the Devil I’m Getting There As Fast as I Can
This video has nowt to do with the record but it just makes me laugh so much to see an arena of country radio fans freak out for Ray Wylie Hubbard. Goddamn.
Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul – Soulfire
Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
If you’re into the retro-y soul/r&b thing, Curtis Harding is your discovery of the year.
Asaf Avidan – The Study on Falling
Whitney Rose – Rule 62
Randy Newman – Dark Matter
This is not my fave song from the new album but it IS the one that Randy Newman performed for me (and a few others) in his green room after a show in Los Angeles in 2015. Here is a photo of that:
Yes, I left the Randy Newman green room personal performance story for right at the end, I’m just that cool.
Josh Ritter – Gathering
The War and Treaty – Down to the River
Paddy McHugh – City Bound Trains
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Sidelong
Offa Rex- The Queen of Hearts
Moot Davis- Hierarchy of Crows
Hard Working Americans – We’re All in This Together