Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Top Ten Albums - 2016

I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load
              Robert Frost

For the first time, I have narrowed my pick to ten albums. Not because it was easier this year, but because I rose to and met the challenge.

1.      Gregory Porter - Take Me to the Alley
Number 1 could have been Bowie, but his is next, and I choose Porter because, quite simply, I have played this album the most times since its release. Why? Because I have enjoyed listening to it, again and again, more than any others this year. And I think it is his best. The vocal is, as always, smooth to soaring in its equal excellence, and the songs are superb, growing over time and listening.

2.      David Bowie – Blackstar
The artistry of this is so memorable, obviously the knowing of his impending death and addressing this in the lyrics and the haunting music. You cannot separate the reality of its context and that music. Would the music stand on its own without that connection? It is Bowie – of course.

3.      Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Walker does remind me of a halcyon past in the echo of John Martyn and Bert Jansch [not least seeing him play live in Bristol with Danny Thompson] but it is definitely not just nostalgia: he is a mesmerising performer live, and this album features wonderful songwriting and playing.

4.      GONG - Rejoice! I'm Dead!
I came to this late in the year and loved it instantly. Consummate prog rock, jazz and folk.

5.      Kandace Springs - Soul Eyes
Seeing Springs play live in support of Gregory Porter was a revelation: such a talented performer, both playing piano and singing, but it is the voice that is stunning, and the songs on this album allow her to display this in its sweet, soulful indelibility.

6.      Cee Cee James - Stripped Down & Surrendered
James is no token ‘lesser known’ artist in this list, though lesser known she surely is: more than a jobbing musician by far, but Cee Cee James is an artist of pure flair and conviction, and these stripped-back songs reveal a vocal that is sublime – and sassy – in its tone and emotion.

7.      Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre
There has to be something heavy in a top ten, and this is the bees knees of current [not retro-] rock, more in the psychedelic/folk lineage, and fronted by the outrageously talented Rosalie Cunningham.

8.      Branford Marsalis Quartet - Upward Spiral
I could quite easily have put Elling’s recent Christmas album in the list – his jazz singing an absolute favourite – but this album with Marsalis broadens that appeal with such a fine set of ranging songs, Marsalis’ saxophone the perfect accompaniment to Elling’s resonant vocal instrument.

9.      Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa – Eros
A beautiful, soothing album. I feel my brief review sums it up well.

10.  Drive-By Truckers - American Band
I do not know this album as well as the other nine in this list, but I know it is intelligent rock, in the songwriting and the playing, but most significantly in the astuteness of the lyrics that reflect on the world we live in. It is a protest album, pointedly against guns and shootings in America. Neil Young’s Peace Trail is another in this year’s continuing use of song/music to present arguments, but I choose this for its punkrock anger. The following, What it Means, exemplifies the meaningful, caustic storytelling,

He was running down the street
When they shot him in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon
Is he ain't coming back
There won't be any trial
So the air it won't be cleared
There's just two sides calling names
Out of anger out of fear
If you say it wasn't racial
When they shot him in his tracks
Well I guess that means that you ain't black
It means that you ain't black
I mean Barack Obama won
And you can choose where to eat
But you don't see too many white kids
Lying bleeding on the street

In some town in Missouri
But it could be anywhere
It could be right here on Ruth Street
In fact it's happened here
And it happened where you're sitting
Wherever that might be
And it happened last weekend
And it will happen again next week
And when they turned him over
They were surprised there was no gun
I mean he must have done something
Or else why would he have run
And they'll spin it for the anchors
On the television screen
So we can shrug and let it happen
Without asking what it means

What it means?
What it means?

Then I guess there was protesting
And some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that
They ain't called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically
Correct when we call names
But what's the point of post-racial
When old prejudice remains?
And that guy who killed that kid
Down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend
And wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried
And laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

What it means?
What it means?

Astrophysics at our fingertips
And we're standing at the summit
And some man with a joystick
Lands a rocket on a comet
We're living in an age
Where limitations are forgotten
The outer edges move and dazzle us
But the core is something rotten
And we're standing on the precipice
Of prejudice and fear
We trust science just as long
As it tells us what we want to hear
We want our truths all fair and balanced
As long as our notions lie within it
There's no sunlight in our ass'
And our heads are stuck up in it
And our heroes may be rapists
Who watch us while we dream
But don't look to me for answers
Cuz I don't know what it means

What it means?
What it means?


  1. Was thinking of getting the Gregory Porter-now it's a definite purchase. Good to see Bowie at no.2. Am very excited to be going to see Lazarus in London in January before it finishes its short run.

  2. I just found your blog and am enjoying it.
    We share some likes.
    I will give one to you I think you would like
    The Black Marbles Best Belive it EP stream it or they have tracks in you tube.This is a new lineup and is some powerhouse 70's hard blues rock with soul and passion.
    It was my favorite this year

    1. Glad you have found the site and enjoy. I'm guessing we share more in the rock vein. Well, The Black Marbles seem a very fine course of blood in that! Just been checking out the 'bunker' sessions and like a lot [though don't know if that is current line-up]. Will pursue more today with great pleasure.

  3. Yes the bunker sessions is a new lineup.
    They ae working on a full length
    My main tastes fall in the blues rock genre.Classic rock
    and space rock/psychedelic
    grew up on a lot of jazz rock fusion as well

  4. Also saw an old post for JD Simo
    Have you heard his 2016 release Let Love Show The Way?
    Some crazy scorching guitar work.

    1. Missed this one - so much to listen to. Good 'old-school' musical tastes!