Music from 2017 – Arkansas Democrat Gazette 12-24-17

What’s going on

Music from 2017 taps all the emotions — and you can dance to it (well, some of it)

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photo illustration/KIRK MONTGOMERY

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

Three notable singers — Mandy McBryde (from left), Bonnie Montgomery and Amy Garland Angel — teamed up as the Wildflower Revue.

Dazz & Brie’s latest album

Democrat-Gazette file photo

Blues and rock musician Gregg Allman was one of the music business’ notable deaths this year.

The musicians of 2017 — hip-hop kings Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, brilliant songwriter Jason Isbell, country’s Margo Price, folk/Americana singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens and others — spoke from the heart and mind about, as Marvin Gaye sang decades ago, what’s going on.

That’s not to say that matters of the heart and hot dance beats didn’t matter. They always do.

For the music industry, what matters is sales and 2017 has taken a turn for the better. Revenue streams were on the rise, due mostly to the growth of streaming services. Album sales weren’t thrilling, but Taylor Swift’s Reputation moved 1.2 million its first week and held No. 1 a couple of weeks before it was released to streaming services.

But 2017 also had its losses: rocker Tom Petty, legendary country singer-songwriter Mel Tillis, rapper Lil Peep, rock pioneers Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy, blues/rocker Gregg Allman, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, jazz greats Jon Hendricks and Keely Smith and others.

Here’s a look at the music of 2017 by Arkansas Democrat-Gazettereviewers:

PHILIP MARTIN

As far as I’m concerned, the highest and best use of year-end lists is to introduce avid listeners to new music they might otherwise have overlooked. So it’s kind of a waste of time to lean heavily on bigly hyped (though in some ways worthy) products from the likes of Taylor Swift, Drake or even a band as relatively obscure as The War on Drugs. Most people who are going to read a piece like this one know about those artists and have their own opinions.

On the other hand, even though most of what I listen to these days is at least somewhat local — Isaac Alexander released an album last year that, if I get a Pazz & Jop ballot this year (and who knows what’s going on with The Village Voice now) it will certainly be high on it. Kevin Kerby’s just-released Your Loyal Desertermight be there too. I liked the Wildflower Revue record a lot; I liked Brian Nahlen’s Cicada Moon a lot. Now I’m going to stop mentioning names, because I can’t mention them all.

So what I decided to do was just list the new, nonlocal albums that I feel like (I’m not using any iTunes or Spotify metrics) I’ve listened to the most in the past calendar year. I’ve stayed away from re-releases and tried hard to be honest. So hear my year y’all — I’ve made a Spotify playlist: open.spotify.com/user/borkdog44/playlist/3bG2hrxhnNnpFEvKvDmhmm.

Shinyribs, I Got Your Medicine (Mustard Lid). Kevin Russell’s big band tour through a New Orleans-Memphis-Austin sonic gumbo (produced by Jimbo Mathus) is the party record of the year.

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross Records). A covers album that showcases the interpretative gifts of a couple of sisters who are marvelous singer-songwriters.

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (Aftermath/Interscope). OK, now I’m a believer.

Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm (Merge). Alabama-born singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield delivers her most introspective and soulful album yet. In places it blazes.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern). I was a late adopter on Isbell; it wasn’t until 2013’s Southeasternwhen I began to catch on that he was about the best songwriter we’ve got going these days. His wife, Amanda Shires’, record, My Piece of Land, is pretty good too.

Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Navigator (ATO). Bronx Americana from Alynda Lee Segarra and her bandmates.

The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch). I meant to write about Stephin Merritt’s high concept musical autobiography — the album is comprised of one song for every year of Merritt’s life — but you’d be better off listening to it than reading about it anyway.

The Weather Station, The Weather Station (Paradise of Bachelors). Another female singer-songwriter — Tamara Lindeman — masquerading as a band. I’m too predictable.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone). Never intended to be a posthumous release, Soul of a Womannevertheless stands as a fitting capstone to Jones’ remarkable career. (She died of pancreatic cancer in November 2016, shortly after completing sessions for this record.) The album’s first side is made up of ferocious live performances while the second, slower side is a blue torch burning with pure, unalloyed emotion.

Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador). Memphis-based singer songwriter delivers on the promise of her emotionally naked debut, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, with a somewhat more muscular but no less intimate indie rock that channels her confessional tendencies into something tender, beautiful and, if you squint, maybe even a little hopeful.

Also recommended: Ray Davies, Americana (Legacy); Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up (Nonesuch); David Rawlings Machine, Poor David’s Almanack (Acony); St. Vincent, MASSEDUCATION (Loma Vista); Tift Merritt, Stitch of the World (Yep Roc); John Moreland, Big Bad Luv(4AD); Margo Price, All American Made (Third Man); LCD Soundsystem, American Dream (Excelsior Equity); Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Ocean); Kevin Morby, City Music (Dead Oceans).

SEAN CLANCY

There was no shortage of quality jams from central Arkansas-based musicians this year.

Pallbearer, Heartless (Profound Lore). The Little Rock prog, doom metal foursome continued its winning streak with this well-received third album that melds heavily layered arrangements with singer Brett Campbell’s emotive, clean vocals.

Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar (Virgin). The ex-Gossip singer and Judsonia native, who now splits her time between Portland, Ore., and London, nailed a sassy mix of dancey pop on her solo debut. Lead single “Fire” was my favorite video of the year, while “We Could Run” still gives me chills. Someone needs to use that song in a movie.

The Wildflower Revue, The Wildflower Revue (This Machine, Inc.). Excellent originals (“Don’t Call It Country,” “Ain’t No Grave,”) and quirky covers (“Heart of Glass,” “Psycho Killer”) made for a strong debut from this honky tonk supergroup of Amy Garland Angel, Mandy McBryde and Bonnie Montgomery.

Dazz & Brie, Can’t Chase Girls & Your Money Too (self-released). The dynamic duo avoided the sophomore slump and cranked out a thundering collection of hip-shaking rock, soul and pop.

Isaac Alexander, Like a Sinking Stone (Max Recordings). Singer-songwriter Alexander stared down the workaday, middle-age blues and came out ahead with the kind of grown-up rock reminiscent of Randy Newman and Wilco.

Big Piph, Celebrate (self-released). The veteran Little Rock rapper tackled social and political ills with wit, fury and wicked hooks.

Knox Hamilton, The Heights (Prospect Park). Driving, transcendent, indie power pop from this super tight Little Rock outfit.

Kevin Kerby, Your Loyal Deserter (Max Recordings). An essential folk-rock collection from the wry pen of the Mulehead singer-songwriter.

Recognizer, Recognizer (self-released). Singer-guitarist Mike Mullins returned to the alt-rock groove of his earlier band, Underclaire, and added a little prog rock texture for good effect.

Mark Currey, Tarrant County (self-released). Currey’s assured writing and strong voice propelled these country ruminations on place and identity.

From outside Arkansas’ borders, I kept these albums in heavy rotation this year.

Valerie June, The Order of Time (Concord); Bash and Pop, Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum); Craig Finn, We All Want the Same Things (Partisan); John Moreland, Big Bad Luv (4AD); Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 3, (Run the Jewels, Inc.); Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory (Def Jam); Tinariwen, Elwan (Wedge); Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern); Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador); Micah Schnabel, Your New Norman Rockwell (Last Chance).

ELLIS WIDNER

Music that continues to haunt and inspire:

Valerie June, The Order of Time (Concord). Her expressive voice and rich music taps blues, country, old-timey folk and gospel; each note is sung with yearning and passion. My favorite of 2017.

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway (Nonesuch). Giddens’ performance of Richard Farina’s “Birmingham Sunday,” popularized by Joan Baez, is breathtaking. Giddens’ originals, which draw on 200 years of black history and song, are remarkable, impassioned testaments by a daughter of the South.

Fred Hersch, Open Book (Palmetto). The great jazz pianist’s latest solo work is emotional and deeply moving.

Jessi Colter, The Psalms (Legacy). Inspired by the book of Psalms in The Bible, Colter created spontaneous melodies as Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) produced this raw, quietly moving meditation.

Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone (ATO). Country’s best traditional female vocalist.

Margo Price, All American Made (Third Man). Price celebrates country traditions and challenges the status quo. Real life experiences as raw truth.

Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti-). “We don’t want to rock the boat? Who told you that?” Staples sings with force on “Who Told You That,” one of the songs on her latest collaboration with Jeff Tweedy.

Jazzmeia Horn, A Social Call (RCA). Best new jazz singer since Cassandra Wilson’s debut.

Trio Mediaeval with Arve Henriksen, Rimur (ECM). The Trio’s exquisite vocals, Henriksen’s atmospheric trumpet makes an album filled with beauty that chills.

Thomas Demenga, Bach, J.S.: The Six Cello Suites (ECM). Beautiful and gritty. You won’t forget Pierre Fournier’s versions, but don’t pass this one up either.

Also engaging: Jason Is-bell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound(Southeastern); Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman(Daptone); Kevin Kerby, Your Loyal Deserter (Max Recordings); Shinyribs, I Got Your Medicine (Mustard Lid); Bill Carter, Bill Carter(40 Below).

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