I think there were less blockbusters and outright bowl-you-over releases in 2016, so in lieu of longer album reviews, more brief synopses of albums and highlighting some great songs we shared during the year....in no particular order.
Andy Shauf - “The Party”
Anyone listening to Nightsounds this year knows I played the living daylights out of Andy Shauf's “The Party”. Oddball, semi-hallucinatory, percolating oddball pop. Shauf took up and is possessed by the clarinet. There's a David Lynchian quality – pastoral calm with a dash of menace lurking beneath the surface. “The Magician” stutters forward, unsteady with the refrain “Just a shaking hand, without a concrete plan.” “Early to the Party” is a journal of exactly that awkward circumstance. Did I mention mournful, layered clarinets?
Sarah Jarosz - “Undercurrent”
Sometimes stark, an always riveting collection of modern dark Gothic folk songs is harrowing and rich. This is a more guitar-centered album, though her lonesome baritone mandolin still holds court. Breakout tales such as “House of Mercy” or “Still Life” lay bare her soul in what are irretrievable relationships This is often relentless loneliness and melancholy, but elegiac and lovely with stellar instrumental backing and her increasingly mature voice.
Sturgill Simpson - “A Sailor's Guide to Earth”
Simpson continues to achieve a totally unique sound from folk-psychedelia to rootsy balladry. He still unearths country music tropes and expands the palette to create individual short stories from sometimes confounding to the often alluring. Echoing, bludgeoning, twangy fun. The highlights are “The Breaker's Roar”, “Call to Arms” and “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”.
The Deep Hollow - “The Deep Hollow”
Much credit to the Springfield trio, who have crafted a reserved folk palette, rich in three-part harmonies as satisfying and sophisticated as national touring acts. The three harmonize as if they are siblings – bright, crisp balanced – sometimes aching country-folk splendor. The Hollow's songs are not earth shaking and are a sometimes a bit withdrawn and static, but they chronicle life's heartbreaks and incremental exultations. Great beginning for these three stalwarts of the Springfield music scene. Live they are even better.
Michael Kiwanuka - “Love & Hate”
The acoustic blues-folk singer has always had a warm and affecting voice, but with this album he moves into contemporary territory of interpreting a black man's status in the modern world. He has been compared to Curtis Mayfield and folk-soulers like Terry Callier, but Love & Hate has a raw edge and hip-hop urgency that makes it relevant and danceable all at once. His “Black Man in a White World” couldn't be more timely and it is a hand-clapped syncopated treat, as is the potent and bullish “One More Night” Only album number two from promising retro and neo-soul folk man from London.
Dawes - “We're All Gonna Die”
Like last year, I will be the defender of Dawes The quartet are sturdy song-smiths with fluid harmonies and toe-tapping compositions. They right catchy tunes, okay? With each new release, Dawes sounds more assured and professional throughout. Energetic, riffy, authentic.......a bit more adventurous on this outing..... Dawes has a winning formula.
Brian Fallon - “Painkillers”
Maybe it's because I never followed The Gaslight Anthem, but the songwriting savvy and grounded singer-songwriter emphasis of this solo release by Fallon caught me by surprise. This is working class-stiff, aching and stripped down, yet still clean and sharp Americana/Country Folk. Song after song, though edging into Springsteen slavishness occasionally, are outstanding. “Steve McQueen”, “Open All Night”, and the stellar “Among Other Foolish Things” portends a bright future for Fallon as a solo act.
Also Noted: Individual Songs and Artists of 2016 that got our hearts pumping.........
Three Terrific Summer Songs - From May thru September, the airwaves or streamwaves or whatever you call them, were chock-a-block packed with outstanding tunes to chill to: to enhance the feel of the sun caressing your face or to blast from open car windows...
Miguel with Kacey Musgraves - “Waves” - I defy you to not luxuriate in the languid and sexy soundscape created by Grammy-winning R&B bon vivant Miguel. Who'd have thought teaming with country maverick, but sophisticated pop singer Musgraves would yield a bouncy, seductive and sensual melody as this nugget. Insistent with a cool curvaceous vibe. Put it on ANYTIME and vanquish your seasonal affective disorder.
Parov Stelar with Maya Bensalem- “Summertime” - One Marcus Fureder, better known as Parov Stelar, enlisted singer Maya Bensalem to coo the Gershwin gem over the most hypnotic percolating and imperative slow-burn of this summer – replete with a languorous flugelhorn solo – technically a 2015 release on “The Demon Diaries”, but only discovered by these ears this summer. As chill and as tranquil as a tangerine-hued sunset.
The Lagoons - “California” - Billed as 'indie” (I hate that term) jazz-pop electronic duo, the Selan Brothers of Austin, Texas landed the biggest dollop of effervescent, sun-soaked pop in this single. An eternal replay at this house, it is a top-down, breezy anthem to running the 101 on the California coast – worry free and jubilant as a summer throwaway should be. Anxiously awaiting their EP in 2017.
Other Good Albums – worth your attention and listening:
Paul Simon - “Stranger to Stranger” (Standout Track 'Wristband'): Cass McCombs - “Mangy Love” (standout 'Opposite House'): Bell X1 - “Arms” (Standout Track 'The Upswing'): Benji Hughes - “Songs in the Key of Animals” (Standout Track 'Fall Me In Love'): Lake Street Dive - “Side Pony” (Standout Track - 'Mistakes'): John Prine - “For Better or Worse”: Poom - “2016” (Standout Track 'Sous L'Orage'); William Bell - “This is Where I Live”; Ben Bedford - “The Pilot and the Flying Machine”: Look Park - “Look Park” (The remains of Fountains of Waynes– needing a little more time in the oven, but promising): Case, Lang and Veirs - “Case, Lang and Veirs” (Standout Track – 'Honey & Smoke'): Band of Horses - “Why Are You Okay?” (Standout 'Whatever, Wherever'): Eric Bibb & North Country Far - “The Happiest Man in the World” (Great take on the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me'): Amanda Shires - “My Piece of Land” (proving she is more than just Mrs. Jason Isbell): Pete Yorn - “Arranging Time”: Dylan LeBlanc - “Cautionary Tale”: Dori Freeman - “Dori Freeman”: Tiny Ruins - “Hurtling Through” (Standout 'Carriages'): Hotel Lights - “Get Your Hand in My Hand”
And just a few more – The Jazz Realm:
Just because the Nightsounds does not PLAY jazz, we love it and these highlighted our MP3 players and turntables alike:
Brad Allen Williams - “Lamar” - Superior warm 'in-the-room' recording and outstanding interpretations of Jimmy Webb's 'Galveston' and jazz standard 'Betcha By Golly Wow' - technically a late 2015 release, but the guitarist was discovered and enjoyed throughout 2016.
Julian Lage - “Arclight” - Worth it alone for the original 'Nocturne'. Keening guitar tone between Pat Martino and Pat Metheny – progressive and timeless all at once.
Warren Wolf - “Convergence” - Like Lage and Williams – genuflecting to but not mired in the past and suspending rules and opening up to the future. Wolf pays homage to the late Bobby Hutcherson with Hutch's beautiful 'Montara” and percolates with the contemporary R&B infused original 'Soul Sister'. The future of vibraphone is in good hands.