Sunday, December 24, 2017

Rock Albums Post XIX: Best Albums of 2017

Rock Albums Post XIX: Best Albums of 2017

Here I am again with my list of the fifteen best albums of 2017.

This is my seventh annual list. I truly enjoy doing these as I am a huge music fan and love keeping up with the latest and greatest in music. This year there are ten new artists that have never been on my Top 15 chart. 

2017 was the year in which several musicians expressed their disdain for donald trump with their songs and albums. Four albums in this list contain the anti-trump sentiment. 

As usual the music genres vary from alternative rock, experimental rock, hard rock, country music, pop, jazz, blues, roots rock, classic rock and a first this year classical.

For those of you interested in seeing the previous Top 15 charts the following is a list of links to see each one:




15. "Harry Styles" by Harry Styles

Release Date: May 12, 2017
Label: Erskine, Columbia
Producer: Jeff Bhaskar, Alex Salibian, Tyler Johnson, Kid Harpoon
Genres: Pop, Adult Contemporary, Adult Alternative, Soft-Rock, Brit-Pop

Chart Positions: #1 (US, UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain), #2 (Austria, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal), #3 (Finland, Sweden, Switzerland), #4 (Croatia, Denmark,Greece) #5 (Germany), #6 (Hungary), #16 (Japan) #33 (South Korea)
Certifications: Platinum (Australia, Mexico), Gold (US, UK, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Poland)

Singles and Chart Positions:
"Sign of the Times" #1 (Australia, Croatia, Finland, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Scotland, UK), #2 (Austria, Iceland) #3 (France), #4 (Belgium, Brazil, Spain, US), #5 (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland), #6 (Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal), #8 (Lebanon), #9 (Italy), #10 (Argentina), #13 (Paraguay), #14 (Malaysia), #15 (Sweden), #16 (Netherlands), #20 (Denmark, Germany, Norway), #52 (Philippines), #6 (Canada Adult Contemporary), #21 (US Adult Contemporary), #25 (US Adult Alternative)
"Two Ghosts" #5 (Belgium), #9 (Mexico), #58 (UK), #66 (Ireland), #91 (Canada), #118 (US)
"Kiwi" #5 (Belgium), #29 (Mexico), #66 (UK), #72 (Ireland), #97 (Australia)
"Sweet Creature" (Promotional Single Only) #21 (Spain), #37 (Ireland), #39 (Australia, New Zealand), #48 (UK), #52 (France), #69 (Canada), #78 (Netherlands), #85 (Italy), #93 (US), #95 (Sweden)
Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - Solid work, no fluff or filler

This album caught me off guard initially I never considered buying this one. But then I came across the music video for One Direction's cover of Blondie's "One Way Or Another" and I really enjoyed that. When that song ended next up was "Sign of the Times" from Harry's recently released solo album. I actually liked the song and put it in my mind that I will have to check out the rest of the album. I forgot about the album and finally about 3 weeks later I ran across the video for "Meet Me In The Hallway" with this song I was sold - the deal was sealed and I went out the very next day and bought the album.

“Harry Styles” is a somber and mature work with well-developed musical arrangements and great guitar all over it. The album is all meat and no fluff. Some of the guitar work reminds me of David Gilmour. the overall style is smooth and relaxing with a slight edge.

The album’s hit single (and I do mean this song was a huge huge hit single), “Sign of the Times” displays some great keyboard and a fantastically melancholy lead vocal by Harry.

Every great album closes as strong as it opens and this album is no exception. “From The Dining Table” succeeds on all accounts… it gave me that sense of WOW! And it was certainly a pivotal and vital end to an album that really felt very good to me. This introspective song is not only deep in its lyrics and vocals but also in the nuances of the music. Harry’s effective and emotive double tracked lead vocal embodies a desire captured with in these ten songs that can only be explained by listening to the actual music and lyrics presented with in. Alex Salibian’s acoustic guitar further heightens the emotion and personal feel of the “dining table” experience brought about by the overall encounter of this song. After listening to the song I was left satisfied. I felt I had experienced an album that was not only cohesive but well engineered in every aspect of the music and vocals. I was contented with the complete experience of “Harry Styles” the album.

"Meet Me In The Hallway


#14 "Sad Clowns & Hillbillies" by John Mellencamp

Release Date: April 28, 2017

Label: Republic
Producer: John Mellencamp
Genres: Rock, Roots Rock, Heartland Rock, Country-Rock
Chart Positions: #11 (US), #28 (Switzerland), #35 (Scotland), #52 (Germany), #69 (Austria), #78 (UK), #102 (Belgium), #222 (France), #1 (US Folk/Americana), #3 (US Rock), #15 (UK Americana)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions:

"Easy Target" (No Chart Data)
"Grandview" (No Chart Data)

Best Cuts: “Mobile Blue,” “Battle Of Angels” “”All Night Talk Radio,” “My Soul's Got Wings,” "Easy Target"

John Mellencamp has never gone away. He still releases a new album every few years. Since the year 2000 he’s released seven studio albums all of them (except one) have made it into the US Top 20. "Sad Clowns & Hillbillies" is no exception having made it to #11.

Mellencamp’s voice is pretty gruff these days, despite the gruffness the inviting quality in his voice, we first way back in late 1976 with his debut “Chestnut Street Incident” still exists. These days Mellencamp sports a Tom Waites meets Bob Dylan character about his voice yet still always unmistakably John Mellencamp.

“Sad Clowns and Hillbillies” opens with “Mobile Blue,” a great Americana tune, a familiar style to Mellencamp fans for decades. The song features some excellent guitar parts and fantastic inflections of the organ in the background. “Battle of Angels” is a poignant tune that sets the mood with it’s violins and banjos.

Mellencamp may not be on the top of the charts anymore, although he still manages to move his albums into the Top 15 quite consistently. “Sad Clowns…” is currently #11 on the US charts… could possibly make the Top Ten.

There’s no shortage of guest performers on this album. Country music legend Martina McBride makes a cameo vocal appearance on Mellencamp’s “Grandview,” a story song in which Mellencamp tells how his dream came true just not quite exactly as he thought it would. American model and ex-wife of superstar Billy Joel, Christie Brinkley sings backing vocals on “What Kind Of Man Am I” and “My Soul’s Got Wings,” the latter on which she provides the hand clapping.

The album’s most prominent guest performer is, of course Carlene Carter. She wrote “Damascus Road” and co-wrote “Indigo Sunset.” Carter sings on five of the album’s songs including lead vocals on “Sugar Hill Mountain” and “Damascus Road,” she duets with John on “Indigo Sunset” and “My Soul’s Got Wings” and provides backing vocals on “What Kind Of Man Am I” and “All Night Tlak Radio.”

“All Night Talk Radio” is one of the album’s strongest tune carrying a pop radio vibe that gives this song a strong hit potential.

The title track “Sad Clowns” opens sounding very much like a Hank Williams Sr song but quickly takes a turn sounding very much like a Joe Henry folk type piece. Love the slide guitar in this one… just great.

“My Soul’s Got Wings” rocks the album with lyrics written by folk music legend Woody Guthrie and music composed by John Mellencamp, easily one of Mellencamp’s best tunes of his entire career.

The album ends on a rebellious spirit, wouldn’t expect anything less from Mellencamp. The politically chared “Easy Target” is an anti donald trump tune in which Mellencamp expresses his disdain for the direction of the nation. In the song he cynically says “So black lives matter, who we trying to kid,” a shot at as much as we try for equality we just really aren’t quite yet there. He goes on to state “Well let the poor be damned, and the easy targets too. All are created equal, equally beneath me and you,” a comment on the income gap that has been growing larger since the days of Ronald Reagan and the rise of crony capitalism. Moving on Mellencamp laments, “Easy targets all along the avenue, living here in sucker town” a direct shot on donald trump and the American public for being such suckers as to fall for the “fake news” and red meat politics. Finally Mellencamp ends the song with the moving line, “Our country’s broken heart.”

Mellencamp is a brave man to be one of many that is not afraid to say what he feels. He is a true artist that is always relevant throughout the times.

"All Night Talk Radio" (2017)

John Mellencamp (2017)


13. "CousteauX" by CousteauX
"CousteauX" by CousteauX (Click Here)

Release Date: September 22, 2017
Label: SilentX
Producer: Davey Ray Moor
Genres: Rock, Pop
Chart Positions: N/A
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions:
"The Innermost Light" (Promo Single - No Chart Data)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS: There's not one miss here... every song is a home run!

I waited for a very long time for this album. The last time Cousteau (now known as CousteauX) released an album was back in 2005 when they released their fourth studio album "Nova Scotia." To be fair lead singer Liam McKahey released two solo albums in between 2009's "Lonely Road" and 2014's "Black Vinyl Heart," so I did have some form of Cousteau over the past few years.

CousteauX was in the works for about two years and I knew about it from the very beginning as I am part of their fan club. Originally the album was going to be released in 2016 but did not make release until near the end of September 2017, I was almost beginning to wonder if the album would see a 2017 release.

So why the X on the end of their name? Simple, the band placed an X at the end of their name to honor a new era in music. I sure hope this new era continues for a few more releases as this new album is excellent. we find CousteauX as great as always.

The album is primarily filled with Burt Bacharach type pop tunes accented with a 1970s Herb Alpert-esque horn style. This is one very attractive album in which although it sports a sound looking back to the 70s it also looks forward with a contemporary edge which has the recognizable Cousteau sound stamped all over it.

Lead vocalist Liam McKahey is at his dramatic best and sounds great when he shows off his very deep and rich baritone, especially notable on the songs “The Innermost Light” and “The Red Lines.” I have no problem classifying Liam amongst the great male vocalists of all-time. His depth in vocal control and versatility brings him into the realms of vocalists such as Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison and David Bowie. I am primarily a fan of Cousteau because of McKahey but ultimately it is the overall package of the band that keeps me coming back for more.

The album is filled with moody saxophones and quiet ballads yet every once in a while, exhibits the bands ability to rock it up a bit. One recurring them on the album is the Burt Bacharach influence in many of the songs catchy hooks and musical instrumentation – most with the use of horns. Sometimes it feels and sounds like we are traveling back to the late 1960s. “BURMA” is one such song that has that late 60s Bacharach feel with those ever so somber horns and Liam’s outstanding vocals. “Portobello Serenade” combines Bacharach type balladry with dusky saxophones and gutsy electric guitars.

My favorite song on the album is “The Innermost Light,” the drums (thank you Liam McKahey) are impeccably played and are accented by flourishes of electric guitar chords. Liam entrances us with one of his very deep vocals which works into a fiercely passionate emotive vocal. Two and a half minutes into the song we are treated to a great guitar solo (which we heard more of the electric guitar on this album) that really lights up the song. Near the end the double tracked lead vocal adds an effect that takes the song into another level of artistic accomplishment that proves CousteauX stands above the crowd.

"BURMA" (2017)

CousteauX (2017)


12. "Sinatra & Jobim @ 50" by John Pizzarelli

Release Date: July 28, 2017
Label: Concord Jazz
Producer: Jessica Molaskey, John Pizzarelli
Genres: Jazz, Swing, Bossa Nova, Latin Jazz
Chart Positions: #2 (US Jazz)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: N/A

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - cool, smooth and easy going

I discovered John Pizzarelli in the early part of 2016 when I was searching YouTube for jazz guitarists. I stumbled upon Pizzarelli and I really liked what I heard. I ended up purchasing two of his albums that he had recently released and they were great - outstanding music and guitar work. Then when I had heard he had a new release coming up I was on it and I was on it quick.

I was expecting something similar to the albums I already owned and I would have been very happy with the jazz-fusion rock guitar that Pizzarelli so aptly displayed on his past albums. But when I saw the title “Sinatra and Jobim @ 50” I was delighted . I just knew that I was in for a treat.

Pizzarelli has said that Sinatra and Jobim have long been influences for him. With this album Pizzarelli’s goal was to recreate the spirit of Sinatra and Jobim as a team as they were in 1967. I feel Pizzarelli captures that essence to perfection. I am a huge fan of Antonio Carlos Jobim and really appreciate the authenticity of this album and the music with in.

The biggest treat for me was when I discovered that Daniel Jobim, grandson of Antonio Carlos, had a prominent part in this album. Daniel plays piano and also sings lead vocals on several of the songs. I was quite enchanted with Daniel's voice, he has a similar tone and style reminiscent of his grandfather Antonio Carlos. His voice is rich, smooth and cool. I have to be honest, it is because of Daniel Jobim that this album is one of my favorites of the year. If only Daniel Jobim would release an album of his own.

Daniel Jobim sings lead vocal on most of the song, he plays piano (superbly) and engineered the album as well. Jobim's mark is all over this album. I am especially taken with his performance of “Two Kites.” This song was originally released in 1980 on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s album “Terra Brasilis” a compilation which was mostly comprised of Jobim’s past efforts along with a few newer songs. Daniel Jobim’s takes this gem and delivers it with the same sort of charm and style as his grandfather. Daniel’s fluid vocal performance sits along with the best in the genre his voice glides with ease over Antonio’s lyrics and brings a beautiful new life to them.

With “Agua de Beber” Jobim and Pizzarelli give the song a edgier treatment without ever relinquishing the smooth flowing bossa nova sound of the original. Again Daniel sings with a beautiful smoothness that only the greats achieve. His voice never wavers. He is a true testament to his grandfather’s memory. What I find most captivating is Daniel’s skilled piano solo in the middle of the song followed by an exciting guitar solo by John Pizzarelli in which he expertly mimics his guitar chords with his voice – this is a wonderful highlight in the song.

I can rant and rave about every song on this album – because truly every song is outstanding but I am going to end it here with “Antonio’s Song.” This great bossa nova tune was written by Michael Franks and was recorded and released in 1977 for his classic album “Sleeping Gypsy,” which includes other classics such as “B’wana He No Home” and “The Lady Wants To Know.” The song opens with Daniel Jobim’s smooth keyboard delivery and features a hot sax solo in the middle of the song. This is Pizzarelli’s best vocal performance on this album. Pizzarelli’s voice is slightly similar to Michael Franks - of course though Franks is a master vocalist and Pizzarelli comes nowhere close to Franks’ vocal finesse – but still does a more than admirable job on this cool bossa nova number.

The album reached #2 on the US Jazz albums chart, Pizzarelli's highest charting album yet. I am convinced "Sinatra & Jobim @ 50" is destined to become a classic with lovers of smooth jazz and is definitely an essential for any collector of this genre of music.

"Two Kites" (2017)

Daniel Jobim / John Pizzarelli (2017)


11. "Taj Mo" by Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Label: Legacy, Concord
Producer: Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo'
Genres: Blues, Rock, R&B
Chart Positions: #80 (US), #17 (Sweden), #154 (Belgium), #1 (US Blues), #6 (US Americana/Folk), #18 (US Rock)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: N/A

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - this is one sizzling hot rock and blues album. It's too hot to handle and too cool to put down.

I have been a Keb Mo fan for the past eight years and for as long as I can remember Taj Mahal has been an interest. Ironically it wasn't until about a week before I purchased "TajMo" that I ended up purchasing my first Taj Mahal album. That album primed me for "TajMo."

Despite Taj Mahal's legend status I actually bought the album because of Keb Mo. Over the past few years I have really come to enjoy Keb's music. I especially love the 2011 song “The Whole Encilada.” Oddly enough my favorite song on the album is the hot cajun blues remake of The Who’s “Squeeze Box" in which Taj Mahal is the lead singer.

“TajMo” is an outstanding blues rock album filled with great guitar work by Keb Mo and blues vocals shared by both Taj and Keb. Incidentally the album is one of two albums on this list to garner a Grammy Award nomination in the upcoming ceremony. It is nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Needless to say I hope the album wins.

   "Squeeze Box" (2017)

Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal (2017)


10. "All The Light Above It Too" by Jack Johnson

Release Date: September 8, 2017
Label: Brushfire, Republic
Producer: Robbie Lackritz, "Fragments" is produced by Simon Beins
Genres: Rock, Folk-Rock, Surf-Rock, Pop-Rock, Adult Alternative

Chart Positions: #5 (US), #3 (Australia), #7 (Switzerland), #8 (Canada, New Zealand), #24 (Germany, Denmark), #27 (Austria), #29 (Netherlands), #41 (Spain), #46 (UK), #47 (Portugal), #51 (Belgium), #61 (Scotland), #64 (France), #1 (US Americana/Folk), #2 (US Rock)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: 
"Fragments" (No Chart Data)
"My Mind Is For Sale" #13 (Japan), #28 (Belgium), #2 (US Adult Alternative), #40 (US Rock), GOLD certification in Australia
"Sunsets For Somebody Else" (No Chart Data)
"You Can't Control It" #20 (US Digital Rock)
"Big Sur" (No Chart Data)
"Gather" #31 (US Adult Alternative)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - Jack puts out another winner in a line of winners

I am a biased diehard Jack Johnson fan and have been for about 12 years now. Once again Johnson has given us a solid winner.

Overall “All The Light Above” is one of Johnson’s strongest works. What is interesting about this album is that it really isn’t much different from any album he’s ever released and it doesn’t really break any new ground. Generally, I enjoy groundbreaking albums that work along the edge of experimenting with new sounds of novel ideas. Johnson does none of these here – he just continues with his impeccably produced and performed music as he has done for the past seventeen years. We don't need groundbreaking or experimental from Jack Johnson as his music has an honest and down to earth vibe about it that you just love what he does. Johnson can continue doing this exact same thing for the next 30 years and I will continue to enthusiastically buy it.

Everything we’ve come to expect from Jack is here; the mellow acoustic guitars, smooth electric guitars, tribal percussive works, shimmering pianos, captive bass and hints of synthesizer here and there. This is classic Jack Johnson at his very best (of course I say that with each new album he releases). Each song tells a story and lets us into the world and mind of Jack Johnson.

The album opens with “Subplots,” a song in which Jack talks about simplifying your life by letting go of all those subplots in your life. The song opens with a Hawaiian style slide guitar part that is warm and easy going. The lyric includes the album’s title “All The Light Above It Too,” as Jack speaks about letting the sunshine into your life… all the light under the sun and all the light above it too. Jack is once again giving us a great dose of his optimistic view of living life day to day. Not utopian but just optimistic.

My favorite song on the album is Jack’s anti donald trump song “My Mind Is For Sale.” In the song, lyrics such as “I heard that 6 or 7 words he likes to use are always in bad taste” and “I don’t care for your paranoid us against them fearful kind of walls,” which directly point at Donald trump’s views of using fear and hurtful words to gain attention. With the lyrics, “Watch those strings go up and down, the elephant in the room begins to dance.” With the lyrics, “Watch those strings go up and down, the elephant in the room begins to dance," Johnson is basically calling donald trump a puppet.

"My Mind Is For Sale" (2017)

Jack Johnson (2017)

Jack Johnson (2017)


9. "Is This The Life We Really Want?" by Roger Waters
"Is This The Life We Really Want?" by Roger Waters (Click Here)

Release Date: June 2, 2017
Label: Columbia
Producer: Nigel Godrich
Genres: Rock, Classic Rock, Progressive Rock, Art-Rock

Chart Positions: #11 (US), #1 (Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Scotland), #2 (Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Italy), #3 (Sweden, UK, Germany, Austria, Portugal), #4 (Canada), #5 (Spain), #7 (Australia), #8 (Hungary, Ireland), #9 (Finland), #20 (Mexico), #67 (South Korea), #3 (US Rock Albums), #4 (US Album Sales), #& (US Vinyl Album Sales), #8 (US Digital Album Sales)
Certifications: Gold (Italy, Poland)

Singles and Chart Positions: 
"Smell The Roses" (No Chart Data)
"Deja Vu" (No Chart Data)
"The Last Refugee" (No Chart Data)
"Wait For Here" (No Chart Data)
* (Smell The Roses" and "Deja Vu" both received airplay in Belgium)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - This album takes me back to a time and place before I had any bills or worries. My early teens. The music is new but it has a sound reminiscent to the 1970s when Pink Floyd was the biggest band in town.

Roger Waters is a legendary musician from one of the world's most popular bands, Pink Floyd. Being the huge Pink Floyd fan that I am purchasing the new Roger Waters album was a given. In the past I have been only lukewarm with Waters' previous albums. I can't think of any one album of his where I like every single song or even at least half the songs. But "Is This The Life We Really Want?" is solid, this Roger Waters at his solo best.

Is Roger Waters is trying a bit too hard to mimic the Pink Floyd sound? All the way to opening his new album with a heartbeat just as Floyd opened their classic 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon.” The album contains clock sounds and all the usual sound effects you’d expect to hear on “Dark Side of the Moon,” “The Wall” and “The Final Cut.”

But is trying to repeat what Waters did with Pink Floyd a bad thing? My assessment is no – a resounding NO! If anyone can do it and do it the right way with style it is Roger Waters (and okay David Gilmour – I am partial to Gilmour). This time around Waters has put out a true and solid winner.

The most interesting part of the album is the spoken intro to the title track “Is This The Life We Really Want?” We hear donald trump bragging and gloating that “he won.” After you hear trump repeat himself you hear Roger Waters abruptly turn the television off while trump continues to talk. This is quite a commentary on how a huge portion of the world feels about donald trump. Waters has made no secret about his disdain and dislike of donald trump. He has been an open opponent to trump and is supporting (and in many ways is a leader of) The Resistance (to donald trump).

If you enjoyed “The Wall” you will certainly love this album – and I did by all means love “The Wall.”

There’s something about Pink Floyd’s music that brings a tear to my eye and an ache to my soul. Maybe it’s Roger Waters’ lyrics or maybe it David Gilmour’s soothing guitar work. Whatever it is Waters has managed to capture that emotion that so digs into my heart.

"Is This The Life We Really Want?" (2017)

Roger Waters (2017)


8. in.ter by At The Drive-In

Release Date: May 5, 2017
Label: Rise
Producer: Rich Costley, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Genres: Post Hardcore, Art-Punk

Chart Positions: #39 (US), #15 (Australia), #20 (Scotland), #30 (UK, Germany), #31 (Austria), #52 (Switzerland), #63 (Belgium), #82 (Italy), #132 (France), #1 (US Rock & Metal), #2 (US Independent Albums), #3 (US Vinyl Albums), #3 (US Alternative Albums), #9 (US Rock), #18 (US Digital Albums), #20 (US Album Sales)

Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: 
"Governed by Contagions" (No Chart Data)
"Incurably Innocent" (No Chart Data)
"Hostage Stamps" (No Chart Data)
"Pendulum In A Peasant Dress" (No Chart Data)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - this album rocks hard but also has a sense of artistry with in the music.

When I first heard about this release I was totally excited. This mostly had to do with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. I am a huge fan of his music. I was expecting the album to be pretty good but after the first listen I was more than overwhelmed. The album went far above expectation. Everything about the album was great - the drums (really excellent drums), Cedric's vocals (he's still got what it takes after all these years), the lyrics (socially in touch), but best of all is Omar's guitar work. He is a guitar genius and some of the stuff he does on this album just blows me away. Omar mathematically burns his guitar chords into a brew of passion and human emotion that conjures up an enthusiasm that rock my inner core with delight.

Many of the songs deal with the evils and poisons in our government and society. The lyrics are predominantly dark and thought provoking. One of the album's darkest songs, "Incurably Innocent," is about sexual abuse and finally being able to speak out about it. Published just a few months after all the many allegations of sexual misconduct against donald trump one may think that may have been the influence. Though the song is based on experiences endured by lead singer, Cedic Bixler-Zavala's wife, Chrissie. Cedric has commented that with his music he feels it important to get up and talk about things that are uncomfortable. Hoping it will open up a dialog for someone dealing with these issues.

"Hostage Stamps" (2017)

At The Drive In (2017)


7. "Live At Pompeii" by David Gilmour

Release Date: September 29, 2017
Label: Columbia Records
Producer: David Gilmour
Genres: Classic Rock, Progressive Rock, Art-Rock, Blues Rock

Chart Positions: #45 (US), #1 (Czechoslovakia, Italy, Croatia), #2 (Germany, Netherlands, Portugal), #3 (UK, Scotland), #4 (Norway, Switzerland, Belgium), #6 (Austria, Hungary, Spain), #7 (Poland), #8 (Israel), #9 (Finland, France), #10 (Argentina), #12 (Sweden), #19 (Canada), #21 (Denmark), #24 (Ireland), #31 (New Zealand), #50 (Australia)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: 
"Rattle That Lock (Live)" (No Chart Data)
"One Of These Days (Live)" (No Chart Data)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - This is one of the all-time great live albums

Being the huge Pink Floyd that I am, I have closely followed David Gilmour's music. He is my favorite member of Pink Floyd. He has the smooth soothing emotive voice and the dreamy guitar work that also rocks. Gilmour is, in my mind, one of the great guitarists. His style is unique and versatile.

Generally I am not much for live albums. I've heard several that are excellent such as "Frampton Comes Alive" and Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains The Same," but just was not compelled to purchase either. To date I have purchased only four live albums, Donna Summer's "Live and More," Talking Heads' "The Name of this Band Is...," David Gilmour's "Live In Gdansk" and this one, "Live At Pompeii." Now had Pink Floyd's 1972 soundtrack to their "Live At Pompeii" been commercially released I would have purchased that one - as that is my favorite live performance of all-time. As it is I do own the DVD and VHS Video of the concert from '72 and also own a bootleg CD of the music.

David Gilmour does an all around amazing job live in concert. Not only is his guitar outstanding but his vocal performances are top notch. Gilmour is just as effective, vocally, as he was back in the 1970s. He sings with power, energy and emotion. Gilmour truly is one of the greats - no two ways about it.

Mr. Gilmour performs many of his classic Pink Floyd tracks as well as some of his great solo songs. The album is loaded with quite a few tracks from his last two albums 2006’s “On An Island” and 2015’s “Rattle That Lock.” His newer tracks hold up just as well as (and sometimes even better than) the classic Pink Floyd songs. Gilmour treats us to his renderings of Pink Floyd songs from different time periods such as “Fat Old Sun” and “One Of These Days” (early Pink Floyd), “Money,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb” (middle period Pink Floyd) and “What Do You Want From Me” and “High Hopes” (both late period Pink Floyd). Gilmour gives us a well-rounded view of his entire musical career with this live performance.

I really enjoy listening to the audience chanting "rattle that lock" on the album's second track, the live performance of the song is every bit as spirited and professional as the studio recording. One of the album's highlight is the subtle performance of “A Boat Lies Waiting,” with a chorus of vocals, tender guitar and sublime piano the song takes you drifting into a reality of sea breezes and gently rocking water.

My favorite song from the album, "One Of These Days," is superbly recreated by Gilmour and band. With perfect timing and emotive perchance Gilmour performs the same sort of supernatural and mysterious sound effects heard during the original 1972 performance, right down to the chunky bass line, ethereal synthesizers and Gilmour himself crashing on the cymbals and drums then moving on to the console steel guitar with which he gives a stellar performance. Combine all this with the amazing light show and you have a performance that is surreal and peacefully startling. As a solo artist David Gilmour has given us many stellar performances over the past 40 years, but this 2016 performance of Pink Floyd's classic "One Of These Days" tops them all.

"One Of These Days" (Live - 2017)

David Gilmour (2017)

David Gilmour (2017)


6. "Modern Kosmology" by Jane Weaver

Release Date: May 19, 2017
Label: Fire Records
Producer: Jane Weaver
Genres: Pop, Synth-Pop, Alt-Pop, Dream-Pop, Experimental-Pop

Chart Positions: #50 (UK)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions:
"Slow Motion" #22 (UK Alternative Music)
"The Architect" (No Chart Data)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - Refreshing and thrilling from start to finish

Jane Weaver has been on the music scene since 1993 starting as a member of the Britpop band Kill Laura. She went solo in 2002 with the release of her mini-album "Like An Aspen Leaf," with which she experienced minor success. "Modern Cosmology" is her ninth studio album and is her most successful album to date. Despite several minor successes Weaver remains primarily unknown but has garnered much respect from music critics and industry insiders.

“Modern Kosmology” is Jane’s eighth studio album recorded using all analog vintage machinery. In other words she used recording equipment from the 70s and early 80s. This recording technique worked extremely well in creating a sound that sounds faintly reminiscent of an era gone by while maintaining the pulse of modern day experimentation. Jane explained her songs came to her “like full-formed pictures,” much like a dream. Her songwriting is richly melodic, fine-tuned and muscular (meaning it’s all meat and no fat).

Jane’s rich and natural voice accents each of her songs with a crisp and sparkling emotion that sits close to nature. Each song is layered in beds of synth sounds which form the base of the album complimented with organic drums and guitars.

Despite being Jane’s eighth album it is her first to make the charts anywhere (I guess maybe that why I had never heard of her before). It peaked at #50 on the UK charts (hopefully it will catch on and re-enter the charts and do better). As well it has reached #89 on the iTunes chart. The song “Slow Motion” reached #22 on the UK Alternative Music chart.

I call Jane a wonder musician for several reasons. First and foremost she is an outstanding musician that stands above the fray. Jane self-produced “Modern Kosmology” as well as played all the instruments with occasional help from guest musicians and wrote all the songs.

The album sounds as if it were transmitted from the outer limits in fine, undiluted yet easy to grasp portions. Simply the music is thrillingly addictive otherworldly pop like no one else has ever recorded.

"Slow Motion" (2017)

Jane Weaver (2017)


5. "More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse" by Moby

Release Date: June 12, 2017
Label: Mute, Little Idiot
Producer: Moby
Genres: Rock, Industrial, Alternative Rock, Hard Rock, Post Punk, Rave

Chart Positions: #50 (UK)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions:
"In This Cold Place"
"All The Hurts We Made" (MP3 only)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - This one rocks with a vengeance

"More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse" was released on the heels of "These Systems Are Failing" both albums featured Moby with the Void Pacific Choir and were both a very welcome departure from his normal sound. Both album feature a harder almost industrial rock edge and Moby songs all the lead vocal. These two albums are what I have been wanting from Moby for a very long time. I am happy they were finally released. The two albums also have an anti-donald trump theme in common. Moby has been highly vocal in his dislike of donald trump and this view reflects in his music. Moby exhibits a raw power similar to what we find on his 1996 album "Animal Rights" on tracks such as "Come On Baby" and "Somebody To Love."

The album's first single release, "In This Cold Place," was debuted to the world with an animated Looney Tunes Cartoon inspired music video in which donald trump is depicted as a villain that is out to destroy the world. The video quickly went viral and was shared throughout twitter and facebook.

Every song is upbeat, fast paced and includes grinding industrial eclectic guitar sounds and perpetual drum patterns that attack the ears and soul with a fighting power. Moby wrote all the songs, plays all the instruments, sings all the lead vocals and produced the album. This album and it's predecessor "These Systems Are Failing" are 100% Moby.

"In This Cold Place" (2017)

Moby (2017)


4. "A World Of Masks" by The Heliocentrics

Release Date: June 9, 2017
Label: Soundway
Producer: Malcolm Catto, Jake Ferguson
Genres: Psychedelic Rock, Electronic Rock, Experimental Jazz, Jazz Funk, Neo Soul, Free Jazz

Chart Positions: N/A
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: N/A

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - You just can't choose a favorite... they're all great!

I discovered The Heliocentrics in 2016 when I was searching Amazon. com for new releases. I stumbled upon their album "From The Deep." Starting with the album cover to the song titles I knew I would like this album. What I didn't know is that it would become one of my all-time favorites. The album charted at #2 on my Year-End Favorite Albums of 2016.

2017 rolls around and The Heliocentrics release two album "A World of Masks" and the soundtrack "The Sunshine Makers." "The Sunshine Makers" was a pretty good album and I enjoyed it quite a bit but it is "A World Of Masks" that caught me and kept me interested.

At first I was somewhat disappointed by the album because they had added a vocalist (what attracted me to "From The Deep" was the intense instrumentals). I am primarily a fan of male lead vocals and feel The Heliocentrics' music is more suited to a male lead vocal. But soon I came to very much appreciate singer, Barbara Patkova's mood and vocal depth. Her voice adds to the music without distracting from it.

The album is half vocal and half instrumental and of course my favorite tracks are the instrumental such as “Human Zoo,” in which each instrument is an animal which has escaped from its cage. The multitude of horns gives “Human Zoo” a ska style that brings the sound alive with a human roar.

This spacey futuristic album is filled with a diversity of genres just as diverse as the members of the band. The carefully constructed layers of music are lead with guitars, bass, drums and loads of electronic sounds.

Barbara Patkova’s soulful lead vocals open the album with the ethereal track “Made Of The Sun” and works right into “Time,” a song in which the Orient meets the Western world. Barbara’s excellent minimalist vocals become part of the instrumentation and gives the songs a mood that is inescapable.

Of course I am a huge fan of jazz, specifically free jazz and experimental jazz and “A World Of Masks” gives me just enough of these genres of jazz to keep me happy. The title track “A World Of Masks” bring the bass guitar to the forefront with experimentations in wind instruments such as saxophone, flute, trombone, trumpet and clarinet. But mostly I love the vibraphone which gives the song a super fluid smooth sound. The Heliocentrics explore the vibraphone in other songs including “The Wake” a track which reminds me quite a bit of Cat Power with it’s dark and moody feedback and creepy sound effects. Barbara Patkova almost channels Chan Marshall’s vocals here.

The foggy horns in “Capital Of Alone” add to the atmospheric melodies of this smooth jazz tune as Patkova sings arounds swirls of smooth sounds. “Dawn Chorus” continues the jazz in a more experimental manner.

One of the my favorite tracks, “The Silverback” incorporates marching rhythms, chiming vibraphones (there’s those vibes again) with an experimental wall of sound and pulsating electronic guitars. Adorned by a smooth and shadowy vocal hidden beneath the surface of the music.

This album is as much a guitar album as it is a percussive album and a jazz album. The range of sounds and styles is incredible given it only includes eleven songs – but with in these nines song that group packs in as much musicianship as they can without the music becoming overproduced or kitschy. “Oh Brother” is the epitome of a guitar lead song. It borders on alternative rock meets with its slick guitar licks and jazz-fusion with it quirky and complex drum patterns.

Its hard for me to choose a favorite from the album but maybe “Square Wave” is my favorite I love the use of the triangle and the array of percussive instruments coupled with a synthesized electronic clap-track. I just cannot get past the infectious sound of the syncopated drum rhythms. But then the closing track “The Uncertainty Principle” could also be pegged as my favorite. The bass guitar and organic drums just kill – or I mean come alive inside me!!! The horns and the atmosphere really shape the mood of the song and the entire album.

Obviously I love this album and will be playing it quite a bit… will it reach the prominence in my life as a music collector as did their previous “From The Deep”? Yes!

Human Zoo (2017)

The Heliocentrics (2017)

The Heliocentrics (2017)


3. "So It Is" by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Release Date: April 21, 2017
Label: Legacy
Producer: Dave Sitek, Ben Jaffe, Dave Ayers
Genres: Jazz, Dixieland, New Orleans Jazz, Soul, R&B

Chart Positions: #1 (US Traditional Jazz), #2 (US Jazz) 
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: N/A

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - Great album from beginning to end... no filler... all meat!

When searching for jazz music I generally search under the categories of free jazz, avant-gard jazz and jazz fusion. This album is none of these but it is indeed jazz. It's jazz in the traditional early jazz style. A style in the tradition of Louis Armstrong but without the vocals. The album echoes New Orleans Dixieland with it's finely layered wall of instruments creating a sound that is both uplifting and danceable. Dances like the Lindy Hop and Charleston come to mind when listening to this album. It's jazz party time!

Although The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been known as the premiere band of traditional New Orleans jazz, throughout the decades they have transformed into a progressive and stylistically adventurous ensemble. Their latest “So It Is” expertly encapsulates their roots while melding their progressive jazz tendencies. Ben Jaffe (son of founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe) is the main driver of the band’s current experimental adventures.

The album is a joyous explosion of soulful, bluesy, groove oriented songs. This is a set that will attract fans of jazz, traditional jazz, funk, R&B, blues, alternative rock and adult contemporary. The music spans a broad sense of appeal.

From start to finish there is nothing to dislike about this album. Listening to each song is a like falling in love – it feels brand new with each listen.

Get your dancing shoes on and get ready for a ride along a musical kaleidoscope of excitement!

"Santiago" (2017)

Preservation Jazz Hall Band (2017)


2. "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" by Sturgill Simpson

Release Date: April 15, 2016
Label: Atlantic Records
Producer: Sturgill Simpson
Genres: Country, Rock, Country Rock, Alternative Country, Country Soul, Outlaw Country

Chart Positions: #3 (US), #34 (Norway), #36 (Canada), #39 (Ireland), #43 (UK), #66 (Denmark), #108 (Belgium), #1 (US Rock, US Country, US Folk, US Vinyl Albums), #3 (US Digital Albums)
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: 
 "Brace For Impact (Live A Little)": #23 (Us Adult Alternative), #44 (US Rock, US Rock Digital) 
"In Bloom": #37 (US Rock), #48 (US Country)

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - This album contains the WOW factor all the way through... it is both refreshingly beautiful and explosively energetic.

It was the album cover and the album title that drew me in. I kept thinking "A Sailor's Guide To Earth," that is a title that has depth to it, the music has got to be good.. My instincts were right. The music wasn't only good - but great filled with depth, imagery and diversity.

Wow! That was my first impression after taking a listen to this album that was released in April 2016. This one is a bit older but caught on after Sturgill was nominated for two Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year). He won one Grammy for Best Country Album. I discovered the album after the Grammy Awards program, it was being promoted on Amazon. com in February 2017. This album is HOT! HOT! HOT! and in my mind should have won Album of the Year but of course Adele "25" won, which itself is an excellent album - but "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is far more diverse, intense and overall a much stronger album than "25."

Sturgill Simpson shows bits of David Gray, Alex Clare, Van Morrison and Ronnie Milsap. He is an old soul at the young age of 38. He writes songs with the wisdom of a sailor who has sailed the seas of life for twice the amount of decades of his actual age.

Though categorized as a country music album it is far more versatile than simply a country album. The depth in musicianship and lyrics puts the album in a category all it's own. This is quite simply one of the most intriguing albums of the past 20 years.

This album is full of introspection, joy and great guitar and synthesizer sounds... and Sturgill wrote all the songs to boot (except the cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom").

The album opens with the sounds of ship's bell chiming (a sound you hear on other songs throughout the album) and the beautiful tinkling of keyboards. "Welcome To Earth" sounds like a refreshing ocean morning relaxing in the mist of the ocean air. Three minutes in the song turns into a surprising upbeat Motown flavored experience with horns and R&B rhythms. As a matter of fact The Dap-Kings (famous for playing behind Sharon Jones) are the credited horn section on this song and several others on the album.

The otherworldly "Breakers Roar" is soothingly beautiful accented with country tinged steel guitars bringing out an ethereal sound that gives the song a floating feel. This song screams David Gray but so much more in it's intensity and beauty.

"In Bloom" is the only song not written by Sturgill Simpson. "In Bloom" was written by Kurt Cobain and was featured on the 1992 album "Nevermind" by Nirvana. Sturgill took the song and made it all his own with an intense delicate power working into a storm of emotion and a wall of sound production.

Brace For Impact (Live A Little)" is my favorite song from the album for many reasons. I love the David Gilmour style guitar chords and the music video is eerie and amazing. Simpson sings this anthemic song with conviction and intensity like no other singer of this decade. "Brace For Impact" is not what you would expect to hear on a country music album. With it's pulsating electric bass opening it is a song that sounds like it could have been written for a Pink Floyd album all the while maintaining it's country music influence. "Brace For Impact" is a song about death and how different people react to it's inevitability. Sturgill's dark guitars and electronic synthesizer drive this song and turn it into an event in music that should not be missed.

The album closes with one of it's strongest songs. "Call To Arms" starts of with the distant sound of seagulls, ship bells and bag pipes. The bag pipes add this unusual sort of ocean sound to the song - it works quite well. Quickly the song turns funky with R&B honky tonk horns that makes the song feel like something you might have heard in the explosive 1980 film "The Blues Brothers." Let me tell you the guitar work in this song is absolutely killer. I am a huge fan of the guitar and Sturgill ranks right up there with the best of the best. The bluesy piano parts rock this song out which at points reminds me just a little bit of Elvis Presley.

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is one of those albums that has surprises around each corner. The musical texture is as diverse as it gets and best of all Sturgill Simpson is a really great singer. I highly recommend this album to anyone that is an avid fan of diversity in music.

"Breaker's Roar" (2016)

Sturgill Simpson (2017)


1. "Birth Of A Ghost" by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez

Release Date: May 5, 2017
Label: Ipecac Records
Producer: With Lions (Christian Celaya, Woody Ranere)
Genre: Classical

Chart Positions: N/A
Certifications: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: N/A

Best Cuts: ALL TRACKS - This album can only really be listened to as a whole. The individual tracks are solid and stand on their own - but realistically this is a work that moves best as an entire album. This album is an experience far beyond just music!

Right up until I sat down to work this list of 2017's best albums I was convinced that Sturgill Simpson's "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" would take the top spot. But the more I reflected on it, I came to the realization that "Birth Of A Ghost" really impacted me more than any other album in 2017. It's not just because it is Omar and it is classical music. It has more to do with the creativity and intensity in the overall sound of the music.

"Birth Of A Ghost" was the surprise album of the year. Who would have expected a classical album from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and who would have expected it to be so good?

There are a few things unique with this album in that each piece is three and a half minutes or shorter. Generally in a classical album there will be movements that include three or four parts and are more than ten minutes in length. Each piece on this album is listed like a pop album and the titles read like a pop album such as "Cactus and Honey," "A Good Kind Of Blue" and "Through A Glass Darkly." But when you listen to the music it is wholly classical. Gone are the crunchy electric guitars and dark eerie synthesizers instead we have violins, violas, cellos , trombones, clarinets and pianos.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this album is the percussion. We have big percussion sparsely placed throughout the album. Never does the percussion overtake the music it is part of the whole - many times understated yet big.

Each musical piece is bright and uplifting. I would have to say "Birth Of A Ghost" is one of the most enlightening classical albums I have ever heard. It lifts the spirits of the soul into a reality of light and beauty despite the darkly themed titles such as "Nuclear Mysticism," "An Old Lacquer-Tinged Tomb" and "Thoughts and Ashes."

Omar plays piano and percussion throughout the album and composed all the music. This is Omar's masterwork of his entire career and deserves to be known by far more than just his diehard fans.

“Through A Glass Darkly” is my favorite piece from the album mainly due to it’s use of the marimba. The instrument cleverly and gracefully tiptoes through the song like a black cat gleefully walking across the top of a fence.

Overall “Birth of a Ghost” will be remembered as one of Omar’s finest moments. This is a career defining album in which he demonstrates his musical agility and wide range of tastes. Omar is a man that can not be pinpointed to just one style or sound – he is capable of doing what he feels and he does it always with quality and craftsmanship.

"Birth of a Ghost" (Full Album)(2017)

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (2017)

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (2017)




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