It would be no exaggeration to say that this was a stormy year that was challenging for a lot of people on a lot of different levels. When these kinds of times are upon us, music is consistently there to help lift us, unite us, rally us and carry us through. 2016 certainly proved that to be true for me (yet again.)
From the first week of January to the waning moments of the December, the albums on this list—along with probably a hundred others—gave me something to continually look forward to. I hope they did the same for you, or perhaps will do the same for you in the months to come.
Two quick notes:
- For the past few years I’ve determined the order of the albums on this list purely by the number of plays across devices and services because, well, it made it easy on me. This year, however, The top four albums were incredibly close in terms of play and I felt compelled to interject a bit of bias. Whaddayagonnado… it’s my list.
- Someone much smarter than me once told me that limitations create value, and since time is also short, I’m going to once again adopt the style of the #50WordReview for each of the albums below.
Be well, all. Here’s to a happy and healthy ’17.
See ya in the pit!
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth — Sturgill Simpson
A lot more people know the answer to that question today than they did at the beginning of this year. And I’ll wager even more will know come Grammy time. Country, soul, rock and more all masterfully combined to welcome his first son to this world. Labels be damned.
Blindfaller — Mandolin Orange
The North Carolina duo made the most beautiful album of the year; songs that can be listened to over and over and over without need for a break. The perfect mix of vocal harmonies, instrumental bliss and clever lyricism leaves you weak in the knees and reaching for your whiskey.
Light Upon the Lake — Whitney
The best summer album made this year. Formed out of the ashes of Smith Westerns, the drum-fronted indie darlings combine pop, soul, alt-country, California cool and a healthy dose of real life to produce and album with zero skip-worthy songs. An amazing debut effort. Can’t wait for the follow up.
Who Will Be Next? — Joe Purdy
This album gets my vote for most politically important of the year. Changing things up, Mr. Purdy leaves the songs of love and adventure aside to address the political and societal unrest surrounding us so closely these days. This is the music that ignites and focuses the energies of change.
What a Tease — Nico Yaryan
Boy joins band, falls for girl, leaves band, can’t stop thinking about girl. Not an uncommon story, except in this plight, the girl lives in Amsterdam and the boy does whatever he can to get back to her—including trimming pot plants for cash. A wonderful, soulful album is born.
Silver Tears — Aaron Lee Tasjan
Three cheers (and a couple of tall beers) for individuals who refuse to be pigeonholed. Tasjan’s second solo effort in two years continues to prove him a troubadour well worth paying attention to. Shades of Nilsson, Newman, Lennon and Earle shine through on an album that is completely his own.
Emotions and Math — Margaret Glaspy
Raw, personal, real—three words that describe how Glaspy’s first LP feels to me. Pushing herself away from a singer-songwriter with a guitar and into a fuller sound, Glaspy brings back the feelings of hearing Annie DiFranco and Mary Prankster for the first time. And damn did I need that.
Fluke — Frances Luke Accord
Sometimes you’re introduced to a band through dumb luck. Having come across F.L.A. through a tour announcement from Darlingside, it didn’t take more than a few minutes to get hooked. If you’re a fan of beautiful harmonies and acts like Simon & Garfunkel or the Milk Carton Kids, tune in.
Robert Ellis — Robert Ellis
There’s something about Robert Ellis that you can’t turn away from. Sure, he looks like he could be part of The Rat Pack. Yes, he can shred with the best of them. But the real reason is he’s a musician hitting on all cylinders. Listen as often as you can.
Cautionary Tale — Dylan LeBlanc
LeBlanc hasn’t travelled the easiest road. And while some would find it hard to shed a tear for the young balladeer, the trials and tribulations that strode alongside his first two albums are the cornerstones of Cautionary Tale, and we are all the beneficiaries. Spin often, and with much care.
Dolls of the Highland — Kyle Craft
File under: It’s good to have friends.
Craft’s album wasn’t one I quickly gravitated to, but after many mentions by folks who’s taste I appreciate, I dug in deep—thankfully.
In a Dylan-meets-glam-meets-enchanted-booze-fairy kinda way, this album grabs you and takes you along for a helluva ride. Buckle up, amigo.
Other albums not to be missed:
Bound to Meet the Devil — Julie Rhodes
The Beautiful Game — VULFPECK
Turn Me On — The Silks
Awaken, My Love! — Childish Gambino
You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone — Ian Fitzgerald
I Remembered but Then I Forgot — Wolfie’s Just Fine