Written by Harry Kaplan
OK! I have had enough! I am seeing all of these top of 2016 lists and I don’t agree with any of them. Maybe that is their purpose, to put things on lists that cause controversy to get more buzz for their publications. Not all do that, but I suspect some do. My list is not like that. These are albums I truly believe ARE the best of this year. You may not agree, and probably won’t, and that is alright. One thing is for sure, my list has integrity and the entries are all my opinions, nothing else. So off the soapbox. Here it is:
Twangri-La’s Top Albums of 2016
These American Blues by Levi Parham on Music Road Records
Levi Parham states that Van Morrison is one of his musical idols and influences. These American Blues does Van Morrison proud and really draws upon Van’s stylings. These American Blues has influences that include country, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and even some good ole’ rock and roll. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Carolina by Spain on Glitterhouse Records/Diamond Soul Recordings
Dark can be beautiful, as evidenced on Carolina. Yes, it is dark, dealing with subject matter such as abandonment, the Depression, mine fires, and being a settler during the reconstruction era in America. Not your usual garden variety song topics. But Josh Haden, the driving force and founding member of Spain has done it. Each track is more like a short story than a song and it creates vivid pictures in one’s mind. Link to original review. Listen and buy.
Inner Journey Out by Psychic Ills on Sacred Bones Records
If you are a fan of Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star, you will love this. In fact, the lead singer of Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval, does vocal duties on I Don’t Mind (Track 3). Inner Journey Out is just that, an introspective look into one’s self. It is psychedelic without the chemicals. The hallmark of this release is heavenly vocals accompanied by lush and trippy instrumentation. I haven’t stopped listening yet. Six months and going strong. Link to original review. Listen and buy.
Blueberries And Grits by Sunday Wilde on Highway 11 Records
Very old timey sounding but actually is right in time. A little blues, jazz, vaudeville, and 100% soul from Miss Sunday Wilde from way up there in Canada. She can play the blues as good as anyone in any geographic location. Wilde’s voice is sultry and bawdy, especially on tracks such as Show Me A Man, That Man Drives Me Mad, and Daddy Daddy. Another one I find myself listening over and over. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
The Sailor And The Siren by Jeremy And Lynne Featuring The Typical Johnsons
This one has the WOW factor. A perfect blending of country, punk, and angst. Really great songs throughout. And, the band are all super, down to earth people even with all this talent swirling around. If you are a fan of Lucero and The Drive By Truckers, this release will be right up your alley. If you like the bowling metaphors, The Sailor And The Siren is a perfect game. This will sound great ten years from now. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Old Black Epiphone by Paul Marhoefer
I started corresponding with Paul over the summer when he commented on my post about Ray Wylie Hubbard. One thing led to another and he sent me his brand new CD Old Black Epiphone. I didn’t know what to expect. Once I heard it, it floored me. It made me feel hopeful about the state of music again. This is a GREAT album and is what the world needs more of. People who follow their dreams to write songs, record music, and perform live. This is a must have. Link to original review. Buy Old Black Epiphone.
Bessemer To Birmingham
Alabama Here I Am
American Band by The Drive By Truckers
This is not the same bar band from 20 years ago. Gone are the days where they pen songs like The President’s Penis Is Missing, The Night GG Allin Came To Town, or even Steve McQueen. They have matured as a band and in the process have released their pièce de résistance in American Band. The Truckers were always political on a micro level but they raised the stakes on American Band and are calling out segments of society and politics that they deem dysfunctional. The songs are all great and the writing is in a class by itself. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
The Ghosts Of Highway 20 by Lucinda Williams
Lucinda William has already enjoyed a stellar career with some amazing albums under her belt already. For her to completely reinvent herself and release what is arguably the greatest album of her career is astounding. But that is what Lu did. This is a themed album with all of the songs having some relationship to Highway 20. All of the songs are very personal and heartfelt and Lu poured her heart and soul into these songs. I am still amazed. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Black Magic by Thunderhead
This is another independent release that made my jaw drop. Barry Madison, also know as Thunderhead, wrote, sang, played, edited, mixed, and recorded this all by himself. And it is fantastic. Everyone should hear this one. It’s little bit Velvet Underground, Stones, and Beck, and also 100% Thunderhead. How is that possible? You will have to listen to find out. Link to original review. Listen and buy.
Blindfaller by Mandolin Orange on Yep Roc Records
Some of the best vocals you will ever hear, anywhere. Mandolin Orange is comprised of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz and they released their magnum opus (so far) in Blindfaller. Clever songwriting and tight tight vocals are the trademarks of Mandolin Orange and they display those strengths prominently on Blinfaller. Just beautiful from start to finish. This one will be current for many years to come. Pay attention to Wildfire and My Blinded Heart. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Dolls Of Highland by Kyle Craft on Sub Pop Records
I had not heard of Kyle Craft prior to November when he and his fine band opened for The Drive By Truckers. His live show was so dynamic and Kyle has a real star presence on stage. It was a rare experience where I immediately connected to the songs even though I had not heard them before. Dolls Of Highland is a real blockbuster. This album could have been released in 1976 and been hot then as well. Definitely has elements of glam rock like Bowie, Queen, T Rex, and even some Meatloaf. The music landscape was right for this release now as it sounds fresh and vital. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen on Sony Music
You Want It Darker was released on October 21th and less than a month later, Leonard Cohen passed away. Many of the songs seem to be about Cohen’s own death, and then he dies. No one could have scripted that any better. It doesn’t get any darker than that. This album is very stark and stripped down, similar to Cohen’s very early releases. Gone are orchestral and symphonic numbers, replaced with Cohen’s voice and honest singing. Amazing writing that makes me teary eyed when I listen. If you don’t own any Leonard Cohen albums, this is the place to start. If you do, You want It Darker is a requirement to complete the collection. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Scheherazade by Freakwater on Bloodshot Records
It has been 11 years since the last Freakwater album was released. I don’t know if that is the magic formula or not, but it was right for Freakwater because Sheherazade is a winner. It is country and quirky with esoteric lyrics that make you want figure out what they mean. I am still trying but also still interested. The songs on here are so powerful, they will draw you back again and again. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Burn Something Beautiful by Alejandro Escovedo on Concord Music Group
A recurring theme this year are artists with well established music careers releasing arguably their best work in 2016. Well, add one more to the list. Burn Something Beautiful is a masterpiece and released by Escovedo in his 65th year of life. This album is full of beautiful noise and energy. The co-conspirators on this album are Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and Peter Buck (REM). Some pretty hefty names in the music biz. This collaboration was so successful that I hope they do something again soon. Link to original review. Listen. Buy.
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter by Margo Price on Third Man Records
I didn’t review this release. It came out in March before Twangri-La was up and running and frankly, it didn’t need my help. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is everything good about country music and a real indictment of Nashville. Price tried to pitch her music to anyone who would listen and got turned down every time. That is until Jack White, creator of Third Man Records, signed her. Now she has a fantastic album under her belt and even was on Saturday Night Live in April. Take that Nashville! Listen. Buy.