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2017 was a year that will stand out most for what was lost…a remarkable group of singers, songwriters, producers, and musicians died. Remarkable, because the majority of these artists made up the soundtrack of our lives…

Chuck Berry
Fats Domino
Glen Campbell
Chris Cornell
Al Jarreau
Tom Petty
Gregg Allman and his band mate Butch Trucks
“The Screaming Eagle of Soul” Charles Bradley
Don Williams
Drummer Clyde Stubblefield
Troy Gentry
Husker Dü drummer Grant Hart
Malcolm Young of AC/DC
AC/DC co-producer George Young
Steely Dan’s Walter Becker
Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington
David Cassidy

What can be said of the impact these particular musicians had on the world? Berry, Domino, and Williams were the architects of rock n’ roll and country music, setting the foundation for Campbell, The Allman Brothers, and Petty as fans formed their very identities through the songs they heard. Cornell, Hart, and Becker innovated further to continue music’s hold on yet another generation. The sheer talent, their gift for creating long-lasting earworms, and generating diehard fan bases are what made the impact of their deaths so heart wrenching…a piece of each of us went with them. Closing out 2017 never felt so welcome.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Don Williams

As for the music released over the last 12 months, few can argue why TAYLOR SWIFT’s “REPUTATION” got so much
attention. It wasn’t boundless pop hooks but the lyrics that had her careening off the high road to get down in the mud with her critics, the press, and Kanye West. It’s quite ridiculous when accomplished musicians morph in to junior high school aggressors via song. After success, i.e., albums sold, awards won, fame gotten, and fortune amassed comes what? Monotony? Boredom? Whatever her reasons, Swift has taken herself down a notch that didn’t need lessening.

Thankfully, there were plenty of stellar, less petty musicians who released music worth recognizing this past year and here, for your enjoyment and internal debate, are the BEST MUSIC RELEASES OF 2017:

SIR RAY DAVIESTopping the list is the newly knighted SIR RAY DAVIES and “AMERICANA”, his treatise on what America and its soaring big skies and ribbons of highways mean to him. The album is a love letter, of sorts, to the West of Davies’ childhood (“Rock and Roll Cowboys”) and the realities of The Kinks’ tumultuous first American tour in the 60’s (“The Invaders”). Flawlessly backed by The Jayhawks, the hooks and harmonies are resplendent throughout. Davies generously shares lead vocals with Jayhawks’ keyboardist Karen Grotberg on two songs; the tender lament “Message From The Road” and “A Place In Your Heart”, a jaunty, rolling word play with perfect harmonies from Grotberg, and her bandmates, Gary Louris and Tim O’Reagan. Well in to his sixth musical decade, Davies is at the top of his game, writing charmingly crafted songs of an Englishman forever after his American dream.

Lorde's For a girl at the start of her career, LORDE’s second album “MELODRAMA” (Lava Music/Republic Records, $10.49, is on point. “I’m 19 and I’m on fire/But when we’re dancing I’m alright” she sings on the track “Perfect Places”. The syncopated, dance party declares the joy and misery of being young and “All the nights spent off our faces/Trying to find these perfect places.” Fun frontman Jack Antonoff co-produced the album and adds his signature bright, full chorus of voices for listeners to knowingly commiserate. The 11 tracks go in three distinct directions: throbbing electronica, delicate piano-led ballad, or a combination of the two. For all of the melodrama “MELODRAMA” delivers, Lorde succeeds in giving her fanbase what it wants…a reflection of themselves over a beat you can dance to.

2017 brought THE WAR ON DRUGS major label debut, “A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING”. Frontman Adam Granduciel’s and his Philly-based band delivered the expansive heartland sound they’ve honed for a decade. A bit of Springsteen, Dylan, and Petty explode on the energized “Nothing To Find” and the dreamy, spacious “Thinking Of A Place” knows no bounds, clocking in at 11 minutes. While the songs come straight from Granduciel, the band members were deeply involved as a collective aiming to replicate their live shows as closely as possible. The result is a big, saturated sound with layers of instrumentation that critics have pinned their “Rock Isn’t Dead Yet” hopes on.


The ‘90s revival continued throughout 2017 thanks, in part, to WAXAHATCHEE and their album “OUT IN THE STORM”. Twin sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield resurrected the sound of The Breeders and Throwing Music with their crunchy guitars and charming sibling harmonies. The first single, “Silver” was the mightiest song of the summer, sure to launch high school girls everywhere to pick up a guitar and form a band. “Never Be Wrong” ascends to big, bright aggravation that is completely relatable. As Katie shared in a Lenny interview, the lyrics were “reflecting on the whole spectrum of sadness and anger and resentment” having experienced both professional and romantic disappointment.

COURTNEY BARNETT AND KURT VILE “LOTTA SEA LICE”Not a ‘90s throwback is the union of Courtney and Kurt…COURTNEY BARNETT AND KURT VILE joined forces to release “LOTTA SEA LICE”, a joint album recorded in a mere 8 days over a 15 month period due to their conflicting tour schedules. Limited time together didn’t hamper this breezy, buddy production. Barnett and Vile’s mirrored style of singing in a more spoken word-way enhances the trading off of verses on groove-filled “Over Everything” while the toe tapping “Continental Breakfast” highlights the importance of  “continental friendships”. Never has there been a more adorable duo tunefully expressing their mutual admiration.

TARA JANE O’NEILSinger/songwriter TARA JANE O’NEIL ventured out from a long absence with “SELF TITLED”, an 11-song collection recorded partly in her home studio in California and partly in Wilco’s Chicago rehearsal space. Each track resonated with O’Neil’s signature dreamy, sparkling guitars (“Sand”) and angelic, layered harmonies (“Kelley”). Reflecting the clear, unpretentious manner of her music, each track has a simple, one-word title and while a dozen people performed alongside her, O’Neil managed to emit a solitary figure producing an endless flow of sheer beauty. Glad she’s back and let’s hope 2018 brings more.

SON VOLTAnother act that had been away for a while was SON VOLT. Founder Jay Farrar returned to lead his band on “NOTES OF BLUE”, a half hour of sharp-edged, weighty sonic blues that sounded afar from his recent, quieter solo folk leanings. The volume alone is arena-ready as a guitar assault and bleak lyrics center on atonement on “Sinking Down” and on mortality on “Static”.  The singable “Back Against The Wall” was a fitting anthem to America’s year of public protest while “Midnight” was a trip straight in to hell. The closing and unexpected track, “Threads and Steel”, found Farrar digging past his vague, American regional lyrics to craft a cinematic and compelling tale of a “man goin’ round, takin’ names”.


Also challenging themselves in 2017 were BILLY BRAGG and JOE HENRY who hit the rails for a 65-hour train ride, across five states to record “SHINE A LIGHT: FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE GREAT AMERICAN RAILROAD”. The politically active, British punk and west coast singer-songwriter performed railroad-themed songs by the likes of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams, recording them in station waiting rooms, alongside tracks, and on the trains that carried them over 2,700 miles. The result is a great, acoustic document and reminder of America’s long historic transportation history.

 BECK “COLORS”And just in time before 2017 ran out, BECK released “COLORS”, the follow-up to 2014’s Grammy winning “Morning Phase”, a heart wrenchingly perfect album…that’s right, PERFECT. Fight me, if you want! For time, Beck headed to the dance floor, creating an explosion of saturated beats and never-ending positivity. The track “Wow” recaptures his earliest days of minimal hip-hop beats while “Up All Night” finds him in complete party mood. A remix of the psychedelic groove track “Dreams”, released over the summer, underlines Beck’s brilliant shape shifter talents and ends 2017 on a much more positive, hopeful note than how it began. / Issue 198 - August 2018
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