This list is always very difficult for me to put together. Because I enjoy so many different genres, the decision-making becomes nearly impossible. I’ve scaled it down to these gems, because they are the ones that I turned to most often this year.
5. Valerie June: The Order Of Time.
Valerie opened for Drive-By Truckers at the festival at which I had my first press pass. Her music is a gorgeous and ethereal mix of blues and soul and the bluegrass she grew up singing on her front porch. June is that rare mixture of old soul and innocent child. Her songs exhibit both a beautiful and deep understanding of the world around her as well as a child-like innocence. “Astral Plane ” is a perfect example of this. June is a star on a meteoric rise. There is no stopping her. And thank goodness for that.
4. The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding.
This album is studio perfection. Its dream-like sound sweeps you up and surrounds you with lushness and depth and a quality of sound that envelopes you like a favorite old blanket. It’s familiar, yet incredibly new. This is, by far, my favorite War On Drugs album. Adam Granduciel never tells us the entire story. Instead, we are allowed bits and pieces of the narrative, flashes of what it is he is trying to tell us lyrically. But when you close your eyes and let the music wash over you, it all makes perfect sense.
3. Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett : Lotta Sea Lice
I’ve always been a huge fan of Kurt. His quirkiness, individuality and ability to craft exquisitely catchy sings that remain beautifully unique and different are the qualities that have always drawn me to him. Courtney Barnett is his perfect musical partner. This album marries their uniqueness in a way that shines a light in both of their talents without detracting a thing from the individual merits that make them both so listenable. While at first, it seems like a simple record, its complexities and musical depth are there in full force. I can’t stop listening.
2. The National: Sleep Well Beast.
This album is full of darkness, melancholy and reflection. It speaks to any one of us navigating minefields of desperation and sadness and pain. It makes one feel safe in the knowledge that even pain and longing and grief can be beautiful roads we navigate on our way to better and happier places. And don’t we all need that from time to time?
1. Jason Isbell and the 400 unit: The Nashville Sound
There was no doubt in my mind what album would be number one on this list for me. A fan of Jason since his days in Drive-By Truckers, his songwriting is my favorite on earth. Since he was 21 years old, his songs and lyrics have touched me more than those of any other songwriter. Isbell notices things. He is a keen observer of the world around him, noticing and feeling even the tiniest shifts in feelings and emotions. This album, which came at a time of such darkness for so many of us after the election of our current POTUS, touches upon community, love of family, humanity, and doing what’s right. It’s a glimmering light that guides us in from the storm. The song “If We Were Vampires” is one of the most beautiful love songs of all time and “Hope The High Road” talks us down off the ledge with lines like ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more.” I have a full review if this album in a previous blog post. Suffice it to say, to me, this album is a masterpiece.