Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Robert Kinsler's Favorite 20 Albums of 2016; top 20 reissues, live sets and special collections too

As many of you know, I have long given up trying to rank my favorite albums of the year; I prefer to list my favorite titles alphabetically and don't necessarily restrict myself to a "Top 10" if there is a greater number deserving of the attention.

2016 was an especially strong year from my perspective with a mix of high-profile returns, break-out debuts, local indie releases and even several holiday collections warranting my attention. This year was also outstanding in terms of the parade of outstanding deluxe reissues and expanded editions that I have listed following my favorite new studio albums.

Artist: Bobbo Byrnes
Title: Motel Americana (Bobbo Byrnes)
Tell me more: As a member of the Fallen StarsBobbo Byrnes has long proven himself as a key voice on the international Americana scene. On his 2016 solo album Motel Americana, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist continues to successfully explore roots rock and alt-country, focusing on the slightly quieter and more nuanced regions of Americana. The songs bask in a sonic glow that fuses his own voice with those of singers Tracy Byrnes and Ben Riddle and a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments (Bobbo himself handles guitar, bass, mandolin, pedal steel, dobro and more!). Information: or

Artist: David Bowie
Title: Blackstar (Columbia)
Tell me more: David Bowie celebrated his 69th birthday on Jan. 8, 2016 with the release of his 25th studio album Blackstar. Only two days later the legendary artist was dead following an 18-month battle against cancer. Blackstar is a powerful and riveting sonic ride, providing the groundbreaking artist to blend rock, jazz, electronica and other styles as only he could; the ambitious 10-minute title track, stunning "Lazarus" and driving disc-ending "I Can't Give Everything Away" are among the instantly-affecting songs here. Information:

Artist: Cheap Trick
Title: Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello (Big Machine Records)
Tell me more: Cheap Trick's resurgence was not limited to the band's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 8, 2016. The quartet's first new full-length studio album since 2009, Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello is a bona fide triumph filled with the band's characteristic brand of high-octane melodic rock. The highlight on the album is "When I Wake Up Tomorrow," a melancholia-drenched original that bridges Cheap Trick's power-pop instincts with the sonic territory explored by David Bowie in "Heroes." Information:

Artist: The Cult
Title: Hidden City (Cooking Vinyl)
Tell me more: The Cult's Hidden City is a superb effort, branded with the band's blend of hard and goth rock. On the band's first album since 2012's Choice of Weapon, singer Ian Astbury and guitar hero Billy Duffy lead the ensemble through a dozen original songs that deliver on the outfit's past glories while forging ahead. "Dark Energy," "No Love Lost" and the infectious "Dance the Night" rock with unbridled power yet capture the shadowy sonics that have been a part of the group's sound since the 1980s. The Cult is no one-trick pony and explores an expansive and lush modern rock soundscape on the reflective "In Blood." The hypnotic "Birds of Paradise," rocking "Goat" (which recalls the Cult's Electric period) and progressive "Deeply Ordered Chaos" are other standouts on a stunning return. Information:

Artist: Neil Diamond
Title: Acoustic Christmas (Capitol Records)
Tell me more: Neil Diamond brings his rich baritone and signature style to some of the season's most beloved standards and several originals on his Acoustic Christmas. The sparse arrangements bring depth and introspective enchantment to all the performances, from the weighty "O Holy Night" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" to the anthemic "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and delightful Celtic-flavored "Christmas in Killarney." The album features two new shining originals, notably the lovely piano-anchored "Christmas Prayers." Information:

Artist: Dr. Dog
Title: The Psychedelic Swamp (Anti-Records)
Tell me more: On The Psychedelic Swamp, Dr. Dog has found a way to experiment at every turn while creating songs that are both fearless and intoxicating. With a mix of folk rock, art damage, Americana, baroque pop and retro-styled sound effects, the Pennsylvania-spawned outfit keeps things interesting via the spaghetti western-draped "Golden Hind," oldies rock-mining "Dead Record Player" and grooving Bowiesque "Bring My Baby Back." A concept album that chronicles the tale of a "man who attempts to escape his boring existence by entering The Psychedelic Swamp," the important thing here is that bandmates Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman have penned an involving opus that makes you think. Information:

Artist: Garbage
Title: Strange Little Birds (STUNVOLUME)
Tell me more: On Garbage's sixth album "Strange Little Birds," singer Shirley Manson and company explore the better parts of the band's electronica and alt rock personalities with equal zeal. The songs are powerful, deeply affecting and never anything less than original. Singer Shirley Manson remains one of modern rock's greatest lead vocalists, and is backed by a quartet of talented musicians able to unleash powerful and affecting songs that are never anything less than original. The ethereal "Blackout," propulsive "Empty" and alluring electronica-tinged "Night Drive Loneliness" provide more than enough reasons to pick up Garbage's brilliant Strange Little BirdsInformation:

Artist: GoGo Penguin
Title: Man Made Object (Blue Note)
Tell me more: Manchester, UK-based trio GoGo Penguin crafts soundscapes as lush and exciting as any young jazz troupe in memory. Man Made Object  finds trio Rob Turner (drums), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Chris Illingworth (piano) influenced by heroes such as Robert Glasper and the Vince Guaraldi Trio but carving out 10 extraordinary instrumentals that are clearly their own. While the mesmerizing "Branches Break" and ""Surrender to Mountain" are the most accessible, tracks such as "Weird Cat," "Quiet Mind" and the haunting piano-anchored "Gbfisysih" also have an enormous power to evoke emotions. Information:
Artist: James Hunter Six
Title: Hold On! (Daptone Recording Co.)
Tell me more: On Hold On! the James Hunter Six offers up uptempo rock 'n' soul and ballads with authenticity and fervor. Like modern-day soul revivalists Vintage Trouble, British singer-songwriter-guitarist James Hunter has found a wealth of musical riches in the old school rhythm and blues sonic territory of genre pioneers Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. On Hold On! uptempo rock 'n' soul ("If That Don't Tell You," "Stranded") and soulful ballads ("This Is Where We Came In," "Something's Calling," "In the Dark") are delivered with authenticity and fervor. Hunter is a fantastic guitarist, as evidenced by the captivating instrumental "Satchel Foot." Information:

Artist: The Jayhawks
Title: Paging Mr. Proust (Sham)
Tell me more: On the Jayhawks' outstanding ninth album Paging Mr. Proust, singer-guitarist Gary Louris and company venture where their musical hearts desire, offering up shimmering power-pop ("I'll Be Your Key," "Leaving the Monsters Behind"), baroque pop ("Pretty Roses in Your Hair") and alt country ("The Devil Is In Her Eye").  Paging Mr. Proust moves the Jayhawks forward while showcasing the impeccable song craft, amazing vocal harmonies and instrumental chops that have made the band an American treasure for three decades. Information:

Artist: Kansas
Title: The Prelude Implicit (InsideOutMusic)
Tell me more: Before the release of The Prelude Implicit in late 2016, it had been 16 years since progressive rockers Kansas had released an album of new material. The good news is the seven-member ensemble has returned with an epic album that builds on the legacy of the band's 1970s masterworks (Leftoverture and Point of No Return) via virtuoso musicianship, ornate song craft and timely lyrics that explore love, sacrifice, faith and mortality with poetic force. Information:

Artist: Paul Kelly
Title: Seven Sonnets & A Song (Cooking Vinyl)
Tell me more: One of the world's most interesting and talented songwriters, Australia-based Paul Kelly has surprised yet again with his newly-released Seven Sonnets & A Song, an ambitious collection anchored by original songs created using six William Shakespeare sonnets. The Clown's Song ("O Mistress Mine") from the Bard of Avon's "Twelfth Night" as well as a lyrical work penned by Shakespeare contemporary Sir Philip Sidney titled "My True Love Hath My Heart" (the latter featuring soprano Vika Bull on lead vocals) round out the wonderful collection. The splendid verse is adorned with Kelly's lush soundscapes which range from jazz ("Sonnet 138) and folk ("Sonnet 73," "O Mistress Mine") to Americana ("Sonnet 18") and piano-anchored ballads ("Sonnets 44 & 45"). Information:

Artist: The Monkees
Title: Good Times! (Rhino)
Tell me more: The magic that plays out across the Monkees' aptly-titled Good Times! is the mythical likes of which conjures up smiles and tears all at the same time. Guided and produced with a master's touch by the gifted Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne fame), Good Times! is the Monkees' first new collection in nearly 20 years and ranks as one of the group's best albums ever. The infectious power-pop selections “She Makes Me Laugh” (penned by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo) and “Our Own World” (written by Schlesinger), as well as the piano-anchored baroque pop masterpiece “Me & Magdalena” penned by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) are the most accessible tunes on the 13-song set, but to be sure brilliant songcraft abounds everywhere. Pete Tork’s original “Little Girl” is a wistful and affecting ballad; the late Davy Jones’ tenor shines on a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love” (work on the track began in early 1967, and was completed earlier this year). For those who admired the Monkees deepening artistry showcased on “Headquarters” and the “Head” soundtrack, just get a listen of the amazing “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” (co-written by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller) and the deeply-affecting Michael Nesmith-sung original “I Know What I Know.” Information:

Artist: Pet Shop Boys
Title: Super (Kobalt)
Tell me more: The Pet Shop Boys (lead vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe) followed up their terrific 2013 album Electric with the equally fine 2016 disc Super. The aptly-named "Happiness," lush "The Pop Kids" and propulsive "Burn" are among the many outstanding tracks here. Information:

Artist: The Pretenders
Title: Alone (BMG)
Tell me more: The Pretenders returned big time in 2016 thanks to the release of Chrissie Hynde and company's widely-praised 12-song collection produced by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. Highlights on Alone include the yearning "Let's Get Lost," the rollicking "Holy Commotion," wistful "Never Be Together" (featuring guest guitar legend Duane Eddy) and the raw "I Hate Myself." Information:

Artist: Radiohead
Title: A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)
Tell me more: The release of Radiohead's ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool in spring 2016 solidified that the British quintet remains rock's greatest contemporary artist. Listening to the 11-track release is to be immersed in a world blending acoustic, symphonic and electronic soundscapes adormed with enthralling rhythms, sound effects and singer Thom Yorke's ethereal vocals. Information:

Artist: The Record Company
Title: Give It Back to You (Concord Music Group)
Tell me more: Likely the flat-out best debut of 2016, The Record Company's Give It Back to You that not only evokes back to some of the group's influences (John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones), but equally establishes the trio as a contemporary force that kills it in concert too. Information:

Artist: Sturgill Simpson
Title: A Sailor's Guide to Earth (Atlantic Records)
Tell me more: An amazing follow-up to his 2014 sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson's third disc A Sailor's Guide to Earth confirms the Kentucky native's greatness. On the album's first track, "Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)," Simpson somehow blends authentic country music, orchestral textures and soul into a single five-minute arc. A few songs into A Sailor's Guide to Earth it's obvious that Simpson has somehow blended far-flung genres into a single sound built around an eight-track song cycle written following the birth of his first child in the summer of 2014. The thematic collection also includes a musical intermission where he delivers a magical and completely reworked cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom." Information:

Artist: Seth Swirsky
Title: Circles and Squares (Grimble Records)
Tell me more: Seth Swirsky is a true power-pop master, able to tap into the best of his influences and create something as contemporary as it is original. His latest album Circles and Squares marks another milestone for the singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist (who plays the majority of instruments across the 16-song set). The shimmering "Shine" (which could have been at home on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds), wistful "Far Away" (tapping into a Jeff Lynne-meets-Paul McCartney vibe), beautiful baroque pop musical proposal "Let's Get Married" and sparse acoustic ballad "The Simplest Way" are among the many fantastic originals on the album. Information:

Artist: Michael Ubaldini
Title: Starshaker (Blackwater Records)
Tell me more: Alt-Americana rocker Michael Ubaldini's Starshaker is very much of our time even while it is steeped in authentic songcraft that ensures it is a masterwork for the ages. While even gifted songwriters are often content to revisit the same themes over and over again, Ubaldini is able to draw inspiration aplenty from a far-flung assortment of places, as evidenced by the potent "Politician Superstar," "Jeanie Lees Phone," and "Ballad of Brian Jones." Information:


Artist: The Bangles
Title: Ladies and Gentlemen...the Bangles! (Omnivore Recordings)

Artist: The Beatles
Title: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Capitol)
Big Star's 'Complete Third'
was among the outstanding
special releases of 2016.

Artist: Big Star
Title: Complete Third (Omnivore Recordings)

Artist: Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
Title: Memories in Rock - Live in Germany (Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Title: Go Tell It On The Mountain (Omnivore Recordings)

Artist: Jeff Buckley
Title: You and I (Columbia/Legacy Recordings)

Artist: Peter Case
Title: Peter Case (Omnivore Recordings)

Artist: Game Theory
Title: The Big Shot Chronicles (Omnivore Recordings)

Artists: Paul Kelly & Charlie Owne
Title: Death's Dateless Night (Cooking Vinyl)

Artist: The Mavericks
Title: All Night Live Volume 1 (Mono Mundo Recordings)
'The Complete Trio Collection'
was one of the finest releases
of 2016

Artists: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
Title: The Complete Trio Collection (Rhino)

Artist: Linda Ronstadt
Title: Silk Purse (Varese Sarabande Records)

Artist: Rush
Title: 2112 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe (XXXXXX)

Artist: Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
Title: All-Time Greatest Hits (Varese Sarabande Records)

Artist: Queen
Queen's 'On Air' is essential for fans
of the British quartet
Title: Queen On Air (Hollywood Records)

Artist: Scorpions
Title: Live in Munich 2012 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Artist: The Searchers
Title: The Very Best of the Searchers (Varese Sarabande)

Artist:  The Rolling Stones
Title: Havana Moon (Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Artist:  Temple of the Dog
Title: Temple of the Dog (A&M Records)

Artist: Hank Williams
Title: The Complete Mother's Best Collection...Plus! (Time Life)
The Zombies' "The BBC Radio
Sessions' sheds additional
light on the band's legacy

Artist:  The Zombies
Title: The BBC Radio Sessions (Varese Sarabande Records)

Artists: Judy Henske & Jerry Yester
Title: Farewell Aldebaran (Omnivore Recordings)

Various Artists: Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Peter Frampton, more

Title: Dear Jerry: Celebrating the Music of Jerry Garcia (Rounder Records)

Robert Kinsler

No comments: