Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reissues, Live Albums and Special Editions of 2017

Simply put, 2017 was an amazing year for those who love deluxe editions and reissues, and special concert recordings (including those audio-only titles, as well as multi-format releases that came via Blu-ray, DVD and digital). Here are some of my favorites.

Artist: The Beatles
Title: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol)
Tell me more: Whether you picked up the 2-disc version or any of the other expanded versions of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band you quickly discovered the joy of rediscovering the enduring power and magic of the Fab Four's 1967 masterpiece. After 50 years, the power of the album remains and the new mix by Giles Martin (son of Sir George Martin) and engineer Sam Okell in stereo (sourced directly from the four-track masters at London's Abbey Road Studios) is a revelation. Looking at the 2-disc version, the first disc features the new stereo album mix; the second disc includes previously-unreleased alternate takes of each of the 13 songs on the original album. Additionally, there is a previously-unavailable instrumental version of "Penny Lane" and two unreleased alternate takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever." On The Beatles' official website, you can check out a number of different 50th Anniversary Editions of the release, including the 6-disc Deluxe Edition. Information:

Artist: Peter Case
Title: On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter Peter Case's On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene features live tracks captured on Los Angles radio station KPFK-FM' syndicated radio program in 1998 and 2000. This fantastic collection features Case singing a number of his stellar originals, including the Americana-styled "On the Way Downtown" and "Honey Child," Delta blues-flavored "Let Me Fall" and introspective "Green Blanket (Part 1)" from "Full Service, No Waiting" (released in 1998); the last nine selections on "On The Way Downtown" are weighted in favor of Case's 2000 LP "Flying Saucer Blues"; songs from that disc shine in the live setting including the Appalachia spirited "Something Happens" and wistful folk nugget "Blue Distance" (with lovely fiddle work from David Perales) and the playful acoustic blues chantey "Walking Home Late." The package also features liner notes penned by Case about the radio performances featured on the disc. Information:

Artist: Game Theory
Title: 2 Steps From The Middle Ages (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: It's easy for discerning music fans to get angry when talented bands such as Game Theory never achieve the recognition and commercial success they deserve. Headed by brilliant singer-songwriter-guitarist Scott Miller, Game Theory issued five studio albums and two EPs in the 1980s. The band's jangly power pop-meets-baroque rock sound was combined with intricate musical arrangements and literate lyrics. The reissue of Game Theory's final studio album 2 Steps From The Middle Ages marks another reason to celebrate Omnivore Recordings' continuing commitment to shine a light on the band. The new expanded edition of "2 Steps From The Middle Ages' includes 11 bonus tracks, including original demos, live versions and radio broadcast sessions. The material includes some of Miller's most infectious and detailed songs. If you have not yet heard of Game Theory, check out tracks like "Room For One More, Honey," "Don't Entertain Me Twice," "Throwing the Election" and prepare to be hooked. A fully-illustrated 24-page booked adds a wealth of background and insight about Game Theory. The release also serves as a bittersweet tribute to Game Theory drummer Gil Ray, who passed away earlier this year. Information:

Artist: Alvin Lee & Co.
Title: Live at the Academy of Music, New York, 1975 (Rainman Records)
Tell me more: When singer-songwriter/guitar great Alvin Lee died at the age of 68 in 2013, it fortunately didn't mark the end of commercial releases expanding his legacy. A fantastic concert featuring Alvin Lee & Co. recorded more than 40 years ago has just been released. Live at the Academy of Music, New York, 1975 features Lee's fiery and groundbreaking lead guitar work, but also showcases an expanded direction following his departure from Ten Years After. Sure there are blues-rock tracks here ("Got to Keep Moving," "Let's Get Back"), but those British blues are frequently adorned with gospel vocals, soul, jazz and R&B. The beautiful baroque folk ballad "All Life's Trials," an authentic reading of the 1930s blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go" and rocking lead guitar-anchored "I'm Writing You a Letter" are among the lovely surprises here. Fans of Lee will want to get this two-disc treasure. Information:

Artist: Little Richard
Title: Here's Little Richard (Craft Recordings/Concord Music)
Tell me more: To listen to the 60th anniversary edition of Here's Little Richard is to be joyfully transported to the early days of rock 'n' roll and gain a newfound appreciation of the artist born Richard Penniman. One of rock's founding fathers, Little Richard's debut (recorded in 1955 and 1956) more than holds up in 2017. The performances here are simply riveting, with Little Richard's signature vocals and pounding piano driving rockers such as "Tutti Frutti," Ready Teddy," "Rip It Up" and "Long Tall Sally" as well as New Orleans-flavored blues ("I Can't Believe You Wanna Leave," "Baby," "Slippin' and Sliding' "). A second disc on this essential deluxe edition features 22 must-hear demo and/or alternate recordings of the dozen songs on the original Here's Little Richard. Information:

Artist: Prince
Title: Purple Rain Deluxe - Expanded Edition (NPG Records / Warner Bros. Records)
Tell me more: Released as both a "Deluxe" 2 CD version and a "Deluxe - Expanded Edition" featuring three CDs and a DVD, the re-release of Prince's masterwork Purple Rain recently captured the #1 on the Top Soundtrack Albums Chart and the top spot on the Top Vinyl Albums Chart, as well as returned to the Top 5 of the Billboard Top 200 too. More than three decades after the release of the film and the accompanying soundtrack, "Purple Rain" continues to cast its magic via dynamic recordings blending rock, soul, funk and pop (both newly-released versions are anchored by the official 2015 Paisley Park Remaster of the original tapes from the soundtrack). Of the most interest to hardcore fans of the late artist (Prince died in April 2016) is a CD full of rarities and a slew of previously-unreleased tracks, and a DVD featuring a concert with Prince and the Revolution captured in Syracuse, NY on March 30, 1985. That concert features restored audio and video from the original production master tape, and offers a real glimpse into Prince as a groundbreaking performer at the beginning of his career. Information:

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: From The Vault: Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Tell me more: On May 20, 2015, a fortunate group of lucky fans were treated to an intimate concert featuring the Rolling Stones at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. Now that already-legendary live event has been released as part of the Rolling Stones' "From The Vault" series. Available in a variety of formats, the terrific Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 marked the first time in the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' career that the Rolling Stones performed the entire 1971 album Sticky Fingers. Additionally, this concert marked the official kick-off of the band's North American Zip Code Tour. The audience is treated to terrific versions of many classics including the Americana-styled "Dead Flowers" and "Wild Horses," the fiery rocker "Bitch," jazz-tinged blues rocker "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," and a Chicago blues romp through B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" featuring a lively harmonica solo courtesy of Mick Jagger. Bonus tracks include "All Down The Line," "When The Whip Comes Down" and "I Can't Turn You Loose." In addition to the top-tier performances of many of the Stones' best songs, the DVD includes insightful interviews positioned before the band performances.  For example, in one of the most revealing segments, guitarist Ronnie Wood discusses his respect for guitarist Mick Taylor (whom Wood replaced in the band). A must have film for Stones fans, From The Vault: Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 is available on DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, DVD+3LP and digital formats. Information:

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Tell me more: One of the most interesting and insightful rock 'n' roll documentary films in memory, director Paul Dugdale's Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America chronicles The Rolling Stones' historic 2016 tour through 10 Latin America cities. This is a multi-layered film; while the obvious focus of the documentary is to champion the legendary British band's legacy and the complex bond shared between the members of the group, the film provides a simultaneous look at the challenging logistics of setting up a free concert in Cuba amidst an ambitious tour attracting massive and adoring audiences from Argentina north to Mexico. The film is beautifully shot and really captures the colorful places and people throughout the Rolling Stones' tour. In addition to the full-length film, bonus features on the title include seven full-length performances caught along the way including an incredible version of "Out Of Control" in Buenos Aires, Argentina and free wheeling "Miss You" delivered in Lima, Peru. Information:

Artist: Rosebud
Title: Rosebud (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: A masterwork even in its original form, Rosebud's self-titled 1971 album has been reissued with 10 bonus tracks and is ready for the world to discover this classic anew. The range of material encompasses a number of styles of the day and then some, thanks in part to the fusion of well-crafted songs written by Judy Henske (vocals) and Jerry Yester (vocals, bass guitar, banjo), as well as the vocal and instrumental contributions of everyone in the quartet (rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Craig Doerge and drummer John Seiter). There is beautiful folk rock ("The Yum Yum Man"), an exquisite Continental European-flavored ballad ("Le Soleil"), psychedelic-tinged rock ("Reno"), Laurel Canyon country pop ("Western Wisconsin," "Roll Home Cheyenne") and lounge pop ("Lorelei," "Flying To Morning"), all of it delivered with a creative and independent spirit that infuses both the lyrics and music making. The bonus material bolsters the set, with the previously-unreleased "Mercury Of Fools" a progressive delight. Information:

Artist: Raspberries
Title: Pop Art Live (Omnivore)
Tell me more: Anyone who wants to get fully immersed in shimmering songcraft that exudes undeniable melodies, catchy choruses and stellar songs that get stuck in your head should check out the Raspberries' glorious 2004 reunion that was released as a must-have 2 CD audio set. Pop Art Live (also available digitally) boasts a pristine recording of the rock quartet's reunion concert captured at House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio on Nov. 26, 2004. The material here is delivered with power pop precision and heft by the original lineup of singer-guitarist Eric Carmen, lead guitarist-vocalist Wally Bryson, bassist-vocalist David Smalley and drummer Jim Bonfanti. Highlights on disc one include a driving "I Wanna Be With You," a spirited take on the Who's "I Can't Explain," baroque pop-styled "Don't Wanna Say Goodbye" and harmonies-filled prize "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)." The second disc features just as many essentials, with the lush "I Saw The Light," wistful folk rocker When You Were With Me" and anthemic "Go All The Way" sure to impress. Beatles fans (and who isn't?) take note; the Raspberries kill it with incredible takes on the John Lennon/Paul McCartney classics "Baby's In Black," "No Reply" and "Ticket To Ride." As if all that great music wasn't enough, the booklet includes reflections and notes from filmmaker/rock critic Cameron Crowe, author James Rosen and other high-profile fans of the Raspberries. Information:

Artist: The Searchers
Title: Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981 (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: One of England's break-out bands following the Beatles, the Searchers scored a slew of hit singles in the early 1960s including "Needles and Pins," "Don't Throw Our Love Away" and "Sweets for My Sweet." But while the group's initial string of hits stopped coming in the late 1960s, there was a revival of sorts for the group when the head of Sire Records caught the band at a performance in the late 1970s and signed them to a new contract. These recordings  featured on the new compilation Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981 – are a delight. Spirited material penned by everyone from Bob Dylan and Tom Petty to John Fogerty and Big Star's Alex Chilton afforded the Searchers plenty of ammunition to put their distinctive vocals and musical stamp on songs that draw natural comparisons with Tom Petty, the Plimsouls, Great Buildings and other melodic rockers to emerge at the dawn of the '80s. There are 29 splendid tracks splashed across two discs, representing all the album tracks, B-sides and alternate mixes from the Sire era. Listening to winning material such as "Love's Gonna Be Strong," "Feeling Fine," "It's Too Late" and a shimmering reworking of Fogerty's classic "Almost Saturday Night," it's easy to hear why the Searchers are worth discovering. Information:

Artist: U2
Title: The Joshua Tree [Super Deluxe Edition] (Island Records)
Tell me more: The Super Deluxe Edition edition of U2's The Joshua Tree is a significant purchase, retailing for between $90 and $100. Yet, the newly-released box set marking the 30th anniversary of U2's 1987 masterwork is money well spent for U2's countless fans who filled stadiums for the band's recent 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour that reportedly garnered $62 million in its first month (according to Billboard). The new box set includes the original 11-track album, a live recording captured during the 1987 Joshua Tree Tour at Madison Square Garden, a number of B-sides and rarities, and several 2017 remixes of several of the album's songs. There is also a a beautiful hardcover book featuring photographs taken by The Edge and a folio of eight 12-inch cooler prints from band photographer Anton Corbijn. Information:

Artist: John Wetton
Title: Akustrika / Akustrika II (Primary Purpose / Red Cherry Red Records)
Tell me more: Fans of John Wetton continue to mourn the legendary rocker who died on Jan. 31, 2017 following a long battle fighting cancer. Now the lead singer/bassist of ASIAU.K. and King Crimson (1972-1974) is featured on a fantastic 2CD set celebrating his legacy. Akustrika: Live in Amerika  (featuring tracks recorded in October 1995) and Akustrika II: Return to Amerika (featuring a concert taped on Nov. 11, 2005) really highlight Wetton's gifts as one of rock's most emotive voices. The inspired "Voice of America," "Hold Me Now" (with Wetton's voice soaring) and a remarkable version of the ASIA classic "Only Time Will Tell" and a stirring "Battle Lines" are among this writer's favorites on the first disc, while the intimate "Walking on Air," driving "Sole Survivor" and a dramatic retelling of ASIA's hit "Heat of the Moment" are among the many standouts on the second disc. Accompanied by only his acoustic guitar or piano, the tracks on the release were selected for this collection by Wetton before his passing; Akustrika / Akustrika II is a powerful tribute to Wetton's enduring legacy. Information:

Artist: Neil Young
Title: Hitchhiker (Reprise)
Tell me more: Neil Young continues to please his discerning followers with special releases that shed incredible insight into the tunesmith's wealth of brilliant songs. The latest example is the highly-anticipated release of Hitchhiker, a legendary 10-song disc of acoustic songs recorded in a single day on Aug. 11, 1976 at Indigo Studios in Malibu, California. Among the magnificent  songs first put to tape in a studio that day were "Pocahontas," "Powderfinger" and "Ride My Llama"  three memorable works that wound up on the Canadian singer-songwriter's 1979 masterwork Rust Never Sleeps. Armed with nothing more than his glorious voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica, Young tracked 10 timeless nuggets that were further enhanced by their otherworldly ties to each other. Information:

Robert Kinsler

TJR and Robert Kinsler review 2017

On the latest episode of MUSIC WORTH BUYING, TJR and Robert Kinsler look back at 2017 and discuss some of their favorite albums of the year:

Click here to read Robert Kinsler's complete list of favorite albums of 2017

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Robert Kinsler's Favorite Albums of 2017

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.

This list features my favorite 28 studio album releases of 2017. I will also post a list of my favorite deluxe reissues and live releases of the year in another post...

Artist: Beck
Title: Colors (Capitol Records)
Tell me more: Since Beck burst on the music scene in 1994 with his breakthrough hit "Loser," the singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has somehow blended alternative rock, pop, soul, funk, hip hop, Americana and a myriad of other styles with unearthly brilliance. On his 13th full-length album Colors, the Southern California-based artist continues to chart his own creative path with a master's touch. This time out, Beck has simultaneously tapped into 1980s synth pop, modern rock and late '60s psychedelic rock to carve out yet another expansive masterwork. The songs here are mostly upbeat, buoyant and armed to get concertgoers on their feet with infectious grooves. The swirling title track "Colors," exuberant "I'm So Free," propulsive "No Distraction" (with its cool fly-by Beatlesque guitar hits and Beck's falsetto vocals) and dreamy "Fix Me" are among this writer's faves. This is an album that reveals its sonic secrets and wonders more fully with each subsequent listen. Information:

Artist: Big Head Todd and the Monsters
Title: New World Arisin' (Big Records)
Tell me more: Big Head Todd and the Monsters have released their 11th full-length album and it's as epic as the title. New World Arisin' kicks off with the explosive "Glow," a song that expertly bridges alternative rock and blues. From there, the Boulder, Colorado-spawned quartet delves into Southern blues-rock ("New World Arisin' "), melodic alt rock ("Damaged One"), funk ("Trip") and jangly psychedelia ("Mind")  and that's just the first handful of tracks on the album. Thirty years into their illustrious career, Big Head Todd and the Monsters are still writing and performing with the firepower and creativity displayed on their breakout 1993 album Sister Sweetly.  High octane rocker "Detonator" the lovely "Wipeout Turn" and inspired blues rocker "Under Your Wings" are among the other memorably-affecting songs on the outstanding New World Arisin'. Information:

Artist: Phoebe Bridgers
Title: Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)
Tell me more: Los Angeles singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers' full-length debut Stranger in the Alps is a beautiful album showcasing her expressive soprano offering up introspective songs. The intimate folk-rock soundscape where Bridgers sings artfully of relationships and the mysterious links that bring people together and divide them requires good listening skills. The songs occasionally kick it up a notch (the blissfully burgeoning "Scott Street"), but the tone overall is of lush and haunting songs that soar with quiet firepower. "Smoke Signals," "Motion Sickness" and the piano- and cello-anchored "Georgia" are among the the wonderful tracks on an outstanding debut where Bridgers' very intimate forays achieve a universal reach. Information:

Artist: Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie
Title: Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie (Atlantic Records)
Tell me more: A breezy and sumptuous album that captures the magic of Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, the first-ever collaboration between Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie was one of 2017's biggest and most welcome surprises. With 10 terrific songs performed with shimmering arrangements that showcase the affecting voices of Buckingham and McVie, the riches include the infectious "Feel About You," lush "Red Sun," power pop-mining "On With the Show" and piano-anchored ballad "Game of Pretend." Information:

Artist: Kasey Chambers
Title: Dragonfly (Essence/MGM)
Tell me more: Kasey Chambers' ambitious double album Dragonfly succeeds on every imaginable level. The Australian singer-songwriter's potent songs and shining vocals always amaze, but on "Dragonfly" there is a magical quality how she moves effortlessly between country blues, bluegrass, Americana and traditional country in the service of her confessional songs. The collection is divided into two parts; disc one features the "Sing Sing Sessions" produced by Paul Kelly while the second disc features the "Foggy Mountain Sessions" produced by her brother and frequent producer Nash ChambersThe powerful "Ain't No Little Girl" finds her beautiful soprano erupting to a roar, while she can artfully rebound on the melodically lush "Summer Pillow" before masterfully moving into roots rock territory on the soaring "You Ain't Worth Suffering For" - and that's just on the first disc. The second disc features an equal number of amazing songs, including the gospel spiritual-styled "Shackle & Chain" and "No Ordinary Man," the speedy title track and electrified Delta blues gem "If I Died." There are several special guests, with Keith Urban's vocal contributions particularly affecting on "If We Had A Child." Information:

Artist: Bruce Cockburn
Title: Bone on Bone (True North)
Tell me more: Master singer-songwriter-guitarist Bruce Cockburn returned with the epic Bone on Bone, his first new full-length album since 2011's Small Source Of Comfort. Always an artist difficult to pigeonhole, Cockburn's latest album finds the 72-year-old Canadian great once exploring roots, folk, blues and more with a master's touch. The gorgeous folk song "Forty Years in the Wilderness" is one of the beautiful songs in his extensive discography. His songs are rich in alluring textures and melodies, and the probing and confessional lyrics challenge in ways that vastly outdistance the cliches and trite observations too common in the digital age. "Cafe Society" somehow brings in the timely topics of refugees, drug use, police violence and dozens of other topics without sounding calculated; the jazz-tinged spoken word heavy "3 Al Purdys," introspective "Looking and Waiting" and instrumental finger style guitar work "Bone on Bone" collectively serve to remind long-time and new fans of Cockburn's brilliant and wide-ranging talents. Information:

Artist: Fastball
Title: Step Into Light (33 1/3)
Tell me more: Fastball is back. The Austin, Texas-based trio's latest studio album Step Into Light is a wonderful collection of melodic and smart pop-rock tunes sure to please lovers of top-tier songcraft. Fastball's first album since 2009's Little White Lies, the 12-song set Step Into Light features a wide range of infectious songs including the rocking lead-off track "We're On Our Way," the shimmering power pop gem "Just Another Dream," surf rock-styled instrumental "Tanzania" and the sweeping Americana-flavored title track. "Step Into Light" also finds Fastball's all-original lineup (Tony ScalzoMiles Zuniga and Joey Shuffield) stretching their sound as evidenced by the album-ending art rocker "Lillian Gish" and genre-defying "Frenchy and the Punk." Information:

Artist: Samantha Fish
Title: Chills & Fever (Ruf Records)
Tell me more: The fourth album release from singer-songwriter-guitarist Samantha Fish finds the Kansas City, Missouri native stretching her sonic wings to inject an authentic blend of Motown soul and R&B into her established blues-meets-roots rock brew. Armed with a far-reaching soprano and dexterity on the fretboard to match, Fish has somehow found a musical place that recalls the classic sounds of Motown mixed with electric blues. Recorded at The 45 Factory in Detroit, Chills & Fever teams Fish with a supporting cast that includes a horn section that adds particular magic to the tracks. Standouts on the excellent 14-song disc include the dynamic "He Did It," the playful title cut and lead guitar-anchored "You Can't Go." Information:

Artist: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Title: Who Built The Moon? (Caroline Records)
Tell me more: A dramatic and stylistic shift away from 2015's Chasing YesterdayNoel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' third studio disc Who Built The Moon? certifies the greatness of Oasis' principal songwriter. Noel Gallagher's latest effort features a lavish mix of alt rock, electronica, synth pop and tinges of gospel, soul and other styles. Listening to the exuberant "It's a Beautiful World," driving New Order-mining "She Taught Me How to Fly," cosmic blues romp "Be Careful What You Wish For" and expansive "Holy Mountain" is to be spellbound by the wide range of styles collected and merged with flawless artistry. The urgent "Fort Knox," acoustic "Dead in the Water" and heavy title track are other standoutsGallagher's voice and dazzling guitar work are seminal, while the role of noteworthy artists who guest on the album including Jason Falkner (of Beck, Jellyfish and Air fame), Johnny Marr (The Smiths, The The) and Paul Weller (The Jam) help bolster this amazing album. Information:

Artist: Colin Hay
Title: Fierce Mercy (Compass Records)
Tell me more: Colin Hay has an innate ability to write and perform songs that entice musically while effortlessly forcing the listener to think. On his latest masterwork Fierce Mercy, the acclaimed singer-songwriter uses a batch of original songs (several co-written with Michael Georgiades) that explore life from the insightful perspective that the majority of life's days are in the rear view mirror. But Hay's Fierce Mercy is no downbeat lament; there is a rich tapestry of both sonic and lyrical textures. The disc's soundscape blends folk-rock, jazz, Americana and more while the richly-drawn lyrics aim at the everyday triumphs and tragedies that define people's lives. "A Thousand Million Reasons" is a gorgeous and subtle song that taps into the powerful genesis of love. "She Was the Love of Mine" finds the singer celebrating the life of his late mother. "Frozen Fields of Snow" is a deeply-affecting song written by Hay that looks at the life of a military veteran outside the narrow confines of a battlefield tale. The deluxe edition of Fierce Mercy includes three outstanding bonus tracks providing even more great reasons to get a wonderful album. Information:

Artist: Richard X. Heyman
Title: Incognito (Turn-Up Records)
Tell me more: Master singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Richard X. Heyman returned with his 12th album, this one featuring an outstanding batch of 14 must-hear original songs. Incognito is an album that grabs the listener on first listen, with literate tales that are melodic, adorned with shimmering harmonies and infectious guitar-anchored hooks that outdistance the majority of his power pop contemporaries. In a better world, the title track "Incognito," "A Fool's Errand" and "Her Garden Path" would be all over the radio. Heyman can conjure up firepower to spare, as evidenced by the driving "Chalk It Up" and soulful "Terry Two Timer." And Heyman's skills to create and craft wistful songs bolstered by melodic rock are as strong as any artist in memory (just listen to the yearning Americana-tinged "And Then" and "Gleam"). A masterwork from start to finish. Information:

Artist: Chris Hillman
Title: Bidin' My Time (Rounder Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Tom Petty, the Desert Rose Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers
Tell me more: A beautiful and deeply affecting album, Chris Hillman's wonderful Bidin' My Time serves not only as a celebration of the legendary co-founder of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers but as a tribute to the illustrious lineup of guests who appear on the disc. Produced by Tom Petty  who the world lost on Oct. 2, 2017  Bidin' My Time features singer/multi-instrumentalist Hillman performing songs he co-wrote with Steve Hill as well as songwriting contributions from Sonny CurtisNathan G. BarrowPete Seeger, Petty, and fellow Byrds members Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark. The shimmering "Here She Comes Again" will thrill fans of Hillman's '60s tuneful folk rock with its layers of 12- and 6-string guitar provided by McGuinn and Petty alongside the organ handiwork of Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame). "She Don't Care About Time" taps into a similar sonic vein, with John Jorgenson's 12-string electric guitar dancing with Tench's stellar piano play. Assisting Hillman on his first studio album since 2005 are other greats including David Crosby (on harmony vocals on the lovely "Bells of Rhymney"), fiddler Gabs Witcher, drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Mark Fain. And everywhere the masterful acoustic guitar, banjo and harmony vocals of Herb Pedersen shine. If there was any justice in the world, modern-day commercial country radio would have the album's infectious title track, introspective "Given All I Can See" and tender ballad "Different Rivers" in heavy rotation. Information:

Artist: The Mavericks
Title: Brand New Day (Mono Mundo Recordings)
Tell me more: The Mavericks' latest album Brand New Day marks another chance to embrace and celebrate one of music's most joyful ensembles. Led by singer singer-guitarist Raul Malo, Brand New Day finds the Mavericks continuing to find new and wonderful ways to blend rock, country, Latin and Tex-Mex styles together . The spirited title track, bustling "Rolling Along," Western swing-flavored "Ride With Me" and Roy Orbison-minded "I Will Be Yours" are among the wonderful songs that lift this wonderful 10-song LP. Information:

Artist: Paul Kelly
Title: Life Is Fine (Cooking Vinyl)
You might like if you enjoy: Neil Finn, Paul Kelly, Bruce Springsteen
Tell me more: A veritable treasure in his native Australia, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly released an aptly-titled album titled Life Is Fine that showcases the genuine strengths that make the artist so beloved at home. A gifted singer, songwriter and guitarist able to bring rock, folk, and Americana sounds together with ease, the new album is further elevated by the range of great singers and musicians who join Kelly on the mostly-upbeat project. The songs breathe and vibrate with life's power; the first track on the album "Rising Moon" mirrors the passion of a Springsteen track with its blend of rock dynamics, hopeful spirit and sense of the dramatic. "Finally Something Good" is a joyful exploration of love finally found. Beyond the instinctive and emotional pull of the songs is how Kelly has brought in guest vocalists Vika and Linda Bull to enhance select songs; indeed Vika Bull delivers lead vocals on the retro blues "My Man's Got a Cold." while Linda Bull sings the shimmering melodic folk rocker "Don't Explain." Kelly's own affecting baritone is more than up to the task everywhere else, including on the lively and expressive "Letter in the Rain," stirring country-flavored "Petrichor" and sparse title track. Information:

Artist: Old 97's
Title: Graveyard Whistling (ATO Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Rhett Miller, Wilco, Supersuckers
Tell me more: On Graveyard Whistlingthe Old 97's unleash a batch of potent songs that mine well-traveled trails celebrating romance, life in small towns, the thrill of playing music and the joys of having a good drink. Since emerging in Dallas, Texas in 1993, the quartet has recorded a slew of great albums filled with memorable songs that stand the test of time; that formula is firmly intact on the 11-track Graveyard Whistling. There are rollicking alt-country rockers such as the confessional "Good With God" and the raucous "Drinkin' Song." The Old 97's can disarm with the most lovely of songs, as evidenced by the beautiful "Bad Luck Charm" with singer Rhett Miller's reflective delivery and the band's nuanced performance; on "All Who Wander" the band explores similar sonic territory with equal melodic prowess. The group also makes a joyful detour on the Celtic-flavored "Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls." Information:

Artist: Pugwash
Title: Silverlake (Lojinx)
Tell me more: I have heard hundreds of new studio albums this year and I can't think of any that are better than the brilliant Silverlake from Pugwash. A dozen marvelous originals fill this disc, all written by Dublin-based singer-guitarist Thomas Walsh. But the equally-winning part of the formula is the crucial work of Jason Falkner (a former member of Jellyfish and the Grays, and long-time lead guitarist of Beck's touring band), who produced, mixed and played a slew of instruments including guitars, bass, drums and keyboards on the tracks. To be sure the intoxicating "The Perfect Summer," "What Are You Like," "Without You" and other songs here will leave listeners with a delightfully-incurable case of earworm. Those looking for honest, melodic and inventive songwriting that is delivered with the artfulness of enduring classics from ELO, XTC, Crowded House and the Beatles should dispose of the weary adage "They don't make music like that anymore" and discover the magic of Pugwash. And the fact that the album was recorded in a mere 22 days makes this masterwork all the more remarkable. Information:

Artist: Queens Of The Stone Age
Title: Villains (Matador Records)
Tell me more: Produced by Mark Ronson, the latest album from Queens Of The Stone Age (Villains) marked a remarkable step forward for the band even while retaining what has always made the Palm Desert-spawned rockers so powerful. From the intoxicating riff rocker "The Way You Used To Do" and dreamy "Fortress" to the rapid-fire "Head Like a Haunted House" and swirling groove rocker "Hideaway," this is an album that pushes the creative boundaries of Joshua Homme's outfit in their first full-length effort since 2013's ...Like Clockwork. Information:

Artist: Ride
Title: Weather Diaries (Wichita Recordings)
Tell me more: Weather Diaries marked Ride's first new album in 21 years and the great news is the album is every bit as wonderful as the English quartet's remarkable return witnessed at Coachella in April 2015. The group's original lineup (guitarist-singer Andy Bell, lead singer-guitarist Mark Gardener, drummer Laurence "Los" Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt) came back together for Weather Diaries, which kicks off with the haunting and hypnotic rocker "Lannoy Point." That powerful musical statement is no fluke; every cut on the album thrives on the power of mood, clever song craft, and skilled musicianship. The electronica-styled "All I Want," lush "Home Is A Feeling," sweeping and swirling "Cali," and zestful "Lateral Alice" are among the terrific tracks on this welcome return. Information:

Artist: Whitney Rose
Title: Rule 62 (Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers)
Tell me more: With a sound and beautiful soprano that recalls some of the stellar country music singers of the '50s and '60s, Nashville-based songstress Whitney Rose shines on the decidedly contemporary Rule 62. Produced by Raul Malo (lead singer of the Mavericks), there is plenty of real world depth and captivating musical heft to lift each and every one of the 11 songs on the disc. The driving and defiant "Arizona" and Time to Cry," tender "You Never Cross My Mind" (which includes some sublime harmonies from Malo) and poetic "Wake Me in Wyoming" showcase Rose's superb talents as singer and songwriter.  Recorded on Jan. 20, 2017  the same day of the most recent Presidential Inaugural  "Can't Stop Shakin' " has a nervous and funky vibe suited to the uncertainty of the times; the Hammond B3 organ, electric guitar riffs and saxophone blasts immerse Rose's evocative vocals as part of the terrific and disquieting arrangement. An all-star group of musicians including bassist Jay Weaver (Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker), guitarist Kenny Vaughn (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), drummer Paul Deakin (The Mavericks), pianist Jen Gunderman (Sheryl Crow), fiddler Aaron Till (Asleep at the Wheel) and steel guitar player Chris Scruggs (Marty Stuart) enhance the album as well. Information:

Artist: Sparks
Title: Hippopotamus (BMG)
Tell me more: Forty-five years into their singularly adventuresome trajectory, art rockers Sparks (brothers Ron and Russell Mael) continue to break new ground with intoxicating, intelligent and inviting music via their 22nd studio album Hippopotamus. The sweeping baroque "Missionary Position," haunting "Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)," and synth pop number "Bummer" are among the riveting songs where Russell's falsetto vocals and Ron's accomplished keyboard talents lure in the listener. Sparks albums are always marked by original acerbic lyrics that provide more than enough intellectual food for thought and "Hippopotamus" is no exception; "Scandinavian Design," the cinematic "What The Hell Is It This Time?" and "So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?" challenge with their skewed take on the world. Information:

Artists: R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner
Title: Make It Be (Lost Colony Music & Bar/None Records)
You might like if you enjoy: XTC, Beck, Jellyfish
Tell me more: It is hard to think of a recent collaboration as interesting, eclectic and ambitious as Make It Be from indie hero R. Stevie Moore and singer-songwriter/guitarist Jason Falkner. The perfect mix of brilliant original songwriting, experimental spoken word pieces and several beautiful instrumental guitar interludes captivate across the fast-paced 18-track collection that is as accessible as it is groundbreaking. Those who love traditional power pop-styled songs featuring shimmering harmonies will find themselves immersed in the sonics of "Another Day Slips Away," "I Love Us, We Love Me" and "Sincero Amore," as well as the lush "Horror Show." Driving garage rock is given its glory on the art damage rocker "Stamps" while the psychedelic folk song "Play Myself Some Music" and experimental piano-meets-electronica foray "Passed Away Today" are late album highlights. There is also a just-for-fun take on Huey Smith & the Clowns' rollicking 1958 single "Don't You Just Know It." Across the disc, the wide-ranging talents of Moore and Falkner as vocalists and musicians dazzle bright. Information:

Artist: Chris Stapleton
Title: From a Room: Volume 2 (Mercury Nashville)
Tell me more: One of modern country music's most talented and authentic voices, Chris Stapleton released the wonderful From a Room: Volume 1 in May and followed that up with the even stronger From a Room: Volume 2 in early December. Highlights on the more recent album are everywhere, including the yearning country rockers "Millionaire" and "Midnight Train to Memphis," and the bluesy ballad "Tryin' to Untangle My Mind." My favorite song on the disc - "Scarecrow in the Garden" - is one of the most powerful and poignant songs released in 2017. Information:

Artist: Styx
Title: The Mission (UMe)
You might like if you enjoy: Styx, Rush, Queen
Tell me more: To be sure, 2017 was marked by a number of long-awaited returns including FastballLittle StevenChuck Berry and Ride. Add to that impressive list Styx; the classic rock troupe returned with a powerful new album that equals some of the band's best work. Recorded over the last three years, The Mission is the first new Styx studio album since 2003; the new LP is a compelling concept album centered around the technological challenges and human costs of an ambitious interplanetary journey. Several of the songs equal standouts on the band's best albums (Crystal BallThe Grand IllusionPieces of Eight). The gorgeous "Locomotive" explores the complex relationship between father and son; the progressive rock-styled "The Greater Good" is an eloquently-detailed exchange between two astronauts as they hope their actions will advance their mission even if their lives are lost. The songs may be built around a trip into the cosmos, but the emotions and marvelous music making will connect firmly with listeners here on Terra Firma. Information:

Artist: Otis Taylor
Title: Fantasizing About Being Black (Trance Blues Festival)
Tell me more: Groundbreaking singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor has long been able to musically articulate the African American experience in artful ways that tap into early blues as well as African world music and Americana styles. On his forceful and compelling 2017 album Fantasizing About Being Black, the Colorado-based musician goes even further in his search to bridge past and present in an 11-track exploration of the African American experience stretching from the slave era to specific periods in the 20th century and through the present day. This rich and real world journey includes the hypnotic "Walk On Water" (a tale of interracial love) adorned with Ron Miles' otherworldly play on the cornet, the fierce rocker "Hands On Your Stomach" (about a spirit who instructs an enslaved woman that her mind cannot be controlled) that includes some impressive fretwork from teenage guitar sensation Brandon "Taz" Niederauer, and the powerful blues gem "Tripping On This" (which chronicles a man's visit to see the son he gave up 48 years earlier). Taylor's Fantasizing About Being Black is an essential and brilliant album. Information:

Artist: Walter Trout
Title: We're All In This Together (Provogue)
Tell me more: A slew of the world's greatest living blues rockers join singer-guitarist Walter Trout on the aptly-titled We're All In This Together, an amazing 14-track disc with a different guest artist paired with Trout on each track. What makes the album so extra special is how wonderful each of the performances capture the style of the guest joining Trout. Kenny Wayne Shepherd teams with Trout on the fiery shuffle "Gonna Hurt Like Hell," both guitar heroes shredding up a storm. Louisiana slide guitar legend Sonny Landreth enhances the beautiful Southern rocker "Ain't Going  Back" with his vocals and guitar work; harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite blasts on the Chicago blues-flavored "The Other Side of the Pillow." And so it goes with artists including Warren HaynesEric GalesRobben FordEdgar WinterJoe Bonamassa and others. But at the end of the day it is Walter Trout who is the star here, having brought together this amazing cast of top-tier players into a cohesive project that shines with its perfect mix of song craft and virtuoso musicianship. Information:

Artist: U2
Title: Songs of Experience (Interscope)
You might like if you enjoy: U2, Coldplay
Tell me more: One of rock's greatest and most successful bands of all time, U2 has returned with the sequel to the quartet's 2014 album Songs of Innocence with the newly-released Songs of Experience. The lyrics touch on everything from enduring love and mortality to Syrian refugees and an examination of the "American Soul," but U2's success has always been about whether or not the band's songs have connected with their global audience. The good news here is that overall the material on Songs of Experience is stronger as a complete body of work than the track listing on their previous LP. Chief among this writer's favorites is the introspective "The Little Things That Give You Away" complete with The Edge's shimmering guitar textures, the anthemic "Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way" with Bono's soaring voice and the stirring "13 (There Is A Light)." U2 fuses its trademark sound with blues, gospel and soul on the determined "Lights on Home; "Red Flag Day" recalls the foursome's approach back in their early days with The Edge's rapid-fire guitar, Adam Clayton's thundering bass and Larry Mullen Jr.'s forceful drumming. A wonderful return. Information:

The xx performing at Coachella in April 2017.
Photo: Erik Voake 
courtesy of Goldenvoice
Artist: The xx
Title: I See You (Young Turks)
Tell me more: Released back in January 2017, the third album from the xx continues to resonate. I picked up I See You after catching the xx perform at Coachella in April, and the album captured my attention with its mix of emotive vocals (featuring singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim), textured arrangements and nuanced songs showcasing the English group's dreamy minimalist pop style. The electronic sounds and melancholy sounds enhance the songs across I See You, including joyful "Say Something Loving," disarming "A Violent Noise" and intoxicating "I Dare You." Information:

Artist: Neil Young + Promise of the Real
Title: The Visitor (Reprise)
Tell me more: At 72, Neil Young remains one of rock's most defiant, relevant and interesting artists; that is especially true listening to the aptly-titled The Visitor. Long after the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer might have settled into the nostalgia route he continues to write and record challenging songs. On his latest collaboration with Promise of the Real (the band featuring Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah Nelson), the Canadian native addresses his love of America even as he questions America's future a year into President Trump's presidency. On "Already Great" he notes "Already great/You're already great/You're the promise land/You're the helping hand." Taken as a whole, Young's dedication to saving the world's natural beauty ("Fly By Night Deal," "Stand Tall" "Forever") and social protest (the lovely "Children of Destiny") are themes he has been exploring for most of his life. And as long as the songs are as powerful and memorable as those displayed on his 39th album, keep 'em coming. Information:

Robert Kinsler