Whiskey Bottoms Year in Music 2017
Whiskey Bottoms (Year 2017 in Music) :By Drew Watson
Introduction by Tonya Little
I met Drew through Bryon White. Drew is one of Bryon's longtime friends from their youth, Drew was actually Bryon's first manager in his music career and they share a long journey from there to here. Drew has made me a mix CD and spotify playlists that I absolutely love, I call him my music guru. He has such eclectic taste and has introduced me to some amazing music that I probably would have never stumbled upon myself without his direction and help. He has one of the largest and most diverse record collections I have ever seen, and he hosts record listening parties from time to time where he invites others to bring their favorite records to share with one another. His love of music is vast and deep and covers so many different genres and styles. I've been looking forward to this list, and the accompanying playlist, since the moment he agreed to write it for me because I know it's going to be a treasure trove of interesting and enjoyable things. If you are a music lover, I think this is going to be a great treat for you, even if you think you don't like a certain kind of music or are afraid to veer out of your specific favorite genre, if you keep an open mind and just read and listen, I think you will find something that you never even realized that you would enjoy. I think that's the real magic in loving music, it's not just falling in love with the familiar things that you know you will enjoy, but it's falling down a rabbit hole of adventure with things you never even knew existed or that you would like. Drew has a vast knowledge of music, and I 'm pretty sure there's some music genius in him that he doesn't even fully realize exists. He will point you in some new and exciting directions if you will let him. So jump in, dig deep and enjoy! ~ TL
Year in Music 2017
What a year it has been. Seems like the world is on edge and you know we all need an escape. This year musicians have stepped up and delivered some great albums. Just to make this clear at the top, my list is a list of physical albums (you know, records) that I’ve purchased this year. Some are from new artists or artists I discovered this year and some are from longtime favourites. Here we have new 2017 studio albums and a couple of compilations released in 2017. This isn’t meant to be a “the best list” necessarily, it’s really just what caught my ear and had my attention. Hopefully there are some things here you may like as well.
I’ve created a Spotify playlist featuring songs for these records. I recommend hitting shuffle, it makes it a bit more exciting!
Here is the link:
And here are the records:
The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild – Paper Bag Records
The RRA has delivered their best album since their full-length debut Hometowns. This 3 piece indie band is from Toronto and The Wild is their 4th album. Somehow I was lucky enough to hear them early on and was able to catch a gig supporting Hometowns in 2009 at The Conservatory in OKC. As far as I know they have not been back to the area, but my wife and I caught them in Seattle in February and were able to get a taste of The Wild. They put on a great live show, check them out if you have a chance. I feel like this album really captures the band well and was beyond pleased since I felt like the last album of theirs was lacking. My must listen pick on this one is Brother. Other favourites on this one are Alright and Bad Luck Again.
Chronixx – Chronology - Zincfence
Easily the best new reggae album since Tarrus Riley’s Parables and I’d say it’s better than that album. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in roots reggae and we now have many of the young reggae stars going back to what started one of my most beloved genres. On this album, Chronixx blends roots reggae with ska and dancehall and R&B and pop and he makes everything fit seamlessly. There is even a track featuring his father, 90’s dancehall artist Chronicle, called Big Bad Sound. This one helps showcase his dancehall chops. There really is something for everyone on this album, it’s a very satisfying listen for sure. This is without a doubt one of my most beloved and listened to albums of the year. My must listen pick on this one is Skankin’ Sweet. Follow that one with Smile Jamaica, I Can and finish off with Legend. And then buy this album!
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville sound – Southeastern Records
Jason Isbell continues to grow in popularity and I just love watching him become more popular with each album. Isbell has been one of my favourite musicians and singer-songwriters since I heard him with the Drive-By Truckers way back in the day. His songwriting sunk into me back then and I couldn’t get enough of his work. I remember making a mix CD of just his songs from the Trucker’s studio albums and I was on cloud 9 when he left to do his own thing, though I may have been alone in that sentiment with other Truckers fans at that point. I really just wanted to see what he could do on his own and I’ve not been let down one bit. In fact I was so stoked that I just had to be at his first solo show after leaving the Truckers, so Bryon and I hit the road and went to Sticky Fingerz in Little Rock to rejoice with about 9 other Isbell fans. We did not leave disappointed one bit. 10 years later we have this album and he’s not playing live just for me, Bryon and 9 of our best friends. Isbell is the star that he deserves to be and that really makes me happy. His recovery from alcohol addiction and his album, Southeastern, changed everything for him. Southeastern is most certainly in my top 5 favourite albums of all-time. It’s that good and it will never be topped (I don’t think), but I do dig The Nashville Sound. The album really hits home and is very relatable. Anxiety and Last of My Kind are a couple of stand outs to me, if I were a songwriter those are ones I would want to write. They’re honest and not too complicated, just solid, ones folks it up and one rocks out. And then there’s this song on here that may be one of his finest when it’s all said and done. It’s an emotional one, reminiscent of what he was able to do with elephant on Southeastern. My must listen pick is pretty easy; it’s If We Were Vampires.
Aldous Harding – Party – 4AD
This album was one that kind of begged for my attention as I saw it a few places and I finally decided to dive in and I’m glad that I did. New Zealander, Aldous Harding released her second album this year and I think it’s safe to say that the secret is out. Her phrasing and vocals are truly impeccable and artists of this caliber are few and far between. This album is best served with your favourite tea steeping in a cozy corner isolated from the bullshit of everyday life. I’m excited to see where she takes her career next. My must listen pick on this one is Horizon. And if you want to dig further then try What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming. And then go for Imagining My Man. And after you check those out try the whole thing.
Son Volt – Notes of Blue – Transmit Sound
Jay Farrar just keeps doing his thing. Everything is handled really well and with a good amount of fuzz and some good riffs at times and at other times there’s a good amount of calmness as the songwriting comes to the forefront, like on The Storm. I was quite impressed with the opening track, Promise the World, which is really classic Son Volt. It’s an example of why we, as fans, keep coming back and are never let down by Jay. My pick on this one is Promise the World. Another pick would be Sinking Down.
Cody Chesnutt – My Love Divine Degree
Here’s another genre-bending artist that has been a favourite of mine for a long time. Cody has a history of crafting good tunes and this album is no different. Cody is such a dynamic artist that commands attention. I have absolutely loved his albums, though they are a few and far-between. This one came 5 years after his last, which was released 10 years after the previous one. So, patience my friends…it sometimes takes patience following the artists that we love. My pick on this one is Make a Better Man or is it This Green Leaf…one of the two. Another pick would be Have You Heard Anything From the Lord Today.
Tim Barry – High on 95 – Chunksaah Records
Tim Barry is back and this is his best album in years. Tim has had my ear since I heard the song Avoiding Catatonic Surrender on a record label sampler back in 2006. That was near the beginning of his solo career as his band Avail ended sometime around that time. The former punk-rawker brings a sense of urgency and angst to his acoustic work and for whatever reason it’s all sorts of fun to sing-a-long with his stuff. River Bank is my must listen pick on this one. And Running Never Tamed Me is also one to not skip over…it’s really pretty. And O & DP, it’s a fun little toe-tapper!
Son Little – New Magic – Anti Records
Son Little is one of the most intriguing and exciting artists to come around in the last few years. New Magic continues his push into the music scene. His flawless delivery sets him up for success on both of his efforts so fat. This one is a fun little album, his influences shine bright as he blends folk, soul, rock and blues. My pick on this one is The Middle. Blue Magic and O Me O My are also ones to not miss. This was a good follow-up to his debut album, but not quite on the same level. So, if you like material on New Magic be sure to check out his self-titled album.
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding – Atlantic Records
This may have been the most anticipated release of 2017 since I think most critics were in agreement that 2014’s Lost In the Dream was one of, if not, the best album that year. This one is very good, but maybe not as good as the previous recording. It absolutely continues down the path of the last record which is not a bad thing at all. I love how these albums feel other-worldly; a by-product of fantastic production, many layers of sound and attention to detail. It is truly a great driving record, I remember diving into it while on the road and it just made for a beautiful listening experience. This album, I assume, will be on many “best of 2017” lists. My must listen track is Strangest Thing. I also recommend Clean Living and Pain.
Moses Sumney – Aromanticism – Jagjaguwar
Sometimes an album just comes from nowhere and knocks you back. Moses Sumney achieved that with this album. I had no idea what I was getting into when I played this thang…and what is it? Is it soul? Is it folk? Is it ambient? R&B? EDM? The truth, there’s no genre here. It’s very original and creative and that’s what I’m looking for when picking up a new record, I want something new. Moses does not disappoint at all with his vocals (a beautiful falsetto often), instrumentation and use of space to create an atmospheric album that I’d argue is the most intriguing of the year. His compositions are beautiful. Listen to Quarrel, let the harp get you. Words I never thought I’d write…”let the harp get you.” The most accessible track is Plastic. It’s a very sharp song that I urge you to check out, but the whole album demands your attention. My must listen song is Doomed. This track is full of emotion and really showcases this album and Sumney’s talent to me.
Will Johnson – Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm – Undertow Music Collective
I’m still mourning the end of one of my favourite bands, Centro-Matic. Luckily front man, Will Johnson, has continued to release great music and that helps ease the pain. Will is a great visual artist too. He paints lots of baseball and music related things. Pretty sure he does no wrong in my book. This album really allows his songwriting to shine and is very open with a good amount of noise unlike his album Scorpion from 2012 that was so muddled and inaccessible. My must listen pick is Every Single Day of Late.
This one is not on Spotify, but you can listen here: https://willjohnson.bandcamp.com/album/hatteras-night-a-good-luck-charm
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory – Constellation Records
Colin Stetson just continues to show off. You may have not heard of Colin before, but I bet you’ve heard his work with Arcade Fire and Bon Iver. His unique saxophone technique of circular breathing is fantastic and he brings out many different noises usually not imagined with just the saxophone. This one here takes on more of an ambient approach than his last albums and it makes for a very solid listen. His playing shines on every album he plays on and I consider him one of the most creative musicians working today. My pick on this one is Like Wolves On the Fold. Spindrift is also quite good and worthy of you time. Or just check out the whole thing…makes for a great listen.
Ex Eye – Ex Eye – Relapse Records
Colin Stetson is at it again doing something unexpected. This album is described as post-metal. It’s an all instrumental mashup of his fantastic sax playing with some heavy guitar and pounding bass and drums. It makes for a glorious mix and it is one of the best surprises in music this year for me. I truly had no idea Colin was working on this type of project. He is known for working with all sorts of different folks, but metal? Yeah, it works! And holy shit I bought an album described as post-metal? Really? Just strange for me, but I have an open mind and I’m glad I grabbed this record. My must listen track is Xenolith; the Anvil. This will give you a taste of what this album has in store for you. My other favourite song is Form Constant; the Grid if you decide to dig deeper.
Margo Price – All American Made – Third Man Records
What a year for Margo Price! Last year her first album under her own name really impressed. She strayed from the soulful blues country of her band, Buffalo Clover, and made a more straight-up outlaw country album. She truly shined on that album and it brought her to the forefront of the East Nashville sound. I truly believe she is the future and the present of real country, real American music. This record certainly helps solidify her place among the most talented songwriters around. In addition to All American Made, she released a live album through the Third Man Vault series and she surprised music fans with her Weakness EP. Margo makes a stop in OKC in January and I urge everyone to check her out in person. She puts on a fantastic show, for a taste check out her Austin City Limits performance. My must listen pick on this one is the title track All American Made. There is the great reference to Tom Petty in the song and I enjoyed her recent radio interview where when she was asked about the Petty reference she replied “what’s more American than Tom Petty?” I’m with her on that, Tom Petty is America! Other choice selections are A Little Pain, Don’t Say It and a beautiful duet with the one, the only, Willie Nelson, called Learning to Lose. Check out this album and go see her live next month.
Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It – City Slang
A relatively new artist for me, but Sinkane has been releasing albums since 2007. Here’s another artist that blends so many different styles, it’s really quite impressive. His Sudanese roots are very present in his music, but afro-beat is just an element along with jazz, funk, R&B, rock and some reggae influence as well. This album really grew on me from the first listen to now and has just gotten better with each listen, which is the sign of a solid album. There are several dance-worthy songs and the instrumentation is extremely tight and disciplined. My must listen song on this one is U’Huh. This one will have your head a-bobbin’ and toe tapping. It’s very smooth and Sinkane’s delivery is urgent enough to make you wanna move your body. I’d absolutely love to see Sinkane live, that’s something that will happen and I look forward to it quite a bit. Other stand-outs on this one are Favourite Song and Deadweight.
Sean Rowe – New Lore – Anti Records
One of my favourite singer-songwriters released one of his best albums this year. New Lore is very solid and I feel like it’s his second best next only to Magic. Sean’s baritone voice demands attention throughout the album, but it’s some of the subtle things that really makes this one a stand-out release. Sean’s writing tends to cut deep and with each album he explores different ways to bring the feels. The Salmon is one of my favourite pieces he’s ever written. That’s my must listen pick along with Gas Station Rose and To Leave Something Behind. Please, please please check out Sean Rowe.
John Moreland – Big Bad Luv – 4AD
Our ol’ pal John Moreland had a great year! I’m so happy that more and more people are finding him and his music. John was Oklahoma’s best kept secret until the release of In the Throes a few years ago and he has truly not stopped since then. He’s been out on the road showing off and has released another two albums to add to his growing discography since In the Throes. My must listen song on this one is No Glory in Regret. I absolutely love these lines from the song:
I’ve been pouring whiskey in the wind
Burning pictures of my best friends
Until the ashes cover me like rain
And you meant something to me then
And you mean something to me now
But some things ain’t meant to stay the same
A couple more stand-outs for me are Love Is Not an Answer and Slow Down Easy.
JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul – New West Records
Oklahoma’s own JD McPherson released his third solo LP and it’s really good. It’s a solid release that does push his sound a bit, making this one undeniably different from his previous releases. The recordings are great and this is a strong batch of songs. JD is a master at the rock and soul renaissance that’s been occurring in recent years and this album helps solidify his role in music. My must listen track here is Crying’s Just a Thing You Do. I also like Desperate Love and Hunting for Sugar.
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me – PW Elverum & Sun
So I’ve been a fan of sad depressing music forever, but this year an album was released that pretty much rewrote the book on sad. A Crow Looked at Me is the saddest piece of work I’ve ever heard and it is the best thing I’ve listened to all year. Last year had Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which was incredibly tough at most times. But, honestly this album is tough from the first line to the last. Mount Eerie is the on-going project/moniker of Washington State singer-songwriter, Phil Elverum. Last year Phil and his wife made a plea for help online as fans were informed that Geneviève Gosselin, Phil’s wife and a great artist in her own right, had pancreatic cancer. From what I understand is that upon the birth of their child the cancer was discovered. Chemo was started and the fight lasted a year and sadly cancer killed her at just the age of 35. Devestatingly tragic. Extra tragic since the couple had just welcomed their first and only child. Phil wrote an album of his thoughts and feelings as he struggled to start life without his wife and love of his life. The instrumentation is sparse and that gives the writing more emphasis. I couldn’t imagine this album more fleshed out actually. A cool tidbit on this one is that Phil only used Geneviève’s instruments, wrote and recorded the entire record in the room where Geneviève spent her last days. A Crow Looked at Me has some of the most beautiful lyrics and I urge anyone into music to give this album a full listen. Yes, it will not be easy and it may not be enjoyable for you, but I feel that this thing is important and it deserves your attention. Here are a few lines from the song, Swims:
Today our daughter asked me if mama swims
I told her, “Yes, she does
And that’s probably all she does
What was you is now borne across waves
That’s probably my favourite line from my favourite song right now. My opinion on that changes with about every listen as I find other lines more penetrating and captivating. Really every song is great and important to the album. My must listen pick on this one is Swims, but really you must listen to the whole album. My second pick, which is just barely more accessible, is Toothbrush/Trash. One that is somewhat accessible is Real Death. I also like Ravens. Please check this one out, just be warned that you may shed a tear or two and hey, that’s okay!
Jackie Shane – Any Other Way – Numero Group
I had never heard of Jackie Shane until this fall when Numero Group made a stop in OKC for a pop-up retail shop. They had just about every release from their catalogue along with a couple of albums that hadn’t been released yet. I was told, based on my purchases, that I should grab it as well. So, I took the advice and went ahead and picked it up. And my goodness am I happy that I did…this album is truly a piece of history and it deserved a reissue like this one. I love Numero Group and I think this may be the most important album they’ve ever released which is saying a lot. Jackie cut some singles in the 60’s and was a rising star in the R&B and soul ranks and then pretty much disappeared. Numero tracked her down and worked with her to be able to release this collection of her single releases and a live recording. Jackie Shane was an iconic figure in early 1960’s Toronto. She played all of the hot clubs and was out as trans way before any of her contemporaries. Her courage is almost unimaginable to me since the world is the way it is and was a lot worse back in the day. Jackie is a trailblazer for sure! My must listen pick is Any Other Way. Other choice selections are Comin’ Down, In My Tenement and Cruel Cruel World.
Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht – Numero Group
Easy listening has never been a genre that I was interested in at all. It just makes me think of the Weather Channel and being forced to watch it for hours when I was young (thanks dad). But, as with any genre, there is more to it than what comes to the surface. This release by Numero has opened my ears to the laid-back life of easy listening. This one also brought the work of Ned Doheny to my attention. Doheny is pretty damn great, a virtuoso in regards to guitar work and he’s a heck of a songwriter. Numero hit another homerun with this release. My must listen pick on this one is Tell Me With Your Eyes (Just Be You) by Rob Galbraith. Also check out Jim spencer’s Wrap Myself Up in Your Love (dude, that sax solo at the 3 minute mark). Now, you may be like me and this isn’t your genre…I urge you to let this album work its magic. I know I shouldn’t like this stuff, but man it’s so good! Thanks goes Numero Group for a great compilation of music I’d never check out if it weren’t for their incredible work.
CLOSING OUT 2017
Well there you have it, my list of new records I bought this year. And well, for fun, I’m gonna rank my purchases (based on how many plays and how addicted I am to the tunes on these albums):
21) Son Volt
20) Son Little
19) Will Johnson
18) Colin Stetson
17) JD McPherson
16) Cody Chesnutt
14) Tim Barry
13) Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht
12) The War on Drugs
11) Sean Rowe
10) The Rural Alberta Advantage
9) John Moreland
8) Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
7) Ex Eye
6) Margo Price
5) Aldous Harding
4) Jackie Shane
3) Moses Sumney
1) Mount Eerie