Dec. 17, 2016
By Paul Wolfle, Julie Cappotto and Andrew Stone
Narrowing down the outstanding music albums for any given year runs the risk of stirring controversy. The whole idea is contentious. Truth be told, there are many unsung musicians who deserve kudos for the work they have produced over the last twelve months. But there are only 24 hours in a day and a line eventually has to be drawn somewhere. All things considered, here are seven picks for the top albums of the year. Do you have your own list? Let’s hear it. All opinions are welcome.
As far as the American punk music scene goes, Iggy still rules. Released last March, IP aficionados will agree the album has a welcoming vintage Stooges vibe. “Break Into Your Heart,” a standout in the collection, is guitar driven and raw, just the way Iggy fans like it. The same applies to the other songs. As a matter of fact, there are no weak links here. Don’t worry, because Iggy will never surrender. The explicit lyrics prove that.
She mixed soul and R&B with a dose of rock and funk. Sharon is gone, but her legacy lives on in this assemblage of tracks. Check out Jones and The Dap Kings’ cover of “Longer and Stronger,” from the film For Colored Girls. The Reggae-ish arrangement is highly infectious, while “Let Them Knock” cranks out a funky pulse. Sharon had it covered from all directions.
C’mon, you knew the Stones’ first album in 11 years had to make the list. In a return to the band’s roots, Mick and company tackle cover songs with an emphasis on the blues side. Yeah, that is MJ on the harmonica. Where “Ride ‘Em On Down” honks, “Hoo Doo Blues” slinks. They’re all good. After one listen, most Rolling Stones enthusiasts would agree that the Glimmer Twins and Woody and Charlie nailed it.
Leonard Cohen really made a splash when he followed Jimi Hendrix at 1970s Isle Of Wight Festival. Since that remarkable appearance, his fan base grew. Cohen passed away on Nov. 7, just three weeks after the release of You Want It Darker. With his characteristically low and raspy vocals, Cohen’s final album is spot on. For instance, “Leaving The Table,” a bluesy smoke filled gem, is subtle yet compelling. Cohen had that quality.
At 84, Loretta can still reel off some impressive songs and Full Circle is proof. Lynn revisits familiar favorites, like “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” in addition to new numbers that include duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson. June and Johnny Cash’s son John and Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn produced Full Circle. Loretta is as remarkable as ever.
Okay, so everybody has seen the headlines about the sudden unplanned break Kanye had to take. Undoubtedly, the rapper likes to live life on the edge. As an artist, he brings that same inner tension to his work. The Life Of Pablo consists of 20 songs that are honest, fresh and at times unpolished. Nevertheless, this is Kanye through and through in all his explicit wonder. “No More Parties in LA” and “Freestyle 4” are particularly excellent.
As far as contemporary hard rock goes, hands down, Who You Selling For absolutely blows away this year’s pack. Former Gossip Girl actress and singer Taylor Momsen can sound understated or strictly punk depending on the cut. What’s more, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes is featured on “Back to the River.” The group shines on “Living In The Storm” and “Oh My God.” “Mad Love” has a bit of a Norah Jones feel. The Pretty Reckless definitely rule.
*Honorable mention goes to the Lemon Twigs for the group’s October debut Do Hollywood. In the studio, the two D’Addario brothers, Michael and Brian, pump out an appealing British invasion zeitgeist that works well. At live venues, they are even better. Recently, The Lemon Twigs have been working on a more guitar driven formula. But for now, just Do Hollywood.
Photo: Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless – Flickr/Razz 2 Julio 2011/Alterna2/Creative Commons; usage does not constitute endorsement.