Here’s my annual (mostly) geezer list of my top ten albums (actually a baker’s dozen) for 2017. As previously stated, it is a list that has no recognition of sales and/or chart position, and instead relies on my own narrow musical tastes and steadfast affection for the music and artists I grew up with. I am my own niche!
1 Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends
The year’s most unlikely record is also my choice for the year’s best. With this, his first new album in 43 years, Emitt Rhodes has pulled off the most miraculous of comebacks. With the help of LA’s finest pop practitioners (Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, Nelson Bragg, Fernando Perdoma, Probyn Gregory, Jason Falkner & others) and the loving guidance of producer/acolyte Chris Price, Rainbow Ends is a mature song cycle that honors Rhodes pop-wunderkind past (The Merry-Go-Round, Fresh As A Daisy, etc), while planting him firmly in the 21st century. Eleven songs, and every one is a gem!
2 David Crosby – Lighthouse
Crosby has never been the most prolific of artists, with only three solo studio albums to his name from 1971 to 2013. So following his 2014 released Croz, with this new one just two years later, was completely unexpected. Produced in collaboration with Michael League of the jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy, Lighthouse might be the best thing he’s ever done. Playing on his strengths as a harmony singer and acoustic guitar player, the album uses both of those assets as a bed for each of the songs. The end result is stacks of unique harmonies (as only Crosby can do) over subtle acoustics and keyboards, with very little else to get in the way. This is a truly magical-sounding record.
3 David Bowie – Blackstar
Released just two days before Bowie’s untimely death from liver cancer last January, Blackstar is Bowie’s farewell gift to his fans. Never before in music history has an artist made such a deliberate artistic statement of their exit from the world, as Bowie does in his video for the song, Lazarus; a year later, it is still chilling to watch. Following his 2013 surprise release (The Next Day, his first new LP in 10 years, at that time), Blackstar is a major work from one of rock’s greatest artists, every song a winner.
4 Monkees – Good Times
Maybe the best reunion album ever (!) by an older band. Should be a template for all legacy bands thinking of making a new record. Dolenz, Tork & Nesmith understood that their main strength was not as songwriters (other than Nesmith, they never really were), but as performers. And boy do they perform! Under the expert guiding hand of producer and main songwriter Adam Schlessinger (Fountains Of Wayne), The Monkees romp & roll through 13 songs tailor-made for them, to create – arguably – the best album, front to back, of their entire 50+ year career. Highlights are many, but hearing Mickey sing with the late great Harry Nilsson on the Nilsson-penned title cut, is a rare joy. Another highlight is the Andy Partridge (XTC) song, “You Bring The Summer.” In a perfect world, this past summer, it would have been blasting out of car radios all over the world!
5 Barry Gibb – In The Now
Another of 2016’s comeback “kids” is Bee Gees’ leader, Barry Gibb. In The Now is Gibb’s first solo record in 32 years, and well worth the wait. With that vibrato-laden voice still completely intact, your reminded what an original vocalist he is. As the lead singer on 90% of the BeeGees hits, he’s the voice you know best. And the songwriting and production are strong throughout. Many highlights, but certainly, in a just world, Star Crossed Lovers would’ve landed Gibb back at the top of the charts where, with this new record, he deserves to be.
6 Elton John – Wonderful Crazy Night
With his 30th studio album, Elton John continues his late-career surge that began with 2006’s Captain Fantastic sequel, The Captain & The Kid, and came to full flower with his heartfelt collaboration with Leon Russell (The Union, 2010) and his return to his piano trio format (The Diving Board) in 2013. Elton was quoted as saying he wanted this new album to evoke the exuberance he projected in the 70’s with albums like Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player & Caribou. This album is, by turns, upbeat, rollicking and, at times, introspective. Working with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin (50 years and counting), this is a classic Elton John record in all the best ways!
7 Graham Nash – This Path Tonight
There’s something slightly-odd about a Top Ten list with both David Crosby & Graham Nash on it (Stephen Stills, where are you?), but not making music together, as they have for the better part of five decades. Here’s to hoping they can mend fences and play together again! But out of the chaos of their personal disfunction has come new solo work that rivals the best that either has ever done. Nash, recently-separated from his wife of 30+ years and in a new relationship, seems newly-energized with this, his first new solo album in over a decade, and a recent global tour that has lasted most of the past year. All this from a guy who turns 75 this month! This Path Tonight features ten great new songs that look forward (the title song), look back (Golden Days), look at the world (Cracks In The City), and look within (Myself At Last). And harkening back to his hit-making start with The Hollies, one perfect pop song (Another Broken Heart).
8 The Novelists – Breaking The Script
In the fall of 1993 I met a young, local CNY songwriter named Joel Ackerson. He was 15 at the time, but full of passion to write and perform music, and – most importantly – very talented! His first band, Eclipse, won a SAMMY Award for Best New Band in 1996 and he was on his way. Over the past 20+ years, Joel has relocated several times, and released a few beautifully-crafted solo CDs, before ending up in his current destination, Reno, Nevada. In Reno, he has found his ultimate partners, forming The Novelists in 2005. The current line-up has been together for three years now, and their new album, a double CD, is a triumphant success. The songs are, by turns, confessional, universal, introspective, and always passionately performed. I can’t really compare them to anyone, as they truly have their own sound. Ackerson has a uniquely-original voice, sounding unlike anyone I’ve ever heard (that’s a very good thing) and his co-leader, Eric Anderson, has a clear, magical voice that cuts and soars above every ornate arrangement. Together, along with a nonpareil rhythm section of bassist Zak Teran and drummer Justin Kruger, they’ve created an impressive album that stands – on this list, anyway – among the year’s best!
9 Look Park – Look Park
Look Park is a new band fronted by Fountains Of Wayne lead singer Chris Collingwood. Whether he’s moonlighting from FOW or gone for good, I’m not sure, but given his Fountain’s partner Adam Schlessinger’s involvement with the new Monkees’ album, and the musical comedy TV show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, where he’s the musical director, it would seem that Collingwood has found a new home. Working in close company with legendary producer/arranger Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and numerous others), Collingwood has crafted a near perfect pop album. Look Park is a little less “rock” than Fountains, with more keyboard layers in the production (thanks to Froom) and more melodic in overall approach. The result is one of the best pop albums of the year.
10 Explorer’s Club – Together
Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, The Explorer’s Club has made a name for themselves in the underground pop scene with their dead-on homages to the Brian Wilson productions of the 60’s, blending ornate instrumentation with lush harmonies, they have sounded like the second coming of the boys from Hawthorne, CA. With this, their third long player, they move from the mid-sixties Beach Boys sound, to the late-60’s version, with what might as well be, their “Beach Boys – Friends” tribute. While they may not be entirely original, their songs are so evocative of the sixties heyday of vocal harmony bands like the Beach Boys, The Association and the Mamas & the Papas, it’s hard not to smile. Really beautiful stuff!
11 Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
At 69, Iggy has stated in several places that this may be his final go-‘round. If that’s true, he’s really going out on a high note! Producer Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) was a big fan of Iggy’s late-70’s collaborations with David Bowie (The Idiot & Lust For Life), and really wanted to capture that energy and feeling again; and he has, in impressive fashion! These songs are more melodic, and thoughtful than one would expect, given Iggy’s legendary reputation as the Godfather of Punk, but there is plenty of swagger – and humor – to be sure, although that is tempered with a more mature presentation. If you haven’t paid attention to Iggy in a long time, this is the album you’ve been waiting for. Highly recommended!
12 Santana IV
I honestly haven’t cared about a Santana album in decades, probably since this original band was still together. The plan here, was to reunite Carlos Santana with the original line-up (Greg Rolie, Neal Schon, Michael Shrieve, etc) that made the first three Santana albums and see what happens. After all those Clive Davis-manufactured projects that paired Carlos with questionable young singers, I really doubted I would ever care about another one of his albums. I was wrong! Santana IV brings it all back home. It is a worthy successor to their Abraxas period, and a real joy to hear!
13 Elovators – The Cornerstone
While I’m certainly not the world’s biggest reggae fan (I own a total of two Bob Marley records), I am a VERY big Nick Frenay fan, and this is one of four Boston-based bands that my son regularly performs with. Originally released last year as The Cornerstone, they changed their name (and re-released this album) last month due to legal threats from an English band with the same name. These guys are fantastic live, and have really strong material that you immediately find yourself singing along with. Nick does all the horns (his solo on the song linked to below, comes in at 3:10) and sings numerous background vocals. These guys are the real thing. So good! Available on Amazon & iTunes.