Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Favorite CDs of 2015

It was much more difficult for me to put together a list of favorite CDs this year than other years, because there were just so many good releases. Throughout each year I give the CDs ratings on a list that I keep private (I hate assigning a number like that to an album, but it helps me keep track of which albums stand out to me as I go along), and then at the end of the year I post the top ten. The problem this year is that so many more than ten CDs got a very high rating on my list. Keep in mind that I only review CDs that I like anyway, so every CD I’ve written about this year is something I’ve enjoyed and think is worthwhile. So rather than limit the list to ten somewhat arbitrarily, I’m expanding the list to eighteen discs. And even that number is excluding some truly excellent albums. As with past years, my guidelines for assembling this list are as follows: each CD has to be full-length (at least thirty minutes); each CD has to be made up of mostly original material, for songwriting plays a big part in my choices; and the CDs can’t be live albums or compilations or re-issues.

18. The Stone Hill All-Stars: “Away” 

Away was recorded in a single day, which is impressive, especially as there is nearly an hour of original material here. But what’s much more impressive is that all of these tracks are good. My favorites are “Bent And Reversed,” “Despite The Current Mess” and “All Along The Waterfront.”

17. Birds And Arrows: “Edge Of Everything”

Birds And Arrows is the duo of Andrea Connolly and Pete Connolly, who wrote all of the songs on Edge Of Everything, an album produced by Chris Stamey. Check out “Desert Home,” “Ghosts In The Water” and “Catastrophe.”

16. Nick Ferrio: “Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs”

There has been a heck of a lot of good music coming out of Canada lately. Nick Ferrio’s Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs has some seriously strong original folk tunes. Two of this CD’s tracks – “Come Hell Or High Water” and “Mirrorball Shine” – are among my favorite songs of the year.

15. Matt Criscuolo: “Headin’ Out” 

This is the only instrumental album on my list. Matt Criscuolo is a talented saxophone player, and Headin’ Out features some really good original material. Check out tracks like “Enchanted” and “At Night.”

14. Blimp Rock: “Sophomore Slump” 

Blimp Rock is an unusual band with its own perspective and approach to music and to the world, it seems. Sophomore Slump has a wonderful sense of humor; listen to tracks like “Vampires,” “Sensitive Boys” and “Music Industry Blues” for examples.

13. The Brian Kinler Band Featuring Francesca Capasso: “The Race Against Time” 

Brian Kinler continues to impress me, even as he ventures somewhat away from jazz and more into the dance realm on this new release. And though vocalists have been a component of his live performances for years, The Race Against Time is the first CD to have a vocalist. Francesca Capasso is wonderful. Check her out on the single, “Bombshell.” There are also some excellent instrumental tracks, like the beautiful “Racing Against Time” and “The Lost City.” Another favorite is “The Coldest Part Of You.”

12. Peter Case: “HWY 62”

Peter Case is an impressive songwriter, and HWY 62, his first new album in several years, has a lot of great songs. Among my favorites are “Waiting On A Plane,” “New Mexico” and “All Dressed Up (For Trial).” He has some good musicians backing him, including Ben Harper and D.J. Bonebrake.  

11. James McMurtry: “Complicated Game”

James McMurtry is an extraordinary songwriter and storyteller, and Complicated Game features some excellent material. Check out “Ain’t Got A Place,” “She Loves Me” and “How’m I Gonna Find You Now.” His son Curtis joins him on a couple of tracks on this release, and Derek Trucks joins him on “Forgotten Coast.”

10. Holly Golightly: “Slowtown Now!”

It had been a while since we’d been treated to a Holly Golightly full band album, and Slowtown Now! is a delight. Some of my favorite tracks are “Frozen In Time,” “As You Go Down” and “What You See.”

9. Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs: “Coulda Shoulda Woulda” 

At first, I was only going to include one Holly Golightly disc on this list. But which one? The fact is they are both fucking great. So they’re both here. And these Brokeoffs albums always put me in a good mood. Check out “Heaven Buy And Buy,” “Apartment 34” and “No Judgment Day.”

8. The Mynabirds: “Lovers Know” 

The Mynabirds are a wonderful indie pop band featuring gorgeous lead vocals by Laura Burhenn. This whole album is really good, but that lead-off track, “All My Heart,” stands out especially, and is a song that gets in my head fairly often. Also, listen to “Semantics,” “Velveteen” and “Shake Your Head Yes.”  

7. Ray Wylie Hubbard: “The Ruffian’s Misfortune” 

This is such a good album, full of delicious bluesy vibes and some folk tunes as well. And what a great voice! Check out tunes like “All Loose Things,” “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten,” “Jessie Mae” and “Stone Blind Horses.” The McCreary Sisters provide harmony vocals on “Barefoot In Heaven.”

6. Chris Page: “Volume Vs. Voice”

As I already mentioned, there has been a lot of great music coming out Canada lately, and one of my favorite discs of the year is Chris Page’s Volume Vs. Voice. This album finds Chris doing the vocals and playing nearly all the instruments. That’s great, but what really makes this album something special are the lyrics. Check out “Rocket + Savings,” “Calling All Kids Reunion,” “Treatment Burns” and “The Persuasive Injury.”

5. Tom Paxton: “Redemption Road” 

I’ve been listening to Tom Paxton off and on since I first got into folk music in my teens, and yet I was still surprised at just how good his new release is. The songwriting is top-notch, with tunes here that are both moving and humorous. And there are guest appearances by John Prine and Janis Ian. Listen to tracks like “Virginia Morning,” “Susie Most Of All,” “The Losing Part” and “Central Square.”

4. Bombadil: “Hold On” 

Bombadil’s Metrics Of Affection was on my list of favorite CDs of 2013, and their new release, Hold On, has a much-deserved spot on this year’s list. I think Bombadil is one of the most interesting bands out there these days. Check out songs like “Amy’s Friend,” “Sunny December” and “Framboise.” You will not be disappointed.

3. Norma MacDonald: “Burn The Tapes” 

In 2014, Bend The River’s CD nearly made my list of favorites. And this year, Norma MacDonald’s solo album, Burn The Tapes, is near the top of my list. Though it’s a solo album, she does get some help from her Bend The River band mates. I am just really taken by both Norma’s voice and her songwriting. Check out “Blue As A Jay” (one of my favorite songs of the year), “You Can’t Carry It Around” and “Hard To Get Back.”

2. Jimmy LaFave: “The Night Tribe”

This is such a great album, with music that puts me in a really good mood. Jimmy’s vocals are excellent, and some of the material is beautiful. Check out tracks like “The Beauty Of You” and “Maybe” and “The Roads Of The Earth.” Jimmy LaFave is joined by Radoslav Lorkovic on piano and organ, along with some other great musicians. 

1. Anne McCue: “Blue Sky Thinkin’” 

I had heard some of this material earlier when I saw Anne perform in concert, and I couldn’t wait for this album to be released. And just as I expected, it’s fantastic. It’s my favorite of Anne McCue’s albums (though I don’t think I’ve heard all of them yet), and my favorite disc of 2015. She has a wonderful band backing her, including Dave Raven, Carl Byron and Dusty Wakeman, and she is joined on “Devil In The Middle” by Dave Alvin on vocals. Every track is great, but some favorites include “Dig Two Graves,” “Things You Left Out In The Rain” and “Long Tall Story.”

Well, there's the list. Though, as I said, even though I expanded it from previous years, it is still missing some really good releases from bands like Fool’s Gold, Love Love, Pugwash, Ryan Montbleau Band, and Double Naught Spy Car & Stew (among others). Also, I didn't include Paul Kelly's The Merri Soul Sessions, even though it's one of the best CDs of the year, because some of these songs were released in 2014 on singles. And because of my policy against including albums of covers, Myriam Phiro's incredible Voyages did not make the list, but you should definitely go check out that album.

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