Steve’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

In no particular order my top 10 albums 2016:

David Bowie – Blackstar

For some fans even listening to this album almost after a year since its release is still too painful an experience. Enough plaudits have been written regarding Bowie’s change in direction and collaboration with saxophonist Donny McCaslin to produce a sad, romantic jazz collection of songs with enough lyrical mystery to ensure that it will still be talked about in 10, 20 years time. A perfect farewell.

Dexys – Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul

This Summer I happily queued up at HMV Birmingham to get my copy of this album signed by Kevin Rowland and members of Dexys… but a covers album? Often it’s the sign of a talent on the wane and I was prepared to put it on the shelf with the rest of the albums and forget about it. However, Kevin has never been shy of remodelling a song to suit his style and I took it home, burnt it on to my phone and played it on my trip to see them do a live set in a London Record store.

And the album works but shouldn’t; a mixture of reworked Irish ballads and ubiquitous soul covers like Grazing in the Grass and jazzed up versions of Both Sides Now and Rod Stewart’s You Were it Well. On the Irish standards we get a sublime covers of the Curragh of Kildare and Carrickfergus resisting the temptation to get too ‘fiddly de’ with the material.

This one may be a Marmite album but I’m still playing it.

Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine

Not technically a new album but a reworking of Heloise Letissier’s (Christine) debut album. I got into this via the video for Tilted which plays constantly at my gym. It’s clever, thoughtful, electro dance music with a French accent. What’s not to like?

Jagwar Ma – Every Now & Then

Easily the best gig I attended this year was the Australian Psych Pop groove fest which was Tame Impala/Jagwar Ma at Manchester Arena with both bands holding the crowd to their feet for the entire night.

Slightly surprised then that Every Now & Then has passed a lot of people by given that the behemoth of Holwlin, the band’s 2013 album, was so wildly loved by critics and audiences. It could be that they haven’t stood still and added some more ingredients to their trippy cocktail. Loose Ends, the album’s initial track, shows that they have added to their cocktail of sun drenched psychedelic and have mixed in some of 90’s Madchester rave. There’s also touches of Andy Weatherall on OB1 and a full scale acid style wigout on Give Me a Reason. The Band tours the UK again in March and hopefully it will reignite interest in the album.

Young Gun, Silver Fox – West End Coast

My friend Sir Terrance sent me a YouTube link to this bands You Can Feel it video and I got the album on the strength of it and it got played pretty much all summer long.

It sounds like it was laid down in a Californian studio just off the Santa Monica Highway around 1972, instead of being knocked up in London by Andy Platts (Young Gun) of soul-rock band Mamas Gun and veteran American multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee (Silver Fox). It’s the sound of BBQ’s, beaches and driving along coastal roads with the top down. Tracks like The Distance Between could have been laid down by Boz Scaggs and fans of The Silver Seas and Josh Rouse will lap this up. Save on your winter heating bills and warm yourself up with this instead.

Del La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody

Unbelievably the band had to resort to crowd funding to get this album made, but this also meant that they attracted help from a multitude of famous mates. Snoop Dogg adds a chunk of funk to Pain, while Estelle adds a gorgeous vocal on Memory of Us. Elsewhere we see Justin Hawkins from the Darkness screaming “FUCK EVERYONE”!! on Lord Intended, and David Byrne adds his signature nonchalant treatment to Snoopies.

DLS always took a different hip hop path and stars like Usher, Jill Scott and Daman Albarn who also deliver the goods on the album certainly appreciate it.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee

Came across MC Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger in 2010 when he released Bad Debt; an acoustic session recorded on a cassette at his kitchen table. His voice has a taste of the American South and he moves effortlessly between Americana and low slung all out boogie with a darker edge to the lyrics. Check out Biloxi and the album’s title track Heart Like a Levee as an introduction.

The Coral – Distance Inbetween

As much as I like the side projects The Coral are involved with when they decide to take a hiatus, the sum of the parts are always better and Distance Inbetween is another belter. I’ve been a fan of this band since their debut in 2002 and love how their style has developed into classic blend of folk/psychedelia. James Skelly has an amazing voice and songs such as “Miss Fortune” and “Million Eyes” shows a harder edge with buzzing guitars added to the mix. Catch them live before they disappear again.

case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

2016’s Crosby, Stills & Nash? Well a 3 year project instigated apparently by K.D. Lang who asked Neko Case and Laura Veirs to make a record together and it actually surpasses all expectations.

K.D. Lang’s voice has matured beautifully as demonstrated on “Honey and Smoke,” with its tumbling “I know, I know, I know, I know” call and response vocals and she excels on jazzy ballads such as “Blue Fires”.

The harmonies on songs such as “Behind the Armory” and jangly “Delirium” are exquisite and the thing with this collaboration is that, as on all great records, your favourite songs will change constantly.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

The album I most anticipated this year was Love & Hate and I just hoped that it continued the same yearning soulfulness that Michael Kiwanuka delivered on 2012’s Home Again. But it didn’t….

The voice is still there with its leanings towards Terry Callier and Otis Redding, but his style has moved, taking nods towards Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmore guitars on the 10 minute opener “Cold Little Heart”. There’s more anger on “Black Man in a White World” and “Love and Hate” and the overall tone of the album is darker and introspective. The album ends with the beautifully sad “the Final Frame”, a song for the dark hours.

Article by Steve Woolley.