Yes, it’s very late for a Top 10 of 2017 list, but I wasn’t planning to do one. I haven’t done a Top 10 list for a while – instead there are Digests that grab the best of a month or a quarter of the year. In 2017 I didn’t write as many album reviews, I even kept one or two of my favourite albums just for myself (and didn’t write about them…though, who knows, maybe I’ll write about them this year. I’m forever a bit behind…) So now I’ve decided to try to pick a Top 10 albums based on records I reviewed. Here they are. Ten of the best I heard in 2017. Ten of the very best.
Nadia Reid, Preservation – her second full-lengther builds on the previous releases. A class act. World class.
Jesca Hoop, Memories Are Now – the line about her being Tom Waits’ nanny had me intrigued, I have to admit. What had me even more curious about this was hearing Blake Mills’ contributions (production and playing). But what sold me was Hoop’s strongest collection of songs to date.
Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray is a class act but he has coasted for so long. The last few years have shown a “comeback” of sorts. But nothing prepared me for just how good this is – a perfect combination of songs and playing and players. He’s in sweet voice and stinging guitar-form. This was one of those very nice surprises.
Don Bryant, Don’t Give Up On Love – almost like a one-two with the Cray, and they arrived close together too. Another very nice surprise. Bryant is a real talent, sure. But in the great scheme of things he might only ever have been a footnote. This, though, is an absolute career-high.
Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life – I almost could have listed Courtney Marie Andrews in the best gigs of the year but it felt wrong given she was, technically, the opening act. It was a double bill with Jake Pug. I lost interest in him really quickly, despite his (probably) best efforts. The voice and playing and songs of Andrews were the highlights that night. I wonder if we’ll get to see her out here again. It was a rare treat to see her in that context and this album is masterful.
Robert Plant, Carry Fire – the last half-dozen Plant albums have been amazing. He just keeps finding a way to subtly grind it up a gear each time. As is the case here yet again.
Shilpa Ray, Door Girl – a late contender for album of the year for me. If I had to pick just one, and I’ve never been so good at that. Again, it has everything I want: great playing, singing and songs. It shouldn’t be so hard to get all of that right, right? Well it is. For most people. Most of the time. Not here though. An absolute gem.
Aimee Mann, Mental Illness – Aimee Mann is always Aimee Mann. Thankfully. Here she’s about as stripped back, musically, as he’s been. And all the better for it. Her best collection of songs in well over a decade. Her finest ever, quite possibly. She’s one of the best songwriters working today.
Laura Marling, Semper Femina – my first pick for album of the year; the first thing that really grabbed me. I love all of Marling’s work but this (again, Blake Mills is part of the magic here) is her finest so far. And that’s really saying something. I reviewed it on radio early on. And kept coming back to it. Just a stunner. No duds. All class. All good.
Joe Henry, Thrum – the other late contender for album of the year. Henry always thrills, as producer and player. But he’s never been better than right here. The music – again, the actual songs….and absolutely the playing. The production (as you’d expect) is exquisite. Another example of a consistently great musician pulling out the top drawer stuff.
So, there were other great albums – Randy Newman might have made his best in 45 years. But I haven’t (yet) written about them. I like to keep one or two of the best just for listening to. And as the first months of 2018 roll out I’ll probably write up a few more of 2017’s albums – good and bad – as well.
And to check out all of 2017’s reviews – featuring plenty of other great albums (and one or two stinkers) check out the digests for the first quarter, the second, the third and the final quarter of last year.