The Music Never Stopped: the music that kept me going in 2017
It's that time of the year; the end, that is. It's the time when people start making plans for new and better lives, changing of ways, and a million other little things we do to pretend that December 31st is an actual finish line of some sort, and that when the calendar rolls over, the slate is cleaned and the odometer starts again at zero. But life ain't like that and neither is music. So, instead of making a “Best of” list of records that were just released in 2017, I wanted to share all of the music that helped me through a year that was both difficult and beautiful, and definitely strange. I admit that I did not listen to as much new music as I usually do, but I did find some some old gems that I had missed the first time, rediscovered old favorites, and did my best to be open to the new sounds and attitudes of younger generations. I hope you will take a few minutes to check out something on this list that you've never heard, or maybe give something that didn't click the first time a second chance.
Beck – Colors (2017)
After Beck's last record, Morning Phase, I had kind of written him off. He seemed uninspired. And here comes Colors: the most straightforward pop record he has ever made. And it's great. Filled with hooks and counter melodies, every song is a dance party, but the best part of the record are the lyrics: Beck seems to have found inner peace and joy, and it's inspiring. We all need that right now.
Kendrick Lamar- DAMN
Kendrick Lamar is the best thing going in popular music right now. He's an amazing lyricist and an even better rapper and has become the voice of his generation. It's been a long time since I anticipated another musicians new records so much, but I got this record the day it came out and put aside a few hours to listen to it. After the dense sonic textures of his masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN finds Kendrick stripping it down and channeling Curtis Mayfield and early '70's soul music, while covering every topic from inner peace to the election of Trump.
Low Cut Connie- Dirty Pictures Pt. 1
These boys from Philly/Jersey channel Jerry Lee Lewis, early 60's soul, doo-wop, and rock and roll via the pounding piano of Adam Weiner. The songs, and vibe of the record, are aided by a pretty wicked sense of humor. Definitely a band to check out live before they get too big to enjoy in a club.
War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
If Bryan Adams had teamed up with Mr. Mister to make a record with the lyrics written by a high school poet inspired by Jim Morrision, you would have the War on Drugs' latest record. Sounds terrible, right? It's not. Despite the description, and some of the lyrics (“The sky is painted in a wash of Indigo” is the most pretentious fucking way to say “The sky is blue”), I kept going back and listening. That should count for something and says a lot about hooks and melody.
Morgan was a little known trumpeter during his lifetime, but he played on some epic records from Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and others. I was listening to a Jazz Messengers record when a trumpet solo caught my ear, and off I went to discover Morgan's own amazing work. Two of my favorites : Sidewinder is proto-funk, while Sonic Boom is a combo going for it all, but everything I found is great. There is also a doc called “I Called Him Morgan” worth checking out.
Lou Reed – New York
New York was written and recorded in the late '80's, before NYC was turned into a playground for wealthy Euro trash, and the streets were still filled with junkies, hustlers, and the wonderful, weird culture that made New York so special. Now, that New York only exists in the mind our 45th President, whose description of “American Carnage” during the inauguration recalled Reed's great record, where he actually name-checks Trump,and captures a mood almost 30 years before it happens. This record was a buoy for me for much of the year, and I even recorded “Busload of Faith” as a single release for my album Election Day.
George Harrison- All Things Must Pass
Maybe it's my quest for inner peace, or just my love of Harrison's slide playing, or the amazing melodies, or the production. But whatever it is, I took a lot of solace in the best record a solo Beatle ever released.
Grateful Dead- Get Shown a Light (4 shows from '77)
I've made no secret of my rediscovery of the Grateful Dead and how much their music has meant to me, and this box set highlights all of the reasons for that. These 4 shows from the spring of '77 are considered the peak of the band many fans, and it's hard to argue with that opinion. Coming off the recording of Terrapin Station, the band was tight and energized, and armed with new songs and new sounds. They groove, they jam, they rock...as usual, the Dead cover every single musical base there is to cover without ever losing their style. The “Help>Slip>Franklins” from the Buffalo show is a great example of everything this great band was capable of. I took it a step further and searched out shows from before and after the shows included in this box set, like the Palladium in NYC, and the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, and they are all worth checking out. Music played for the purpose of playing music is becoming a lost art.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers- MOJO
We were in England when Petty died, and I only had one record of his with me (Echo), but when we got home I took a few days and listened to everything. This remains as one of my faves. Recorded completely live with no overdubs, MOJO shows what a great, great band the Heartbreakers were. TP will be missed, and so will the band that faithfully backed him for so many years.