2016 Music Review

2016 will be remembered for the crazy Presidential Election and our new twitter- obsessed leader of the free world.  While we can all appreciate that the annoying 24/7 election coverage has stopped, the next four years will be, if nothing else, interesting.  I don’t want to make political statements in a music review but suffice it to say I am nervous. 

On the music front, the year will be remembered for so many iconic music superstars that passed away.  David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Merrill Haggard, Phife Dog, George Michael, Glen Frey and Leon Russell are all playing somewhere on a larger stage.  David Bowie and Prince were two that touched me personally as I was a lifetime fan had the opportunity to see both perform live.

While I typically prefer smaller settings like the World Café and the newly-opened and very cool Fillmore in Fishtown, the best concerts I saw this year included a few large arena shows.  The two best shows for me in 2016 were by the same artist – BRUCE!  We saw his River show in the spring at the Wells Fargo Center and an amazing mixed set list at the Citizens Bank Park.  The Citizens show set a Bruce record clocking in at just over 4 hours.  The first two hours contained only songs from his first two albums so for longtime fans it was a treat to hear songs that he rarely plays.

We attended our first Jazz Fest in New Orleans with 3 other couples this spring and what a hoot!  We were fortunate to go the first of two weekends as the second weekend had monster rain storms that washed out some of the performances.  A few highlights from our maiden voyage to Jazz Fest included Pearl Jam, trumpeter Christian Scott, and Galactic.  We ended up seeing Christian Scott again at the new jazz club, South, and Galactic again in Brooklyn.  One of my all-time favorite bands, Guns & Roses, did a reunion tour at the Linc and put on a killer show on a very hot and humid night.

At year end I was lucky enough to experience Hamilton.  Wow.  My daughter has been obsessed ever since it started, and we saw the magical show in NYC on December 23rd.  It was truly unbelievable.  The story, choreography and song writing are soo well done that I can’t really put into words how special it was.  I had huge expectations and they were exceeded.  They put out a mix tape late in the year with many of the show’s songs sung by current pop and hip hop stars and that snuck into my list below.  I still cannot get the songs out of my head.

On to the top 10!

Top 10 Albums of 2016

Car Seat Headrest – Teans of Denial – Typically seeing a band live reinforces the inclusion on my list.  I saw this band as part of NonComm in the World Café upstairs room and did not like the show!  They sounded noisy and harsh.  But I kept listening to the album and it stayed on my playlist for most of the year.  Will Toledo is the singer and primary songwriter for the band.  The 24-year-old Toledo put out a dozen records on the music platform Bandcamp before signing with a major label in 2015.  The band sounds like an indie garage, rock band.  Toledo is an excellent song writer with funny lyrics and interesting hooks and melodies.  Drunk Drivers Killer Whales was a song I could not get out of my head all summer and is the first song on this year’s playlist. 

The Record Company –  Give it back to you – This three piece blues band hails from the West Coast but they sound as if they are from a Mississippi juke joint.  This is their debut album and it rocks with a definite blues influence.  Think John Lee Hooker meets the Black Keys.  Every song is good.  I did not get to see them when they came through town but will make it a point to attend their next Philly appearance.

Bon Iver –22, A Million – Justin Vernon put out his third album as Bon Iver and it is a major departure from the Bon Iver music you may know.  He is known for his high pitched voice and very ‘mellow’ story telling.  22, A Million is weird, featuring auto tune, samples, horns and backup vocals.  But it all comes together in a very interesting and ultimately melodic way.  The story telling is still a big part; it just comes at you in a very ‘non-Bon Iver’ kind of fashion.

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from here… – One of the all-time most influential hip hop bands surprised the world with their first album in 18 years, and it seemed like they never lost a beat!  Original founders Phife Dawg, Q-Tip and Jarobi White reunited for a project and secretly started working on a comeback album in Q-Tip’s Brooklyn recording studio.  Before the album was complete, Phife Dawg died from advanced diabetes.  The band decided they needed to finish and release the album in his honor.  They have an easy to listen to, smooth, hip hop style.  The lyrics covered current day issues including the election and some of its ramifications on people of color and religion.  Almost every major rap or hip hop star counts A Tribe Called Quest as one of their major influences.  To hear a new album after 18 years sound as if they never stopped recording was special.

Radiohead  – Heart Shaped Pool – Thom Yorke broke up with his 20 year partner of  and mother of his children in 2015.   Thom incorporated his pain about the demise of the relationship in many of the record’s songs.  Radiohead is not typically an immediate pleasure as it can be dense and layered.  This album is no different.  The album is dreamy and includes a lot of instrumentation and orchestral sounds reflecting the influence of John Greenwood who has been involved in movie scores as of late.  The break up has a sad ending as I heard last weekend that Thom’s partner passed away from cancer.

Beyonce  – Lemonade – This album really surprised me.  I am not a Beyonce fan.  She is beautiful, a great dancer, and I love her husband but have never liked her music.  This album is not like her previous catalogue.  The album has a strong theme of betrayal.  Her partner is cheating on her.  And the songs have themes of anger, sadness, questions and ultimately some forgiveness.   There was a lot of media speculation revolving around Jay Z.  Did he actually cheat on the Queen B?  My theory was no and it was just a publicity stunt to draw attention to the album.  The album features many different styles and a variety of guests.  There is rock, gospel, country, and R&B.  Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and Weekend are some of the guests.  The album is strong from beginning to end.  So even if you are not a fan this warrants listening to.  And why would Jay Z cheat on his beautiful wife?  I don’t really care, but the album is great.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book – Chance is an up and coming superstar.  This was a mixtape and a free download.  I am not sure what the difference is between a mix tape and an album but whatever.  Chance’s music is happy.  He has a great voice.  It is classified as hip hop but his voice, many instruments and gospel influences make it unique.  In a turbulent year, it was refreshing to hear positive themes from a young man that seems destined for bigger and better music.

Robert Glasper  – Everything’s Beautiful – Robert Glasper helped Don Cheadle with the Miles Davis biographical  movie. The sound track for the movie featured numerous Miles tracks and a couple of Robert Glasper originals with Miles Davis influences.  Robert Glasper continued this work and put out a full album with songs influenced by Miles and some that included Miles song samples.  This record was my favorite jazz release this year.  I like almost everything Glasper does and Miles is probably my all-time favorite musician so this album was a no brainer to make my top 10 list. 

Ray LaMontagne– Ouroboros – Ray LaMontagne took a musical detour and recorded an album with My Morning Jacket as his backup band.  Jim James was not involved but the rest of the band played with Ray.  The MMJ influence is unmistakable.  I love Ray LaMontagne’s voice.  The songs are slow and dreamy in well, a My Moring Jacket kind of way.  The album came out early 2016.  I saw Ray play at WCL shortly after the release. 

Hamilton Mix Tape– The songs from the Broadway success story are redone by current pop and hip hop artists.  The Roots produced, along with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and play on a few tracks.  Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Ben Folds, Ja Rule, Common and even Lin Manuel Miranda himself all take turns singing the songs from Hamilton.  As noted above the show is spectacular and the music is a big part obviously.  Even if you have not seen the show, this album is a real treat.    

Honorable Mention:

Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are (Surf pop)

Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker (Standard Leonard, beautiful music, released just before he died)

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth  (Country with soul.  Check out the cover of In Bloom)