In some ways, 2016 was a grim year. A lot of great musicians died, there was divisive political turmoil in the U.S., the environment continued to take a beating worldwide (including up the road from me where even more subdivisions replace the last sections of woods and farms in the area), and the media got more and more sensationalist, biased, and ratings/views/clicks based. Due to many factors, not least of them social media, we’re becoming more and more isolated from information or views that disagree with our own. It’s becoming a “filter bubble” world, whether we like it or not.
Yet, there is also a lot of good stuff happening out there. On a personal level, music continually provides me with a regular dose of that “good stuff.”
Here are sixteen music and music-related things that gave me enjoyment in 2016.
“…time is neither lunar nor calendar but the twinkling of an eye.” (Giles Gordon)
In no specific order:
Wilco live at Ancienne Belgique, Belgium, Oct. 27:
I wasn’t there, but the whole show is on YouTube, filmed professionally.
The stage set, the song selection, the vibe…just a really great show. It starts off a bit slow, but by the time they get to “Impossible Germany”, they’re cookin’.
“Green Lights” by Sarah Jarosz, “Green Aphrodisiac” by Corinne Baily Rae, “The Greens of June” by Case / Lang / Veirs — this trio of green songs from 2016 all ranked in my favorites. I rediscovered Van Morrison’s “Green Mansions” as well.
The Dusty Show with Clay Pigeon:
In particular the surreal “washed up rock stars” story episode from Sep. 29. Kacy Ross, aka Clay Pigeon, used to host a show called Mondo Eclectica on WMNF, the community radio station in Tampa, FL, in the 90’s. He now hosts the Dusty Show on legendary offbeat New Jersey station WFMU. Though his show is more based on interviews with people on the street nowadays, he occasionally returns to the storytelling theme of the old Mondo Eclectica. This episode (downloadable here) is great alternate reality fiction that sees Steve Perry and a handful of other rock stars past their prime on a cross-country road trip. The story is hard to describe, but definitely weird and fun.
The Buchla synthesizer / Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith:
Smith put out two albums in 2016, one with pioneering synth musician Suzanne Ciani. Both feature the Buchla synthesizer (she walks us through it in this video), a crazy conglomeration of wires and circuits that makes beautiful music. Her albums contain long, circuitous and fascinating musical explorations, sounding natural and organic and futuristic all at once. It always sounds like a lot’s going on, but it’s all so melodic. I reviewed her EARS album on All About Jazz in the early part of the year.
Time Stand Still:
Documentary about Rush, their 40-year history and their final tour in 2015. I’ve been listening to Rush since I was 12 or so, and they were a big formative influence on my musical tastes. Even though I haven’t connected much with their more recent music, it’s always good to check in with them. A band with integrity, incredible musical chops, and they’re witty as well. I wrote more about the film a few weeks ago here on the blog.
Dungen – “L.A.” cover:
The Swedish progressive psychedelic band put out a damn good album of their own this year in Haxan (which I reviewed on Spectrum Culture), but it was their cover of an obscure 1970 song by Wil Malone on Aquarium Drunkard’s “Lagniappe Sessions” that really got me. They capture a late 60’s/early 70’s idyllic California “heavy sunshine pop” aesthetic perfectly.
The Vinyl Detective, by Andrew Cartmel (book):
Music, mystery, and mayhem! Well, maybe not a lot of mayhem (though there is a bit of that, too) but a fair dose of intrigue and adventure. Oh, and did I mention the music content? I’m just gonna steer you to my more detailed write-up.
The True Topography: The Paradise of Bachelors Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Fiction:
On the Aquarium Drunkard website, from the guys who run the Paradise of Bachelors record label. Strictly speaking, this isn’t music, but good writing can be musical, right? This is a great idiosyncratic guide to sci-fi and speculative fiction books that time has forgotten, plus some that are well known. I know I’m going to try and track a few down in 2017.
Kate and Vin Scelsa Podcast:
Vin Scelsa was a New York DJ for almost 50 years before his retirement in 2015. He had a weekly show called “Idiot’s Delight” where he played a wide variety of music, and often interviewed musicians and authors. Few have done radio as well as Vin did. His daughter, Kate, an author, started an occasional podcast with her father soon after his retirement where they mainly discuss Vin’s history in radio. Some great stories and always interesting. They’ve only done a few episodes this year, but Episode 11- The Lost Bowie Interview, is a good one. (Last year’s Episode 4, about Vin’s brief time managing Townes Van Zandt in 1969 and Episode 6, about Vin’s wife Freddie’s experience at the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, are also exceptional.)
Kim Longacre’s Tour Diary:
I’ve been running a website on the band The Reivers since 1998 and (of course) am a long-time fan of the band and collector of their music. So, when band member Kim Longacre sent me copies of the pages from a tour diary she kept on the band’s first tour in 1984, it was…well, it was pretty cool. A great addition to the website and glimpse back in time.
The Bass Flute:
I had never even heard of the bass flute till I saw a picture of it in a magazine over the summer. There seem to be a few different variations of the basic design, including the giant contrabass flute, but they all sound really soothing, mellow and exotic.
Bert Jansch – Avocet reissue:
The way reissues should be done. From the new improved artwork by illustrator Hannah Alice (which includes prints of each bird the songs are titled after), to the essay inside and not least of all, to the remastered sound. My review was at PopMatters.
Small Town Talk, by Barney Hoskins (book):
An enlightening and exhaustively researched (but not exhausting to read) document of the Woodstock, New York music scene. Not the festival, but the town. An amazing number of musicians called the place home (and some still do), from hippies to jazz cats. Dylan was a big part of why the town developed into a musician’s mecca, but the scene grew way beyond him.
Sarah Louise’s Guitar Playing:
Something about Sarah Louis‘s (not to be confused with the country singer of the same name) playing, which is almost exclusively on the 12-string guitar, strikes a chord (no pun intended…well, maybe a little) with me. There’s a different sound and approach to the “American Primitive/Takoma School” style of playing that I haven’t heard before. Woodsy, earthy, zen-like and intellectual, like other guitarists in that genre, but with a unique voice.
Ben Watt’s oeuvre:
I would never guess, based on his last two solo albums, that this is the same guy who was half of Everything but the Girl ( the somewhat overplayed “Missing“). Not that there’s anything wrong with the smooth, jazzy, adult contemporary sounds of that band/duo, but his Fever Dream album, from this year, and Hendra from 2014 are more weathered, guitar-based, introspective folk-rooted works. He also makes great downloadable from his website “Deep Folk” mixes that are like little audio journeys with found sounds and field recordings mixed in. Some groovy stuff, man…
“Thunder Road” ukulele version by Jim Boggia:
Though I’m a uke player myself, I usually avoid ukulele versions of pop/rock songs. They often tend to render whatever song it is to a novelty song, sort of cheapening it. Yet, not all the time. This cover of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” is one that translates well to the “little guitar” and would sound great as an instrumental as well. I may try to learn this one in the new year, though I’ll stop short of making a New Year’s resolution to do so! (My dust-gathering ukulele in the corner glowers at me, complaining about being ignored.)
See ya ’round the bend sometime in 2017.
17…the 21st century is only in it’s teenage years still…