14 Thundercat – Drunk

32-year-old multi-genre bassist Stephen Bruner has achieved much in the twenty odd years he has been professionally immersed in the business of making music. At 15 he was a member of 90’s boyband No Curfew, contributing to their overseas chart success in Germany before leaving to join legendary Los Angeles punk band Suicidal Tendencies at the tender age of 16. By his early 20’s he was a highly sought after session musician heralded for his contribution to Erykah Badu’s 2008 masterwork New Amerykah. His biggest success came in early 2016 winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for the song “These Walls” from Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 ground-breaking To Pimp A Butterfly album. By that time Bruner, better known by his stage name Thundercat, was already a seasoned industry professional having released two solo records in as many years from 2011 to 2013. Earlier this year Bruner released his third and most challenging work to date, 2017s Drunk. By the sounds of it, Bruner may have locked himself in a room and listened to nothing but the strange and intricate melodies of ‘70’s prog rockers Gentle Giant along with some early compositions from 10CC and their arty experimental offshoot Godley & Crème before tackling his latest opus. Add to that the odd and unexpected ingredient of MOR yacht rockers Michael MacDonald and Kenny Loggins (the song writing duo behind 1978’s million-dollar “What A Fool Believes” single from the Doobie Brothers 40 year old Minute By Minute record) and there you have it, pure genius. One of the most intriguing albums of 2017!

Rating 8.5/10

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15 Dave Davies/Russ Davies – Open Road

Dave Davies is rock royalty, full stop. Not only is he credited with single handily creating distortion for rock n roll guitar by taking a razor blade to the now legendary green amp, he was a key member of England’s first and most famous sibling rivalry band, The Kinks. Davies, along with brother Ray, spent the better part of 30 years over four decades contributing to the most comprehensive body of work of all England’s Big Four bands. Surfacing just under the radar after the demise of The Kinks some 20 years ago, Davies suffered a severely debilitating stroke in 2004 and spent the better part of two years convalescing, heroically learning to talk, walk and play guitar again. In the decade since Davies has continued to write, tour and record, releasing half a dozen albums since 2006. Of all Davies’ recent recordings, his latest is perhaps his most accessible. Earlier this year Davies recalled, “This time we wanted to make a more song-oriented piece of work with catchy hooks and emotional melodies, so we decided on a more rocky-poppy approach more in the mainstream”. Written, arranged and performed entirely by Davies and his son Russ (himself a noted EDM artist, having produced more than 15 albums, performing under the pseudonyms Abakus and Cinnamon Chasers) the father/son duo recorded Open Road over an extended period of time in both Lisbon, Portugal and Wiltshire, England. All nine tracks feature a soft, fierce vulnerability to the elder Davies’ vocals unlike any other in rock music today. Uniquely poignant and deeply personal, Davies spends a great deal of Open Road looking back, reflecting on his 70 year journey through tracks Don’t Wanna Grow Up, Path Is Long, Forgiveness, Slow Down, Sleep On It and others. Captivating and surprising, Open Road is an extremely moving listening experience, an exquisite record.

Rating 8/10

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#16 Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song

Recorded and produced in Chicago by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at his hometown recording studio The Loft, Kacy & Clayton’s latest is very much a swinging full band affair, seeing the millennial acoustic folk duo from rural Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan beefed up this time around by the rock steady rhythm section of Mike Silverman and Shuyler Jansen on drums and bass respectively. Their third album in four years, Tweedy’s production expertly captures the loose and easy essence of the Kacy Clayton Band throughout, preferring to record all four musicians live off the floor as opposed to overdubbing them seperately. A real gem, fans of vintage ‘60’s folk music and the glory days of British folk-rock will revel in this record.

Rating 9/10

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#17 Aldous Harding – Party

27-year-old Aldous Harding’s latest album Party, contrary to what it’s title might suggest, is a refreshingly poignant acoustic reprieve from most of the ear crushing computer-generated electronic noise and mind-numbing beats that make up much of the soundtrack to the twerk infested bump and grind of today’s popular music. Quiet, meditative and thoughtful without being insular, earnest and boring, Harding, discovered while busking on the streets of her native New Zealand, has come up with an album that is an absolute throwback to a previous golden era of acoustic folk music, one that produced the first wondrous albums by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and a host of others. Add a dash of Nico along with a touch of menace and just a hint of danger and there you have it; not only the self admitted gothic folk singer’s second album in three years, but hopefully, the beginning of a long and storied career in the business of music in the 21st century.

Rating: 8/10

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#18 Ringo Starr – Give More Love

Ringo Starr has consistently been making slickly produced superb sounding rock n roll records for some 25 years now from his 1992 comeback album Time Takes Time to his latest. What started out as an intended country album to be recorded and produced in Nashville by Dave Stewart, Give More Love ultimately evolved into another in a long line of solidly recorded good time rocking affairs recorded for the most part by Ringo at his home with a substantial bit of help from the usual friends and suspects. Not since Ringo’s Beaucoup Of Blues album has Ringo had such a wealth of strong acoustic numbers sprinkled in amongst the electric up-tempo feel good vibe boogie Starr has become well known for. Ringo’s infectious youthful enthusiasm and strong vocal performances pleasantly betray his 77 years, easily out-boogieing musicians half his age. And as Ringo’s one-time Beatle bandmate John Lennon famously quipped in his 1974 song What You Got (“You don’t know what you got until you lose it”) perhaps it’s time to revel in and appreciate the man and his music while we are fortunate enough to still have him around. Peace & Love!

Rating: 8/10

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Editor’s Note: The column below was first published in the December 28, 2015 edition of Song Of The Day Club as “Countdown The Top 15 Albums Of 2015 – #4 Ringo Starr – Postcards From Paradise”

 

In Appreciation Of Ringo Starr

As a rule, Ringo Starr’s albums are, for the most part, criminally overlooked. Perhaps not since his sobering 1992 album, Time Takes Time, has there been any kind of thoughtful examination of Starr’s post Beatles output. All too often greeted with not much more than a collective yawn, the music world’s knee jerk response to a new Ringo Starr album can best be described as wildly unenthusiastic to say the least and, at worst, patronizingly indifferent. There has been little to no serious examination of Starr’s music for decades now and there is much to talk about.

Ringo’s twenty plus years of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery (reportedly not even the cocaine crazed Keith Moon could keep up with him) made Lennon’s “lost weekend” look like a children’s tea party, one that eventually took a serious toll. Starr’s lifesaving sobriety had him step away from the music world and not release an album for close to ten years back in the early 1980’s.

After a decade of self-imposed exile Ringo returned, reinvigorated by a new musical partnership with Mark Hudson of The Hudson Brothers fame. Over a fifteen-year period from 1992 through to 2007 the two fostered a musical legacy that endured some five years longer than Starr’s association with the Fab Four, producing 10 albums and close to 100 songs. In 2002 Ringo said of Hudson, “Mark puts the fun back in recording. We always have such a great time. He lets the musicians know that anything is possible. He’s a great musician, has lots of energy and he’s a lot of fun to work with”. And then it all ended.

Much mystery surrounds the dissolution of the partnership between Starr and Hudson. In June of 2007 Ringo rather unceremoniously announced through his attorney that his partnership with Hudson was over and that they would no longer be working together. In spite of the fact that Hudson had already co-written and recorded all 12 songs that were to appear on his then unreleased Liverpool 8 album Ringo brought in Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics to remix the whole thing and rather cheekily credited Stewart as “re-producer” upon the albums eventual release in 2008. Since then Ringo has not looked back self-producing his last three albums including his latest.

2015’s Postcards From Paradise is perhaps the leanest most direct Ringo Starr album since the one that successfully launched his solo career some 40 years ago, the legendary Ringo album from 1973. The easy-going party atmosphere that inhabited much of Starr’s previous efforts is no longer present. This time around Starr has adopted a tighter more serious tone as witnessed by the hard-edged sax driven reggae of “Island In The Sun”, the synclavier heavy soul funk of “Bamboula”, the urban dance floor groove of “You Bring The Party Down”, the psychedelic dream pop of the title track and the heartfelt balladry of “Not Looking Back”.

At a time in life when most folks his age are busy finding a comfortable chair this 75 year old is rocking alright with nary an assisted living or retirement home rocking chair in sight.

#19 Tinariwen – Elwan

As a child growing up in war torn Mali of the early 1960’s, master guitar player Ibrahim Ag Alhabib built his very first guitar using nothing more than a tin can, stick and bicycle wire. By age 19 he had migrated to Algeria and in 1979 assembled the players who were to become Tinariwen (meaning “deserts”), ultimately returning to Mali following a cease-fire just over a decade later. Seven albums, one Grammy and some 40 odd years since their initial formation Tinariwen are back with Elwan, their first album of new material since Emmaar from 2014. Simply put, Elwan bursts with a wealth of raw Sahara Desert electric blues grooves and soulful acoustic ruminations. An absolute triumph of an album.

Rating: 8.5/10

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#20 Slowdive – “Slowdive”

Formed in Reading, Berkshire, England in the fall of 1989, Slowdive, named after a Siouxsie and the Banshees song, were so brutally butchered and universally reviled by the mean spirited British music press of the day that the band packed it in and called it quits after releasing just three albums in four short years in the early Nineties. Dismissed as flavour-of-the-month shoegazers, the negative press the band received affected them personally. “It did affect us as we were all teenagers at the time”, drummer Simon Scott said in a 2009 interview, “We couldn’t understand why people were so outraged by our sound that they had to tell the NME or whoever that they wanted us dead”. After having spent the last 20 years under new music direction as Mojave 3, these onetime teenaged shoegazing rockers, now middle aged, are back with their first album in 22 years. Lush and atmospheric, it’s not so very important to be consciously aware of the words and lyrics cresting over waves of sound but rather the intent and feeling, it’s all there, poignant and purposeful. The finest rainy day record of 2017.

Rating: 7.5/10

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