Liner Notes by Brian Chozick
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Top 20 2017
1. Bash & Pop, “Anything Could Happen,” Fat Possum
Bash & Pop come back with a follow-up nearly a quarter-century later to their debut, that’s right their debut. Led by the Replacements’ bassist Tommy Stinson, the band has a sound undeniably a part of his past that rings just as loudly.
2. Afghan Whigs, “In Spades,” Sub Pop
The ominous tone is set with the opening track and its darkly intriguing sound, but proceed further and throw caution to the wind. Their guitars soar, the vocals snarl and the bass pounds — all accented by the addition of an incredible horn section, lush orchestral arrangements and a serious R&B flavor infection.
3. Son Volt, “Notes of Blue,” Transmit Sound
“Notes of Blue” is the name of the latest, and if that doesn’t spell it out for you then it will soon become evident. From the second the needle drops, the laser hits, or whatever your mode of aural transportation is, it is abundantly clear what the backbone of this disc is all about.
4. Cheap Trick, “We’re All Alright,” Big Machine Records
For those who have forgotten about these legends, one listen to the latest will quickly reacquaint you with their sweet power-pop, brash arena-rock chords and harmonies like no other. Robin Zander continues crafting hauntingly beautiful melodies, only to take a 180-degree turn into a raucous roar. Lead guitarist and resident clown Rick Nielsen ices the cake with dramatic power chords, followed by enough hooks to hang the world’s largest curtain.
5. Living Colour, “Shade,” Megaforce Records
The one thing that has become very reliable in their later days is with every release they are getting heavier and heavier. This is an energetic combustible monster with a loud wailing guitar, a constant rattle of the percussion section, some super-funked horns and enraged vocals. Its mood is reminiscent of 1993’s “Stain” with dark themes, but it keeps the pedal pressed to the floor for all 13 tracks.
6. Stereophonics, “Scream Above the Clouds,” Warner Brothers Records
They are back to receiving proper USA distribution, finally it isn’t a treasure hunt to simply find their latest release. Although it might be a little slicker in spots than past efforts, it’s still well over three quarters tank full of guitar-driven rock with some added glam highlights. It is time to get out of the dark ages and experience your aural pleasures in full Stereophonics sound.
7. Foo Fighters, “Concrete and Gold,” RCA
They now have nine albums under their belt and are a few years short of the quarter-century mark (sure, some members have come and gone), but with Dave Grohl as the constant at the helm they continue to keep the amps cranked to eleven and never disappoint. This one is fantastic from beginning to end.
8. Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, “Native Heart,” Emma Java Recordings
The backbone here still remains primarily southwestern rock mixed with a strong slant on Honky Tonk, and a tremendous amount of anthemic radio-friendly pop hooks to make sure this plant’s needles stick deep and don’t let go. They try and throw us off our game out of the gate and hit us with some dance floor beats, but somehow they pull it off and we are having a good ol’ cantina singalong by the second chorus.
9. Old 97’s, “Graveyard Whistling,” ATO records
Our friends from right here in the Lone Star state are back again, and they too have dusted off their boots for a decidedly bolder flavored Americana disc, with the ever-present fiddles, pedal steel and some serious country foot-stompin’. Religion was certainly a topic that required a bit of dissection, and with the band’s tongue-in-cheek approach it is highly entertaining and less on providing answers to the yearning questions some may have.
10. Jason Isbell, “The Nashville Sound,” Southeastern/Thirty Tigers
He has brought back on “the 400 Unit,” his band from 2011. This disc has very deep country roots with his low, raspy-tinted vocals getting sparse and dark, moving through some acoustic folk on a few, and taking time sipping on some twang. Jason’s ability to spin a tail with such detail and clarity take the art of storytelling to entirely new level.
11. Dan Baird, “SoLow,” JCPL
He dropped the “Homemade Sin” and took on all the guitar, bass, and vocal duties himself. The former frontman for the Georgia Satellites has beamed back to earth with his trademark gritty raucous vocals, fuzz-filled guitars and bales of twanged-out honky-tonk perfection.
12. Pistoleros, “Silver,” Fervor Records
The Arizona desert rock band that came riding after the Gin Blossoms and Refreshments, and who were just a little too late to gain proper notoriety, have regrouped and taken things full circle back to their debut 30 years ago, which reminds us how criminal it is that these guys never got their due.
13. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “Volume 3: Self-Rising, Southern Blends,” Silver Arrow
Chris has decided to put his waders on for this one, as he is deep in the Grateful Dead stream of consciousness, with Allman Brothers ruminations frequently flowing in and out. The set is heavy on the Brotherhood catalogue but also offers smoking covers as well. There are occasions that will take you on a psychedelic journey, then have you stopping to smell the daisies, with an abundance of guitar jamming, serious harmonica time and retro synth/organ tickling.
14. Mark Lanegan, “Gargoyle,” Pias America
It has been three years since one of Seattle’s favorite sons has released an album that features his name solely across the title strip. The constant on this collection are his unmistakable vocals, caught between a guttural groan and a cigarette-coated throat rasp, which seems to get thicker with every release. The former Screaming Trees frontman may no longer be screaming, but he hasn’t lost one bit of his growl.
15. Alex Dezen, “Alex Dezen II,” Poor Man Records
This doesn’t derail too far from his Danmwells home, which is what we have come to love from him, but there is a decidedly folkier storyteller feel on this one. The disc paints a very graphic picture quickly, with the second cut going into the explicit nature of the exchange of bodily fluids in an undisclosed location on Sunset Blvd. Then right to the point with “I am a Racist,” onto the unprintable titled 7th track where he weighs two diametrically opposed thoughts. Hopefully your interest is piqued.
16. Matthew Sweet, “Tomorrow Forever,” Honeycomb Hideout
He was a critical darling since the start, and even bubbled up commercially in 1991 for a few moments. This newest batch of originals proves that at age 52 he is still the master craftsman when it comes to power pop. This includes equal parts jangly guitar and some naturally great harmonies, keeping most tracks under four minutes.
17. Ben Ottewell, “A Man Apart,” Sunday Best/Pias
This most recent masterpiece is a set that is anchored by lush acoustic arrangements with his deep and incredibly raspy voice at the forefront, but of course there are several toe tappin’ tracks to get your hippy daze dance groove on to. If you can’t wait to start shuffling those feet, head straight over to cut five for “Back to the World,” and knock those cobwebs loose.
18. Robert Plant, “Carry Fire,” Nonesuch Records
The former lead vocalist of one of the most influential heavy metal acts in history continues with a stunning solo career. Although the howls aren’t as present as they used to be, world rhythms are now found throughout. All of the songs are thoroughly steeped with his passionate, whisperlike vocals.
19. Mark Olson, “Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun,” Glitterhouse Records
The album leans heavily on country folk and at the forefront is his unmistakable trademarked drawl. The arrangements are not the most complex, but they aren’t meant to be. He is backed with sparse instrumentation — a mandolin, violin, at times a single drum, but always the sweet sound of an acoustic guitar strum.
20. Mick Jagger, “England Lost / Gotta get A Grip,” Interscope Records
Not a full-fledged album by any stretch of the imagination, but these days Rolling Stones-related new original material is hard to find. So leave it to Mick Jagger to release a two-track single. This is what the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band needs to be doing. Even if his solo side tends to bring out the funkier side of things, we need them to once again take their place on the throne.
Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’
Dice Music. Drop him a line at
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