Thursday, 14 December 2017

Top 30 Favourite Albums of 2017

Here it comes, the only album list that really matters.That moment when art shakes off its subjective shackles and joins the scientific world of objectivity. The word 'best' is left to those who are well-equipped to judge, so 'favourite' will remain the chosen moniker here. Full apologies to the thousands of albums that didn't make the list; though some got a lot closer than others. In essence, this list is the indulgent product of a personal vanity project but if you have got this far, one detects a small degree of interest. Just as any artist needs the oxygen of publicity, this project gets its timely boost from engagement, and every bit is appreciated, even in its virtual form. Artists have made great music in the past and will continue to make so in the future, just occasionally it is pertinent to reflect on a brief moment in time. Au revoir 2017.

#1 Caroline Spence - Spades & Roses

Some records are just meant to be and this album had my name on it within half a dozen listens. The song writing was of the highest degree and the impact felt from its luscious tone never waived as the listens racked up over the year. On days when self-doubts about your endeavours run amok, just spin your #1 reviewed album and watch them evaporate.

#2 Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

Over history artists hit recording purple patches and the trio of albums Jason Isbell has put out since 2013 suggests we are in the midst of an epic one. The finest songwriter of his generation is a tag that has credence to at least be debated and more than likely won. Another album that both inspires and aspires every time it breaches your ear drums.
 #3 Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life

The Americans were able to celebrate this as a 2016 release, while us Brits are wasting little time in lavishing deserved praise as it formally hit our market when the year turned. Another song writing exhibition of perfection that will ensure this album is preserved as a modern day classic.
 #4 Whitney Rose - Rule 62

Any danger of Whitney's early year EP  being the sole remnants of a highly anticipated twelve months diminished when this album surfaced in the autumn. A record successful in blending classic retro pop, traditional country and contemporary soul will possess a winning formula, and this album had it all.

#5 Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Navigator

The year's most powerful album; given added impetus by the increasingly toxic political landscape and eventually by the circumstances in Alynda's devastated Puerto Rico homeland. Containing the year's most uplifting anthem track enormously helped this album become a firm favourite and make it an integral part of music's important role in fanning the flames of protest.

#6 Oh Susanna - A Girl in Teen City

A nostalgia-drenched release that in my book crossed the genre and location line with its resonating appreciation. Maybe it was a generational thing coupled with making connections with the early 80s, but track after track sunk in and made the album a joy to get to grips with.
#7 Margo Price - All American Made

Following up an incredibly successful breakthrough album is often a tough task and a certain trepidation surrounded the run up to this record. Luckily, Margo largely stuck to the formula that had won me over and packed the new release with plenty of endearing songs. Ramping up the politics saw no objection here and positively secured its position as one of the year's leading records and a firm favourite.

#8 Lucy Rose - Something's Changing

The surprise entry into this year's Top 10 as there was little evidence from the previous albums that this artist would feature so high. Most importantly, a change in direction and guidance took root, making this an album that hooked me in from first listen with its gorgeous feel and vibes.A subsequent live show which featured the album in its entirety further cemented it in the upper echelons of this year's list.

#9 Natalie Hemby - Puxico

If ever you wanted evidence of a contracted songwriter keeping the best songs up their sleeve for eventual surfacing on a self-released album, then look no further than this release. A personal agenda governed the contents of an album that scored high on class, authenticity and being the keeper of the flame. Whatever Natalie Hemby does with her career in the future, she should be mightily proud of what was produced here.

#10 Turnpike Troubadours - A Long Way From Your Heart

If momentum with a capital 'M' played a big part in the UK General Election, its small letter counterpart thrust this autumn-released album into serious reckoning. Give it a little more time and it could have soared higher, but a Top 10 finish is a fine achievement for a band that continue to show me a blueprint of how country music should be represented.

#11 Dori Freeman - Letters Never Read

The talent displayed by Dori Freeman on her debut album would have had to have made a serious step back to see this year's release fall off markedly. Perhaps the lack of a similar stand out track comparable to what was found on the debut saw Dori slip out of the Top 10. However, this album reassured everyone that she will be making fine music for many years to come.

#12 Nicole Atkins - Goodnight Rhonda Lee

It was the voice of Nicole Atkins that initially elevated this album, before the wealth of its substance ensured that it hung around at a time when seriously good other records were challenging it. It represented the treasures that can be mined when the Nashville sound heads south to the Shoals region; the perfect fit for an artist re-establishing themselves as a recording performer to be reckoned with.

#13 My Darling Clementine - Still Testifying

Three albums in and there is no sign of the quality of Michael and Lou's duo work diminishing. A subtle twist in the sound kept the record fresh and like its predecessors, an abundance of ear-friendly tracks ensured each listen never became a chore. To have 'Two Lane Texaco' has one of the Songs That Shaped 2017 certainly helped this album have the legs to last the pace.
#14 Heather Lynne Horton - Don't Mess With Mrs Murphy

A successful album has to possess the knack of moving a listener; a trait that didn't leave Heather Lynne Horton during her hiatus from making records. A desire to experiment with different styles also paid dividends with another appealing attribute to Heather's record being discovering new nuances many listens after its initial discovery.
#15 Sara Petite - Road Less Traveled

Inevitably, it will always be tough for 'hard to discover' albums to force their way onto lists. So it is a credit that Sara's 2017 release appeared in a chink of light and carried full weight to ensure that it courted many listens throughout the year. Country to the core has always been a key description for Sara's music and the potential that has been with her for a decade came to fruition this year.

#16 Gwen Sebastian - Once Upon a Time in the West Act 1

This album had the 4th Pistol Annie stamp all over it, which was interesting as rumours of this part-time trio recording again gathered pace. On the assumption that Gwen won't be joining Miranda, Ashley and Angaleena any time soon, she can at least reflect on making an excellent album that can easily live with the best of similar releases. Thus re-enforcing the view of where the finest country music is being made in 2017.
#17 Sunny Sweeney - Trophy

Back in Texas and back to making music as good as Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame, Sunny Sweeney is free to do what she does best and the fans are lapping it up. Never straying from an idealistic core is a testament to a commitment to remain true and dedicated. A couple of stellar tracks helped sell the record to newbies, with perhaps the only thing missing is an opportunity to engage face to face with a UK fan base patiently waiting ten years for a return visit.
#18 Chuck Prophet - Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

If you're going to make a good record, it helps if you promote the hell out of it. Chuck definitely did that for this album, crossing the ocean numerous times for shows both in the UK and on the continent. Each gig showcased the best of this album which revealed a songwriter at his sharpest and a performer refusing to shake off the energy that has defined a lengthy career in a series of distinguished bands.

#19 Nikki Lane - Highway Queen

A vibrant and energetic album projecting an artist deep into the core of rock 'n' roll Americana. Never judge an album by the cover, but this one amplifies the spirit of the content. Another album blessed with a song that shaped 2017 in 'Jackpot'. Exemplifying the fact that if a record is good enough in February, it will still be there thrilling listeners in December.

#20 Phoebe Bridgers - Strangers in the Alps

A left field choice for this list, but a locked in award winner for its addictive qualities. Driven by a combination of somber moods, this was, and still is, a compulsive listen. Throw in an urge to get to grips with the lyrical intent and you have an album that refuses to budge from your periphery even when more traditional albums to your taste attack it from all angles.
#21 Laura Marling - Semper Femina

Another stellar album from one of the UK's most prolific song writing recording artists, who virtually controls her own individual genre. Plugged in without venturing anywhere near overload status and exemplary presented to the most respectful of fan bases when taken to the road. Its thoughtful and mood driving status made it a hypnotic listen, thus creating a record capable of spreading its tentacles across the wider music scene.

#22 Wild Ponies - Galax

An impassioned personal project saw Doug and Telisha Williams rush back into the recording world to present an adorable album rich in the tradition of rural music.Minor studio readjusting was the only requirement to capture the spirit of this field recording, as a bunch of diverse players bought into the ideals of the record and lent their hand for the intended effect.

#23 Danny & the Champions of the World - Brilliant Light

The sound of the summer, until the British variety decided to pack its bags and clear off somewhere else. Seriously, this double album was born from a creative whim to play where your heart and soul led. It was best savoured when you let it freely roll and proved the perfect backdrop album when you wanted something a little classy to soundtrack whatever you were doing. More albums like this and you can bin the term 'genre'.
#24 Megan Henwood - River

Its boundary pushing features made this album so much more than the folk base from where it emerged. Leading with, not one but two outstanding tracks ensured the pulse synced with your own rhythm and kept it an impulsive listen long after discovery. Definitely an artist with an acute ear to leading the listener in a creative direction.

#25 Romantica - Shadowlands

Anglo-American band Romatica bounced back into the album making sphere with a distinguished release, gloriously produced and resonating well with may fans of the Americana genre. A record with so many different facets to discover and one to hold your attention with many enjoyable listens.
#26 Imelda May - Life. Love. Flesh. Blood

An album to potentially slice the legacy of Imelda May right down the middle. Those desiring the rockabilly side had to take a backseat, but when the album evaluation discarded the past, an extraordinary strong release emerged, passionately sung and one to put the smooth genre in the credit column.

#27 Amelia Curran - Watershed

Another record with a shift in direction and one that retained the hallmark of a sensitive songwriter even when the sound and pace were turned up a notch. Its strong theme succeeded in getting over an important message, forever enhanced when the creative juices are in overdrive. A record that we have had to wait a while to be heard live in the UK, but any delay will only add to the anticipation.
#28 Lilly Hiatt - Trinity Lane

A significant step up in this artist's recording arsenal and an album that packed a powerful punch with its multi-genre layers. As good a record as you're likely to get when attempting the define Nashville as a hotbed for a diverse range of contemporary roots music, especially for those who like their sounds with a little edge.

#29 Jeremy Pinnell - Ties of Blood and Affection

You have to scratch the surface these days to find real country music, but when the dirt was wiped off this unearthed gem, a super album emerged to garner plenty of smashing listens. Perhaps it was the simplicity that heralded the impact of this record, while suggesting that good music can be made when you heed to the most basic of requirements: three chords and the truth.

#30 Angaleena Presley - Wrangled

An album that came to life when experienced live and the full impact of the narrative could be ascertained. A brave effort or one with little to lose? Landed stones would have definitely rippled but were they felt? What was ultimately important was the smart songwriting approach and a freedom to play a role in country music 'emancipation'; a controversial word for 2017, or not!

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