More Favorite Music From 2017

Welcome to Part 2 of my favorite 2017 albums. Today we explore the varied worlds of punk, country and blues. As always, please do not adjust your sets until the transmission is complete.

Punk, in various forms and incarnations, is alive and well. Whether it be straight ahead, Celtic or post-punk (I know, this is a stretch), it can be found on an album released in 2017.

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Seekers and Finders by Gogol Bordello
Question: What do you get when you combine elements of traditional Gypsy music with punk, dub and other genres? Answer: A passel of fun known as Gogol Bordello. If you’re looking for something unusual and exciting, Seekers and Finders is a good place to start.

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory by Dropkick Murphys
Speaking of unusual mergers, Celtic music and punk make for a powerful combination. Dropkick Murphys have a catalog of solid albums and the latest does not disappoint.

Life is Good by Flogging Molly
Speaking of Celtic punk… Well, Flogging Molly is another band that creates outstanding music by mixing diffuse and disparate sources. Their emphasis is a bit more on the Celtic end of the spectrum, a reeling and rollicking mix of dancing and drinking tunes.

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English Tapas by Sleaford Mods
Demonstrating a minimalist approach reminiscent of early punk/post-punk groups such as The Adverts and The Raincoats, Sleaford Mods take a traditional punk stance on lyrics. Their groovy, repetitive songs touch on subjects ranging from unemployment to social injustices. For a truly unusual and excellent 2017 album, check this one out.

Nothing Feels Natural by Priests
Perhaps the most unusual of these 2017 releases, Nothing Feels Natural borrows elements of funk, darkwave, post-punk and a variety of other genres. Strongly political lyrics combine with this mix of styles to create a riveting and infectious album.

Country music and blues also flourished in 2017.

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Down Hearted Blues by Eilen Jewell
Eilen Jewell takes her amazing, honey-infused voice and turns it loose on blues and country for her latest album. The tunes, they are great and the performances, they are superb. Sure to please even the most curmudgeonly.

50 Years of Blonde on Blonde by Old Crow Medicine Show
This live tribute to Bob Dylan, served up with a typical OCMS old timey flavor, has a little something for everyone. Whether you love bluegrass or love Zimbo (the internets assure me that this is a Bob Dylan nickname) you are certain to love this album.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm by Robert Cray
Straight from the guitar of Portland blues legend Robert Cray we find a new release filled to the brim with soulful licks and catchy tunes. Cray continues to put out high-quality material nearly 40 years after his debut.

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Northern Passages by Sadies
Perhaps you’re not ready to commit to full-on country music. The Sadies deliver another great platter of alt-country tunes, which is a fancy way of saying music with some sort of country flavor. If you like the band Cracker, this might be just what the psychiatrist ordered.

Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues by Various Artists
Speaking of old-timey, this collection of jug band tunes from the 1920s and 1930s is a must-listen for blues and country enthusiasts. A fine collection of songs presented in their raw and original form.

The Last Shade of Blue Before Black by Original Blues Brothers Band
Including only one member of the Blues Brothers band, the Original Blues Brothers Band, along with many guests from the original Blues Brothers band (get it?), have put together a fine album of, well, blues. Check out this unexpected gem.

And there you have it. Great music never went away, but you might have to hunt a bit to find it. And perhaps, oh I don’t know, Everett Public Library is a good place to start? As always, check it out.

The Only List That Matters

‘Tis the season to share my highly sought-after opinions. Hence the following list of reads and listens that I enjoyed in 2010. In no particular order.

Murder on the Yellow Brick Road by Stuart M. Kaminsky (1977) 
Down-on-his-luck detective Toby Peters rubs shoulders with the Hollywood elite as he plies his trade in 1940 Los Angeles. A munchkin is murdered and MGM studios calls Peters to find the killer. Toby hits the streets, questioning Judy Garland and Clark Gable and providing  “real life” experiences for Raymond Chandler to incorporate into his writings. Kaminsky excellently portrays Hollywood in its golden age filled with shining stars, abusive cops and society’s dregs.

Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops (2010)
Jug, hokum, string-band, old timey. All are terms for an American musical tradition with a long history. In this style, simple instruments such as washtub bass, comb, washboard and bones bring a primitive energy to bluesy songs. And while most of us don’t remember Cannon’s Jug Stompers or their contemporaries, everyone should get to know the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their music is simple, often sparse, and hauntingly beautiful. This is easily one of the best albums of 2010.

Nuclear Jellyfish by Tim Dorsey (2009)
There is something compelling yet repulsive about a protagonist who is a highly successful and cheerful serial killer. Of course Serge A. Storms, the resident “good guy” in Nuclear Jellyfish, only kills people who deserve it. Or who really annoy him. The book’s plot, which is perhaps secondary to its insanity, revolves around diamond thieves. The real fun is when Serge devises death traps using garden hoses, aerosol sprays and duct tape. Readers with strong stomachs and quirky sensibilities might enjoy this book.

Praise & Blame by Tom Jones (2010)
Tom Jones has always had an amazing voice, if not an amazing choice of material. In his latest release, a gospel album in the tradition of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson, the 70-year-old Welshman proves his instrument is as strong as ever. For those who are only familiar with his pelvis-swiveling, underwear-tossing Vegas repertoire, the material might come as a surprise. But this is the music that Jones grew up with. Praise & Blame would not make my desert island list, but it is worth hearing.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (2008)
The classic holiday film Christmas Story shows a disturbing vision of a demented magical kingdom filled with angry elves and an impatient Santa. “SantaLand Diaries,” from the collection Holidays on Ice, provides a similar vision  from an elf’s perspective. In this hilarious no-holds-barred tale of the author’s experiences as a Macy’s elf, Sedaris reveals the place in line where kids are most likely to throw up, the inability of parents to allow their kids to experience life spontaneously, and the secret training regime of an elf. Other entries in this collection include a manic family Christmas letter written by an extremely bitter woman and a harsh theatrical critique of children’s Christmas pageants. If you are a warped and disturbed human being, this could be just the ticket for your holiday jolliness.

The Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo by Steve Martin (2009)
I’ve always suspected that Steve Martin is a pretty solid banjoist, and now I am certain. The Crow is a charming album filled with delightful music and exceptional musicianship. Surprisingly, most of the songs are original compositions. Banjo is not for everyone. If you don’t like banjo music you will probably not like this album. But if you have a hankering for some foot-stomping riffs and dazzling finger work mixed with traditional and humorous songs, then look no further than The Crow.

Ron