Everybody loves a list. So here it goes… Here are my Top 10 albums of 2017.
10. The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild. This recently released album would likely move up in my rankings, but I have not had enough chances to give it a thorough listen. However, from my first few spins, it reminds exactly of the music they released on their prior two albums – Mended with Gold and Departing – that I positively adored. Big sounds, rapid-fire percussion, well-crafted songs – they’ve done it again. Not sure of their touring schedule as of December 27, 2017, but when they come to town, I’m goin’.
9. Brother O’ Brother – Neon Native. Indianapolis rock-fuzz duo deliver the goods on Neon Native. I’ve seen these guys somewhere between seven and a hundred times and it’s impossible for me to listen to this rocker without seeing them perform in my mind’s eye. 16 Flowers is certainly one of my favorite tracks of 2017. Plus, their LED, remote-controlled vinyl version of this record is one of the coolest things you’ll see all year.
8. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanac. Saw David and his musical partner, Gillian Welch, from the first row at Madison’s Capitol Theater where they played nearly every song from Poor David’s Almanac. At the time, I was familiar with a lot of their music, but Poor David was new to me. Since then I listened to it many times and this thing will be up for a Grammy. Mark my words. It’s great, and David's an absolute beast on the acoustic guitar.
7. Strange Americans – Borrow You, Brother. These Rocky Mountain Americana rockers’ third album grew on me over months of listening after seeing them perform a raucous noon-time show at Mile of Music. Their show ended in a sumo battle between two charging guitarists. Honestly, how they didn’t break their collarbones I’ll never know. Aaron Rodgers got knocked out with a lot less contact. Borrrow You, Brother has no filler; I think every track has a reward for the listener. What sets them apart from other Americana artists is they’ll toss in a big, anthemic rocker or two on each album. I fell in love with the song Till You’re Told and that’s the song that kept me listening to the whole album. (Yep. I’m old school – not a single’s buyer like those darn millennials. For me it’s always the whole album.) Great stuff.
6. The Regrettes – Feel Your Feelings Fool! At Milwaukee’s Summerfest, I saw The Regrettes perform (probably) every song from their debut album on a friend’s recommendation. They didn’t disappoint. Lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter, Lydia Night, is all that and a bag of chips. She’s got stage confidence normally reserved for the Aguileras of the world. She may be small, but cross this riot grrrl at your own peril. Her pen is mightier than your sword.
5. Fast Romantics – American Love. Another band of Canadians come down here and tell us all about American Love, eh? They did, and they did it well. American Love is filled with clever, wall-of-sound…um, sounds (?) that would make Phil Specter swoon. Matthew Angus leads the band with a big, radio-friendly voice that makes one wonder why they have not heard them yet. Well, some of us in Milwaukee have: 88Nine RadioMilwaukee has had the good sense to start putting them in the rotation. With any luck, the world will hear them all soon. (Oh, and this video. It's a doozy.)
4. Lucy Dacus – No Burden. Okay, maybe this album came out in 2016, but it was pretty late in 2016 and I didn’t hear of her until 88Nine RadioMilwaukee started playing her cleverly crafted hit I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore. It was that song that hooked me, and I continued to listen to No Burden after the first track and was rewarded with a mélange of melodic swirls, chunky guitar riffs, and pointed lyrics. No Burden is another album that sank itself deeper into my core with every spin. Looking forward to seeing what Lucy’s got in store for her fans next.
3. Charly Bliss – Guppy. What can I say? I’m an absolute sucker for masters of the power-pop genre. I didn’t even know of Charly Bliss – a four-piece band hailing from Brooklyn – until they opened for Wolf Parade at Turner Hall. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Eva Hendricks, is a tour de force. Since they were the opening act, I was able to secure a spot front and center and watch Eva put on one of the most animated and energetic performances I’ve seen this year. Her voice, which, I’ll admit, might take some getting used to, floats over some of the most well-structured pop songs I’ve heard in a few years. I don’t think I’m alone in noticing. Guppy appears on many critics’ Best-of-2017 lists. I particularly like NPR music reviewer, Mike Katzif’s, words about Eva and her band: At its most potent, a pop song can lift your spirits while belying the intimacy and sadness at its core. That's especially true when the singer is Charly Bliss' Eva Grace Hendricks. With her bubbly voice and rapid-fire, sugar buzz phrasing, the frontwoman and guitarist regularly sounds downright overjoyed as she unleashes with youthful abandon over a relentless jolt of distorted guitar hooks. Scratch just below the surface, however, and Hendricks' wide-eyed charm melts away in favor of a pissed-off sneer. She flings off razor-sharp one-liners aimed at anyone who may have mistreated her ... but also at her own insecurities. Embedded amid the impossibly catchy hooks of Charly Bliss' new album, Guppy, her words are vibrant and real.
2. King Leg – Meet King Leg. I’ve only recently discovered Meet King Leg as it was listed about a month ago on some Best-of list. While modern FM county nauseates me, this isn’t that country. This is Bakersfield country. The kind made famous by the late, great Buck Owens and Buck Owens understudy, Dwight Yoakam. In fact, so drenched in the Bakersfield sound are King Leg that Dwight himself produced the album. I’ve noticed, too, that King Leg is the opening act for many of Mr. Yoakam’s shows. When you listen to King Leg, you hear so many influences that your mind will bounce forth and back debating what legendary artist you’re hearing. The Byrds? Tom Petty? Roy Orbison? Dwight Yoakam? Buck Owens? Oh, the heck with it. Just enjoy it!
1. Terra Lightfoot – New Mistakes. Another Canadian, and another woman-lead quartet. But Terra Lightfoot sounds nothing like Charly Bliss, The Regrettes, or Lucy Dacus. She’s a straight-forward rocker, song-writer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, blues guitarist, and band leader with a voice that could knock down a brick wall. She was my number one must-see artist at Mile of Music. I saw her perform three times and was enthralled with every show. I learned of her by listening repeatedly to her 2016 album Every Time My Mind Runs Wild. At her shows, she’d drop in a track or two from the then-upcoming new album, New Mistakes. Instantly I enjoyed the new tracks, and they proved to be an accurate preview of what turned out to be a most excellent album. Terra’s another one of those artists that have me wondering why major fame eludes her, but she seems to be doing alright. After Mile of Music, she toured vigorously throughout Japan and Australia before returning to Canada. This album, too, is garnering lots of critics’ attention. PopMatters reviewer, Sarah Zupko, said of Terra, "get ready to adore Terra Lightfoot, a roots rocker with a powerful voice and a badass Gibson SG that she plays with consummate ease. Yep, she could be your new rock ‘n’ roll hero. Drawing from rock, soul, and blues, Lightfoot is a monster talent that will be gracing the world’s largest festival stages in no time."