And so the year comes to a close not with a bang or whimper, but a melody that’s older than my time on Earth: “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
Jackie DeShannon’s rendition of that Bacharach-David classic, Wikipedia tells us, was released as a single on April 15, 1965; and, according to Weekly Top 40, it entered the Top 10 on July 3rd and peaked at No. 7 three weeks later. It’s a song that’s been sung by hundreds of singers since, including Rumer on her new This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook album. Somewhere there’s war, somewhere there’s heartache and somewhere some people hate while others fear. It’s not fair. It’s never fair. But it’s why the song resonates when it’s sung. It’s always true. The world needs love. Sweet love. Not for some. For everyone.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Old Grey Cat’s “Album of the Year” award is not an honorific doled out lightly. The selection process – which I began in 1978 at age 13 – is quite simple: I deep-dive into the music that riveted me during the previous 12 months, whittle down the choices to a few candidates and pick my Album of the Year from them. But this year? There was no need. To quote myself from 2014:
“Sometimes you just know – call it love at first listen. The first notes of the first song seep from the speakers with the grace of an Audrey Hepburn or the grit of a Humphrey Bogart and, well, that’s that. Without listening to the rest, you know that this is it, the one, the set of music that will fill the soundtrack of your life not just for the foreseeable future, but for the rest of it.”
Except, in this instance, I knew long before the first notes sauntered from the speakers. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself. (Let’s call it “building suspense.” Ha!)
First, a caveat: Rylie Bourne’s self-titled debut album was and remains among my favorite discoveries of 2016; it would easily make my Top 5 for the year save for the fact that it wasn’t released in 2016, but late 2015. As I explained in this post, “It’s country music the way country music should be, of the soul and heart. It conjures the Carter Family, Merle Haggard and the outlaw sound. At times, it’s light; more often, however, it’s dark and cathartic – think Hank Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound (minus the orneriness).” If you haven’t sought it out, you should. Here’s a taste:
And one more caveat: Neil Young’s Peace Trail is due out on Dec. 9th, five days from now. It could, conceivably, eke its way into a top spot, given that “Indian Givers” – released a few months back – is damn good.
There’s little chance that the album will eke its way into my Top 3, however; those have been set in stone since Thanksgiving night. Because of Peace Trail, however, I’m not going to breakdown what falls where within Numbers 10 to 4, as they’re all (fairly) equal to my ears and could get bumped down a notch (and/or out of the Top 10): Alicia Keys’ Here; Bat for Lashes’ The Bride; Blake Babies’ Earwig Demos; Emily Jane White’s They Moved in Shadow All Together; Neil Young’s Earth; Norah Jones’ Day Breaks; and, at my wife’s urging, Van Morrison’s Keep Me Singing.
And, with all that acknowledged, onward to the year’s Top 3:
3) Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrent. What an amazing album. The singer-songwriter’s guitar playing reminds me of Stephen Stills – magic is made with every pluck and strum. Her vocals, though a different shade and texture, conjure Shawn Colvin’s; and the songs…as I’m apt to say, “Wow. Just wow.” Here’s a 10-minute Attics Sessions video of the Texas native:
2) Diane Birch – Nous + “Nite Time Talking.” The Church of Birch pastor began the year with the intoxicating Nous. In my review, I wrote that the set is “atmospheric, restrained and moody, accented by muted vocals and figurative wisps of smoke swirling from speakers. The music smolders, in other words, and conjures an assortment of current and classic recordings – from Anna Calvi and Bat for Lashes to David Bowie and Pink Floyd – while retaining its own unique sound.”
“Nite Time Talking,” a one-off single released on Bandcamp at the end of November, is equally seductive and dreamlike.
1) Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. Was there any doubt? As I said above, sometimes you just know; and I knew in August of 2015, when Rumer announced her plan to record an album of Bacharach-David songs. That voice with those songs?! It’s a match made in heaven. However, the end result is even better than anticipated. To tweak what I wrote a few weeks back, it’s a lilting and lush set that possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and finesse of the 5th Dimension.
In other words, it blows my mind every time I listen to it (and I’ve listened to little else since its release). Here’s another highlight – with a vocal cameo by none other than Burt Bacharach, who also plays piano on the track: