Archive for the ‘2017’ Category

(An edited version of my original post that adds my 2017 pick.)

“Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve bestowed on one album (sometimes two) every year since beginning my journey into music fandom. I started the practice one late-December evening in 1978, when I was 13, on a piece of looseleaf paper, selecting my favorite LP from the dozen or so LPs I owned. In time, I transferred the list to typing paper, entered it into our first computer, saved it to a floppy disc and, in the late 2000s, moved it to an external hard drive. I now have it stored in the Cloud along with all my Pages documents.

And, for the longest time, that’s all it was – a list that I returned to every year to add another line. Even when we had our Old Grey Cat website in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I never wrote year-end summations of my favorites – I was too busy critiquing Neil Young bootlegs. It wasn’t until 2008 on Facebook that I posted my top picks for the year; and, on and off over the next few years, I followed with missives until launching this blog on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in 2012. (I’ve since moved to wordpress.com, obviously.)

I think I best explained the way I go about it in this 2010 post: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

That’s not to say that I still feel the same about each of my past selections as I did when I picked them. I was (and am) a major McCartney fan, but London Town and Back to the Egg weren’t his best, let alone the best of their respective years. I know that now, but at the time…I was a kid on a limited budget. More recently, I’d flip my top two picks in both 2010 and 2012 – in 2010, as I wrote at the time, I relegated Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul (one of my all-time favorites) to the second slot because it hadn’t been officially released in the U.S.; and, in 2012, I was simply smitten with Susanna Hoff’s perfect solo effort, Someday – I still am, but Neil’s Psychedelic Pill has received more play in the years since, as I explained in a 2014 rumination I titled On Albums of the Year & the Pono Player.

But, in a way, that’s beside the point. The list, as I see it, is less a critical exercise and more a reflection of the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes. At Diane’s urging, I’m sharing it… (and, where possible, I’ve linked to past blog posts about each of the albums or artists).

2017 – Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (1); Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat (2)
2016 – Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook
2015 – The Staves – If I Was
2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III
2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2)
2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl
2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2)
2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt
2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away
2007 – Maria McKee – Late December
2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way
2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China
2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo
2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive
2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate?
2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland
2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature
1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert
1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon
1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie)
1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily
1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels
1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden
1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood
1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors
1989 – Neil Young – Freedom
1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2)
1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut; Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2)
1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2)
1983 – Neil Young – Trans
1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War
1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2)
1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg
1978 – Wings – London Town

Happy Mew Year

Posted: December 31, 2017 in 2010s, 2017, Rumer
Tags: , , , ,

And so 2017 comes to a close not with a bang or whimper, but a mew.

A feral feline of unknown gender, who I’ve decided to call Bobbi/e, may have taken up temporary residence in our standalone garage, which is about 100 feet from our back porch. After the last few snows, I noticed paw prints tracking to and from the door; and, this morning, I spotted a ginger tabby cat slipping from the sliver of darkness into the light.

Once it’s closed, I should explain, the garage door gradually cracks open until it’s about six inches off the ground. And even if it didn’t, there’s a hole somewhere in the back, behind the boxes and old furniture that takes up much of what was once a two-car space. During the late-spring and summer months, for example, a groundhog family that lives behind (and below) the garage often uses it as a covered short cut. They’ll be grazing in the nearby grass when danger – i.e., me – steps onto the back porch, and off they go. Thirty seconds or a minute later, one peeks out from behind the garage to see if the danger has disappeared.

I’ve spotted a few other cats since, back in 2014, we moved into what was my parents’ house. One, another ginger, is a well-fed and well-groomed longhair; it obviously has a home. Another, however, is a scrappy-looking gray tabby that sometimes lounges on the front porch on sunny afternoons – like Bobbi/e, he’s probably descended from my family’s feline of the 1970s, Reilly, and his orange-hued missus. She appeared at our backdoor one day, heavily pregnant, and eventually gave birth behind the living-room couch. Which is to say, this house is likely ingrained in their DNA as a place of safety and refuge.

This morning, I stepped onto the porch to introduce myself to Bobbi/e as s/he padded down the driveway and s/he, in turn, mewed salutations before scampering off.

Anyway, my song for tonight is one that resonates far beyond the 45 released by Jackie DeShannon on April 15, 1965. In my Album of the Year essay for 2016, I wrote of its timeless quality as thus: “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.”

And that is my sincerest wish for everyone in the coming year. No matter who or where you are, or what you’re going through, may peace and love find us all.

Opening in 1958 New York City, the Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a remarkable comedy-drama about housewife-mother Miriam “Midge” Maisel’s metamorphosis into a stand-up comic. To share more would be to spill spoilers, I think, so I’ll just say that it’s one of the freshest, funniest and emotionally honest dramas of the past few years. (If it’s spoilers you want, and/or just more context, this Vulture article should do the trick while this New York Times Magazine piece fills in the blanks on Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Midge.)

The brainchild of Gilmore Girls mastermind Amy Sherman-Palladino, the series recreates the era’s Upper West Side scene to a proverbial T. And while there are a few timeline flaws within the storyline – such as when Bob Newhart’s classic The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart comedy LP was released – they’re not important. What is: the story, characters and the snappy verbal volleys, which are often wickedly funny – especially when Midge’s nascent manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), is involved.

So, for today’s Top 5: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – as in, songs from the show’s stellar soundtrack. As with the storyline, there are some timeline issues (Barbra Streisand didn’t release “Happy Days Are Here Again” until 1963), but the tunes perfectly accent the scenes.

1) Peggy Lee – “It’s a Good Day.” This classic song, cowritten by Peggy and her then-husband Dave Balbour, made it to No. 16 on the charts.

2) Dinah Washington – “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.” From the jazz vocalist’s 1954 album, After Hours With Miss D, which AllMusic calls “one of the best jam sessions ever recorded.”

3) Frank Sinatra – “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” The title song to Sinatra’s 1955 long-player, In the Wee Small Hours, the single reached No. 2 on the charts; and the album is considered a classic.

4) Barbra Streisand – “Happy Days Are Here Again.” In 1963, Streisand was still and up-and-coming Broadway performer and singer. Here she is on the Dinah Shore show in May of that year…

5) Julie London – “Cry Me a River.” Long before her Emergency! days, Julie was a well-known singer, and this torch song – which hit No. 9 on the pop charts in 1955 – may be her best. This performance is from a 1964 Japanese TV special.

The annual Old Grey Cat Awards fete, in which the Album of the Year nominees gather in the great hall that is our living room while anxiously awaiting the word, was more crowded this year than most. Were the Las Vegas oddsmakers correct? Or would an underdog be crowned king or queen? (Canines are much loved by the admittedly feline-centric OGC Committee, so it’s always a possibility.) By the time the gala’s host finally scampered onto the mantel to bellow the mews, well, the tension could’ve been cut with a claw.

Except, as often happens with this, the most ballyhooed of music awards, the many contenders could and should have saved their Xanax for another night. Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life was and is just one of those albums. And the runners-up…aside from the late entry from the sister collective known as the Staves, not surprising. (The winner and four runners-up can be seen here.)

But awards ceremonies never tell the full story of a year.

While sorting through the year’s top contenders for my Album of the Year honors, I was shocked – but not appalled – by the many great albums and EPs released in 2017. I thought I’d share my numbers 6 through 11 – aka, the Honorable Mentions – here. Some I reviewed during the course of the year; others, unsurprisingly, I didn’t. They’re all worth buying or, at the least, adding to one’s Apple Music or Spotify library.

6) Garland Jeffreys – 14 Steps to Harlem. “As a whole, 14 Steps to Harlem finds Garland looking back, surveying the present and contemplating the future – and doing it all to melodies that linger long after the music has ceased.” Here’s the title track:

7) Paul WellerA Kind Revolution. “Long Long Road” is such a tremendous song that, even if the rest of the album was just so-so, A Kind Revolution would be an honorable mention. But the album is among Weller’s best.

8) Tift MerrittStitch of the World. “While we listened to it earlier today, me for probably the 10th time this week, Diane noted that certain songs would’ve been at home on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel – or, I’d add, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. I.e., there’s a timelessness about them.” Here’s one of its stellar tracks,  “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb.”

9) Kasey ChambersDragonfly. “Ain’t No Little Girl” is just tremendous, bluesy and – in concert, especially – jaw-dropping in its intensity. The remainder of the double album is damn good, too.

And, two ties at No. 10…

10) Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (deluxe edition). “The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. ”

10) Natalie Merchant – Butterfly (available as part of The Natalie Merchant Collection). Here’s “Frozen Charlotte” from it…