2016 was a terrible year in many ways, but it was a great year of music. Here is my list of the best albums of 2016.
1. Skeleton Tree, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This album was started before Nick’s son Arthur died in 2015. Understandably, that tragedy weighed heavily on Nick as he wrote the songs for this album. The album is sad in a beautiful way. If you haven’t seen the movie, One More Time with Feeling, that played in cinemas around the globe on the eve of the release of this album, you should.
2. My Woman, by Angel Olsen. This is as close to a tie for first as you can get. I gave the nod to Nick because, well it’s Nick, and also because of the film about the making of the album.
3. Blackstar, by David Bowie. This album was released on David Bowie’s 69th birthday on Feburary 8, 2016. He died two days later. This album is his eulogy. David Bowie was always changing right up until his death. The album doesn’t sound anything like any of his previous albums. It was an experiment in blues-jazz-rock fusion for him, and it’s beautiful.
4. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, by Sturgill Simpson. You’ll find this album in the country section of your local record store because Sturgill is known as a country singer. Well he got the Dap Kings to play for him on this album, so it’s country spiced up with one of the best soul bands in the business, and it works! Here he is performing “Keep it Between the Lines” live on KCRW with his touring band (not The Dap Kings).
5. American Band, by Drive By Truckers. The Drive By Truckers have always written political songs, but this whole album is political. It addresses immigration, racism, guns, hypocritical politicians, censorship, police brutality, and more. I think it’s their best album in many years.
6. You Want it Darker, by Leonard Cohen. Like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen was creative right up until his death. This album was released in October, and Leonard Cohen died two weeks later in November. This album is about facing mortality.
8. Rest in Chaos, by Hard Working Americans. This Todd Snider project sounds very much like The Rolling Stones from the Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street era, especially live.
9. Burn Something Beautiful, by Alejandro Escovedo. He’s getting older, but he still rocks with a little help from his friends Scott McCauhey and Peter Buck.
10. Beyond The Bloodhounds, by Adia Victoria. “I want to shine a light on the unseen, and speak the unspeakable”, says Adia Victoria, and she does just that on her debut album.
11. Plaza, by Quilt
12. Exodus of Venus, by Elizabeth Cook
13. Wild Stab, The I Don’t Cares (Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield)
14. The Unseen, by The Handsome Family
15. Wilco Schmilco, by Wilco
16. Eyes on the Lines, by Steve Gunn
17. The Westerner, by John Doe
18. Real, by Lydia Loveless
19. A Weird Exits, by Thee Oh Sees
20. Introducing Karl Blau, by Karl Blau
And a shout-out to several bands that put out great music that didn’t make my top twenty: Santa Rosa by Capsula; Kin, by The Duke Spirit; Nine Pin, by Kaia Kater; Singing Saw, by Kevin Morby; Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, by Margo Price; Not to Disappear, by Daughter; The Hope Six Demolition Project, by P.J. Harvey; Execute American Folklore, by Johnny Dowd; Case/Lang/Veirs, by Neko Case, K.D. Lang, and Laura Veirs; Livin’ on a High Note, by Mavis Staples…