You’re going to find this hard to believe, but the album is alive and well. Although they won’t fall in your lap like before the era of streaming and playlists, the year saw a lot of great albums worth listening to from beginning to end.
Here are five that we recommend.
In spite of the context in which this album was made, it’s still a fantastic recording from front to back. Jones passed away last year and ‘Soul of a Woman’ was recorded in between cancer treatments and chemotherapy. Backed by her longtime band the Dap-Kings, this is a fitting swan song from one of the best soul singers of a generation. The heavy weight of her illness is felt but there are terrific moments of faith and courage, particularly with the tracks “Sail On” and “Call on God”.
Beck is one of those chameleon artists that has the ability to seamlessly transition between styles, genres and moods. ‘Colors’ is a nice mix of retro-styles that is more upbeat with a pop-sensibility than his Grammy winning ‘Morning Phase’. Like much of his older work, it comes with splashes of a sense of humour that is certainly fun to listen to. If ‘Morning Phase’ included your Sunday morning jams, ‘Colors’ is best for Saturday night.
There seems to be a welcome revival of good country artists in response to the vapid and painful era of ‘bro-country’. The first time I saw Margo Price was her performance on Saturday Night Live singing ‘Hurtin’ on a Bottle’ which seemed more like a fantastic tribute to Loretta Lynn than a the latest hip artists the show usually features. Left with the often monumental task of meeting expectations with her second album, Price does not disappoint. Instead of stories of internal strife, Price wrote about the turmoil that is now flooding America. ‘All American Made’ has rumblings of a protest album covering issues such as gender pay inequality and other observations she made traveling the country. The album is full of gems and a favourite is a terrific duet with Willie Nelson.
There are albums that represent the best in a genre at the top of their game. ‘Damn’ is one of those albums. With production and tracks a little less complex than 2015’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and 2016’s ‘Untitled Unmastered’, this year’s ‘Damn’ focuses more on what Lamar wants to say – and there’s a lot to be said. Wheras Price was more about looking outward as opposed to inward on her latest album, Lamar is looking more at himself and has more to say about self-examination and his own fears and anxieties.
Ryan Adams is one of most prolific writers and performers of the last 15-20 years. He also has the ability to swerve in and around different genres, styles and sounds. ‘Prisoner’ is a perfect Adams mix album full of full out rockers and more introspective and mellow tracks. His first album since 2014 and his public divorce to actress Mandy Moore, the album has a lot to say about loss and regret. You can feel the sting of his laments, but you are also compelled to turn up the rockers. This album is about what you would expect from a prolific artist after such a deep and personal life event.