Albums of the Year 2017

Carrying on from last year, here’s my idiosyncratic round up of this year’s releases that have given me the greatest listening pleasure. The list is ordered alphabetically. Feel free to add your own suggestions/lists in the comments.

AK/DK – “Patterns/Harmonics”: Think Clinic meets Suicide and you’ll be somewhere close to the Brighton group’s sound. First heard on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable, where it deservedly received glowing universal praise.

William Bell – “This Where I Live”: The old soul master returned to his spiritual home at Stax and delivered a great (Grammy winning) album of contemporary soul classics. He was also the highlight of this year’s SummerTyne Festival for me.

Michael Chapman – “50”: 50 years in, Michael Chapman records yet another fine album with young Gunn (Steve) in tow. A brilliant guitarist, well worth catching live, Chapman continues to move forward, pleasing himself by doing the things he wants to do and playing the music that he wants to play. (I’d really like to hear him work with dbh.)

dbh – “Mass”: The third album from Manchester’s dbh contains some exquisite guitar playing, echoing shades of Bert Jansch and Vini Reilly. The album blends in easterns influences too on tracks like “Light Pools” and “Blues II” (maybe the influence of Davy Graham?) A welcome space of tranquility in these mad times.

Damien Dempsey – “Soulsun”: I’d read a lot about Damien Dempsey, but never really heard anything until this year. He’s much more than a traditional Irish folk singer, being happy to incorporate influences from other genres, including reggae. The thing I really like about “Soulsun” is that it has a sound that’s so much more expansive than traditional folk music.

Darren Hayman – “Thankful Villages Vol. 2”: I love this project in which Hayman has travelled around the thankful villages of England (where all the soldiers came back alive from WWI), and in each of them has tried to capture some essence of the village in music. He also recorded videos in each of the villages

Hurray For The Riff Raff – “The Navigator”: In which Alynda Lee Segarra deals head on with some of the issues of colonization, refugees and gentrification. It shows that there are still some musicians out there making serious protest music, and doing it in style. Essential listening.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – “The Nashville Sound”: Country, rock and soul at its contemporary finest. Isbell remains one of the finest songwriters there is, and with the 400 Unit is one of the best live acts around.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – “Soul of a Woman”: Sharon Jones was a real force of nature, and “Soul of a Woman” is a fitting (albeit poignant) celebration of a career cut short by Jones’ untimely death this year. There’s a lot of deeper soul and gospel here, which shows what a great singer Jones was, and what a tight band The Dap Kings are.

Steven Kemner – “Gradation Movements”: A late arrival, and teh limited edition handmade edition features the best packaging of the year. Five beautiful ambient/drone instrumental pieces. Perfect for chilling out.

Memory Drawings – “The Nearest Exit”: Wonderfully evocative instrumentals from the Anglo-American band, combining strings with hammered dulcimer. There is also a (digital) album of remixes that comes with the download.

Hannah Peel – “Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia”: A concept album about a fictional female astronaut’s journey into space. Peel brilliantly realises it by bringing together synthesizers with a 33 piece colliery brass band.  Older listeners will hear shades of 2001, but there’s way more to it than that.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – “The French Press”: Short and sweet outing from the Australian four piece that raised their profile this year. Jangly guitars, spiky tunes, shades of The Go-Betweens: what’s not to like?

Nadine Shah – “Holiday Destination”: Ranks alongside “The Navigator” as one of the most important albums of 2017, unafraid to tackle the contemporary woes of the Western world head on. Hard hitting and visceral, Tom Robinson made this his album of the year. Essentail listening.

Songhoy Blues – “Resistance”: Another album of defiance from Mali’s Songhoy Blues. Born during a civil war, they focus their energies on making music that matters taking their influence from desert blues and the Malian Songhai traditions and turning it into a contemporary African rock-based sound.

Omar Souleyman – “To Syria With Love”: The legendary Syrian “weddding singer” is back, and this time with added techno beats. Don’t let that put you off though, this is still terrific music, made for dancing.

Footnote: Most of the albums were found through a combination of Uncut magazine, BBC Radio 6 Music, Bandcamp (often in combination with A Closer Listen), Clash Music Magazine and Soundcloud.