Given that we’ve just passed the midway point of 2017, it’s time for a personal look back on what’s happened in my world of music.
Live gigs have included trips to Newcastle to see King Creosote at The Sage, and the always excellent Michael Chapman and Ehud Banai at The Cluny. Much closer to home, the legendary Wiz Jones came to the local folk club, with the added bonus of Maggie Holland doing a few songs in the open floor spot. We caught The Stranglers supported by Ruts DC at the Alhambra in Dunfermline. Both bands are still going strong, and putting on great shows. A few of us also made the annual pilgrimage to Dundee for the Saturday of Almost Blue 2017 (June 30th – July 2nd), so technically it was really part of the second half of the year. There were lots of very good performances including the welcome return of Dr Brown and the Groove Cats, plus a couple of new names (to me): Riley James from the USA via Glasgow and Song For You from Dundee.
On the album front, there has been plenty worth talking about. The decision of the UK to leave the EU, and the election of Donald Trump haven’t yet made a full impact on recorded music, although plenty of people have passed comment during their live shows. The one major exception is Hurray For The Riff Raff’s excellent album, “The Navigator”, which I expect to feature in many album of the year lists.
It was good to see the return of a few old favourites. William Bell went back to his spiritual home at Stax Records and delivered the Grammy-winning “This is Where I Live”, while Grandaddy ended their own recording hiatus with the widely acclaimed “Last Place”. There was also a welcome re-issue of Ethio-Jazz pioneer Mukatu Astatke’s “Mulatu of Ethiopia”, and Michael Chapman celebrated 50 years of recording with the appropriately entitled “50”, working alongside comparatively new guitar-slinger Steve Gunn.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit released another great album of country/Americana/rock (“The Nashville Sound”). In related genres Valerie June (country/folk/blues) and Nadia Reid (folk/rock/Americana) both turned in second albums that surpassed the standards of their highly-rated debuts, with “The Order of Time” and “Preservation”, respectively. The second offering from Ibibio Sound Machine, “UYAI”, was also a thing of great beauty, reflecting the band’s roots in London and Nigeria.
Several other albums also deserve mention. “Thankful Villages Vol. 2” is the second installment of Darren Hayman’s pop-leaning pastoral songs written whilst visiting all the Thankful Villages of England. “Existential Beast” saw Mirande Lee Richards’ bringing more elements of psych-rock into her folk/pop tunes. Sinkane revisited his roots on the joyful “Life and Livin’ It” and Rick Tomlinson combined elements of prog-rock, folk, and world music in a captivating way on “Phases of Daylight”.
The one genre that I’ve probably listened most to, though, is contemporary classical music (including solo piano). In particular, I’m talking about music from Max Richter (“Three Worlds: Music From Wolf Works”), Stefano Guzzetti (“Alone (Night Music for Piano Solo”), Sophie Hutchings (“Yonder”) and Levi Patel (“Affinity”). All very good indeed.
There’s lots more to look forward to in the second half of the year too, with BBE Music’s “John Armstrong Presents Afrobeat Brasil” and the forthcoming Lost Horizons album “Ojalà” both catching my eye (ear?) so far.