This year I decided to list some honorable mentions to cover albums that didn’t fit into my top 100 but which are worthy of mentioning. Some of these are a tad tongue in cheek!
Given the importance I place on melody and lyrics, I’ve always struggled with how to address instrumental music. This year I decided not to try to include it, but I did want to recognize three amazing instrumental albums I listened to.
|Daniel Bachman, The Morning Star
Daniel Bachman is a guitarist, which will likely come as a surprise when you cue up (or rather in this digital age, touch play) this album. His specialty is creating soundscapes using drone and fingerpicking techniques that are otherworldly and haunting. Listen about halfway through opener “Invocation” or to “Car” (which is entirely drones) for a sense of this. Even the quiet fingerpicked selections have an air of melancholy and drama about them.
|Mary Lattimore, Hundreds of Days
A classically trained harp player who manages to climb above the much abused (and for good reason) New Age moniker through the addition of electronic sounds and an avoidance of the preciousness that too often mucks up New Age and ambient music.
|Gwenifer Raymond, You Never Were Much of a Dancer
Queen’s Brian May is no longer the only modern musician of whom I’m aware who has a degree in astrophysics. He’s joined by the young Welsh multi-instrumentalist Gwenifer Raymond, who one ups him with a Ph.D. in astrophysics. This stunning debut album draws on an obviously deep education in American music to create exquisite primitive soundscapes with amazing fingerpicked acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, etc. “Sometimes There’s Blood” is a highlight and a bold example of her style. And “Requiem for John Fahey” reveals her influences!
|Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army
“Derivative” is a NOT compliment in the musical world. But this album isn’t derivative: it’s completely in thrall to the legendary Zed Zeppelin. It could BE Zep, although without the Bonham thump, no one can truly do the legendary foursome. And you know what? That’s okay! While I can’t possibly include something so unoriginal in my top 100, I love this album: the clear wail of the vocals, the cronky riffs, the thump und drang.
|Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
Tongue firmly in cheek here. The Seattle grunge band retains its unique sound, particularly the odd and vaguely threatening harmonies, but that’s what’s weird about this album: it sounds like Layne Staley is still singing with the band, rather than almost 16 years dead from an overdose. It makes the whole effort rather creepy.
|Anglique Kidjo, Remain In Light
I don’t include cover albums, but had to acknowledge this work in some way. Kidjo recreated The Talking Heads’ seminal fourth album, and by doing so took things full circle considering they were greatly influence by West African music in creating their masterpiece, and Kidjo is from West Africa (Benin). There’s a whole symbiosis thing going here that makes this a lovely symbol as well as just damn good music.
|The Punch Brothers, All Ashore
When Chris Thile isn’t hosting Prairie Home Companion, he’s making amazing music that could only be described as bluegrass classical, or maybe classical Americana. What that means is that while played on bluegrass instruments (mandolin, violin, banjo, guitar and bass), the structure of the music is classic in the sense of different movements, tones, and style. This album, for example, features nine different songs (aka movements) reflecting on the personal impact of the current political climate.