Brian Wise’s Best of 2016
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
1. Blue & Lonesome – Rolling Stones
Yes, there is a Santa Claus! They finally do what all their fans have been hoping for all these years – make a blues album.
2. American Band – Drive By Truckers
They could have titled this Best American Band and it would have been accurate.
3. Apache – Aaron Neville
The Neville Brothers album you have when the Neville Brothers have broken up.
4. You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
Just a young man of 82 with a crazy dream when he left us.
5. This Is Where I Live – William Bell
Comeback of the year? New songs that sound as classic as the old songs he covers (including his own hit ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’).
6. The Ghosts of Highway 20 – Lucinda Williams
Just keeps getting better and jazzier.
7. Paging Mr Proust – Jayhawks
The Byrds album you have when the Byrds have broken up.
8. I Long To See You – Charles Lloyd & The Marvels
With Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz on guitars how could it not be great?
9. Stadium Cake – Oh Pep!
Impressive debut album from the best Australian act at Americana 2015.
10. Dori Freeman – Dori Freeman
Amazingly good debut from Virginia hill country singer. Sounds like she will be around for a long time. ‘Go On Lovin’’ already sounds like a country classic.
11. Thieves – Tracy McNeil – Tracy McNeil & The Good Life
Speaking of Americana this is one great local example. Plus the song ‘Paradise’ could be a Stevie Nicks classic if she ever gets hold of it.
12. Cold Trail – Bill Chambers
Father of Kasey but a great songwriter in his own right. Gritty. Best Australian country album of the year.
13. Southern Light – Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel
Another Shane O’Mara production (as was Tracy McNeil). Fine songs, great playing.
14. Faithful Satellite – Black Sorrows
Great songs from Joe Camilleri and Nick Smith (the secret weapon here). ‘You Were Never Mine’ is one of the standout songs of the year.
15. Let Love Rule – Archie Roach
Beautiful album from this national treasure. His show at Port Fairy was one of the highlights of the year.
16. Dig In Deep – Bonnie Raitt
Still making really listenable albums, Raitt’s latest is impeccably played and she sounds as good as ever.
17. The Golden Halfway Record – Halfway
Recorded in Nashville this album should have received a lot more attention. Halfway have been making excellent records for years and this is yet another example of great ‘Australian Americana’ (if that makes sense).
18. Shine A Light – Billy Bragg & Joe Henry
A great idea, the execution of which is helped by Joe Henry’s hand which steers the sonic journey across America.
19. Heart Like A Levee – Hiss Golden Messenger
MC Taylor’s seventh album and his best to date with its gentle emotional tug.
20. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung – Ryley Walker
The missing link between Nick Drake and John Martyn.
21. After What I Did Last Night – Henry Wagons
The missing link between Merle Haggard and Screaming Lord Sutch.
22. My Woman – Angel Olson
Apart from her fragile vocals this album is marked by the fact that it contains a lot of excellent and varied songs.
23. Death’s Dateless Night – Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen
Nothing really different about this album of covers except that I really like Kelly’s low-key approach and Owen’s guitar.
24. Monday To Friday – Sweet Jean
A fine local duo that should have had a lot more success with this excellent album. Maybe it was because they were just too hard to pigeon-hole.
25. Colvin & Earle – Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle
The combination of two great songwriters works really well: the interplay between their voices is perfect. The original songs are strong and the covers are well chosen.
26. These American Blues – Levi Parham
Impressive album from young Oklahoma songwriter, produced by Jimmy Lafave.
27. Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
The best album to date from Ellis with the song ‘California’ being a highlight. Country with a twist.
28. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson
In an ideal world Simpson and Jamie Johnson would be the major country stars. Thought their respective spots at Farm Aid were great.
29. Wilco Schmilco – Wilco
Jeff Tweedy always produces something interesting and this is no exception.
30. Burn Something Beautiful – Alejandro Escovedo
For years we have been hoping that his star would rise. This probably won’t do it but it is another great guitar-driven album.
TRIBUTE OF THE YEAR
God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson – Various
Worth it alone for the two Tom Waits covers, ‘The Soul of A man’ and ‘John The Revelator.’
Day of The Dead – Various
Five discs might be a bit much but there are some brilliant interpretations, including a great cover of ‘Ruben and Cherise.’
The Musical Mojo of Dr John: Celebrating Mac and His Music (DVD & CD)
Spectacular concert at New Orleans’ Saenger Theater during Jazz Fest 2015, featuring one of the final performances from Allen Toussaint.
SONGS OF THE YEAR
‘It’s Been A Bad Year For Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – Chuck Prophet (from the forthcoming album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins).
‘People Are Disgusting’ – Jonathan Richman
COVER OF THE YEAR
‘Ruben and Cherise’ – Bonnie Prince Billy & Friends (from Day of The Dead)
BEST REISSUE/BOX SET/COMPLIATION
- Boots No.1 – Gillian Welch (Reissue)
- High Noon: A 50 Year Retrospective – NRBQ
- The Last Waltz – The Band
- Big Star – Complete Third
- The Live 1966 Recordings – Bob Dylan
- Running The Voodoo Down – Various
- Final Wild Songs – The Long Ryders
- These Dreams Will Never Die – Graham Parker
- Live At The Whiskey A Go Go – Otis Redding
- Good ‘n’ Cheap: The Eggs Over Easy Story
Just A Little More Faith & Grace – Lucinda Wiliams
EP – Tash Sultana
BEST DEBUT RELEASE
Stadium Cake – Oh Pep!
Dori Freeman – Dori Freeman
Escalator Over The Hill – Jazz Composers Orchestra
Carla Bley and Paul Haines amazing 1971 triple album ‘jazz opera’ with Linda Rondstadt, John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce and more. Found the old vinyl version in the cupboard!
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – Palais, St.Kilda
The love affair with Australia continues and in Melbourne it is close to passion. Fantastic shows that made almost everything else pale afterwards.
Neil Young + Promise of The Real – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Amazing show from Neil in the rain! A 24-minute version of ‘Cortez The Killer’ alone made the trip over worth it.
Rhiannon Giddens – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
It took 20 minutes prep to get the sound right but it was worth the effort. A standing ovation after every song (I kid you not). It was like witnessing the birth of a superstar
The Rolling Stones – T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
They cancelled the Wednesday concert because Mick had laryngitis, so it was lucky that I had a ticket for the show on the following Saturday where he sounded great. I loved the version of ‘Ride ‘Em On Down’ from Blue & Lonesome.
Pharoah Sanders – Bird’s Basement
One of the grand masters of jazz was still in fine form with his superb ensemble. The spritely 76-year old still had it.
BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL
Americana, Nashville – Remains the best value for money festival anywhere!
Bluesfest, Byron Bay
Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans
Old Setter’s Festival, Austin, Texas
Out On The Weekend, Williamstown
Summer of Soul, Mossvale, Victoria
Hell or Highwater (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis)
My film of the year and starring The Dude. Set in West Texas this shows a side of America that ultimately led to Trump’s ascendancy.
Born To Be Blue (David Braid & Kevin Turcotte)
Ethan Hawke bravely features on vocals on several selections.
Miles Ahead (Robert Glasper)
The soundtrack turns out to be more exciting than the film.
BEST MUSIC FILM
Documentary: Gimme Danger (Iggy & The Stooges) (Dir.Jim Jarmusch)
Nothing groundbreaking here but Jarmusch tells the history with great humour and some panache and Iggy comes across as a lot smarter than many think – and he remembers everything.
Born To Be Blue (Dir. Robert Budreau)
Ethan Hawke’s performance as Chet Baker is powerful and unsettling. Baker’s story of self-destruction is sad and harrowing.
Miles Ahead (Dir. Don Cheadle)
Don Cheadle’s portrait of Miles is ultimately disappointing but at least captures some of the character of Davis. I read somewhere that Cheadle could only get finance if he got Ewan McGregor to play a fictional Rolling Stone magazine writer whose role is total invention (as I found out later).
BEST MUSIC BOOK
Grant & I: Inside & Outside The Go-Betweens – Robert Forster (Penguin)
Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)
Small Town: Talk Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock – Barney Hoskyns (Da Capo Press)
Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements – Bob Mehr (Da Capo Press)
Michael Bloomfield: The Rise & Fall of An American Guitar Hero – Ed Ward (Chicago Review Press)
Long overdue update on one of the true guitar greats. Ward also wrote The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963 (Flatiron Press) which I am now reading and which is equally great.
Testimony – Robbie Robertson (Crown Archetype)
Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark – Tamara Saviano (Texas A&M)
Dig! – David Nichols (Verse Chorus Press)
Kill ‘Em & Leave ‘Em; Searching For James Brown & The American Soul – James McBride (Spiegel & Grau)
Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk – John Doe (Da Capo Press)
BEST OTHER BOOK
Press Escape by Shaun Carney (Melbourne University Press)
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (Penguin)
Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner (Bolinda Publishing)
Charlie Brooker’s futuristic version of the Twilight Zone with the inevitable, and often imaginative, twist in every episode. Start with White Christmas.
The Night Of
Compelling crime drama that tackled some big themes including the American legal system and racism. John Turtorro plays the unlikely hero as a lawyer with few redeeming qualities apart from the fact that he can spot a scam a mile away.
Ostensibly a kid’s show but so much more! ET meets Altered States.
The Night Manager
Adaptation of John LeCarre novel lived up to expectations.
Remained funny and smart for the latest season.
Starring Keifer Sutherland it is like a combo of The West Wing, 24 and Homeland.
Excellent adaptation of the novel by the ABC.
The Get Down
The most spectacular show of the year, thanks to Baz Lurhmann, with one of the best soundtracks
THE MISS OF THE YEAR
The miss of the year despite the involvement of Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger as executive producers and a huge budget. (Funnily enough, Jagger’s son got a role). It is like they have taken every sensational incident in Fred Dannen’s Mansion On The Hill and thrown them in. It just got worse as it went along.