It’s time for the annual review of music. There are four Fridays left in December. Three of them will feature a collection of albums released in 2017 that I’m keeping, and the fourth will be for my “A list” playlist of records released this year.
A couple of rules for the albums: that I keep one means that I can play it from start and listen all the way through without skipping more than one song on it. The war against the single was a dark time in music history, but it was fighting for something worthwhile; producing a collection of high quality records at the same time is still a feat worth celebrating. So I do.
Second, these collections of mine don’t strictly adhere to genre. More than that, they reflect the mood I need to be in to play the albums in them. The way I identify album collections differs from year-to-year. Some years I make a single list of the “best” albums, but I’m kind of over that. “Best” is so slippery in music. I’ve spent too much time listening to music I didn’t really like because Rolling Stone of the AV Club said it was “the best.”
These three collections simply reflect the moods I gravitated to this year.
One of them was a mood of pathos for the troubles of female country singers.
Caroline Spence, Spades And Roses (Self Released)
The first record I heard on this album was “All The Beds I’ve Made,” after reading a profile in American Songwriter (She also caught the attention of NPR). It’s what is great about country and Americana: literary writing full of detail carried by minimal instrumentation and a vocal strong enough to be compelling but rough enough to sing along to.
Last.fm says that I listened to the records “Southern Accident” and “Softball” the most.
Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, The Lonesome, And The Gone (ATO Records)
This one snuck up on me late in the year, when American Songwriter sang its praises in late October. I was like, Lee Ann Womack? Like, “I Hope You Dance” Lee Ann Womack. Nope.
The only reason I even played it was the label–ATO published my favorite artists in the mid-00s, like Patty Griffin, My Morning Jacket, and Gomez, and that has earned some loyalty into the late teens of the century.
I’m glad I did.
The Lonely, The Lonesome, And The Gone is top-to-bottom characterized by restraint and precision, both lyrically and vocally. You can imagine hearing Womack and a small band play it in some dimly lit smoky bar. The title track is just so, so good.
Angaleena Presley, Wrangled (Mining Light)
Her 2015 debut album was a big deal, I hear. I never heard it. The follow up hooked me good, though.
Wrangled is the countriest of the country albums I spent time with in 2017. Presley’s Kentucky drawl drapes itself over all of these songs, some of which are covers of greats like Guy Clark. But the drawl is more than radio effect; there is palpable, infectious, angst coming through it in records like “Wrangled,” “Only Blood,” and “Bless My Heart,” which has one of the best lyrics of the whole year: “If you bless my heart I’ll slap your face.”
Dori Freeman, Letters Never Read (Self Released)
If Letters Never Read were longer I wouldn’t like it as much. It’s brevity is its genius. It ends almost before you realize its begun, and you think, “Wait. I liked that. All of it.”
Freeman is so unassuming that one of her song videos is simply strung together footage of her husband and daughter at a music festival. Jewly Hight’s review of this album got what’s great about Freeman exactly right, I think: “She values her lifelong exposure to living musical traditions, but doesn’t allow her reverence to overshadow her gift for distilling Appalachian melancholy into delicate pop ruminations.”
Next up: some rock records!
See you next Friday.