Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Column - 2016 Album Wrap-Up

Published in the November / December issue of Rhythms magazine.

Goin’ Down Slow
Nov/Dec 2016

Once again, we find ourselves at the tail-end of another year. The older one gets, it seems, the faster time seems to fly – indeed, another 12 months done and dusted, another year older. A year wiser? The jury’s still out on that one.

One thing of which I am certain however, is that this year has been a good one for music. A slew of fantastic records have passed over my desk these 12 months just gone, and so I’ve been inundated with the finest sounds from all around, perhaps one reason the year has run by so quickly.

Given this year I actually kept a list (tacked to the pinboard above my desk), tracking releases I thought were top-notch, here then are my favourites from 2016, in no particular order.

Black Stone Cherry’s Kentucky caught my ear first up, hard and heavy southern rock. My first contact with this band, and I’m reliably informed their earlier material is even better – I’ll get on to that. Freakwater, whose twisted take on Americana hit me via Scheherazade, were a revelation. These guys have been about since the late ‘80s, and time has not dulled their power.

Americana was quite a theme for me this year, with records from the Weeping Willows (Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’); Halfway (The Golden Halfway Record); and Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife (Thieves) getting solid airplay in my office. The Willows is straight up Americana, two part harmonies, stripped and simple, a great album. Halfway’s effort, their fifth, leant more towards trad country, a definite smart rock injection. Tracy McNeil went from strength to strength, her third record imbued with a distinct West Coast vibe, Laurel Canyon and that sort of thing.

Fanny Lumsden (Small Town Big Shot, which has just been nominated for an ARIA); Amarillo (Eyes Still Fixed); and Sean McMahon (Shiner) all produced excellent albums too, all with hints of Americana, but all adding something else to this burgeoning sub-genre. McMahon’s is a contender for guitar album of the year, while exemplary songwriting defines Amarillo’s release, with Lumsden combining both a country and pop nous to really nail her debut.

Sweet Jean’s second effort, Monday To Friday, was a pearler, containing perhaps the song of the year in ‘Main Street’, Alice Keath’s vocals undeniable. In researching for my story on the 25th anniversary of Fat Possum Records, I came across Seratones and their debut, Get Gone. A real mish-mash of rootsy sounds, set to a throbbing beat, solid.

I was also sent the debut cut, S.I.X, by Ballarat artist Matt Malone. This one came from left field and left me stunned – A “unique fusion of the traditional and avant-garde” is how it was described, which was on the money. ‘Dissonant, cracked, haunted’ is how I then described it in the subsequent review, a fantastic record that was far from perfect, which is exactly what made it virtually so.

The last couple of records (or perhaps they should be described as rekkids), are in a similar vein in that they both stem from virtually the same place – some dusty honky tonk somewhere in Texas. One literally does – Dale Watson’s Live At The Big T Roadhouse is a recording of him and his Lonestars playing Big T’s in St. Hedwig, Texas. Not only do they chug through a huge set, but Watson also calls the Chicken Shit Bingo, as well as making up jingles for Lone Star beer – it’s pure honky tonk gold.

The other is the new cut from Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock, Slingin’ Rhythm. This is a lesson in western swing, taught by the master himself. It bucks and writhes, swings and swoons, his band are killer and he’s the real deal.

So, particularly with these last two albums, stock up on cold brew (none of that craft business…), turn ‘em up and finish the year on a high – that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Samuel J. Fell

Samuel J. Fell’s debut book, Stars & Hype – First Time Notes On The American Deep South is now available via www.samueljfell.blogspot.com

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