Monday, January 18, 2016

TnJ BEST of 2015



Admittedly, I was almost afraid to listen to what YMSB without Jeff Austin sounded like.  But, while a sometimes-rocky start to YMSB 2.0, this album’s pretty solid.

HIGH POINTS: Black Sheep; I’m Lost; Around You

14) JJ GREY & MOFRO – Ol’ Glory

The king of major-chord bombast and mellow-build dynamism returns with another groovy set of well-played numbers I can’t wait to see expanded upon live.

HIGH POINTS: Home in the Sky; Brave Lil’ Fighter; Ol’ Glory

13) AJ GHENT BAND – Live at Terminal West

I’ll refrain from drawing threadbare analogies between southern cooking and southern music.  This combo blasts out of the gate like they’ve been doing it for 20 years.

HIGH POINTS: Keep on Working; It Ain’t Easy; Can’t Be Your Dog

12) CIRCLES AROUND the SUN – Interludes for the Dead

Neal Casal and company craft an uncanny Dead tribute that neither cuts too close to the original cloth, nor strays too far from it.  Dead jams, gracefully implied.

HIGH POINTS: Gilbert’s Groove; Scarlotta’s Magnolias; Saturday’s Children

11) the WORD – Soul Food

When a band waits 14 years between albums, you hope and expect the results to be fantastic.  If you like gospel-tinged music to wiggle to, this absolutely delivers.

HIGH POINTS: New Word Order; Soul Food I; When I See the Blood

10) LEON BRIDGES – Coming Home

Rarely does someone craft a throwback sound so genuine you almost feel like you’re stuck in a time warp.  Evocative of 60s soul music without actually stealing, I’m anxious to hear what they’ve got next.

HIGH POINTS:  Smooth Sailin’; Coming Home; Brown Skin Girl; Shine

09) UMPHREY’S McGEE – the London Session

When you get word you will have access to the famed Abbey Road recording studios in London for just one day, I imagine scrambling to come up with something: in this case, some road-tested numbers, several new-ish pieces, and a great Beatles cover (see below).

HIGH POINTS: Plunger; No Diablo; Rocker Part 2; Glory

08) PIMPS of JOYTIME – Jukestone Paradise

There’s a lot of music coming out of Brooklyn these days and a lot of it’s mediocre – thankfully, not the case with these guys.  I’ve decided that making dance music with actual instruments makes said dance music somehow more credible and interesting.

HIGH POINTS: Sky; Waiting for My Ride; Cut Off; Dank Janky

07) ALABAMA SHAKES – Sound & Color

A daring venture into new sonic territory for this band.  Their first album established they can write and play better than many of the contemporaries.  This album proves they can move their sound, and maybe blues-rock itself, into the future.

HIGH POINTS: Don’t Wanna Fight; Gemini; Future People; Gimme All Your Love


Nobody sounds quite like these three, and that is a high compliment.  Their brand of stomp-folk isn’t good background music because it begs attention.  It might smack you upside the head if you’re not careful.  Like a hootenanny on steroids.

HIGH POINTS: Raise a Little Hell; We Live Dangerous; Pot Roast and Kisses: Music and Friends

05) CHRIS STAPLETON – Traveller

Why this Kentucky native saw fit to emblazon his (justifiably) award-winning album with the British spelling of “Traveler” is beyond me, but this is one brilliant, lowdown-and-dirty country album.  Like a less-psychedelic Sturgill Simpson, his gritty lyrics and soulful voice are the selling points.

HIGH POINTS: Nobody to Blame; Might As Well Get Stoned; Fire Away; Was It 26; the Devil Named Music

04) DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE – Nashville Obsolete

The flip-side of the Gillian Welch coin, featuring her musical partner Dave Rawlings on vocals, this album was worth the six-year wait.  Something like bluegrass chamber music, this progressive strain of string music is free to explore unusual arrangements and forms, nevertheless coming out sounding instantly memorable.  They define “playing well together.”

HIGH POINTS: the Weekend; the Trip; Candy; Bodysnatchers; Short Haired Woman Blues

03) LETTUCE – Crush

Guessing from the title, this jazz-funk-with-an-electro-twist octet sets out to “crush it” and largely succeeds on their 4th studio outing.  Their soundtrack-to-an-unmade-70s-era-action-flick formula continues to serve them well and this project (one of several some of the members regularly play with) has gained enough muscle mass to stand on its own two dancing feet.

HIGH POINTS: the Lobbyist; Pocket Change; He Made a Woman Out of Me: Phyllis; the New Reel

02) BRIGHT LIGHT SOCIAL HOUR – Space Is Still the Place

My favorite out-of-left-field jamband listen of the year.  The new lineup of this Austin band hits all the high notes, both on the record and in a live setting.  For fans of the thick-and-dreamy psychedelic aesthetic, get on board with this band now before they start playing rooms too big to let the sound envelop you, and get ready to enjoy a nice trip somewhere in orbit when you’ve discovered your feet have left the ground.

HIGH POINTS: Escape Velocity; Dreamlove; Infinite Cities; Slipstream; Ouroboros; Ghost Dance

01) MY MORNING JACKET – the Waterfall

This release from Jim James and company seems more intentionally atmospheric than their previous releases, implying a vast and varied – possibly alien – landscape.  These songs play out like postcards from another world.  MMJ may not be mapping out any new emotional territory, but they do it with such astonishing flair it makes you think it’s all brand new.  This one hangs together nicely as an album, and deserves to be listened to as such.

HIGH POINTS: Compound Fracture; Spring (Among the Living); Only Memories Remain; Tropics (Erase Traces); In Its Infancy (the Waterfall); Big Decisions


Glorious in its borrowing from arrangements and instrumentation of the past.  Solid sonic ear candy.

A seemingly random assemblage of noises on first listen, these noises proved to fix themselves in my brain for months.

Jangly and retro in all the right ways.  Sonically urgent yet emotionally reserved; good driving music.

Just two people haven’t produced recordings this dense since the White Stripes broke up.  Utterly hypnotic.

Like the soundtrack to a David Lynch film which never existed.  Gloomy lyrics juxtaposed with a rockabilly beat and a dreamy sensibility.

Funky as all get-out.  Sounds like music from a 70s-era blaxploitation flick, if Bootsy Collins had produced it in the 80s.

Folky and atmospheric in Josh Tillman’s inimitable idiom.  He owns the Indie Folk genre like a boss, and has a real talent for aggrandizing the mundane.

One of my favorite producers.  He has a way of taking old jazz records and reworking them into something which sounds absolutely contemporary and danceable.

One of the hookiest sides G. Love and Special Sauce have released in recent memory.  Not so much a return to form as an interesting step in a new direction.

I don’t normally go in much for the guy-with-a-guitar thing, but this is one of the prettiest recordings I heard in 2015.  Seemingly simplistic, but memorable and beautifully textured. 

Opening with a retro-sounding, organ-drenched riff reminiscent of the late-60s track “Chest Fever” from The Band (which Panic has famously covered in the past), this touring monster of an outfit proves again they can stamp out perfect 4-minute recordings when the mood strikes and the planets align.

Goofy and sexy, like a robot trying to out-disco-dance John Travolta.  This recording is a call-back to when songs were just stupid, catchy, and fun.  The lyric “I’m a man with very specific taste” makes me wonder if it was tied in (no pun intended) to the film version of “50 Shades of Grey,” but not enough to actually investigate further.

He’s like a lyrical terminator: he can’t be bargained with, he can’t be reasoned with, and he absolutely will not stop.  The bassline coupled with the rapid-fire verses make this one of McMurtry’s grooviest sides of all time, and a great jam to see live; it’s like dance music smothered in gravy.  I hope he never stops writing and performing.

Taylor Goldsmith (and co-writer Jonny Fritz) have fashioned the perfect Emo-Indie-Folk side.  It’s charming, nostalgic, and by the end, so subdued it almost hurts.  At the point where most bands would fire up the bombast with a drum kit and a heavy bassline and crushingly jam on for several minutes, this song just stops and leaves you wanting more.

Although released at the tail end of 2014, this single really came into its own in 2015, racking up many weeks at #1 on the pop charts worldwide.  Don’t let that fool you, though, it’s really an incredible record.  Just about every band covered it.  Oddly, its ubiquity did nothing to dilute my enthusiasm for hearing it when it came on the radio.  It practically dares you not to get up and dance.


GRATEFUL DEAD – 30 Trips Around the Sun  (box set, featuring recordings from 1965-1995) 
The limited edition physical artifact is a beautiful piece of work, and worth the money for the die hard fan.  The “Definitive Live Story” 4 CD sampler is a more affordable option.

GOV’T MULE featuring JOHN SCOFIELD – Sco-Mule (recorded Sep 22 and 23, 1999 the Roxy, Atlanta, GA) 
One of the best collaborative live releases ever from the Mule archives, especially if you love blistering guitar work.  Scofield, of course, paints Mule “jazzier” than usual.

PHISH – Amsterdam (box set, recorded Feb 17, 1997 and Jul 1-2, 1997 Paradiso, Amsterdam, the Netherlands) 
Phish Phans will be happy at the inclusion of some set list rarities, but even the common numbers get better-than-average treatment.  Great shows from a great period.

GREGG ALLMAN BAND – Back to Macon, GA  (recorded Jan 14, 2014 Grand Opera House Theatre, Macon, GA)
It’s not often that you get to hear completely new arrangements of some of your favorite songs from their originator.  The addition of horns to these classics sounds so good I wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.

BOB MARLEY & the WAILERS – Easy Skanking in Boston ’78 (recorded Jun 8, 1978 Music Hall, Boston, MA) 
Hindsight has granted us the knowledge that Bob fronted a formidable live combo.  Here we get the added bonus (on DVD) of seeing him toss his dreads and lithely prowl the stage like a lion of Judah.


GRUPO FANTASMA – Porque (from the album ‘Problemas’) Psychedelic reworking of the Beatles’ Abbey Road track “Because” in Spanish.  One of the best Beatles covers of all time.

GOV’T MULE – Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (from the Record Store Day release ‘Stoned Side of the Mule Volume 2,’ recorded 10/31/09 in Philadelphia) Takes the original and, like Spinal Tap, turns it up to eleven.

RYAN ADAMS – Bad Blood (from the album ‘1989’) Since Taylor Swift has abandoned “country” for “pop” music, perhaps Mr. Adams saw fit to reclaim these songs for the country-minded.  Or maybe he just wants a date and is trying to get her to notice him.

WIDESPREAD PANIC w/ CHRIS ROBINSON, NEAL CASAL and ADAM MacDOUGALL – New Speedway Boogie (recorded 3/28/15 the Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV) Top-notch collaborative effort, somehow more magical than Dead covers done by either band individually.

UMPHREY’S McGEE – I Want You [She’s So Heavy] (from ‘the London Session’) A popular Abbey Road song to cover among jambands, but this one was actually recorded at the Abbey Road studios, so it has extra sparkle.


All these bands are worth the price of admission because they will musically transport you to other worlds, if you’re willing to take the trip.












FARE THEE WELL (4th of July weekend, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL) For those of us unable to make the trek in person, we still got to feel like we were witnessing a little bit of jamband history.

Lucky rascals Josh and Tara at Soldier Field via facebook


STORMING the BEACHES with LOGOS in HAND – Southwick Howls
Despite having a name too large to fit on a marquee, this doesn’t come off a pompous art rock so much as an ambitious homage to concept albums of yore.  Luke Carr spent years assembling just the right musicians to pull this one off and it was an effort worth making.

the NOMS – Something Beautiful
Though they might lean a little “poppy” for my taste, this band definitely delivers on both the songwriting and musicianship level.  Definitely crowd-pleasers in a live setting.  Check out the pairing of ‘Queen (intro)’ and ‘Queen’ for a taste of their potential grandeur.

DAVID BERKELEY – Cardboard Boat
Meant to accompany Berkeley’s novella, ‘the Free Brontosaurus,’ this album is a narrative expedition in its own right.  Overflowing with simple, quiet beauty.  My favorites include ‘Broken Crown,’ ‘Cardboard Boat,’ ‘Last Round,’ and ‘Hole in My Heart.’

BILL PALMER – Under Endless Skies
A solid, sometimes smoldering, collection of love songs from one of Frogville recording studios’ architects.  Sequenced as though a secret diary of feelings as they change through a series of partners, or perhaps navigating different aspects of the same partner.

DRASTIC ANDREW – Live Without Warning
Assembling some of Santa Fe’s best musicians, Andrew MacLauchlan has again recorded some great songs.  The theatricality of some of his pieces leads me to believe he could benefit from a more cohesive theme in the future but, in the meantime, most of these songs stand quite nicely on their own.


While these bands may not have made the official list this time around, I encourage them to keep up the good work.  They are proof that interesting sounds can come from just about anywhere, utilizing and combining just about any style of music.











That’s it for this year’s listmania.  Stay toasty, my friends (^_^)

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