Preston Frazier’s Mid-Year Best of 2015 (Pop, Jazz + Rock): Yes, Richard Page, Toto + others

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2015 is in full swing with great pop, jazz and rock albums from established artist and new comers alike. This Mid-Year Best of 2015 list combines jazz, pop, rock list of favorites so far.

YES – PROGENY HIGHLIGHTS (PROG/ROCK): Capturing Yes at one of many turning points Progeny, and the abbreviated “highlights” CD are magnificent. I’d argue the band plays and sings better now in 2015 but the passion Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White bring in these recordings is incendiary. The recent Like It Is CD sets and movies are great, but the youthful energy and wild abandon on “Yours is No Disgrace” in infectious and not captured on any other Yes recording.

RICHARD PAGE – GOING SOUTH (ROOTS): If you have caught Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band over the last few years you’ve been fortunate enough to hear ex-Mr. Mister vocalist Richard Page sing a few tracks form the country-flavored release. Page’s voice has done the impossible, seemingly getting better from his “Broken Wings” days. His melodic sense is fully intact. Check out “Turn out The Lights” and “Two Roads and Four Headlights.”

JOSE JAMES – YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLUES: THE MUSIC OF BILLIE HOLIDAY (JAZZ): Throughout, Jose James is at the height of his powers, never overreaching. His phrasing and tone are expertly crafted for the songs, almost making you forget that these gems were crafted for a female voice. Listen as “Good Morning Heartache” and “God Bless the Child” both reach new heights under his tutelage. Meanwhile, Jason Moran’s piano works well in its interplay with the stick work of Eric Harland. These little touches elevate an album from good to great.

TOTO – TOTO XIV (POP/ROCK): I had “Great Expectations” for the first Toto album since 2008; they did not disappoint. Though Toto is almost a completely new band since the release of Falling in Between, they still manage to forge ahead yet capture Totoism from the past. “Chinatown” is David Paich at his finest. “Running Out of Time” captures Steve Lukather’s guitar pushing Toto to new heights — and “The Little Things” not only celebrates the glorious return of Steve Porcaro, but if one of the best Toto songs … ever.

LUKE REYNOLDS – AFTER THE FLOOD (ROOTS): There is no track on this Mid-Year Best of 2015 entry which truly represents the entire body of work by multiinstramentalist and Guster member Luke Reynolds, yet I keep coming back to “From The Bottom Looking Up.” Driven primarily by Reynolds’ acoustic guitar with added touches of piano, whistles and what sounds like a French horn, this is a perfect example of rock-folk songwriting, with subtly effective production and economy.

J.D. SOUTHER – TENDERNESS (ROOTS): J.D. Souther made a glorious return to recordmaking after a 25 years with 2008’s If the World Was You. Since then, he’s released several live EPs and 2011’s criminally overlooked Natural History, which contained reworked versions of Souther classics. Tenderness represents where Souther is now, with new jazz/adult contemporary compositions expertly produced by bassist Larry Klein (of Joni Mitchell and Walter Becker fame). Is Tenderness better than If the World Was You? That’s like asking which of your grade A-producing kids is your favorite. J.D. Souther’s voice has aged like a fine Spanish wine. His latest releases make it obvious once more why he’s such a decorated songwriter. Check out “Something In The Dark” and “Dance Real Slow,” if you don’t believe me.

KEVIN GILBERT – THUD: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (ROCK): The late Kevin Gilbert left behind a wealth of great compositions and records by his band Giraffe and with Sheryl Crow. Thud was Gilbert’s first solo album from 1995, and has been lovingly restored as part of this Mid-Year Best of 2015 honoree. The 3-disc, 34-track set reminds listeners of the genius of Gilbert. In particular, the 18 previously unreleased demos and alternative takes are a must have. Check out “Goodness Gracious (Demo)” and “Shadow Self (Bill’s Board Mix)” if you don’t believe me. Thud is available on Gilbert’s website, kevingilbert.com.

LESLIE JOHNSON – THE LESLIE JOHNSON PROJECT (JAZZ): Bassist/composer/producer Leslie Johnson returns after his 2012 release Bass and Beyond with an even funkier effort. The Leslie Johnson Project finds him calling on friends and influences who have impacted his style and inspired him here in America, as well as in his worldwide travels. As with its predecessor, Johnson composed all the songs on this album and mixed them in his El Paso, Texas, studio. The results are passionate, funky and forward-leaning music firmly rooted in jazz and funk. Check out “Sleepwalking” and “SMH” for a heavy dose of jazz fusion.

MAKAYA McCRAVEN – IN THE MOMENT (JAZZ): Perhaps you arrived at the Steely Dan Show a little late during the 2014 tour and missed the Bobby Broom Organi-Sation led by jazz great Bobby Broom. If you didn’t come early, you did not get to experience one for the masters of drums, Makaya McCraven. On his solo release, McCraven demonstrates the power and versatility he displayed with Broom, and also showcases his talent as a composer and band leader. The self-produced In the Moment moves from the beginning to end with evocative original compositions, thoughtful arrangements and of course stellar playing. Check out “The Jaunt” and “Lonely” to become a true believer.

JONI MITCHELL – LOVE HAS MANY FACES: A QUARTET, A BALLET, WAITING TO BE DANCED (REISSUE): How could you not love this remixed and remastered collection? It was personally assembled by Joni Mitchell and displays personalized sequencing which she uses to cover the arc of love. Most of her hits are part of this Mid-Year Best of 2015 entry, but the four-disc set benefits most from the deep cuts. The CD-only collection of 53 songs contains new original art work by Mitchell, poems and fantastic stories which alone are worth the price of admission. Additionally, Joni Mitchell’s music is cast as she intended. Even if you own all of her work, this is a must have. Check out “No Apologies (2014 Remastered Version)” and “The Crazy Cries Of Love (2014 Remastered Version).”

MID-YEAR BEST OF 2015 HONORABLE MENTIONS

MARC CARY – RHODES AHEAD, VOL. 2 (JAZZ): Band leader and composer Marc Cary returns to his Fender Rhodes-themed album with a diverse, gritty and expansive collection of mostly originals. Cary’s band, called Rhodes Ahead, features Tarus Mateen on basses, Terreon “Tank” Gully on drums and Sameer Gupta on tabla. They give the compositions space to breathe, adding elements of funk to the jazzy mix. Check out “Astral Flight 17.”

POUNDCAKE – GREATEST HITS (ROOTS/ROCK): How could Teddy Thompson top his work on the Family album, which featured Linda and Richard Thompson, among others? How about a release of an album of classic Americana and rock by his New York-based side group Poundcake? Poundcake also features Jeff Hill and Ethan Eubanks. Find it for their version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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