Preston Frazier’s Best of 2015 (Non-Jazz): Van Hunt, Toto, Richard Page, J.D. Souther

Preston Frazier celebrates established legends including Toto, Richard Page and J.D. Souther, along with newer names like Van Hunt, Grupo Fantasma and Bluebirds of Paradise, as part of his non-jazz Best of 2015 list …

10. LUKE REYNOLDS – AFTER THE FLOOD (ROOTS): There is no track on this Best of 2015 entry which truly represents the entire body of work by multi-instramentalist 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.

9. SHEMEKIA COPELAND – OUTSKIRTS OF LOVE (BLUES): Well into a fruitful career, Copeland has nothing to prove. Yet, with Outskirts of Love she delivers the blues with a passion and yearning of a new comer. Copeland’s compact but powerful band, produced by guitarist Oliver Wood, matches her passion and precision note for note. Additionally, casting guitarists Will Kimbrough, Robert Randolph and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons only compliments the authentic sound of the band. As a result, songs like the title track transport the listener to the dusty road were blues meets desperation. Tracks like “Devil’s Hand” will have you transfixed.

8. 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 from this 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.”

7. BLUEBIRDS OF PARADISE – IN A NIGHT (ROOTS/FOLK): Are you a fan of singer/songwriters Ari Hest and Chrissi Poland? If so, you will be pleasantly surprised by this Best of 2015 entry’s timeless blend of jazz and folk, with Brazilian rhythms. The duo’s writing blends as effortlessly as their vocals. In a Night is in the fine tradition of male/female duos yet adds the almost bossa nova feel which is romantic, free flowing and timeless. Check out the title track “In A Night” and “Forevermore” for a journey to a warm and wonderful place.

6. THE WESTIES – WEST SIDE STORIES (ROCK): Painfully haunting, evocative and out of time, the Westies’ debut album should not be missed. The band, which is primarily singer/songwriter Michael McDermott with vocalist Heather Horton, will break your down to your core … and leave you there. Very rarely will you find an album that is this subtle yet gripping. Check out the song “Bars” and “Say It” to see.

5. 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 Toto-isms 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 it’s one of the best Toto songs … ever.

4. J.D. SOUTHER – TENDERNESS (ROOTS): Souther made a glorious return to record making after 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 J.D. 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. 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.

3. PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING – THE RACE FOR SPACE (ROCK): The progressive rock/experimental duo of J. Willgoose (guitar, banjo, samplings and electronic instruments) and Wrigglesworth (drums, piano and electronic instruments) have forged their own path in music. For instance, with this Best of 2015 release, Public Service Broadcasting found a way to convey ideas verbally without using a vocalist. Race For Space effectively employs samples or news clips, and actual recordings of transmissions from manned space flights to lift the listener into another world. The duo effectively uses imagery, while creating a one-of-a-kind sonic sheen which all but defies description. If this isn’t compelling, I don’t know what is. Check out the title track and “Go!” to hear why.

2. GRUPO FANTASMA – PROBLEMAS (ROCK): Another masterpiece from the band, Problemas is a worthy follow-up to 2010’s Grammy-winning El Existential — as well as 2008’s Sonidos Gold. Yet, this Steve Berlin-produced album was somehow sitting around unreleased for a couple of years. Thankfully, it saw the light of day in 2015. Grupo Fantasma, known for their incendiary live shows, captures that spirit on this record while maintaining their nuanced arrangement and strong vocals. “Otono” shows the power and precision of the band with a cumbia feel, while “Porque” updates the Beatles’ “Because” in a delicate and inventive way.

1. VAN HUNT – THE FUN RISES, THE FUN SETS (R&B/ROCK): I never liked the terms retro or old school, though many apply them to Van Hunt’s music. I’ll just call this top Best of 2015 entry … “excellent.” The singer, songwriter, producer and multi-intrumenalist knows how to groove and paint a picture. The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets almost seems to unfold more and more after repeated listening. Songs like “Soak” and “Emotional Criminal” seem to hit different parts of the brain, but still bring immediate and sustained satisfaction. Part of the album’s charm is that is touches so many musical spots so well.

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PRESTON FRAZIER’S BEST OF 2105 NON-JAZZ HONORABLE MENTIONS

YES – LIKE IT IS: LIVE AT MESA ART CENTER (PROG/ROCK): Yes, this is the last release to feature Chris Squire, but that’s only part of what makes it great. Yes plays like a band, with Geoff Downes simplifying some of the keyboard parts and Alan White playing the tempos as they were originally meant to be played. The result: Classic songs being played by musicians with a passion for the music. Oh, and you have great vocals by Jon Davison. Check out “Heart of the Sunrise” and be moved again. The answer is Yes!

KINKY – MTV UNPLUGGED (ROCK): How does a band known for its use of synthesizers along with slashing guitars sound with acoustic instruments? Excellent! Kinky keeps the energy high, as with any of their live performances, yet uses strings, percussion and guests like Carla Morrison to great advantage. The result is an unexpected treat. Check out the song, “A Dónde Van Los Muertos.”

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