Preston Frazier’s Mid-Year Best of 2016: Steve Porcaro, Ben Craven, Cyndi Lauper + others

As we reach the half-way mark, Preston Frazier offers an endlessly varied Mid-Year Best of 2016 list that spans genres and generations …

DURAND JONES AND THE INDICATIONS – DURAND JONES AND THE INDICATIONS (SOUL/R&B): Jones is no novice to music making, even though this is his debut album. This is soul music the way it should be done – with passion, spirited playing, stellar arrangements and Durand’s superb voice. Durand Jones and the Indications is R&B without gimmicks, just the formula of great songs, strong playing and remarkable singing. Check out the song “Smile” and become a believer.

DORI FREEMAN – DORI FREEMAN (COUNTRY): I bought Dori Freeman because Teddy Thompson expertly produced the album. I love it because Freeman is the real deal, with haunting country-tinged vocals and songs that she composed which are spell binding. This is a must-own album. Suggested track: “Song For Paul.”

BEN CRAVEN – LAST CHANCE TO HEAR (PROG/ROCK): This Down Under progressive-rock master makes my Mid-Year Best of 2016 list with one of the best prog offerings of the year. Craven, a one-man band, can do epics with the best of them. His orchestrated synthesizers and wall of guitar sound paint a haunting and engaging picture. Craven’s voice is up to the task too, though Last Chance to Hear has a fair number of stellar instrumentals. Check of the Pink Floyd-like “Critical Mass Part 2.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Ben Craven sat down with Preston Frazier to explore his Mid-Year Best of 2016 album, streaming’s impact and the opportunity to work with Captain Kirk.]

AMY HOLLAND – LIGHT ON MY PATH (POP/ROCK): After a long lay off from music making, Holland came out with the criminally overlooked Journey to Miracle River in 2008. Light On My Path even eclipses that album, with Holland’s stellar personal writing, tender-yet-strong vocals and sympathetic production by Fred Mollin. Holland even has a few guests on the album like guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, Toto vocalist Joseph Williams and husband Michael McDonald. Check our her reflective song “We’re All Strangers Here.”

KANSAS SMITTY’S HOUSE BAND – KANSAS SMITTY’S (JAZZ):> Big band jazz with a punchy back beat and tight horn arrangements power this group’s debut. Kansas Smitty’s swings with wild abandon, while each solo builds in intensity. It’s not a new sound, yet is it a great one. “Get A Move On” is a perfect sample of all these elements coming together.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Toto’s Steve Porcaro chats with Preston Frazier about his Mid-Year Best of 2016 album, as well as his lengthy history with Toto and their latest plans.]

CYNDI LAUPER – DETOUR (COUNTRY/POP): Who could have come up with the concept of a country-themed Cyndi Lauper cover album? Only Cyndi Lauper, who has spent an entire career defying convention. The song selection is a mix of the popular and unconventional, and the production is stellar. Lauper’s voice, always one of the best in pop music, has grown even stronger with the passing years. Check out her version of “I Fall to Pieces.”

M.A. BAKKER – REJECTED SCRIPTS (JAZZ/ROCK): Melody, tight harmonies, razor sharp solos and a deep groove are obvious in the solo debut of M.A Bakker. He handles most of the instruments on this Mid-Year Best of 2016 honoree, and knows how to lay a groove and build a jazz/rock song. Check out the track “This Amazing Hat.”

STEVE PORCARO – SOMEDAY / SOMEHOW (POP/ROCK): The Toto keyboard master shows off his writing skills in this solo debut. Collaborating with cowriter and producer Michael Sherwood, Porcaro has delivered a near-perfect album with elements of album rock and prog throughout. Steve Porcaro’s voice has never sounded better, either. Check out the song “Painting By Numbers,” which features guest vocalist Mabvuto Carpenter.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Don Breithaupt joins Preston Frazier to discuss Monkey House’s Mid-Year Best of 2016 album, and the terrific 2014 release by the Breithaupt Brothers.]

HARD PROOF – PUBLIC HI-FI (FUNK): Jaunty, engaging, clever and danceable are all traits of the debut album by the band Hard Proof. The mix of joyous horns, funky guitars, Latin percussion and a tight-yet-flexible back beat make this album irresistible. Check our the song “Revenge” for some soulful healing.

MONKEY HOUSE – LEFT (POP/ROCK): Leader Don Breithaupt knows a thing or two about musical craftsmanship, and he pulls out all the stops on our final Mid-Year Best of 2016 selection. The core band is beyond stellar and a few guests add a layer of Steely Dan-like polish to songs which are emotionally engaging and musically challenging. Suggested track: “The Art of Starting Over.”

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