Preston Frazier surveys the best rock, pop and soul of 2016, selecting a widely varied slate of honorees …
10. MONKEY HOUSE – LEFT (POP/ROCK): Leader Don Breithaupt knows a thing or two about musical craftsmanship, and he pulls out all the stops on my first Best Rock, Pop and Soul 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.”
9. CIRCA – VALLEY OF THE WINDMILL (PROG/ROCK): Billy Sherwood is one of the hardest-working people in rock. The Yes bassist finds time for touring with the world’s greatest progressive rock band and also producing several new projects throughout the year. Circa – which features Sherwood on guitar, original yes keyboardist Tony Kaye on organ, Rick Tierney on bass guitar, and Scott Connor on drums – returned in 2016 with their fourth release. Valley of the Windmill is perhaps the band’s most progressive to date, yet the four epic songs are hook-laden and accessible. “Our Place Under the Sun,” the album’s closing 19-minute epic could fit on the finest Yes album. Here’s hoping Billy Sherwood gets the opportunity to bring this creative spirit to his main band soon.
8. 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 out the song “Revenge” for some soulful healing.
7. AMY HOLLAND – LIGHT ON MY PATH (POP/ROCK): After a long lay off from music making, Amy Holland came out with the criminally overlooked Journey to Miracle River in 2008. Light On My Path, which is populated by Holland’s stellar personal writing, tender-yet-strong vocals and sympathetic production by Fred Mollin, even eclipses that earlier album. She’s joined here by guests like guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, Toto vocalist Joseph Williams and husband Michael McDonald. Check out her reflective song “We’re All Strangers Here.”
6. 6. BEN CRAVEN – LAST CHANCE TO HEAR (PROG/ROCK): This Down Under progressive-rock master makes my Best Rock, Pop and Soul of 2016 list with one of the top 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. Ben 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.”
5. ANDERSON/STOLT – INVENTION OF KNOWLEDGE (PROG/ROCK): The best news in 2016 regarding Jon Anderson wasn’t the continuation of the stellar Anderson Ponty Band tour or even the rather-tepid Anderson Rabin Wakeman money grab. Jon Anderson’s 2016 high-water mark was the international collaboration with Roine Stolt. Invention of Knowledge wasn’t just one of the best progressive rock albums of the year; it is one of Jon Anderson’s best projects ever – standing toe to toe with the best of his Yes years. Stolt, a music veteran of the Flower Kings and Transatlantic, produced and co-wrote a prog classic which feels organic and seamless. Anderson, with his library of lyrics, met the challenge of Stolt’s music. The results of this masterpiece such as “Knowing” and “Everybody Heals” are not to be missed by Yes and prog fans.
4. 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, Steve Porcaro has delivered a near-perfect album with elements of album rock and prog throughout. Porcaro’s voice has never sounded better, either. There is more than a hint of Toto, as the late Jeff and Mike Porcaro appear on “Back To You,” as well as a good touch of soul. Check out the song “Painting By Numbers,” which features guest vocalist Mabvuto Carpenter.
3. 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.”
2. CHILDISH GAMBINO – AWAKEN, MY LOVE (HIP HOP): Is he a TV actor? A movie star? A rapper? Yes, Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino is all of the above, and he does them all very well. On Awaken, My Love, Glover delivers his take on Funkadelic and it works from beginning to end. This Best Rock, Pop and Soul of 2016 entry is powerful, rocking and humorous. “Boogieman” is campy but undeniably funky. If this is a joke, thank you, may I have another.
1. 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 Jones’ superb voice. My chart-topping Best Rock, Pop and Soul of 2016 selection offers R&B without gimmicks, just the formula of great songs, strong playing and remarkable singing. Check out the song “Smile” and become a believer.
BROWN OUT – PRESENTS BROWN SABBATH VOL. II (ROCK): Haven’t we been here before? Well, Volume II is more of a really good thing. Perhaps this time the song selection stays away from the obvious. The production and arrangements are first rate, and Brownout still play their collective asses off. Brownout is a juggernaut here, as the horns and percussionist run full steam ahead with bassist Greg Gonzales and drummer John Speice. “Funky” is the last word to come to mind to a Sabbath song, but seems fitting in this Brownout version.
LIVING COLOUR – ‘WHO SHOT YA’ MIX TAPE (ROCK): The only problem with the Who Shot Ya Mix tape is that it’s too damn short. Yes, you get 12 songs but really there are just four tracks and a bunch of remixes. Still, as new music goes, this is a fantastic ride – dominated by a raucous remake of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya.” Living Colour founder and guitar god Vernon Reid delivers yet another legendary performance; however, vocalist Corey Glover is not to be outdone by his bandmate or a series of guest vocalists.
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