S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2017 (Part 1 of 4, Non-Jazz): Taj Mahal/Keb’ Mo’, Blackfield, Arto Lindsay

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Music critics are always fond of looking back at a year of new releases but declaring that “[insert last year here] was a great year for music!” Truth is, every year is a good year for music; if you look hard enough for great new music, you’ll find plenty of it. Even in my jazz-centric world, I can come upon enough standout non-jazz records to put together a decent-sized Best of 2017 list.

These selections were all culled from reviews published on this site with links to those reviews nested in the names/titles, the idea being that the only records included here were ones that were listened to deeply enough to support a written, in-depth survey. We don’t just want to tell you what to buy or stream, but also why.

Scanning the names popping up on this Best of 2017 list, I realize that, yes, most of these guys got started in the 60s and 70s. But Dad Music exists because dads — including yours truly — still enjoy listening to music that has a connection to their youth (you millennials will figure that out soon enough, just as soon as you get offa mah lawn).

That all said, the album that takes the prize is no exercise in nostalgia, unless Michael Franks dropped a lot of acid back in the day and I totally forgot about that…


Arto Lindsay – Cuidado Madame: Ending a paucity of new material since 2004, the former guitarist/singer for DNA, The Lounge Lizards and Ambitious Lovers has a long honed a reputation of forcing together extremes, like lush, groove-laden Brazilian pop with experimental, thrashing punk rock. Somehow, he makes it all riveting listening.

And so he follows that same formula for Cuidado Madame, only this time he adds one little twist to it: he takes field recordings of the rhythms of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion and adapts them to modern technology, keeping their trance-like qualities intact. These rhythm tracks are grafted onto his avant-pop melodies, subverting and subtly transforming them. It’s another layer of disruption (aside from his Derek Bailey-ism) that forces you out of whatever comfort zone his catchy strains and sultry vocal might lull you into.

Rarely does something so smooth has such a savage streak. Arto Lindsay’s been thriving on contradictions for a long time, but Cuidado Madame goes one further.


Blackfield – Blackfield V: Now a true Steven Wilson/Aviv Geffen collaboration again, Blackfield gets its mojo back with a set of art rock songs that lack filler.

Robert Cray – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm: Cray is crooning and shredding as only he can do it, and that’s already hard to beat. But now he adds to that the core of Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records house band? Sheeeit.

Michael McDonald – Wide Open: This may well be Michael McDonald’s most musically dense and compelling studio project – and that’s saying something.

Jonny Lang – Signs: Older, wiser and brimming with confidence, Lang makes his strongest case yet for his early fans who fell in love with that high school phenom to come running back to him.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head: A seamless concoction of blues, funk, country, soul and rock ‘n’ roll under a psychedelic, Grateful Dead tie-die mindset.

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ – Tajmo: Here you have two folk/blues legends, two generations – and one marvelous meeting.

David Phillips – Winter: Even when he leans stronger into mainstream rock, David Philips has again made music without making any concessions.

Dálava – The Book of Transfigurations: With more intriguing renderings of genuine Moravian folk music, Julia Úlehla and Aram Bajakian’s ‘The Book of Transfigurations’ manages to captivate like that first Dálava album.

The Wood Brothers – Live At The Barn: The Wood Brothers brought Little Feat attitude with Taj Mahal worldliness and soul to Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Woodstock barn one summer night.

David Crosby – Sky Trails: Croz’s late-career roll keeps going on this final Best of 2017 entry, marrying poignant lyrics to jazz-kissed harmonies and guided by the sumptuous production of keyboardist/son James Raymond.

NEXT: S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2017 (Modern and Mainstream Jazz)

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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