It’s that time of year. But a ‘best of’ list can bore off. What have you been listening to in 2017? Us, too… it’s all about the music. By Alan O’Hare.
The editor of Uncut magazine posted his ‘163 best records of 2017’ the other week. That’s off its head. I love (and, indeed, live) music – but ‘the best 163’… meaning he’s listened to (and formed solid opinions about) more than 163 albums in a year? Ye Gods. You should spend time with music. Listen to it alone. Listen to it on public transport or in the car. Listen to it on headphones. Turn it up over screaming kids or partners. Listen to it properly… whatever that means to you (for me: on the big stereo in the kitchen as I’m cooking some tea).
Albums are on their way out, they tell us. The charts are dead, too, so nobody gives a shit about songs. Except that’s just not true, is it? Albums are how we define our lives – births, marriages, deaths; the memories of them all bring with them a soundtrack. Music is more important than ever. Just because the industry around it has collapsed and millionaires are no longer the sole tastemakers of a tactile world, don’t believe the hype. HMV is packed every time I visit. Independent record shops are back on one hundred high streets. Musical content remains the driving force online. Music is everywhere, still… but is it any good? Yes. Especially if you know where to look and listen.
This ‘seventeen from seventeen’ list is a good start for fans of local music (there’s ten crackers) – but I also realise Liverpool isn’t the world so included are a few (seven) of my favourite musical things from elsewhere, too. After all, you’ve got to be looking outside the window to see what’s happening. Enjoy… and get in touch to tell us about your favourite things from 2017*.
*Don’t get in touch to hurl abuse at what’s missing, however. Take your binary bile back to where it belongs and write a letter to the ECHO – or comment on their Facebook feed, there’s lots of anger, there. Peace and love.
‘You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way’
– taken from the motion picture ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool‘
He’s always been a believable ballad singer on the sly has EC. ‘Alison’, for a start… but then there was ‘Almost Blue’, ‘Shot With His Own Gun’ and ‘Good Year For The Roses’ to name but a few. His latest flame is a funny valentine that soundtracks the excellent ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool’. Check out that voice; he’s so good these days that he sings in the key of Costello.
‘Songs From The Novel Greatest Hits’
– One Little Indian LP/soundtrack to the book ‘Greatest Hits’ by Laura Barnett
This was a cracking idea and one of those rare successes when the execution matched the ambition. Williams had never met the author Laura Barnett, but Barnett (whose first novel ‘The Versions Of Us’ was massive) was a fan and hatched a plot to get the Scouse songwriter to bring her second book to life. Williams brought her usual depth and dexterity to a set of superbly crafted songs – but a little bit of polish and pop found there way into this record, too.
Anwar Ali & Dave Owen
– Mellowtone Records EP
A unique blend of Swahili and East African musical heritage, underpinned by British folk sensibilities, the debut EP from Anwar Ali and Dave Owen is full of life… and the graceful sound of Anwar’s oud. The moods and melodies the Bajuni Islander coaxes from his pear-shaped pride and joy are pure percolation. Intertwining as they do with Lancastrian Owen’s sublime shuffles, tunes like ‘Maliaka’, ‘Georgina’ and ‘Sikuhizi’ come and go with an easy-listening fervour.
Queen Zee & The Sasstones
– Sasstone Records single
How does a band break-out? There’s all kinds of things that can act as a catalyst – but eventually the music has to stand on its own two feet. Queen Zee & The Sasstones have an important story to tell, but they’re not going to whisper it in your ear. These agit-punks know there’s only one thing worse than being talked about… but they also know the tunes have to break down walls, too. The bubblegum punks from Birkenhead are bursting through Liverpool’s guitar-shaped glass ceiling and their debut album arrives early 2018.
‘Fireworks 25th Anniversary Edition’
– Learpholl Recordings reissue
Ian Prowse’s Pele flew under the radar of the charts back in the early nineties, but the hard graft put in by the songwriter paid off in 2017. For live performance, Prowse is unparalleled amongst his peers these days and sold-out crowds all around England were blown away by the power of his band, Amsterdam, and the pop pelt of the songs that soundtracked his debut album back in 1992. The reissued ‘Fireworks’ represented a full-on rejuvenation and rebirth for the popular Merseysider and 2018 promises to be his busiest year yet.
‘When It’s Time To Let Go’
– Patterned Air LP
The definition of soul music can be tricky. Of course, soul music is very obviously Otis Redding reaching deep inside himself to try a little tenderness somewhere on a stage in Europe. But it can also be found in places that don’t exist on a map – like the spaces found within the witching hour soundtracks created by Merseyside’s Lo Five. Specialists in dropping fragments of field recordings and the emotional geography that exists within all of us into the deep valleys of melodic electronica, multi-instrumentalist Neil Grant’s music is made in the city, but not of it, and there’s an ethereal charm that will take you wherever you want to be.
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band
‘Adiós Señor Pussycat’
– Violette Records LP
Michael Head enjoyed a romance with the best of his earlier music for the first album from acclaimed eclectic ensemble The Red Elastic Band. ‘Working Family’ shared guitars and girth with Shack’s ‘Holiday Abroad’, the jingle jangle mourning of ‘Adios Amigo’ had an intro straight from the shed of erstwhile Head brother John and ‘Picklock’ sounded like an outtake from The Strands. The best moments came on the VU-pound of the devastating ‘Queen Of All Saints’ and the piano jazz lament of ‘Winter Turns To Spring’, which sounded like Head being born again…
– Pilgrim LP
Grace is a funny thing in music: overused as a lyric, but underused as a commodity. Scouse songwriter Steve Pilgrim has it in abundance and so does his music. He’s Paul Weller’s drummer, but you’d never know it… Pilgrim is an unassuming melody maker who lets his magical songs slip their calling card into your palm as he shakes you by the hand on the way out. ‘Morning Skies’ is his fourth solo album and possibly the best yet.
‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’
– My Own Pleasure LP
When people tell you there is no truly original new music being made and everything is derivative, laugh in their faces. And then play them something by Hannah Peel. Her music is “… about showing what matters the most,” she told me last year. “Like screaming from the inside of the car, but starting to roll down the windows to be heard.” Audacious, atmospheric and the work of an alternative auteur, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ is an LP that has to believed to be seen.
– taken from the Mellowtone Records LP ‘Adult Fiction’
Second albums are tough for solo artists, but ex-Maybes man Ellis has followed up his debut with another fantastic listen. ‘Heartbreak City’, with its Springsteen-esque lyrics and melody, is the breathtaking moment from ‘Adult Fiction’ that confirms Ellis as a songwriter of distinction. “Don’t ever give your heart away, unless you never want it back.”
Hurray For The Riff Raff
– taken from the ATO Records LP ‘The Navigator’
I was stood inside Gorilla, on Oxford Road in Manchester, when Hurray For The Riff Raff blew me away back in March. It was the gig of the year… there was something at stake, you see. Alynda Lee Segarra’s folk blues band were always a particular favourite of mine, but ‘The Navigator’ changed the conversation this year. It’s a protest record that preceded the prominence of #Trump, #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo and set the tone for engaging songs in 2017… but nobody got close to this bruised broadside.
– First Pressing LP
Googling your favourite artists can be a costly but rewarding exercise. Simone Felice is one of my go-to songwriters, but he’s been a little quiet of late – so, after clocking he’d recently produced records for The Lumineers and Bat For Lashes, I also spotted that he’d been working on an album with an under-the-radar duo from Philadelphia. Jackson Pines may have made the album of 2017; it’s hushed, haunting and haunted and it’s never left my ears. Thanks, Simone (and the Internet).
‘Better Get It Right The First Time’
– taken from the Nonesuch Records LP ‘Freedom Highway’
It’s the trick most musicians try to manipulate in 2017: merging hip hop and history. There’s funk, folk and soul ebbing and flowing through Rhiannon Giddens’ music, but this track was the breakthrough for the ex-Carolina Chocolate Drop. Tunes such as this dominate second album, ‘Freedom Highway’, and they’re the reason this sublime singer and progressive songwriter has graduated from opening shows to headlining festivals. Better get it right, indeed…
‘A Kind Revolution’
– Parlophone LP
What can you say? The parka monkeys don’t like it, but the fact remains that Weller has made the best music of his life over the last decade. Sure, nothing will ever match the impact on towns and cities of The Jam’s fire and skill, nor will he trouble the charts like he did with The Style Council’s greatest hits, but England’s greatest songwriter since Lennon/McCartney has been in a purple patch for so long now, that we might as well just call him ‘great’. ‘The Cranes Are Back’, ‘Hopper’, ‘She Moves With The Fayre’ and ‘One Tear’ would all grace any of his best records from the past.
Blue Rose Code
‘The Water Of Leith’
– Navigator Records LP
There’s something in the air around the Highlands of Scotland. Ross Wilson knows it and so will anyone who spends time with this great album. But you’ve got to spend time with it: forget skipping the iPod, clicking the next video or posting the next post; just… listen. The rewards are there, especially in the Van Morrison-sized skipping soul of ‘Ebb & Flow’ or the truth and beauty of ‘Over The Fields’. Stop what you’re doing and take a load off, Fanny.
– taken from the Sony LP ‘Soulsun’
In truth, Damien Dempsey’s ‘Soulsun’ was a disappointment. The big Irishman’s sixth studio album had a lot to live up to, but too many attempts at widescreen epics and a reliance on tried and trusted tricks of production left the record feeling flat. The last song nearly rescued things, though. ‘Soft Rain’ sounds like Dublin feels as you wander down the city’s main thoroughfare Sráid Uí Chonaill and its freshness found Demspey in fine voice. A signpost to the future, perhaps? Let’s hope so.
‘If All I Was Was Black’
– Anti LP
The relationship between Mavis Staples and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is one of the greatest things in music today. Both are as American as can be, besotted with songs and determined to make records that resonate. They have more in common than what people throw at them to keep them apart. Here, on their third collaboration together, they throw it all back on an album that even if it isn’t the best of 2017, is without question the most inspiring.
Pic courtesy Lo-Max Films Ltd