These are the albums I most listened to in 2016. They are not necessarily released in 2016.
Songs From the Lough Swilly Delta by Little John Née and the Caledonia Highly Strung Orchestra
This is one of those albums that harkens me to a time and place. I saw Little John Nee perform at a house concert in Galway, Ireland. He is a wonderful musical storyteller who fills songs with charm and wit and this album is currently seeing near constant play in our car’s cd player. (He also introduced me to the cigar box guitar.)
You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen
As a Canadian, Leonard Cohen has been on my cultural radar for decades. I would describe myself more as an appreciator than a fan. I've read some of his poetry, and a novel, and listened to his music, but I thought his song-writing ability surpassed his song performance ability. I went back to listen to The Future a month or two ago and struggled to get past the 80s synthesizer and the overproduction. But, his last and final album is the best match of song, voice, and production. The album is dark and rich.
Living On a High Note by Mavis Staples
A genuine highlight of my year was seeing Mavis perform and then getting a hug from this beautiful woman. I am a big Mavis fan and so I'm naturally inclined to like anything she does. I will admit, however, this album took a few listens to grow on me. My initialresponse was that the album was too cheery. The Jon Batiste song seems like it was written for a Pixar movie. Oh, and not enough gospel influences. But repeated listens has developed a deeper appreciation for the album. (Another Mavis involved release I listened to a lot this year was the Faith and Grace a 4 cd set of early Staple Singers music.)
Cruel Sunrise (Deluxe Edition) by Rick Holmstrom
I became aware of Rick Holmstrom in his role as Mavis’ guitarist for several years. So, along with seeing Mavis perform, I was delighted to closely watch and listen to Rick’s playing. I also got to briefly chat with him the morning after the concert, but I didn't ask him for a hug. Shortly after the concert I purchased this album which is straight-up 3-piece-band blues. My favorite part of the album is the “deluxe” extra cd of instrumental music. It seems like when the singing and the lyrics can be set aside that the musicianship of the band really shines through.
PanolaCounty Spirit by theWalker Family Singers
Another great release of, as my friend would put it “moanin’ gospel” from theDaptone Records label. If you liked their Como Mamas album, which I did, then you’ll probably like this. This album was recorded in the family's Mississippi living room and is simply about their powerful a capella gospel singing.