Fellowship, Harlis and a baker's dozen of the best

Fellowship, Harlis and a baker's dozen of the best

The late, great Greg Allman tops Aaland's best albums of 2017 list.

Chris Aaland - 11/16/2017

Nightlife slows down in D-Town around the holidays. But if you’re still hanging ’round this weekend, a few things might perk your interest. One of my favorite local jam-grass acts, Fellowship of the Strings, plays the Balcony Backstage at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Studio & hosts STILL/UNSTILL, an exhibit curated by Maureen May and performance by 20Moons Dance Theatre. Opening reception is from 5-9 p.m. Friday, and the exhibit runs through Nov. 29. It’s a compendium of work created by artists exploring the theme of stasis vs. kinesthesia: poetry flip books, animation, kinetic sculptures, video,
glacial rubbings, footwear and micro fiction are all on the menu.

The Sunflower Theatre in Cortez hosts a blues twin bill at 7 p.m. tonight (Thurs., Nov. 16) with the Harlis Sweetwater Band and opener Hurricane Jake’s One Man Band. I’ve seen Harlis play down in Aztec, and he serves up blues of the gut-bucket variety.

It’s a little more than a week away, but Black Friday 2017 falls on Nov. 24. For music junkies like me, that means a special Record Store Day. Locally, a trek down to Southwest Sound will stuff your stocking with fun vinyl rarities. And since many of you won’t be running down to grab next week’s Telegraph around Thanksgiving due to cleaning, cooking, travel and pesky houseguests, I thought I’d jump the gun on a baker’s dozen of my favorite records of 2017.

1. Gregg Allman, “Southern Blood” – Allman, who died of liver cancer May 27, was the voice of Southern rock and white boy blues. Producer Don Was scrambled to finish a record that’s the ultimate statement about life and death, love and loss. Was played Allman the final mixes the day before he died. With a bevy of covers, including tunes by Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon and Jackson Browne, “Southern Blood” is chock full of melancholy and introspection. Highlights include Allman’s sole songwriting credit, “My Only True Friend,” as well as soulful takes on the Dead’s “Black Muddy River” and Little Feat’s “Willin.’”

2. Dan Auerbach, “Waiting on a Song” – The Black Keys’ guitarist and singer captured lightning in a bottle on his second solo effort. As one of the most in-demand record producers, Auerbach certainly knows his way around a studio. This 10-song set is pure pop/rock genius. “Shine on Me,” “King of a One Horse Town” and “Cherrybomb” are earworms that won’t soon go away.

3. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound” – There’s no doubt Isbell is the reigning champion among American singer/songwriters. After his last two solo, mostly acoustic records garnered Grammy and Americana Music Association attention, he decided to regroup his band, the 400 Unit, for an angry, rocking affair. “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” are counterpoints to Trump’s America, while “If We Were Vampires” ranks among the best love songs of the past decade.

4. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, “Way Out West” – Marty is the contemporary king of the honky-tonks, and he has an ace up his sleeve with guitarist Kenny Vaughan’s Telecaster twang. On this one, they channel the psychedelic country-rock of Gram Parsons’ Joshua Tree funeral pyre. 5. Southern Avenue, “Southern Avenue” – This Memphis quintet takes its name from the actual avenue on which the original Stax Records studio was located, and their blend of soul, funk, R&B and blues harkens back to the label’s 1970s heyday.

6. Nikki Lane, “Highway Queen” – This year’s breakout country female, Nikki’s latest record is an instant outlaw classic, dripping with Vegas filth and dime store wisdom.

7. JD McPherson, “Undivided Heart and Soul” – Is this young Okie a rockabilly revivalist? A retro R&B guy? A garage rocker? Truth be told, he’s all of the above. On his third full-length album, McPherson simply brings the dirty boogie.

8. Valerie June, “The Order of Time” – African-Americans don’t drift into bluegrass territory very often, but June (much like kindred spirit Rhiannon Giddens, who nearly made my Top 10) does so with grace, elegance and soul. It’s one of those rare albums in which it’s tough to find highlights because all 12 songs are better heard in sequence. I’ve enjoyed spinning “Got Soul,” “Astral Plane” and “Shakedown” on the airwaves.

9. Eilen Jewell, “Down Hearted Blues” – When I introduced Eilen to the crowd before her KSUT concert at the Hank a couple years ago, I said that she

blended country, blues, folk and jazz with more than a little bit of soul. Her latest record sums that up much better than I could have. She channels early rockabilly heroes like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin while tackling covers of blues greats like Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie and Little Walter.

10. The Infamous Stringdusters, “Laws of Gravity” – This mando-free bluegrass powerhouse has truly found its groove. We always knew they had the chops. But in recent years, the songwriting has caught up. Case in point: “Black Elk,” “1901: A Canyon Odyssey” and “This Ol’ Building,” the latter of which takes a sober look at the current state of the American soul.

11. Shinyribs, “I Got Your Medicine” – Kevin Russell has left the Gourds in his dust, playing the swamp pop of his native Texas Gulf Coast. Raised in the Golden Triangle marked by Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, it’s a mix of soul, rock and country with some spicy Cajun and Latin ingredients, too. The title track and a cover of Ernie K-Doe’s “A Certain Girl” are highlights.

12. Old 97s, “Graveyard Whistling” – This marks yet another defining moment in a band that’s already had a 25-year career filled with defining moments. As Durango found out in August, Rhett, Murray and company can certainly throw a party. “Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls” and “Drinkin’ Song” are proof positive.

13. Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier, “Let the Steel Play” – Bluegrass and jam band meets gospel and soul on this one. Dobro wunderkind Andy Hall of the aforementioned Stringdusters joined forces with sacred steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys to craft an instrumental masterpiece that defies genre.

Just missing the cut were new releases by Margo Price, the Pimps of Joytime, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Banditos. In December, I’ll feature best-of lists from some of my music buddies.

See this needle? Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.

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