Not so smart with his counting; he manages to cram 60 albums into his Top 40.
Perhaps that explains Jim's score keeping on the squash court...
We’ve all read so many “Albums of the Year” lists now, that we’re full to bursting. But I hope you have room for at least one more helping. Because here comes the Cooper Favourite New Albums of 2016 list, and I like to think that it’s worth a quick glance. When I’ve done lists of previous years, I’ve restricted myself to 40 albums, but 2016 has been such an outstanding 12 months full of fine records that I’ve been compelled to expand the chart to an unprecedented 60 titles. And I still found there wasn’t room for albums by perennial favourites like Paul Simon and Lucinda Williams in the sixty.
My Sounds of 2016.
1. Chaim Tannenbaum – Chaim Tannenbaum
Top of the heap is a guy who’s made his debut album at the age of 69. It was worth the wait. I was going to say something like “No one’s mentioned it on the Afterword at all,” but yesterday Artery pipped me at the post and sang its praises in the “Best Albums of 2016” thread. One could hardly imagine a more Afterword-friendly album: Tannenbaum has been an associate of and sung with the McGarrigles and the Wainwrights for decades. The rest of the time, he’s had a day job as a university lecturer in philosophy in Montreal. The album is sensitively produced by modern US folk musicologist Dick Connette, with sleeve notes by the great Joe Boyd.
Most of the tracks are traditional folk and spiritual numbers, beautifully arranged and sung. There’s also a respectful version of Kate McGarrigle’s “(Talk to Me of) Mendocino” sung with Kate’s ex-husband Loudon Wainwright. Best of all are the two original songs – “Brooklyn 1955,” about Tannenbaum’s childhood in the Jewish quarter of Flatbush, and the 10-minute “London, Longing for Home,” about the five rainy months he spent in central London in 1971. Evoking the spirit of Edmund Spenser, it’s a wistful, elegiac piece, and unquestionably my favourite song of the year.
In “Brooklyn 1955,” he sings of watching the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Well, to use the corniest old baseball metaphor, Tannenbaum, in his debut appearance, has stepped up to the plate and hit the ball clean out of the park.
2. Yorkston/Khan/Thorne – Everything Sacred
Did you hear the one about the Mancunian, the Scotsman and the Indian? They made one of the best jazz/folk/Indian fusion albums of all time! Succeeds spectacularly where many such crossover projects flounder.
3. Andy Shauf – The Party
Third album by singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, Canada. A sort of a concept album, apparently, focusing on the various people attending a party in a small town. Shauf has a thin, whiny voice which I find strangely appealing. Most of all, his songs and the arrangements of them remind me of the great, much-missed Elliott Smith.
4. Lloyd Swanton – Ambon
Lloyd Swanton is the double-bass player of the Necks. Ambon is a 2CD + book package which tells the true story of Lloyd’s uncle, Stuart Swanton, who died in a Japanese PoW camp in 1945. Lloyd has done his uncle proud. He’s assembled a 13-piece ensemble to tell the musical story of camp life in those terrible years through a series of hymns and instrumental pieces.
5. Ryan Teague – Site Specific
Eight instrumentals played on a Fender Rhodes, guitar, percussion and bass clarinet. Jazz-informed, but not jazz. A very rewarding listen.
6. Various Artists – Day of the Dead
A 5CD box of Grateful Dead covers. No – wait! Come back! It’s really good. Honestly it is. Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National do a sterling job in curating and producing the whole set, and appearing on a few tracks as well. The collection is something that can be enjoyed by Deadheads and non-Deadheads alike. There are fresh new takes on around 60 Dead songs from artists as diverse as Orchestra Baobab, Tim Hecker, Béla Fleck and the Flaming Lips. I prefer many of the versions to the Dead’s originals, and for me that’s no mean feat.
7. Leyla McCalla – A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey
Second solo album by cellist and vocalist McCalla, a former member of Carolina Chocolate Drops. She lives in New Orleans and her parents are from Haiti, and so the francophone influence on her music is strong from two directions. A lovely sparse sound. Spiritual, deep roots music from the Americas. Highly, highly recommended.
8. Conscious Sounds & Partial Records – Hackney Dub
A modern approach to dub, from a couple of East London crews. The main guy behind it seems to be the Hackney-based dubmaster Dougie Wardrop. An uncompromising and riveting sound.
9. Jean-Michel Blais – Il
Phenomenal set of supremely melodic solo piano pieces by obscure French Canadian chap. If you like Chilly Gonzales’s “Solo Piano” album, then dive in.
10. Suzanne Vega – Lover, Beloved: Songs from an evening with Carson McCullers
This is from some 2011 stage show about the life of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” hitmaker. Ms Vega writes a set of songs that are light and witty – bouncier and jazzier than her standard material. This may be her best ever record, at the age of 57.
11. Johánn Johánnsson – Orphée
Johánnsson is suddenly a pretty big star in the world of ambient and modern chamber/classical music. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
12. Markus Stockhausen & Florian Weber – Alba
Very lovely and surprisingly delicate piano/trumpet duo album on ECM
13. Littlebow – Three
Very English instrumental trio: flutes, cello, harp, piano, clarinet. Sounds like a modern cousin of Virginia Astley’s “From Gardens Where We Feel Secure” LP from 1983.
14. Mammal Hands – Floa
Gondwana Records’ fourth signing make a big step forward from their debut. Some top tunes here.
15. Brigid Mae Power – Brigid Mae Power
Sounds a bit like Elizabeth Fraser out of the Cocteau Twins singing slightly folkier material.
16. David Bowie – Blackstar
Erm … you know this one, right?
17. Ryley Walker – Golden Sings that have been Sung
My favourite of his three albums so far.
18. Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet – Eight Winds
I’ve only just received this. It’s the most recent purchase on the list, and it sounds really good. Maybe if I’d had it a couple of weeks longer, it would’ve been top 5. If you like the sound of the Greek lyra and you like the glacial, spacey ECM house vibe, then you must hear this. One for late winter evenings.
19. Djelimady Tounkara – Djely Blues
The aging Malian guitar maestro records fairly sparingly nowadays, but when the albums finally arrive, they’re always ones to cherish.
20. Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty/Nostalgia 77 – You No Fit Touch Am in Dub
Someone had the brilliant idea of doing a dub version of the You No Fit Touch Am album by former Fela Kuti keyboardist Dele Sosimi. If you like Afrobeat AND dub, then buy with confidence.
21. Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines
This sounds like all Steve Gunn’s other albums. But that means it sounds good.
22. Marisa Anderson – Into the Light
“Written as the soundtrack to an imaginary science-fiction western film”, apparently. And she makes a pretty good job of it, too.
23. Ilya Beshevli – Wanderer
Solo piano player from the frozen Siberian wilderness. Beautiful, and always very accessible pieces.
24. Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano & Jan Lundgren – Mare Nostrum II
A trumpet, accordion and piano trio. The telepathy between these guys is really something.
25. The Hardy Tree – Through Passages of Time
‘The Hardy Tree’ is Frances Castle, the illustrator behind Clay Pipe Records’ beautiful artwork. Now she’s put out some music, too: an instrumental suite with plenty of moog and mellotron. Nice.
26. Einar Scheving – Intervals
The Icelandic chamber jazz album of the year. Oh yes!
27. Jan Lundgren – The Ystad Concert: A Tribute to Jan Johansson
Concert given by Swedish pianist Lundgren (and a string quartet) in tribute to an illustrious predecessor of his, the great Jan Johansson, who died in a car crash in 1968, aged only 37.
28. Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country
Beguiling folk duo: two cousins from Saskatchewan – one female, one male. Sound like their influences are more British than North American. A short album, but a good ‘un. I can imagine quite a few Afterworders going for this.
29. North Sea Radio Orchestra – Dronne
Craig Fortnum and his NSRO pals again conjure up the sweetest large-ensemble chamber folk, somewhat in the spirit of the Penguin Café Orchestra.
30. Three Cane Whale – Palimpsest
The odd little chamber folk trio from Bristol continue to make enchanting sounds
31. Aziza Brahim – Abbar El Hamada
Charming, very accessible desert blues from Western Sahara
32. John Zorn (and the Gnostic Trio) – The Mockingbird
Bill Frisell (guitar), Carol Emanuel (harp) and Kenny Wollesen (vibes) present another delicate, mesmerizing suite of compositions by the superhumanly productive Zorn.
33. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
His second best album, after “Break it Yourself”
34. Allison Miller’s Tic Tic Boom – Otis was a Polar Bear
The only proper, swinging American jazz album in my Top 60. How strange.
35. Nathan Bowles – Whole and Cloven
Paradise of Bachelors Records can do no wrong with their roster of modern fingerpickers.
36. Bartosz Kruczyński – Baltic Beat
37. East of the Valley Blues – EOTVB
Torontonian brothers Kevin and Patrick Cahill serve up some tasty American Primitive guitar in a duo format.
38. Mats Eilertsen – Rubicon
Thoroughly enjoyable ECM outing from the Norwegian double-bassman’s all-star septet.
39. P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
A bit like “Let England Shake”. But not quite as good.
40. Chuck Johnson – Velvet Arc
Absolutely first rate ‘American primitive’ guitarist. Not quite as stripped-down and bare as his two previous outings. More of fleshed-out band sound.
41. Alasdair Roberts & James Green – Plaint of Lapwing
More keening, left-field wyrd folk from the estimable Glaswegian.
42. Claire M. Singer – Solas
Ms Singer finally puts 14 years of music from performance art on a double CD. Soundscapes built up from organ, cello and electronics.
43. Dead Light – Dead Light
Debut album by English ambient/tape loop/synth duo. Rather nice.
44. Glenn Jones – Fleeting
Another fine US guitarist in the John Fahey/Jack Rose tradition. Lovely.
45. Daniel Bachman – Daniel Bachman
US primitive guitarist stretches out into some more raga territory here.
46. C Joynes & Nick Jonah Davis – Spill Electric
Two English guitarists duelling mightily through two sides of caustic instrumentals. A bit like Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd trying to play different selections from the John Fahey songbook at the same time. Obscure but well worth tracking down.
47. Palle Sollinger & Fredrik Hermansson – Brännkyrkagatan 44
Some exquisite, brief jazz piano and double bass duets recorded in someone’s front room in central Stockholm (plus a little clarinet here and there). Anyone who likes the Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden duet albums would go for this, I reckon
48. Allen Toussaint – American Tunes
A worthy farewell by the N’Orleans keyboard legend.
49. Itasca – Open to Chance
50. Brigaden – Om Lill, Jesus, Alberto och våra föräldrar
Brassy, good-time Swedish folk-jazz
51. Mathias Landaeus – From the Piano
Landaeus states categorically that the only instrument used on this album is an upright piano. So the bits that sound like a synthesizer and percussion must be him doing very weird things with the piano. Bizarre but intriguing.
52. Peter Broderick – Music for Confluence
A beautiful piano-based soundtrack from the versatile and prolific Oregonian.
53. Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow – From the Forest Came the Fire
All Joanna Newsom fans, please step this way
54. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience Pts. I & II
Forsyth’s full, casually abrasive guitar sound still reminds me a bit of Television, but with fewer vocals and a somewhat more down-home style.
55. Trio Medieval – Aquilonis
Commendable ECM outing by Norwegian female classical vocal/instrumental trio.
56. Dylan Golden Aycock – Church of Level Track
Scissor Tail Records are on target again with this stylish Oklahoman fingerpicker.
57. Kenneth James Gibson – The Evening Falls
A fine, fine slice of US ambient loveliness
58. Christine Ott – Only Silence Remains
The ondes martenot is one of the strangest musical instruments ever. Here it here!
59. Per Oddvar Johansen – Let’s Dance
Typically plangent Norwegain chamber jazz.
60. Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
Starts off better than it finishes