2015 was another year being away from my favorite bands, venues, record shops and all sorts of music related experiences in California. Music is a serious centerpiece of my life. I miss my record collection. I miss my fellow audiophiles, musicians, weirdos, adventurists and everyone and everything that is a part of that sonic journey. There is live music out here in Shanghai and some of it is even really good. However, it just isn’t the same (obviously) as experienced on the West Coast. From seeing all the awesome music events take place through the eyes of the internet, 2015 looked like a great year… The Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows, countless unique gatherings at Terrapin Crossroads, the U2 Innocence+Experience Tour, the yearly epic Cali-Soul vibe Hipnic in Big Sur, Phish on top of their game…. What a great year to listen to.
Albums and my iPod are my connection back to the West. They’re my escape from the loud city noise of Shanghai to those incredibly special soundscapes that move you into another dimension. This is just a taste of my favorite listens that came out this year and the albums that keep getting repeat plays. There are many other great albums this year, some from more unknown artists that I should be giving more props and support to, but I just need to nail out my favorites:
Father John Misty – I Love you, Honeybear
This album is perfectly placed singer/songwriter angst attempting to overcome the realizations of modern day life and relationships. The songs are biting. It is Dylan with more of an indictment tongue, if you can imagine that. I guess some would call this album “hipster”, whatever that really means. I just love the songs and they hit emotionally hard. “Bored in the USA” is a highlight track for me.
Ryan Adam – 1989
Ryan is an artist I’ve admired since his Whiskeytown days. I think he is one of the best songwriters of the last 20 years. Beyond his own collection of incredibly penned material, he has an ability to take other peoples’ songs and throw them into a complete different dimension. Taylor Swift’s 1989 album serves as a most recent example of this feat. The pop songs are incredibly stripped down to an couch-indie-songwriter vibe. Really cool.
Ryan Adams – Live at Carnegie Hall
This set is two full concerts of Ryan Adams performing solo acoustic (mostly guitar, a few songs on piano) at Carnegie Hall that spans the entirety of his career. The songs display an intensity and rawness that hasn’t (surprisingly) been captured on any previous live recordings. Exactly! Where have the official live recordings been!??! This is the Ryan Adams album that I have been waiting for. Throws me straight back into my memory banks of seeing Ryan Adams live (Live at the the Napa theater rings most recently).
U.S. Elevator – U.S. Elevator
Produced by Tim Bluhm of the Mother Hips, this album rocks with Neilish-hooky guitar lines, 70s swagger and California Soul. I can’t wait to see this band live at some point back home in California.
Jason Isbell – Something More than Free
Jason Isbell’s Southeastern which came out a few years ago is a favorite album of mine. The live performances that followed brought the songs to another level. I originally was saddened to see Jason leave the Drive-By Truckers, but he has just been consistently putting out great material since leaving his old band. He put a lot of work into this new album and it further compliments his experiences and perspective of sobriety that was expressed in Southeastern. This album takes Southeastern to the next step.
Little Wings – Explains
Kyle Field, the force behind Little Wings, is one of the finest songwriters to come out of the West Coast. His songs are haunting, dark, light, intimate, turning, wild poetry. Every time I listen to a Kyle song I imagine myself on a different trail in Big Sur or carrying some surfboard to a secret cove in San Luis Obispo county escaping from it all. The phrasing of his songwriting comes in unique pulses that hop around your brain and paint a vivid picture. Contrary to the album title, there is nothing really to explain. Just ride the soundscape.
Neil Young & The Promise of the Real – The Monsanto Years
Neil constantly produces. He never stops. The guy is just a constant output of challenging contexts. I love his songwriting. Probably my favorite songwriter if I could only pick one. He is always surprising his listeners on the next direction but at the same time always true to his own compass. Here, Neil plays with Willie Nelsons’s sons. It is political but it is raw and it rocks.
Neil Young – Bluenote Café
This album is taken from live performances of Neil Young’s tour in 1988 where he played with a brass section. I totally dig these tracks! It is an odd approach for Neil as we typically think about him rocking out at 11 on the amp with Crazyhorse, chilling out mellow-country with the Stray Gators or performing intimate songs solo on a stage. The version of “Tonights the Night” is epic on here. Many rarities from Neil’s catalog are on here that you will most certainly not see him playing these days.
Drive By Truckers – It’s Great To Be Alive
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been at the game for a whole bunch of years. This album, recorded over a few nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco last year, is a career spanning collection. All the DBT albums are gems to me, but I am happy that they finally released a proper and well balanced live album. (The Live from Austin album is good, just not this good).
I’m looking forward to see what 2016 will be doing to our eardrums! Have a great New Year!