By the time 2015 and 2016 rolled around, I was beginning to get into a little survival mode with my pain. Toward the end of October, my older son finally married his long-time girlfriend. He was in the process of finishing an applied economics degree when he got a job offer to move to the town in Pennsylvania where his wife grew up. So, they moved to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in this time period. So, instead of finishing that degree, he was accepted to American University’s master’s program for the very same degree. The exception is that many of the classes he had taken in Indy counted toward this Master’s Degree that he worked on totally online.
Simultaneously, my younger son was finishing his master’s program in sociology at Ball State. He had finally moved out of the house and into a nice little rented house near the campus with his then-girlfriend who will eventually become his wife. It seemed like both boys were on their way to establishing their own lives.
All of this meant that my wife and I were finally empty-nesters. Did we celebrate? Not really. We immediately got to work on those former disaster areas that were known as the boys’ rooms. The bigger room became the guest room, while the smaller one became my Music Room (now known as ‘Pop-Pop’s Music Room,’ as designated by the sign given to me on this year’s birthday and is hanging prominently and proudly in said room). It was nice to see them finally making that transition to adulthood.
You know, 2016 was a very strange year as we lost many artists who have played a significant role in my listening habits, especially Prince and Tom Petty. Those two were my two favorite artists and to lose them in the same calendar year was absolutely mind blowing. But, to have also lost David Bowie; Glenn Frey; Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White; Keith Emerson; Leonard Cohen; Greg Lake; Beatles producer Sir George Martin; Merle Haggard; Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor of A Tribe Called Quest; Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Paul Kantner; Leon Russell; Denise “Vanity” Matthews; Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood AND George Michael was simply heartbreaking. A major portion of my youth had been ripped away in one twelve-month period of time.
Musically speaking, these two years were not too bad. Some of my very favorite artists such as Prince, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and others from my prime, created some excellent music that I could not justify having on this list when younger artists were conjuring up some magic at the very same time. Plus, any year that has the dramatic comeback of one of the greatest groups of the Nineties, has got to be a very good year. That happened in 2015 when A Tribe Called Quest returned to show all the young’uns how hip hop is really done.
So, let’s get this blog entry going. We just keep getting closer to the end of this thing.
Carly Rae Jepson – E-MO-TION (2015). I am not afraid to say that Ms. Jepson burst onto the scene back in 2012 with the wonderful earworm “Call Me Maybe,” perhaps one of the greatest songs of the 2010s. But, in all honesty, is it really fair to hope for more terrific pop songs from an artist in this day and age? So, imagine my surprise when I streamed this album and discovered that Carly Rae is NOT a one-hit wonder. Quite possibly, she is the most important pop artist of this current decade, which is a genre known for throwing off artists immediately after their life-changing hit song. Carly Rae Jepson is an artist who is in this business for the long haul, all without shunning her endearing sunny outlook on life. Her music, like all great pop music, can be referred to as the Everlasting Gobstopper of popular music because neither ever loses its flavor. You can place her right next to ABBA, Hall & Oates and Madonna as pop artists for the ages.
Chris Stapleton – Traveller (2015). Stapleton is the more traditional new country outlaw when compared to his comrade Sturgill Simpson. Stapleton makes you immediately think of Seventies southern rock as much as he reminds you of Willie Nelson, but never call him the second coming of Hank Williams Jr. Not at all! Chris may have some rowdy tendencies, but he shares more in common with Stevie Ray Vaughan than any country outlaw wannabe from the Eighties. Stapleton, along with Simpson, is bringing country back to its pre-Allman Brothers roots.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015). It seemed that the fans of alternative music were ready for something of a strong Nineties feminist rocker revival when Barnett dropped this album. The whole album gives you Liz Phair and PJ Harvey flashbacks but with a more Millennial philosophy than a total Gen X/slacker vibe. Still, it was time for a revival of this nature, regardless if Courtney would remain on track or not (seems like she wouldn’t).
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). How often do we witness a hip hop artist openly grappling with his or her own movement into adulthood? Oh, sure, white singer/songwriters do this all the time and are praised for the introspection. On the other hand, critics tend to keep rap artists in a little box in which the rapper describes the street life he witnesses and/or participates in. But, the best rapper of his generation, Kendrick Lamar, channels his inner middle class white college kid to show the world that white people do NOT have the whole emo/angst vibe cornered. Now, we finally witness a black American male questioning what it means to be a man in the black community. And the whole description is simply compelling, not to mention that the man set his rhymes to some of the most compelling original music from any genre. If you put together this album with D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, and we now have one of the greatest chapters in black American musical history. Personally, I love how the two go together so seamlessly.
Leon Bridges – Coming Home (2015). Is it just me or does Leon Bridges remind me of Otis Redding? I am not quite sure why I always go that route, but maybe it is the way that Bridges makes you believe that he is an old soul man who cut his teeth on the Chitlin’ Circuit of the Sixties and Seventies. Sure, Mr. Bridges sends me back to the days of my youth spent listening to soul music on my AM radio. Yet, there are some definite modern touches throughout this album. And whenever an album puts your in this juxtaposition, you gotta believe you are listening to something that is sonically timeless. Plus, the man can just flat out sing.
Lin-Manuel Miranda & Cast – Hamilton: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (2015). It has been a very long time since a Broadway show made such a cultural impact, especially when said show played so loose in casting people of color in the roles of actual historical white men and using modern rap and pop music within the context of a Broadway musical. This musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the more charismatic founding fathers, and his love/hate relationship with Aaron Burr, one of the least charismatic of this country’s founders. It is the casting of people of color in these historical figures roles that makes the musical so compelling. And, like all great cast recordings, the album stands up on its own after repeated playings every bit as much as seeing a performance in person or on Disney+.
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness (2015). If there is such a thing as alternative R&B, that is the genre best suited for The Weeknd’s music. The man does not stick to the usual game plan for R&B, since he seems to be as influenced as many indie rock and pop artists as he is by traditional and current R&B artists. Upon repeated listenings, The Weeknd’s music reveals a strong melodic method to his madness. Plus, who doesn’t live for his live Bowie-esque performances on TV shows, or his SNL’s Weekend Update segment The Weeknd Update?
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016). Sometimes, when legendary bands break up and then finally reunite nearly two decades later, you just roll your eyes over the thought. But not in the case of one of the greatest rap groups of all time, A Tribe Called Quest. No, these guys reformed to record one of the best albums of 2016 by not resting on their laurels and past sales and critical praise. No, these fellas worked hard to build upon their reputations of being hip hop innovators in the Nineties to shake up the world in 2016. This album was recorded before the untimely passing of original member Phife Dawg, as his spirit is flowing through this joint. Once again, ATCQ somehow continue to maintain their status as GOATs by picking up like they never took any time off from each other.
Beyoncé – Lemonade (2015). I really don’t care what the lady is responding to during the highest level of creativity in Queen Bey’s career. Whatever it was, be it marital betrayal by husband Jay-Z, maturity, motherhood, or just feeling like enough is enough, Beyoncé responded to things in her life by creating some of the most compelling music of her career. If Bill Withers was the voice of the everyman in the black community, as I once heard the great Questlove once describe Withers’ songwriting, then Beyoncé was moving into her Bill Withers era. Now, she was speaking for the strong women in America, whether they are the mothers of black men shot down by white people in authority positions, scorned wives by sexual improprieties by her husbands or whatever, Beyoncé has suddenly become the voice of the oppressed. And she did all of this as great music was carrying the weight of her lyrics.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (2016). Chance has become an important voice within the hip hop world. He takes his image seriously, trying to remain a straight arrow role model for young black men. Yet, he still raps for the hardest of the hard of the inner city. His message equally gives as much thanks to God as he does to point out societal ills. Chance is the real deal.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016). If Donald Glover, the man behind the artist Childish Gambino, were an athlete, I picture him being very similar to Reggie Miller. I say that because Glover writes, acts, dances, sings, etc., like he is attempting to get the attention of the public to his range of talents. I totally understand why he constantly uses his slight from SNL when the legendary show passed on the man’s endless flow of talent. To this day, he still uses it as motivation whenever he creates a new project. And, once again, as Childish Gambino, Glover proves himself to be a top level musical artist on this classic album.
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016). Just as Warren Zevon had done nearly a decade-and-a-half earlier, David Bowie spent the last months of his life recording his musical epithet. And, what an album did Bowie ever create? For this album, Bowie gathered some young hot jazz musicians, along with his old reliable arsenal of hotshots that he been recording with for a generation or more, and together they created an album of jazz-influenced rock. And, it wasn’t influence in the manner of a Seventies jazz rock fusion album, but in the manner that the music flowed as instruments interacted with each other. As with all other Bowie joints, this once must have been nerve-wracking, except for the knowledge that the creative leader was on his last leg of his life. And, the whole experience is reflected both in the music and in the lyrics. To this day, Blackstar remains a heartbreaking listen.
Lady Gaga – Joanne (2016). So, Lady Gaga continues to move forward as an artist, yet critics seem to refuse to allow her this freedom as if they want her to remain a dance floor diva as opposed to branching into other forms of music as her muse takes her. This seems slightly unfair and a little sexist to me because this album in remarkable in its depth. Plus, you, in retrospect, actually hear Gaga moving toward the musical direction in which she will travel within the movie and soundtrack for A Star Is Born. Finally, we get to hear Ms. Germanotta’s emotional depth, especially on the title song which happens to be about her late aunt. For my money, this album is her best to date.
Rihanna – Anti (2016). This album is Rihanna’s first LP to revolve a cogent theme as opposed to her widely successful previous albums being vessels containing a boatload of hit singles. Anti seems to have been meticulously created and arranged such that the music and the lyrics make sense during a listening session. This is a great combination of art and commerce placed together for optimum effect. Rihanna officially became a diva on this joint.
Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016). Since I understand what it’s like being the older sibling in a family, I have no idea what Solange has endured as Beyoncé’s kid sis. But, sometimes growth as an artist goes better outside of the limelight than in it. So when Solange dropped this album, suddenly the younger sister in the Knowles family was a hot commodity. Somewhat following Big Sis’s recent career moves over the past couple of years, Solange created a masterpiece of R&B/pop. And, the ground she covered simply seems a natural place for her to mine a while. Well done young lady. Cheers to Solange, no longer to be known as Beyoncé’s sister. She is now simply Solange, R&B/pop queen.
And, that brings to an end to two pretty good years for music, but tumultuous for the lives we live. We are blessed to have had those talented people add depth to our lives. The crazy thing is that we only have two more blog entries for 21 LPs remaining on My 1000 Favorite Albums list. So, until next time. Peace.