Tuning into the 2018 Grammys…

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…this past weekend was as usual an interesting if altogether deeply flawed experience. Flawed because, as many people more intelligent than I have already noted, the Grammys as an institution is out-of-touch from both a musical as well as cultural standpoint. The program as a whole would likely need to be gutted starting now if it were to get anywhere close to an actual representation of real artistry again.

So, on one hand its very upsetting to see the likes of Bruno Mars beat out the kind of statement album put out by Kendrick Lamar with DAMN. (twice!). Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruno. He’s likely the closest thing we’ll get to Michael Jackson’s skillset again in this lifetime. But his 24K Magic is once again indicative of the safe radio earworm award winners that are more preservatives than legitimate product. AKA, exactly what the Grammys really wants.

The same applies for Ed Sheeran’s win in a category that included both the vastly better Lady Gaga and Kesha. Seeing Kesha’s very public battle to separate from alleged abuser Dr. Luke culminating in the exultation of freedom on her single “Prayer” should have been enough to earn her that award ten times over.

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But until there’s a major shakeup in the system, these controversies will happen as regularly as the ceremony lets music lovers down. When you can ignore artists covering important systemic issues while those same issues are currently at a boiling point in the world… you miss the point every. Single. Time. So I would advise the young and hungry artists to worry less about a show that wants to devote itself to cheerleading, and continue blazing the trails they’re making in the world through their art.

And in the meantime may those dinosaurs die off along with their outdated ideals.

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To double back to Lamar though, the Compton rapper continues to leave me impressed. His vocals still take some getting used to for me, but his performances are aggressively challenging, his technical skills almost sound too fast at times they’re so effortlessly good, and the fascinating concept behind DAMN. is worth researching if you’re a lover of musical backstory. Its a record of many, many layers.

Plus, Lamar’s opening performance at the Grammys (featuring Dave Chappelle) really reminded me again of how vital this genre has become.

Hip hop is acting as one of the most important, socially conscious forms of music and art we have in our modern world today. Its a message I can’t stress highly enough when engaging in musical conversation with people. Its a genre that should be getting its due. On a list of mostly wrong things the Grammys did the other night, leading with Kendrick Lamar was one they got right.

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And I don’t claim to have extensive knowledge on the subject. The fact is I don’t, but the hip hop and rap artists I hear today inspire me to want to just sit down, listen, and learn. They are speaking to a power so fierce that requires nothing more than sharp words to tear down the likes of racists, bullies, corrupt lawmen, inequality, and societal injustice.

Its like poetry in motion with the grace of mental killing power. And in a world gone chaotic, these are so many of the voices that are more critical than ever to listen to. And we need to listen.

Sit down. Be humble. 

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Making Introductions: Dear Apollo

I had a lot of fun with this one.

Dear Apollo is an Ithaca, NY-based band led by good friends Anthony Dicembre and Ben Robinson. As part of my radio segment The Arts Beat, I had the recent opportunity to interview both Dicembre and Robinson in studio and talk more about their self-titled EP (which you can hear above; a full version will come out here eventually). We talk about a lot of great material including how the pair made their album entirely over Dropbox, which is one of the coolest musical creation stories I’ve heard in a while.

I’ll say this much, when it comes to interviews I’ve had with musicians in local music both here and around the Northeast I have had a lot of wonderful experiences. Not only from the standpoint of having met/worked with a lot of genuinely friendly people, but also because there are just such great stories to tell.

And Robinson and Dicembre have a good one. Go give it a listen, and if you want to know more check out the band at http://www.dearapollo.com.

And so we reach, the final number…

Of 2017!

It ended up getting here a bit later than I intended, but below you’ll find my final installment of the Top Five Albums of 2017!

This time Lee and I were joined by another one of our radio crew Michayla Savitt, who added an excellent selection to wrap up this year’s coverage!

My notes…

Julien Baker’s Turn Out The Lights hit my musical landscape like a gradually evocative wave this year. While initially in the midst of a pack of strong releases, Baker broke out further and further based on one simple fact: Lights may be a slow burn of a listen, but once it takes off it is flooring.

Baker isn’t just an artist whose brush is especially skilled at painting in the darker palettes either. Rather, she’s a highly underrated markswoman of a lyricist who hits profound lines in a way that requires listen after listen. If for nothing else but to truly absorb the beauty in what sometimes feels like ultimate despair.

Lights certainly isn’t a record containing the high level thrash of Queens of the Stone Ages’ latest or the righteous rock of Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound. It is slower and MUCH heavier (more of the morning after than the main event), but its brutally honest to the bones and Baker isn’t afraid to let her vocals fly out in pursuit of a catharsis to the pain of emotions expressed in songs like “Appointments”, “Shadowboxing”, and “Hurt Less”.

One of music’s great gifts is the ability to make us feel, especially through the rare talents that show up to turn that little bit of skilled craftsmanship they’ve figured out into a shivering, slightly indescribable chill running down your spine. Thats when you know you’ve found something more… something extra you need to slow down for because otherwise you might miss the next best thing.

Welcome Julian Baker. I’m more than proud to close by 2017 on you.

Thinking of a “Peaceful Dream” to end 2017 without a “Walk Into a Storm”…

As 2017 winds down to its final few hours, I feel like its the perfect time to continue posting more of the end of the year album countdown segments I participated in with Lee Rayburn over on the radio side of my creative work at WHCU. For this first one I chose to bring Mavis Staples’ latest, while Lee did the same with Jason Isbell. More below…

My notes…

If All I Was Was Black continues the run of dark horse brilliance between soul legend Mavis Staples and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who once again trade musical statements as natural and as free flow as conversation. Whether its Tweedy’s folk guitar mechanics adding warmth to the earthy gospel of “Peaceful Dream”, Staples beautifully empathetic delivery on the contemporary charge of the title track, or the two doing what feels like an overdue vocal duet on the sweet friendship of “Ain’t No Doubt About It”, the pair’s chemistry remains at a strength usually only held by decades long collaborators.

Though despite this Tweedy’s impact remains strictly as the crafty man-in-the-shadows, while Staples is allowed to shine with every bit of the wisdom, poise, and tenacity she’s held in her lengthy career. And in the state of a world today that has drifted further and further into complete upheaval, having a voice like Staples’ preach for love, tolerance and equality is one of the more comforting moments 2017 could actually provide.

We’re lucky for that.

Moving on to #2, where we compare my choice of The Lone Bellow, while Lee brought Big Thief to the conversation…

My thoughts…

Walk Into a Storm finds The Lone Bellow continuing to build off the momentum of prior release Then Came The Morning, which saw the band work with The National’s Aaron Dessner on a bigger sound that didn’t quite abandon their folks roots (see: Mumford & Sons) so much as expand them into new territories.

Now with Nashville producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb at the helm, third album Storm didn’t try to go even bigger and risk ruining the essence of whats in the band’s wheelhouse (again, see Mumford & Sons). Instead, its content with punching in the best of the band’s new material which crackles with bristling energy (“Deeper in the Water”, “Feather”), brakes appropriately for the introspective moments (“May You Be Well”, “Long Way To Go”), and shows that Storm is another essential listening moment on The Lone Bellow’s musical journey.

Whether its StormMorning, or the band’s self-titled debut, to truly understand them best requires reading each chapter carefully. They won’t make you regret it.

Keep an eye for #1 on the list in just a few days! 

It’s (almost) the end of the year as we know it…

And I feel fine!

Well not really, but when it comes to thinking about the music of 2017 it certainly helps a lot! Once again from my realm on the radio at WHCU, Lee Rayburn and I continue to investigate and compare notes on our top 5 favorite albums of the year.

For this mini-episode Lee and I examine our #4 choices on the year, which was his selection of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings with Soul of a Woman, and mine with Queens of the Stone Age and Villains. Listen below:

My album comments…

Having been a more recent fan of Queens since coming onboard during the Like Clockwork era, perhaps that made 2017’s Villains a more palatable experience for me than most. With tight production from Mark Ronson and the band’s willingness to openly excavate what they openly referred to as a more “dance-based” sound, songs like the punk headbanger’s ball of “Head Like a Haunted House”, the Zeppelin-y smash of “The Evil Has Landed”, and the gristle-blues stomp of “Domesticated Animals” ring with a clear and decided sense of purpose.

Purists may continue to ruffle their feathers and not be satisfied with this one, but Villains really hit the spot for me this year and made for a great rock record. It didn’t possess any need for grand ambition, rather, it let the best parts of its catchy melodies and snake-like hooks do the talking, and Queens did the rest.

The controversy towards the end of the year involving Josh Homme kicking a photographer definitely took some of the wind out of the sails of my praise and knocked this ranking down a bit, but I still recommend giving Villains a spin to find out for yourself.

Its the final countdown…

…. for 2017! Apologies for the shameless reference to the band Europe, but with the calendar winding its way quickly towards 2018 now it is once again time to bring you my end of the year album list.

And for this year it might just be the most special yet! The selections are only the top five this year instead of ten, but the tradeoff is worth it given that this time I was able to do it on the radio.

Thanks to morning show host Lee Rayburn on my station WHCU we have planned five installments whereby I count down my top albums of the year, while he counts his down as well. To date, this may be one of the best segments I’ve ever had the pleasure of being able to do on the radio, and I hope all of you out there enjoy these as much as I do.

For the #5 slot on the list, we lead off with Buffalo NY’s own Julie Byrne and her latest LP Not Even Happiness, and The War on Drugs with A Deeper Understanding. For more, listen below….

My extended comments on the record…

Like a hollow voice emerging from a lost and restless wilderness, Julie Byrne’s “Not Even Happiness” is a subtle rap of lightning to the senses. It awakens from a gently sliding dream in “Follow My Voice”, trembles with an elegant folk purity that would make Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold jealous on “Natural Blue”, and lifts off to the heavens on the wings of church-like synths and gently traced strings for the finisher on “I Live Now as a Singer”.

Byrne has developed a lot in just a few years, amping up the strengths of her guitar work, sweeping vocals, and beautifully human songwriting with new elements of sound and exploration. Faint passes of instrumentation like harp and flute add even further interest to an increasingly nuanced tapestry on “Happiness”, and just listening to those shifts in tone makes the record a new reward with every journey through.

“Life is short as a breath half-taken”, Byrne sings here, and she makes sure that every moment put out on this record is another well-spent within the art of song.

Tomorrow, we introduce #4!

Video Exclusive: unwrapping Kohli Calhoun’s “Zebedee”

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Over the last several years that I’ve spent writing about music, I can easily say that I’ve had good fortune come my way with the artists that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and work alongside.

But this collaboration is something entirely new. What I have for you today has never before seen on OTBEOTB. In fact, it hasn’t been seen at all because this post is introducing the exclusive music video premiere for Brooklyn-area artist Kohli Calhoun and her song “Zebedee”.

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If you’ve read some of my prior content here you’ll certainly already know who Calhoun is, but if you don’t here’s a quick synopsis. As I said before, Calhoun is based out of Brooklyn, and after an tumultuous beginning to her musical career she “rose from the ashes” so to speak in order to create her first full length LP Take Me Away. The record came out earlier this year, and has already received favorable press from the likes of the Huffington Post as well as Calhoun’s recent selection as a Featured Artist on the website Noisetrade.

But that’s not why ya called. Today I want to discuss the aforementioned “Zebedee”, a melodic haunt of a track from Calhoun’s Take Me Away that seems like an apt choice for the music video treatment. And that expectation is well-placed as the video explores the song’s themes of love, loss, betrayal, and sadness through the eyes of a beautifully illustrated world of animation that gracefully illuminates the differences. I could easily speculate about the meaning behind many of the small details of note in this video, but that I leave to you as a fellow member of the audience to interpret for yourselves.

Suffice it to say, the visuals on this video are a stunningly creative complement between Calhoun and her collaborators to one of the strongest tracks on Take Me Away. Its work like this that makes the world of music videos a relevant place again, and we’re truly the better with the level of depth this visual context can provide.

So on that note, let me step aside and have you enjoy the music video for “Zebedee”, brought to you exclusively by On The Back Edge of the Beat.

A note on a side project…

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So as I made brief mention of in a prior post, I haven’t had the time I might like to pursue writing about music and the musicians who tell it lately because of my immersion into radio. Its made for a busy life and not a lot of time to talk about this kind of stuff.

With one exception.

I have launched an arts and culture segment for my radio station called The Arts Beat where I get to talk about subjects like music, theatre, art and so much more I’m still planning to do. The stuff doesn’t always revolve around music (though it still gets the lion’s share of the time), but it shows some more of my versatility and I’m happy to have that out there.

So check these out, enjoy them (they’re only about a minute long each), and keep checking for a new one each week. There’s even a guest appearance from X Ambassadors keyboard player Casey Harris.

Still not sure how I made that one happen.

Check it out here

Talay brings alt-punk jamfest to “Parents’ House”

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I was first introduced to Megan Talay’s music over a year ago when her Piece By Piece EP landed directly in my lap courtesy of Megan herself. The New York City-area singer-songwriter immediately had all the earmarks of well-honed acoustic pop with a hearty dosage of capable songwriting to back it up.

And while I was a big fan of Piece by Piece at the time, there was a part of me that was looking to see more from Megan. Like that wasn’t the entire picture fully formed just yet. And eventually I began to see more the more I followed her work, though what eventually riveted me the most was anytime Talay touched an electric guitar. Whether it was jamming out to Prince or punk, the girl had some serious shred skills that didn’t quite manifest themselves on the quieter songs. I began to listen for more Joan Jett instead of Ani DeFranco.

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Then along comes Parents’ House, Talay’s latest single and what feels like a wish granted. Inside are plenty of well-muscled electric guitar workouts bumping and grinding off one another in what feels like a bounce house battle between Weezer, Green Day and prime Avril Lavigne with just a dash of No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani. From a lyrical perspective Parents’ House feels straight out of the River Cuomos section of tongue-in-cheek with its nod to the struggle of the average millennial still living at home with their parents. I know I had to nod along with more than a few of the comparisons, and even though living at home is quite common these days I felt like it was a genius topic for a song that’s SO easily relatable.

Parents’ House is not only an addictive party banger of a song, it has hooks for miles in a Buddy Holly-esque runtime of righteous girl power that will feel over before it even begins. In a time of so much serious, this is pure unadulterated happy and we need that not only for rock n roll’s sake, but for the sake of our sanity as well.

Go pick this one up. You will NOT regret it.

Grade: A

Listen to the new track below!

https://myspace.com/article/2017/3/7/talay-parents-house-premiere

2016’s best… in March

I know, I know it’s a little late in the game at this point for a Best Of albums list as we’re several weeks into March of 2017. I’m still so shocked by where the time is gone that I initially typed February into the title before I realized my mistake.

But since my last post, I feel like it’s time to do some catching up and to broadcast many of the thoughts I’ve had about the best of music from the last year. I get a lot of time to listen to albums these days since I’ve started working as a full-time news reporter with an equally full-time commute to match it. So it goes without saying, there’s certainly a lot of time for thinking.

But without further ado, let’s get into it. First up…

Honorable Mention: Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 3

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RTJ’s latest only gets an honorable mention on this list as it’s technical wide release occurred in January of 2017. The reason it gets a mention though is, as they’ve done in the past the duo of Killer Mike and El-P dropped their latest for free early on their website in 2016 as a “Christmas Fucking Miracle” to hip hop fans everywhere.

Not only did it make for a great gift for (some) of the whole family, but in a year marred by the passing of many beloved cultural figures and a Trump presidency it couldn’t have emerged at a more needed time. RTJ 3 is a mesmerizing, unrelenting sledgehammer of an album that’s political without being preachy, fiery with a greater maturity, and as cohesively strong as anything they’ve done to date.

Plus, despite the maturity it still knows when to be an absolute smartass. You’re gonna be seeing this one on the 2017 list no question.

10. Brent Cobb, Shine on Rainy Day

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In the last few years, super-producer and rising Nashville music icon Dave Cobb has had a massive string of hit albums with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Anderson East, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and the brilliant country music compilation Southern Family. Well if you listened thoroughly enough to Family, you might have also heard Cobb’s musician cousin Brent.

Much like Stapleton, Brent Cobb was originally more widely-known in music circles for writing songs that went on to large scale success with other country music artists. And also similar to Stapleton’s 2015 smash TravellerShine on Rainy Day is Cobb’s chance to finally shine the spotlight on himself.

Rainy Day is subtle, melodic, heart-wrenching and just oozes goddamn talent. Cobb hits the ground running from the first track, and whether he’s solo or going with a full band he’s unstoppably one of the best things happening in country music today.

Whatever he sings, I believe in every note of it.

9. Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep

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Listening to Bonnie Raitt is like going home again or sitting down for lunch with a long-unseen friend. Not just in the sense of reconnecting to the comfort of her music or the place it’s had in my life, but also in just how timeless her style and voice has remained despite the fact she’s now well into her late 60’s.

Even after 40 years of making music, Raitt still shreds like a Zen blues master on the guitar and sends chills up my spine with her husky rasp of a vocal. She hasn’t lost a step, and Dig In Deep just emphasizes that at every turn. Whether it’s covering INXS with “Need You Tonight”, breaking out the full blues brash, or bringing it down to the heart and soul of “Undone” or “The Ones We Couldn’t Be”, Bonnie Raitt is just as much a force still to be reckoned with as any time in her history.

The blues is still alive and well.

8. Butch Walker, Stay Gold

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Butch Walker first broke into my consciousness during a joint tour with Ryan Adams in which Butch was promoting songs that later became one of my favorite albums of 2015 Afraid of Ghosts. I felt like Ghosts showed Walker in a more vulnerable position, ready to ditch the uptempo rock n roll abandon in favor of a singer songwriter who could let his songs speak without a guitar workout to guide them.

And while Stay Gold does return to Walker’s more familiar center, it’s yet another reminder of why this is what Butch does best. Songs like the title track, “Irish Exit” and “East Coast Girl” are just unhinged levels of gleeful fun, while “Descending” with country starlet Ashley Monroe still shows the songwriter Ghosts put such an emphasis on.

Cause you gotta stay gold, pony boy.

7. Bon Iver, 22, A Million 

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Justin Vernon’s mysteriously titled (and mysteriously coded) return to the spotlight as Bon Iver after 5 years away on 22, A Million may have been as equally welcomed as rejected depending on who you ask. The record found Vernon taking the more experimental notions of prior release Bon Iver, Bon Iver and letting it become the main focus.

Gone were most of the guitars and folk-rock sentiments, replaced by an almost Kanye West-like lean towards synths, samples and a sense of struggle in one’s own skin. It takes time to grow into and listen to all the layers on 22, but I can tell you with the right ear and some patience it makes sense. Added kudos to Vernon for sampling one of the great under-appreciated Irish folk singers Fionn Regan on this record too.

6. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

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When A Tribe Called Quest rolled out their first record in 18 years in 2016 with We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, I was immediately intrigued enough to listen given the musical backstory as well as the hype behind their long-awaited return. As an utter newcomer still to both the rap and hip-hop world I was not at all familiar with Tribe’s musical past, but the story of it all was hook enough for me. And the hooks didn’t stop there.

We Got It From Here… keeps up hip hop’s reputation as music’s most blunt purveyors of truth. Whether political (“We The People”, “The Space Program”), pointed (“Kids”, “Melatonin”), or sentimental (“Lost Somebody”), folk music has a long way to go to reclaim its Woody Guthrie roots from the genre that’s taken Woody to the next level of protest.

Oh, and don’t miss “Solid Wall of Sound”. Wrapped in a slinky groove, an Elton John sample from Benny & The Jets and sinuous rapping lines it’s one of many standouts in this standout of a return.

5. Brian Fallon, Painkillers

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Following The Gaslight Anthem’s 2014 release of Get Hurt, the album received a less than stellar reaction from fans and critics. At one time my girlfriend and I claimed we were the only people who actually liked what that record did. But still, it raised the question: did frontman Brian Fallon and the rest of the band need some time apart?

Well take time apart they did, and that led to the Butch Walker-produced Fallon solo album Painkillers. It felt like the most faithful pursuit of Fallon’s original aborted solo effort with Molly & The Zombies, as well as a truly honest expression of the loss of Fallon’s marriage that didn’t quite hit an emotional resonance on Get Hurt. And while the Springsteen elements of Gaslight still shine through (A Wonderful Life”), a Lou Reed “Pale Blue Eyes”undercurrent of gentle ambition flies here too.

I think it was the best career choice Fallon could have possibly made for himself.

4. BJ Barham, Rockingham

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Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham took a slice of Springsteen’s American storyteller dirge Nebraska and adapted it in 2016 into his own realm of lovers and losers on his first solo record Rockingham. Unlike Brian Fallon and The Gaslight Anthem, Rockingham is less of a need for a break and more for a switch of tone.

It’s hard to imagine this aspect of Barham’s creativity meshing with his traditionally country-rock outfit American Aquarium, so what better place to let these songs breathe? As solo tracks songs on Rockingham are free to tell their stories with vague tracings of guitars, bass, banjo and brush drums giving the words their distance. It gives Barham free reign to become his characters and live out their stories for you in his world-weary growl, and that’s the best place to live within this record.

Its true folk music doing devastatingly strong work.

3: Hard Working Americans, Rest In Chaos

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I still consider Todd Snider to be one of the greatest artist recommendations I’ve ever been randomly granted. The lengthy catalogue of brilliantly strong music is one thing, and the on stage stories are CERTAINLY another (there’s quite a book that can fill you in on that in fact). But what I’ve also really enjoyed is Snider passing me an invitation into another genre of music: jam bands.

Of course Dave Matthews Band has helped me with that a lot already, but the Snider-helmed Hard Working Americans are right up there as well. With heavy hitters like Neal Casal, Dave Schools and Duane Trucks in tow, HWA went from a one-off covers album project debut into a full fledged, hard-hitting followup in 2016 called Rest In Chaos. This album not only rocks and knows how to jam, but are some of the closest lyricisms that touch on the collapse of Todd Snider’s recent marriage.

I mention it because I feel it fuels a greater passion here, and Rest in Chaos reaps the benefits.

Adele, 25

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Now TECHNICALLY the album 25 had already come out by late November 2015, but it feels like Adele has remained such a part of our musical consciousness through 2016 (and into 2017) that she’s worth including one more time. Some might say that 25 is weaker than her prior albums, but I beg to differ towards the opposite. 25 not only continues to flash Adele’s startling consistency in her recorded work, but shows that she’s capable of adapting herself in ways that continue to adhere to the roots of her style.

And true, while I could see Adele play a simple instrument and croon beautifully on every record every time out, variation is the key after a point. Some fans might not see eye to eye with that, but I feel like 25 is her most appealing record to date that’s rife with hooks, piano lines, smoky sentiment, and that signature voice that could turn water into wine and back again.

And “When We Were Young”… one of the best songs in her whole catalogue. Take that to the bank.

1. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

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Much like several of the other artists I covered on this list, we conclude this Top 10 for 2016 with yet another musician who experimented by taking their sound to the next level. And no one better exemplified that within this past year than Sturgill Simpson and his Grammy-nominated record A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

Written on behalf of Simpson’s still newly-born son, Sailor’s Guide feels like an almost voyeuristic look at a father trying to prepare his son for the world he still has yet to experience. And I only say voyeuristic because it does feel like such a deeply personal reveal in a style that travels far from Simpson’s country rock familiars and lands deep into string sections and horn fills. And while some fans of Simpson have expressed relief to see him ending this period of his music, I’m just glad we got to witness how truly versatile Simpson is as a musician.

Look no further if you wish to see one of Nashville’s truly great last of the outlaws. And not at all a tough choice for this year’s #1 slot.