Best Music of 2017

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

Billy Bragg, Faber & Faber Social

Skiffle remains a phenomenon largely foreign to American listeners. Here, musician and activist Billy Bragg describes the music that inspired the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and countless others across England in the years after World War II. You can trace a direct line from this music to the early, amphetamine-fueled work of The Beatles straight down to the Sex Pistols.

If your music reading interests extend beyond the bounds of standard rock bios, the past year provided a rich array of choices. Here are 2017 books that explored the creation and meaning of music, and the lives and work of musicians outside the pop and rock mainstream.


Frankie and Johnny: Race, Gender, and the Work of African American Folklore in 1930s America

Stacy I. Morgan (University of Texas Press)

The song “Frankie and Johnny,” which appears to have its roots in an actual 1899 murder case, would have a life well beyond those of its protagonists, becoming one of the best known popular songs in America. Morgan’s book explores several iterations of the song in the 1930s: extended studies of Leadbelly’s iconic recording; Thomas Hart Benton’s Missouri State Capital mural; filmmaker John Huston’s theatrical adaptation; Mae West’s theater and film versions of the story; and a harrowing reworking of the tale in a poem from Harlem Renaissance writer Sterling Brown – along with briefer looks at a New Deal ballet by Ruth Page and Bentley Stone, and Ethel Waters recording (one of the only examples of the song done by an African-American woman at the time). The 1930s saw profound changes in America. The Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age had already begun to challenge views of race and gender, and the social and economic cauldron of the Depression, combined with a new interest in folk culture, music and lore, would give the song a prominent new place in popular culture, reflecting meanings of race and gender then, and shedding light on how we understand both now.

Recordings For The People’s Freedom Vol. 1 with Mike Unruh and Craig Owens’ Bodo Trio’s She’s So Poplar deserve special mention as does Cleme’s Unfold. Joel Cachero’s Golden Living project issued a hefty listening experience via Autoscopy and Kyle Cramb’s The Coma Calling offered plenty for our listening pleasure as well.

Finding good music in the aforementioned crop wasn’t problematic, though finding the right category for the nature of the releases was. With more acts issuing EPs, it seemed necessary to open a category for that form as well. Releases that were 30 minutes or less in running time or presented as EPs were placed in that category while recordings with longer running times or which presented themselves as traditional albums (generally 10 or more songs, with some exceptions) landed there.

There is not a category at this time for singles, though Herd of the Huntress offered two tracks (“You Drew the Blood” and “Intersection Yellows”) to listeners this year. Sunshine Trucking brought us an A/B side effort via “Cold Woman Blues” and The T**s presented new material without the traditional album/EP structure as well.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the local/regional music available from 2017 with recordings from Keen Kutter, Faux Reality and Tideway also available in a variety of formats.

  1. On My Way—Split Lip Rayfield
  2. Learned Behavior—Aaron Lee Martin
  3. Echo—Vehicles
  4. Tickor—Francis Moss
  5. Michael J. Engdahl’s Odisea—Michael J. Engdahl’s Odisea
  6. So Long and Thanks—Milmine
  7. Haymakers—Haymakers
  8. Return to the Earth Which You Have Borrowed—William Bloom
  9. Soul Shattered Sister—Jim Vegas
  10. Everything, Compromised—Berry

Best EPs (Releases with a running time of 30 minutes or less) 

  1. Intruder—Team Tremolo
  2. The Wichita Flag—The Wichita Flag
  3. Dik Dik Sounds—The World Palestine
  4. Tunnel Vision—Kill Vargas
  5. Waste of Kings—Bridegeist
  6. Dustin Arbuckle & The Damnations—Dustin Arbuckle & The Damnations
  7. Learn To Swim—The Cavves
  8. Consolation Prize—Old News
  9. When The Sun Shines—Shawn Craver
  10. Traveler—William Flynn 

  1. Gizmodrome—Gizmodrome
  2. Nexus—Virgil and Steve Howe
  3. For Those Who Came After: Songs of Resistance from the Spanish Civil War—Barbez
  4. The World of Captain Beefheart—Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas
  5. Shake The Cage—Freddy Nelson
  6. Face—Pat Mastelotto & Markus Reuter
  7. The Subversive Nature of Kindness—Thor and Friends
  8. Blister Steel—Roselit Bone
  9. To The Bone—Steven Wilson
  10. From Silence to Somewhere—Wobbler 

  1. Trinity Lane—Lilly Hiatt
  2. Big Bad Luv—John Moreland
  3. A Long Way From Your Heart—Turnpike Troubadours
  4. Not Dark Yet—Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer
  5. Small Believer—Anna Tivel
  6. Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins—Chuck Prophet
  7. The Nashville Sound—Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit 
  8. One Go Around—Jeffrey Martin
  9. Highway Queen—Nikki Lane
  10. The Prisoner—Ryan Adams 

  1. 1969—Andre Cymone
  2. Mental Illness—Aimee Mann
  3. Masseduction—St. Vincent
  4. Lotta Sea Lice—Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
  5. Jen Cloher—Jen Cloher
  6. Anything Can Happen—Bash & Pop
  7. Dirty Pictures (Part One)—Low Cut Connie
  8. American Dream—LCD Soundsystem
  9. If All I Was Was Black—Mavis Staples
  10. Semper Femina—Laura Marling

  1. Vincent Herring - Hard Times (Smoke Sessions)
  2. Ben Allison - Layers of the City (Sonic Camera)
  3. Peter Erskine New Trio - In Praise of Shadows (Fuzzy Music)
  4. Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings, John Medeski, John Scofield - Hudson (Motema)
  5. Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart (ECM)
  6. Roswell Rudd - Embrace (Rare Noise)
  7. Ben Sidran - Picture Him Happy (Nardis Music)
  8. Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge - Whispers on the Wind (MAMA)
  9. Audrey Ochoa Trio - Afterthought (Chronograph)
  10. Johnny O'Neal - In the Moment (Smoke Sessions)

  1. Sabil - Zabad, l'écume des nuits . Zabad, Twilight Tide (Harmonia Mundi)
  2. Girma Beyene & Akale Wube - Ethiopiques 30: Mistakes On Purpose (Buda Musique)
  3. L’ Orchestre Afrisa International – Melanie (Colomotion)
  4. Matthieu Saglio & Jose “El Piru” – Petit à petit (Saglio & Piru)
  5. Avi Avital & Omer Avital – Avital Meets Avital (Deutsche Grammophon)
  6. Trio da Kali & Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan (World Circuit)
  7. Orchestre Les Mangelepa - Last Band Standing (Strut)
  8. Boubacar Traore – Dounia Tabolo (LusAfrica)
  9. Tamikrest – Kidal (Glitterbeat)
  10. Biflats - Catalan Fanfare! (Picap)

  1. Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (Jay-Vee)
  2. Wee Willie Walker & the Andy Paule Soul Orchestra – After a While (Blue Dot)
  3. Sherman Holmes Project – The Richmond Sessions (M.C.)
  4. Sonny Landreth – Recorded Live in Lafayette (Provogue)
  5. Altered Five Blues Band – Charmed and Dangerous (Blind Pig)
  6. John Primer & Bob Corritore – Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Delta Groove)
  7. Eric Bibb – Migration Blues (Stony Plain)
  8. Van Morrison – Roll with the Punches (Exile/Caroline)
  9. Savoy Brown – Witchy Feelin’ (Ruf)
  10. James Armstrong – Blues Been Good to Me (Catfood)