You don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a very bad year for musicians. The list of great artists that we lost this year is staggering. The thing is, it’s been a pretty good year for music itself, with two of the departed artists releasing brilliant closing statements.
There’s more hip-hop on my list this year than ever before. I’m not going to make any big pronouncements about what that means, but there is no doubt that guitar rock is taking a backseat these days. Still, as long as there are young bands like Beach Slang, and veterans like Ian Hunter keeping the vibe alive, the announcement of the death of rock and roll is premature.
Here then, are some of my favorite albums of 2016. The Top 10 are listed in order, the balance of the list is random.
David Bowie – Blackstar
The innovative genius departed the planet for parts unknown only after making sure we had one last shimmering jewel to remember him by.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
An astonishing spin on the soul and funk of the ’70s from an artist whose talent apparently knows no limit.
The British singer gets into the ring with the legends who have recorded these pop classics in the past, and walks out with her head held high.
The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
Admit it. You didn’t think they had another great one in them. Not so much a reinvention as a return to the electric blues that made us fall in love with them in the first place.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
A perfectly named album as Chance has used every crayon in his box to produce this endlessly inventive mixtape.
Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
The brilliant Canadian poet left us as he found us, with an intimate, dark, and foreboding work of art.
William Bell – This is Where I Live
The legendary soul singer returns with an album that is every bit as affecting as his work during the classic Stax era.
Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree
The death of Cave’s young son informs every second of this haunting album. A powerful work of art carved from the most devastating personal tragedy.
Rick Barry – Curses, Maledictions & Harsh Reiterations
Barry proves once again that great Jersey shore songwriting does not begin and end with Bruce Springsteen. It’s Barry’s most mature work to date, and he remains an artist to watch.
Ian Hunter – Fingers Crossed
Oh, just another 70-something producing some of the finest music of his career. The latest in a brilliant string of solo albums that began in 1975.
Richmond Fontaine – Richmond Fontaine — You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
The Felice Brothers – Life in the Dark
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Elizabeth Cook – Exodus of Venus
Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
Keith Monacchio – The Dust-Up
The Silks – Turn Me On
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Kanye West – Life of Pablo
Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was
Nels Cline – Lovers
Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends
P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
John Legend – Darkness & Light
Reissued or Previously Unreleased
Bob Dylan – The 1966 Live Recordings
Big Star – Complete Third
Velvet Crush – Pre-Teen Symphonies
David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? [1974 – 1976]
Betty Davis – The Columbia Years
Frank Sinatra – World on a String (Live)
Pink Floyd – The Early Years, 1967-1972, Cre/ation
NRBQ – High Noon: A 50 -Year Retrospective
Winfield Parker – Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac
Gene & Eddie – True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac
The Beatles – Live at the Hollywood Bowl