2017 was a year of remarkable re-inventions for artists of all genres. Much like society, the music we listened to spun in a variety of interesting directions.
We saw the arrival of new artists on the scene, each with their own vision and intriguing future possibilities. For all these new voices, like Khalid, Marlon Craft, and Lil Uzi Vert, 2017 unfortunately also saw us saying goodbye to old favorites like Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell, Gregg Allman, Chuck Berry, John Wetton, and Mel Tillis. Thankfully, we will always have the songs and stories they left behind as well as their influence on the music yet to be created. That is part of the beauty of music. The future is built on the past, before it becomes the music of now.
It is to this end that I offer my own, slightly skewed view on the musical year of 2017 now passed. While winning a “Danny” is nowhere near as prestigious as a “Grammy,” the artists represented in this list all have the dubious distinction of attracting some level of attention despite the ignoble circumstances of their award. That’s another great thing about music, it never really stops and there is always something out there on the horizon to grab your attention, both good and bad. Looking to the future, word has it that Sting and Shaggy will release a joint album together called 44/876 on April 20, so we may have already laid the groundwork for the 2018 Awards.
And the first Danny goes to…
The “Very Best Album of the Year” Award
London Grammar-Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
The trio from Nottingham hinted at it on their 2013 debut If You Wait and in their Twin Cities debut at First Avenue in 2015, but it is with their sophomore release that their range of expressive, dramatic beauty is fully realized. Hannah Reid’s otherworldly voice penetrates through the rich ethereal sounds created by multi-instrumentalist Dominic “Dot” Major and guitarist Dan Rothman. Distant, yet soulful. Ambient, yet earthy. Intense, yet warm. Truth Is A Beautiful Thing has earned them a new level of appreciation in their home country of England placing them among the finalists for the a prestigious BRIT Award for “Best Group.” It is only a matter of time now before this homeland success spreads to our side of the pond.
The “Bait & Switch” Award
The Killers-Wonderful Wonderful Tour
It wasn’t until several weeks after tickets for their current tour went on sale that The Killers quietly released news that Guitarist Dave Keuning and Bassist Mark Stoermer were declining to tour and the act would bring in outside musicians to cover their parts in performance. With each ticket purchased including a copy of their new album, this maneuver enabled The Killers to place their Wonderful Wonderful album at the top of the album charts in the first week of release as well as guarantee larger audiences for what is now essentially a Brandon Flowers solo show. Flowers’ last appearance in the Twin Cities was at First Avenue and “The Fillers” most recent show played the Xcel Energy Center. Both shows were equally great, but to operate this way seems more like a last, sad gasp from a band that showed enormous potential at the turn of the century. A real shame.
The “Great Album With A Messed Up Album Title” Award
The Flaming Lips-Oczy Mlody
For their fantastic 14th studio album, Oklahoma City’s “The F’lips” used a variation of a Polish phrase that loosely means “the young eyes.” They followed this up with a faux live Record Store Day release entitled “Onboard the International Space Station Concert for Peace.” Your guess is as good as mine…
The “I Love the Single, Are You Ever Gonna Put Out The Album?” Award
Sam Hunt-“Body Like A Back Road”
I loved the 2017 single by the Georgian country singer. A perfect breezy summer-styled song originally released in February as the “lead-off single for his upcoming second studio album.” It’s been a year now, and we’re still waiting…
The “Any Moment Now…” Award
Rexha has floated just underneath the surface as a songwriter and co-vocalist on others’ hits for the past few years. She is likely best known for her work on “Me, Myself & I” with G-Eazy in late 2015. She released two E.P.s in 2017 including the criminally overlooked single “The Way I Are (Dance with Somebody).” Currently opening for Katy Perry, she will release her first full album during 2018, and it’s just a matter of time before her career really takes off.
The “Wait … They’re Still Around?” Award
Mike + The Mechanics-Let Me Fly
It came as a complete surprise to discover that former Genesis Guitarist Mike Rutherford’s side-band not only still existed, but had released a rather delightful little album during the year. While not destined to garner any radio play whatsoever, Let Me Fly was still a nice touch of nostalgia for 80s fans everywhere with new singer Andrew Roachford bringing a soulful feel to the group.
The “Change of Direction” Award
The former One Direction heartthrob performed one of the most impressive about-face moves of the past several years. His work in 1D gave evidence to great set of pipes, but his decision to go into “Seventies Rock” mode on his solo debut clearly served him well. Lead-off single “Sign of the Times” effortlessly captured the sense of insecurity in the world upon initial release, while other standouts like “Only Angel” and “Kiwi” blistered with a ferocity that was both surprising and welcome. His self-titled album played like a lost, dark classic album by Bread.
The “What’s Up With That?” Award
Childish Gambino-Awaken, My Love!
On his third outing as Childish Gambino, Actor/Rapper/Writer Donald Glover takes a largely different path, mixing Parliament/Funkadelic, Radiohead, Marvin Gaye and Talking Heads in a giant blender and then hitting “purée.” Tracks ranging from “Zombie” to the largely instrumental “The Night Me And Your Mama Met” were interesting, albeit confusingly disjointed and strange. An adventurous, bold ride from start to finish, even if it made no sense on a surface level. Awaken, My Love! is likely the most representative album of 2017. Whenever I turn on the news, I am left similarly bewildered and wondering what the hell just happened. Childish Gambino gave us a great soundtrack to that confusion.
The “It’s About Bloody Time” Award
The British Metal band finally returned to the Twin Cities for their first performance in nearly 17 years. Not willing to simply put on a nostalgia show, the formidable sextet gave their hardcore fans a thrilling voyage through their recent Book of Souls album intermingled with both “hits” and concert favorites. Only “Run to the Hills” was missing from the set. Hopefully, the faithful won’t have as long to wait for the next opportunity to hear this classic from Number of the Beast.
The “Uh, Maybe We Should Stick To Singles” Award
The Chainsmokers-Memories…Do Not Open
At least they named their album correctly. If they spent as much time on their music as they did perfecting their hipster bro-tastic “high five” moves as demonstrated on Saturday Night Live, maybe we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
The “Seriously, How Big Is This Dude Gonna Get?” Award
With his DIVIDE record, Sheeran issued one of his catchiest missives to date. Any way you look at it, “Shape of You” was simply unavoidable in 2017. If you loved it, you never got tired of it. If you hated it, eventually you simply shrugged and moaned “Well, I’ve heard worse” upon hearing it for the millionth time. The fact that the album also contained treasures like “Castle on the Hill,” “Galway Girl,” “What Do I Know?” and “New Man” waiting to be discovered just proved why his next trip to the Twin Cities will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The “He Said WHAT? In Concert” Award
Roger Waters-Xcel Energy Center St. Paul, MN July 26, 2017
To say that 2017 was a “politically divisive year” is to state the obvious. On his recent “Us + Them” tour, the former Pink Floyd frontman made no bones about his political opinion throughout the show. Love or hate his politics, Waters show was extraordinary. Drawing from material throughout his 50 year career, he employed remarkable staging to re-create the Battersea Power Station from the cover of 1976’s Animals in order to separate the left and right sides of the arena into two groups. That the audience would be unable to determine which side was the “Us” side or the “Them” side was entirely intentional and only made Waters’ point. While his political attacks may have been polarizing, he did exactly what can be expected from an artist. He made a statement and effectively re-sorted and re-cast his entire life’s work in an entirely new context that breathed new life and added vibrancy to music that “you thought you knew.”
The “Put Down The Whip Already” Award
On her Reputation album, mega-star Taylor Swift seemed, yet again, largely occupied with settling old scores. Stretching back to “Picture to Burn” on her debut album in 2006, Swift once again writes with a chip on her shoulder as she goes after her targets. It is just getting old. While this was easy to write off as teenage cattiness in her early years, continuing to carry on in this fashion at the age of 28 only comes across as petty and cloying. It is also far below her natural songwriting abilities. Swift has the potential to become the songwriter of her generation, if she can only get beyond herself. I continue to wait.
The “Unaware They’re A Nostalgic Act Now” Award
Bon Jovi-Xcel Energy Center St. Paul, MN March 27, 2017
The new Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees show at “The X” in March was proficiently executed, but the show relied far too heavily on their recent This House Is Not For Sale album. Not necessarily a bad album, but not what fans were there to hear. Clearly, original guitarist Richie Sambora was missed. One of the most telling comments was heard just outside one of the venue’s bathrooms when one of the more inebriated attendees loudly remarked to his companion “What is THIS S&*T? I came to hear the songs we heard in High School!” They may have leaned on the classics at the very end, but it was a bit too little, too late for many in the crowd. Next Up: “Cash in the Chips: The Casino Tour.”
The “Other Best Albums of the Year”
Many will tell you that the album is a “dead” form in 2017. I respectfully disagree and these albums, in no particular order, are a good reason why.
Robert Plant-Carry Fire
Marlon Craft-The Tunnel’s End
U2-Songs of Experience
a-Ha-MTV Unplugged: Summer Solstice
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah-Diaspora
Remember-Always keep your ears open and listening for what’s next!
By Daniel G. Moir