2017 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year and not necessarily books published in 2016.  For previous years see 2016201520142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

In alphabetical order:

And, here is every book I read this year with rankings.  (A) is for audiobook.

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Here are 20 of my favorite songs of 2017. For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 20162015,  201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In no particular order

“Blue Mountain Road” by Florist

“Memories are Now” by Jesca Hoop

“You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” by Barr Brothers

“Cherry Blossom: by ALA.NI 

“Drinkee” by Sofi Tukker

“Every Day’s the Weekend” by Alex Lahey

“Witness” by  Benjamin Booker (feat. Mavis Staples)

“I Give You Power” by Arcade Fire (feat. Mavis Staples)

“Quiet” by Milck 

“Work” by  Charlotte Day Wilson

“Familiar” by Agnes Obel

“Cryin’ in the Streets” by Zeshan B

“Venus Fly” by Grimes (feat. Janelle Monae) – technically this song is from 2015, but the video of this most important collaboration came out this year bringing due attention to the song.

“Hot to Trot” by  Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas

“Modafinil Blues” by Matthew Dear

“The Underside of Power” by Algiers 

“A Wall” by Downtown Boys

“Future Politics” by Austra

“Learning to Lose” by Margo Price (feat. Willie Nelson)

“Straight Boy” by Shamir

 

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Podcast Episodes


I’m trying something new here. If you read this site regularly, you know I’m obsessed with listening to podcasts. So I’m making a list of my favorite podcast episodes of 2017. But before that I’m going to list my 10 favorite podcasts, the ones that always fill me with delight when I see that they’ve downloaded into my podcatcher:

Okay, so here are some of the great episodes that you should make time to listen to:

And of course, my first and only appearance on a podcast:

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


This has been a challenging year in music as there have been few things that have jumped out at me as being all-time classics, much less favorites for 2017.  To add to the struggle a lot of artists that I’ve counted on to produce great music put out new albums this year including Beck, Björk, Blitzen Trapper, Flaming Lips, Gorrillaz, The New Pornographers, Shamir, St. Vincent, and The xx.  What should’ve been a bumper crop of music was dissapointing, and while I would not say that any of these artists’ albums were bad, I believe that could have done better.  I don’t know, maybe I’m missing the great music of 2017, and if that is the case please direct to me to those great tunes ASAP.

Nevertheless, her are six albums from 2017 that I loved, with links to the original reviews.  Check them out!

ArtistRun the Jewels 
AlbumRun the Jewels 3  

ArtistAustra
Album:  Future Politics

ArtistPeter Mulvey
AlbumAre You Listening 

Artists:  Fleet Foxes
Album: Crack-Up 

ArtistAlgiers
AlbumThe Underside of Power 

ArtistDowntown Boys
AlbumCost of Living 

Previously:

2015 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Once again, it’s time to look back on the music of 2015 with my favorite songs of the year.

I’ve featured many of this songs in my Song of the Week posts this year.  If you see a link from a song title it will take you back to the Song of the Week post for that song.

For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In alphabetical order, here are my ten favorite songs of the year:

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America Says Hello” by The Chills – It has the jangle and political passion of mid-80s R.E.M. but this is actually the return of a New Zealand post-punk band of the same period.

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Chinatown” by Girlpool – Simple emotion with folk roots and punk expression.

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“Lifted Up (1985)” by Passion Pit – Michael Angelakos song of how love saved him from depression.  This was my song I played whenever I needed cheering.

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Loud Places” by Jamie xx(featuring Romy) – A quiet song full of hidden sounds and textures.

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“Lonely Daze” by Kate Tempest – Street poetry of real people with real stories.

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Malukayi” by Mbongwana Star (featuring Konono No. 1) – A new sound is born, African tradition with electronic innovation.

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Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett – Punk rock rage with words that mean something.

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“Right Hand Man” by Christopher Jackson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr. & Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton -This is kind of cheating, because if I was doing an album list this year I’d recommend listening to the entire Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording.  But this is a good introduction to the musical that has brought my people out, making it cool to geek out over American Revolutionary and Federal period history.

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The Scene Between” by The Go! Team – A cosmic gospel tune.

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Violet Clementine” by Lady Lamb – Kind of sounds like 6 or 7 songs covering multiple genres, and yet it’s just one part of a brilliant album.

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Honorable mentions:

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars) – Technically a 2014 release, but it was inescapable for much of 2015.  Despite its ubiquity and that it sounds almost exactly like it could be a song by The Time from 30 years, I love it.  Because if something is going to receive this much airplay, sounding like a 30-year-old song by The Time is not a bad thing.

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“Downtown” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee & Grandmaster Caz) – Almost a response to “Uptown Funk,” celebrating a different part of the city and a pastiche of old genres ranging from Old School hip-hop (with old school rappers) to Queen.

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More Music Lists:

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


Author: Harper Lee
Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Publication Info: Harper (2010), Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 0061743526
Summary/Review: With much joy and a little apprehension I returned to one of my Favorite Books of All Time after nearly 25 years.  It turned out to be better than I remembered.  It was interesting the details I remembered (Calpurnia not wanting to stay in the house with high ceilings on a cold night, Scout’s “Hey, Boo!” at the climax of the novel) as well as things I completely forgot (the cranky, old morphine addict Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra coming to live with the family).

The book is great on so many levels, most especially the joys and travails of childhood so accurately represented.  As a child I identified with the kids, but now I also am drawn to Atticus as he tries to raise his children as best he can and instill them with conscience.  Lee also does a great job creating a Southern town with its history, castes, and characters.  It all comes together in a brilliant period piece around the trial of a black man falsely accused.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book, so I’ll end here.  I’ll have to make a shorter wait before I read it again.

Recommended books: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Rating: *****

Book Review: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes


Rereading my 100 Favorite Books: #57

Author: Esther Forbes
Title: Johnny Tremain
Publication Info: 0395900115
ISBN: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Summary/Review: Having listed my 100 Favorite Books of All Time, I want to make the effort to reread these books and see if my opinion changes for better or worse. Instead of reading these by rank I’m going to start by going way back and reading a book I last read 25 years ago.  I was in 7th grade and Johnny Tremain, a story about a boy in Boston during the American Revolution won me over.

So how does it stand up?  I remembered the basic plot well – Johnny is a promising silversmith apprentice, he burns his hand while working on the sabbath, loses his position, befriends another apprentice in the printing trade, and gets involved in revolutionary activities.  Other things I didn’t remember as well such as how much of an arrogant tool Johnny is at the start of the novel and his injury is a great humbling.

Despite this obvious moralistic tone, I think the novel holds up well.  Esther Forbes has a keen sense for colonial Boston and its people and doesn’t make any grave errors in historical accuracy.  The story has a good mix of adventure, inspiration, and thoughtfulness and a whole lot more moral ambiguity than I’d expect of a children’s book about the American Revolution written almost 70 years ago.

Recommended books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Andersen
Rating: *****

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time 10-1


Yikes! I’ve reached the top ten.  It should be noted that I actually considered 12 albums as being good enough to be number one, but only one could qualify.  Or you could look at as a 12-way tie.

Previously:

10. Hush by Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin (1992)

A world famous concert cellist and an innovative a capella vocalist  (who has done a lot more than “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) collaborate on a children’s album and its brilliant.  There are a number of interpretations of classical pieces but my favorites are McFerrin originals such as “Stars,” “Grace,” and “Coyote.”

9. Belafonte at Carnegie Hall by Harry Belafonte (1959)

I was born to late to see Belafonte perform at his prime, but this recording captures his amazing voice and showmanship.  The show has three parts featuring Black American music, the Caribbean,  and folk songs from around the world with such highlights as “Jamaica Farewell,” “Shenandoah,” and “Matilda.”

8. Doolittle by Pixies (1989)

This album has kept me up all night and probably damaged my ear drums as I listened to it repeatedly with my headphones on many occasions over the years. I think it was a hand-me-down from my sister who didn’t like it. Highlights include “Debaser,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Hey,” and “Gouge Away.”

7. If I Should Fall From the Grace of God by The Pogues (1988)

This was always one of the first albums I’d upgrade to new formats, mainly because I’d worn out tape and CD copies from repeat listenings.  Shane and the gang do their punky Celtic best on songs like “Fairytale of New York,” “Turkish Song of the Damned,” “Thousands Are Sailing,” and “Medley.”

6. Flood by They Might Be Giants (1990)

I think I’ve tried to explain the genius, artistry and symbolism of songs by TMBG to people who think they’re just funny ditties.  See what you think when listening to tracks like “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Road Movie To Berlin,” “Particle Man,” and “Your Racist Friend.”

5. Sacrebleu by Dimitri From Paris (1996)

A French house DJ mixes in all sorts of loungey music and soundtracks for a really cool effect.  Try out “Sacre Francais,” “Reveries,” “Une Very Stylish Fille,” and “Un World Mysteriouse” for starters.

4. BullsEye by The Kevin Hanson Trio (2001)

Saw Hanson solo at Club Passim and was impressed by his guitar virtuosity.  Got the album and was impressed by the imaginative lyrics and music of songs like “I Wish,” “Just Because,” and “Circus.”

3. Cry Cry Cry by Cry Cry Cry (1998)

Contemporary folk singer/performers Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky collaborate on covers of songs by other contemporary artists such as”By Way of Sorrow,” “Cold Missouri Waters,” and “Shades of Gray.” Funny that none of their solo work made my list, but together they’re three times as good.

2. Rum, Sodomy and The Lash by  The Pogues (1985)

Pogues’ fans argue about which album is there best and I believe its this very raw, very powerful, and very good collection. It feature Cait O’Riordan’s only lead vocal performance on (ironically) “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” a beautifully haunting song. “Sally MacLennane,” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” are a couple of other Pogues standards on this all around excellent album.

1.  Tanglewood Tree by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer

The folk duo’s masterpiece includes  the brilliant lyrics and music of Dave Carter with Grammer on vocals and fiddle on songs such as “Tanglewood Tree,” “The Mountain,” and “Cowboy Singer.”  Ten years have gone by and I’m still wowed by this album.

Next week:  Some honorable mentions that did not crack the Top 100 although many were deserving.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time 20-11


Previously:

20. Graceland by Paul Simon (1986)

Simon’s solo masterpiece is great for integrating “world music” and some of the most well-thought-out lyrics ever written.  Highlights include “Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes,” “Homeless,” “I Know What I Know,” and the title track.

19. Singalong by Pete Seeger (1980)

Pete Seeger and thousands of voices in Cambridge’s Sanders Theater sing the great folk songs of a generation.  Seeger is not really about recordings, but I find this recorded Pete at his best virtually bringing you the concert experience.  Favorites include “If I Had A Hammer,” “The Water is Wide,”  “Old Devil Time,” and many more.

18. London Calling by The Clash (1979)

This may be the first time that Pete Seeger and The Clash appear in a list next to one another, but they share a certain passion and do-it-yourself ethic, so why not.  I’m not the first one to extol the greatness of London Calling so I’ll just tell you my favorite songs are “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Guns of Brixton,” “The Right Profile,” the title song and the rest of the whole album.

17. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One by Yo La Tengo (1997)

I resisted putting every single album by Yo La Tengo in this list, but if you don’t have any albums by this band please get this one.  You may also enjoy “Moby Octopad” (and its Mets’ references), “Sugarcube,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Shadows,” “Autumn Sweater,” and the rest.

16. So by Peter Gabriel (1986)

There are probably diehard Gabriel fans who roll their eyes at this pick but I say that any album with experimental sounds and clever lyrics that can still be a huge hit is worth remembering.  I like all the songs that got played all the time on the radio, and the one from that movie, and then there’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

15. Revolver by The Beatles (1966)

This is my favorite Beatles album and I’m never sure why.  Lots of studio experimentation pays off (not to mention drug experimentation), I guess.  Favorite songs include “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

14. Intersections by DJ Maus (2000)

DJ Maus is a drum & bass DJ we once danced to long ago in Montreal and this is one of her albums I picked up and have been entranced by ever since. Favorite tracks: “Plug,” “Phoneheads,” and “Amon Tobin.”

13. Ten Thousand Mornings by Peter Mulvey (2002)

This is the first and only album on this list that I was present for its recording, albeit briefly and accidentally.  Many musicians in Boston hone their skills by playing in the subways and Mulvey paid tribute to this by recording the entire album in Davis Sq station in Somerville.  It’s a great mix of cover songs, collaborations with other folkies, and roaring trains in the background.  Highlights include “Oliver’s Army,” “Comes Love” (with Erin McKeown), “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” (w/ Sean Staples), “The Ocean,” and “Two Janes.”

12. Lincoln by They Might Be Giants (1988)

The Brooklyn-based band pays tribute to their Massachusetts’ home town in the title.  More importantly upon hearing “Ana Ng” I was inspired to actually turn the radio dial and check out that modern rock station.  Other favorites from this album include “Kiss Me, Son of God,” “Cowtown,” and “Purple Toupee.”

11. Citizens Band by The Operators (2002)

Here’s yet another band of people I sort-of-know that broke up…wait a minute, they’ve reunited!  Anyhow, some great punk rock from Somerville.  Great tracks include “The Old Man Doesn’t Like It,” “Parasite Rex,” “Bottle,” and “Rock City.”

The top ten is next week.  I think my writing is getting crappier as the albums get better.

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (30-21)


Previously:

30. Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco (1998)

An English singer/songwriter/radical and a rock/alt-country band from Chicago join to record tunes for the lost songs of Woody Guthrie and produce a masterpiece.  Once again it proves the timelessness of great music.  Favorites include “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” and “I Guess I Planted.”

29. This Are Two Tone (1983)

I was about a decade late discovering the UK’s Two Tone ska revival, but as soon as I heard The Specials “Ghost Town” on my radio I wanted to hear more.  I went to my local record store who of course did not have anything by The Specials, but I decided to check the compilations’ area where I found this gem and my life was changed.  Other highlights include “Gangsters” and “Rudi, A Message To You” by The Specials and “Rankin’ Full Stop” by The Beat.

28. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction (1988)

Nirvana gets the credit for bringing so-called alternative music to the masses but Jane’s Addiction lead the way with this terrific album of funky hard rock.  Favorites include: “Jane Says,” “Ocean Size,” and “Mountain Song.”

27. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (1988)

Hip hop at its best with a strong rhymes containing a serious social and political message over some densely-layered and funky samples.  Tracks that are still strong and relevant twenty years later include “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.”

26. Lifes Rich Pageant by R.E.M. (1986)

Another torch bearer carrying the underground music of the 1980’s to the mainstream of the 1990’s was R.E.M. who started out with very esoteric, experimental recordings early on and gradually became more radio friendly.  This album captures them striking a balance between the two extremes and includes some of the band’s best song such as “Fall On Me,” “The Flowers of Guatemala,” and “Swan Swan H.”

25. Shamrock Shake by Echolalia (1997)

This obscure album was recorded by a Williamsburg, VA -area Celtic folk/rock band who then vanished into the ether.  They are a band who follows the Celtic punk zeitgeist of the Pogues including a cover of “Boys from the County Hell,” but also their own material such as the topical “Serbian’s Wake,” but were best in their interpretations of timeless standards such as “The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.”

24. Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans (2003)

This album was a gift from my brother-in-law that introduced me to a great Canadian rock band performing intelligent and chipper rock songs about death, depression and hating Winnipeg.  Highlights include the title track, “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute,” “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)” and “The Reasons.”

23. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

I think enough ink has been spilled explaining the greatness of OK Computer that I need not add to it, but here are my favorite songs from the album: “No Surprises,” “Karma Police,” “Airbag,” “Lucky,” and “Paranoid Android.”  What are yours?

22. Distillation by Erin McKeown (2000)

I attended the new artists showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2000 and after a series of waifs singing about their sad lonely lives, Erin McKeown took the stage and had people singing, dancing and cheering for her two songs.  Later this album was played between sets of some other bands on the main stage and people were singing along to that!  Find out why by listening to catchy and clever tracks like “Queen of Quiet,” “Blackbirds,” and “Fast As I Can.”

21. The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses (1989)

This album was another discovery in a library back when I was in high school.  I listened to it for years and loved it before realizing that other people liked it too.  In fact New Musical Express named it the best British album of all-time in 2000. Not too shabby.  Highlights include: “Shoot You Down,” “I Am the Ressurrection,” “She Bangs the Drums,” and “I Wanna Be Adored.”