Top 10 albums of 2016

  1. Dig In Deep, Bonnie Raitt: The sexiest album of the year was made by a 66 (now 67)-year-old woman, quite possibly at the peak of her powers. Self-production has worked wonders for Bonnie Raitt, as has an impeccable knack for both songwriting and picking others’ songs. Dig In Deep is her strongest set of songs in a good two decades, and her long-time band plays the hell out of them (including, of course, Raitt’s own superb guitar). “All Alone with Something to Say” (which she didn’t write) and “The Ones We Couldn’t Be” (which she did) are awesome additions to her catalog of perfect ballads, while road anthem “Gypsy In Me” and “Unintended Consequence of Love” keep things moving on the uptempo side. As for the covers, I wish Michael Hutchence were around to hear Raitt’s take on the INXS classic “Need You Tonight,” which she steals from him forever and sexes way up, just by being herself.
  2. A Place at the Table, Solange: Much moreso than her big sister’s, I find Solange’s album the most powerful of 2016 regarding the Black experience. That’s by and large because Solange’s is much more personal, and in 2016, the personal was even more political than that which was explicitly political. Also, the interludes, spoken-word from the likes of her mother and, especially Master P, talking about their experiences as Black persons in the American South, add plenty to the album’s context.
  3. We Are King, KING: Gossamer R&B that nonetheless has some heft behind it. A self-contained outfit, twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother and Anita Bias wrote and produced and played and sung their debut album themselves, and released it on their own label, KING Creative, and it’s definitely their own vision. It’s as if Sade were influenced by Sade, only without the jazz influences. This is the sound of beauty.
  4. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, A Tribe Called Quest: The entirely unexpected final statement from Tribe, some 18 years after their last album, may in fact be their best. Everyone is on point, Q-Tip’s production is remarkable (and incredibly warm) (just check out what he does with the intro of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” which BTW isn’t a sample, but a replayed chunk courtesy of the Dame herself), all of their guests bring their A-games (especially old comrade Busta Rhymes, who hasn’t sounded this vital in over a decade). This double album is also incredibly political, and we need that right now. Real talk about race that everyone should hear — but you should also hear it because it’s so fucking musical.
  5. ArtScience, Robert Glasper Experiment: Ditching the successful formula of their past two albums, which were larded with guests, especially on vocals, RGX kept it in-house for ArtScience, handling everything themselves. The likes of “No One Like You” and “Thinkin Bout You” could be R&B hits in a just world, while they continue to bat .1000 with covers, this time taking on Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” and the Human League’s “Human” (drawing out the latter’s pathos, in part by singing a song about being human with a vocoder). While Black Radio and Black Radio 2 were largely R&B joints, this album’s an ace fusion of R&B with jazz. Miles Davis would be proud.
  6. 24K Magic, Bruno Mars: The fun album I needed this year, especially post-11/9. Mars channels the swag of peak-years Bobby Brown, and the sound of Brown’s work with L.A. and Babyface (bringing in ‘Face himself for two tracks, including the gorgeous “Versace on the Floor”), and Teddy Riley (“Finesse”), not to mention the early ’80s funk&b of “Perm” and the title track, both of which are blessedly ridiculous.
  7.  Big Day in a Small Town, Brandy Clark: 2016’s best country album pairs Clark’s always-sterling songwriting with the production that she deserves from Jay Joyce. Like Angaleena Presley’s 2014 triumph American Middle Class, these are stories of small-town folks clinging on by their fingernails. And it ain’t gonna get better.
  8. Vinyl, William Michael Morgan: Country’s rookie of the year is so new-trad it’s like you’re listening to Randy Travis’s Storms of Life and Always and Forever all over again. Morgan pairs a deep baritone with defiantly non-pop production; he also reminds me of unfairly forgotten ’00s shoulda-been Trent Willmon.
  9. Hero, Maren Morris: How to pair pop-country production (courtesy of L.A. man busbee) with awesome country songwriting and make it work. We’re talking master class here.
  10. Cashmere, Swet Shop Boys: Sure, their name is stupid, but their music is anything but. This is reminiscent of M.I.A.’s debut in terms of both its musicality and its politization. Indian American Heems teams up with British Pakistani Riz MC for a serious, yet funny, hip hop record about how easy it ain’t being Muslim in the world today (not to mention the US and UK). Redinho’s globalist production and their hard rhymes make this a debut not to sleep on.

About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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