11) Epica “The Holographic Principle”
Epica pumps out albums like Activision pumps out new Call of Duty games. They are all epic, but don’t necessarily break any new ground.
12) Arc Iris “Moon Saloon”
Arc Iris continues to surprise me. They are, at heart, a rock band. They can fall under singer-songwriter, indie, alternative, and even prog rock. But they do their own thing very well.
“Paint with the Sun” is reminiscent of 1990s Elton John, but in a good way. “Johnny” is whimsical in a Peter Gabriel “Supper’s Ready” kind of way. “Saturation Brain” fills their odd-time-signature quota with many 5/4 sections. It’s less than 4 minutes long, but plays like a prog epic.
13) Judy Collins & Ari Hest “Silver Skies Blue”
Who is Ari Hest? No idea. But when he sings together with the wispy Judy Collins it’s magical. This album really grew on my and was one of the many great duet albums of the year.
14) Colvin & Earle “Colvin & Earle”
Did I need another recording of “Someday”. Yup, I guess I did.
To me it’s reminiscent of the duo albums with Julie and Buddy Miller. A sweet and a rough voice paired together can have interesting results.
15) Steven Wilson “4.5”
Steve plays tribune to fractions in this solo effort between “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” and whatever his 5th album will be called. “Happiness III” is super catchy and I could see a pop radio station adding an electronic beat to it and turning it into a smash dance number. I do find myself skipping over “Year of the Plague” though. I never claimed to be the best Steven Wilson fan.
16) Parker Millsap “The Very Last Day”
I first heard Parker Millsap at the 2015 Green River Festival in Greenfield, MA. I remembered his face, but not his music. It wasn’t until this album came out a few months later that I learned to appreciate him for reasons beyond the silly faces he can make.
I would compare his voice to Mark Erelli, and his songwriting to Erelli’s “Hope & Other Casualties” era music. I tweeted this similarity to Mark, and he didn’t see the comparisons. He went on to say he too was a fan of Parker Millsap, and that Millsap likely has no idea who Mark Erelli is. It’s Millsap’s loss. And if it makes Mark Erelli feel any better, Parker Millsap likely has no idea who I am either.
17) Lula Wiles “Lula Wiles”
A very fine debut album from 3 (currently) local ladies. Della Mae is on a break this year, so these Wiles can take the Boston-area, all-girl, Americana powerhouse torch.
18) The Ragbirds “The Threshold & The Hearth”
I hadn’t heard of The Ragbirds before I stumbled upon this album, but I’m glad I did. There’s something 1990s about them, which for me, is comforting. I could see them opening for Rusted Root in 1997. The hippies in Dave Matthews shirts and hemp necklaces would be happy.
19) Avantasia “Ghostlights”
The rivalry between Avantasia and Ayreon is strong on this album as Tobias Sammet brings along some interesting guest vocalist for this prog-rock opera.
20) Aoife O’Donovan “In The Magic Hour”
I can’t help but note Aoife’s wonderful phrasing in every occurrence of her albums on my lists. I also typically note that she comes off as a bit of a handful. She’s distancing herself further and further from her origins with Crooked Still, but in a very good way. If she truly is a handful, her genius songwriting is what makes it all worthwhile.
Anthony Da Costa is due a lot of credit here for singing harmonies. Each verse is unique and doesn’t stick to a simple formula throughout the song. It can’t be easy to match Aoife’s phrasing live.