21) Teddy Thompson “Never Knew You Loved Me Too”
After listening to this album for the first time I would have believed that it was made up of obscure (to me) covers from the 1960s like the aforementioned Richard Barone album. But these were all original tunes, most penned by Teddy himself. It’s an album full of songs to improve anyone’s mood.
22) Dream Theater “The Astonishing”
This was a divisive album, and I’ve already said enough about it here.
23) Christmas Albums by Sarah McLachlan and She & Him
This marks the first Christmas album to appear on my list. In fact, it may be the first Christmas album to ever appear on a year-in-review list.
Since I consider a Christmas album to be worth 1/2 regular albums, I’ve chosen 2 Christmas albums to fill a single spot on this list of 30. It’s only fair. Both of these received a lots of listens in my house in Dec. ’16.
Sarah McLachlan’s album “Wonderland” stood out to me due to her version of “Go Tell it on the Mountain”. It was really fun to bang out on the piano and featured some unexpected and interesting guests. My 5-year-old loves to sing along with the chorus, even in March.
She & Him’s album “Christmas Party” had an unfortunate and over-optimistic assumption that Hillary Clinton would be our 45th president. It’s painful to listen to now.
24) Moana “Disney’s Official Soundtrack”
As I write this it’s already known that Moana would not win the Oscars that my 2-year-old daughter believes that it deserves. My now-5-year-old daughter had “Let It Go, but my 2-year-old has “How Far I’ll Go” as her personal anthem. If Apple Music kept track of play counts, this album would likely be ranked #1 for the year.
No one is debating that Lin-Manuel Miranda has reached the level of musical theater genius. He’s now a household name for writing musicals, which hasn’t happened since Andrew Lloyd Webber (or maybe Alan Menkin or Jonathan Larson). Whatever, it’s uncommon.
Hamilton was dense and deep. It required many listens and attention. Moana is far more approachable, but still has the distinct Lin-Manuel Miranda sound, but with some Disney warmth and accessibility.
25) Sam Bush “Story Man”
Sam Bush can play circles around me, and any other more deserving artist, but sometimes as a songwriter he’s… interesting.
The best example of this is he reggae tune “Everything is Possible”. The message of the song is, basically, don’t kill yourself. This lyric is cringe-worthy…
So put away the razor blades, put away the rope
Change the old prescription for a brand new bottle of hope.
It reads like a Middle School student writing a poem in health class during their suicide prevention week project. Plus, there are much more modern, reliable, and painless ways to kill yourself, I’m sure.
Another example is the song “Handmics Killed Country Music”, though I like this tune largely based on the inclusion of Emmylou Harris as a guest vocalist and co-writer. It sounds like classic Emmylou. As silly as the title reads, it may very well be true. Quirky Sam Bush is better than bro-country, at very least.
Instrumentals like Greenbrier” and “It’s Not What You Think” are where the album shines. It breaks up some of great vocal tunes like “Bowling Green”, “Lefty’s Song” and “Transcendental Meditation Blues”.
26) Sonata Arctica “The Ninth Hour”
Everything I said about the Epica album could also be said for Sonata Arctica’s 2016 release. I listened to it a lot, and enjoyed it, but at this moment I can’t think of one particular moment that stood out.
27) The Stray Birds “Magic Fire”
The Stray Birds are the perfect daytime act at a music festival. That’s not to say they don’t have the chops to play a main stage once the sun goes down, but they just sound better with sunlight.
This album was fun, especially the tune Sabrina, which I had heard live a few times but it never appeared on an album until Magic Fire.
28) Sean Watkins “What to Fear”
All of the Nickel Creek alum released new material in 2016 but Sean Watkin’s album was the only one to make my list. His songwriting is intelligent while still approachable. The title track was released before Trump was even a major contender for the office when it was penned, but it couldn’t be any more relevant in March of 2017 as I write this.
This lyric could easily be a Trump tweet:
Yeah we’re telling you what to fear
There’s just so much and there’s
No one in this dark world
You can trust
Except for us
29) The Dear Hunter “Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional”
The Dear Hunter is a band that’s hard to categorize. Apple Music says they’re Alternative, but I don’t think they fit well among other artists with the same categorization.
They are on Part 5 of a massive, multi-year, multi-album, concept project. Their songs don’t fit into standard radio-friendly formulas. They exhibit exceptional musical proficiency. I’ve just defined prog-rock, and The Dear Hunter should embrace that label as well.
If Casey Crescenzo got together with Neal Morse for a project, they would write a prog-rock epic that would, somehow, solve the ACA/Obamacare controversies. It doesn’t hurt to try.
30) Big Big Train “Folklore”
Big Big Train was a band that I had never really given a far chance. To start they had some explaining to do after taking Nick D’Virgilio away from Spock’s Beard. In fairness, I know none of the details on that story.
It’s adult modern prog with intelligent song writing. The comparison to Genesis are obvious. The singer sounds just like Peter Gabriel at times, and some of the instrumentation screams classic 70s prog.
The instrumental pieces in “London Plane” are probably my favorite moments from the whole album. I hear the PFM influence throughout. “Salisbury Giant” could be used as a movie score.