11) “Groundhog Day” the Musical
It’s hard to believe that Tim Minchin would write such a solid musical soundtrack. I knew him only from his funny songs about racism and religion sung in his best (and home-grown) British accent. His other musical Matilda received some awards, though I admittidly never gave it a fair chance. The songwriting here is as approachable, and re-watchable, as the 1993 movie.
12) Jonathan Coulton “Solid State”
Jonathan Coulton started his musical career as a nerd-con novelty comedy songwriter. His 2011 release “Artificial Heart” started to break this, but it was hard for me to accept it at first. I wanted more songs about Ikea, Creepy Dolls, and Zombies. But I kept listening and finally accepted as a good, and quirky, album.
For 2017’s “Solid State” I went into it with the right mindset. I accepted it as a good album from a unique singer-songwriter that has to work extra hard to remove the novelty descriptive from his name.
13) The Night Flight Orchestra “Amber Galactic”
This album was my surprise find of the year. It takes the best parts of late 70s Arena rock and adds an ABBA groove. It’s hard rock with a heavy emphasis on unapologetic fun while retaining the high quality required for repeated listens. I understand why this music isn’t popular, but I’m glad it exists for me.
14) Phoebe Hunt & the Gatherers “Shanti’s Shadow”
I knew Phoebe from her days with Belleville Outfit. She was clearly the leader, but her voice wasn’t quite strong enough. She’s changed that around nearly 10 years later with the new outfit, the Gatherers. Songs are still dance-able, but more intelligent.
15) The Secret Sisters “You Don’t Own Me Anymore”
I have a soft spot for singer-songwriter duos in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel and these covert sisters were the closest to the original. A less experienced listener wouldn’t find the S&G original “Kathy’s Song” out of place and could easily assume it was penned by these secluded siblings.
16) The Dustbowl Revival “The Dustbowl Revival”
The Dustbowl Revival were made for summer folk festivals, but their albums make me smile in the off-season. They are a little bit folk, jazz, rock, and soul, so they fit into virtually any summer festival theme.
The track “Debtors’ Prison” was an early favorite in part due the clever lyric involving the inverse of “JP Morgan” (which is Morgan JP). While the sound is timeless, it can often have the feel of a 90s jam band, minus the obnoxious jamming.
17) Jason Isbell “The Nashville Sound”
Jason Isbell will save country music, but I don’t think he’ll be the face of the movement. He’s the link between Steve Earle and Chris Stapleton, but he won’t be on Saturday Night Live for that feat. The lyrics “…likely one of us will have to spend some days alone” hits me like a 400 Unit ever time (whatever a 400 Unit is).
18) Mr. Big “Defying Gravity”
I entered the year as ignorant to the catalog of Mr. Big as I was when I was in the 6th grade, awkwardly dancing to “To Be With You”. In the past I tried to get into the full album “Lean Into It” from 1991, but it never stuck. I must have been missing something as the band featured the respected virtuosos Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan.
For some reason I gave their 2017 release “Defying Gravity” more of a chance than I did for their breakthrough release. But it was worth it, it’s overall a strong rock album with bits of fusion and prog throughout.
19) Alice Cooper “Paranormal”
I think I’m still drawn to new Alice Cooper since he comes across as such a nice guy in interviews, especially his interaction with his revolving band mates. The title track plays tribute to his 80s hits like “Poison”. The rest of the rock-and-riff heavy tunes need a home in 1990s MTV. It’s not Alice’s fault that it’s not an option today, it’s MTV’s.
20) Bubble Boy Soundtrack
This was the guilty pleasure musical of 2017. In terms of humor, it was a PG-13 version of the R-rated Avenue Q. But it was the songs that made me come back for continuous listens, not the jokes. The movie that inspired the musical came out in 2001, but musically it borrows mostly from the 80s and 90s, especially “Something Called Forever”, the power ballad of the soundtrack.