Favorites of 2015
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
My end of the year extravaganza is called Favorites of 2015 because I just don’t listen to enough new music through the year to warrant calling it a Best Of list – though I do believe many of the musicians or the albums mentioned should be considered.
Anyway, sorry there is no magazine version this year. Life got complicated, and I just couldn’t pull it off. My goal is a new issue in early 2016. One can hope anyway.
Until then, here is my list of my Favorites of 2015… Feel free to comment or offer your own favorites. (Click on hyperlinks below for photos, etc.)
Dave Rawlings Machine, “Nashville Obsolete” Anyone who knows me, will not be shocked by this. Talk about songs that stick in your head… I’m constantly humming, whistling, singing “Short-Haired Woman Blues” and “The Weekend.” The talking rhythm of “The Trip” is just that. Rawlings guitar playing is spectacular as always and the violin/fiddle flourishes are added with just the right touch.
SURPRISE ALBUM Ryan Adams, “1989” Cover albums are often disappointing, and I’m not even sure this qualifies as one. Adams’ versions of the songs on Taylor Swift’s pop album are amazing transformations. The best way to listen to this album is pick a song, say “Bad Blood.” Listen to Swift’s version, then Adams’. If you are like me, you’ll love how Adams is able to take the songs’ lyrics to darker places… But it will also give you a greater appreciation for Swift’s songwriting.
FAVORITE LOCAL ALBUM Barnstar “Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!” These guys… I want to play in their band. What stands out to me on the group’s second album is their harmonies. Yeah, they can play, and I mean tear it up. But their voices on the chorus of Jake Armerding’s “Delta Rose” hit CSN levels for me. I just can’t get enough of their cover versions of “Stay With Me,” “Sequestered in Memphis,” and Josh Ritter’s “Darlin’.” But the killer on the album is Taylor Armerding’s take on Cat Stevens’ “Trouble.” I’d buy the album just for that.
OTHER TOP ALBUMS “Salt as Wolves” by Jeffrey Foucault, “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell, “Down to Believing” by Allison Moorer.
FAVORITE CONCERT Allison Moorer and Mary Gauthier, Club Passim, March 22 (pictured, top). I’ve been a fan of Moorer’s sister, Shelby Lynne, for a long time, always felt she was the more down-to-earth real deal to Moorer’s shiny country. But after seeing Moorer playing solo acoustic beside Gauthier on the intimate Passim stage, I realize I was all wrong. I’d seen Gauthier before and she is superb, but I was enthralled by Moorer – playing songs from her new, very personal album, “Down to Believing” – as she seemed to be feeling every emotion she sang about. Watch a clip, here.
OTHER TOP CONCERTS Dave Rawlings Machine at the Wilbur, Nov. 16; Nikki Lane at the Sinclair, Nov. 1; the Decemberists at the House of Blues, April 4.
MEMORABLE CONCERT MOMENT Shuggy Otis walking offstage during his set at the Sinclair because of amp problems For the uninitiated, Otis is a longtime blues/R&B guy and a great guitarist who had a bit of a following in the ’70s. He kind of faded out of view for a while and had finally resurfaced. It was clear early in his set that he was having problems with his sound. He frequently was looking back at his amp and shaking his head. Finally, about 40 minutes into his set he had had enough. He told the crowd he was done for the night and that he would come back another time. But after a few minutes, before the stunned audience could leave, he was back and settled in for about another half hour. The guy can play and play with feeling, and I’d still love to see him on a good night.
FAVORITE CONCERT PHOTO Johnny at Josh Ritter show My friend Jon likes to get casual when he’s at a Josh Ritter show.
BEST TIME AT A SHOW Peter Mulvey’s 12-hour concert outside Club Passim, Sept. 27. (Note: I have disqualified all Josh Ritter shows from this category, since, well, they will always be the most fun ever.) Sometimes great times aren’t filled with parties, large amounts of friends, etc. This time, it was pretty simple. Mulvey playing outdoors, a few yards from the Passim entrance – for 12 hours straight. I was only there for about 2 of them, but it was just such a pleasure listening to him in the ultimate of casual settings… talking to passersby and playing tunes as if he were still busking for a living – which I guess he kind of was.
FAVORITE VENUE Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River This place is a zillion miles from my house, so while I’ve always eyed it as a destination, I never could get myself to travel there. Boy, was I missing something. I’ve never been to a bring-your-own-food-and-beverage venue… People brought in coolers and crates containing huge spreads, cocktails – even shots for a table-full of friends. The sound was decent and the room is cool, minus four big poles, which I guess have to be there to hold up the ceiling in the repurposed factory warehouse. If you live close enough, I’d become a Friends Of member so you can sit at the tables in the front.
FAVORITE NEW ARTIST Caitlin Canty Canty’s not necessarily “new,” but her music is new to me. Her breakthrough album, “Reckless Skyline,” is a great introduction to her acoustic Americana of folk and country tunes. She also supplies backing vocals to Jeffrey Foucault’s “Salt as Wolves.”
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Tom Petty I’ve always respected Petty as a performer; he was the fourth-ever concert I saw (1979!). But as a songwriter, I kind of felt he rode the coattails of his Traveling Wilbury mates… maybe not quite up there with those guys (still might not be). But over the last years, I have definitely reconsidered. He certainly has some great songs and the longevity to be moved up in class.
FAVORITE QUOTE “I write a lot of sad songs, but that one right there is just pitiful.” – Dolly Parton, at the Ryman, talking about her song “The Grass Is Blue”
For a look at Modern Acoustic’s concert year in pictures, click here.