Written by 4:32 am Audiophile Music

2016 Looking Back (Part 1): Good New Music Happens!

Mark Smotroff finds sunshine amidst a dark 2016

So… yeah, folks… this year has been a hard one for everyone on so many levels, especially in the music world. It has been so hard, that it is taking me some time to get my head around a tribute article that I have been asked to write about all those who have passed this year alone.  

I’ll get there… 

However, with the aim of being entirely more upbeat and enthusiastic, these review round ups will focus on some bright lights of 2016 in which a lot of great and hopeful music was released.  

And away we go!

Happiest Music

AR-MonkeesGoodTimesCover225aa.jpgThe Monkees, Good Times This one gets  my vote for “Feel Good Album Of 2016,” a cheery upbeat romp offering classic pop songwriting from a bevy of favorite writers old and newish. If you like this album, you also owe it to yourself to get the Record Store Day release of Good Times Plus if only for the best track from the sessions that didn’t make the final cut for the album, ending up as a bonus track:  “Love Is What I Want” by Andy Partridge of XTC.


Mind Expanding-est Music

AR-ClaypoolLennonPhobosCover225a.jpgClayool – Lennon Delirium, Monolith of Phobos.  Trippy. Melodic. Rocking. Weird-in-a-good-way. Thought provoking. Challenging.  And, in a word: fun! A great first collaboration from Sean Lennon and Les Claypool (of Primus fame).


Sunshine-iest Music 

AR-RaRaRiotNeedYourLightCover225aa.jpgRa Ra Riot, Need Your Light In which our young pop heroes (which came out of my alma-mater at Syracuse University!) reign in the sequenced joys of its prior release, Beta Love — one of my faves from 2013  — without losing the fun freewheeling 21st century ELO sensibility they’d honed there. Upbeat. Catchy. Melodic. Hook-filled. And, yes, fun! 


Booty-Shaking-est Music

Thumbnail image for AR-CharlesBradleyChanges225a.jpg

Changes, Charles Bradley Check out Charles’ music for his spectacular cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” but stay for his soul affirming testimony on life’s trials and tribulations, all wrapped up into vintage grooves, instrumentation and production. Hat tip to Menahan Street Band for stellar back up here.



Happiest Comeback Since Brian Wilson 

AR-EmittRhodesRainbowEnds225aa.jpgEmitt Rhodes’ Rainbow Ends Fans of Emitt Rhodes (like me!) have waited since 1973 to hear new music from this legendary singer, songwriter and producer. Much more than just the “one man Beatles” he’s come to be known for (due to his amazing first solo album in 1971), Rainbow Ends effectively picks up where he left off, delivering wonderful songs, melodies and heartbreaking world-weary singing which tugs heartstrings and may draw a tear or two from you. 


Favorite New Album Mixed In Mono

AR-MavericksMonoCover225aa.jpgMono by The Mavericks. Yes, Mono. This fine band mixed their latest album entirely in Monaural sound and (patting myself on the back) apparently I was the first reviewer to figure out that it was in Mono! Lead singer and band founder Raul Malo even tweeted back to me about this publicly when our initial review ran!  So… check it out Dear Audiophiles looking for a modern 21st century album with decidedly singular mid-20th century values. Great stuff! 


Favorite New Single Spinning at 45 RPM

AR-CrazyMacy45ART225aa.jpgCrazy Macy by The Flamin’ Groovies doesn’t spin digitally. It spins on a 45 RPM, seven-inch single and it sounds pretty fabulous. Can’t wait to hear the full new album which, hopefully, the band will release in the year ahead. 



Bittersweet-est Album Of The Year

AR-blackstarvinylcover225a.jpgDavid Bowie Blackstar This one still hurts. But it is so good. That said, I haven’t listened to it again since I wrote my initial review. Perhaps in 2017 I will revisit it.  But I could not in good conscience leave it off this list.




Best Comeback from A Band That Never Really Went Away

AR-CradleToGraveCDcover225aa.jpgCradle to Grave by Squeeze is a great return to form, if you’ll pardon the reviewer cliche. Fine fun music from the band that gave us hits like “Tempted,” “Black Coffee In Bed” and “Pulling Mussels From the Shell.”  (And yeah, I hear you in the back row there, I know this technically came out in late 2015 but my review didn’t run until 2016 so you get an extra bonus here, Dear Readers).

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