Written by 4:15 am Audiophile Music

2017 Faves: Fleet Foxes, Flamin Groovies, Flaming Lips, Zappa, Jaco, XTC, Beatles, Meklit & More

Mark Smotroff reflects on some of 2017’s best…

2017 was a good year despite some sad losses of many important artists. There was some genuinely great new music happening as well as fabulous reissues, remixes, restorations, resuscitations, rennovations and remasters. Following are some of the highlights for me (with links back to my reviews in case you missed them the first time ’round in the sub-headers below):

AR-BeatlesSgtPepper50photo225.jpgThe Pick Of Peppers: It was great hearing The Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper album finally remixed into Surround Sound but it was the new Stereo mix by producer Giles Martin that proved revelatory and essential.  

The Louisiana Hayride: 24 hours of music presented in a contextually detailed and accurate massive boxed set from Bear Family connects-the-dots on the musical birth of many of America’s greatest country, rock ‘n roll and rockabilly artists from Hank Williams to Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash.  

FleetFoxesCrackUp225.jpgFleet Foxes Return:  One of my instant favorites among newer pop and rock groups is Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes.  Fabulous harmonies, compelling songwriting and some epic soundscapes have kept this one in my play bin all year. 

21st Century Ethiopian-infused American Jazzy Pop Soul— A late 2017 discovery when a friend took me to her live performance one Friday night at the Oakland Museum here in Northern California, Meklit and her band knocked me out immediately with their infectious and intoxicating blend of Ethiopian and American soul, pop and jazz-infused stylings, recalling no less than Joni Mitchell’s classic mid-70s explorations bridging international rhythms and sounds with her jazz inflected songwriting. Meklit’s most recent album — produced by Dan Wilson (of Semisonic!) — is a fabulous representation of what I heard them performing that night.  You can stream her album up on Tidal by clicking here but Meklit’s music is also available wherever fine music is sold.  Highly recommended, a full review will be forthcoming. 

AR-FlaminGrooviesFantasticPlastic225.jpgFantastic Groovies: Perhaps one of the most anticipated albums of the last many years, especially for fans of all things power pop, the new album by San Francisco’s Flamin’ Groovies — called Fantastic Plastic — delivered not only some great songs, but a whole great collection of great sounding songs, overall.  Easily it is the band’s best effort since their late 70s new wave heyday! 

Modern Vintage Country Blues: Reverent Peyton’s Big Damn Band put out one mighty find slab of rustic country blues this past year called Front Port Sessions.  Recorded in an 80-year-old farmhouse church turned studio, this album has a great sound to it and Peyton delivers the skyward reaching, testifying goods.

AR-JacoTruthLibertySoulCover225.jpgMeet Jaco Live: Resonance Records‘ archival release of a complete 1982 Jaco Pastorious concert from Avery Fisher Hall in New York is not only great sonically, but the performances revelatory … and fun too!  

Zappa Tune Up: The restoration of Frank Zappa’s classic album Joe’s Garage proved to be a game changer for this reviewer, fixing known problems in the mastering, and presenting the music in a new light with significantly improved sonics. 

AR-JohnGaryWilliamsCover225.jpgLost Stax Gem: John Gary Williamsfine eponymous 1973 album got its first proper distribution and promotional push this past year, a record that was effectively lost amidst the record label’s crisis in the early 1970s.  That the music is not only kick some serious booty and is surprisingly relevant to our times today, paints an enduring perspective on this fine overlooked soul singer. 

A Return To Form (of Sorts):  Flaming Lips latest album, Oczy Mlody, was a solid hybrid distillation of their more recent experimental sounds and the now-classic sound that brought them to international acclaim in the late 1990s and early 00s (ie. The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi, At War With the Mystics). Some strong songs and just enough weird kept us challenged while tapping our toes and humming catchy hooks. 

Steven Wilson Calms XTC’s Black Sea:  Wilson’s tremendous remix of this career-solidifying fourth album from England’s XTC is a wonder in stereo and 5.1 surround sound. Boasting fantastic sound and particularly attention to bringing clarity to a mix that was at times a bit claustrophobic on its original vinyl presentation, the new mixes fix the problems and deliver waves of detail.  Look for my full review of it soon here on Audiophilereview.

AR-ZappaJoesGarageFront225.jpgZappaween Celebration: There were many fine Frank Zappa related releases in 2017 but one in particular, a “boxed set” of a sort, stood out as it came to us stored on a handy USB flash drive (albeit in a spiffy box replete with Zappa mask and Halloween costume!).  The entire legendary 1977 Halloween run of complete concerts by Frank Zappa from The Palladium in New York is an essential listen for Zappa fans and simply fans of progressive leaning rock with avant garde and jazz tendencies.

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