Let’s begin with a confession and a qualification, which are sort of related.
First, the confession. I didn’t listen to Kendrick Lamar this year, the juggernaut himself. I’m thinking I will warm up to him around 2017 or so.
Second, quality listening time this year was severely disrupted. We had several surgeries in our house in 2015, we sold the California home and then we moved to the Low Country. All of that took a toll, to be honest, particularly the transition to the East Coast. It is one thing in theory to pull up stakes and move to a radically different part of the country, but it is quite another thing in practice. With all that change going on, we reverted to things that were true and reliable. High-quality and high-comfort. Old hands, or new hands with an old twist. You’ll see. Here’s the Top 10.
U2/Eagles of Death Metal, live in Paris, “People Have the Power” U2 returned to Paris after a scheduled show was bumped because of the November terror attacks. It was a good show and typical U2 – lots of emotion and technical gadgetry. Everything ascended at the encore, however, when the Eagles of Death Metal joined in (“Their stage was taken from them” during the attack on the Bataclan Theater, said Bono) for a powerful rendition of “People Have the Power.” It brought to mind Pete Townshend’s quote to the effect that rock and roll doesn’t get rid of you problems, but it let’s you dance all over them. Patti Smith was dancing in her living room, I’m sure.
Grateful Dead, live at Solider Field, 7/5 A perfect moment – 72,000 fans joined in ecstasy as the boys lit up the stadium with “China/Rider” and “Estimated Prophet.” The whole evening was a pure glide path of musicianship, love and humanity. Tears were shed.
Grateful Dead, “30 Trips Around the Sun” A box set of one full show from each of the 30 years the band played together, including a leather-bound book, a scroll documenting every song ever played, and a gold 7-inch with the first song recorded in 1965 (“Caution”) and the last song they played in 1995 (“Box of Rain”). An awesome display of an awesome career. There seems to be no end to the vault.
“Amy,” directed by Asif Kapadia Here’s another confession. I never really got Amy Winehouse until I saw this great documentary of her life and career. She was such a talent. She had a great ear for jazz, a unique singing style, a flamboyant, WTF lifestyle and utter authenticity (hello, Janis). If Tony Bennett compares her to Ella and Billie, that’s good enough for me. It prompted us to pick up the box set of her vinyl releases, from the great “Frank” to live cuts and some other rarities. She will get a lot of spin time all through 2016.
Snoop Dogg, “Bush” This was hands-down our house record of 2015. From “California Roll” to “Peaches N Cream,” just pure, hip-hopped lounge music. “Baby you can be a movie star/Get yourself a medical card/Cause that’s how California rolls.”
Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap, “The Silver Lining” TB and pianist extraordinaire Bill Charlap take on the Jerome Kern songbook and for an hour you’re transported to Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle. OK, I’ll have a second martini, if you insist.
Ryan Adams, “1989” Before he did it, no one would have predicted it. A cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989?” Really? Really. Of course, Ryan twists them around, but the quality and spirit of Taylor’s songs come through and it seems as if two generations are joined in a bigger, better thing. In an industry that’s getting ever more predictable, this was an astonishing surprise.
Jefferson Airplane, “Surrealistic Pillow,” Mobile Fidelity original master recording, 45 rpm This is a classic given a classic treatment. “White Rabbit” still sounds fresh. The flow of the record, from “She Has Funny Cars” through “Today,” “Embryonic Journey” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” is perfectly balanced. The ‘60s San Francisco terroir still shines through.
Chris Stapleton & Justin Timberlake, “Tennessee Whiskey,” live at the CMAs This burned down the house. They seem to be winding it down, then JT winds it up, big time. It was a mash-up in a way – JT’s Rat Pack vibe and Chris Stapleton’s back-country, ZZ Top, moonshiner vibe don’t seem to fit, but they did. As smooth as Tennessee Whiskey, indeed.
“Homeland,” Showtime It was the fifth season, set in Berlin, and better than ever. Carrie, Saul and Quinn are now like a family. Miranda Otto’s portrayal of the duplicitous Berlin station chief Alison is chilling and her scene in the hotel bathroom midway through the season when she thinks she has been exposed is a bravura piece of acting.
Happy New Year! Have a great 2016.