Norman’s 2017 Music Review


The year 2017 was a very good year for music in Edmonton and in my life. A rough tally says that I went to see about 70 artists live, some were in small venues and others were in larger concerts or festivals. I also listened to about 700 full albums in various formats; LP, CD, streaming, iTunes, cassette, and even reel to reel. I also had the bonus of listening to my son Joel practice in our basement, sometimes solo and sometimes with his band, New Romancer. A very good year of listening indeed, diverse, eclectic, and occasionally loud, good ear protection is mandatory, not optional.

This year I attempted and was relatively good at, keeping a list of everything I listened to. Well, not everything. I didn’t include sampling such as listening to one song from an album, I didn’t include radio, and I didn’t include ambient such as Muzak or music heard in record stores, with the exception of a few that I played start to finish while I was working at Record Collectors Paradise. Anyhow, I ended up with a list of 700, give or take a few, albums. Now, what do I do with all this information? I do some data mining of course.

The most listened to artist was a band called Various Artists, I managed to listen to 37 full albums by Various Artists. Some of these were trips down memory lane such as greatest hits of, let’s say the ’70’s. Some of these were historical compilations such as field recordings of early blues music, one of my favourites was a collection of early recordings at Sun Studios in Memphis. It’s special because I bought it in Sun Studios in Memphis and it is also a very good listen to some early rock and roll/country/blues mashups.

Most listened to by a single artist or group was Pink Floyd, no surprise there if you know me at all, with 17 albums spun and Animals as the single most played album with 5. I also had the privilege of seeing Roger Waters live at Rogers Place this year, and David Gilmore almost live at an exclusive showing of his movie, Live at Pompeii. More on live shows later on.

Exactly 1/10th of my listens were 2017 releases, an interesting coincidence and a good indication of the quality of new music coming out. Of course, I didn’t listen to a fraction of the new music, let alone the old music. This isn’t a best of showcase, I seldom listen to top ten, or a list of music that I think you should listen to. This is just a listing of what I listened to in 2017 and what I enjoyed musically.

Now, getting back to albums that were issued in 2017. The most listened to album and artist/band was a tie between High Plains and their album Cinderland and Saanhet with their album So Numb at 5 listens to each. It is difficult to classify or pigeonhole Saanhet, I think Wikipedia nails it with “experimental metal”. You can look it up here: Cinderland by High Plains is similar but closer to ambient.

I found both of these albums by following threads in iTunes, Wikipedia or other sources. I hadn’t heard of them until I stumbled upon them but I am sure glad that I took the time to listen to them.

Sannhet is an edgy instrumental band that creates vast sonic landscapes where they play with sound. Fuzzy guitars float in and out, the drums maintain a backing with solid bass lines and synthesizers add to the mix and fill in the overall sound. Very good in my opinion.

From iTunes: “High Plains is the duo of Scott Morgan and Mark Bridges. Morgan, based in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, is predominantly known for his drifting, textured soundscapes released under the pseudonym loscil. Bridges is an accomplished, classically-trained cellist residing in Madison, Wisconsin. The two met in Banff, Alberta while they were simultaneously there on residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2014.”

I love the smooth relaxed tones that they create, reminiscent of Brian Eno or some other ambient players, but still fresh and original. Great listening to any time but appreciated most when I can sit still and listen to the details.

Saanhet were not the only experimental metal that I listened to, Giles Corey’s self-titled album from 2015 was my most listened to album of 2017 at 6 spins. This is for sure a goto album for me, rated right up there with DSOTM, Blue Train, and Time Out. Feeling a bit down? I goto one of these albums. Feeling a bit feisty? I goto one of these albums. Want some nice music to listen to while reading? I goto one of these albums. This year Giles Corey became a member of the goto list.

Another on my goto list was a band that Joel introduced me to, Planning For Burial. I got hooked on the album Below The House and was fortunate to find a vinyl copy in Calgary at Sloth Records. Joel also gave me a cassette of alternate takes of the album so I can listen to this great music in various formats. Solid, solid, solid, Below The House.

Most listened to 2017 country, folk or Americana artist or group goes to 3 different artists who tied for most listens, make that 4. Willie Nelson with his great new release: God’s Problem Child, Margo Price with her very Nashville smooth sounds on Midwest Farmers Daughter, Colter Wall with his Self Titled album, and Dan Tyminski with American Gothic.

Willie Nelson did not surprise me by being on this list since I often listen to his other albums and his collaborations such as The Outlaws. This isn’t a nod to sentimentality though, I really liked this new release. It is very “Willie Nelson” so if you like his other albums you will most likely enjoy this one as well.

The Margo Price album, Midwest Farmers Daughter, is actually a 2016 release but I only discovered it this year so I am fudging a bit to squeeze her in between 3 solid 2017 releases.

The third album in this category was one that caught me by surprise, Colter Wall had flown under my radar and risen to almost cult status before I found out about him. He did a show in Edmonton and it was impossible to get tickets, a good indication of his popularity, I don’t know how I missed that. I have listened to his music since and absolutely love it. A Saskatchewan boy with the voice of a gnarled veteran and the songwriting sensibilities of someone twice his age. I would venture to say that he is this year’s, Sturgill Simpson.

A very interesting listen that I absolutely loved and have in heavy rotation is on the edge of Americana, blues, traditional, and new country. That album is Southern Gothic by Dan Tyminski, the driving force behind the song Man Of Constant Sorrow on the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a long time member of Allison Krauss and Union Station. This album, Southern Gothic, grabbed my ears on the first listen and has not let go. High recommended.

Other notable mentions of 2017: Arcade Fire with Everything now, an album that I enjoy more and more each listen. Having seen them perform it live was an added bonus.

New Pornographers with Whiteout Conditions, not as strong a listen as some of their previous material. I saw them live for the Together Tour and again for the Whiteout Tour and I didn’t feel the same energy with Whiteout Conditions on tour or on vinyl that I felt with the Together tour and album. Maybe it will grow on me with enough listens.

A blast from the past had Pink Floyd on top with 17 listens for the band and 5 for the album Animals. King Crimson had 12 listens scatted through their catalog, I saw them in 2015 and I think the euphoria of that amazing concert is still reverberating in my ears. My first listen to King Crimson was in a little record store in Montreal in 1970, I was first drawn to the music which was playing while I browsed the bins, so I went to the counter to find out what was making that sound that I liked so much. And then the cover hit my eyeballs. I haven’t stopped listening to the King Crimson since then. The next blast comes courtesy of The Beatles with 7 album listens and 3 of them were of Sgt. Peppers. I bought the remaster release that came out this year and did a comparison between it on CD, the original on vinyl and the original of the CD. I like the remastered version, not necessarily the best but for right now it is my goto listen of Sgt. Pepper.

Another notable listen was Nick Cave, Spacemen 3, Low Roar ( I rate their live show as one of the best I have ever been to), Jackson Brown Running on Empty and Black Grape. Not year specific but just artists that I listened to more than twice.

Stepping away from pop/rock/etc. for a moment and visit what I listened to in the realm of jazz. Borderlands Trio and their 2017 release Asteroidia. This album came out of nowhere and blew me away. It is avant-garde jazz, whatever that means, I just plain like it as a great music album.

Freddie Hubbard’s album Red Clay also got a few spins, his album Sing Me A Song Of Songme is very high on my want list and if I ever get it it will portably go to number one with a bullet.

BadBadNotGood, no specific album, just lots of good listens. I look forward to seeing them live in 2018.

Kamashi Washington, Harmony of Difference. This is also a 2017 album and is very, very good. If this were a top ten list, which it is not, this would probably be near the top.

Locally Wilfred N and the Grown Men got a fair amount of listening time, nothing new but some solid stuff from the past. Lutra Lutra is another local band that I listened to this year and saw live, good stuff that will only get better.

Notable mentions of retro music: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bob Dylan (saw him live, finally, and was underwhelmed), Miles Davis, Nick Cave (Murder Ballads), Michael Knott, Neil Young (his archive), of Montreal (great live show), and The Clash (who appear on my year-end list almost every year).

That takes care of the listens from the comfort of home, now we can move on to the live shows of 2017. This is tough because there were a lot and I don’t want this list to be a best of so I’ll start with A for Arcade Fire, on tour for their new album Everything Now, at Rogers Place. We had good seats in the lower bowl and Arcade Fire presented a great show. The sound was better than the old Northlands building and the seats were quite comfortable. Fortunately, we didn’t have anyone in the seats immediately around us so we could focus unperturbed on the show. Arcade Fire showcased their new material from Everything Now and premiered the song Good God, Damn on the night we went. They are very energetic, the music was well paced and there were a few nuggets from their past albums as a bonus. A really good show all in all.

In no particular order for other concerts of 2017, Roger Waters doing Us and Them live at Rogers Place. This time we were in the upper bowl. The seats are not as roomy, the stairs are steeper and the assholes who think it’s ok to smoke weed during the show were major negatives. The positive is that Roger Waters puts on a show that is second to none. Great music and a constantly changing set, pyro, and lasers all added up to a very good experience despite the assholes smoking and irritating my lungs.

Rural Alberta Advantage is a band that we try to see every time they come to town. They actually recognize us now. I think we saw them 4 or 5 times this year, you can count them here: They never fail to put on an all-out performance that leaves me wanting to see them again.

David Gilmour, almost live. It was an exclusive screening of his performance at Pompeii which is one of the defining moments in the band that he used to play with, Pink Floyd. This time there was an evening show with lots of lasers, lights and dramatic camera work. It was good, I don’t think he is as strong live as Roger Waters but that is counting apples and oranges and in the end, they are both good, but in different ways.

Patrick Watson with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bill Eddins. Wow! I don’t know how to put this experience down in words. It was emotional. It was awe inspiring. It was a sonic masterpiece. It was WOW! One of the best music experiences of my life and that is pretty lofty.

We went as a family to the Jubilee Auditorium to see The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their tour to celebrate their 50th year of being a band. Interesting fact: I saw them at the same venue 40 years ago, Steve Martin was their opening act. Yes, the comedian Steve Martin, who also happens to be an accomplished banjo player. Nitty Gritty was good 40 years ago and are still a very polished and entertaining band.

Joel and I spent 4 days at The Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I hadn’t been there since 1988. Too long of a gap between shows. To any new Christians reading this: don’t throw out your records and cassettes and keep going to concerts. All music is good music.
I can’t put my finger on one artist or group that blew me away except for Shaky Graves who actually played at a local club because of a potential storm warning that evacuated the park where the festival was. A few good moments at the festival were Mary Gauthier singing Mercy Now, Rodney Crowell, and 100 Hundred Mile House. As much as I enjoyed going back to the Festival, it took a heavy toll on me physically. I will have to reevaluate whether I am up to it next year.

Seven Music Festival in St. Albert was a one-day event that featured a few local artists of varying degrees of enjoyment for me. The highlights were The Strumbellas closing the show, Rural Alberta Advantage yet again, and two local acts with very interesting names: The Royal Foundry and The Provincial Archives. This was a very good one-day event and I would most likely go again, especially if Strumbellas or RAA are playing.

Low Roar provided me with one of the highlight live performances of the year, perhaps of all time. They absolutely, totally engaged me to the point of hoping they wouldn’t stop playing. Great people too who engaged with us after the show. I have gone back to their recordings as well and still enjoy them very much.

And last but not least: New Romancer live in our basement.

It was a very good year for both live and recorded music. Probably the most that I have listened for many a year. The numbers are good but the enjoyment is the real reason I keep listening and going to shows. It’s all about the music and I look forward to 2018, we already have a few shows on the horizon.AMI Jukebox

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