The Best Music of 2017 (to me)

Issue #7, January 2018

“What you won’t and what you will / Working for your dollar bill
Sad to see the old slave mill / Is grinding slow, but grinding still
Walking home, a youth gets killed / Police free to shoot at will
Sad to see the old slave mill / Is grinding slow, but grinding still
Nine to five you know the drill / Weekends are a short lived thrill
Sad to see the old slave mill / Is grinding slow, but grinding still
Cup runneth over till it spill / Take until they’ve had their fill
Sad to see the old slave mill / Is grinding slow, but grinding still.”

(Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, 2017)

Welcome to a new year, one that finds us in worse shape than we were in at the beginning of last year; here’s hoping things change for the better.

Musically, the past year had its’ highlights, but I still find the industry is going to hell in a handbasket.  When I worked for a major cable movie network some years ago, I was in charge of answering customer correspondence.  Some of the letters I received were in reference to new shows being broadcast, or those in current rotation on the channel; they were usually in protest of the content of the shows, and calling for them to be taken off the air.  My job was to defend the company’s anti-censorship viewpoint, in that whatever they broadcast, there was a market for it, and quite simply, if that market wasn’t you, then you were free to change the channel- the company didn’t believe in placating the sensibilities of some at the expense of the freedom of expression and choice of others.

Now I mention all of this to say that there is music (or stuff trying to pass as music) out there that I wish I didn’t hear;  there is so much gratuitous violence, graphic sexual content, and just general vulgarity out there in the music industry now that no-one bats an eye.  I made the mistake recently of purchasing a song from iTunes without fully listening to the message in it.  As we’ve all done, we heard the music- it cut a nice groove, nice beat, seemed to be a smooth track, but the version of the song that was played on the radio was different than the one I bought – it had different, cleaner lyrics.

It is at this point that I’m reminded of a letter I once received from a customer… in it, she wrote: “when I was young, the song that played on the radio was ‘how much is that doggie in the window?‘… when MY daughter listens to the radio, she hears ‘like a virgin, touched for the very first time‘…. I shudder to think what her daughter might listen to…”

Well, I have the answer for ya… she might hear something like this:

“Face down, ass up / Back, back, back it up / Lemme get both of them legs And put em both behind your head /This shit is gettin deep, deep up in there / Feel your legs gettin weak up in here / Get a face full of that gushy, I’m close baby don’t push me, this is how it always should be when… / When we… fuck…”

The question became: would I like to see stuff like this censored?  The answer is still ‘NO’.  There are people that like stuff like this, so they should have the right to listen to it.  If I don’t like it, I just won’t listen to it.  So I deleted the song off my playlist…  This brings me back to my opening quote- the slave mill that is the music industry allows, even encourages, then promotes and generates stuff like this to feed our minds and our spirits.  And as I raise my soon-to-be 4 year old daughter, I have to wonder what she will be listening to in a few years…

Almost all of the albums in my “Best Of” list were reviewed in earlier editions of NOW HEAR THIS!, so check the previous issues for the full reviews. Here are my 15 top album releases from 2017 (in no particular order)…

Chronixx “Chronology”

Chronixx-ChronologyMy overall top album of the year, the debut from this Jamaican singer is a varied affair of Reggae, R&B, Pop, Electronica, with songs of hope, inspiration, and empowerment.  Nominated for a Grammy, it is my choice for the Reggae category.

 Thievery Corporation “The Temple of I & I”

thievery corp-the templeofi&i The first great album released in ’17, TC went to Kingston, JA for inspiration, and produced an album’s worth of their signature brand of genre-blending dubtronica.

Chris Stapleton “From A Room, Vol. 1”

Chris-Stapleton-FromARoomVol1The man who is credited with bringing back real Country music gave us this first half of a duology of 18 tracks that displayed his talents worthy of its’ Grammy nomination, which I predict he’ll win.

Toro y Moi “Boo Boo”

toro-y-moi-boo-booLo-fi ambient funk and indie rock from Columbia, SC native Chaz Bundick is heavy on the 80’s aesthetic; a self-described “breakup album”, it is anything but its’ title…

 Valerie June “The Order of Time”

Valerie-June-The-Order-Of-Time The queen of self-described ‘Organic Moonshine Roots’ music, June mixes Country & Bluegrass with Folk, Blues, Soul, and Rock, and along with her distinctive vocalizing, she’s an experience unlike none other.

Rhiannon Giddens “Freedom Highway”

Rhiannon Giddens-Freedom-Highway Second solo album from Greensboro, NC native is a Roots music album mixing elements of Folk, Bluegrass, Ragtime & New Orleans style jazz into a deeply personal song cycle exploring the experiences of slaves as told in their words.  Haunting, chilling, and beautiful.

U2 “Songs of Experience”

U2-SongsofExperience The aging post-punksters show that their passion for world affairs still burns, their commentary being at turns mature and understated or blunt and incendiary.  Their best album in years, in my opinion.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings “Soul Of A Woman”

SharonJones-SoulofaWoman The final album from the hardest working woman in show business is one of her best.  She will be sorely missed.

Zeshan B “Vetted” 

 ZeshanB-Vetted From the North side of Chicago comes a 1st generation Indian-Muslim guy who sings Classic Soul music and original Indian tunes (in three languages) and plays the harmonium. Coming off like a curry Curtis Mayfield,  he does it well, too.

Mali Music “The Transition of Mali”

Mali Music-TheTransitionofMali He sings God-centric songs with a contemporary R&B and hip-hop flava- he strayed away from this a bit on this album (alienating some of his fans), but the spiritual message is still in his music most of the time, and it’s good all of the time.

Arcade Fire “Everything Now”

Arcade Fire-EverythingNow For all of the pretentious distractions that preceded the release of the album, and throughout its’ weird moments, it’s actually a pretty good statement on consumerism.

Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

Kendrick Lamar-DAMN One listen to the tracks “FEEL” and “FEAR” will tell you all you need to know about the tone of this Grammy-nominated album.  Kung-fu Kenny remains at the top of his game, and is well ahead of the rest of the hip hop heap. He will win several awards with this one.

ODESZA “A Moment in Time”

ODESZA-AMomentApart Seattle duo and darlings of the Sirius XM Chill channel, their third album is a multi-dimensional Electronica effort, something you can’t say about most albums in this genre.

Lizz Wright “Grace”

Lizz Wright-Grace Her best album to date, her personal ode to the Southern experience.  She mixes elements of Jazz, Blues, Folk, Gospel and Country into a tasty simmering stew.

Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley “Stony Hill”

DamianMarley-StonyHill Grammy-nominated album from one of the sons of the Marley empire is a mélange of different reggae styles, both fun and philosophical lyrically, and a worthy contender for the hardware.



Best Contemporary/Alt R&B Album

SZA “Ctrl”


The debut from this artist reads as a peek into her personal diary; it is an intimate look into the journey of a twentysomething woman navigating the pitfalls of life and love.  She connected with her target audience- others like her, and those of us also interested in taking the journey too.

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Kamasi Washington “Harmony of Difference”

Kamasi Washington-HarmontofDifference

This tenor saxophonist’s first album was a 17 track, nearly three hour, three CD set; this is essentially a mini-album of just six tracks covering just over a half-hour- short, to the point, and good.

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Gregory Porter “Nat ‘King’ Cole & Me”

Gregory Porter-NatKingCole&Me

Gregory covers the music of his childhood hero, done just the way he did it. Very lushly orchestrated, it makes for great listening music; of course, you won’t go wrong with this man’s rich baritone, either.

Best World Album

Somi “Petite Afrique”


This is a song cycle chronicling the immigrant experience as they attempt to assimilate into a gentrifying area of Harlem; for this daughter of Rwandan & Ugandan immigrants now living the experience, it is a personal statement that is well configured.

Best Video

Chronixx “Majesty”

The best video off the best album of 2017…


Best Remix

Portugal, the Man “Feel It Still (Medasin Remix)”

This bouncy little dance track off their “Woodstock” album is turned into a loungey, downtempo track that’ll have you bobbin’ ya head.  Here’s the track…


Best Use of a Sample

Bonobo “Kerala”

I always knew someone would sample that part of Brandy’s track “Baby” where she elongates the title word; Bonobo turns it into a tribal chant over an infectious dance groove off his “Migration” album.  Here’s the crazy video for it…

By maestrotjd

I'm a music head. A classically trained violinist/violist literate from chant to Chopin to Copland, Soul man, aging Punk, Classic rocker, Alt rocker, Church choir man, House head, Techno, Industrial guy, almost Rasta, Ska & Rock Steady baby, Junglist, Dubstep to Two-step to Chicago old school steppin', Lounge & Exotica, World Fusion, Latin & Bossa Nova dude, Jazz man from Swing to Bebop to Acid, Trip hop and Hip hop, ya don't stop, a lil bit Country, Gospel, and everything in between. These are my musings (or ramblings).

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