Living Colour, Steve Hackett, David Crosby, Michael McDonald + Others: Preston Frazier’s Best Rock and Pop of 2017
Preston Frazier’s Best Rock and Pop of 2017 list touches on projects from established legends like Living Colour, Steve Hackett, Michael McDonald and David Crosby, as well as up-and-coming and criminally under-appreciated acts that are just as deserving of praise. Click through for extended reviews and Frazier’s exclusive interviews …
10. RAUL MIDON – BADASS AND BLIND (ROCK / FUSION): We begin this list of Best Rock and Pop of 2017 albums a self-produced effort that highlights Raul Midon’s many talents. The singer/guitarist combines the best elements of rock, jazz and even hip hop to produce 11 tracks which forcefully proclaim his undeniable talents as a composer and band leader. Check out his jazz-infused song “All That I Am,” and his powerful cover of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.”
9. BURT BACHARACH AND TONIO K – ORIGINAL DEMOS (POP): What do you get when you put a pop songwriting legend with a contemporary songstress? Hit song after hit song? Our next Best Rock and Pop of 2017 honoree is just that. These 14 tracks, presented in their raw demo form, reveal Burt Bacharach’s true musical craft and wonder. “If I Should Lose You” is the first composition of the songwriting duo, and is a gem. The song, notably recorded as an added studio track to Chicago XXVI: The Live Album, still retains its intensity even as a demo, where it was sung by Billy Valentine. “Never Take That Chance Again” is even more stunning, with its compassionate delivery by the late Warren Wiebe. The romance and anguish is as clear on the demo as it was on the Diane Schuur release. “Count On Me,” a song which found its way onto 2014’s Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach threatens to eclipse the studio version, with Bill Champlin providing a demo vocal which amazes. This is a must-own from 2017.
8. ERIC LEEDS AND PAUL PETERSON – NO WORDS (FUNK / JAZZ ROCK): You may only know Paul Peterson and Eric Leeds from their work with Prince or offshoot bands the Family and fDeluxe. If that’s all you know of them however, you are doing you ears an injustice. While both are brilliant R&B and rock performers, this duet’s crowd-funded release No Words shows off the amazing jazz composition and playing skills. Released in late 2017, the album has obvious funk and rock elements but the jazz force runs strong in Leeds and Peterson’s veins. As a result, songs like “Burnin’ Steel” and “Quick to Dismiss (featuring the Roots’ Questlove) can do no wrong. This is a must-own for Prince fans, the Family fans and fans of eclectic jazz.
7. LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM AND CHRISTINE MCVIE – LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM CHRISTINE MCVIE (POP ROCK): What started out as a Fleetwood Mac album ended as something much greater than the sum of its parts. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie seemed to work better without Steve Nicks, producing an album more consistent than their last full studio effort, 1987’s Tango in the Night. Buckingham’s production seems scaled back yet casts McVie’s matured voice in the best light, allowing for the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to work their understated magic. “In My World” and “Too Far Gone” rock convincingly and show these two have not lost their magic touch.
6. JESSIE SMITH – LIKE THE SUN (BLUES ROCK): Nashville-based Jessie Smith brings her fiery brand of blues to the forefront with this next Best Rock and Pop of 2017 entry. Like the Sun has a huge infusion of soul which permeates songs like “Secrets in the Hallow” and “Junkyard God.” Smith’s writing prowess belies her age, yet reflects her musical journey. Producer Nellson Hubbard provides a perfect setting for Smith’s powerful songs and voice. In the end, Jessie Smith’s stunning debut LP speaks for itself. Check it out.
5. MICHAEL McDONALD – WIDE OPEN (ROCK / R&B): Yes, this is the same guy who wrote one of the best anthems of the ’70s, “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Our next Best Rock and Pop of 2017 finalist finds Michael McDonald ramping up the sound and rock: “Free a Man” features funky guitar contributions from Michael Landau, and a smoking tenor solo from Tom Scott. Drummer and co-producer Shannon Forrest assists McDonald throughout Wide Open, providing the building blocks for this great album, but the star is clearly McDonald’s still-distinctive and superb voice and songwriting. The song “Hail Mary” only drops a hint of what is to come. It’s deeply relationship-focused and powerful, with McDonald delivering a subtle lead vocal supported by guest vocalist Amy Holland-McDonald. In the end, Wide Open may well be Michael McDonald’s most musically dense and compelling studio project. That’s saying something, considering all the musical highlights in his fantastic career.
4. JUDITH OWEN – SOMEBODY’S CHILD (POP): How does this talented singer-songwriting, piano-playing voice actor follow up her stellar 2014 release, Ebb and Flow? By looking forward and digging deeper into her dark and formidable muse. While some of the singer-songwriter textures that permeated Ebb and Flow are evident on this Best Rock and Pop of 2017 honoree, Judith Owen reaches and achieves a higher level of stunning sophistication. The title track and “Send Me a Line” are standouts among standouts.
3. DAVID CROSBY – SKY TRAILS (POP ROCK): Sky Trails finds David Crosby continuing an exciting collaborative comeback already in evidence with his prior release, 2016’s Lighthouse. Here, Crosby delivers some of the best writing of his storied career. Part of the credit for the focus here goes to his son, producer/keyboardist James Raymond. Raymond’s song “She’s Got to Be Somewhere” is a perfect kick off to the album, setting the mood for everything that follows. Crosby is more than up to the challenge vocally, and the songs he’s co-written with Raymond, or co-written with Michael McDonald (yes, that Michael McDonald), Becca Steven or Mai Agan move Sky Trails forward convincingly.
2. STEVE HACKETT – THE NIGHT SIREN (PROG ROCK): Luckily for progressive rock fans, Steve Hackett has been the sole ex-member keeping the Genesis flame burning. Not that the guitarist has rested on his laurels: In fact, Hackett has been producing vibrant new music for decades. The Night Siren, our runner-up for Best Rock and Pop of 2017 album, ups the ante with a combination of stunning world music, progressive epics which we have come to know and love from Steve Hackett, and guitar playing second to no one. “The Gift,” through Hackett’s solo guitar, seems to take the listener full circle, providing a ray of hope that we can have a dialogue and resolve our differences. It’s quite an accomplishment given the song is an instrumental and under three minutes long. But that’s how effective Steve Hackett’s vision and his execution are throughout The Night Siren.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Corey Glover joined Preston Frazier to discuss how the blues-influenced ‘Shade’ fits into Living Colour’s storied canon – and why he refused to include one particular song.]
1. LIVING COLOUR – SHADE (ROCK): Living Colour is easy to take for granted. The venerable hard rock outfit has been around for decades, with minimal changes. They have produced album after album with brilliantly played funk-infused hard rock. Never mind that Living Colour did take a brief hiatus, and every member has stellar side projects. These gentlemen are among the busiest in rock / funk / jazz music. It’s almost inconceivable then that it’s been eight years since their last full length effort, The Chair In the Doorway. Our top Best Rock and Pop of 2017 honoree remedied this oversight in a big way. The 10-original band-written songs and three covers reflect four musicians who are not content with resting on their laurels. Is Shade the best ever Living Colour album? Maybe, but that’s such a tall order. Still it’s the an album which must be heard, and listened to repeatedly, which is why it tops this list.
BEST ROCK AND POP OF 2017 HONORABLE MENTIONS
MAKING MOVIES – I AM ANOTHER YOU (POP ROCK): Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, “I Am Another You” tells stories of immigrants’ journeys to and through America, delivering another compelling musical statement from Making Movies. This first Best Rock and Pop of 2017 honorable-mention project is so socially powerful that it’s almost easy to overlook the acumen and power of the band – almost. Songs like “Brave Enough” and “Spinning Out” are as musically captivating as they are compelling.
WORLD TRADE – UNIFY (PROG ROCK): Billy Sherwood must not believe in getting sleep. Before his tours with both Asia and Yes, Sherwood’s band World Trade released their third album. Unlike Sherwood’s other band Circa, who released a prog-rock classic last year, World Trade has more of an AOR feel – but that doesn’t mean the album is any less well-crafted or well written. Songs like “Where We’re Going” and “Unify” demonstrate a songcraft seldom heard on rock radio today.
DORI FREEMAN – LETTERS NEVER READ (POP): Dori Freeman’s second release may well be more captivating than her 2016 self titled debut. This Best Rock and Pop of 2017 honorable-mention album, again produced by Teddy Thompson (a stellar singer/songwriter in his own right), does not rely on gimmicks. Freeman’s songwriting is heartfelt and vivid; her voice is evocative and true. The album opening “If I Could Make You My own” makes great use of her vocal talents, and her small core band of Nick Falk, Jon Graboff and Teddy Thompson. Her cover of Linda and Richard Thompson’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” will put a smile on your face, but Dori Freeman’s gifts as a singer/songwriter will keep it there for a long time.