Preston Frazier’s Best of 2017 (So Far): Lara Bello, Hattie Webb, Nick Finzer + others
Preston Frazier surveys a varied list of releases for his Best of 2017 (So Far) list, taking in everything from jazz to pop to blues to prog or things that are, quite thrillingly, simply outside of any general category …
LARA BELLO – SIKAME (JAZZ/POP): Mixing superb and haunting lyrics (mostly in Spanish) with and incredibly versatile and effective voice, Bello has produced one of the most haunting albums of 2017. The album of almost all original material cast fine flamenco instrumentation with a subtly complementary production to leave the listener captivated. This one is not to be missed. Indeed, Lara Bello’s writing and vocals are so captivating that it’s nearly impossible to listen to all of Sikame in one sitting, from the opener “Sola” to the enticing “La Semilla.” But it doesn’t take repeated listenings to figure out how this made our Best of 2017 (So Far) list. Check out “Sikame” and “Our Spanish Love Song,” as well.
HATTIE WEBB – TO THE BONE (ROOTS/POP): If you have heard any of the late Leonard Cohen’s live recordings over the last decade then you’ve probably heard Hattie Webb. As part of the Webb sisters with sister Charley, Hattie helped elevate already great songs along with singer Sharon Robinson. Webb’s Best of 2017 (So Far) solo release To the Bone continues her musical journey of enlightenment. For this first solo work, she composed 13 stunning yet intimate songs and, in short order, recorded them with Marcel van Limbeek. Piano, guitar, harp and percussion (played by journeyman Pedro Segundo) all intertwine to paint an unmistakable sonic landscape. Take a listen to “River” and “To the Bone” for a taste of greatness.
NICK FINZER – HEAR AND NOW (JAZZ): This has been a great year for jazz trombonists, and Nick Finzer’s Hear and Now is a case and point. His chops are unmistakable, but the album also shows his continued growth as a composer and band leader. Check out “Lullaby for an Old Friend,” which gives Finzer an opportunity to dazzle listeners with his muted trombone overtop a pensive and introspective melody. And “Race to the Bottom” seems to be a frenzied reflection of our troubling life and times. This is pure jazz magic.
RAUL MIDON – BAD ASS AND BLIND (JAZZ): Singer/guitarist Raul Midon returns with a self-produced effort that highlights his many talents. Midon 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.”
ADAM STEFFECK – AVIATOR (JAZZ/FOLK): Is this Jazz? Fingerstyle guitar? Acoustic rock? However you categorize our next Best of 2017 (So Far) entry, there is no mistaking that Steffeck is a talented composer and musician. Songs like He kicks things off in fine form with the track “Take a Right, Then Straight Ahead,” a captivating opener, with a dense and percussive feeling initially. Songs like “Buried in Dust and Ruin” conjure up visions of a fast-moving storm: Grace and deadly power. The song, as with all of Aviator, is cinematic in scale, bold in concept and brilliant in execution. This is, indeed, a fine debut.
JESSIE SMITH – LIKE THE SUN (BLUES): Nashville-based Jessie Smith brings her fiery brand of blues to the forefront with Like the Sun. The album 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 settling for Smith’s powerful songs and voice. In the end, Jessie Smith’s stunning debut LP speaks for itself. Check it out.
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 of 2017 (So Far) honoree, Judith Owen reaches and achieves a higher level of stunning sophistication. The title track and “Send Me a Line” are standouts among standouts.
PROJEKT GEMINEYE – ORDINARY DAY (PROG/ROCK): Our final entry in the Best of 2017 (So Far) combines heavy guitar elements with Pink Floyd-style keyboards, all in support of unmistakable melodic hooks. The lead-off track “An Ordinary Day” segments kicks things off in fine form. Second song “The Future” then builds on the momentum. Composer Mark Anthony K shows off his melodic skills with finely honed acoustic and electric guitar patterns which captivate and buoy the thought-provoking lyrics throughout. Add in empathetic production, and not much else is needed.