They say art thrives in the face of chaos, that genius requires difficulty that must be overcome. 2017 was a difficult year for many—to the benefit of roots music, and hopefully, eventually, to the greater good. We lost friends like Glen Campbell and Don Williams, and met many new friends, here in Colorado and across the Americana landscape.
To answer the poet Robbie Burns, no, auld acquaintance should not be forgot, neither the artists nor their art. That’s what makes good roots music: We honor where we came from, we look to where we are going, and wonder how we do better today.
I scrobbled a LOT of music in 2017: 37,023 tracks played, most since I joined last.fm back in radio days. That’s likely to abate in 2018, since the corporate masters at last.fm won’t update the Scrobbler app for iOS. And their ads are increasingly spammy. I don’t mind ads, when they don’t screw up the technology. It’s like radio for the 21st Century. But last.fm, and increasingly Spotify, really could step up their user experience other than trying to drive us to paid content.
Back in March, I warned you Alison Krauss was going to dominate 2017 and she certainly did on my playlist. Many of the trendy reviewers dismissed Windy City as a covers album. I don’t care though the multiple editions were confusing. I’ve also got some other anomalies in the Scrobble lists:
- Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams / Walden Wofford & the Hi*Beams / Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams—My favorite Colorado band and only band my wife & I both agree to see live whenever we can. They are on Spotify now with “and” instead of Ampersand, a perpetual bane of consistent scrobbling. I prefer the ‘&’ since that’s what’s on their album covers. So, anyway, add in 249 scrobbles to #24’s 272 pushes them way up to 521 and the honky tonkers push Johnny Cash out of 4th Place Artist of 2017.
- Zephaniah Ohora and The 18 Wheelers / Zephaniah Ohora—new artist debut with a catchy classic Country sound. Spotify initially had the full band name, then changed it for most of the album. 142 for the band + 81 for the artist slots Zephaniah at 223, tied with Sand Sheff at #36 but he floats to the top in Album & Track lists.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives brought it home for me with Way Out West, a net-traditional Country & Western album that evokes the scenery out my back door, deserts and mountains and the good and not-so-good in this life. The AMA got it right recognizing Marty & the Superlatives for Americana Group of the Year. The album isn’t so straight-forward as Marty’s Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota yet it clearly builds on that sonic experience. And while I played one track more than others it’s not an album of singles—it’s an album of songs and stories.
- Alison Krauss’ Windy City came out in multiple editions—regularly, crispy & extra crispy. No, actually, but I have one version on my phone, another ripped from the Target Deluxe Edition, and other plays from Spotify. So add 136 + 183 to 304 and #4 becomes 623 to take the #1 spot, by alot.
- Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams’ Missing Link, add 101 played on iTunes with ‘&’ to 190 on Spotify for 291 at album #5.
- Zephaniah Ohora‘s was a debut with no prior singles (at least not on Spotify) so the artist spins = album spins 223, which pushes Jason Isbell & his band out of Album #11.
With so much good roots music coming out this year, and playing so much music all year long, my year end list does strongly resemble my first-half of the year album list. This includes Marty Stuart, Aaron Watson’s Vaquero, and last year’s top album Left Arm Tan’s Lorene, which didn’t show up on Spotify until later this year. Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton released good music that was recognized by AMA radio and many fans, but I think they can both do better. Lee Ann Womack, Dori Freeman and Whitney Rose released VERY strong country/folk albums late in the year. Lot of staying power that will form a foundation for 2018.
The Mavericks released another catchy album in Brand New Day and the title track became my optimistic start to many a band new day in 2017, usually followed by Alison & “Windy City”. To counter that unnatural optimism, I counter programmed Lindi Ortega’s “Til the Goin’ Gets Gone”, Sunny Sweeney’s “Bottle by My Bed.” and Amanda Anne Platt’s “Eden”. Sweeney’s lament is just a darn good song. Amanda Anne’s (of The Honeycutters) story of going home to the Midwest hit a nerve. And fortunately Lindi decided to go back on tour and counter her own swan song, crowdsourcing funding for a new album this year. The internets sometimes give as well as take away.
- Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beam‘s title track “Missing Link” adds 20 from ‘&’ for 112 spins to push fellow Coloradoans Songs of the Fall‘s “Lucky” out of #5.
- Zephaniah Ohora “High Class City Girl from the Country”, my favorite track on his debut, got 40 with the artist and 40 with the band, so 80 equals #14 on the singles chart.
I continued to spin last year’s top track, Dori Freeman’s “Where I Stood”. Corb Lund’s “S Lazy H” actually got more love this year than last. Corb just struck a cord on a very difficult year with a classic Country & Western lament of doing your darnedest in the face of adversity. That’s my country, too.