Best of 2015: New Music

2015 has been another year of wonderful musical discoveries for me. Putting the lie to the tired argument that “there’s no good music any more” (oh, shut up), my Top 5 list of new albums includes music by acts that are either (a) relatively new and/or (b) new to me, at least. There are couple of sentimental favorites here, to be sure, but I wouldn’t have included them if the albums didn’t move me in a significant way.


JD McPherson — Let the Good Times Roll
I was absolutely knocked out when I first heard Reform School Girl by Nick Curran, and his tragic death not long thereafter robbed us of a supreme talent. So when I heard JD McPherson‘s Let the Good Times Roll, I felt that I had discovered someone with a similar sensibility. Come to find out McPherson dedciates the album to the late Curran. Can’t beat that, but Let the Good Times Roll succeeds wholly on its own terms. This is truly what rock’n’roll (of any era) is about. Superb and essential.


The Mavericks — Mono
I first saw The Mavericks at the Americana Music Awards and Conference in 2012. I remember thinking to myself “if this is Americana, count me in.” I saw them again at AMA this year, and they were even better. Rallying in the face of losing a key member, The Mavericks went on to create what very well may be their best album, a knowing synthesis of many American musical forms. Any given kind of music is rarely all things to all people, but Mono comes tantalizingly close.


Todd Rundgren et. al. — Runddans
I’m on record as a rabid fan of Todd Rundgren. But at times, it’s easier to admire than actually enjoy his endless experimentation. The man defines eclecticism, and as a result, everything he does won’t resonate with all listeners. I, for one, most appreciate his progressive-leaning work from the mid 1970s. And on his latest – released almost concurrently with another album of his, Rundgren works with a pair of young musicians from Scandinavia. The result – the ambient Runddans – is, for me, the best thing he’s done in years. And that’s saying something.

The Zombies — Still Got That Hunger
The Zombies were one of the most unjustly-overlooked acts of the 1960s, right up there with Moby Grape and Love (to name but two). The belated recognition of Odessey and Oracle‘s greatness came too late for the by-then-defunct band to enjoy it. They reunited several years ago, touring to wide acclaim. They phrase “they still got it” applies perfectly to them. And with Still Got That Hunger, they’re produced a worthy followup to their Summer of Love classic. The only thing more to say is that as good as Still Got That Hunger is, the Zombies live onstage are even better.


Donovan’s Brain — Heirloom Varieties
Maybe you’ve never heard of Donovan’s Brain. But if you dig sixties rock and the “paisley underground” scene of the 1980s, you’ll delight in this album of music by veterans of the latter. Heirloom Varieties is timeless.

…And Still More…
It was tough picking only five this year; two others that – if my mood had been only slightly different when I did the choosing – would have made the list are Dengue Fever‘s The Deepest Lake and I Don’t Prefer No Blues by American treasure Leo “Bud” Welch.


And there’s another title that really belongs in the Top 5 list — I’m not sure which of the above it would bump to take the spot — but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it just yet. The Junior League‘s “Also Rans” is a truly special album that’s informed by sixties country-flavored rock (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield), 80s paisley underground scene, and much more. Look for a full review of “Also Rans” in 2016, but don’t wait: go buy it now.