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Mike Dow Mike Dow
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2015 in music (my faves)

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'What? No Adele?' I imagine an uber-fan of the wildly popular British vocalist and songwriter saying while scanning the list below for her latest, '25.' I pretty much love everything about Adele, but I honestly haven't heard the new album yet. 'He should be beaten in the kidney with a tree branch,' the uber-fan is now saying.

I have plenty of catching up to do, but that's one of the great things about music there is no expiration date. If it's good, I'll find it. Now that I've unloaded that caveat, I'm excited to share with you the 2015 titles that are still in heavy rotation at my house.

I'll present these in no particular order of importance or greatness. Take it for what it's worth: these are merely my favorites from among the new albums that I heard this year.

As it turns out, four of them were either made in Maine or recorded by an artist from Maine. The talent in this state continues to amaze me.

Chris Ross and The North Young Once'

Album number three from Chris Ross is a complete knockout. Surrounding himself with excellent musicians committed to the songs (and the grand rock tradition of 'being a band') Chris Ross and The North deliver 11 perfect tracks on 'Young Once.' Whether writing about characters real or imagined or crafting vignettes about what it takes to just keep going, Ross's songs are as relatable as they are memorable. Take 'Annabelle,' 'Drunk Women' and 'When The Dark Allows' three very different songs and all appearing back to back on the record. Each plays like a mini-movie written by someone who has lived every word. The songs may come from a deeply personal place, but it's one that is familiar to anyone with a heart, and that's one of the reasons Ross's audience has expanded so much over the last few years. Musically, 'Young Once' is his most varied album to date. A perfect marriage of melody and grit, the songs drive the band. I hope it's not another three years until we hear the next album, but if so, he's given us plenty to keep us happy until then.

Pugwash Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)'

So you like gorgeously-crafted pop songs of heart, mind and soul, beautifully recorded and bursting with unexpected twists and sounds? This is the record for you. Recorded last winter at The Kinks' KONK studios in London by engineer Guy Massey (The Beatles, Ed Sheeran), Dublin-based Pugwash have added a perfect record number six to their flawless canon. Thomas Walsh's beguiling songs run the gamut of style and execution and are full of melodies that drift in and out of your consciousness from the first listen. This album oozesvervefrom the opening thrash of 'Kicking and Screaming' to the epic, dream-like closing track, 'We Are Everywhere.' Cameos from Ray Davies, Andy Partridge, Jeff Lynne and Neil Hannon add to the embarrassment of riches. A masterpiece. Once you've absorbed this album, you need to acquire last year's 'A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash' - 17-carefully plucked gems from the band's first 15 years.

Spencer Albee Mistakes Were Made'

When I wrote about this album in April, I called it 'the album of the yearso far.' Making every moment count, Albee's latest packs a punch. There's a theme to these songs, but each of them stands on their own. From the opening title track to the closing 'Come Home,' the songs chronicle the rise, fall and hopeful resurrection of a relationship, and manage to do it without a second of 'woe is me' melodrama. The songs are equal parts excitement, dreaminess, tragedy and comedy. Draped with melody and realized with a vast sonic landscape, 'Mistakes Were Made' is a stunning record. Selfishly, I would love to hear a sequel, but Albee moves quickly and I suspect that he's already onto something new. Also recommended is a digital-only compilation issued late last year called 'Signature Half-Step | A Retrospective' - a collection of Albee's solo work from 2000-2014. It's a perfect primer for 'Mistakes Were Made.'

Zach Jones Love What You Love'

I really love this record. Zach Jones has been quietly creating wonderful albums for years. A Maine native currently living in Los Angeles, Jones's sixth outing, 'Love What You Love,' is an organic hybrid of pop, rock, soul and folk, dripping with melody. I can't remember where I first heard his songs, but I do recall wondering why it had taken me so long. From Jones's website, I had ordered (and listened endlessly to) his two previous albums, 'The Days' and 'Things Were Better,' and anxiously awaited the arrival of 'Love What You Love.' The wait was worth it. Utilizing a vintage production aesthetic, Jones's songs recall his heroes (and many of mine) while remaining purely original. His love of classic pop, rock and soul, in the form of Stevie Wonder, The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, Lennon & McCartney, Brian Wilson, The Zombies and others, can be heard throughout. Jones is informed by his influences but always manages to come up with songs that are distinctly his own. I can't wait to hear what he does next.

An Overnight Low Piccadilly'

On their second album, this Portland-based band continues a planned thematic trilogy that serves as a musical love letter begun last year with 'Euston.' Songwriter and bassist Chad Walls, (a former resident of and frequent traveler to the United Kingdom), has devoted the group's second release to the city of Manchester, England, where he earned a doctorate. The 10 tracks on 'Piccadilly' showcase that city's diverse character (rockin' and occasionally dangerous at night, classically regal by day) with a breathtaking blend of jangly pop, Byrds-infused rock and English music-hall. Inspired by, but not derivative of, many of their favorite bands, An Overnight Low has come up with a record that is uniquely original and one that delivers on every front: lyrically, melodically and production-wise, 'Piccadilly' is one of the most rewarding albums of the year.

Alabama Shakes Sound & Color'

I'm late to the party on this band, but after several friends recommended that I give them a listen, I've fallen for this album in a big way. A sucker for quality roots-rock, my first impression of Alabama Shakes was that they had somehow taken everything that I love about traditional American music, shaken it up, added their own secret ingredients and poured it out into an extremely satisfying musical smoothie. Brittany Howard has a voice that makes you want to listen to every word. Flying on top of and around the grooves cooked up by a band clearly schooled on James Brown, The Staple Singers, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and classic British and American rock, Howard leads the group without turning them into a mere backing band. Everyone has their say and 'Sound & Color' is the sound of a great American rock and roll band. Listen to 'Don't Wanna Fight' and you can almost see the tubes in the back of that amp glowing orange. And when that voice comes in? Holy Geez. It's an amazing record and I'm happy that the hype surrounding it isn't all for naught. Nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year, 'Sound & Color' deserves to win. But then again, I feel that way about each of the records listed above.

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor/Ellsworth)

Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2015 18:23


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