PastaRun Music’s Top Ten Albums of 2017, presented in no particular order. Enjoy! 

Forever and then Some – Lillie MaeAlbum art for Forever and Then Some by Lillie Mae

This list is littered with products of Nashville, with Lillie Mae the most recent to debut. After touring with Jack White playing fiddle, White’s own Third Man Records signed the talented Lillie Mae Rische to a record deal. Her debut, Forever and Then Some, puts on full display the talent that White saw in her. Raised on the road as part of the Rische Family Band, Lillie Mae is no stranger to the music world. This experience, along with Jack White’s perfectionist tendencies in the recording studio, results in a well-structured album with excellent songwriting, instrumentation and production.

Contrasting the fine-tuned production are Lillie Mae raw vocals, which add an earnest and sincere quality to each tune. Instrumental solos highlight the skills of Lillie Mae (fiddle) and her sister, Scarlett (mandolin), giving the album another layer to pay attention to on a repeat listen. “Honest and True” showcases Lillie Mae’s abilities, giving a glimpse of why she’s created a few critics in the music world, and made the right friends and supporters. 

Cover art for Sea of Noise by St. Paul and The Broken BonesSea of Noise – St. Paul & The Broken Bones

In their debut album Half the City, St. Paul & The Broken Bones announced themselves on the scene: a high-energy six-piece soul band led by frontman Paul Janeway. Their style hearkens back to soul icons such as Otis Redding, Al Green and James Brown. Sea of Noise is an outstanding follow-up, pushing beyond reviving the sound of a bygone era, and recreating it in their own image for the present-day.

I have a soft spot for songs like “Sanctify” and “Burning Rome” which have echoes of Redding and Sam Cooke, and put Janeway’s voice in the spotlight as the instrumentation softens. “All I Ever Wonder” is much more emblematic of the band coming into their own. A song with clear echoes of the past, but a modern feel and a focus on present-day society. 

Cover art for Milano by Daniele LuppiMILANO – Daniele Luppi

This album worked its way onto my Top 10 list thanks to the earworm xylophone hook which begins the opening track. Stuck in my head day after day, I decided to listen to the rest of the album to see if it was any good. As I continued, I found each song to be equally catchy in its own way. A raucous ride, Italian producer Daniele Luppi (the guy who arranged this)wanted to capture the anything-is-possible heydey of Milan in the 1980s. Europe’s fashion hub earned the nickname Milano de Bere (drinking Milan) at its peak as a city of excess and superficiality.

Like his previous album Rome, which is an homage to the Spaghetti Western era, MILANO has a distinct flavor. Put it on and the atmosphere of the room you’re in suddenly changes. Parquet Courts and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs feature prominently in the album, their contrasting vocals accompanying Daniele Luppi’s production. The punk-drunk nonchalance of Andrew Savage’s blunt voice pared with the piercing energy of Karen O’s sultry voice add to the chaos of the album. . I share with you “Soul and Cigarette”, the song the got me hooked, hoping it does the same to you. 

Cover art for Damn. by Kendrick LamarDamn. – Kendrick Lamar

This one was a no-brainer, and has had a spot on this list since being released on April 14, 2017. An exposé of the artists thoughts and emotions as his meteoric rise in American culture continues. Growing up in suburban central Pennsylvania, I found this album more easy to relate to than Lamar’s previous work which has focused on his Compton upbringing and struggles as an artist.

Lamar’s anger, doubts, fears, and faults are things we all deal with, without the ability to articulate them in such a distilled and powerful format. In Damn. Kendrick Lamar comes out swinging and lands each punch, there’s not much else to say. 

Cover art for From a Room Volume 2 by Chris StapletonFrom a Room: Volume 2 – Chris Stapleton

It took some time before Chris Stapleton became best known for the songs he sings, rather than the ones he wrote. A prolific songwriter based in Nashville, Stapleton tries to write a song each day, and his songs in From a Room span decades. This makes the subject matter wide-ranging, held together Chris Stapleton’s dynamic vocals. Whether its swinging country-rock, or a mellow acoustic lullaby, Stapleton works his voice masterfully to fit the tone.

If there’s one criticism it’s that the album doesn’t flow gracefully from start to end, but this only serves to highlight the versatility in songwriting and singing that Chris Stapleton is capable of. This is quintessential country music done right – to me at least. 

Cover art for The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitThe Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell is an outstanding songwriter, well-known for his solo work, his work with the 400 Unit, and his past involvement with the Drive By Truckers. After a tumultuous younger life in which Isbell struggled with personal demons, the 38 year old is now happily married with a newborn daughter. Sobriety, and entering a new stage in life, forced him to explore new themes on his latest album with the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound. It’s just as biographical as his previous work, with a new focus on settling down in life and raising his daughter.

“Molotov” is a song about just that, and how to keep the fire burning inside him despite a desire for stability and security for his relationships. There’s no regret here, just a man coming to terms with a change in his psyche, and his relationship with his wife. To close the album, Isbell wishes that others find, “Something to Love”, as he did. 

Cover art for The Order of Time by Valerie JuneThe Order of Time – Valerie June

Moving from Nashville now to the western edge of Tennessee to Memphis is an album with a bit more soul, gospel and R&B influence than the other albums on this list which fall under the Country Music umbrella. It’s hard to say which feature is more distinct, Valerie June voice or her incredible hair. June’s lilting voice is a delightful blend of sweet and sour. Intimate with enough of an edge to keep your ears attentive and your mind guessing. 

Listening to this album is like standing in a warm summer rain and letting the water wash over. If you cherish lyricism I recommend pulling up the lyrics as you listen if you’re able to, as it takes some time for the ears to adjust. Otherwise, just sit back and let the sounds do the work.

Cover art for Capacity by Big ThiefCapacity – Big Thief

How much can a person suffer without breaking? This is the poignant focus of Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief’s latest album, Capacity. It’s not a toe-tapping, good mood album, with the first half relating a few deaths of loved-ones and a near-death experience of Lenker. The second half of the album is more comforting, provide some examples of the love and support which helps us get through the suffering in life.

“Mary” is a song written about childhood, and the warmth and safety felt at her grandparents’ home in Minnesota. It reflects the passion and sincerity in Lenker’s vocals, her soft voice is hard-hitting, wavering between heart-wrenching and heart-warming. “Mary” is comforting like a lullaby or the warm glow of a fire on a cold day. 

Cover art for Crack-Up by Fleet FoxesCrack Up – Fleet Foxes

A lot of what they do, the choral harmonizing and  mix of acoustic instruments against a synthetic background, has become much more popular and commonplace since the band released their first album. Still, Fleet Foxes remain a unique sound which does not feel overdone or hokey 10 years later, despite not changing much since their inception. There’s something organic in their sound, which makes Fleet Foxes my first choice when I’m enjoying the outdoors and want some music which won’t spoil the peaceful feeling.

Crack Up is not an album about their growth as a band into something new, but a testament to their continued ability to hit the right notes and create new music using familiar concepts. It’s the same old Fleet Foxes we know and love, which makes it great for old fans and new ones. If you’re just getting acquainted with the band and enjoy Crack Up, you’ll surely enjoy their last two albums as well. 

Cover art for Sillion by Johnny FlynnSillion – Johnny Flynn

Johnny Flynn is one of my favorite storytellers in any medium. In Sillion, Flynn is back at it with his fourth album. Sillion is a rarely used old English word referring to the soil turned up by the plow, and its sheen. Johnny Flynn always seems to be digging in mundane and forgotten aspects of daily life and culture, turning up something new and shiny. In the album Flynn draws from personal experiences such as the loss of his father and birth of his daughter in Raising the Dead, as well as England’s rich folklore in Barleycorn. Each song is a story, narrated by Johnny Flynn’s lilting brogue. 

“Sillion is the wave of earth that is turned over by the plough. It is the moulded, sanctified ground; made holy by the simple and mystical communion of man and earth, who were once the same, but for a brief time in separation and relative acknowledgement of the other. It is a humble and undogmatic liturgy. In casting Sillion, perhaps we are asking a question of the earth – and that simple question might be asked or answered in a myriad of ways.

‘Sillion is the symbol of the point in a cycle where nothing is growing; the old crop is harvested, and the new question has barely been asked. The seeds are not yet sown. It is the fraction of a second at the end of exhalation and before we breathe in. Perhaps that’s where we are now.” – Johnny Flynn



One Response

  1. Karol

    Thanks Ross, I was just looking for some new music to listen to! You may want to check some links, as for me the Lillie Mae and Fleet Foxes wouldn’t open.


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