Let’s start 2018 in the traditional way by dusting off the Riot Squad crystal ball and having a peek into the next few months to see what we have to look forward to. As always, in no particular order.

After an absence of a couple of years to deal with serious health issues, Phil Burdett’s back in business again and firing out creative sparks in all directions. The action starts on Saturday January 27th at The Dickens in Southend with the launch gig for Phil’s latest album, “Psychopastoral”. He’ll be backed by the sublime Phil Burdett Group and the support band will be Winter. But that’s just the start; Phil has big plans for the rest of the year, including recording a double album of the songs written while he was in hospital, working on an art/film project and completing a book of poetry and a novel. We’ve got an interview with him coming up in the near future, so just watch this space. (Breaking news on this, Phil’s currently looking for a new venue for the gig on the 27th after The Dickens closed down over Christmas).

 

While we’re on the subject of grand ambitions, let me tell you about Martin Harley. He’s doing a three week tour of the UK with upright bass player extraordinaire Daniel Kimbro. They work together perfectly as a duo, both live and in the studio. The songwriting’s first class, the playing’s perfect and the harmonies are superb; even the chat between songs is interesting and often hilarious. Anyway, one of Martin’s ambitions is to play the Union Chapel in Islington, so he’s booked it for the last night of the tour on Saturday March 10th and he’s promoting the gig himself. It’s the perfect venue for Martin’s music and the Riot Squad will be out in force to support such a brave venture.

 

Another musical partnership we’ve been following for some time is Dean Owens and Will Kimbrough. Will’s guitar playing is in high demand; I lost count of the albums I reviewed in 2017 that featured Will’s playing, but he’s built a special relationship with Dean that’s led to a full-scale collaboration on their latest album “Southern Wind”. We’ve had some sneak previews here and we’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of weeks ahead of the official release date of Friday February 16 on At The Helm Records. You’ll love it.

 

2017 saw the release of the ‘lost’ PP Arnold album and the announcement she’s going to be making an album this year at Paul Weller’s Black Barn studio. It’s fantastic that “The Turning Tide” has finally been found, but even better that Pat is actually making original music again. And there’s plenty of speculation round the water cooler here at Riot towers about possible guest appearances and collaborations on the new album.

 

Finally, and this is specifically a London thing for the moment, late January will see the launch of Talentbanq, the latest venture for Ray Jones. Ray, former Development Director at Time Out has a passion for music that would shame most journalists and he’s always been willing to put a lot of time and effort into promoting new talent. Now that he’s no longer at Time Out he’s focussing his energies on promoting up-and-coming artists with Talentbanq. We’re still waiting for more details, but we do know that it’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

I’ve seen Hannah around at various events over the last couple of years, but somehow managed to avoid hearing her songs or seeing her play live. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to put that right this year. I loved her latest single “Chanel and Cigarettes” and managed to find the beautiful song “1954” as well. Late to the party, but I’m making the most of it now I’m here. Anyway, after finally meeting Hannah for the first time a few weeks ago, I invited her to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. I’m well chuffed that she agreed – Allan.

Amelia White

East Nashville based singer songwriter Amelia White’s music is, without question, my favourite discovery of 2017. Her album Rhythm of the Rain is one of those gems that you’ll find yourself playing over and over again, finding new diamond moments with each listen.

For me, she brings together all of the best elements of Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams and Martha Wainwright, but very much has her own style. I had the pleasure of seeing her live twice this year on her UK tour. She is the real deal, authentic, talented and gracious with an effortless rock star quality that is rarely seen these days. I’ve since fallen in love with Rhythm of the Rain’s predecessor Home Sweet Hotel and am very much looking forward to delving further into her back catalogue

Loud Mountains

Oxford based ‘Loud Mountains’ were the highlight of Truck festival this year for me. They deservedly played on the main stage which I unfortunately missed, but luckily caught their second set at the Saloon stage the following day. The atmosphere during their set at the Saloon was absolutely electric – jam packed with fans as their infectious hooks and perfect harmonies reinforced by their rocking band shook the walls. The best live act I’ve seen this year without doubt

Newton Country

I am very, very excited by Bath based 3 piece band Newton Country, I had the pleasure of playing the same bill as them back in March at The Golden Lion in Bristol and they are just lovely people and extremely talented. With their fresh energetic vibe, lead singer Roisin’s Neko Case-esque vocals and thoughtfully crafted songs they are ones to watch for sure in 2018.

James Hodder

I first heard James Hodder perform back in February when we both played the Resonance FM fundraiser at Aces and Eights, I was completely blown away and I admit I was ashamed that I had not heard him perform before. Having known James for a couple of years  (the presenter of ‘Tin Can Hodder’  – a fabulous radio show on London’s ‘Resonance FM’)  as someone who champions roots music and musicians, and is particularly supportive of us struggling indie musos it is wonderful to see him gain much deserved attention for his own music. Velvety vocals, carefully crafted songs with intelligent and moving lyrics- in my opinion, he is the UK’s answer to Jason Isbell.

Society

Crawley based ‘Society’ were my highlight of this year’s inaugural ‘Rambling Roots Revue’ festival in April which was an absolutely fantastic three day festival in Buckinghamshire choc full of the finest acts in the Americana scene. Society (Matt Wise, Fin Scott Kenny, Thomas Collison and Ben Lancaster) were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the most and they did not disappoint. Their perfect close three part harmonies, Matt Wise’s gravelly vocals and storytelling, the musical calibre of every band member (including a singing drummer!) and the chemistry between them all made for one of the most exciting and enjoyable performances I’ve seen this year.

 

The Boxing Day edition of High Fives comes courtesy of The Hallows. We’ve seen them a couple of times in 2017 and they’re absolutely stunning live; get out and watch them if you can. If you want a lazy description (it’s Boxing Day and we’ve been hitting the superlager here at Riot Towers) just imagine if Kate Bush joined Muse as singer; you won’t be too far off the mark. And now we have multiple levels of introduction, first from the band, then from bass player Dave Pugh.

The Hallows are fond of a tipple and enjoy nothing more than good beer and wine shared with splendid company…however there is always one who likes to take it a bit further and embraces the world of alcohol in a way that many will never understand…we hand you over to Dave Pugh, Bass player for The Hallows and all around Craft Beer connoisseur to give you a rundown of his top five beverages. Take it away Dave…

So, I like beer. Always have. Well not quite always obviously… but since about 2013-14 I have become somewhat of an enthusiast rather than just someone who enjoyed a pint (or many…) down the pub. The craft beer scene worldwide is huge now, and seems to have grown even more so in Britain in 2017, with loads of really very good stuff available in all major supermarkets and even corner shops. These five below are my favourites that I’ve drunk this year. Spoiler alert, I’m an IPA fan… as my favourite T-Shirt reads “Give me hops or give me death.”

Psychokinesis – Magic Rock Brewery

This beer is amazing. Magic Rock have become probably my favourite brewery and this was the finest example of their limited edition IPAs this year. This is a west coast style IPA using an experimental new hop called HBC438 (along with some others). It’s got big aromas of tropical fruits as many IPAs do but this new hop gives almost bubblegum or lime type notes. Back when I could get my hands on this beer you could probably have seen me cradling the glass like Gollum would The One Ring…

 

DIPA v11 – Cloudwater Brewery

Cloudwater have been winning awards all over the place, and had you asked me to put this list together last year they could easily have had 4 or even five places on the list with their run of double IPA versions. This one was my favourite this year. Big flavours. Complex, full bodied, strong, resinous, fruity, dank. Awesome.

 

 

Fantasma – Magic Rock Brewery

Another from Magic Rock. This beer is very interesting in that it was designed along the same lines as the others in their Canned IPA series but it is actually gluten-free and is even safe for coeliacs to drink. It’s tropical, hazy, dank and slightly bitter – all the things I look for these days! This one has been kept in production rather than disappearing as you would expect a limited edition to do. Go get some.

Jackhammer – Brewdog

Slightly cheating here as this is not a beer that was created or brought to market in 2017, but it remains one of my all-time favourites and go to beers. Brewdog were the company that caught me up in the craft beer movement when I discovered how much I loved their Punk IPA (I still drink far too much of the stuff, far too regularly…) Jackhammer is like Punk IPA turned up to 11, hops everywhere and just about the most bitter finish available. With Brewdog’s expansion after their amazing success and growth as a company you can now get hold of it in major supermarkets as well as specialist shops and Brewdog bars. Do it.

Brewdog vs Cloudwater New England IPA v 2 – Brewdog & Cloudwater

A collaboration between two of my favourite breweries? In a style I really like? Yes please. Loads of hops, hazy, juicy, spicy and a real note of pine in the aroma. It’s a very complex tasting beer which at points makes you think you’re drinking a fruit juice and at times smacks you in the head and reminds you it’s 8.5%… really, really good.

So that’s my list. Obviously I’ve drunk more this year than IPAs, but this is my list… there’s so much good stuff out there now, definitely something for everyone.

I have to give a big shout out to Sean and Mollie at Warwick Real Ale. I’m really lucky to have such a great craft beer shop right on my doorstep in Warwick. You really couldn’t wish for more knowledgeable or friendly business owners and the service is always spot on. Please find them on Facebook and support local business.

I was invited to go and watch HVMM at Proud Camden in June this year. Their press release described them as a mix of Peaky Blinders, Nick Cave and Black Sabbath and that was pretty close to the mark; they are awesome. The hottest weekend of the year in a room painted black with virtually no stage lighting. Had a bit of a chat backstage with the band and shot a few candids, including a really nice one of Sam Jenkins, who contributed this piece. And Andy Teece’s ‘tash is extremely impressive – Allan

5 things that put lead in my pencil !!

1 – Ludwig 402 snare drum – best snare ever and the choice of John Bonham [ Led Zep ], I was given one as a gift  and it sounds incredible.

 

 

 

2 – Bathams Best Bitter – From the Midlands, drunk by Midlands drummers. Best pint in the land, and I’ve tried a few……Enough said !! 

 

 

 

 

 

3 – Sundays in the Pub, you know you shouldn’t, which is why you do ….

 

 

 

 

 

4 – Keith Moon – Needs no explanation…

 

 

 

 

5 – Andy’s Teece’s  Tash [ Lead singer of  HVMM ], it is simply a thing of beauty!

I have to introduce this one myself; I’ve known Steve J since our first day at University in Dundee. You’ll be able to read about it in his memoir coming up soon, and possibly mine when I create a spare few weeks to write it (so not in the immediate, then…). We have a lot of things in common, but love of music is right up at the top of the list. I’ve loved Steve longer than I’ve loved my wife (and that’s a long, long time) and I’m flattered that he’s given me a couple of mentions here. No money changed hands but there was the matter of a copy of “Eminent Hipsters”, although I think he earned that for his lovely speech at my significant birthday a few weeks ago where he even surprised me when he said that I’d done a DJ support for John Peel in Dundee. How do you forget you’ve done that? Anyway, I always love to read his work so here you go (oh, it’s Allan, by the way, but you’ll work that out anyway). Take it away Mr J:

It’s been an odd year. Because I haven’t been around as much as I would like to have been due to various personal stuff and because of various things that have happened, I’ve not been as receptive to new music as I might have normally been and so I found myself going back. Way back…..and remembering stuff.

The Sweet

I’ve reviewed this so I won’t spend ages repeating myself. Read the review from the Holmfirth Picturedrome. If you want to inhale the seventies, hold it in and exhale slowly, have a night out with this bunch. We Just Haven’t Got A Clue What To Do. It’s ugly, a bit awkward, exuberant and a bit tacky. It’s a Teenage Rampage Now. Now. Now…..Rebel Rebel…

The Doobie Brothers (Photo by Dan Harr/Invision/AP)

The Doobie Brothers

A lot is said about Americans. Some of it is very critical. Some of it is very fair. Some of it misses the things they are Really Good At. You want sparkling, harmonically – perfect, every single tune you want we’ll play, give the people what they want magical, without a note out of place, without a single bedraggled harmony, with a repertoire which would embarrass The Eagles, these are the lads. Oh my God it was perfect. Even when the house lights at the O2 decided to send a subliminal message to the massed ranks of 50 something males to go for a pee, they still came on and slaughtered 20,000 with pitch perfect “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin’”. Time in a Bottle.

Roy Wood

One of the great joys of being a director of a couple of commercial radio stations is on the odd occasion you get a good lig. Roy Wood was kind enough to open our Derbyshire Dales / Staffordshire station, Ashbourne Radio in 2008. He lived nearby at the time and as we’d virtually had a standing order to buy his singles in the seventies, we were just overwhelmed to be sitting next to him and shooting the breeze with him whilst preparing to play “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move just as Radio One had for their first tune. Didn’t quite work out that way due to technical reasons which are part of a forthcoming book, as it turned out; but anyway, we were delighted to be Roy’s guests at the Buxton Opera House a few weeks back.

Once onstage he explained to us that he’d fallen for that 4 – saxophone rock n roll thing, hence the rock n roll band – and it was for life. Jeff Lynne clearly thought otherwise and went all fiddles and everything and fair play to him – it did, after all, work out Quite Well. But you can just see the parting of the ways in that simple transaction; you do the strings and stuff, I’ll do the saxophones and we’ll see how it pans out. See you, mate. And so The Move split and became ELO and Roy Wood’s Wizzard.

But first…..’Going to a Party, meet me on after school…..’ and Roy hits the audience with The Move’s 1972 top five hit, “California Man”. Straight off the back of that into ‘Ball Park Incident’ – and we’re off and running.  Yes of course he plays bloody Christmas Everyday, what do you want for your money? But it’s a whole lot more than that. Great musicianship from a band who can really rock n roll and a guy who really understands how it works. A master musician, still turning his trick with pride and rightly so; and hugely, hugely respected by those who feel just every now and then, we Brits did actually get to the very heart of the matter. I mean. Did you ever hear a better impersonation of Bill Haley and the Comets than “Are You Ready to Rock?” With bagpipes?

Graham Parker

Very weird, this. MusicRiot Ubersnapper Mr A McKay and I saw this guy in action in Scotland when we were DJing there back in the seventies – we did a support gig with him and Allan took some ace shots of him in action.  We also sat with him and the rest of The Rumour – his stunningly soulful band – whilst he watched himself on Top of the Pops singing “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions” in the TV lounge in the venue before he went on. Which is a very strange feeling.

Even stranger as we both watched him performing as Special Guest of Stone Foundation at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire a mere 40 years later. He negotiated his way through a back-catalogue of his greatest hits and should-have-been-hits, in an acoustic stylee, and then came on during the final stages of Stone Foundation’s victorious headline appearance to light up the proceedings with a blistering version of ‘(I’m Gonna’) Tear Your Playhouse Down’, courtesy of Ann Peebles via Paul Young.

This was a classic case of ‘it’s the songs, stupid’. Much though Graham Parker is a great singer and can wrangle the soul out of a lyric like few others, at the time he was accused of writing chants and slogans rather than songs. Oh, really? Try “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, or “White Honey”. He had hits, he toured successfully, he did all the stuff you’d expect a successful writer and musician to do. But he was undoubtedly sold short by a music business that didn’t quite know what to do with him. I profoundly hope that one day soon, whilst he remains the sprightly and able musician he is now, he will tour with a full-on soul band with a wicked horn section, cracking rhythm section and all that that implies. Whether or not that means a reformation of The Rumour remains to be seen. Never say never again. Please.

Donald Fagen

A night out with Mr McKay to the O2 as part of an amazing cultural long weekend with the maestro of the telephoto. We had both been fans of the darkly amusing Don and Walt show since probably about 1972 when we both bought copies of the life – changing ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Rikki Don’t Loser That Number’ a year or so later. ‘Send it off in a letter to yourself’ i.e. post yourself a joint, you’re unlikely to get nicked.

Funny.

He’s in his late sixties now and his long time partner in crime, Walter Becker, has just died. ‘That’s something I’m just gonna have to live with’, he explains to us at the O2 with typical understatement (with huge undercurrents.)

Send It Off In A Letter To Yourself.

Donald Fagen’s newly ‘solo’ Steely Dan ‘Organisation’ is a sort of jazz/funk  collective which regularly kicks into gear and plays extremely direct and passionate ‘Dan’ classics; occasionally it meanders around, jazz noodles a bit, picks up the thread, plays a stunning version of Fagen’s solo “New Frontier”, and strips the paint off of “Peg”. I can’t help feeling the lack of “Do It Again” and “Rikki” should be punishable by at least a mild flogging and not performing “FM – No Static At All” whilst in the presence of broadcasting royalty is of course unforgivable. However  and despite Fagen’s understandable breathlessness, they blast through “My Old School” with something approaching venom and give “Reeling In The Years” a poignant and heartfelt airing which brought more than the odd tear to the eye, I’ll tell thee. Ironically.

Have you had enough of mine?

Fair enough. The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand.

Steve Jenner December 2017

Maybe you already know that Allan’s a bit of a Southside Johnny fan. Ok, a lot of a Southside Johnny fan. So, we decided to invite Johnny to contribute to the 2017 High Fives. And he did, with not one but four sets of High Fives chosen by our random category generator. That’s the kind of value you get at a Jukes gig. Take it away, Southside…

 

Steven Van Zandt

5 songwriting heroes

Cole Porter

Tom Waits

Steven Van Zandt

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

 

5 places he’d play every night 

Paradiso Amsterdam

Paradiso, Amsterdam

Shepherd’s Bush, London

Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia

Stone Pony Summer Stage, Asbury Park, NJ

Anywhere in Cleveland, Ohio

 

5 people he’d like to meet 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Big Bill Shakespeare

Barack Obama

Willie Dixon

My mother’s father

 

5 favourite harmonica solos

Little Walter

Big Walter, “Walking By Myself”,

Sonny Boy Williamson “Don’t Start Me Talking”,

Little Walter, “Tell me Mama” and “Lights Out”,

Paul Butterfield, “Born in Chicago” and a thousand others.

 

5 covers he hasn’t done yet

Way too many to list.  Happy New Year!

 

The Riot Squad get invites to all sorts of venues in London and various other parts of the country, so we thought it was only fair to ask occasional contributor Ian Stratford to give us a rundown of some our favourite places to listen to music and photograph performers. Here’s what he came up with (in no particular order:

The Union Chapel, IslingtonThere is absolutely nothing to criticise about this venue. It’s a working church that’s staffed by volunteers that seem to have been selected purely on the basis of their friendly attitude. The acoustics are absolutely superb and the stage is a very beautiful setting. Allan loves giving the Nikons a little outing there and generally gets a bit of a result. Go there and have a look; you’ll love it.

Rosanne Cash @The Union Chapel

Green Note, Camden – There’s something very lovely about the award-winning Green Note. It’s not the biggest venue, but the Riot Squad has seen some great nights there watching some really high-quality performers from the UK and further afield. The sound is always absolutely perfect and artists love to play there. Oh, did I mention the great selection of vegetarian food, lovely staff and real beers as well.

Hannah Aldridge @Green Note

Paper Dress Vintage – We liked this venue when it was in Shoreditch, but the move to Hackney was inspired. The venue is now above the main retail area and the atmosphere at the gigs the Riot Squad have seen there has always been cracking. We saw Amanda Rheaume there at the Americana Music Association UK showcase this year and had a great night. And don’t forget there are another two venues within five minutes walking distances from PDV, MOTH and Oslo, and they’re both worthwhile as well.

Amanda Rheaume @Paper Dress Vintage

2 Northdown – Bit of an unconventional one this. It’s more of a comedy venue but it’s been hijacked by Ray Jones of Talentbanq for his Acoustic Sex nights. The setting is unfussy with straight white lights on the stage, but the sound is always spot on and the talent on stage is exceptional. It’s also a great place to meet people from the music industry. It’s become one of Allan’s favourite nights out.

Joe Slater @Acoustic Sex

Rich Mix, Shoreditch – It’s a mix of a cinema, an Indian diner and a gig venue. We’ve tried two out of the three on Riot Squad nights out. The food in the diner is gorgeous and the atmosphere in the venue is electric. Each time we’ve been there the audience has been incredibly receptive and the performers have played great sets.

John Fairhurst @Rich Mix

There isn’t really a theme to this selection, it’s just five photos that didn’t really fit in with the format for the earlier features; they’re a little bit different. Anyway, I like them and you can make up your own minds. We’re hoping to have selections from some of my favourite gig photographers coming up soon, but you’ll have to make do with these for the moment.

Joe Francis (Winter Mountain) @229 The Venue – I’m a huge fan of Joe Francis; he’s a great songwriter, he’s passionate about what he does and it shows in the way he performs. I’d grabbed some good shots from the front at this intimate gig and I was looking for something a little bit different. I went to the back of the room and saw a perfect, almost symmetrical, frame formed by two of the audience. I’m really grateful to both of you.

Neil Jones (Stone Foundation) @Islington Assembly Hall – This gig was one of the highlights of my year. I managed to get a photo pass for a gig where one of my favourite bands was joined on stage by Danny Champ, Dr Robert and Paul Weller. The lighting was a bit strange (even on the official DVD it has a strange colour cast) but there was no shortage of photo opportunities. Neil Jones lived up to his frontman role by creating a few nice opportunities. This was my favourite.

Sarah Rodriguez (The Hallows) – This was my second Hallows gig (they’re very good, you really should go and see them) and I was determined to get some good shots. All three band members are photogenic, but when the singer straps on a keytar and starts throwing some rock star shapes, you know you’ve got the shot. Cheers Sarah.

Totally @The Sebright Arms – This was my first visit to this venue; I was invited along by the band and I was really impressed. You will hear more about them on MusicRiot. The lighting wasn’t perfect, but the band have a great visual identity so it wasn’t too difficult to grab some interesting shots. I liked the contrast between the spots and stripes and the intensity of this shot. I’ll definitely be seeing Totally again.

Wovoka Gentle @Rich Mix – I was alerted to this gig by my fellow photographer Greg Towning, who had been praising this band profusely. He wasn’t wrong, they are sensational. Once again, the lighting was a bit challenging (mostly from behind and moving very quickly), but that’s what live music photography’s all about. You work out the best angles and then try to predict where the lights will go and hope for the best. This one worked for me (and thanks Greg).

We were almost sure this was a mistake, but we allowed the old curmudgeon out of the Riot Towers basement a couple of times this year to come along to gigs with the rest of the Riot Squad. We had to bring his carer along with us and he had to be home by 9pm, but at least it gave him something to talk about (at great length). Here’s what he had to say.

Blues – What happened with that? It was all really simple in my day; it was the Blues. Now everyone’s arguing about it should be a capital B and whether it’s ‘authentic’. What was ever authentic about white boys playing a music that originated in the cottonfields. And why are the audiences at blues gigs men in their sixties with paunches and no hair who have to leave by 10:30 to get their train back to the suburbs. What happened to staying out all night and catching the midnight train’s headlight. No, we’d sooner go online and argue about whether it’s acceptable to use a chorus pedal in a solo.

Americana – It can’t just be me that doesn’t have a Danny what people mean when they use the term Americana. In my day, it would have been called country and western (maybe you could leave out the western bit) but that doesn’t seem to appeal to the right demographic now. So we have Americana which seems to be anything with no mainstream chart potential coming out of America. It’s also a convenient marketing term that works for getting gigs at festivals and radio play (see Blues above). If you want to identify the real opportunists, they’re the ones that, at some point, have tried to identify with both of these genres. And they’re also queuing up to give each other awards (see above).

Showcases – What is that all about? As far as I can see you book four bands to play to an audience of their friends and family, who then bugger off before the feedback from the ending of the last song has faded out. Would it really ruin your night to listen to some music that you hadn’t heard before, or is that showing disloyalty to your kith and kin? Maybe you could scrap the guestlist and make everyone pay for those gigs.

STFU – It never used to be like this in my day. You went to a gig to hear an artist play their songs; you paid your money and you wanted to get value for that money. It doesn’t matter where you go now, you’re going to hear idiots who think that telling everyone about the delay on their commute in to the city/their meeting with their manager/their bonus is so much more important than what’s happening on stage. You can do that in any pub; just go there and let people enjoy artists playing their songs.

Over-enthusiastic fans – It’s sort of related to Showcases; it’s those fans who come along to support their own band and they do it very enthusiastically. Unfortunately, they don’t give a flying one about anyone else on the bill that night, only their heroes. They do a lot of the STFU behaviour and you wish that they would do the showcase thing and just come in to watch their band then just do one. I know, it’s inconsistent, but I really wish these characters would just come in to watch their band and GTF out of there.

Apart from that, 2017’s been pretty good. Thanks for asking.

This has been incredibly difficult to narrow down; these are all albums I’ve reviewed here this year. I got down to nine and then it started to get tough (and I started to worry about offending friends). So there are no apologies for having a few honourable mentions at the end of this piece. As always, in no particular order:

For All Our Sins” – Sound of the Sirens – I’ve been a fan since the first time I saw them. They’ve been building a reputation and a fanbase for a few years now, self-releasing a couple of EPs and an album but this one was backed by a recording deal which meant that Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood were able to move beyond their classic live sound of guitars (and mandolin), foot percussion and stunning harmonies to introduce keyboards, choirs and even a bit of psychedelia. At the album launch party, Jeremy Vine tweeted live footage of Abbe and Hannah and even played the lead track “Smokescreen” on his Radio 2 show the next day. Give it a listen here.

Street Rituals” – Stone Foundation – This is another band that I’ve been following for a few years now and marvelling at the way their talent and work ethic has taken them to the top of the vinyl charts in 2017. This album is the best so far (although “To Find the Spirit” and “A Life Unlimited” are bloody good as well) and having Paul Weller as producer and contributor didn’t do any harm either. The album harks back to the socially-conscious soul albums of the early seventies turned out by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield and has the band pinning their political hearts firmly to their sleeves. And I may have mentioned that they are an absolutely lovely bunch of people.

Gold Rush” – Hannah Aldridge – This is Hannah’s second album; crowd-funded and featuring songs she’s been working and collaborating on with various writers for a few years. How do you categorise Hannah’s music? Well, the easy answer is Americana, but that’s just a marketing tool these days (same as ‘blues’ really, with or without an upper-case B). The last time I interviewed Hannah, she was favouring ‘Southern rock’, hinting at Tom Petty, although this album has a distinct feel of the Stones “Sticky Fingers” on the rock songs. But put the rockers to one side and you have two absolutely beautiful melancholy slow songs, the title track and “Living on Lonely”. Both of those songs are lyrically intense and melodically gorgeous and that’s a combination I can never resist. Hannah’s going to be back in the UK next year; you really should make the effort to go out and see her.

A Girl in Teen City” – Oh Susanna – I loved this album from the very first listen; it’s built around the theme of growing up in Vancouver in the eighties. It’s poetic, it’s melodic and it’s humorous, but most of all it’s human. It’s the story of a real person, Suzie Ungerleider, and her adolescence, with references to the music of the era and so much more; the “American Graffiti” style of “Thunderbird” and the Springsteenesque widescreen of “My Old Vancouver”. Honestly, my words can’t do it justice, you should really listen to it for yourself.

Unfinished Business” – Paul Brady – If you survive as a musician for over fifty years, you’re doing something right. In Paul Brady’s case, he’s doing a lot of things right. He’s still writing superb songs, still picking good covers and he’s still surrounding himself with top-flight musicians who know how to sell a song without overdoing it. This is an album that says ‘if you’re good enough, you’re young enough’. All the experience is there and it all sounds so deceptively effortless. Make some time to listen to it over the holiday.

And those honourable mentions? How about “The Penny Collector” – Carrie Elkin, “Mockingbird Soul” – Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough, “Static in the Wires” – Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro and “Tennessee Night” – Ed Dupas.