The job of picking my albums of the year gets harder every December. I swear I've been fretting over this since March: first, worrying I wouldn't have enough for #10, then scared I wouldn't have time to properly listen to all the late releases to judge them properly. I don't know why I let this bother me; I mean, it's not as though anyone gives two hoots what my favourite records were... plus I can pretty much guarantee that by March 2017, I'll already have heard at least five better 2016 albums than the ones I've plumped for here... and I'll be wishing I'd heard them earlier, in time to write about them now.
Such are the First World Problems of the middle-aged music blogger. They seem even more pathetic considering all the really serious things I could be worrying about this December... like whether we'll even live to see next December with the way the world's going... but sometimes, you've just got to sweat the small stuff. It's like Mick said: "Whatever gets you through the night..."
So let's try to get through this as painlessly as possible, shall we?
10. Drive-By Truckers - American Band
I've been a fan of Drive-By Truckers for a good few years now, although their last couple of records did seem to be treading water. American Band is a blistering return to form though, due largely to two significant factors:
1) The band's reaction to the current political scene... with a view to communicating in particularly, though not exclusively, that even though they're from the south, Donald Trump does not speak for them. Sadly, it wasn't enough to convince southern voters to dump Trump, but at least they gave it a shot.
2) The recent success of former member Jason Isbell, whose last album, Something More Than Free, blew the doors off 2015. (And would have been in my Top Ten of 2015... if I'd heard it in time.)
American Band is a bloody great (Southern) American Rock Record, sounding not unlike mid-period R.E.M. in places, although it does lack the humour of many early Drive-By Truckers albums... I guess they don't feel there's been much to laugh about this year. Maybe they get a little bit too earnest in places, but frontman Patterson Hood will never be Bono, and more often than not they manage the heartfelt integrity of Wrecking Ball or American Skin-era Springsteen. It's an angry record, to be sure, and one that reflects what's happening out there more than anything else I've heard this year, particularly on the savage and excoriating What It Means...
He was running down the street
When they shot him in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon
Is he ain't coming back
There won't be any trial
So the air it won't be cleared
There's just two sides calling names
Out of anger out of fear
If you say it wasn't racial
When they shot him in his tracks
Well I guess that means that you ain't black
It means that you ain't black
I mean Barack Obama won
And you can choose where to eat
But you don't see too many white kids lying
Bleeding on the street
But after all that sterling political pop, it's the final track, Baggage, which tips this album into my Top Ten of 2016. Written on the night Robin Williams' death was announced, it deals with Patterson Hood's response to how the media deals with the subject of depression (something he knows more than a little about) and it's one of the most raw and honest songs I've heard all year (and that's saying something, considering some of the other records we'll be discussing here shortly). It'll stay with me long after Trump has been impeached and forgotten.
Only a live video on youtube, so you can listen to the album version here...
Drive-By Truckers - Baggage
Next up, at Number #9... the stars shine a little darker this year.