Morning Edition Looks Back On Some Of The Best Albums Of 2017

Dec 26, 2017
Originally published on December 26, 2017 12:02 pm

NPR's Noel King and David Greene look back on a year of great music releases with writers who cover the various genres.

Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone

"Lee Ann Womack is sort of a modern traditionalist; she was a mainstream hitmaker in the late 90's, and she's in a different phase of her career now. With this particular album, she kind of is trying to get to what she feels like is the emotional core of country music: it's melancholy." - Jewly Hight

SZA, CTRL

"This album is about control, something that women are constantly struggling to obtain, whether that's in relationships or whether that's professionally, socially. SZA really just came forward and said, 'I took control of my own narrative, and I want you as women to understand that you can take control of your own narrative.' And it just came out at a time where I was getting over a breakup or whatever you want to call it — it was complicated! You know, I was clinging to this album because it was so restorative for me." - Kiana Fitzgerald (Complex)

Ron Miles, I Am a Man

"Ron Miles is just a beautiful musician; he's someone with this tone that's like liquid gold. On this album, he applies that gorgeous sensibility to a sort of reflection on civil rights, identity, on justice. There were so many ambitious and envelope-pushing albums made by jazz musicians in 2017. This is a subtler accomplishment but what it does is it really establishes this kind of soulful beauty. And I found myself in a year of turbulence and conflict reaching for it again and again. You know, it was replenishing. It was salutary. It was something that made me feel good. You know, it's just a beautiful statement." - Nate Chinen (WBGO)

Danish String Quartet, Last Leaf

"When these guys aren't playing Beethoven and Brahms, they kind of hole up in this vintage farmhouse in the west side of Denmark, and they pore over all of these old folk tunes from the Nordic countries. You can virtually see shuffling feet on a saw-dusted dance floor and hear these wheezing old squeeze-boxes in the music. Like an evocative novel or some mesmerizing movie, I love art that completely pulls you in to its own special world where you end up getting to have personal relationships with the characters. And in this case, it's the songs that you get to know and love." - Tom Huizenga

Kesha, Rainbow

"For the past several years, Kesha has been involved in a legal battle with ex-producer, Dr. Luke. She accused him of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, including the harassment that led to her suffering from an eating disorder, for which she was treated. And during the time of that treatment, she began writing the songs for Rainbow. I have a 14-year-old daughter, and we listened a lot to this record together. Kesha's message of empowerment, which is not a simple message, which makes room for vulnerability, for being a weirdo — that's a message that resonates so much with my daughter... and so much with me! It's a record I wish I'd had when I was 14." - Ann Powers

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

How do you pick the best albums of 2017? It's a matter of taste, right? If you don't like classical, you don't even consider classical records.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is just that simple. So we talked to various people who cover different styles of music, and we asked what their favorite records of the year were.

KING: Yes, starting with Jewly Hight. She reports on music from Nashville. And for her, the most important record of the year was the comeback album by Lee Ann Womack, "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone."

JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: Lee Ann Womack is sort of a modern traditionalist. She was a mainstream hit-maker in the late '90s. With this particular album, she kind of was trying to get to what she feels like is the emotional core of country music. It's melancholy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE TROUBLE")

LEE ANN WOMACK: (Singing) The deck is stacked against you. Life's a losing hand. Even when you think you're up, you're right back down again. Either way you play it, the house is going to win.

HIGHT: You know, the contemporary country music, you just don't hear a lot of people really going to deep, dark places emotionally. I mean, there definitely has been more upbeat, good time party music. It felt right to be listening to a country album that makes so much room for devastation of so many different kinds of intimate or existential crises and that sort of thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE TROUBLE")

WOMACK: (Singing) I've got all the trouble I'm ever going to need. I've got all the trouble I'm ever going to need.

GREENE: All right, so moving on from country, Kiana Fitzgerald writes about R&B and hip-hop for the magazine Complex. She loved "Ctrl," it's the debut album from SZA.

KIANA FITZGERALD, BYLINE: She was supposed to be a rapper when she first came out. And I think that really lends itself to her songwriting ability. She constructs these little universes in each of her songs that are just relatable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GARDEN (SAY IT LIKE DAT)")

SZA: (Singing) You know I'm sensitive about having no booty, having no body, only you, buddy. Can you hold me when nobody's around us? Open your heart up.

FITZGERALD: This album is about control, something that women are constantly struggling to obtain, whether that's in relationships, whether that's professionally, socially. SZA really just came forward and said, I took control of my own narrative, and I want you as women to understand that you can take control of your own narrative.

And it just came out at a time where I was getting over a breakup or whatever you want to call it. It was complicated. You know, I was clinging to this album because it was so restorative for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GARDEN (SAY IT LIKE DAT)")

SZA: (Singing) Hope you never find out who I really am 'cause you'll never love me. You'll never love me. You'll never love me. But I believe you when you say it like that.

KING: And then, of course, there was jazz in 2017. Nate Chinen is with the jazz radio station WBGO, and he really loved a record by trumpeter Ron Miles. It's called "I Am A Man."

NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Ron Miles is just a beautiful musician. He's someone with this tone that's like liquid gold. On this album, he applies that gorgeous sensibility to a sort of reflection on civil rights, identity, on justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "JASPER")

CHINEN: There were so many ambitious and envelope-pushing albums made by jazz musicians in 2017. This is a subtler accomplishment, but what it does is it really establishes this kind of soulful beauty. And I found myself in a year of turbulence and conflict, reaching for it again and again. You know, it was replenishing. You know, it's just a beautiful statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON MILES' "JASPER")

GREENE: Well, we mentioned classical. Well, a lot of people love it, and that includes Tom Huizenga, who writes about classical music for NPR Music. His vote for best album is from the Danish String Quartet. It's an album called "Last Leaf."

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: When these guys aren't playing Beethoven and Brahms, they kind of hole up in this vintage farmhouse on the west side of Denmark and they pour over all of these old folk tunes from the Nordic countries. You can virtually see shuffling feet on a sawdusted (ph) dance floor and hear these wheezing, old squeeze boxes in the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANISH STRING QUARTET'S "AE ROMESER (ARR. FOR STRING QUARTET)")

HUIZENGA: Like an evocative novel or some mesmerizing movie, I love art that, like, completely pulls you into its own special world where you end up getting to have personal relationships with the characters. And in this case, it's the songs that you get to know and love.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANISH STRING QUARTET'S "AE ROMESER (ARR. FOR STRING QUARTET)")

KING: And, of course, we couldn't talk about popular music without talking to Ann Powers. She covers pop music for NPR, all kinds of pop music. Her favorite album this year was "Rainbow" by the pop star Kesha.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: For the past several years, Kesha has been involved in a legal battle with her ex-producer, Dr. Luke. She accused him of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, including the harassment that led to her suffering from an eating disorder, for which she was treated. And during the time of that treatment, she began writing the songs for "Rainbow."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINBOW")

KESHA: (Singing) I'd forgot how to daydream. So consumed with the wrong thing, but in the dark, I realized this life is short.

POWERS: I have a 14-year-old daughter, and we listened a lot to this record together. Kesha's message of empowerment, which is not a simple message, which makes room for vulnerability, for being a weirdo, that's a message that resonates so much with my daughter and so much with me. It's a record I wish I'd had when I was 14.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINBOW")

KESHA: (Singing) You've got to learn to let go, put the past behind you. Trust me, I know the ghosts will try to find you. But just put those colors on, girl. Come and paint the world with me tonight.

GREENE: I am so with Ann Powers. That Kesha album is awesome. All right, there you have it, some of the best albums of the year from five different perspectives.

KING: And if you didn't hear your favorite, we've also got a huge list of others at our website nprmusic.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.