Devil Ain’t Fine: DJ Philly Phil’s 110 Favorite Albums of 2017, Plus 85 Old Records Whose Acquaintance He Just Made, That Helped Him Survive This Mess

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It’s been one helluva hard year–but when has one not been lately, and when has music not been succor? At one time or another, each of these 195 records has acted as a spell–however temporary–to vanquish the horror from my ears, eyes, and mind. To remind me that maybe all is not lost, that we are capable of bounteous joy when we are inspired, especially, perhaps, when we are inspired by the void.

I’m not one to theorize, and I am too convinced by chaos to believe that a given year’s list of recordings can be read like tea leaves and divined from. But, scanning mine again, I can see some things that finally dawned on me, some things I’ve always loved become far more important to me and sound so much more inexhaustible than I ever would have predicted, and some things that, mercifully, were the direct result of humans I actually know pushing me (as opposed to me retreating into a bubble of books and blogs, and just drifting and hacking my way through a jungle alone). I mean, it’s not like I don’t listen to people, but I have a tendency to mutter, “Hey, I know what I’m doing here.”

Dawnings: Electronic music, which I’d always appreciated but never been elevated by. Ah, yes–I’d like a Fourth World to choose to inhabit every day, an Outro Tempo to swing to every night, and a Mono No Aware to hourly heighten my consciousness. Perhaps I’m waxing too clever, but the stuff I’m alluding to was like a good massage: ultimately soothing but not without hitting spots that made me wince.

Inexhaustibles: I have loved free jazz since I first heard Ornette Coleman–I was young and dumb in ’82, but I can remember thinking, “This sounds beautiful, not crazy, and it’s not that free!”–but, to be honest, I’d always assumed that once I oozed into the second half of my life, I’d probably be seeking things that were easier, since surely my life would become more difficult. Well, life–not necessarily mine, but that’s not all that important a distinction–has become more difficult, often I do need easier things in my ear, but, lo and behold, free jazz (free experimental music, if you choose) has become easier. Not just easier, but more engaging, more thought-provoking, more exciting, funnier and wiser than I’d ever heard it to be and expected it to stay. That applies to many recordings I was already familiar with, but breaking into a trove of really, really hard-to-locate masterpieces from St. Louis’ Black Arts Group (late ’60s to early ’70s–gone to soon, but their seeds drifted elsewhere) and being led by such perceptive writers as John Corbett and Kevin Whitehead to the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and Instant Composer’s Pool were straight-up blessings that rearranged my mind and cleaned out the wax. And I know this wish is in vain, but I hope Joe McPhee never dies.

Humans: I thank my students at Stephens College for opening my stubborn ears to The Internet, Rhiannon Giddens, SZA, and Lana Del Rey–and for indirectly helping me access a moving, depressive, and daring vein of what I suppose I have to call r&b but which I really believe is something new that’s just starting to blossom. I thank so many old friends: Whitney Shroyer, for tugging my coat about Harlem River Drive and Sunshine Daydream, John Schooley, for convincing me to take a chance on Link Wray’s Polydors, Isaac Davila, for stoking the fire of my interest in electronic music, and Nicole, my wife of 27 years, for setting us both off on a Latin rampage after we saw Eddie Palmieri’s 80th birthday show. Last but not least, I thank the lively Facebook group Expert Witness, several members of which I have indeed met in reality and many more I seriously intend to, for pointing me hither and yon and often assuring me my instincts were right about the greatness of, just for example, Albums Number 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 in my Top 10–records the titles of which might well look very foreign to you but which you better lean in to. (Though I do not need it, I await affirmation on #4!)

Suggestion for everyone reading this: host some listening parties starting today, and get out of your comfort zones.

OK…on with it! Here’s some great stuff, most of which is linked so you can sample it immediately. In my Hot 100 are some recordings that are old but that have never been released before–at least not in the present form. Also, I’m with Duke Ellington in ignoring categories and just seeking out good music; I see no reason why you can’t queue up some free improvised music like William Parker’s right after the joyous dance music of Ibibio Sound Machine and have a killer time.

The Top 40? In order of my preference for them. The Final 70? In random order. The 85 older releases that crept up on me? Alphabetized for your convenience!

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  3. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  4. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda
  5. Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life
  6. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
  7. JLin: Black Origami
  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  9. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  10. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  11. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  12. William Parker: Meditation – Resurrection
  13. Various Artists: Sweet as Broken Dates–Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
  14. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight
  15. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won
  16. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  17. Various Artists: Even a Tree Can Shed Tears–Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973
  18. Steve Earle and The Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw?
  19. Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders
  20. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for The South Side
  21. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  22. Hamad Kalkaba: Hamad Kalkaba and The Golden Sounds 1974-1975
  23. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  24. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  25. Les Amazones D’Afrique: Republique Amazone
  26. The Revelators: …we told you not to cross us (20th Anniversary Edition)
  27. Syd: Fin
  28. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP)
  29. The Perceptionists: Resolution
  30. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  31. Sampha: Process
  32. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm
  33. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  34. Burnt Sugar: All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity
  35. Fat Tony: MacGregor Park
  36. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  37. Body Count: Blood Lust
  38. John Waters: Make Trouble
  39. Filthy Friends: Invitation
  40. Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa
  41. Prince: Purple Rain – 2017 Deluxe Remaster
  42. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  43. The Goon Sax: Up to Anything
  44. Kelela: Take Me Apart
  45. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  46. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  47. Half Cleveland: Live at the Wi-Fi
  48. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  49. SZA: CTRL
  50. Jackie Shane: Any Other Way
  51. Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black
  52. Maximum Ernst: Maximum Ernst
  53. Oddisee: The Iceberg
  54. Tamikrest: Kidal
  55. Tyshawn Sorey: Verismilitude
  56. John Escreet: The Unknown
  57. Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II – Emerging Worlds 
  58. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  59. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  60. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  61. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  62. Trio 3: Visiting Texture
  63. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  64. Jay-Z: 4:44
  65. Aruan Ortiz: Cub(an)ism
  66. Wadada Leo Smith: Solo–Reflections and Meditations on Monk
  67. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  68. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
  69. Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls
  70. Ty Segall: Fried Shallots
  71. Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey
  72. Trio de Kali w/ The Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan
  73. Hard Working Americans: We’re All in This Together
  74. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  75. Gato Preto: Tempo
  76. Tinariwen: Elwan
  77. Shina Williams: Agb’oju L’Ogun
  78. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  79. Ross Johnson and Lesa Aldridge: Lesa and Ross
  80. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator
  81. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  82. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  83. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  84. Omou Sangare: Mogoya
  85. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  86. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  87. Pierre Kwenders: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
  88. Brix & The Extricated: Part 2
  89. Tomasz Stanko: December Avenue
  90. Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  91. Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, The Lonesome, and The Gone
  92. Chuck Berry: Chuck
  93. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  94. Don Bryant: Don’t Give Up On Love
  95. Thelonious Monk: Soundtrack to Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  96. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines
  97. David S. Ware: Live in New York City 2010
  98. Thundercat: Drunk
  99. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  100. Erica Falls: Home Grown
  101. Bill Evans: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  102. Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
  103. Husker Du: Savage Young Du
  104. The Replacements: For Sale–Live at Maxwell’s
  105. Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo
  106. Miguel: War & Leisure
  107. 2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
  108. The Paranoid Style: Underworld USA (EP)
  109. Sun Ra: Discipline 27-li
  110. Migos: Culture

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85 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

(If it’s bolded, I’ve been hooked on the thing quite seriously)

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Amobi, Chino: Paradiso
  3. Anonymous 4: The Lily & The Lamb–Chant & Polyphony from Medieval England
  4. Avengers: Died for Your Sins
  5. Les Amazones de Guinée: Au coeur de Paris & M’mah Sylla (Bolibana Collection)
  6. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  7. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  8. Ben, Jorge: Africa Brasil
  9. Black Artists Group: In Paris 1973
  10. Blassie, Fred: Nothin’ But a Pencil Neck Geek!
  11. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  12. Breuker, Willem: Bob’s Gallery
  13. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  14. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  15. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  16. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  17. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  18. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  19. The Creation: Action Painting
  20. Curtis, King: Instant Soul–The Legendary King Curtis
  21. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  22. Del Rey, Lana: Hollywood
  23. Dion and The Belmonts: Together Again
  24. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  25. Dog Life: Dog Life
  26. Dog Life: Fresh from the Ruins
  27. E: E
  28. Eggleston, Cozy: Grand Slam
  29. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  30. Fela: Live in Detroit
  31. Foc’sle Singers: Foc’sle Songs and Shanties
  32. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
  33. Goblin: Soundtrack to the film Suspiria
  34. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  35. Gonzalez, Dennis: Nile River Suite
  36. Grateful Dead: Sunshine Daydream
  37. Harlem River Drive
  38. Hassell, Jon: Dream Theory in Malaya–Fourth World, Volume Two
  39. Hemphill, Julius: Coon Bidness
  40. Human Arts Ensemble: Whisper of Dharma
  41. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  42. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  43. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  44. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  45. Kelela: Cut 4 Me
  46. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  47. Kyle, K. Curtis: The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson
  48. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  49. Mateen, Sabir: Prophecies Come True
  50. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  51. McPhee, Joe: At Willisau
  52. McPhee, Joe: “The Loneliest Woman”
  53. McPhee, Joe: Tenor / Fallen Angel
  54. Mitchell, Joni: Hejira
  55. The Montgomery Brothers: Groove Yard
  56. Orchestra Regionale De Mopti
  57. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  58. Patrick, Pat, and Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice
  59. Perry, Lee Scratch: Dub Triptych
  60. Perry, Lee Scratch: Presents African Roots
  61. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  62. Prince Jazzbo: Ital Corner
  63. Pullen, Don, and Beaver Harris: A Well-Kept Secret
  64. Rah Digga: Everything is a Story
  65. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  66. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  67. Sullivan, Maxine: Close as Pages in a Book
  68. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  69. Swell Maps: Jane from Occupied Europe
  70. Swell Maps: A Trip to Marineville
  71. Tate, Buddy: Jive at Five
  72. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  73. Thomas, Luther, and Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey Vols. 1 & 2
  74. Thornton, Clifford: The Panther and The Lash
  75. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse
  76. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  77. Various Artists: American Epic (yes, the sound really is that much of an improvement)
  78. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  79. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  80. Various Artists: The Original Sounds of Mali
  81. Various Artists: Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2
  82. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  83. Various Artists: The Poppyseeds–The Sound of Crenshaw
  84. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  85. Wray, Link: Three-Track Shack

 

 

One thought on “Devil Ain’t Fine: DJ Philly Phil’s 110 Favorite Albums of 2017, Plus 85 Old Records Whose Acquaintance He Just Made, That Helped Him Survive This Mess

  1. Hi Phil,
    I got a small USPS priority package in my mail this evening with your name on it from Slovenia. Your name, but my CoMo address. I figured rather than attempt to return it to far-away sender, I’d try to locate you. I can’t find an email for you, so thought I’d drop a line here. I’ll attach my email. Let me know if you think it’s yours and I’ll find a way to get it to you.

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