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Louis Fowler's Top Records Of 2017

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Chicano Batman, Morrissey and Frank Waln.
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If you knew where to look in 2017—avoiding the pre-written charts, the speculative talent shows and rewritten press release rags, natch—it was a rich year in music. Collections of compositions for the emotionally mature, evocatively nostalgic and fist-pumpingly incendiary that willfully catered to the thoughtfully aged, the spitefully grown-up and the brutally lived-in were given wide berth in spite of the constant death of our heroes surrounding them.

Whether it was from rockers with experience to songs of experience, classic sounds recreated to classic sounds of recreation, brand new days and brand new ways to connect with the listener—no longer just a passive vessel when it’s no longer handed to you on a silver platter—if you knew where to look, 2017 was most definitely was a rich year for music and the appreciation of it. Here are my favorite albums from this year, in alphabetical order.

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Chuck Berry - Chuck (Dualtone)

Johnny may be good, but on his first release in almost 40 years, Chuck Berry proved he was still the best with this posthumous collection of rockin’ and reelin’ tunes that offered up his signature red-blooded all-American sound and fury on soon-to-be-staples like “Wonderful Woman” and “Big Boys,” all featuring surprisingly fresh take on a classic signature sound that exemplified a true master who never lost his touch.

Chicano Batman – Freedom is Free (ATO Records)

Like a rare find in a pile of dusty dollar bin records, psychedelic super-soldiers Chicano Batman’s sound is at first a mysterious mood-altering drug from another time that lysergically lulls with the coolly soulful vocals of Bardo Martinez blending in with a lush wall of sound that utilizes every channel with artistic panache and groovy frequency. Freedom Is Free is an intoxicating platter that does double duty as a work to lay back and toke one to or a turn out the lights and make sweet love with.

Jeff Finlin – The Guru in the Girl (Man in the Moon)

Under-the-radar stalwart Jeff Finlin has one of the most unmistakable voices—both on wax and on paper—in music today, always flirting with the idea of breaking out and becoming a mainstream presence while nobly clinging to his well-worn and ably-earned spiritual ethos, and never quite becoming the household name he should be because of it. His latest record, The Guru in the Girl is his unabashed, for lack of a better word, adult contemporary album, justifiable cementing his pure poetry with a slicker, polished sound that in no way belies any former integrities. If anything, it reinforces them by making them more accessible.

Lorenzo Martinez and Ramon “Rabbit” Sanchez – Old School Polkas del Ghost Town (And Other Conjunto Music of South Texas) (Spring Fed Records)

A much-needed and much-varied authentic travelogue through the puro conjunto history of South Texas, the accordion of San Antonio’s Lorenzo Martinez and bajo sexto of Ramon “Rabbit” Sanchez run-through an absolutely seminal premier, both in studio and on-stage, of the music that captures the very essence of the melting-pot of Texas music, from the German polkas to the Spanish paso dobles and every Tex-Mex incarnation in-between, these ghost town tunes dutifully wake the dead and keep the fiesta going well into the afterlife.

The Mavericks – Brand New Day (Mono Mundo)

The swingin’ swagger of Raul Malo and company is firmly in check, with his suavecito croon and romantic palabras slow-dancing effortlessly with all those Chuck Berry-twangs and Tex-Mex horns and Tejano accordions and closing-time cantina rhythms, be it downing a couple of shots of tequila to get the fiesta started—like on the Deutschland-infused opener “Rolling Along”—or swigging the rest of the bottle to avoid going home—say goodnight with the singalong closer “For the Ages”— Brand New Day might be more of that old Mavericks sound, but whoo boy, what a sound it still is.

Monkeys on Cocaine – Monkeys on Cocaine (El Sendero Records)

Boogie-woogie bad-ass (and Texas Tornado extraordinaire) Augie Meyers is prolific as heck, but it was this collaboration with guitarist Frank Carillo that really stood out from the recent pack, a down-home dirt-floor foot-stomper that mixes and mingles a fully-patented Tejano blues guitar sound (“What You Gonna Do About It”) and a muggy Louisiana swamp-pop vibe (a spectacularly spooky cover of Leadbelly’s “In the Pines”) into a Tex-Mex fracas that Meyers and crew seem devoted to be keeping alive on the regular, and more power to them for it.

Morrissey – Low in High School (BMG)

Morrissey’s manically romantic mood-swings hit an all-new abusive high in this low-down collection of purposefully alienating mantras that relish in their contrarian snarl and piss-taking pomp, with a specifically spiteful focus on the state of the world (“Who Will Protect Us from the Police,” “The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”) while still crafting the Caucasian corridos of moribund heartache and lascivious longing (“I Wish You Lonely,” “When You Open Your Legs”) that are still and always will be his gluten-free bread and vegan butter.

Styx – The Mission (Universal)

As if vacuum-sealed in a buried capsule and only recently released, sounding as immaculately fresh as they did in 1978, this latest incarnation of Styx is a sonically rocking triumph that unashamedly engulfs itself in the same swirling post-prog sound that made them such beloved classic rock staples on a brand-new record that sounds like it could’ve easily followed-up The Grand Illusion in an alternate universe. A concept album based around the first manned mission to Mars, Lawrence Gowan’s blissfully poperatic vocals are a heart-wrenching highlight that will leave even the most die-hard of original fans asking “Dennis DeWho?” after one worthy listen. Mission accomplished, this is the comeback record of the year.

U2 – Songs of Experience (Interscope)

Even after numerous successive listens, it’s still very hard for me to put into words the absolute beauty, stunning maturity and hopeful vision that U2’s latest, arriving at a time when we—and I—need it most, manages to ascertain in its thirteen cuts. So many thoughts and feelings grow and change with each successive listening, squarely aimed at ushering us into an uncertain new year, an aural novena candle of hope and love to light our way, both inspirationally and emotionally.

Various Artists - Songs, Bond Songs: The Music of 007 (Curry Cuts)

The Curry Cuts label has been putting together some of the most fun power-pop compilations since the International Pop Overthrows came along, with previous collections focusing on 70s easy listening and 80s British pop. Their latest outing, however, has some of the heaviest hitters and most heartfelt melodic masters shaking—not stirring—some action on the iconic themes of 007 in a double-disc set that includes such gorgeously surprising variations like Jay Gonzalez’ sultry-samba take on “A View to a Kill,” Gary Frenay’s channeling of George Harrison on “Moonraker,” and the Corner Laughers’ decidedly discofied dance-gem “Diamonds are Forever,” just to name a few for your ears only.

Frank Waln – The Bridge (self-released)

Over the past year or two—especially since the DAPL debacle—I’ve seen some of the best Indigenous talents of my generation forgo their faith for fame, losing their heart and the message in a bid for popularity over principals, a moment on camera over a lifetime with a message. Sicangu Lakota Hip Hop artist Frank Waln has managed to stay undeniably true to not only his artform but more importantly himself, releasing the soul-shocking stunner The Bridge in 2017. Kicking off with the passionate Molotov of an opener with “What Made the Red Man Red,” every cut explodes with a sheer ferocity of brutal beats and savage rhymes that builds bridges while knocking down walls at the same time, a powerhouse of provocative pro-action that is a victory of intelligence and information you can also dance to. 

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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