According to Last.fm, here are the artists I listened to most frequently in 2015:
1. Ryan Adams (411 plays)
2. Tony Bennett (324)
3. George Wallington (322)
4. Melody Gardot (310)
5. Beach Slang (279)
6. José González (277)
7. John Coltrane (269)
8. Ben Webster (266)
9. Cat Power (238)
10. Alabama Shakes (233)
As I wrote one year ago, I've been using Last since May 2005 (!) to track my listening habits, and as of this writing it's captured 121,499 plays (16,355 more than in January 2014.)
I find it surprising that I've gotten so into Ryan Adams, because I really had no idea who he was up until fairly recently, even though he's been recording for over 20 years. Amy and I got into the TV show Friday Night Lights via Netflix a few years ago, and we particularly loved the soundtrack. The standout song was Whiskeytown's "Everything I Do (Miss You)," which reliably reduced us to romantic puddles. This led to an interest in the band and the disappointing discovery that they'd broken up a decade earlier in 2001--and the encouraging discovery that their former leader had embarked on a prolific career since that time. I'd heard his name but had never heard his music, and was stunned to realize that it was so good and I'd nearly missed it.
One further note on Adams: Last year he came in at #3, while his old band Whiskeytown was #1. This year Whiskeytown is still prominent at #14--I do love those 3 albums--but obviously I'm listening more to Adams' recent solo work. Although not that recent: Looking more deeply into the Last.fm data, I see that Adams' Love Is Hell--from 2004--was my 10th most-played album in 2015, and after that there's a big drop to 2003's Rock and Roll at #97, 2010's III/IV at #98, and 2001's Gold at #100. While I really, really like Adam's work overall, I absolutely love Love Is Hell, an album I'd put up there with PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and Radiohead's In Rainbows, two of my personal benchmarks.
I've always liked and respected Tony Bennett, and he's moved me to tears both times I've seen him perform here in SF, but discovering The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings has taken my admiration for the man to an entirely new level. It's the album I listened to more than any other last year, and I suspect it's a mainstay of my rotation.
George Wallington, the little-known Italian pianist (née Giacinto Figlia) who quit the music business in 1960 is up from a tie for #10 last year, no doubt because his Complete Trios: 1949-1956 was my #2 album last year. I'm not sure what it is about Wallington, but his trios and his larger groups--notably on 1955's Live at the Cafe Bohemia, 1956's Jazz for the Carriage Trade, and 1957's The New York Scene--reliably knock me out.
I've loved Melody Gardot ever since I first heard her debut, Worrisome Heart, and I've been eagerly awaiting her newest release since 2012's The Absence. Finally, finally Currency of Man came out this Summer, and it's spectacular. Spectacular! It was my #3 album this year, but I'll listen to everything she records forever. This woman is a genius.
As is James Alex, the leader and guiding spirit of Beach Slang, a fuzzed-out, youth-besotted band from Philadelphia, of all places. Alex and his band's two discs found me and grabbed me by the throat. (Those discs were my #4 and #6 albums this year.) There was a period where I listened to "Dirty Cigarettes" on repeat during my commute, and it turned out to be my #4 song for the year. I'm way too old to actually get out to a Beach Slang show--I'm sure I'm asleep before they take the stage--but damn! I'm glad they exist and glad they remind me of the bands of my own youth and the depth of my love for them, most notably the Replacements and Jawbreaker. (Both of whom Beach Slang cover, appropriately enough.) Rock on.
José González, like Melody Gardot, is one of those artists I love and listen to perennially who also released a brilliant new album last year, Vestiges and Claws. It's not quite as good as Gardot's 2015 release, but more than good enough to justify González's spot on this list. Love that man.
John Coltrane is down from #5 last year to #7 this year, but I actually listened to 46 more of his tracks this year, up from 223. What I said last year holds true: If I had to listen to just one box set for all time, it would be The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. (And it was my #8 album this year.) That music has saved me many times over, and it will again, I'm sure--it's my reliable go-to in so many different situations: When I have work to do, when I need to sit and think, when I need to sit and not think. I keep finding something new in it, and it keeps finding something new in me.
Ben Webster--perhaps the most beautiful, evocative tone in all of jazz. I don't know why I listened to him more in 2015 than the year before--feeling wistful?
I hold Cat Power in high regard, but I'd lost touch with her work after 2006's The Greatest (and it blows my mind that that record came out a decade ago.) But last year I happened to hear her version of Otis Redding's classic "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," from 2008's Dark End of the Street, an EP of soul and folk covers, all outtakes from her Jukebox album of the same year. That song's haunting effect on me led me to dig into all of her work over the past decade, including 2012's Sun, and it's been fantastic to rediscover her.
And rounding out the Top Ten, Alabama Shakes' new release, Sound and Color, wasn't quite as sublime as the landmark Boys and Girls, but I liked it enough to make it my #13 album, and between that and B&G (#7), the band is still one of my current faves.
The Front Bottoms just missed this list, coming in at #11, and while I wasn't surprised to see them drop from #2 in 2014 (when I listened to them more or less nonstop), in part this reflected my ambivalence about last year's Back on Top. I loved half of it, but the rest left me wanting something. It's a perfectly good record, to be clear, but it didn't grab me like their previous work.
Chick Corea and his trio's Trilogy from 2013 was actually my #4 album, with 148 plays (just ahead of Beach Slang's "Broken Thrills") but Last treats the 3 discs as separate releases. Still, he's #15 on my artists list on the basis of this one recording. This is radically different music from Coltrane's Village Voice sets, and yet it has a similar effect on me--I can listen to it endlessly, and it's equally perfect for working and for doing nothing.
Melissa Aldana and her Crash Trio's self-titled release from 2014 puts her just behind Chick Corea on my artists list, and I'm incredibly excited to see her live at SFJazz in a few months.
Connie Evingson (#18) is a new discovery, a Minneapolis-based jazz singer who does some really nice work in a wide range of styles.
Sleater-Kinney's No Cities To Love was one of my favorite albums of 2015, and I'm surprised to see them at #26 on my artists list. As much as I respect them, I find that I don't listen to their old catalog that much--just 39 plays from all their previous releases in 2015.
Interestingly, Cécile McLorin Salvant also had one of my favorite albums of 2015, For One To Love, and she comes in right behind Sleater-Kinney on my artists list at #27. Seeing her at SFJazz was one of my favorite shows in 2015, right up there with The Bad Plus Joshua Redman and Dorado Schmitt.
Finally, Dilly Dally's Sore was #17 on my album list, and I won't be surprised to see it again next year--it's raw music, with no polish, and it hits my soul in just the right places.
Amy and I sat down last night and reminisced about a number of things, including being kids in the '70s. Growing up together in suburban Pennsylvania, we heard a lot of the same music, and it was striking to us how similar our tastes were, even though we didn't meet until we were in high school in the '80s.
'70s Bands Amy Liked That I Didn't
ABBA, Bread, Carly Simon, Carole King, Elton John, Jackson Browne, Meatloaf, Rod Stewart, Simon & Garfunkel, The Bee Gees, The Grateful Dead, The Police
(I liked a few tracks by these artists, but I was never really into them like she was.)
'70s Bands I Liked That Amy Didn't
Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Rush, Stevie Wonder, Supertramp, The Buzzcocks, Thin Lizzy, Yes
(I suspect gender might be a factor here.)
'70s Bands We Both Liked
AC/DC, Blondie, Bob Seger, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, Heart, Joan Jett, Journey, Led Zeppelin, Linda Ronstadt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, Pat Benatar, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, The Cars, The Clash, The Eagles, The Kinks, The Pretenders, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Van Halen
(We didn't hear some of these artists until high school, although I remember talking with friends in elementary school about the Sex Pistols, presumably in '77 or early '78. The rumor was that they puked onstage, and we were totally fascinated by that.)
'70s Bands Neither of Us Liked
Billy Joel, Black Sabbath, Chicago, Dire Straits, Electric Light Orchestra, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Jefferson Starship, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, King Crimson, KISS, Pink Floyd, Santana, The Allman Brothers, The Band, The Doobie Brothers, The Scorpions, Traffic
(I went through periods of liking a few of these artists--Billy Joel, King Crimson--but ultimately came to dislike them pretty thoroughly.)
Photo by Fashionby He.
According to Last.fm, these are the artists I listened to most frequently in 2014:
1. Whiskeytown (352 plays)
2. The Front Bottoms (349)
3. Ryan Adams (313)
4. Future Islands (239)
5. John Coltrane (223)
6. Sean Hayes (217)
7. Bon Iver (211)
8. Nat King Cole (191)
9. TIE Mulatu Astatke and the George Wallington Quintet (188 each)
I've been using Last.fm to track my listening habits since May 2005, and as of today it's captured 105,170 plays. It covers iTunes plays at home, as well as iPod plays from my car and workouts. It doesn't cover Pandora plays at home, which we listen to often, so there's certainly plenty of data not being captured. That said, Amy usually puts on Pandora, and I usually put on iTunes, so the Last.fm data is a reasonably accurate reflection of my personal listening habits.
Coltrane (1,207 plays and #4 on my overall Last.fm list) is obviously one of my favorite artists ever, the man most responsible for my love of jazz, and I listened to him even more than usual in 2014 after discovering The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. If I had to listen to just one box set for all time, this would be it.
Bon Iver (1,069, #6) is also an all-time favorite, but in a very different way. Miles Davis is #1 on my all time list (1,378 plays), but I also have 130 songs of his in my iTunes collection, while I only have 26 Bon Iver songs. Almost every one of them is a gem that holds deep personal meaning for me. I thought I'd tire of Bon Iver after a few years, as I do with most pop artists, but it hasn't happened yet.
Sean Hayes (717, #12) is sneaking into this bracket. He's hard to categorize--which is probably one reason why he's fairly obscure--but he sings about relationships, sex and the struggles of adulthood in a way that's both heartening and heartbreaking. (2012's Before We Turn to Dust is a great introduction to his work.)
And then there are the artists I become intensely infatuated with who rise to the top of an annual list like this but probably won't be here next year, like the Front Bottoms (360, #76) and Future Islands (239, #124). They're very different bands. The Front Bottoms make slightly nerdy, bouncy guitar pop that occasionally has a harder edge. This January 2014 concert on Long Island shows them at their best, with a joyous crowd singing along to every track and stage divers being careful not to hurt anyone (unlike the knuckleheads at the punk shows of my youth.) I'm too old to actually go to a show like this these days, but it's nice to know that they still take place. (This acoustic NPR set from 2013 makes it easier to absorb the lyrics.)
Future Islands makes new-wavey synth pop that relies heavily on the unexpected charisma of frontman Samuel T. Herring. He looks like a suburban middle manager who got lost on his way to the office park and wound up onstage. Then he starts singing and dancing, and it's like Richard Burton imitating Pee Wee Herman fronting New Order, with occasional death metal growls for added emphasis. They broke out in 2014 with this amazing performance of Seasons (Waiting on You) on Letterman. This short set in-studio at KEXP in Seattle is also great, and here they are on Austin City Limits.
I'm not sure what to make of last year's interest in Whiskeytown (483 plays, #38 all-time) and Ryan Adams (316, #91). I'm in love with almost everything the late, great Whiskeytown recorded, and Everything I Do (Miss You), is guaranteed to reduce me to a puddle, especially if Amy's around. Adams led Whiskeytown, of course, but his solo work is more varied as he's stretched himself as an artist. Some of it I love, some not so much.
Nat King Cole (191, #156 all-time) is primarily remembered today as a smooth singer, but we really got into him last year after Amy discovered how gifted he was as a pianist on 1956's After Midnight and the Instrumental Classics compilation. I respect Cole's singing, although I'm not passionate about it, but I expect I'll keep listening to his instrumental work.
When I saw Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers years ago I was so entranced by the music that I bought the soundtrack immediately. It's a great collection overall, but the standouts are four Ethiopian jazz-pop songs, three by Mulatu Astatke and one by Dengue Fever. Visiting my brother Matt last year I learned that there's an entire series of discs dedicated to that music, Éthiopiques. I picked up Volume 4, which focuses on Mulatu Astatke, as well as a compilation, The Very Best of Éthiopiques. Unreal. I may not listen to it as intensely as I did in 2014, but there are days when I can just put this music on and listen to it over and over again.
And George Wallington (312, #95 overall) was an Italian (born Giacinto Figlia) who came to the U.S. with his family as an infant and became one of the greatest bop pianists of the 1940s and '50s. (In 1960 he suddently stopped playing music and moved to Florida to work in his family's air-conditioning business. He began playing again 24 years later and recorded one more album in 1985 before he died in 1993 at age 68.) I've listened to him for years--I first got interested in him when I learned that Donald Byrd was in his quintet--but I really got into him in 2014 after discovering The Prestidigitator and especially the Complete Live at the Cafe Bohemia set. Late '50s/early '60s bop is probably the music I listen to most often at home, and Wallington is a master of the form.
I haven't seen Sandra Bernhard in years, but I ran across a reference to her today and was reminded of how much I loved her as a high-school kid and college student. Smart, irreverent, occasionally unhinged and always herself, she was something of a role model to me. I always assumed that she got a lot of shit growing up in Arizona and getting started in show biz, and I admired her for her courage and determination. And she made an art form of the Letterman interview--no one ever did it better.
Half a lifetime ago John Waite was a big deal. An actual rock star. (Of the sensitive '80s variety, but still.)
More recently, he's been playing acoustic sets at places like a Borders in Cincinnati. And he brings it.
I didn't like John Waite when he was all over MTV in the early '80s. But I have a lot of respect for a guy who does his best even when the bright lights are far, far away.