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.