My Favorite TV of 2017

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Dianne Reeves: TV Is The Thing This Year
[purchase]

[Edited on 2/2/18, to add a show that I forgot]

As I’ve mentioned, I watch a great deal of TV, and as many people have discussed, we are currently in a period where TV is filled with great shows. The model of creating bingeable high quality shows (which Netflix didn’t create, but is probably the largest beneficiary of) has raised the bar across streaming and more traditional networks.

I was, however, shocked, when I put together this list of shows that I liked in 2017, because it is so long. And it doesn’t even include every show that I watched in 2017–I have some guilty pleasures that are fun (like, say Supergirl or Hawaii Five-0), but don’t rise to the level of even this bloated list, there are some shows that I watch because I’ve stayed with them for a number of seasons, even if they aren’t all that great anymore (like Homeland), there are some shows that were good, but just didn’t have the same spark this year (like Veep or Transparent), or shows that were intriguing, but somehow didn’t grab me at the level of those on the list (like Legion or Runaways), and there are some that are perfectly fine shows that my wife really likes, and we watch together (like Grace and Frankie).

And, I know that there are shows that made many year-end best of lists that I didn’t watch, because you can’t watch everything, or because their premise didn’t seem interesting, or because I’m already too many seasons behind. Some of them I may watch down the line, and some I won’t.

Which is why, as with my music list, I call this a list of “my favorites” not a list of “the best.”  Note that there may be some minor spoilers below, although I’ve tried hard to avoid anything major:

My Favorite:

It may not have been the “best” show of 2017, but the one that I have thought the most about has been Bojack Horseman (Netflix), which I wrote about in greater detail here. It may be atop my list because we binged all four seasons over a short period of time, allowing its brilliance to really sink in.

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My Favorite Music of 2017

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On the one hand, there really is an incredible amount of great music out there, and on the other hand, as I noted last year, I’m not listening to music as much, or with as much focus, as I did in the past.  Yet, I’m still going to opine about my favorite music of 2017, because I set up this blog to write about music, and that’s what music writers do, right? And despite my protestations, there’s a lot of music discussed below.

My Favorite Albums of 2017:

If you know me at all, either personally or through my music writing, you have to have expected that my clear favorite album of 2017 was Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, The Nashville SoundThis is the one album from last year that I listened to regularly and which has stuck with me.  It rocks harder than his last two albums (which were credited to Isbell only), and yet the songwriting remains as personal, as poignant and as political as anything that he’s done.  As a result The Nashville Sound came in first, or very high, on many year-end lists, and I’m proud to add this one to the pile.

I don’t think there’s a bad track on the album, but “If We Were Vampires” stands out, and “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” aren’t far behind (and if I were writing this on a different day, I might pick different songs).  My write up of the band’s live cover of “Whipping Post,” as the 50th best cover of 2017 can be found here.

Check out this video interview of Isbell by George Saunders, award winning novelist, for a mutual love-fest, and an interesting discussion of their crafts.

The rest of the albums that I liked, in alphabetical order by artist name:

Nicole Atkins, Goodnight Rhonda Lee–A collection of retro-sounding pop/soul/country/blues (if you are thinking Dusty Springfield, you are on the right track) from a Jersey girl relocated to Nashville who is dealing with her personal demons.  Too many good songs to pick just one.

Bash & Pop, Anything Could HappenTommy Stinson, former Replacement, revives the Bash & Pop name for a very Replacements sounding collection of rockers.  “On The Rocks” was one of my favorite tracks of the year.

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield, HudsonFour top instrumentalists join together for an interesting, beautiful collection of jazz originals and jazzy covers of rock songs.  My favorite is their cover of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek,” which ramps up the New Orleans funk.

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New Year’s Clearance

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The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year
[purchase]

Time to clear the decks with a repost of my writing on other blogs since my last space-filling post back in October.  After this, I’ll start working on the utterly unanticipated list of my favorite music (and maybe some other stuff) of 2017, but if you know me at all, you should be able to guess what my favorite album and song were.

Over at Cover Me, as promised, I delivered a Five Good Covers piece about The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” but the Full Album treatment of Brian Eno’s Before And After Science has run into a key problem–there are two songs that don’t appear to have been covered.  I’m huddling with my editors to figure out how to proceed.  In addition, Cover Me posted its top cover and tribute albums and songs (plus some honorable mentions) of 2017, and I contributed a few blurbs.

I was a bit more prolific over at Star Maker Machine.  For the Train theme, I wrote about Robbie Robertson’s “Somewhere Down The Crazy River,” and looked to a different definition of the word for a piece about Phil Ochs’ “Talking Vietnam,” considered by many to have been the first song to protest that war.  Our next theme, as we approached Thanksgiving, was All The Fixings, and I discussed Golden Smog’s “Pecan Pie,” and The Cranberries’ “Linger,” as well as my personal feelings about pecan pie and cranberry sauce.

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Mr. Peanutbutter!!

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Let’s Active: Every Dog Has His Day
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I have been a bad boy, not posting anything here for more than two months.  It’s not like there’s nothing interesting going on in the world, or in music, but maybe it has been paralysis by analysis.  There may be too much to write about, and trying to figure out what to focus on is too hard.

Also, I’ve been watching a bunch of TV.  There is so much good stuff available on the air, or streaming, these days, but the show that has really struck a chord with me has been BoJack Horseman.  For the last few years, I’ve seen TV critics rave about it, but somehow watching a cartoon about a talking horse just seemed too weird.  But when my daughter recommended it, and pointed out some ways that it would appeal to my particular sense of humor, we decided to give it a shot.

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Re-Runs

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Kamasi Washington: Re Run
[purchase]

It’s been more than a month since my last post here–a combination of work, family and other writing keeps getting in the way.  I did start something music-related, but ran out of steam–I will finish it at some point.  So, time to fill space with some reposts of my writing at Star Maker Machine and Cover Me.

Before we get there, though, another plug for Ray Padgett’s book, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time, available at Amazon.  Now that the book is out, I can report that it is great, and you should read it and give it to your music fan family and friends.  And no, I don’t get a kickback.  It has already gotten rave reviews from Variety, Parade, and the A.V. Club.  I got to meet Ray, and another Cover Me writer, Frank Minishak, at the book release party at Paste Magazine‘s offices/studio.  They had arranged for four musicians, Emel Mathlouthi, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Walter Martin of The Walkmen, and Anthony D’Amato, to perform covers of some of the songs that Ray wrote about.  You can see the videos here, and make sure you notice the light reflecting off of my bald head on the left side of some of the videos.

Since my last one of these, I’ve only written a couple of things at Cover Me.  I participated in a “Cover Me Q&A” about favorite Disney covers, which I don’t really have, by discussing The Replacements’ version of “Cruella de Vil” from One Hundred and One Dalmatians, at much greater length than I expected.  In addition, I wrote about Five Good Covers of Wreckless Eric’s classic “Whole Wide World,” and discovered that my wife had never heard the song before.  So maybe it isn’t such a classic.  I’m working on a new Q&A response about the Tom Robinson Band, and have promised to do a Five Good Covers piece about The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” and a Full Album treatment of Brian Eno’s Before And After Science, which will be a challenge.

As always, the theme-driven Star Maker Machine‘s prompts often spark writing ideas.  As I threatened in my last roundup, I responded to the “On/Off” theme by discussing Genesis’ “Turn It On Again,” as a jumping off point to a reflection of when, if at all, Genesis fans jumped off the bandwagon.

The next theme, “Two Words,” inspired two posts, one about Chuck Prophet’s “Summertime Thing,” mostly because I had never written about Prophet there, and one called “Somewhere Rocks,” about Ian Hunter’s songs “England Rocks” and “Cleveland Rocks.”

The state of our nation was the inspiration for the “Chaos/Confusion” theme, but I stayed away from politics to write about Warren Zevon’s duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Disorder In The House,” and the fun the two of them seemed to have recording the song, despite Zevon’s impending death (but not Springsteen’s).  I heard the song in the car the other day, and when they laugh at the end, my wife and I joined them.  In addition, I wrote about the 1977 Live Stiffs tour, which often ended in a raucous version of Ian Dury’s most famous song, titled, on the album, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll & Chaos.”   It is probably the only song in my collection that includes someone yelling from the stage, “Cut out the fucking spitting.”  Because punk.

Next up was “Shadows,” which gave me the chance to mention that I had met the talented and extremely nice percussionist Mino Cinélu, who appeared on the Gong song “Shadows Of.”  I also wrote about Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain,” which was featured in a movie that my now wife and I saw on one of our earliest dates.

The next theme, “Incompetence/Can’t” was a reaction to the buffoon in the White House, but my first post was about sort of a more local official, the “Mayor Of Simpleton,” a great XTC song.  Unlike the aforementioned buffoon, the titular mayor is self-aware about his deficiencies, and also unlike the buffoon, actually has other redeeming values.  I pilfered Cover Me‘s “That’s A Cover?” idea to discuss “You’re No Good,” made famous, if not for the first time, by Linda Ronstadt.

We looked “Down” for the next two weeks, and I continued a recent trend of writing about TV shows, this time focusing on the theme song from one of the best, The Wire, Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” and all of the different versions used in the credits.  In an attempt to take the theme in a new direction, I wrote highlighted two proggy projects about geese, Camel’s The Snow Goose and original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips’ The Geese And The Ghost.

For the “True Stories” theme, I decided to feature two songs inspired by events, rather than more narrative ones, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” referencing the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church, and The Jam’s “The Eton Rifles,” about a street brawl between unemployed workers and upper class students in England.

And most recently, for our “Listen” theme, I featured Dar Williams’ “Are You Out There,” a song she wrote about how important listening to the radio as a teenager was to her life.

Today’s featured song is “Re Run,” from saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s 2015’s jazz album, aptly titled The Epic.  I have to admit that I haven’t listened to all of the 173 plus minutes of the album, but it was critically acclaimed on its release, and what I have listened to is interesting.

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The Last Waltz

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[purchase the Blue-Ray]

I saw The Last Waltz again last week, at the Tarrytown Music Hall, and, as always, I loved it.  The first time I saw it was in Paris (lah-di-fucking-dah), during the summer between junior and senior year of college.  At the time, although I certainly was aware of, and enjoyed, the music of The Band, I have to admit that I really didn’t appreciate how important, or how good, they were.  It really wasn’t until much later, when I began to pay more attention to what is now called Americana music that I began to understand the central role that The Band had in fusing rock music with strands of old American folk, blues and country music.

I’d like to say that I have some sort of new insight into the film, which reveals more to me every time I see it, but I don’t.  Generally considered one of the best, if not the best, rock concert movies, or even music documentaries, it has been dissected at length.  For example, here. Of course the film has been criticized for a number of reasons, mostly its focus on Robbie Robertson, especially by Levon Helm.

The combination of pre-planning that made everything on stage look effortless, the rough charm and humor of the musicians in telling their between-songs anecdotes (who can forget the story of having to pay Garth Hudson $10/week for music lessons), the skillful directing and editing (including not forcing the film to follow the running order of the concert) and the quality of The Band’s performances alone would have made it a good movie.  But to me, what makes it a great one were two critical decisions–to focus the cameras on the musicians, often in closeups, allowing the viewers to see the way they interacted with glances, smiles and nods, and the decision to bring in a parade of distinguished guests.  The Band started as The Hawks, supporting road warrior Ronnie Hawkins, and had their first real fame as Bob Dylan’s backing band, so as wonderful as it is to hear them play their familiar songs live, it is more fun seeing them enjoying backing up musicians as diverse as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison.

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Fast Forward. Please?

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Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On
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I have to assume that I’m not the only one who wakes up every morning worried that something crazy happened overnight, or will happen during the day, right?

It used to be that nothing happened in August.  People were on vacation, there was no 24 hour news cycle, and you tried to stay cool, while dreading the approach of Labor Day.

Think about all the stuff that has happened this month (and I’m not talking about the Mets trading most of their pending free agents).  At the beginning of the month, we learned that our president admitted to the Mexican president that the whole “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” was a load of crap, but would President Nieto, pretty, please, keep that on the downlow?

The next day, we learned that Special Counsel Mueller had empaneled a new grand jury to advance his investigation of the administration and campaign.

A few days later, the president threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  This apparent  warning to use nuclear weapons was, in a particularly classy move, made in the few days between the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Of course, North Korea backed off on its “threat” to shoot missiles at Guam, and it is likely that the egotist-in-chief will take this as evidence that waving nukes around worked, when it seems clear to pretty much anyone with a brain that all Kim Jong Un wants is to stay in power, so that there really wasn’t any chance that he would bait our unstable leader into doing anything to topple him.  This does not bode well for the next time our country is confronted while the current tiny hands hold the nuclear code.

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