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Coming out of my music funk

November 29, 2017

By Kathy Edwards McFarland


Ted Gioia (Photo by Dave Shafer)

Mr. Ted Gioia,, just released his Top 100 recordings for 2017.

This may not be a big deal for some of you, Dear Readers, but his compilation, to me, is not only impressive, but boldly inspiring.

His journey through more than 1,000 albums during this past year, culling his top picks and testifying against the lack of accessible information about the lush, wide range of quality music in all its vibrant genres and forms is priceless.

I enjoy sharing my favorite music with others. But in the last few years, a different
motivation has spurred me. I believe that the system of music discovery is broken in the current day. There is more music recorded than ever before, but it is almost impossible for listeners to find the best new recordings.  

The most creative work in music is increasingly found on self-produced projects and releases from small indie labels— to an extent hardly conceivable only a decade ago.  Very little of this music ever shows up on the radio, where formats seem to get narrower and narrower with each passing year.  

Music fans once heard good new music at indie record stores, but most of them have closed. Or they could read reviews in the newspaper, but both the newspapers and the music reviews are shrinking or disappearing.

And the big record labels are the worst culprits of all, picking acts for their looks or their potential appeal to fourteen-year-olds, or some other egregious reason, and in general jumping on the most trivial passing fads.

On the other hand, the Internet presents an almost infinite amount of music and music commentary—yet where do fans even begin to separate the good from the bad and ugly?  

My personal solution to this dilemma has been to listen to lots and lots of music, and try to identify recordings of quality and  distinction.

This year, Gioia relinquished his numerical ranking, instead, alphabetizing the best recordings, “because each of these albums deserves recognition and the sequential ranking tended to focus too much attention on just a few recordings.

The full list appears soon enough. My take on Gioia’s epic undertaking is one of shear admiration. His work as a musician and writer has set him above most critics and music writers. With passion and attention to fairness and detail, he once again has offered a beauteous musical mix: Pointillistic Anti-Jazz (huh?) to Contemporary Music for Youth Chorus, Illegal Ethiopian Dance Music to Anonymous 16th Century Polyphony for Nuns … Yes, Jazz of all stripes is in there – tip of my hat to the Bernstein piano pieces, Miles Davis’ works, and a new album by Ahmad Jamal. I am also glad to find one of my personal favorites, Americana artist Rhiannon Giddens, on the list.

For the complete blog post and and the 100 Honorable Mention roster, visit

Here’s my list of the 100 best albums of 2017 (in alphabetical order this year). They are drawn from all styles and all genres. Happy listening!

  • John Luther Adams
    Canticles of the Holy Wind
    Contemporary Choral Music
  • Teddy Afro
    Illegal Ethiopian Dance Music
  • Arca
    Fragile, Ultra-Slow Latin Electropop
  • Daymé Arocena
    Contemporary Afro-Cuban Music
  • Sam Baker    Sam_Baker_LOD
    Land of Doubt  
    Raw, Self-Produced Singer-Songwriter from the Texas Prairie
  • Scott H. Biram
    The Bad Testament
    Funkish Punkish Country Music
  • Björk
    Groove-Free Techno with Flutes & Birdsong
  • Theo Bleckmann
    Elegaic Jazz
  • Stefano Bollani
    Mediterraneo: Jazz at the Berlin Philharmonic
    Jazz with Classical/Cinematic Ingredients
  • Brooklyn Youth Chorus
    Black Mountain Songs  
    Contemporary Music for Youth Chorus
  • Betty Buckley
    Story Songs
  • Sarah Cahill
    Eighty Trips Around the Sun: Music by and for Terry Riley
    Piano Music Composed (or Inspired) by Terry Riley
  • Celestial Sirens/Musica Secreta
    Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter
    Anonymous 16th Century Polyphony for Nuns
  • Bill Charlap
    Uptown Downtown
    Jazz Piano Trio
  • Billy Childs
  • Clann An Drumma     orderofthestag
    Order of the Stag
    Tribal Drumming with Scottish Bagpipes
  • Gary Clark, Jr.
    Live in North America 2016  
    Electric Blues
  • Anat Cohen Tentet
    Happy Song
    Semi-Big-Band Jazz
  • Jessi Colter
    The Psalms  
  • The Como Mamas
    Move Upstairs
  • Andrew Cooperstock
    Leonard Bernstein: Complete Solo Works for Piano
    Modern Classical Music
  • Danish String Quartet
    Last Leaf   
    Nordic Folk Music/Chamber Music
  • DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield
    Old Rock in New Jazzy Guises
  • Del Sol Quartet & Gyan Riley
    Terry Riley: Dark Queen Mantra
    Music for String Quartet and Electric Guitar
  • Ani DiFranco
  • Emerson String Quartet
    Chaconnes and Fantasias: Music of Britten and Purcell   
    Chamber Music
  • Emika
    Czech Orchestral Art Pop
  • Brian Eno
    Ambient Music
  • Heloísa Fernandes
    Brazilian Music/Jazz
  • Fink    finks1
    Fink’s Sunday Night Blues Club, Vol. 1  
    British Blues for Moderns
  • Champian Fulton
    Jazz Piano
  • Galley Beggar
    Heathen Hymns  
    British Folk-Rock With a Touch of Metal
  • Molly Gebrian & Danny Holt
    Trios for Two
    New Music for Viola, Piano and Percussion
  • Rhiannon Giddens
    Factory Girl
  • Stanley Grill
    At the Center of Things   
    Contemporary Chamber Music Inspired by Early Music
  • Erik Griswold
    Ecstatic Descent   
    New Music for Prepared Piano
  • Jo Harman
    People We Become   
    Moody British Singer-Songwriter Comes to Nashville
  • Stephen Hartke     stephenhartkedesc
    The Ascent of the Equestrian in a Balloon
    Contemporary Classical Music
  • Fred Hersch
    Open Book   
    Solo Jazz Piano
  • Jennifer Higdon
    All Things Majestic   
    Ecology-Inspired Contemporary Classical Music
  • Ifriqiyya Électrique
    Sufi Trance Music from Tunisia with a Post-Punk Twist
  • The Infamous Stringdusters
    Laws of Gravity
  • Vijay Iyer
    Far From Over
  • Ahmad Jamal
  • Jasper String Quartet
    Contemporary Chamber Music
  • Jlin
    Black Origami  
    Percussion-Driven Multicultural Dance Music
  • John Joubert    johnjoubertjaneeyre
    Jane Eyre  
    Contemporary Opera
  • Mari Kimura
    Voyage Apollonian
    Music for Violin & Interactive Computer
  • The Kraken Quartet
    Separate / Migrate
    Dance & Trance Music for Percussion and Electronics
  • Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge
    Mount Royal
    Nguyên Lê & Ngô Hồng Quang
    Há Nôi Duo   
    Vietnamese Music/Jazz
  • Charles Lloyd
    Passin’ Thru
  • The Magnetic Fields    magnetic-fields-50-song-memoir
    50 Song Memoir   
    Pop-Rock Art Songs
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition
    Jazz/South Asian Music
  • Laura Marling
    Semper Femina   
  • Hayes McMullan
    Everyday Seem Like Murder Here
    Previously Unreleased Country Blues Recorded in 1960s
  • Björn Meyer
    Ritualistic Music for Solo Bass Guitar (Six-String Electric and Acoustic)
  • Father John Misty
    Pure Comedy
    Faux Ecclesiastical Singer-Songwriter
  • Stanton Moore    SMToussaint
    With You In Mind: The Songs of Allen Toussaint
    New Orleans Funk
  • Randy Newman
    Dark Matter   
    Mordant Singer-Songwriter
  • North Mississippi Allstars    NMA-P4P_Cover.indd
    Prayer for Peace
    Roots & Blues
  • Víkingur Ólafsson
    Philip Glass: Piano Works    
    Minimalist Piano Music
  • Ed Palermo Big Band
    The Great Un-American Songbook, Vol 1& 2
    Irreverent Rock Repertory Big Band Music
  • Aaron Parks
    Find the Way  
  • Maurizio Pollini
    Chopin: Late Works
    Classical Piano Music
  • Billy Porter (with Guests)
    The Soul of Richard Rodgers
    Flamboyant Updatings of Broadway Tunes
  • Chris Potter
    The Dreamer is the Dream  
  • Awa Poulo
    Poulo Warali   
    Peulh Music from Mali
  • Quercus
  • Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind
    Approved by Snakes
    Dirty Harmonica Blues
  • Pepe Romero/Vicente Coves    Romero
    Federico Moreno Torroba: Guitar Concertos 2
    20th Classical Music for Guitar
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto
    Soundtrack Without a Film
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant
    Dreams and Daggers
    Jazz Vocals
  • András Schiff
    Encores After Beethoven
    Classical Piano Music
  • Adam Schoenberg
    American Symphony/Finding Rothko/Picture Studies   
    Neo-Romanticist Contemporary Orchestral Music
  • Raymond Scott
    Three Willow Park: Electronic Music from Inner Space 1961-1971
    Previously Unreleased Electronic and AI Music from 1960s
  • SFJAZZ Collective     MileSFJZ
    Music of Miles Davis & Original Compositions
  • Peter Silberman
  • Songhoy Blues
    West African Desert Rock as Political Protest
  • Tyshawn Sorey
    Pointillistic Anti-Jazz
  • Wesley Stace
    Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding
  • Colin Stetson
    All This I Do For Glory
    Experimental Saxophone Trance Music
  • Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister
    Introverted Pop for Star-Gazing
  • Quinn Sullivan
    Midnight Highway  
    Bluesy Rock-Pop
  • Systema Solar    systesorum
    Rumbo A Tierra
    Tale of Us
    Tech-Noir Chillout Music from Deutsche Grammophon
  • The Tangent
    The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery
    Neo Prog Rock
  • Otis Taylor
    Fantasizing About Being Black  
    Trance Blues
  • Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
    Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau  
    Jazz/Folk Hybrid
  • Thundercat
  • Tinariwen
    African Desert Blues
  • Tohpati Ethnomission
    Mata Hati
    Indonesian Jazz-Rock
  • Ralph Towner
    My Foolish Heart
    Jazz Guitar
  • Tribalistas
    Contemporary Brazilian Popular Music
  • The Unthanks    unthanksmd
    Diversions, Vol. 4: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake
    Brooding Songs by Nick Drake’s Mother Molly Drake (1915-1993)
  • Kamasi Washington
    Harmony of Difference
    Jazz with a Tinge of Soul/R&B
  • Dale Watson and Ray Benson  daleandray
    Dale & Ray
    Roadhouse Country
  • Willie Watson
    Folksinger, Vol. 2.   
    Folk Music
  • The xx
    I See You   
    Dream Pop
  • Miguel Zenón
  1. Bill Martin permalink

    Hi Kathy, I write promo pieces about music, too. You may find them interesting. I’ll send the current one and if you like it, reply and I’ll add you to my list. It’s that easy to get off the list, too. Bill Martin Senior Arts Study Society


  2. Thanks for letting me know about your expertise in music. Please feel free to visit me on Facebook or email me at


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