It's always hard to chose the ten best of anything, especially music. There's plenty of stuff I haven't heard that may certainly be deserving, so instead I'll just mention albums that have been my favorites this year.
10. The Loudest Sound Ever Heard -The Choir
The Choir was the first Christian band to show me that music didn't have to fit into either/or worship or secular music. Even when their music have been an inspiration and solace for me for over twenty years, their latest album proves that their work and talent continues unabated and will continue to mean so much to my own faith journey.
9. King Animal -Soundgarden
Truth be told, Soundgarden was never a particular favorite grunge band for me. I always leaned more towards Nirvana and Pearl Jam. That said, King Animal is a BEAST! It's a solid return for a band that still has life yet in it. A lot has been said recently about the sunset of rock, but this album proves that it's far from dead. Cornell and boys create an album of great guitar hooks, vocals that excite, and a rhythm that drives the blood.
8. Believe -Justin Bieber
Sacrilege! How dare I include former teeny-bopper and bublegum pop star Justin Bieber above Soundgarden or even on this list. The Gods honest truth, I love this album. I feel that Bieber has an ear and voice for great pop and dance music. Believe shows a big step from his manufactured teen sensation days to a more adult dance album. I think he has enough in him to outshine his heartthrob beginnings. This is a fun, slick album that has been a delight for me to drive and work to (sometimes to the chagrin of co-workers and my wife).
7. channel ORANGE -Frank Ocean
I am admittedly not ANYWHERE an aficionado when it comes to Hip Hop/ R&B. I first of Ocean for his work on the Jay-Z & Kanye West album which was a mixed bag, except for that killer Ocean track, "No Church in the Wild." This album dropped amidst his revealing personal life that even five years might have killed his career before it had a change to blossom. I'm glad that it looks like the key folks in the Hip Hop community have progressed enough to give this man a chance to pursue his passions (all of them). This album is evokes Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and his colleague Kanye West. It's my favorite album of this genre all this year, although Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) gave it a run for its money early on when I was drawing up this list.
6. Locked Down -Dr. John
Dr. John has already had a storied career and several albums to boast of. Despite his rich career, with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach acting as producer for this album, this is Dr. John's best album in decades. John's voodoo New Orleans music is layered with the raw musical textures that Auerbach brings to the mix. It'd dark, moody, restless and damn good!
5. Girl On Fire -Alicia Keys
It's been a while since a last heard or was interested in Alicia Keys, but this album changes that. It's a beautiful album start to finish. It feels honest and deep and for some reason I just connect with it.
4. TIE: Boys & Girls -Alabama Shakes and Arrow -Heartless Bastards
Sure, this is a way to squeeze eleven selections into a favorite ten list, but these two bands do go hand in hand with one another. Alabama Shakes feels like Amy Winehouse meets Janis Joplin and Big Brother & Holding Company. Brittany Howard's has a strange quality about it, but draws my ear. Her band is tight and manages to infuse the album with various forms of rock music from classic, southern, jam, alt. country.
After declaring my love for the Alabama Shakes, a fellow podcaster friend of mine (Mik of The Fanboys Lunchcast) recommended I check out Heartless Bastards. Their latest album, Arrow, found its musical mark. Erika Wennerstrom's voice can fill whatever room it enters. The album is at times luminous and other southern gothic. It is from the first to last track affecting. I'm so grateful for Mik's suggestion, I'm now a fan of Heartless Bastards.
3. Mirage Rock -Band of Horses
I've been a fair-weather fan of Band of Horses since their sophomore album. I haven't given them to much thought to be honest, until I read that renowned producer Glyn Johns was helping the band produced Mirage Rock. The result is Band of Horses best album to date. It is feels like a great Seventies California rock album without all the boring Eagles tunes. There isn't a bad tune on this album, and once the last song finishes I find myself often just letting the album repeat.
2. Rebirth -Jimmy Cliff
What a rebirth indeed! This album was without a doubt my summer album. I listened (and continue) to listen to this album hundreds of time, sometimes just letting it repeat on long trips in my car. Jimmy Cliff is a reggae icon and Rebirth shows that he is not ready to fade away. It's a strong album that sheds light on some weighty topics at times and other times is celebratory of reggae and Cliff's influence in it (with some choice covers like The Clash's "Guns of Brixton") . The band backing him does a great job supporting the legend even with such luminaires Rancid's Tim Armstrong and Cypress Hill's Dan Boer among them.
1. Blunderbuss -Jack White
I knew early on that White's album, Blunderbuss, would be my favorite album of the year. I was very sad when The White Stripes closed up shop, but after hearing this album, I'm glad that White continues to be one of my favorite artists and guitarists. Blunderbuss is a jangly, rough and tough album full of mean guitar hooks, bloodied drum beats, and kick you when your down lyrics. It's a bar-room fight of an album, made perfect clear in the stellar track "Love Interruption."
So there you have it. There's plenty of Honorable Mentions on my list of favorite albums including Childish Gambino's Camp, Gary Clark Jr's Blak and Blu, Green Day's UNO . . . DOS . . . TRÉ! , Bob Dylan's Tempest, Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts and more.