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The 2016 Graham Awards

At the end of each year on Mixed Bag, I have given out a bunch of tongue-in-cheek awards from my weird little perspective on the far periphery of the music world, a refuge from Auto-Tuned vocals and fake handclaps. From my perspective a lot in the commercial music scene did not change much, so many of my observations from 2015 are still valid, except perhaps more so. It seemed that sonic quality on pop music is in a spiral to the bottom, with intentionally distorted vocals, the sound quality of an old boom box with a weak battery turned up all the way. And so much of the commercial music scene seemed to be dominated by artists for whom music seemed an afterthought in a world of videos suitable for cell phones.

But as always, if one digs deep, one can find a bunch of gems by artists who are as disgusted by the commercial musical-industrial complex’s output as many of us are. And it’s encouraging that many are young and at the peak of their creative careers. The year also brought numerous worthwhile albums by long-time veterans, who proved they are not yet ready to be put out to pasture.

I have my long list of favorite albums from among the 500 new releases I featured in 2016 on Mixed Bag posted here. But here are by Top 12. It was another year in which I was not able to narrow it down to a Top 10.

12. Kenny White: Long List of Priors. Former jingle writer creates another fine album of literate, wordy, insightful songs.

11. Josienne Clarke & Ben Weller: Overnight. A couple of young artists from the UK nicely reviving the sound of the English Folk scene evoking groups like Fairport Convention.

10. Sierra Hull: Weighted Mind. A young mandolinist making a striking singer-songwriter album with just her mando and acoustic bass.

9. Notify: In Concept. Irish instrumental group combines Celtic with jazz-rock fusion, and electronica with a prominent concertina.

8. Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouate: Monistic Theory. Great mix of Malian world music with contemporary rock and pop.

7. Bonnie Raitt: Dig In Deep. Close to 45 years on the scene, and she’s still at the top of her game with great blues-rock.

6. Eileen Ivers: Beyond the Bog Road. Another wonderfully eclectic mix from fiddler Ivers of Celtic, pop, soul and funk.

5. Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger. One of Simon’s most adventurous albums since Graceland. He shows he hasn’t lost it.

4. David Crosby: Lighthouse. Another old-timer (75) who is at the top of his form, great songs, and a voice that still does those great high harmonies.

3. Snarky Puppy: Family Dinner Volume Two. Interesting fusion semi big band does wide-ranging eclectic mixes with performers from around the world, recorded live in the studio.

2. William Bell: This Is Where I Live. The writer of the classic Born Under a Bad Sign returns with one of the most perfect soul albums in many a moon.

1. Jacob Collier: In My Room. Twenty-one-year old phenom creates amazing layered mega-overdubbed music by himself in his family’s music room. Check out his arrangement of the Flintstones theme.

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