Best albums of 2017

Image result for soul funk 2017

Sorry folks I’ve been slacking on this post for quite some time now, but I’m finally catching up and updating my shiz. Here it is the best, best of list from last year, you’re ever gonna see in March of the following year.  This list comprises the best albums of last year, the ones that had soul/funk throughout and were exceptional for their style and sound.  It is obviously a little different than singles, but you’ll notice some crossover.  Now that that’s outta the way…

As is true every year 2017 had some great soul/funk records released. Some leaning towards the past and some firmly futuristic new fashions for soul and funk.  A few of this year’s best albums used hip hop as their major influence.  Retro sounds also mixed with gospel and folksy campfire incantations, while dark groovy vibes crept in. Fantastic danceable afro-beat mixed in with the funk, and turned the soft ground into mud.  Even dusty country, grimy rhythm and blues, and dirty ol’ southern delta blues, got soul last year.  In other words, what a year for moving forward and redefining what soul/funk means to us.

As heard on the Soul Donuts radio program @KWVA 88.1 FM Eugene here is The Top 25 Soul/Funk Albums released in 2017 below!

25.  Nicole Willis and UMO Jazz Orchestra-My Name is Nicole Willis

Nicole Willis and UMO Orchestra-Haunted by the Devil

Veteran soul songstress emerges with a new band and a swathe of new sounds.  Orchestral and psychedelic don’t often pair together unless we’re throwing in jazz.

24.  Haggis Horns-One of These Days

The Haggis Horns-The Long Way

A little rap, funk and 70’s soul rides the bus together with the horn section driving, it’s a cross town commute that’ll start any day off right.

23.  Tanika Charles-Soul Run

Tanika Charles-Soul Run

New comer on the Soul Donuts radar, this young diva hits all the right notes on her album Soul Run simultaneously fresh and sounding old.  She crafts a smooth soul revival sound, with a solid cast of producers that have helped her capture a unique vintage 60’s vibe.

22.  The Meltdown-The Meltdown

The Meltdown-Better Days

Heart wrenching soul vocals combine effortlessly with the band as it lays down the essential foundations for exceptional ballads, and horn driven songs.

21.  Soul Scratch-Pushing Fire

Soul Scratch-Fireside Lounge

Rage against the current political climate and a critique of consumerism are just some of the buttons that LA’s Soul Scratch has pressed on ‘Pushing Fire’.  The group excels with straight-ahead soul butt-shakers and deep groovers, add the solid horn work and it makes this album a blast to listen to.

20.  Abstract Orchestra-Dilla

Abstract Orchestra-Workinonit

The Abstract Orchestra takes on the music of J Dilla the world re-knowned producer, to rearrange, deconstruct, and groove as a live band playing rap and hip hop classics.  A fantastic album for the headphones, to nod your head to.

19.  Wayne Snow-Freedom TV

Wayne Snow-Fall

A multitude of genres and styles makes this album worth listening to as a whole, start to finish.  Along this journey you will stay rooted in jazz and future soul, but will find oneself meeting the likes of; electro, house, disco, jazz fusion, broken beat, afro-carribean, afro-beat, and what sounds to me like new jack swing.  All of this material is accompanied by funky guitar riffs, bits of scratchy samples, and spoken word sound bytes.  Meanwhile the entire album is bathed in a mellow Fender Rhodes that washes over each track binding them together.

18.  Sinkane-Life and Livin’ It

Sikane-U’Huh

Sudanese-American singer songwriter Sinkane gives us his second full length album ‘Life and Livin’ It’, and it does just that makes life worth living.  This album blends styles from all over the world including kraut-rock, Ethiopian jazz, soul and funk rock with his signature Sudanese pop.  He is also the head of the all-star Afro-Electro-Funk band (includes David Byrne, Money Mark, Damon Albarn, Dev Hynes, Alexis Taylor, Redman, Jamie Lidell, Pharoah Sanders, and more…)  the Atomic Bomb!  playing the songs of legend William Onyeabor.  Sinkane’s star is firmly on the rise.

17.  Lord Echo-Harmonies

Lord Echo-Just Do You

Lord Echo is another moniker of multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and producer Mike Fabulous from New Zealand.  On this project Mr. Fabulous uses his powers to dip in and out of styles including smooth reggae, funky latin rhythms, and elegant disco jams. Ultimately he crafted a fun and highly danceable album.

16.  Ikebe Shakedown-The Way Home

Ikebe Shakedown-Supermoon

Hard hitting rhythms and thunderous horns that could pump up Rocky Balboa himself define the in your face sound of Ikebe Shakedown.  This album is definitely recommended for fans of the Budos Band, with their almost post-apocalyptic desert-wasteland funk style.  Also hat’s off to the guitar work on this one, you can hear a mix of surfy tremolo, and nasty funky wah standing out.

15.  Polyrhythmics-Caldera

Polyrhythmics-Marshmallow Man

Very similar in style and feel to the aforementioned Ikebe Shakedown album, but with subtle differences.  They still retain that deserted wayside funk but with some tendencies toward jazz, psychedelia, and Ethiopian jazz.  The elegant use of the flute and more understated horns added nice colorful nuances.

14.  Shanda and the Howlers-Trouble

Shanda and the Howlers-Keep Telling Me

The raucous bar room sounds of rhythm and blues are still alive with Shanda and the Howlers, and they do a great job of keeping that authentic style going, as well as the party.

13.  D/Troit-Soul Sound System

D/Troit-Soul Sound System

Copenhagen’s D/Troit are the new darlings on the retro soul scene due to proper packaging, essential production from Daptone’s Gabe Roth, and receiving great reviews worldwide.  After the famed music aficionado Craig Charles hyped them, ‘Soul Sound System’ started getting the attention it deserves.  A great vintage soul reawakening done correctly enough to satisfy.  Much like the many new soul revival acts who came before them the next question is where to turn to next?  Is it a smart move to aim for a larger more pop-oriented market and sound?  Or is it time to use your sophomore album to double down and stay in character long enough to see where this soul revival can take them?  How authentic of a sound can they achieve?  Those are the big questions…

12.  El Michels Affair-Return to the 37th Chamber

El Michels Affair-Tearz

Follow-up to the 2009 cult classic ‘Enter the 37th Chamber.’  It’s instrumental Wu-Tang, what could go wrong.  If you don’t know now you know.  It also had 4 album covers…

 

…this from the Big Crown Records page—>

The vinyl version of Return To The 37th Chamber is presented with 4 different hand painted covers. The originals were painted on two sewn together flour sacks in Accra, Ghana by Heavy J and Stoger, two artists who are legends in the Ghanaian Mobile Cinema scene and regular contributors to the Deadly Prey Gallery’s collection in Chicago.
From the music to the presentation, this album is a perfect example of what can only be achieved through diversity. The end result is as much a kaleidoscope of influences and multiculturalism as the city it was recorded in. El Michels Affair is once again, “sounding out the city” that raised them, pulling elements of art and culture from across the country and around the globe to create an album truly unique in it’s own right.

 

…and here’s a great interview with Leon Michels the man behind it all over at Mass Appeal.

11.  Will Sessions-Deluxe

Will Sessions-Cherry Juice

Will Sessions, an actual 8 piece funk collective from Detroit, have been playing together for quite some time working with the likes of Mayer Hawthorne, Danny Brown, Elzhi, and Slum Village to name a few.  This album is a collection of 7 inch singles the group recorded along their journey.  Raw and uncut funk bangers that will surely twist your hips and purse those lips as you yell out, OOOH YEAH that’s hot.  Based on the success of this release I predict great things are in the works for Will Sessions in the near future.

Check em out here.

10.  Cactus Channel-Stay Awhile

The Cactus Channel-Storefront

The Cactus Channel deliver thoughtful and emotive blue-eyed soul or alt-soul.  Home to Melbourne, Australia the group has released it’s third album ‘Stay A While.’  They have struck gold by mining the same plot of soul and funk real estate that Melbourne favorites like the Bamboos and Saskwatch have already dug.

 

9.  The Blind Boys of Alabama-Almost Home

The Blind Boys of Alabama-Stay on the Gospel Side

Serving as a swan song of sorts for the surviving members of gospel/soul group The Blind Boys of Alabama.  Here the group sings with the same raw emotion and energy that already made them so enduring.  This album is a deep and personal journey told about the lives and through the lens of core members Fountain and Carter, featuring a few covers, and a huge collaborative effort from some of the south’s finest.  Songwriting help and performances were recruited from Marc Cohn, John Leventhal, Ruthie Foster, Cris Jacobs, the North Mississippi All-Stars, the legendary Randall Bramblett, Megafaun’s Phil Cook and Valerie June.  The sound on this album touches deeply on folk, gospel, soul, and Americana.  After nearly 7 decades of making music together The Blind Boys of Alabama have given us an amazing and lasting legacy. The folk and soul pours from every track and creates the perfect environment for contemplative and relaxing introspection.

more info here

8.  Don Bryant-Don’t Give Up On Love

Don Bryant-It Was Jealousy

Veteran Memphis soul-man Don Bryant hits back in his 70’s with new album ‘Don’t Give Up On Love.’  This collection of songs reinvigorates a decades long soul career that has been shelved for over twenty years aside from gospel songs and church services.  After performing with the Bo-Keys Bryant was urged to continue his soul career and together they recorded this new album of solid Memphis soul.

There is a lot more to his story so read about some of it here on Paste Magazine.

7.  The Como Mamas-Move Upstairs

The Como Mamas-Count Your Blessings

Daptone’s gospel angels are back with an album that makes gospel relevant, necessary, and cool. With the Daptone house band, “The Glorifier’s,” at the helm it’s not hard to see why this album was so successful.  Using traditional call and response formats for the songs it almost recalls mumble rap in its simplicity, however blasphemous that may seem.  My craziness aside, it is a great album that seems fresh, especially for gospel.

…a few words from Pop Matters on the subject.

6.  Jeb Loy Nichols-Country Hustle

Jeb Loy Nichols-Don’t Drop Me

Based in Britain but originating from Missouri this amalgamation of sounds and styles seems just right for a Missourian.  A country swagger melds itself with soulful grooves, sun drenched dub, and southern barroom boogie.  A little bit of New Orleans jazz, 80s, 90s, and blues mingles with the lo-fi, hazy atmosphere Nichols brews up.  With an overall low-key, late 70’s soul vibe, ‘Country Hustle’ makes for a solitary example of how to compose something new in this crowded world.

…check out a video over here.

5.  Son Little-New Magic

Son Little-Kimberly’s Mine

Son Little came onto our radar with his early work with RJD2 as half of the group Icebird.  A singer-songwriter of the highest order his best moments on ‘New Magic’ come to us via an upbeat pop ditty on Blue Magic, with a guest appearances from Questlove, and his soulful ballads that appear throughout.  Similar to Sinkane in that they both have crafted their own sound entirely fresh and unique, Son Little is not copying any one style.  Lush strings lend poignant emphasis to some tracks and spacey funk sounds to others.  This album employs elements of soul, R&B, rhythm and blues, delta blues, folk, and Americana and is an album that is exciting, fashionable, and magical.

more info here.

4.  Sugaray Rayford-The World That We Live In

Sugaray Rayford-Take Me Back

The larger than life Texas blues man has been working hard playing shows with his own band, the Mannish Boys, and recording since 1985.  This time out the big man plays as much Memphis soul as he does his signature blues, cooking up a hell of gumbo.  A fat slice of funky blues that will knock your socks off in a tornado of fury.

…great interview over at Soul Jazz and Funk.

3.  Curtis Harding-Face Your Fear

Curtis Harding-Need Your Love

This Michigan native emerged onto the music scene performing backing vocals for Cee Lo.  Now he finds his signature raspy falsetto recording with Danger Mouse on a powerful new record. Sumptuous strings and a tinge of fuzzy psych sounds also contributes to the projects captivating quality.  Curtis Harding’s new album is a slice of dark introspective soul and a heavy dose of funk.

…more here…

…and here.

 

2.  Mavis Staples-If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples-If All I Was Was Black

This is the third album that Mavis has collaborated with Jeff Tweedy on, and each time they have been able to conjure up strong divination.  Rooted in soul, gospel, folksy Americana and blues, this album uses the current political and social climate as it’s staging ground.  The album also leans more toward a dirty and dissonant funk that reflects the overall mood of the project.  A truly amazing memento full of the social consciousness of the Staple Singers of old, but with the wisdom, and grace of a current master.  Mavis is busy pushing forward into an uncertain future, waving the flag of peace, hope, and love with her uplifting and inspiring songs, but on this new album we are also exposed to her outrage and frustration.

…this from Pitchfork 

and this about Mavis and Sharon.

  1.  Sharon Jones and the Dap-kings-Soul of a Woman

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings-Sail On

Much has been said about the life and legacy of Sharon Jones so I won’t lament the subject here, but I will say that it hurts me personally to think I won’t be able to see her perform again.  ‘Soul of a Woman’ is just the Dap-Kings and Sharon doing what they do best, throwing down the most authentic soul music anywhere around.  Funky, rhythmic, hypnotic and poignant it really does have it all, in terms of a soul record.  The first half of the record lets loose and captures the raucous sounds of northern soul floor-fillers and dance-hall groovers.  The second half of the album evokes more of the style of early Motown and souls golden age.

This work is not only her last effort (released posthumously)  but may possibly be her best.  I legitimately loved every song on it.  So of course it had to be our number one.

I won’t say much about it here, just that you should go listen to it.  Love it, cherish it, and be thankful that we got to hear one last masterpiece from the father’s and mother of this new soul revival.

…more here, here, and here.

We’ve danced like children, drifted off in thought and memory, and shed some tears along the way, and now that we’ve crawled through the funky, dirty swamp and emerged onto the other side, we are wiser and more aware.  It”s now become clear that it was a great year for us Soul babies and it’s even more clear that big things are still to come.

Peace out…til next time.

About spinladen

DJ at KWVA University of Oregon campus radio, record collector, artist.
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