My "Top 10" Recordings For 1997

A tradition on the Nanci Griffith listserv is to submit one's top 10 albums for the year. This is what I sent in on 15 December 1997

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I suspect my annual purchases compete with but do not exceed David Grant's volume. This year while putting together '10', I came across a number of CDs I hadn't yet gotten to listen to, as well as some I forgot had been released this year! pretty pathetic, what? <grin>

Plus, my year has had its ups and downs, and at times I've kind of found myself emotionally disconnected from being able to react to music; rather the opposite of what my website rambles on about ...

so, not in order of preference but in some semblence of order of acquisition and frequency of play. And with the observation that I'm generally struck by a combination of lyrics and what I call the harmony between all instruments - including the vocals:

The Mollys: Hat Trick (Apokalips).
This release by the Tucson-based Tex/Mex/Celtic/American folk/polka band seems to get closer to the "ambience", if one can call it that <g>, of their live shows than I felt their last CD (This is My Round) did. Although mainly new material by Nancy McCallion, the recording carries a strong feeling of "traditional".

Melissa Ferrick: Melissa Ferrick+1 (W.A.R.).
3rd release by this folk/rock singer/songwriter. Compiled from three live shows; it includes some songs which have appeared on her previous 2 albums, but live arrangements. One shortcoming (thing which bugs me) is inclusion of a joke used during a show. ... kind of funny the first time, but then ...

Niamh Parsons & the Loose Connections: Loosen Up (Green Linnet).
second release by this Northern Irish singer whose voice seems a combination of Sandy Denny and Dolores Keane; in typical Irish (or at least non-US) recording fashion, combines intrumental tunes with songs. Fans of trad. Irish music find this recording "too arranged" with non-traditional instruments, which can be interpreted as 'slightly rock-ish'. Some of Dee Moore's lyrics give one quite pause for thought, others creat e beautiful imagery even out of despair.

Dar Williams: End of the Summer.
I suspect it is exactly what has caused many Dar fans to be less enthusiastic about this recording (perhaps the 'more rockish' arrangements) that created the connection for me. Particular favourites include "Are You Out There" and "teenagers kick our butts", which actually makes my brain draw comparisons once again between Dar's perspective & lyrics and those of Susan Werner.

Janis Ian: Hunger (Windam Hill).
Eek! I actually go for music from that new age label ... I found the arrangements nice foils for Ian's voice, which can be overpowered. Introspective lyrics explore the range from personal situations to social issues.

Tish Hinojosa: The Best of The Sandia: Watermelon 1991-1992.
Ok, not exactly 1997 recordings - but it was released this year <g>. Quite a few of her Spanish language songs from this period. Plus 4 previously unreleased tracks, including a duet with Kris Kristofferson on "By The Rio Grande".

Jack Hardy: The Passing (Prime CD).
(ok, I think his release was 1996, but it is a 1997 release on Prime) Oddly enough, it took picking up work on the Prime CD website for me to finally hear an album by this contemporary bard. I'd heard of him, and his influences on a whole array of contemporary songwriters and performers, but hadn't consciously heard his work. His voice weaves around contemporary and traditional themes in a way that is haunting and often seems more traditional than contemporary.

Lindsey Horner: Believers (Rock/Jazz).
instrumental jazz, original compositions by jazz bass player Lindsey Horner, who also accompanies Susan McKeown and the Chanting House in his "other life".

Jilly Idle: Porchsongs.
cassette tape release by a Chicago singer-songwriter (formerly perfomed with local groups, Carnival of Faith and 3 Fried Rice) explores euphoria and despair - one side, "infatuation", examines the ups and hope that come with a relationship, the reverse, "devastation", pursues the darker side, accompanying personal losses - of personal, business, and family relationships. Jilly's style displays Indigo-Girl-like vocal & guitar harmonies and percussion, tho I'm partial to tracks such as "Out of the Darkness", where she shifts to electric guitar to present a sound of darkness.

Kate Campbell: Moonpie Dreams.
once again I find myself fascinated by the imagery of stories told, and the combination of delta meets memphis' style.

Throwing in two disappointments (with the note that my website rantings on 4 major musical influences feature: 30+ years of Joan Baez, plus Mary Black, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Susan Werner):

Mary Black's Shine (Curb).
It wasn't so much her divergence into contemporary soft rock as it was the, to my ears, inept choice of arrangements and presentation. A great voice like hers, showcased on earlier albums - including those such as No Frontiers, which began the move from traditional ballads into contemporary/rock - deserves arrangements beyond the mundane or typical Nashville studio rock ... David Grey/Shawn Colvin works for Shawn, but Larry Klein could have done better with what Mary has to offer.

Joan Baez: Gone From Danger.
The songs are wonderful and strong. But the magic of Joan's voice & harmonies with her backing musicians (evidenced in the 1995 Ring Them Bells - AND on the Gone From Danger: Borders Special edition 2-track EP) are overwhelmed by the studio arrangements. Reviews of her recent tour dates - accompanied at times by Richard Shindell, and Gene and Betty Elders - suggest that the songs of this album can better be enjoyed by live concerts.

Old Favourites

And last of all, the non-1997 albums I most frequently looked to during 1997:

Susan Werner: Last of the Good Straight Girls (1995). any 97 release got sidetracked by her switch of record companies, after BMG music closed down the Private Music label.

Lisa Moscatiello: Innocent When You Dream (1996).
Perhaps more known as vocalist with New St. George, Moscatiello takes on a range from traditional French ballads through a rousing/killer rendition of the appalachian variation on "House Carpenter" to Janis Ian, John Hiatt and Richard Thompson.

Eleanor McEvoy: What's Following Me - [Irish release includes the track "Famine" (1996)].
Not just Only A Woman's Heart, this talented musician/singer-songwriter continues to evoke strong emotions with her lyrics and instrumentals (tho, not enough fiddle to suit me)

Joan Baez: Ring Them Bells (1995).
Created during an inspiring series of 4 1995 concerts, featuring 8 guest musicians and a great backing band. (for some memories in photos and words, check out My Musical Fantasy)

Frances Black: The Smile Upon Your Face (1996).
Light pop/ballads from Mary Black's younger sister. To my listening, her strongest album to-date (the first solo one of which was Talk To Me, which included the songs given by Nanci); her voice is also in fine, strong form.

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