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  • Writer's pictureNeil Rajala

ECity 2023: The Music That Stuck!

I’m indulging in a quick year-end wrap-up, since that seems to be a social media thing to do. My method for determining what my favorite albums were for the year is pretty straightforward and uses a dash of technology. My Qobuz account to be specific. I clear out my “favorites” list at the beginning of each year, and start adding to a fresh one in January. I add albums that got my attention somehow, whether it was a chance streaming, a recommendation or review, or unavoidable media hype. As I go through the year I review the list every so often and remove any that I feel I’ve played as many times as I’m going to. If I buy a physical version, the album stays on the digital list even stickier. This list is made up of the survivors, the albums that were added and never un-favorited (and a few non-Qobuz outliers). I’m not going to go on too long about each of them, if I’ve reviewed it before now, the link to the original post is at the end.


• Brad Mehldau, Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays the Beatles FEB - In this live in the studio recording, Mehldau walks a consistently impressive line between floating away into jazz improvisation and holding hands with the melodies we all know in our sleep. The "Life on Mars" encore is icing on the cake.

• Ian Hunter, Defiance Part 1 APR - The old man of rock. Ian was older than most of my classic rock heroes, he made this spunky rock and roll record this year at the tender age of 84. Lots of tasteful support from old pals like Jeff Beck and Ringo, and songs strong enough that it’s a consistent pleasure to hear that voice sing them.

• Rickie Lee Jones, Pieces of Treasure APR - Not as adventurous as her other covers albums, these are mostly from the Great American Songbook, but the band is great and her singing is always a marvel.

• Bob Dylan, Shadow Kingdom JUN - Between this, Ian Hunter’s record, and Hackney Diamonds, it was a helluva year for the old guard. Doubter’s gonna doubt, but this one transcends on Bob’s warm, masterfully sly, singing.

• Rufus Wainright, Folkocracy JUN - When artists I still think of as the young vanguard of pop start releasing albums revisiting the music of their childhood, I feel older. When it’s as inviting and memorable as Folkocracy, I get over it.

• Pat Metheny, Dream Box JUN - Pat sez these were ideas sketched to himself on portable recording equipment over the last several years, fleshed out and finished. Dream Box got heavy play at the ol’ art table this year. Mellow, dreamy, lovely.

• Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Live in London SEP - The year’s best blast of blues guitar bravado, from a young phenom born in Clarksdale, MS, home of the blues.

• Various Artists, More Than a Whisper: Celebrating the Music of Nanci Griffith SEP - A group of Nanci’s friends, collaborators, and admirers put together the rarest of records – a tribute album that stands tall alongside her impressive catalog.  

• The Feelies, Some Kinda Love OCT - A major artistic statement? An important modern re-evaluation of the Velvet’s music? Nah, just a fully satisfying loud guitar rock album by a band deeply in love with the songs.

• The Rolling Stones, Hackney Diamonds OCT - What more to say? The mossless ones created a fresh-yet-classic sounding record while embracing the ghost of Charlie Watts. Impressive.


• Laurie Styvers, Gemini Girl FEB - A fascinating “coulda been a contender” life story, this collection of everything she recorded in the UK before she returned home to the States in career defeat has been in my regular rotation since February.

• Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Streetcore APR - A Record Store Day release of Joe’s final album. I played my CD copy until the aluminum turned clear back in the day. The Mescaleros were truly his "other" great band, not least because they gave him plenty of room to soar. 

New York Noise: Dance Music from the New York Underground 1978-1982  APR - The soundtrack to a brief, wacky, tremendously exciting period of downtown NYC music. When the punk explosion hit the dance clubs. Jaw-dropping stuff.

• The Pogues, The Stiff Records B-Sides (1984-1987) APR - With Shane’s passing this becomes even more significant. If you’re a fan by way of the albums, this is the essential rest-of-the-story.

• Stephen Stills, Live at Berkeley 1971 APR - From his first solo tour, with a little help from Croz. The dawn of the acoustic set/electric set format he would follow for most of his career, this time with the Memphis Horns along for the ride. It wouldn't be Stephen without a touch of self-indulgence, and that's here, too. I've chosen to find it endearing. Beautifully recorded and mastered, it sounds like it could have happened yesterday.

• David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture 50th

Anniversary Edition MAY - Dave’s final show with The Spiders from Mars, as captured in the kaleidoscopic 1979 film. The legal squabble over Jeff Beck’s guest spot was finally put to bed, so this is the first version with the entire blazing show (apart from the dozens of bootlegs that circulated over the years). The new remastering's pretty great, too, finally doesn't sound like a bootleg.

• Nanci Griffith, Working In Corners JUN - A good year for Nanci fans. Not only was the amazing tribute record mentioned above released, her first four albums, out of print for decades, were gathered together in a beautiful vinyl or CD box set and released to the streaming services. The world is a better place.

• The Grateful Dead, Without a Net NOV - A collage of post-“Touch of Grey” live Dead, cherry-picked from a series of excellent '89-'90 east coast shows. Technically, the vinyl reissue of this long-time favorite Dead title could have been purchased as part of a prohibitively expensive box set a year or so ago. As soon as it was separated from the box, I snapped it up.

• Wes Montgomery, The Complete Full House Recordings NOV - One of the legends of big ol’ hollow body jazz-box guitar, alongside Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. The box contains the full sets from the shows that gave us the magnificent Full House in 1962. Wes, Johnny Griffin (sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Sublimely tuneful and fiery.  

• Bob Dylan, The Complete Budokan 1978 NOV - A dividing line among Dylan fans, the original release from Bob’s “Vegas” phase shows in Japan was hailed as bold, playful reinterpretations by some, sacrilegious commercialization by others. Including it on this list tells you where I stand. I've really dug hearing more.

Readers of this post could be asking -  “Why did you only listen to old fart music in 2023?” Well, partially because I am one. No apologies offered, I’ve earned my gray stripes. But also, not true. I had some torrid flings with some great albums by young artists this year – Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS, Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard, the Lemon Twig’s Everything Harmony, Corrine Bailey Rae’s Black Rainbows, and City of Gold from Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, off the top of my head – all superb records, all on the favorites list for an extended period, all eventually making room for something else.


There are a few left in the “too soon to tell” basket, still being played and processed. I’ve been fascinated by Cat Power’s Sings Dylan, her slavish recreation of the infamous 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall Dylan and the Hawks show. Peter Gabriel’s i/o is a grower, but it’s hanging in the balance, the way most of his records do for me. I came late to Trevor Rabin’s modern prog epic Rio, too, and I find it’s burrowing steadily into my brain. The startling 2023 remix of the Replacement's Tim maybe should have made my list of reissues, but I'm still not 100% sure I prefer it to the messy original I played to death.


I have to admit to a few disappointments in 2023. I was anxiously waiting for the second album from Seattle’s What Strange Beasts. Their 2021 debut, The Maestro’s Tale, blew me away in the grand tradition of classic Yes, with a serious helping of the sweeping melodicism of prime Moody Blues. This year’s follow-up, Starlight’s Castaways, dropped a lot of their enticing complexity in favor of a more commercial pop/rock sound, and a lot less hot shit guitar. Iris Dement’s Workin’ On a World is largely missing the compelling idiosyncrasies that always made her personal politics hit home. Teenage Fanclub have finally become fully toothless after being of great interest for a few decades (maybe they should have gone with a different title than Nothing Lasts Forever?), and I don’t know what to say about Paul Simon’s inscrutable funeral dirge, Seven Psalms. It means something to him, no doubt.

Overall, I'm gonna remember 2023 as another damn enjoyable year in music. I'm solidly down with everything that made the cut, and anxious to hear what blew your hair back in '23. In a few weeks it'll be time to erase the Qobuz favorites list and start it all again for 2024 and you bet your socks I'm looking forward to it.

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4 則留言


1) ROLLING STONES "Hackney Diamonds." Duh.

2) DUANE BETTS "Wild and Precious Life." The Allman Brothers sound lives on w/out sounding contrived.

3) RIVAL SONS "Dark Fighter." Long Beach classic rock (in the best sense of the word) recorded a CD's worth of music but released it on two LPs six months apart.

4) RIVAL SONS "Light Bringer." Long Beach classic rock (in the best sense of the word) recorded a CD's worth of music but released it on two LPs six months apart.

5) GOV'T MULE "Peace...Like A River." Their best written songs ever in more open and transparent arrangements. Not as 'in your face' as previous albums.

6. STEVEN WILSON "The Harmony Codex." Trippy as a mo'fo'.


Neil Rajala
Neil Rajala

Listened to I a fair amount, but not II. Should get caught up with her.

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