The last bunch of years I’ve had this habit of getting extremely reflective around the end of the year. Maybe it’s getting older, but from the time my birthday rolls around in November right through to New Years Eve, I usually get sullen as I pour over my place in life. Seems to me, however, that this year has been so busy, so full of life, that even with all the depressing news from Aleppo to Trump or Bowie to Thicke, I haven’t had time to really slow down and dig in.
First, of course, the birth of my son. The continuing growth of my family and the ongoing wonder of watching my brilliant daughter figure her way through her primary years. We bought a house, which in all honesty is something I never thought I’d be capable of doing. My beautiful wife has continued to be an inspiration and the support that has had everything to do with my ability to step up professionally.
Speaking professionally, I’ve been out to the east coast twice this year as a delegate and panelist, and have found it to be the richest soil for musical talent this country has to offer. I’ve had opportunity to meet some of my all-time favourite artists, not just as a lifelong fan, but as their representative. This year I helped present a 6-times-platinum award to a true living legend, taken an off-hours phone call in my kitchen from a top-line music idol, and hammered out difficult deals with some of the greatest people I feel blessed to call contemporaries in the industry.
I’ve also had the honour of being asked to advise some amazingly talented performers who don’t yet command the clout of those I represent in my ‘day’ job. It can sometimes present a dilemma, choosing to help out artists who make you passionate about their projects and manufacturing that passion in others for the artists you are on staff to support. This year however, I have been so amazingly fortunate that I have had no trouble finding that passion in both. My musical reflections of 2016 are therefore highly personal, spanning every genre, every level of experience, every geographic area, but all being an artist or a project that I personally connected with over the last 12 months. Not all of them are new releases this year, but they collectively make up the soundtrack for what was a benchmark year in my life.
That said, my autobiographical favourite albums of 2016 are:
Far and away the most amazing album of the year. To paraphrase my friend Sam, it’s hard to imagine I ever would have sought out this album to buy had I not worked on it, but I am so thankful it is a part of my life. The songs are wonderful, surprisingly delightful, full of love, and parallel the thoughts and emotions present at this stage in my home life. 2016 for me is the year I made friends with Lori Cullen and had her wonderful partner Kurt Swinghammer and friend Ron Sexsmith brighten my world with their unique gifts.
Gowan – Return of the Strange Animal
The songs are all-at-once well dated, yet timeless. You can’t have been alive in the 1980s without exposure to the Strange Animal with A Criminal Mind and his Moonlight Desires for Cosmetics. These songs are heavily dramatic, dripping in the memorable richness that has kept them alive in the hearts of fans both old and new. This year, I have had the distinct honour to represent these iconic masterpieces and work closer with the gentleman who crafted them.
Andy Brown – Seasons
I’ve played the business out of this album, and have even come home to my wife playing it in the house for her and the kids to enjoy. Filled with some of the most sincere songwriting, and delivered by a unique voice that could be no-one else, Andy Brown’s Seasons is his finest offering in a catalog rich with poetic euphony. The challenges of being so individual with a name so common mean 2017 will see Andy don the pseudonym Adyn Townes. I was blessed to be even a small part of this pivotal conversation with him this year.
Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy – A Celtic Family Christmas
They play hundreds of shows a year, record two massive albums within two years (Their first, “ONE” was produced by Bob Ezrin), and still have time to raise 6 kids. Their kids, by the way, all perform in the show and do a proper job of it too. I’m lucky my kid remembers to wash her hands before dinner. Sometimes it’s true that the best of the year happens near the end, but in this case, working for this family is a year-round blessing and a gift that keeps on giving.
The Royal North – Alibi EP
This collection of songs soundtracked my entire summer. From the first time I saw them play on their home turf, I’ve been hooked (pun intended). Their song “Radio” made me leap out of my seat to capture video on my phone, which CBC then used for their online story about MusicPEI’s May Run Music Festival. These guys have all the parts to build a solid rock and roll machine, and are winning hearts and minds every time they play. Cheers boys, now keep on going.
Barney Bentall – Gin Palace
Everything old was new again when 2016 saw me come full circle on a teenage dream. The story could be a long one, ask me anytime, but in short: I had my original, well-loved, 1995 copy of Gin Palace signed by the man himself in the same conversation he gave us the green light to release it digitally. Certified Gold after its first release, Gin Palace has co-writes with True North Records’ artists Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, and Barney’s bandmate in True North’s High Bar Gang, Colin Nairne, so really didn’t this record just come home?
Donovan Woods – Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled
Though I didn’t work directly with the most successful underdog in Canadian music this year, I did get a couple chances to chat with him. It was probably hard for those around me to tell he wasn’t on our roster with the number of spins his vinyl got at our house or my building of The Complete Donovan Woods Playlist on Spotify. Though I’ve been told “you can’t count your misses”, this man, this year, was a sure bet. But didn’t we all help promote Dono a little this year?
Doucette – Mama Let Him Play
I knew the song, of course, but working for Jerry has been an unexpected treat. This is one of the greatest straight-ahead rock and roll albums to have ever come out of Canada, and my adopted hometown of Hamilton, Ontario no less. This year we got to watch Doucette perform live and he’s just as smooth on the fretboard as ever. If you find this album on vinyl anywhere, pick it up, for a former platinum-selling album the 12″ is surprisingly not plentiful in used shops, and these songs still kick ass 40 years later.
Ian Janes – Yes Man (2017)
One of the great joys of this year has been hearing so much new music, much of it before release to the public. One of the East Coast’s diamonds in the rough is Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist/Father/Husband/Man About Town – Ian Janes. His new album Yes Man is scheduled for release in 2017 but I’ve been spinning it regularly for weeks now, and his live show, which I saw during Nova Scotia Music Week, lives up too. The songs are smooth and sturdy, with parallels to James Taylor, Hall & Oates or Vince Gill. Yes Man will be his breakout record.
Moonlight Desires – Just The Hits (2017)
Another album I have been privileged to get a preview of and have played aloud more than my wife or co-workers might appreciate, Moonlight Desires’ second offering is filled with the top-notch Heavy covers of 80s Synth Pop classics their fans have come to expect. The alter-ego band of the internationally revered Sons Of Butcher, this guilty-pleasure is still in the final stages of mastering and I can’t wait to share it with everyone I know.
Thanks for indulging me in this best-of list. 2016 has been hard work, but ultimately very rewarding. I hope the same for all of us in 2017. Happy New Year!