Unfinished Business: HERC's Favorite Albums of 2017

Yeah, so I had some unfinished business leftover from last year in the form of a giant playlist of nearly 250 albums and singles released in 2017 that I had yet to make it all the way through. And if you know anything about your boy HERC, you know he's all about the music and completing tasks. I hadn't even listened to many of them at least once so they didn't show up on my previously published list of Most Listened To Songs, Artists, and Albums. But I'm happy to say, I've managed to work my way through that entire playlist and have worked up this list of My Favorite Albums of 2017 to share with only my most loyal viewers.
I went all in with Little Big Town on their third album, 2007's A Place To Land and it remains an essential favorite more than a decade later. Since then, the foursome has forged ahead, pushing themselves artistically, while struggling to maintain their unique identity and fit in at country radio, hence the tracks "Pontoon", "Day Drinking" and the polarizing "Girl Crush". I was in the minority among their hardcore fans even giving 2016's Pharrell Williams experiment Wanderlust a listen and a nod of approval. Then came the Taylor Swift-penned "Better Man" advance single from their February 2017 album The Breaker. I liked it better before I found out it was penned by Ms. Swift but that's on me. And while I realize it is unrealistic to think they'll ever record another album that sounds like A Place To Land, The Breaker is the closest they've come yet.
The name didn't look familiar, so I looked it up and verified his credentials before adding this album to New Releases 2017 playlist back in April 2017. Derrick Anderson was an unknown quantity to me before I played "Send Me Down A Sign", A World Of My Own's opening track but after listening to the album just once through, I could tell I was gonna go back and listen to pretty much everything he's ever played on, especially the Chewy Marble and The Andersons! stuff. Probably the most pleasantly surprising album on this whole list. Highly recommended.
Chris Stapleton's first album was inspired by a road trip he took shortly after his father's death in 2013. Traveler was released on May 5, 2015, the day before my own father's sixty-ninth birthday and, though we did not know it at the time, twelve days before he took his last breath here on this dusty marble. So now Stapleton's music and memories of my Dad are forever entwined. Two years later, with Traveler still ensconced high up on the charts, Chris Stapleton released his second album From A Room, Volume 1 on May 5, 2017, featuring songs he had written prior to the songs he released on Traveler. From A Room, Volume 2 followed on December 1, 2017, and when combined with Volume 1, forms a sweet eighteen-track playlist that lasts an hour and change that has become the unofficial soundtrack for the nights I spend here on The Hideaway's back porch, staring up at the Moon, the stars, and the great unknown.
In May 2017, when I saved DREAMCAR to a playlist to listen to later, I was kind of hoping it was gonna sound like the soundtrack to 2011 film Drive. I got around to listening to it at the end of Summer, reminded by a Tony Kamal cover story in the July 2017 issue of Bass Player magazine I read at my mother-in-law's house. While the album does not sound like the music from Drive, it is hella catchy with an easily recognizable Eighties throwback vibe. The group is a Stefani-less No Doubt with AFI vocalist Davey Havok and they rival Cut Copy down below for the Most 80s Sounding Album in the bunch. 
Paul Weller will always be one of those artists whose new recordings merit at least a cursory listen because his past recordings, with few exceptions, have been outstanding. Weller's more-than-forty-year progression from The Jam to the Style Council to an exploratory solo career has been both beautifully brilliant and frequently frustrating but I was hopeful for his May 2017 release, A New Revolution. The album kicks off with the sassy stomper "Woo Sé Mama" and Weller keeps the quality meter on high through the next nine tracks. Although the CD was perfectly listenable, I gave it away when I got the twenty-nine high-resolution* files of the Deluxe Edition, featuring a bonus "disc" of instrumental versions of the ten album tracks and a third "disc" of remixes sounding like Weller and Co. were set up about twelve feet from where I'm standing as I type this. (*44.1kHz/24bit)
The music of the Black Keys has held my interest since 2002's The Big Come Up and the boastful swagger of "I'll Be Your Man". The duo kept releasing albums of consistently interesting sounds even as they recorded solo albums and side projects. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach released his first solo album Keep It Hid in 2009 and it wasn't too much of a departure from the signature Black Keys sound to my ears. The Keys came back together, peeled off three great albums in five years (2010-2014) before taking another hiatus. During this time Auerbach crafted his second solo album, Waiting On A Song, released in June 2017, and it is a thing of beauty. Somehow, every song sounds familiar and yet none of them bring to mind the Black Keys sound. Though the cover shows Auerbach sitting in the autumn leaves with his ax, the album sounds more like a warm Summer day to me. 
Purple Rain is not my favorite Prince album but it used to be. For years, I attempted to compile the Ultimate Version of the Purple Rain soundtrack album by combining analog and digital sources. But shortly before his shocking death, Prince apparently set in motion plans to officially release his own definitive version of his most popular album. Purple Rain Expanded Edition was finally released in June 2017, and in addition to the 3CD set, I got the high-resolution* files of the album. The sound was so amazing, so revelatory that I began crying uncontrollable tears of intense joy. I am intimately familiar with the album but hearing it remastered with loving care in such high fidelity was simply mind-blowing. Please let 1999 be the next album in the Prince catalog to receive the Expanded Edition treatment. It is my favorite Prince album after all. (*96kHz/24bit)
Cut Copy's "Lights & Music" popped up on a playlist I was listening to in 2009 and I would have sworn it was a new-to-me track from the Eighties. Flash forward a few years and a few albums and, in 2017, Cut Copy released Haiku From Zero, and it was more of their same great modern yet retro sound. This is DREAMCAR's rival for the Most 80s Sounding Album in the bunch. 
When I'm not rockin' and rollin' and whatnot, I serve as the primary chauffeur for my 83-year-old mother-in-law, who no longer drives. On one of her physical therapy appointments, I was in the waiting room alone and reached over and turned up the Bluetooth speaker that was providing background music and this song came on that reminded me of the legendary Cow Talk jukebox I grew up listening to during the summers of my youth. I pulled out my phone and brought up the SoundHound app which told me the song was called "Drinkin' Problem" and the artist was Midland. I looked it up and it had been released in February yet I was only now hearing it in July. Turns out the singer, the fellow in the blue Nudie above, is from these parts and still visits his family regularly. Small world. A five-song self-titled EP was released in March 2017 followed by the full-length On The Rocks in September. There has been some controversy and backlash as to the trio's origin and authenticity as well as their choice of co-writers and producers but as usual, I'm just all about the music.
Twelve years ago, someone on a music chat board told me if I liked the music of artist A (sorry, I forget which artist) then I would most definitely like the music of Stereophonics so I pulled up "Dakota", their most popular song on my streaming service of choice and sure enough, I liked it. I liked the second most played track "Maybe Tomorrow" even better and went three for three with the third most played track "Have A Nice Day". The Rod Stewart cover "Handbags & Gladrags" was number four on the list and it suits vocalist Kelly Jones well as his rasp sounds a lot like Stewart's. Kelly's voice and the guitar sounds & solos he comes up with won me over big time. The band's tenth album Scream Above The Sounds was released in October 2017 and manages to keep the elements of the sound that first attracted me as well as expand the sonic palette.

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