Top Tunes 2016: Athens County Public Libraries Assistant Director James Hill

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This is the first installment of a December-long series that examines what Athens-centric music heads have been jamming to all year long. Keep tabs on the series throughout the month here

Athens County Public Libraries Assistant Director James Hill. (Submitted)

It’s been a shocking year musically. So much sad news, but so much good music too, often from those on their way out.

I’m sure others will talk about David Bowie and Prince and Leon Russell and Allen Toussaint and Leonard Cohen, so instead I’m going to talk about some other music you may have missed in 2016.

Alphabetically (because I’m a librarian!) these are the albums I listened to a lot this year:






A power trio/super group. kd lang and Neko Case come through strong on the sound, but Laura Veirs carried the water on the writing. Reminds me a lot of Cry Cry Cry from a few years back, especially my favorite track: “Behind the Armory.”

DawesAll Gonna Die

Same songwriting you expect from this California band with a more distorted sound. Still my favorite contemporary rock band (and one I haven’t managed to see live yet—come on NMF!). Favorite track: “One of Us.”

Drive-by TruckersAmerican Band

Southern rock flavor and my favorite political album of the year. Closest to a “must have” on this list. Favorite track: “What It Means.”

Jimi HendrixMachine Gun

An extremely live album from the Band of Gypsies recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1969. Favorite track: “Ezy Rider.”

Norah JonesDaybreak 

Jones picks up pretty much where she was last time you heard her. This is breezy, jazzy pop music to listen to on repeat. Favorite track: “Once I Had a Laugh.”

Amos LeeSpirit 

I’ve never really been an Amos Lee fan, but something about this new album caught me at just the right time. It has a New Orleans’ sound that I find appealing. Favorite track: “Running Out of Time.”

Mumford & SonsJohannesburg

Technically an EP, not a full-fledged album. These five songs were recorded with South African guests, which gives it a more World Music feel. Favorite track: “There Will Be Time” with Baaba Maal.

Tom OdellWrong Crowd 

Odell is a British singer-songwriter and pianist a la Elton John. Favorite track: “Still Getting Used to Being on My Own.”

Lucille Slade, Scratch the Surface

Slade was one the artists mentioned on NPR’s Here and Now DJ Sessions. She’s pop R&B with a beat you can dance too. Last time I checked, her music was only available streaming, but she’s worth the bandwidth. Favorite track: “Dancing Queen.”

Tedeschi Trucks BandLet Me Get By

This one was in heavy rotation this year, especially the live bonus disc. This huge band has everything from great guitar playing to funky horns to a great vocalist. Favorite track: “In Every Heart.”

WhitneyLight Upon the Lake

A fun pop band with a slight throwback/psychedelic sound a la Fountains of Wayne. Favorite track: “Those Golden Days.”

As I was going back to look at 2016 releases, I discovered a lot of music that I was excited about but hadn’t listened to as much as I intended. I think I’ll finish out 2016 by re-visiting some of these honorable mentions:

Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Things That We Are Made Of
Deerhoof, The Magic
Glass Animals, How to Be a Human Being
Beth Orton, Kidsticks
Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger
As an aside, here’s a list of some of the best live music I saw in 2016:

There were a lot of great acts at the 2016 Nelsonville Music Festival and some of my favorite music was on the Porch Stage, specifically Andrew Graham and Swarming Branch out of Columbus. I was especially impressed with their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.”

Speaking of NMF, Steve Poltz gave an amazing performance on Sunday and we were lucky enough to get to see him again just a few weeks ago at Stuart’s Opera House for a backstage show. It was the perfect tonic to a rough November. He has lots of recorded music out there, but he’s definitely someone to see live.

When you go to Mountain Stage, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to be impressed by someone other than who you went to see. It happens every time to me. This October we went to Charleston to see the Indigo Girls, but Patty Larkin was by far my favorite of the evening. Just her and her guitar. Amazing.

And finally, this summer I checked someone off my must-see-live bucket list: Buffy Sainte-Marie at Fur Peach Ranch. She was charming and rocking and utterly unique and I’m glad I got the chance to see her.

James Hill is the Assistant Director for Athens County Public Libraries and tries in vain to listen to everything.