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Best Of - 2017 Jeffrey343

ARTICLE: Best Of 2017, Jeffrey343
YEAR: 2017


This is the tenth 'best of' list I've written in real-time (I wrote two long after the fact). And there have been many times I've mentioned that it's the best year so far. After reading the lists that have already been posted for 2017 and the comments on them, as well as looking at the lists for previous years, it seems obvious to me that I'm probably the most optimistic regular reviewer / commenter on here regarding the current state of the genre. I see several positives:
  1. There is a lot of new material. Sometimes it's enough to be overwhelming, and it's hard to give a proper listen to everything. But there are a lot of great songs, strong albums, and promising artists out there.
  2. There are more and more younger artists. It's cool that our favorites from 30 and even 40 years ago are still active and putting out new material. But as we are sadly reminded several times each year, these guys aren't gonna live forever. Thankfully, they inspired a new generation to carry the torch. And, man, some of these guys can flat-out play. The musicianship can be quite impressive with these new artists.
  3. The production quality has steadily improved to where, at least to me, it matches the standards set long ago. This has been an issue since I got acquainted with the newer material about a dozen years ago. There would be an album full of good songs that just didn't have a respectable sound quality. The smaller labels just couldn't capture the sound that the big guys could. Well, the little guys have become bigger guys who are also a lot smarter and more experienced. And new smaller guys are pretty smart as well. While we may still quibble about the sound of an album, I believe it's often a matter of choice than a matter of ability.
  4. It's easier to discover new music. While I had a deeper knowledge than my friends back in the 80s, all it takes is a few minutes on this site to realize how limited I was by radio and MTV and one import record store in my town. Now, I can find just about any song at any time, plus info on the artist, and a group of fans who can discuss them. While streaming definitely has some issues, having more and more music available for instant availability has some major benefits.
I do understand many of the viewpoints of others about the merits of newer music. It can be hard to muster the same enthusiasm for new music as we had in the much younger parts of our lives. It was new and exciting back then. Artists were pushing boundaries, and the musical soundscape was constantly evolving. We treated our favorites like celebrities. While that happens these days with the younger kids and the popular musicians, most of us - I'm imagining we're largely guys in the 40 - 60 age range - aren't going to get as excited about the 'rock star lifestyle' as we did long ago. And there is a certain thrill you get from hearing a favorite song on the radio or MTV or elsewhere 'out in the wild', knowing that there are lots of others hearing the same song at the same time, having it being played somewhat randomly, and having it surrounded by other songs you either don't really like or you're tired of hearing. Compared to having it being the next song in your personally crafted playlist on your personal device and being heard by only you.

We're old, we're tired, we've heard it all before, and it was more exciting back then. And there are pleasant memories associated with the music of that time. I get that. But I'm a pretty upbeat and optimistic guy by nature, and I thankfully do enjoy quite a bit of what is coming at me these days. I know music is largely subjective. But objectively, there are loads of good songs out there. And I'm able to associate them with good memories. As time marches on, I can hear songs from five or ten or fifteen years ago that take me back to what I was doing at that time, how I was feeling, and all the stuff that the older songs still do. And that's the power of music.

It was kind of a weird year for my new music listening. The year got off to a quick start, with some promising releases early on. Then it seemed like I couldn't get into anything for a while. I tend to listen to music in three main scenarios - at my desk at work, while exercising (running or cardio machines), and driving. At work, I usually listen to either smooth jazz or older music that I know very well. I get distracted less that way. New music at work is reserved for the mindless tasks when I can focus more on it. I think that's why I've mentioned before that sometimes I'll listen to an album that I've played before and suddenly it sticks to me - I first listened to it at work and couldn't fully appreciate it. For exercising, I started listening to an MP3 player I prepared for my wife with a bunch of songs all from the 80s on it - the stuff she knows well. While she likes the newer music just fine, she often prefers 'comfort music' - the songs she remembers from the past. She decided to run without music, and I started listening more to that mid-year. And the most different part of the year was how I drive. Both of my sons are now in college (another reason to watch how much I spend on music), with my younger son starting August 2016.

So 2017 was the first full year that I wasn't spending a good amount of time driving them around or to their activities. Most of my solo trips are pretty short, and my wife tends to prefer to talk with me rather than indulge my musical yearnings. Thankfully, I did figure all that out during the fall, and I revisited some albums that had slipped by me earlier in the year plus the ones that came out in the fall.

Enough rambling. If you've stayed awake for my monologue, here is your reward.

The Best
01 - Midnite City - Midnite City
There was never really any doubt after I'd given this its first three spins. For me, this one checks all the boxes, hits all the marks, and any other expression you can think of. My review (a perfect 10) says it all. Eleven superb songs that flow together perfectly. You'll see this very high on my best of the decade list in a few years.

02 - House Of Lords - Saint Of The Lost Souls
This is one of those albums like I mentioned that somehow got better after I hadn't listened to it for a few months. Every time I reference this band, I use the works 'prolific' and 'consistent', and I can always count on a new HOL album with a bunch of great songs and a few killers. The killers were not quite as apparent to me the first few listens, and I believe that's because the lyrics are a little - well, not sure whether to say deeper, or less cheesy, but you know what I mean. There is more of a keyboard presence on this album, and it is a bit smoother overall. I don't think it's any less hard, but the hardness is tempered somewhat. I'm kind of surprised I'm putting this one as high as I am, but I am. It certainly has gotten played a lot the past three months. I've mentioned on earlier albums that I like HOL as much as anyone when I'm in the right mood for them, and this appears to be an album where the 'right mood' has a larger surface area.

03 - Lionville - A World Of Fools
This was a very early 2017 release, with a few songs coming out in late 2016. I've become a huge fan of Work Of Art, and the first two Lionville albums were excellent too. This one sounds quite a bit like Work Of Art in many places, kind of blending the sound of their earlier work with WOA. I also gave this a 10 in my review.

04 - H.E.A.T - Into The Great Unknown
Album number five from these guys was a bit of a risk and a departure from their typical friendlier AOR sound. They went a little heavier and darker in some spots, and a little less like everyone else in others. But it made for an excellent album, one that stands out in a crowded field. They deserve their lofty perch in the genre. I gave this an excellent 9.5.

05 - Houston - III
I had some serious concerns about the future of this band based on some personnel changes before the covers album I reviewed in 2014 as well as a few of the choices they made for that album. And the lead song 'Dangerous Love', while quite catchy, didn't exactly sell me that the album wouldn't be too far on the poppy side. Fortunately, they managed to retain a solid AOR sound while incorporating more of a pop element. It's another one that I can play in repeat mode quite easily. Songs 6, 7, and 8 are one of those perfect back-to-back-to-back trios that sit in your head long after they've ended.

06 - Revolution Saints - Light In The Dark
Many of us felt like their debut album was a case of unreached potential, where the whole was less than the sum of its parts. I'm not sure how much they listened to those comments. But they certainly seemed to unleash Doug Aldrich on this album. It has more of a guitar-centered sound. And the songs are less generic-sounding that the ones on the debut. I gave this one a 9.5 as well. I believe they reached their potential on this one, and I hope we'll get new releases from these guys every 2 - 3 years or so. (This is the point in my list where I separate the ones that are clearly in my top ten from many others that may or may not remain there. It was a tough year to earn a solid spot in my list..)

07 - Pride Of Lions - Fearless
I believe these guys are kind of an acquired taste, and it took me a while to appreciate them. I think the preferences of Jim Peterik were balanced largely by Frankie Sullivan in Survivor, perhaps much like Dennis DeYoung was balanced by the other guys of Styx. Left to his own, Peterik is prone to get a bit schmaltzy. If you enjoy schmaltz with a large dose of pomp, then Pride Of Lions is a band for you. It worked really well for me the first part of the year. There are some really great songs on here, and this is the perfect album when I'm in the mood for this style. I gave this a 9.5 in my review.

08 - Tokyo Motor Fist - Tokyo Motor Fist
I had high expectations for this based on the first songs that had come out in late 2016. Ted Poley is in fine voice, rocking harder than he did in his solo album from 2016. Steve Brown came up with some cool guitar riffs throughout. This would have been a fine album back in 1989, although they would probably have had to come up with a less-strange name.

09 - Walk On Fire - Mind Over Matter
I feel like I'm cheating with this one, as everyone realizes it was actually recorded in the early 90's or thereabouts. While I certainly wish that there would be some artists that record a current album that has this sound, I'll settle for this. It's another one that would be a strong candidate for my top ten lists anytime in the late 80s on. I could largely say the same for the Don Barnes album, except that I had a copy of that album from long ago, and while good, isn't quite as overall strong as this one.

10 - All 4 1 - World's Best Hope
I'll give this one the edge over several other strong contenders because I think it is both very consistent and contains a few killer songs in key spots in the track listing. Even though it is a Frontiers release, it doesn't suffer from the general samey-ness that often plagues their albums. And I'm able to connect lyrically with this one more so than with some other albums that are flashier in a musical sense.

Other Good Stuff
The first four would probably be the 11 - 14 guys. If they grow on me a little more, they could move up. The rest are in alphabetic order.

Kryptonite - Kryptonite
Raintimes - Raintimes
Kee Of Hearts - Kee Of Hearts
Wildness - Wildness
Age Of Reflection - In The Heat Of The Night
Coastline Ride - Distance
Code Red - Code Red
Dante Fox - Six String Revolver
Don Barnes - Ride The Storm
Eclipse - Monumentum
Harem Scarem - United
Newman - Aerial
Night Ranger - Don't Let Up
One Desire - One Desire
Poets Of The Fall - Clearview
Rian - Out Of The Darkness
Riverdogs - California
Rockett Love - Grab The Rocket
Romeo Riot - Sing It Loud
Shadowman - Secrets And Lies
Stan Bush - Change The World
That Rock Guy - Nothin' To Lose
The Nights - The Nights

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#1 | Cimozzen on January 18 2018 04:37:37
Great list, Jeffrey. The "House of Lords" album got a mixed reception, but I myself really enjoyed the songs. "Oceans Divide" still gets regular play from me.

As much as I am bored with Frontiers, Kryptonite really impressed me, and I also loved Raintimes (I may be biased though, they threw my name in the "Special Thanks" list in the booklet Cool

I look forward to seeing Midnite City at Melodic Rock Fest in May.
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