2016 will go down in history as the year we lost some huge names in the world of entertainment. Nothing I write about that is likely to be anything new, but 2016 gave us some amazing new music. This year I had such a hard time picking my list that at one point it doubled! So, without further ado, I present some of my favourite albums of 2016.
- Alter Bridge – ‘The Last Hero’
This won’t be the only time the names Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti appear in this list but for now they are here in their day job. “The Last Hero” is a much darker sounding Alter Bridge album as Kennedy tackles political and climate issues in his lyrics. Right out of the gate “show Me a Leader” blasts out of the speakers with Myles taking the first guitar solo to great effect. Elsewhere Tremonti lays down some of his best lead work and experiments with a seven string guitar. A first for Alter Bridge. Not a huge step forward but an epic album nonetheless.
- The Answer – ‘Solas’
2016 saw the Answer release their most diverse album yet. Ditching their tradition blues rock sound for a more Celtic sounding album complete with traditional folk instrumentation. It was a huge gamble and one that for me personally paid off. This reinvention has resulted in some of their best work yet. Title track “Solas” is their “Kashmir” with its stomping drums and ominous bass. “Battle Cry” is the best song I heard in 2016. A refreshing Celtic rock song with a huge chorus sung in Gaelic that gets the heart pumping. I can’t wait for the follow up.
- Blackberry Smoke – ‘Like An Arrow’
Blackberry Smoke have the same kind of swagger you’d find from the Black Crowes. This is the third official album from the country rockers and just like the previous releases there isn’t a dud on it. Singer and guitarist Charlie Starr certainly knows how to pen a great song. With Gregg Allman guesting on “Free on the Wing” and the wonderful organ solo on “Waiting for the Thunder” there’s plenty to enjoy on here.
- Blues Pills – ‘Lady In Gold’
Multinational Blues Pills have honed the sound on their self-titled debut to release an album with more of a psychedelic soul vibe to it. Guitarist Dorian Sorriaux’s fuzzy guitar is still present but it seems to be reeled in a bit, leaving the guitar jams for the stage. The album received a lot of flak from fans claiming they have sold out mainly due to singles “Lady in Gold” and “I felt a Change” that both wouldn’t sound out of place on an Adele record. Having seen them play nearly the entire album live I can say it fits in with their previous work perfectly.
- Joe Bonamassa – ‘Blues Of Desperation’
Blues rock titan Joe Bonamassa must be the busiest guy in the music business. Not content with releasing an album a year he manages to squeeze in a live album a year and collaborations with Beth Hart, Rock Candy Funk Party and he is also reunited with Black Country Communion for a new album this year. Here he is flying solo and it’s his second album of completely original material. Naturally the album is loaded with incredible guitar tones thanks to his ever growing collection of vintage gear and the original material holds up pretty well. One thing I have noticed is Joe seems to be obsessed with trains with two tracks with train in the title, not to mention Slow Train from the album “Dust Bowl”.
- Danny Bryant – ‘Blood Money’
We are so fortunate in the UK right now to have such a strong blues scene. With the likes of Oli Brown, Aynsley Lister and Joanne Shaw Taylor to name just a handful. Danny Bryant is the UK’s answer to Walter Trout. No surprise that Walter is one of Danny’s biggest influences. Trout even guests on the title track. Also making an appearance is British blues rock legend Bernie Marsden on the ballad “Just Won’t Burn”. An essential album for Bonamassa fans and proof that the UK can hold its own when it comes to the blues.
- Crobot – ‘Welcome To Fat City’
“Welcome to Fat City” is an album bursting riff riffs beefier than Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks combined. The follow up to their awesome debut “Something Supernatural”, it continues the madness. Singer Justin Yeagley Wails through the album like a crazed Myles Kennedy, the riffs are fat, funky and will have you grinning through the entire record. Definitely one to get you moving.
- The Dead Daisies – ‘Make Some Noise’
Classic rock super group the Dead Daisies almost didn’t make this list but after seeing them on tour with the Answer I re-visited this release and it totally floored me. The level of talent in this band can only be measured by the C.V.’s of the guys in the band. Featuring band members that have played with Motley Crue, Whitesnake, and Thin Lizzy. It’s the brain child of rhythm guitarist, businessman and aviator David Lowy. The music is tight and punchy with infectious hooks and some dazzling solos from guitarist Doug Aldrich. Featuring covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Who, both given the Daisies treatment, it’s a fist pumping stadium rock masterpiece.
- Beth Hart – ‘Fire On The Floor’
This is a welcome return for Beth Hart. Personally I found her previous album a bit lack lustre and not really making full potential of her frankly staggering vocal talents. Thankfully there is plenty of her fiery voice on display here. Ranging from sultry, sassy and explosive. There’s a mix of styles on this album from jazzy blues, soulful ballads, and even catchy pop on “let’s get Together”. This album is worth it for the brooding “Fire on the Floor” and destructive “love is a Lie”. There is certainly seems to be a negative view of love on this release.
- Ihsahn – ‘Arktis’.
Norwegian black metal royalty Ihsahn is now six albums into a solo career. Where more traditional black metal acts seem content to stick to low production values and traditional song writing, Ihsahn continues to push himself both in production techniques and progressive song writing. This is his best album since 2010’s “After” and even the fact that Trivium’s Matt Heafey makes an appearance isn’t enough to put me off.
- In Flames – ‘Battles’
The latest release from one of the bands pivotal in the creation of the Gothenburg sound. I like my metal with a decent dose of melody and In Flames don’t disappoint there. Crisp harmonised guitars and big anthemic choruses are all over this album. This album doesn’t feel as heavy as previous releases (mainly due to the production) and certainly won’t satisfy fans of their earlier 90s work but if you’re new to this kind of music it could be a gateway drug to melodic death metal.
- Eric Johnson – ‘EJ’
“EJ” is the first album in Johnson’s thirty plus year career that is completely acoustic. It’s a delightful listen as he performs on both guitar and piano on a mixture of instrumental and vocal numbers. The perfect album for a nice chilled out afternoon. A few interesting takes on Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix and even Les Paul only make the album more enjoyable.
- Jonestown – ‘Aokigahara’
Ok I may be biased here. Jonestown hail from Brighton and I have known their drummer, Rich Owen for a few years now. I was a photographer and friend of his former band Echovirus. Unlike the mellow-death sound of Echovirus this is a far more brutal beast with an emphasis on groove over melody. With hints of black metal dissonance combined with hard-core slamdowns this is a devastating beast of a record. Combined with the tight production this record is sure to elevate Jonestown to their next level of metal dominance.
- Katatonia – ‘The Fall Of Hearts’
Swedish gloom merchants Katatonia deliver another dose of bleak gothic metal. Simple melodies collide with heavy riffs as singer Jonas Renske’s melancholic lyrics massage themselves into your ears. It’s all beautifully gloomy like a foggy morning but there are hints of Katatonia’s earlier death metal beginnings on tracks like “Sanction” and “Passer”.
- Lacuna Coil – ‘Delirium’
Italian Goths Lacuna Coil have released possibly their heaviest record yet. Following a Line-up change that saw 3 long term members leave the band, much of the work was placed on bassist Marco Coti Zelati who recorded most of the guitars himself as well as producing the record. There is a real surprise guest guitar solo from Alter Bride singer/guitarist Myles Kennedy. Proving he is far more than just a singer, his solo on “Downfall” is nothing short of epic.
- Aynlsey Lister – ‘Eyes Wide Open’
Aynsley Lister may not be a household name but in blues circles he is one of the finest British contemporary blues artists around. His ability to write catchy pop blues is right up there with the likes of John Mayer and on this release he raises the bar once again. “Il Grande Mafioso” is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, with its film noir/spaghetti western style guitar merging into a spectacular blues solo. Inspiring stuff!
- Meshuggah – ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’
The twisted mess of detuned riffs, chaotic drums and guttural screaming that is Messhuggah has reached a new level of madness on this record. The crazy Swedes went for a far more live approach to making this album, resulting in a far more organic feel. “Clockworks” shows just how much better it is when Tomas Haake is behind the drum kit rather than programming his beats. Not an easy listen but one of their best releases by far.
- Metallica – ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’
Metallica are a band that truly need no introduction. Despite releasing some questionable material in their later years, notably the abomination that was their collaboration with the late Lou Reed, Hardwired harks back to their thrashier days. It’s a hungry aggressive beast and it feels like Metallica have something to fight for once again, to reclaim their place as the kings of metal. A double album is a bold statement but there’s enough variation on this album to please most types of metalhead. This album has the riffs and the lyrics, Lars’s drumming is a far cry from the St. Anger days and we can hear the bass. This is the album Death Magnetic should’ve been.
- Dan Patlansky – ‘Introvertigo’
South African blues rock tornado Dan Patlansky had a fantastic 2015, releasing “Dear Silence Thieves” to great acclaim. What better way than to follow it up with another incredible record. “Introvertigo” is more of the same Stratocaster powered blues rock. Big riffs and searing solos are abound on here as is his strat’s softer side on “Loosen the Grip” and “Still Wanna Be Your Man”. For fans of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
- Rival Sons – ‘Hollow Bones’
The Sons are back with album number five. Another collection of wailing blues rock. Singer Jay Buchanan Just goes from strength to strength, and musically they show no signs of becoming stale. “Tied Up” could have been stolen from the Black Keys and the riff from “Thundering Voices” could have been co-written by Tom Morello and Jack White. The formerly only available on vinyl Ike & Tina Turner cover “Black Coffee” makes an appearance with a slightly revamped mix. “Fade Out” is an epic slow burning track with howling slide guitar solo that should’ve ended the record but instead separates the album into two halves. Another triumph for the band.
- Simo – ‘Let Love Show the Way’
Nashville based Simo are the best power trio I’ve heard in a long time. Sounding like a cross between the Allman Brothers and Cream. Fronted by J.D. Simo, they belt out meaty blues rock. J.D. is a beast on the guitar mixing up slide guitar and some incredible blues chops. The whole album is a fuzz soaked weighty blues edging into psychedelic territory in places “Long May You Sail” being a fine example. J.D. is no slouch in the vocal department either. He has an almost Joe Cocker blues moan perfect for this blend of the devil’s music.
- Skunk Anansie – ‘Anarchytecture’
Brixton’s Skunk Anansie are one of my fave bands. They were a huge inspiration to me in my first ever band and I was blown away when they reunited. “Anarchytecture” feels somewhat more accessible than say “Paranoid and Sunburnt”. It definitely feels like the guitars are buried deeper in the mix and some of the songs feel like they suit a club rather than a rock show but the song writing is of a high standard and Skin’s voice is still as beautiful as ever. They always manage to pull off a ballad and “Death to the Lovers” is no exception.
- Joanne Shaw Taylor – ‘Wild’
“Wild” is the fourth album from British blues guitar sensation Joanne Shaw Taylor. Produced by Kevin Shirley, who did wonders for Joe Bonamassa’s career, it will certainly elevate her to wider audiences. The album is packed with her sultry voice and dazzling lead guitar playing. She’s yet another jewel in the crown of the UK’s blues scene.
- Tremonti – ‘Dust’
Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti makes his second appearance on my list, this time fronting his side project. Last year I made the mistake of leaving his second album “Cauterize” off my list but this time it’s firmly in place. More solid song writing, singing and shredding from the Alter Bridge guitarist. The riffs are a touch heavier than what you may find on an Alter Bridge release and it shows off Tremonti’s abilities as a singer. If catchy melodic rock is your thing and fancy getting a bit darker then this could be for you.
- Wakrat – ‘Wakrat’
Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford teams up with drummer Mathias Wakrat and guitarist Laurent Grangeon to release an album of hard hitting contemporary punk. It’s raw, aggressive social commentary, in particular “Generation Fucked” as Commerford spits his lyrics like bullets. There are obvious Rage Against the Machine similarities (In particular the Grangeon’s use of guitar effects) but it really stands up on its own and at 28 minutes it is straight to the point.
- White Buffalo – ‘Love And The Death Of Damnation’
Jake Smith, who goes by the alias The White Buffalo may be known to Sons of Anarchy fans as he has appeared on their soundtracks. This is his 3rd album (5th including his first 2 self-released albums). It’s an album chock full of Americana and country rock ranging from stomping numbers like “Dark Days” and sombre “Radio With No Sound”. Stand out track for me is the Devastating “I Got You” featuring Audra Mae as they duet through a ballad about carrying on a relationship through difficulties. It’s highlighted by some lovey pedal steel guitar but it’s White and Mae’s vocals that really hit the spot.
Written by Colin Plumb