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2015: the year's best music

Even though Eden On The Line is still hibernating it would seem odd to end the year without saying something about its musical high points.

I only got to eleven gigs in 2015, but there were some good ones in there. The stand-out was Patti Smith on scorching form in Glasgow, playing Horses in its entirety, forty years on. And honorable mentions for The Decemberists, Hiss Golden Messenger, Laura Marling and Ryley Walker - excellent shows by all.

It has been another killer year for reissues. Alongside the wonderful Bob Dylan Cutting Edge release, there was a fine Neil Young box of live shows from the late eighties with Bluenote Cafe. Mentions here too for the Velvet Underground's Complete Matrix Tapes; Four Tet's Pink, gathering an archive of 12" releases; expanded remasters of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and His Band And The Street Choir; and the Grateful Dead's San Francisco 1976.

On to new releases and the traditional countdown.

10. Billy McKay & Ryley Walker: Land Of Plenty

Ryley is rapidly turning into one of those guarantees of good quality, turning up in a range of different styles and settings (Steve Gunn is another): you can buy with confidence.

This set is a beautifully varied and intricate set of duets with another guitarist from Chicago, Billy McKay

9. Nadia Reid: Listen To Formation, Look For The Signs

A recent find for me. Nadia is a singer/songwriter from New Zealand and this seems to be her first full album release.

A strong and confident voice and a distinctive stylist. Try this for size.

8. Four Tet: Morning / Evening

Two side-long tracks of Keiran Hebden's trademark electronica, the first featuring lovely vocal samples from Lata Mangeshkar, the great Indian playback singer (whom I first encountered via Cornershop's name-check in 'Brimful Of Asha'). Excellent commuting music, I find.

 7. Michael Chapman: Fish

I do realise that if Michael Chapman has released an album in a given year, then it is very likely to be in my top ten. This is not me being boring, but him being consistent...

After a number of improvised and experimental instrumental albums, Fish is a more generally accessible collection of ten guitar tunes.

6. Laura Marling: Short Movie

Another regular on these lists. To my ears she gets better and more assured with each album. She got some flack for having acquired a bit of an American accent, but I can live with that. Well arranged and varied: great stuff.

 5. The Weather Station: Loyalty

And here's another very impressive female singer-songwriter... Ontario's Tamara Lindeman, trading as The Weather Station. Inevitable echoes of Joni, but certainly not an imitator - or someone who need be daunted by the comparison. 'Way It Is, Way It Could Be' was one of my favourite songs of the year. It's here. See if it makes you hit repeat too...

4. Ryley Walker: Primrose Green

Back to the man of the moment, taking a beautiful step forward from his folky debut, moving with a jazz band into full-on John Martyn and Tim Buckley territory.


3. Dave Rawlings Machine: Nashville Obsolete

I guess the joke in the title is that, while the music has a traditional country feel (to match its Civil War team-shot cover), Dave and Gillian's latest couldn't be further from obsolete...

It's not a perfect record - 'Candy' is too annoyingly repetitive to sustain frequent listens - but the stronger songs are in a class of their own, with the pair's singing and playing together just getting better. Here's proof.


2. Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There

I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I do. It's a mix of cover versions and reworked originals that I thought might just be self-indulgent. In fact it's a gem: beautifully recorded and performed with a gentle intensity and dedication.

It ranges from Hank Williams to Sun Ra via The Cure, but they manage to make it a satisfying and cohesive whole.

1. The Decemberists: What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

The long-awaited follow-up to The King Is Dead, the album which belatedly sold the band to me. This has a more varied sonic palette, with nods to their proggy and folky sides alongside the predecessor's Americana. There's a sense of making up for lost time, after keyboard player Jenny Conlee's return from sick leave. There are no fewer than fourteen tracks on the main album and a further five out-takes on a later EP, Florasongs. My FB take on stand-out number 'A Beginning Song' when it was released was

A grown-up take on the pain and joy of living that has me punching the air every time I hear it.

I'll stand by that, and the rest of the record is pretty good too.

I'll leave you with mentions for the runners-up bubbling just under the top ten: step forward Peter Case, Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, Lynched and Trembling Bells.

See you in 2016.

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