Women Rule This Best of Music List in 2017, Led by One Super Mann — Aimee Mann, That Is

12/28/2017 12:16 pm ET

Whoever said holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year must not have been in the music or movie business. It’s better to give than receive, right?

So with the awards season officially underway, let’s continue the tradition of honoring a few of our favorite musicians that started when HuffPost was known as The Huffington Post.

With 17 winners representing 2017, there’s a slight twist to this personal list of top performers that began here a few years ago. Instead of ranking my overall favorites Nos. 1 through 17, they have been divided into four more manageable categories: 5 Fabulously Favorite Artists, 5 Favorite Interviews, 4 Favorite Music Video Premieres and 3 Favorite Couples or Duos. Assuming my math is correct, that is exactly 17.

The piece concludes with my top 17 albums of ’17, which include all the artists in the four previous lists who made full-length records this past year. It also might be the year of the cover, with three albums of cover songs among my top 10.

The EP seems to be another popular trend, especially among indies hoping to get the word out about their work quickly while saving a buck or two in production costs. That might make more sense for the musician than the devoted listener who may be less inclined to stick with a four-song sampler than delve deeper into a fuller 12-song experience.

Here are a few more ground rules to ponder. My 5 Fabulously Favorite Artists had to release a record that landed in my top 10, conducted at least one interview and made their presence felt in at least one other creative outlet I witnessed or covered in 2017. Qualifiers include a live concert, or music video or album stream premiere that was presented at HuffPost.

To wrap it up, this purely subjective list formulated primarily from my stories published online at HuffPost or No Depression covers my favorite genres (rock, pop, blues, folk, Americana, country). While several of my longtime favorites are back from previous years, there’s only one returnee from the 2016 list (excluding a member of a group who was here with a solo project last year). And since I am a fan of up-and-coming musicians, there are also seven artists I wrote about for the first time on this list, including two among my five fabulously favorites.

So before the calendar turns to 2018, let’s get to the good stuff. Congrats to all, and hope to see you back here next year.

5 FABULOUSLY FAVORITE ARTISTS

Interview: March 24.

Project: Mental Illness, her ninth full-length studio album, released on March 31.

Blame it on Aimee — the Mann of the Year. If it wasn’t for the voice that carried ’Til Tuesday, her longtime manager Michael Hausman and a compelling phone interview with Mann 23 years ago, I probably wouldn’t be talking with — or writing about — some of my favorite singer-songwriters and musicians these days.

Mann was in London when I called her for a 1994 article I wrote for The Denver Post titled “Women Rock the World.” It was one of the best interview experiences of my life, and it took only the length of time between then and now to confirm my expectations that Mann remains as open and honest as any performer out there.

This time, Mann was on the phone from Los Angeles on March 24. She was doing a flurry of promotion for Mental Illness, which interestingly was recently nominated for a 2018 Grammy in the Best Folk Album category.

For someone who has avoided being pigeonholed throughout most of her music life that now includes nine solo albums beginning with the release of Whatever in 1993, a fiercely independent career choice was made by this fearless woman with a killer sense of humor and the biting lyrics to match.

That’s just part of the reasoning that led to Mann becoming my Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. Not only did she deliver with the signature songs that can be provocative and melancholy. But less than two months later — in a sold-out concert at the Boulder Theater — Mann, with an excellent backing band that included her producer Paul Bryan on bass, sounded better than ever in a show I described as “thoroughly engaging, entertaining and uplifting.”

Bravo, Ms. Mann. And with sad-but-true songs such as “Stuck in the Past,” “Lies of Summer” and the bittersweet “Goose Snow Cone,” the crazy-good Mental Illness completes the Big 3 sweep as my Album of the Year.

What I said: “Among singer-songwriters who transformed from leading lady of a pop-new wave act on a major label to developing a substantially successful solo career mostly on her own terms, Aimee Mann is a rare American pioneer. As crazy as it sounds, the heady mouthpiece of an independent music movement also is one of the few remaining survivors from that era who still stands by her profoundly deep thoughts and sad truths no matter how many records she sells.”

What she said: “Sometimes it’s just me who thinks certain things are funny but … it’s hard to know how people really see you. I would say I’m not as depressing as Elliott Smith and … I always found his stuff uplifting on some level because it was so honest.”

The Accidentals (from left): Katie Larson, Michael Dause, Sav Buist.
Tony Demin
The Accidentals (from left): Katie Larson, Michael Dause, Sav Buist.

Interview: Oct. 15, via email.

Project: Odyssey, their major label debut (Sony Masterworks), released on Aug. 18.

The Accidentals really get it, every aspect of it. As young, eager musicians who play and act like seasoned pros, the trio from Traverse City, Mich., that I have previously described as “magical, lyrical, fearless and tireless” also should be called “personable” and “accessible.” They represent their craft in the best possible way — as artists, ambassadors, citizens and role models. Every parent should rush out to buy the Accidentals’ recordings in any (or all) available formats for their impressionable tweens and teens — and will more than likely find those tunes to their liking, too.

My pick for the Best New Band Most Likely to Continue Succeeding in the Future is here right now. I can’t help but keep writing about — and being impressed by — classically trained multi-instrumentalists/singer-songwriters/front women Sav Buist (22 years old) and Katie Larson (21), who later welcomed drummer Michael Dause (22) along for their joyful and fantastic journey that hopefully will never stop.

Among my favorite artists the past two years, they are the only returnees among the top 10, moving up a notch from No. 3 in 2016, when they were named my favorite group interview of the year. We finally met for their entertaining Denver house concert in May, and traded emails on occasion, most recently to discuss the music video premiere they presented on Oct. 18 at HuffPost for the title track of Odyssey, and both were delightful experiences.

Ellin Rosenthal, the host of the Denver house concert, provided the most accurate summation of the Accidentals in one paragraph of an email she sent me for the first article:

“We have a huge soft spot for old souls, and that's what Sav, Katie and Michael are,” Rosenthal said. “They are plugged into the universe and the way they share their insights, questions, vulnerabilities and hopes via music touches our hearts. And their hearts are huge — they loved being able to raise money so that more kids could take music lessons. Finally, they are hard workers who are surrounded by hard workers. Amber [Buist], the band's manager and Sav's mom, is absolutely focused on helping bring out the best in the band and in making sure that they get what they need from the world.”

After hearing praise like that, maybe these triple threats deserve to be No. 1 on this list — but where in the world would the Accidentals go from there in 2018 and beyond? If anyone can reach for the Galactic Empire, these Star Wars fanatics can … and will.

What I said: “It’s amazing what a couple of years of concerts will do to turn two wallflowers with stage fright into budding conversationalists who are willing to share TMI moments. An example of their freedom of speech [revealed during a house concert]: One of them recently peed in a Starbucks cup while their van was still moving. For a band playing up to 240 shows a year, there’s no time to stop for such routine tasks. When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

What Sav Buist said: “ ‘Odyssey’ is all about acceptance and moving forward boldly — not in the absence of fear, but in spite of it. Sometimes it can feel like you’re stuck in one spot, that nothing’s ever going to change no matter what you do — that isn’t true. The key is to take care of yourself, to be kind to yourself, and to view movement and change in a positive light, even if it’s just baby steps. Sometimes it means changing someone’s perspective by changing their experience. Changing the story means being the change.”  

The Wailin’ Jennys (from left): Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, Heather Masse.
Michael Bialas
The Wailin’ Jennys (from left): Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, Heather Masse.

Interviews: Nicky Mehta, Aug. 8; Ruth Moody, Oct. 19.

Project: Fifteen, their fourth full-length studio album, released Oct. 27.

I’ve probably written about this Winnipeg, Manitoba-based trio possessing some of the best voices and second-to-none three-part harmonies in roots/folk music more than any other artist since 2010. That’s when I first interviewed co-founding member and super soprano Ruth Moody, whose first solo album was No. 1 on my list that year. So anytime she or her co-members (Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse), make another album, they’re almost guaranteed a spot near the top.

The Jennys have other priorities these days besides making music (Moody was the last of the three to become a mother, giving birth to a baby boy named Woodson in November 2016), but they still found time to create another special delivery.

It was an unexpected pleasure when they decided to not only return to the studio in February to record a new album — Fifteen, nine cover songs by accomplished artists such as Tom Petty, Paul Simon and Dolly Parton, was their first release since 2011 — but also come back to Colorado in August to make their Rocky Mountain Folks Festival debut.

The year became twice as nice after seeing my pick as the Most Valuable Trio at the Boulder Theater in November following my third interview with Moody and first chat with Mehta to complete the Jennys trifecta. (In 2016, Masse and I discussed her solo album August Love Song, and she made my year-end list.)

Catching the Ruth Moody Band — a separate project with her brother Richard Moody, bass player (and Woodson’s father) Sam Howard and guitarist Adam Dobres — in June was another memorable occasion, especially since she performed what I consider to be the Cover of the Year — her exquisite version of the Beatles’ In My Life. If only I could have heard that played at my son’s wedding a month later.

With Moody’s only known recording of it on a music video, we can only hope it’s resurrected by the Jennys as a bonus track on a deluxe version of Fifteen — which signifies the number of years the group has existed. No matter whether the number they record is old or new, though, you can always count on the Wailin’ Jennys, who turn sweet 16 on Jan. 18, 2018, to make it sound beautiful.

What I said: “Though the front cover of Fifteen is filled with enough deep meaning and symbolism to either amaze or confuse, the thought process behind arranging and self-producing an album of songs originally written and/or made famous by some of music’s most revered artists was simple. The Wailin’ Jennys loved them, from tantalizing cover to cover.”

What Ruth Moody said (about recording Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” more than eight months before his death): “That was actually the first song that we knew we wanted to record on the record because fans have been asking for years for us to record that ever since we started playing it in our shows. … Maybe even sort of the impetus for the record.”

Interview: March 27.

Project: Reckless Abandon (after April 4 full-length album stream premiere), released on April 7.

I’m always thrilled to find out about adventurous artists on the verge of becoming rising stars, then presenting their stories to like-minded music enthusiasts who enjoy the experience of spreading the word about a performer with the ability to woo you after just one listen. This New York transplant from Pocatello, Idaho, did it with Reckless Abandon, her first solo independent project with entirely original material that was released April 7, which premiered three days earlier at HuffPost.

With an incredibly rich and expressive voice, the former classical music student at Juilliard who has performed on Broadway also was a blast to interview. For being a stunning singer in addition to a real charmer who enthusiastically told her story like she was sharing it for the first time, James is my Brightest Breakout Artist of the Year.

James has an intriguing musical backstory filled with ups and downs that included getting signed by Epic Records in 2012, then a rejection notice from the label in 2015. Blessed with a versatile range that can go to crowd-pleasing extremes, she has learned to excel, whether she’s singing operas, The Addams Family show tunes on Broadway or covers by Nina Simone (“My Baby Just Cares for Me”) and Prince (“Call My Name”). Seeing her in concert, performing those songs and more live, is one of my essential New Year’s resolutions.

Now that the former featured voice with Postmodern Jukebox has gone solo again (while implementing the talents of guitarist/cowriter/producer/husband Doug Wamble), expect the list of loyal James Gang members (including more than 302,000 Facebook followers) to swell well into 2018.

What I said: “James’ journey has been exciting, frustrating, promising and productive since she let loose on the karaoke machine [a gift she received around the age of 11] with such a fury that her grandmother Laurel ‘Lucky’ Daniel vowed to pay for voice lessons until Morgan went to college.”

What she said: “I wanted to sound like Joni Mitchell and Mariah Carey and Aretha [Franklin]. It’s funny, ’cause it’s kind of like I think I’ve been trying to put those three together my whole life.”

Interview: Feb. 21.

Projects: Chills & Fever, her fourth studio album, on March 17; Belle of the West, her fifth release, on Nov. 3.

With a nod to the late James Brown, this self-taught electric guitarist from Kansas City, Mo., might be the hardest-working front woman in show business today. Fish started off the year with an infectious cover collection of 14 hidden R&B gems. She recorded the bluesy doozy of an album in Detroit that landed in the top 10 of Billboard’s blues charts, and presented an exclusive music video premiere of “Chills & Fever” at HuffPost. Then she ended the year with Belle of the West, an “acoustic-electric record” with 11 tracks produced by Luther Dickinson and made at Zebra Ranch Studios in the North Hills of Mississippi.

In her “spare” time, Fish has made more than 200 YouTube music videos and is constantly updating her never-ending touring schedule that includes dates all across the United States and abroad. She’ll end 2017 playing a New Year’s Eve show at Knuckleheads Saloon, a hometown favorite where a determined prodigy got her start by jamming with the likes of Tab Benoit, Michael Burks and Mike Zito. With a full-time ax to grind since the wannabe drummer wanted an acoustic guitar for Christmas at the age of 15, this lady who can sing (and play) the blues is my pick as Top Musical Dream Date to See in 2018.

What I said: “Now that she’s one of the cool grownups singing the blues and more for a living, Fish is leaving her fingerprints behind as evidence of her hellacious handiwork. Just imagine what the woman with the golden touch will do next.”

What she said: “You think you know what you’re doing as a musician, like, ‘I know all the classics,’ which you don’t. There’s so much out there, so it was really enlightening for me to get to go and really dive in and learn a lot about the history of soul and Motown and finding artists I hadn’t heard before.”

5 FAVORITE INTERVIEWS

For the umpteenth time, I had just watched Across the Universe, an underrated movie filled with mostly unknown actors/artists singing superlative renditions of Beatles tunes, then I started to wonder — Whatever happened to Dana Fuchs, the bluesy, ballsy voice behind the bluesy, ballsy character Sexy Sadie? After the film’s 2007 release, I began listening to more of Fuchs’ original music, liked what I heard, then lost track of her career. So I decided in January to track her down, reached her manager, then just like that, had one of my first interviews of the New Year scheduled with this amazing woman, who wins the honor of Best Conversationalist to Invite to Your Dinner Party.

Fuchs and I chatted for almost an hour about almost everything, and she was absolutely wonderful and willing to share segments of her recent past that involved birth and death, joy and grief, humor and pathos.

Still singing her heart out after years spent playing clubs, festivals and Broadway shows, this Florida native who lives in a Harlem apartment with her 1-year-old son Aidan just wanted to let loyal listeners and curious bystanders know she’s still making music. A new record was in the works, and those determined efforts will be realized this spring with a 13-track attack of blues, rock and soul recorded in Memphis in May called Love Lives On.

What I said: “On the phone, Fuchs is as remarkably candid about her life as she is on her website blog, where she discusses the balance of nature with the death of her mother in April [2016] preceding the birth of her son in September.”

What she said: “The diehard fans that have been with me from the get-go know that over the last few years, every album I've made has been a dedication to one lost family member after another.”

Another powerful, inspiring interview subject was this Nashville-based singer-songwriter who decided to share some of her darkest secrets through her songs for the Sept. 29 release Sorry Is Gone.

Before the #MeToo movement and the highly publicized sexual misconduct cases involving Hollywood stars and producers, a forthright Mayfield discussed in a quiet, reserved manner her decision to no longer remain silent as the victim of domestic abuse.

How that turned into a moving selection of songs was truly a courageous and remarkable achievement.

What I said: “Despite the brutally honest lyrics, Sorry Is Gone’s sonic deliverance is actually quite vibrant, driven by Mayfield’s hypnotic vocals and edgy electric guitars on songs such as ‘Wish You Could See Me Now,’ ‘Bum Me Out’ and ‘WTF.’ ”

What she said: “I feel like it’s almost my duty and my responsibility to advocate for this subject. Because if I really want things to change and I want women to be treated more fairly, then hiding my own experiences isn’t going to help anyone.”

Wes Marsala

Initially, all it took was a three-track preview to make me fall hook, line and sinker for this Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and the new project she founded with her boyfriend Nick Perez.

Then an unexpectedly involved and intriguing 68-minute interview in October that took off in several different directions led to the decision to not only present the album stream premiere of Holy Wars’ dynamic debut EP Mother Father but also follow up in a second article with more fascinating details regarding a kind and introspective woman known in another life as Katherine Pawlak.

If Mother Father, dedicated to her parents who died six months apart in 2015, had a few more songs to qualify as a full-length album, it would have been among the top 17 of ’17 shown below. And though I generally limit premieres to full-length album streams and music videos in this space, the propulsive sounds and moving lyrics that drive Mother Father were so good in every possible way that I had to make another exception to that “rule.”

What I said: “During a prolonged period of mourning — with thoughts of suicide — that lasted far beyond those five stages of grief, Leon, the youngest child of Sharon and David Pawlak, emerged as a stronger, inspired and hopeful person. She wants others like her to know they are not alone.”

What she said: “I’m better than I was, that’s for sure. But I think you join this club when you lose a parent or even a child, and I hear [losing] a child is even worse, but there’s this loss club that you just feel your life will never be the same. I’m embracing a new skin. It doesn’t matter how young or how old you are, there’s this emptiness still. There’s that bond between a parent and a kid that’s unbreakable.”

Roger Deckker

Among the interviewees in this category, the dynamic diva of Dublin is the only one I’ve had the pleasure of talking to previously, way back in 2009. Much has changed in her life since then, but Ireland’s pride and joy is still speaking her mind and writing kick-ass songs that landed on Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, the April 7 release that is her fifth full-length album.

The ever-evolving May has softened her look — and her attitude, somewhat — while raising her child Violet, a 5-year-old girl she calls her “mini-May.” Now she sings lullabies to her daughter, looks back on her life wistfully on ballads such as “The Girl I Used to Be,” and moves forward after the 2015 divorce from Darrel Higham, her husband of 18 years who’s also an accomplished guitarist and the “Big Bad Handsome Man” of the song from 2009’s Love Tattoo.

With T Bone Burnett in the studio for her latest album, the rebel from the Liberties still rocks the rockabilly but also delivers elegant, polished numbers that prove she’s more than a plucky charmer, bringing new meaning to calls for “Mayday.”

What I said: “The song titles aren’t quite as suggestive as on past albums and the wild blonde streak in her trademark quiff is long gone, but Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May remains a true-blue crusader who’ll stand up for the things she loves.”

What she said: “I think as an artist you have to, for me anyway, I have to keep changing. I keep learning and pushing myself in different ways otherwise, you know, what’s the point? You have to follow your heart I think at all times. I did that when I was writing another album and even when people tell me this type of music or that type of music isn’t gonna do well, I’d always follow my heart. And here I go again.”

My first interview of the year was a sweet start to 2017, and she was as darling as her last name. This precious, genuine, inventive singer-songwriter who grew up in Iowa decided 14 years ago to follow her dreams to Nashville.

She has accomplished much in the Music City, and in February released Dream Country, her third full-length album. The interview coincided with a music video premiere of the beautifully animated "Halley's Comet,” one of seven songs she wrote or cowrote among the 10 on the album.

Though Darling was in the first class of 10 "Next Women of Country" handpicked by CMT in 2013 that included Ashley Monroe, Jana Kramer, Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, she was incredibly humble and down to earth while looking back on her Grand Ole Opry debut in 2012, when her grandfather was among the family members in the crowd.

"I remember him telling me, 'You only get your first time; you'll remember this forever.' And it's true," she said.

The dream lives on forever for Darling, even if she can no longer share it with her late Grandpa.

What I said: “As connected as Darling hopes to stay with Nashville's country community, Dream Country is a remarkable change of pace. But the genre's proud representative sees the scene opening up while accepting artists she admires such as Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. The ‘cinematic, dreamy album with strings on it’ that Darling describes might surprise many country fans, but it shouldn't for anyone who has heard her gorgeous takes on songs by the Beatles' (‘Blackbird’), Fleetwood Mac (‘Landslide’) and U2 (‘With or Without You’).”

What she said: "The thing that I always miss about being at home — it's just not the same in Nashville — is on a perfect night you can see all the stars in Iowa. It's so funny. Now that I find myself writing about being in the middle of nowhere and reflecting, those are the things that I miss the most about being home. And it's wonderful to be able to go back there."

4 FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO PREMIERES


Members of Humming House (from left): Benjamin Jones, Justin Wade Tam, Joshua Wolak and Bobby Chase.
Laura E. Partain
Members of Humming House (from left): Benjamin Jones, Justin Wade Tam, Joshua Wolak and Bobby Chase.

The Nashville-based folk-rock-roots band fronted by singer-songwriter Justin Wade Tam has been a frequent visitor to my year-end lists since I saw the group give a spirited late night performance at AmericanaFest in 2014. On Sept. 14, Tam and Co. — Benjamin Jones, Joshua Wolak and Bobby Chase — presented the music video for “Companion,” the title song on the album that was released on Oct. 6.

What I said: “Always an embracing, entertaining outfit, the inhabitants of Humming House hope to welcome Mr. [Opportunity], along with a new companion or two {or many more) as they introduce another sparkling album to the public, starting with a vibrant music video.”

What Justin Wade Tam said: “The idea behind [the song] ‘Companion’ was to describe the magic of a new relationship. There’s something electric about meeting someone and realizing that you want nothing more than to just be with them all the time. I wanted to describe that happiness and capture it … a feeling most songwriters have tackled.”

Another multitalented performer who first impressed me at AmericanaFest in Nashville in 2014, this Canadian singer-songwriter moved to the Music City in 2011 before going back to the Great White North, and returns to this hit list for the first time since 2015.

On June 1, the seven-time Canadian Country Music Award nominee premiered the spooky music video she directed for her cover of Townes Van Zandt’s "Waiting ‘Round To Die,” which appeared with three original songs written for the March EP Til the Goin' Gets Gone that she co-produced. She has recorded a new concept album that will be released in early 2018 after she embarks on a major headlining tour of the U.S. and Canada.

What I said: “Lindi Ortega has explored the dark side of life on many of her songs, so it was only natural for the affecting Canadian artist to cover one of Americana’s finest storytellers, then paint his tale black and white in a haunting music video.”

What she said: “I wanted [the video] to be a bit obscure, and wanted people to kind of draw their own conclusion about what was going on. At the same time, I had a general storyline in mind, and most of it centered on the fellow with the white beard and his path. It begins and ends with him, and the two Grim Reapers merely hover at the end of someone’s existence.”

Whitehorse (from left): Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.
Whitehorse (from left): Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.

A couple of cool Canadians, husband-and-wife musicians Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland on Oct. 12 brought “Pink Kimono,” a daring music video, to premiere at HuffPost in support of their intoxicating album Panther In The Dollhouse.

What I said: “Directed by Katrina Beatty of Loud Whisper Productions, the video is as bright and suggestive as the song title implies, with vivid makeout sessions involving twosomes and threesomes who could inspire another ‘make love/not war’ movement that’s in need of a serious reboot during these troubled times.”

What Luke Doucet said: “I fought hard for the unorthodox sexual couples [to appear in the video]. I think they give the story a degree of depth that it benefits from.”

On June 27, Frampton, the runner-up on Season 1 of NBC’s The Voice, premiered the music video for “Crave” at HuffPost. It was one of 12 deeply personal songs from Bruises, the March release that was the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s first solo album since her 2011 debut. The artist who originally hails from Logan, Utah, also had time to release an EP this holiday season called Yule Tunes, which was on my very merry best of Christmas list.

What I said: “Frampton stars (and sings karaoke!) in the music video, which includes an endearing portrait of a budding romance between two male characters played by Blake Young-Fountain and Niru Anya.”

What she said: “We made the colors in ‘Crave’ a lot brighter and more colorful ... to represent someone who is finding their own light again (my character), and someone who is yearning to start something new (Blake's character).”

3 FAVORITE COUPLES OR DUOS

From left: Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer.
Jacob Blickenstaff
From left: Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer.

I finally get to call them my Favorite Sister Act of All Time now that they recorded Not Dark Yet, a bold collection of nine covers — from Bob Dylan’s title track to Nirvana’s “Lithium” (!) — and one original (“Is It Too Much”) released on Aug. 18. Owning all their CDs back in the day, I loved both Moorer and Lynn long before I started interviewing — or writing about — them, having seen the outspoken roots artists with the golden pipes separately on a number of occasions.

A sneak peek of what was in store appeared on Moorer’s Show album/DVD, when she performed three songs with her Little Big Sister during a 2003 gig at 12th & Porter in Nashville. And as far back as January 2010, when I interviewed Moorer a couple of months before her son John Henry (whose father is Steve Earle) was born, she entertained the thought of making a record with “Sissy,” saying, “Just the two of us and a couple of guitars and sort of going out and doing that.”

Now that they’re touring regularly together (and hopefully will include a Denver stop) to promote Not Dark Yet, let’s pray to God those heavenly harmonies go on forever.

From left: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
From left: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

Country music lovers have been waiting almost as long as forever for this husband-and wife superstar pair to make an album, too. That dream came true on Nov. 17 with the release of The Rest of Our Life (Sony Music Entertainment), an 11-song treasure (highlighted by “Break First,” Speak to a Girl” and the title track) that ranked No. 2 on the Billboard 200 all-genre album chart in its first week. The record is a testament to the personal and professional love affair of two attractive — and very successful — adults who were once just a Louisiana boy and a Mississippi girl dreaming big in the Deep South. The resumption of their Soul2Soul show, which I first caught during the opening weekend of their 10-weekend residency at Las Vegas’ Venetian Theatre in 2012, is further evidence of the spectacular chemistry that exists between country’s current king and queen.

If you miss the opportunity to see them when the Soul2Soul tour resumes in 2018, be sure to catch the gripping concert special Tim & Faith: Soul2Soul on Showtime, with new interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, including a harrowing fall that Hill took through a stage floor opening during rehearsals. Ever the professional, she was back in action in no time.

Now, after several failed attempts over the years, all I need is that interview with the elusive Ms. Hill. What is it they always say: You gotta have Faith?

Eleanor Whitmore (left) and Chris Masterson perform as members of Steve Earle and the Dukes at the 2013 Ride Festival in Tell
MICHAEL BIALAS
Eleanor Whitmore (left) and Chris Masterson perform as members of Steve Earle and the Dukes at the 2013 Ride Festival in Telluride.

Singer-songwriters Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson had to deal with a scary family emergency ahead of a May interview for their new album Transient Lullaby, which landed on my top 10 list. But this All-Americana couple of tenacious Texans who got married in 2009 were determined to follow through on their commitment after a series of reschedules before hitting the road again.

It’s sometimes challenging to interview couples over the phone for several reasons, mainly because you wonder if the husband-wife filter might affect what they truly think or say. That wasn’t the case with these straightforward soul mates who admitted that combining forces might work in the favor of committed yet struggling solo acts.

“We each had a pile of songs and neither of us had a record deal or any prospects of one, so I think I just started joking,” Masterson said about their joint decision in the early stages of their relationship. “I was like, ‘You know, it’s gonna be a real pain in the ass to each release a record this year. Shouldn’t we just come up with a pile of songs that work together and make one record?’ ”

My Top 17 Albums of ’17

  • 1. Aimee Mann — Mental Illness
  • 2. The Wailin' Jennys — Fifteen
  • 3. Morgan James — Reckless Abandon
  • 4. Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer — Not Dark Yet
  • 5. The Accidentals — Odyssey
  • 6. Jessica Lea Mayfield — Sorry Is Gone
  • 7. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill — The Rest of Our Life
  • 8. Samantha Fish — Chills & Fever
  • 9. The Mastersons — Transient Lullaby
  • 10. Imelda May — Live. Love. Flesh. Blood.
  • 11. Little Big Town — The Breaker
  • 12. The New Pornographers — Whiteout Conditions
  • 13. Humming House — Companion
  • 14. Whitehorse — Panther In The Dollhouse
  • 15. Dia Frampton — Bruises
  • 16. Suzanne Santo — Ruby Red
  • 17. Sarah Darling — Dream Country

Finally, here are some end-of-the-year shout-outs to a few of the best publicists in the business whose hard work made working on articles like this a lot easier in 2017: Haley Brinkman (Big Picture Media), Angie Carlson (formerly Red House Records), Jaclyn D. Carter (Shore Fire Media), Louis D'Adamio and Joe Cohen (Sacks & Co.), Pati deVries (Devious Planet), Jim Flammia (All Eyes Media), Chloe Lauter (Press Here), John Riccitelli (Baby Root Media), Danielle Romeo and Penny Palmer (Nettwerk Music Group), Spencer Scanlon (Transmission Publicity), Lindsey Thompson (ECHO AVE), Josh Zanger (Bloodshot Records).

Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including HuffPost and No Depression. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas

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