Our music, news, and talk show hosts read 100s of books and listen to 1000s of songs every year. We asked them to share their choices for the best music and writing of 2017 with you. First, the best music:
Agustin Olvera, La Junta, Saturday, 4–6 PM
Calle Linda 2, Pirulo y La Tribu
Francisco Rosario Rosado is the lead singer, songwriter and timbale player of Pirulo. This second release, a two-CD set, features predominately salsa dura (hard driving salsa) along with some slow ballads and bomba (more folkloric music). The musicianship is top notch and the songs are memorable. The lyrics talk of life on the streets, love, and being the baddest band around.
Martin Alvarado, Global Revolutions, Monday, 9 AM–Noon
Meio que tudo é um, Apanhador Só
The latest album by Brazilian alternative rock outfit Apanhador Só is an outstanding work that showcases the band’s comfort with experimental elements, tropicalia, and bossanova in an album that flows seamlessly from song to song. Catchy acoustic guitar licks and well-crafted melodies with a 60’s sensibility coexist with lo-fi electronica sounds and random sound collage elements for an eminently listenable and interesting experience. Available for free download at the band’s website http://apanhadorso.com/
Peter Allen, former host, One Fine Morning, Tuesday, 9 AM–12 PM
Heavy Meta, Ron Gallo
Ron Gallo comes out out of the gate swinging with “Young Lady You’re Scaring Me,” bobs and weaves to “Why Did You Have Kids?,” jabs inside with “Black Market Eyes,” and delivers the final uppercut with “All of the Punks are Domesticated,” in which Gallo laments that “all the rockstars are behind the bar / serving computers with acoustic guitars.” To top it off, he backs up the record with a goofy and raw live set, complete with big hair and a buzz-saw guitar.
Mister G, Saturday Night at Smokey’s Joint, Saturday, 10 PM–12 AM
With You in Mind: The Songs of Allen Toussaint, Stanton Moore
An album of 10 distinctive cover tunes that pay homage to the late, great New Orleans piano player’s extensive catalog, featuring Stanton’s Jazz trio and New Orleans notables like Trombone Shorty, Cyril Neville, and longtime James Brown horn man, Mr. Maceo Parker. The album will groove you just right on any night.
Tim Sauers, Better Living through Show Tunes, Sunday, 2–3 PM
Dear Evan Hansen, Original Broadway Cast Recording
A sensitive musical about a neurotic misfit trying to survive his last year of high school, the story and score speak to anyone who has ever felt isolated. This Tony Award–winner stole the hearts of everyone who saw it with its insightful lyrics and rich score. Hugh Jackman recently picked it as the album he could listen to on repeat.
Dave Watts, Blues Cruise, Friday, 6–8 PM
At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall, Albert Collins and The Icebreakers
Great Live CD by The Master of the Telecaster featuring the classic Icebreakers line up of Johnny B. Gayden, Casey Jones and A.C. Reed. 2-CD set. If you never got to see Albert live this CD is for you!!
Rev D, Best of Gospel, Sunday, 7–9 PM
“Release” John P Kee, from the album, If God Be Good to Us, The Church Choir
Great lyrics and groove. This song is often requested on Best of Gospel!
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, PanAfrica, Saturday, 2–4 PM
Mogoya, Oumou Sangaré
This beautiful album gets your hips moving. Oumou Sangaré is one of Mali’s most celebrated singers, an outspoken champion of women’s rights who began her career in the late 1980s. She is known as the Songbird of Wassoulou; Wassoulou being both the forested region of Mali where she’s from and the name of the musical style she helped define. She stretches that style by enlisting Swedish and French producers to create a more contemporary sound, aimed at a younger audience. “Yere Faga” features Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen taking on the sensitive subject of suicide. This is Sangaré’s first album in 8 years (and only her 5th album in a 30 year career) so it’s a rare opportunity to enjoy music from someone who does not produce new albums on a regular basis.
Rockin John, I Like It Like That, Saturday, 6–8 PM
Learning the Game, Hayden Thompson
I buy a lot of oldies-related music. This year I got a new CD by rockabilly legend Hayden T. Thompson, Learning the Game. Hayden is 79 years old and he’s backed by a group of rockabilly musicians from Finland. The disc really cooks and I’ve played a lot of tracks on my program. It’s flat out old-school rockabilly and country. Hayden dates back to the 1950s and he’s still got it!
Peter Haney, Back Porch Serenade, Tuesday, 5–8 AM
En Voyage: Music for Violin & Cello, Soh-Hyun Park Altino and Leonardo Altino
Featuring works for cello/violin duo by Kodaly, Ravel, and Desenne, this tops my list of favorite albums of 2017. There’s not much music for cello and violin out there, and the works on this recording are at once adventurous and listenable. Both of these Madison musicians give thoughtful and heartfelt interpretations, with great technical precision, and listeners will enjoy the fruits of their work.
Rich Samuels, Anything Goes, Thursday, 5–8 AM
Olagón: a Cantata in Doublespeak, Eighth Blackbird
I predict Olagón: a Cantata in Doublespeak will earn the Chicago-based sextet Eighth Blackbird its fifth Grammy. I’ve recorded Michael Maccaferri, Eighth Blackbird’s clarinetist, on two occasions during his collaborations with Madison’s Willy Street Chamber Players. Listen to Anything Goes to hear his performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind before the end of 2017.
John Barker, Musica Antiqua, Sunday, 8–11 AM
Stravaganza d’Amore: The Birth of Opera at the Medici Court, Pygmalion
It is impossible to designate as “best” a single release from a whole year of very fine issues. But my attention was called by one unusual release, Stravaganza d’Amore: The Birth of Opera at the Medici Court, with the singers and instrumentalists of the group Pygmalion, led by Raphaël Pichon. Making a somewhat artificial combination of authentic entertainment pieces by composers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries at the court of the Medici, the program demonstrates the evolution of theatrical styles that were the basis for the emerging form of opera. The concept is stimulating, the performances are absolutely delightful, and the packaging is superlative: an album in the form of a bound book, with extensive notes and lavish illustrations.
Paul Novak, On the Horizon, Sunday, 3–5 PM
Kostas Bezos and the White Birds
Kostas Bezos and the White Birds is an LP/CD set on Mississippi/Olvido which follows their first LP of Bezos performing as A. or K. Kostis: The Jail’s a Fine School. An enigmatic figure, Bezos is now thought to be the same performer as Kostis. As Bezos, he played all sorts of songs on Hawaiian guitar in 30’s Athens; as Kostis he sang and played guitar (not slide) on magnificent Rembetika songs in Athens about that same period. These reissues have great sound (previous reissues were taken from poor copies), wonderful notes, and include much of his output on 78s. And what a guitar player he was. Highly recommended!
Alan Muirhead, Musica Antiqua, Sunday, 8–11 AM
Queen Mary’s Big Belly: Hope For An Heir In Catholic England, Gallicantus
Even though two of my favorite groups (Piffaro and Stile Antico) issued new CDs in 2017, my pick is a release by the choir Gallicantus, Queen Mary’s Big Belly: Hope For An Heir In Catholic England. It presents “the musical traces of an extraordinary year of hopes raised and dashed” by the rumored pregnancy of the queen. It’s wonderful music by some of the best composers of the day (1555), sung by some of the leading singers of today. Several pieces celebrate the anticipated birth of an heir while others explore the sadness of loss, many addressing the subtext of Catholic vs. Protestant politics of the time. All beautifully sung by the 9-voice choir, conducted by Gabriel Crouch.
Dave 3000, Kosmik Radiation, 2nd & 4th Wednesday, 11 PM–2 AM
Flying Microtonal Banana/Murder of the Universe/Sketches of Brunswick East
King Gizzard and the Flying Lizard Wizard
After releasing eight albums in their first five years, Australia’s prolific King Gizzard and the Flying Lizard Wizard sped up their furious pace with three entirely different new releases in 2017. First came Flying Microtonal Banana, in which their usual groovy psych-rock sound was twisted in exotic directions by the employment of only “microtonal” instruments tuned to a 24-tone scale. Next, Murder of the Universe consisted of three hard rock operettas on such topics as battling balrogs and a cyborg that dreams of vomiting itself to death. KG&LW finished off their busy year by collaborating with Mild High Club on a mellow, funky “Aussie Tropicalia” album called Sketches of Brunswick East.
John Kraniak, Entertainment, Saturday, 10 AM–Noon
With A Twist, Bria Skornberg
Bria Skonberg was a smash hit at the Capitol City Jazz Fest this year. Her trumpet playing combines the best of classic jazz with contemporary innovations. Her vocals are reminiscent of Anita O’Day, Lucy Ann Polk and Doris Day. Add great arrangements and you have a recording that should be in every jazz lover’s collection.
Bill Malone, Back to the Country, Wednesday, 9 AM–Noon
The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
The sensitive lyrics combined with the passion and clarity of Isbell’s singing make this contemporary country music with a traditional feel.
Harry Rag, Something Else! 2nd & 3rd Friday, 8–11 PM
The Fleshtones, Budget Buster: Just the Hits
The Fleshtones are celebrating 40 years in the entertainment business in 2017 and I have followed them since the beginning. Their latest albums usually have 4 or so really good songs and 8 “ho-hummers.” They save the stronger material for the occasional single. But this collection of singles, b-sides, and other tracks collected on vinyl stands with their best records. All wheat and no chaff, as they say.
Carol Moseson, Musica Antiqua, Sunday, 8–11 AM
Henricus Isaac: In the time of Lorenzo de’Medici & Maximillian I, 1450-1519
La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall & colleagues cover a broad range of music from a pivotal time. The late Montserrat Figueras is sorely missed, but a beautiful recording nevertheless.
FRP (Frank Perez), Tropical Riddims, Saturday, 12–2 PM
Samory I: Black Gold
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns To Conquer
Samory I and Chronixx represent some of the best younger reggae artists from Jamaica. Samory I’s Black Gold is for reggae purists, strictly roots! Chronixx’s Chronology is more innovative, with songs influenced by hip-hop, EDM and pop dancehall; it all combines into reggae and gets my vote in the Grammy category: Best Reggae Album 2017.
At 81, Lee Perry is still recording and touring; this recording with Subatomic Sound System re-visions the 1976 classic and essential Super Ape. What a great gift idea: two Lee Perry albums, one from 1976 and one from 2017! Catch the archives, or tune in on Saturday, December 30, 2017 at 12:00 PM CST when Tropical Riddims reviews the Best of 2017. Tropical Riddims votes for the Best of 2017 can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The eclectic range in genres covered by our musical hosts’ selections has been matched by the range of books chosen by our news and talk show hosts. Check them out.
Arlene Zaucha, Her Turn, Sunday, 11–11:30 AM
Orleans, Sherri L. Smith
A favorite young adult fiction as well as a book for old adults, Orleans by Sherri L. Smith is a sci-fi environmental apocalypse story of how humans might live after our lack of attention to Mother Nature destroys a whole area of the country. The strong woman protagonist is a wonderful hero, complex, resilient and inspiring. I kept seeing her and her story in a movie in my mind. Her Turn reporter Carla Williams and I were lucky enough to interview the author before she came to town for the Nelson Institute’s Environment Conference in April.
Patricia Peltekos, A Public Affair, Monday, Noon–1 PM
The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Maine and Keefe Keeley
This rich introduction to the Driftless Region of Wisconsin is an equally rich introduction to the writings about the Driftless. There are illustrations, including a full color insert, but it’s the selections of prose, poetry, and song lyrics that combine to evoke the land and people.
Allen Ruff, A Public Affair, Thursday, Noon–1 PM
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Nancy MacLean
Duke historian MacLean has written a must-read for anyone interested in the background and development of the right-wing ideological offensive currently underway nationally. The proof of its immense value and insights? The ways in which it has been savaged and dismissed out-of-hand by every conservative critic.
Carousel Bayrd, A Public Affair, Tuesday, Noon–1 PM
Chasing the Harvest, Gabriel Thompson
This collection of 15 immigrant migrant workers’ personal stories—of joy, of love, of family, of trauma, of separation—connects you to their lives and brings them out of the shadows of America. There is no analysis, just personal story after story that weaves together to give you a picture of how our nation has taken advantage of these workers.
Bobbie Malone, Back to the Country, Wednesday, 9 AM–Noon
News of the World, Paulette Jiles
Jiles has written a real stunner (and a National Book Award finalist). It’s a highly researched, beautifully written and realistic (although fictional) account of an aging Civil War veteran, widower, and former newspaper publisher who travels around North Texas reading newspapers to country folk. In the spring of 1870, he agrees to deliver a 10-year-old German-American girl (who had been kidnapped by Kiowa Indians five years previously) to relatives south of San Antonio. The journey is perilous, and the relationship between the two marvelously told.
Mr Smarty Pants, Mel & Floyd, Friday, 1–2 PM
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder
This is a tiny book in terms of the number of pages, but big in terms of how much helpful advice is packed into it. Snyder is a history professor at Yale and his previous books—Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning—have limned the strategies and structures that tyrants have employed in the last hundred years or so to make their fevered dreams a reality. If history is the laboratory from which we can adduce the likely patterns and furthest reaches of future human behavior, Snyder’s historically-based observations may well be to our current political milieu what climate science is to global warming: an insight into what must be done now, as quickly as possible, before things go too far.
Chali Pittman, Producer, A Public Affair, Monday–Friday, Noon–1 PM
Fish in Exile, Vi Khi Nao
A short-ish prose story of a couple grieving the loss of their children, capturing the absurdity and surreality of shock and loss. Most of it is written in prose poetry and dialogue, and Vi Khi Nao’s ability to find the beautiful, uncanny word or phrase kept me reading.
The End of Policing, Alex Vitale
Gives an account of how policing has grown and its power structure has morphed in the past decades. Policing reform won’t solve the underlying power structure problems, Vitale says, and he presents a case for radically abolishing policing as we know it.
Lilada Gee, A Public Affair, Wednesday, Noon–1 PM
Infamous Mothers, Sagashus T. Levingston
Jonathan Zarov, Eight O’Clock Buzz, Friday, 8–9 AM
A Friend of the Devil: The Glorification of the Outlaw in Song, from Robin Hood to Rap, John Kruth
I inhaled this book getting ready for my interview with the author. John always brings many perspectives to his subjects. He’s an accomplished, multifaceted musician, a passionate fan, and a talented writer: he’s written music bios on Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Roy Orbison, and one on Townes Van Zandt, which won ASCAP’s award for “Best Musical Biography of the Year.” In Friend of the Devil, he studies the outlaw song across a wide variety of musical styles: old ballads, more modern folk, rock, reggae, and rap, for instance. What really makes the book sing is all of the interviews he conducted. It’s thrilling to get the story behind Richard Thompson’s song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”—right from Richard himself. John’s voice is always welcomingly present in these books, in a personal, funny way that just helps shed more light on his subjects. It’s a quick, easy read and well worth the time. While you’re reading, put on a recording from one of his bands—Tribecastan or Villa Delirium—to get the full Kruth experience.
Melvin Hinton, Radio Literature, Thursday 7:30–8 PM
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson
Perhaps my favorite, perhaps the best, certainly the most memorable book of 2017 is Carol Anderson’s White Rage. The book is memorable for the exhaustive research that went into it and for the author’s elegant style; the author is memorable for her engaging commentary and conversation. How many Americans knew, before the publication of White Rage, that Mississippi had not ratified the amendment that did away with slavery until 2013!? Since being interviewed on Radio Literature, Carol Anderson has been interviewed on C-Span and appeared at book festivals around the country. I was excited to see her receive the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Criticism. Carol Anderson is a distinguished professor and head of the African-American Studies Department at Emory University