Albums of The Year: Soul Side of Town T.o.P.s A Long List!

It’s been a great year for funky music, both recorded and in live shows. Here’s what kept us up at night and pumped during the day. I’m pleased to present a short review of a long list of my top albums of the year.

Top Ten

Tower of Power triumphantly returns on their 50th anniversary with an album that scintillates in synthesizing all of the great elements that have made them icons over their career- exceptional horn work, great lyrics and vocals, tight instrumental numbers and an overall cohesiveness that makes this the Album of the Year. Check out the full review here – Soul Side of Town

Analog Son is the surprise of the year for me and their album Funky Mother (full review) hits right in the funk pocket. The album has great compositions, great horn licks and terrific vocals. Check out Top Hat for starters and get your groove on.

Ghost-Note is the brainchild of Robert “Sput” Searight (drums) and Nate Werth (percussion), both of Snarky Puppy fame. This two disc spectacular builds on their debut album Fortify with a fantastic roster of guest artists including Kamasi Washington, Karl Denson, Bobby Sparks, Nigel Hall and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. Every tune is a winner. Check out Pace Maker (a favorite) and Swagism (live from Atlanta here).

Bokanté is an outgrowth of Michael League’s (Snarky Puppy) continued interest in world music. The group’s sophomore album What Heat is a humongous collaboration with The Metropole Orkest who also won a grammy with Snarky for Sylva two years ago. This album takes the group to higher heights with a big band sound and a message (or two).

Heaven and Earth is the latest masterpiece from our favorite saxophonist of this generation, Kamasi Washington. Not only is his music beautiful, but strikingly spiritual as well. A highlight of this group, in addition to Kamasi himself, are the chants and vocals of Patrice Quinn, who channels the music through her entire being. Check out the track Fists of Fury (live) here.

Renewable Energy is the first of two releases from The New Mastersounds this year (The Nashville Session 2 was the other and is in the honorable mention section). This disc showed the range in NMS style going back to their origins to create some new classics like Yocacoka and Tantalus and bringing some new tricks as well. Check our the full review here.

Party Crashers, from Philip Lassiter’s Philthy big band, is just a flat out, funky horn, pumping your blood and in your face dance album. When I first heard it, I called it “Tower of Power on steroids” and it is the past, present and future of phunk.

Frames Per Second was a “surprise” release just this December from perennial favorites, Lotus. Surprise because it was unannounced and non-promoted until it’s release and it was “given” for free on a few streaming platforms. This band defies our devotion to funk but they get down, every time, every show and even bring to mind great fusion artists like Pat Metheny and Special EFX. Check out a set from their live ATL show here.

We Are, from Alina Engibaryan, is my favorite vocal album of the year. The album features collaboration with Michael League of Snarky Puppy, and Chris Potter on sax who will be performing at the upcoming GroundUP Music Festival this February in Miami Beach. Alina, opened several shows for Snarky this year and I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live as well.

A Humdrum Star is anything but that. This disc by GoGo Penguin (UK) is so rich in its sound, it’s hard to believe that they’re only a trio. It’s so lush and full of textures – put this on repeat and enjoy.

Honorable Mentions

It was truly an amazing year for music and it’s almost embarrassing to put a list like this together. I am humbled if you read this far and still want MORE. Any one of the selections below could and should be included to a “top” list and I encourage listening to all of them or as many of them as possible. You can’t go wrong with this bunch (in alphabetical order – time permitting, I’ll be writing about many of these.

  • Bob Lanzetti – Whose Feet Are These That Are Walking
  • Bob Reynolds – Quartet
  • Funk You – What’s On Your Mind
  • Jamison Ross – All For One
  • Jonathan Scales Fourchestra – PILLAR
  • Jungle – For Ever
  • Larnell Lewis – In The Moment
  • Louis Cole – Time
  • Marcelo Woloski – Mundo Por Conocer
  • Matador! Soul Sounds – Get Ready
  • Progger – Dystopia
  • Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics – State of All Things
  • Shaun Martin – Focus
  • Sirintip – Tribus
  • The Bamboos – Night Time People
  • The California Honeydrops – Call It Home Vol. 1 & 2
  • The Fearless Flyers – The Fearless Flyers
  • The James Hunter Six – Whatever It Takes
  • The Marcus King Band – Carolina Confessions
  • The New Mastersounds – The Nashville Session 2
  • Toubab Krewe – Stylo
  • Turkuaz – Life in The City
  • Vulfpeck – Hill Climber