Every year, JPR hosts dig through literally thousands of new recordings in order to find the rare gems to share with you. Across our various musical genres, JPR added about 700 new albums to our library this year, out of the nearly 6,000 (!) recordings that came through our doors. We hope some of what we uncovered resonated with you the way they stuck with us. Without further ado, here are our staff and volunteer host picks for “Best of the Year.” -Eric Teel, JPR Music Director, Program Director, Open Air Host
Don Matthews | Classical Music Director & Host, First Concert
The best of 2015 begins with a recording of ‘pop’ music of Renaissance Italy called Frottole which refers to a variety of polyphonic accompanied songs that were improvisatory in nature; (even today the word means ‘trifles’). And I love the name of the ensemble; Ring Around Quartet & Consort.
Next, a recording of symphonies by an unknown son of JS Bach….really!! Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach. Performed by the Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum Leipzig, his symphony in B flat major is a forerunner of the Viennese Classical style. When this next disk arrived in August, it finally gave me a chance to know the music of Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda beyond the single piece we had at the time. A productive composer who produced 243 pieces with opus number and another 200 unnumbered, this recording has three overtures and two violin concertinos played by the Kölner Akademie. Next, a two CD set of music by Salomon Jadassohn, a 19th German-Jewish composer, whose music was suppressed by the Nazis. Rescued from oblivion, the recording includes four symphonies and Two Cavatinas performed by Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt. And do I have room for Lang Lang? Another two CD set called Lang Lang in Paris which contains the “Scherzos” of Chopin and “The Seasons” by Tchaikovsky, a fine recording for any season.
Eric Teel | JPR Music Director, Program Director & Host, Open Air
My top-10 list this year was difficult to select, so I made a top-20 instead. Hands-down, my album of the year for 2015 is Dark Bird is Home, from The Tallest Man on Earth - aka Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson. Other interesting releases include: Los Angeles folk-rockers Lord Huron impressed with their sophomore effort Strange Trails. Recent JPR Live Session guests Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds released a pretty amazing soul/rock record this year called The Weather Below. Jazz-tinged vocalists Melody Gardot continues to forge a unique path with her lush Currency of Man. Mandolin Orange (the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz) put out a simple and mellow collection of folk and old time harmonies called Such Jubilee that continues to impress. Missouri singer/songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats blew the doors off with their latest self-released effort. rayLand Baxter, who made my list a few years back, did not let me down with his follow up Imaginary Man. Other favorites includes the releases from Shawn Mullins, The Wood Brothers, Andra Day, Benjamin Clementine, Lianne La Havas, HONEYHONEY, Husky, Ewert & the Two Dragons, Bjork, and Brandi Carlile, plus the live records from Ryan Adams, Amos Lee, and Phosphorescent.
Dave Jackson | Host, Open Air
It’s been a great year for music and for me a great year for music exploration. Here is what really stood out. Lead singer Brittney Howard is a great mix of Robert Plant and Tina Turner on Sound and Color, by Alabama Shakes. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is among my favorite rock songs in years. With his percussive nylon-string guitar playing style Jose Gonzalez creates an amazing sonic background on Vestiges and Claws. You nearly overlook what an insightful lyricist he is. Melody Gardot blends elements of soul and jazz on the sultry Currency of Man to create my favorite groove album this year. The Wood Brothers released Paradise this fall. Funk, rock, folk and blues in a semi-acoustic trio. Yeah, it works. Last but not least, sounding a bit like Chrissie Hynde and Joni Mitchell made music together, British nu-folk artist Laura Marling’s Short Movie was a real treat.
Valerie Ing | Host, Siskiyou Music Hall
As I was going through the music library, searching out my favorite recordings of 2015, I realized that most of the music I’ve received that’s piqued my interest this year has tended towards chamber works instead of symphonic recordings. I also couldn’t help but notice that almost half of my top ten list features the guitar, mandolin or lute. Obviously this says more about me than it does the music released by the recording industry this year, but if you’ve got a place in your heart for chamber music and the guitar, any of the recordings below should be a welcome addition to your music library.
The Baroque Lute in Vienna – Bernhard Hofstotter Brilliant Classics 95087
Early Romantic Horn Sonatas (Ries, Danzi & von Krufft) – Steinar Granmo Nilsen & Kristin Fossheim 2L 113
Concerti Grossi Op. 7 of Giuseppe Valentini - Ensemble 415 Alpha Classics 310
Lang Lang in Paris (Chopin & Tchaikovsky) - Lang Lang Sony Classics 11758
Arpeggione, Original works for cello & guitar (Schubert, Romberg, Schiker, etc) - Michael Kevin Jones & Augustin Maruri EMEC 0814
Music at the Salzburg Court (Biber, Muffat, Mozart etc) - Salzburg Hofmusik CPO 999469
Paganini, Music for Viola & Guitar - Simone Gramaglia & Luigi Attademo Brilliant Classics 94963
Franz Ignaz Beck Symphonies 4-6, Op. 4 - Czech Chamber Philharmonic Naxos 8.573249
Vivaldi – Avi Avital, mandolin Deutsche Grammophon 94017
Ernst Wilhelm Wolf String
Quartets - Pleyel Quartett
Koln CPO 777 856
Frances Oyung | Host, Folk Show
I have a really hard time picking whole albums as “best of” but these certainly are some great ones. These records have been some of my go-to recordings when I am choosing music for The Folk Show or myself. There is more music out there than I could ever peruse even considering the small slice of recordings that come through the JPR door. Music and personal tastes are vast. The best thing is to just keep tasting. Listen on.
Earls of Leicester – Earls of Leicester
Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass
Sessions – Robert Earl Keen
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn – Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Such Jubilee – Mandolin Orange
Monterey – Milk Carton Kids
Uncovered – Shawn Colvin
The Faster It Goes – The Railsplitters
Radio – Steep Canyon Rangers
Domestic Eccentric – Old Man Luedecke
Derral Campbell | Host, Late Night Blues
Wee Willie Walker If Nothing Ever Changes Keyboardist Jim Pugh started the Little Village Foundation to give voice to deserving, under-exposed artists. And he comes up aces with this fine showcase for the venerable Mr. Walker, featuring a tough, tight backup unit, and so much soul. My pick for song of the year is from this release: “Read Between the Lines.”
Muddy Waters Muddy Waters 100 Celebrating the centennial of blues king Muddy’s birth, Chicago vet John Primer headlines a cast of polished pros. The disc comes in the most attractive package of the year. Christmas-gift grade.
Cash Box Kings Holding Court This is the best in current Chicago blues music. Every band member is top-notch, and so is this fine recording.
Doug MacLeod Exactly Like This I don’t know if Doug calls himself The Troubadour of the Blues, but he is. Story-telling with wit and humor, and heart.
Jim Liban Jim Liban with the Joel Paterson Trio More Chicago blues, a comeback for harpist Liban. Joel Paterson, as always, plays guitar with a lot of swing and skill. So tasty, this.
Jewel Brown Roller Coaster Louis Armstrong’s vocalist for a decade, this Texas songbird doesn’t waste a breath, and makes each note count. Recorded by an eccentric Austin label owner with a fiery Japanese band, this stands as some of her strongest work.
The Texas Horns Blues Gotta Holda Me We need good music from Texas, and here it is. Led by Kaz Kazanoff on sax, guests like Marcia Ball light up this high-spirited romp.
Junior Wells Southside Blues Reissue of the year. Seven bonus tracks included, with the last studio work of the great Otis Spann showcased. Also, the under-appreciated guitarist Louis Myers is featured on some tracks, and the new Buddy Guy material here is just great.
Shemekia Copeland Outskirts of Love Shemekia’s back with her first label, and matches her earlier glories with this rich mix of styles. She’s more confident with that big voice, and performs each song with just the right feeling and dynamics.
James Harman Bonetime Another great story-teller returns with his first studio album in 12 years. His eclectic perspective in music is well-supported by Nathan James, Gene Taylor, Kid Ramos, Junior Watson and Candy Kane. Big fun.