2016 in Music: Shock and Awe

Bowie Blackstar
The biggest musical occurrence of 2016 was arguably a death. David Bowie’s demise was a Shock-and-Awe event: shock that it happened and awe at the way Bowie orchestrated his passing.

Rather than fading away, Bowie created an album that – with hindsight – dropped enormous clues about the cancer that was ravaging his body, but (testament to the respect that he had earned) no collaborators spilled the beans, and neither did anybody guess from the clues given. And with dramatic timing, the album Blackstar was released just two days before he died.

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The Neal Morse Band: The Similitude of a Dream – the Best Christian Album to Come out in Decades?

Neal Morse Band
After living with the Neal Morse Band’s The Similitude of a Dream for several weeks, I haven’t been as excited about an album release since… the band’s previous one.

And that’s with some 70 reviews in between.

No wonder that drummer Mike Portnoy posted that this was the best album he has made. Coming from a man with a career in Transatlantic, Dream Theater and Flying Colors, that is saying something.

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Anomalisa (DVD)

AnomalisaThis beautifully animated work brushes with many questions about life, relationships and the value we place on individuals.

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Billy Bragg and Joe Henry Shine their Light in London

Bragg and Henry

This was one of those gigs that you catch at just the right time and place. As the trans-Atlantic partnership of Bragg and Henry played the show, polls were beginning to close in the US presidential elections, and the setting of Union Chapel – a working church – only highlighted the spiritual references sprinkled liberally throughout the evening’s show.

It was only minutes in when the pair prepared us for what was at the front of their minds. American Joe Henry almost apologised to us for the state that America had got itself into as it teetered “over the abyss.” Bragg noted that, after Brexit, the UK was already falling down it.

In the old joke they told about a man who had thrown himself off a ten-storey

building, as he was falling past the fifth floor, people inside asked how it was going. “Alright so far,” he replied.

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Race for the White House

Race to the white house dvd(Acorn Video / DRG)

As a dazed world tries to come to terms with what a President Trump might mean for the planet, it may be a comfort to know how underhand and manipulated many previous campaigns have been – where even Presidents with the better reputations either behaved nefariously or got someone to do it for them (yes, we’re looking at you, ‘Honest Abe’, among others).

We have seen some dirty tricks, deceit and scandals in this year’s presidential contest, but Race for the White House (originally a CNN docu-series, narrated by Kevin Spacey) shows that such lust for power is nothing new.

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Has Faith Helped Bob Dylan to Win his Nobel Prize?

For the first time in its history, the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to a musician, leaving its winner, Bob Dylan, “speechless” at the award. However, it took him weeks to acknowledge it, causing  a member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prizes, to describe his silence as “impolite and arrogant”.

The singer is no stranger to upsetting the masses, having famously angered the folk purists in his youth by plugging in an electric guitar, but both his words and impact have outlasted such temporary spats. And these are surely what have earned him this accolade.

But what impact has his faith had on his writing?

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Jarlath Henderson – Hearts Broken, Heads Turned

Jarlath Henderson
Every now and then you get an agitator in the world of folk; someone who takes the songs that have thrived for tens or hundreds of years, and makes them fresh for a new generation – people like Jim Moray and Eliza Carthy. This release puts Jarlath Henderson firmly with them in that bracket.

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U2@40: Is Bono the Messiah, or a very Naughty Boy?

U2 Wembley Most U2 fans will have plenty of stand-out memories. Mine began in 1981, when they played the birthday party for my local rock club in Aylesbury. I knew none of their songs at that time, and instead of my normal place against the stage, I found a spot at the back of the hall and danced all night.

My last big impression was at Wembley Stadium on the 360 degree tour, where, strangely, I was even nearer to the band than in Aylesbury. When most of U2 crossed the bridges onto the B-stage behind me, I turned around and it felt like being at the back of the stage looking out at the crowd.

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Janis: Little Girl Blue (DVD)

Joplin Pearl cover The 27 Club is a select few. Jimi Hendrix died at that age just weeks before Janis Joplin; Brian Jones and Jim Morrison in the same era; Kurt Cobain much later, and the appropriately-named Amy Winehouse more recently. Most of these died because of drug or alcohol abuse.

But was it actually the substances that killed them, or something deeper down?

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Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

Corinne Bailey Rae

If you told Bailey Rae, just before she won the BBC’s Sound of 2006, what the next decade would bring, she may not have believed you: only the fourth woman to have a first album début at number one in the UK album charts; the death of her husband two years later; a raft of awards and nominations; performing at the White House and with Stevie Wonder.

Label: Virgin EMI
Time: 12 tracks /55 mins

After the playful soulfulness of her first disc and the tragedy of her second, this third release is infused with joy. She has married long-time collaborator, Steve Brown, and the relief, love and hope of new beginnings glows through nearly every lyric.

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