Dec. 21. Rolling Stones, “Blue and Lonesome”The Stones’ first album in more than 10 years, “Blue and Lonesome” finds the group fully embracing the Chicago blues roots they have held for more than 50 years. Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, “Blue and Lonesome” is a full-fledged celebration of what makes The Rolling Stones one of the greatest bands in the history of music. The album has covers of blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon, who all helped shape the R&B sound that made the Stones so special. If you want some down and dirty, straight-up blues as only the four Londoners can do, you don’t need me to tell you to pick this one up.
2. Childish Gambino, “Awaken My Love”Upon first receiving my copy of “Awaken My Love,” the very first thing that struck me was the artwork. Simultaneously preternatural and grounded in the familiar, it is a gorgeous package that did a great job of getting my mind in the right space to absorb this new album. Much more reminiscent of old school Parliament or D’Angelo than Gambino’s hip-hop contemporaries, I very well could see this album splitting his fanbase. People come to him for tight rhymes and awesome one-liners. Both of those are lacking on this record, but if you approach with an open mind and a love of where hip-hop came from and where hip-hop is going, you will find something very special in “Awaken My Love.”
3. Kate Bush, “Before the Dawn”Kate Bush is a treasure who is not part of the modern music lexicon as much as she deserves. “Before the Dawn” is a three-disc monster of a live album recorded during her sold-out two-week run in London. The album centers on performances of the second half of “Hounds of Love” and the second half of “Aerial.” If you care about unabashed musical expression and value a truly wondrous female singer and songwriter, I implore you to listen to this live album.
4. Hamilton Mixtape The Hamilton Mixtape is a reimagining of the musical that won every award ever imagined and also invented some of its own awards so it could win more awards. Instead of the regular cast cuts on the album, Lin-Manuel Miranda curated a veritable who’s who of modern music to come in and perform these quickly-iconic songs. The mixtape includes performances by Chance The Rapper, Sia, Watsky, Regina Spektor, The Roots, Nas, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Ashanti and more. These reimaginings won’t overshadow the original performances, but exemplify their classic status, restructuring them to appeal to those looking to avoid the Broadway stylings of the original score.
5. John Legend, “Darkness and Light”This new album finds Mr. Legend quieting down and reflecting on his life, fatherhood, and the state of the world today. The darkness is the shadow of hatred and fear that has encompassed our country recently, while the light is love that people are sharing among each other more than they ever have in the past. Legend’s voice is on point throughout, and even when the sugar is laid on thick, the performances still come across as wholly genuine.