In 2016, the Dixie Chicks returned to the stage for a multi-national tour that saw them revisit many of their past hits plus a few newly added songs to their set list. DCX MMXVI contains the entirety of that setlist with most of their classics plus their live cover of Beyoncé’s Daddy Lessons, Nothing Compares 2 U as a tribute to Prince, Don’t Let Me Die In Florida by Patty Griffin, and Better Way by Ben Harper. The result is more than enough to satisfy the continued wait for new material from the trio.
14. ED SHEERAN – ÷
÷ does everything it set out to do. If you’re of the belief that Ed is a talented musician, songwriter and performer, ÷ is made for you. It covers all his bases while expanding on his sound just enough to keep him likeable. If you’re looking for something that pushes the envelope, breaks new ground, or defies the odds, you won’t find it here. ÷ is a reliable record that appeals to the masses without fully succumbing to tired trends. (Full review)
13. VARIOUS ARTISTS – THE CON X: COVERS
Tegan and Sara’s The Con continued their upward trend of besting on their previous work. Ten years later, they celebrated that with an album of cover versions recorded by other artists who each put their own spin on the songs. In some cases, the lyrics as sung by these artists stand out even more than in their original form, adding additional depth to what was already an album of heartache.
12. KELLY CLARKSON – MEANING OF LIFE
Meaning Of Life is the album Kelly Clarkson should have made years ago. After My December flopped, she was essentially restricted to recording pop music that didn’t allow her to showcase her abilities as an artist, and it was frustrating. While I would have liked her to expand on what she attempted to do with My December, Meaning Of Life is where she sounds natural. Perhaps the best she’s ever sounded.
11. SCOTT HELMAN – HÔTEL DE VILLE
On Hôtel de Ville, there’s a shift toward appealing to pop audiences. Although it’s mainly front-loaded with radio-ready songs, the record really falls into place mid-way through with 21 Days and Ripple Effect, in keeping with his establishing sound. Taken as a whole, the album fits comfortably between artists like Shawn Mendes, James Bay and Jake Bugg. (Full review)
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS – COVER STORIES
Cover Stories is a collection of cover versions of Brandi Carlile’s 2007 album The Story, and the benefits are twofold. It’s all for a good cause and it’s a chance to appreciate this should-be classic album all over again. That these recordings by such a range of musicians with such a range of experience can create as cohesive a collection of covers reminiscent of their originals as this speaks to Brandi and the twins’ abilities as song-crafters. No matter how you look at it, everyone involved wins. (Full review)
9. SERENA RYDER – UTOPIA
On Utopia, Serena embraces power-pop like never before with a series of big mid-to-uptempo songs that draw from two ends of the same spectrum. And the hooks are endless. The album was made for instant enjoyment and it delivers, from the determination of Hands to the stadium-ready title track to the buzzing second single Electric Love. It’s back-to-back with earworms and it’s great! (Full review)
8. THE HEARTBROKEN – STORM CLOUDS
Storm Clouds is a classic mix of folk rock and roots with a country flavour; raw, authentic and made for the stage. With the thumping intro of the title track, the record kicks off on the right note with a high-energy performance that carries into the second track with the snare-and-bass led Be Kind To Me. And it just gets better from there. (Full review)
7. LORDE – MELODRAMA
Melodrama is a natural upgrade for Lorde that takes her one step above where her debut placed her. It’s the type of progress that looks and sounds good for an artist still relatively new to the scene but who is already on a trajectory that will very likely place her far. On its own, it’s a journey that pairs direct lyrics with music and production that helps carry those moods and feelings through a crowded house party to somewhere more alone and free. (Full review)
6. CATHERINE MACLELLAN – IF IT’S ALRIGHT WITH YOU: THE SONGS OF GENE MACLELLAN
The album benefits from lush arrangements and rich instrumentals, but the biggest compliment it offers are the strong melodies that offer such a heavy contrast to modern music, where melody often hides behind production. Between the songs themselves and Catherine’s warm vocals, melody takes the front seat in these songs that cross between country and folk, both genres she is familiar with in her own work. While recordings of these songs go back to the 70s, Catherine’s take on them sounds fresh and modern, not something just any song can afford. Timeless is a word often overused when it comes to music, but these songs are truly timeless as Catherine delivers not only a solid record of covers but one of the year’s best albums. (Full review)
5. SARAH SLEAN – METAPHYSICS
Metaphysics boasts a delightful sonic range from the captivating mid-tempo Perfect Sky, to the delicate A Thousand Butterflies to the musically seductive The Gypsy, which exists in such perfect contrast with the rest of the album. It combines every chapter of Sarah’s past musical outputs into one album that fuses the personal, universal, and classical, spanning her nearly 20-year career with a perfect blend of sounds, from the foggy midnight mist of Blue Parade to the poetic pop of Day One to the vulnerability of The Baroness, all of which are present and supported by a sweeping string section. Metaphysics can truly be described as Sarah’s Best Of album. (Full review)
4. JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT – THE NASHVILLE SOUND
The Nashville Sound is filled with reflection and thoughtful lyrics that can make you rethink a previously held belief or reconsider an old perspective. It doesn’t get any more poignant than on If We Were Vampires where he considers the idea that an inevitable death, one signalling the end of a 40-year relationship, is a gift to make you both appreciate the time you have together.
3. AMY MACDONALD – UNDER STARS
She sticks close to the cliches that have carried much of her previous work, but the focus of her music has never been heavily on the lyrics, rather the melody and determination in her performance. Her voice remains fantastic and the hooks continue to be epic and infectious, but if those aren’t enough, her drive will be. She puts her heart into every word of every line – and that matters. (Full review)
2. WHITEHORSE – PANTHER IN THE DOLLHOUSE
This album contains some of Whitehorse’s best songs to date, such as the punching ballad Die Alone, the soothing yet yearning Kicking Down Your Door, and the gritty pop of Nighthawks. Panther In The Dollhouse isn’t a complete 180 but it’s a big enough step to count as a major shift from their already broad discography. It was a bold move but with it, they delivered one of the year’s best. (Full review)
1. KESHA – RAINBOW
The evolution of Kesha has been not only exciting, but extremely welcome. Rainbow is triumphant not only because it’s packed with some of the best pop songs of the year, but also simply because it exists. During her legal battle with her frequent former collaborator, it was unknown if and when Kesha would be permitted to release another album again. With Rainbow, not only did she succeed in releasing, she succeeded in putting together a solid record of kick-ass songs. It still oozes Kesha’s signature IDGAF personality – only this time, it feels truly authentic. (Full review)