The Best of Everything: A Year of Filtered Excellence 2017 in Review


Bob Geldof once asked us, “Where is the filtered excellence!?” It’s right here. Once a week we take a break from comedy to bring you this weeks picks of the best things to watch, the most interesting things to do, great things to try, the best picks to read, our favorite things to listen to and more. This week we count down the VERY BEST of the EXCELLENCE we found in 2017


2017 was one for the ages for a variety of reasons, but it turned out to be an exceptional year in the world of film, TV,  music and literature.  We’ve covered comedy in our special Best of 2017 comedy section, but what about the rest? Some very tough calls had to be made, but here’s the best of Filtered Excellence for 2017.  Happy New Year everyone!

 

WATCH THIS: The Best of 2017

Brockmire.  This hilarious new IFC series stars Hank Azaria as Jim Brockmire, a beloved MLB play by play announcer who get fired after having an epic on air meltdown regarding his wife’s affair.  After spending 10 years overseas, Brockmire is hired to call games for a minor league team in the fracking town of Morristown, Pennsylvania.  Julia ‘Jules’ James (Amanda Peet), the team’s hard drinking owner convinces Brockmire to take the job even though the only people who will hear him are the people in the ballpark. She also brings aboard the internet savvy intern Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) to make the team’s-  and Brockmire’s –  memorable moments become viral video sensations.  Jules is hoping that his notoriety – which has lived on thanks to YouTube – along with her assortment of colorful players will rescue the town’s dwindling prospects.   Azaria is pitch perfect in the title role, nailing down all of the cadences of the classic play by play man yet adding dark wit, irony and laugh out loud lines in his delivery.  Peet is just as strong as the boozing, yet always hopeful owner, whose sly, offbeat plans – and her obsessive love of the game – could rescue everything and everyone around her.  It’s a sharp, uncompromising comedy that is one of the best new shows of the TV season.  You can also go to http://www.ifctv.com/ to view the plot, get show extras and more information.
Get Out.  Jordan Peele is best known for his work on the comedy series Kay & Peele, but he makes an abrupt left turn in suspense and horror as the writer and director of his first feature film.  Daniel Kaliyah and Allison Williams play Chris and Rose, an interracial couple who head upstate to meet her parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) for the 1st time.  Rose hasn’t told them that her boyfriend is Black and her parents go out of their way, albeit nervously, to be accommodating to them.  But as the weekend goes on, Chris makes a series of discoveries – overt and subtle that pushes him and everyone around him to the brink.  Peele expertly makes racism – systemic and blunt – as the boogeyman, the demon, the evil force that threatens to consume everyone in its orbit to chilling effect.  The cast is also in fine form especially Kaliyah as the in-way over his head Chris, and Keener as the mother who isn’t as liberal and open as she appears.  Peele wanted to capture the spirit of such classics as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives and more than pulls it off.  Its a film that will be talked about long after its over.  You can also go to www.getoutfilm.com for more information.
I Called Him Morgan.  The life and shocking death of jazz great Lee Morgan is the subject of this new documentary from Kasper Colin (My Name Is Albert Ayler.  While the film is loaded with performance footage, archival photos and remembrances from Morgan’s friends, fellow musicians and contemporaries, the star of the project is the person who ultimately took his life: Morgan’s wife Helen.  Using an interview that she gave one month before her death in 1996, Helen Morgan recalls how she met Morgan- who, at the time, was broke, homeless and in the midst of serious heroin addiction.  By all accounts, it was Helen who helped him kick the habit and get his life and career back on track.  But as the film reveals, the relationship took a sharp, abrupt turn, which led to Helen fatally shooting Morgan at a jazz club in the Village.  Colin also provides a bittersweet epilogue, covering Helen’s legal troubles and post-prison life, in which she tries to put the pieces of her shattered life back together.  Working with Oscar nominated cinematographer Branford Young (Selma, Arrival), Colin puts together a doc that is part history lesson, love story, true crime story and musical valentine to one of the most beloved musicians in jazz history.  Don’t be surprised if it makes the rounds during the awards season.   You can also go to www.icalledhimmorgan.com for more information.
The Deuce.  The latest project from David Simon and George Pelecanos (The Wire, Treme) is set in and around Times Square in 1971.  It stars  as Vincent and Frankie Martino, twin brothers, who, through a series of events, become front men for the Mob amidst the growing porn industry operating in the city.  Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen ‘Candy’ Merrell, a sex worker who sees the growing adult film industry as her ticket to making real money.  Collectively and individually, they run across mobsters, pimps, prostitutes, cops and thrill seekers that converge on the crossroads of the world.  Simon and Pelecanos are in peak form, adding texture and dimension to each character without falling into easy stereotypes.  Franco, who is also aboard as executive producer and directs two episodes, is excellent as the twin brothers with contrasting personalities.  Vincent is a hard working father with a wayward wife, who, despite knowing better, truly is his brother’s keeper.  Frankie is reckless and impulsive, staying two steps ahead of the people he owes money to and sees this opportunity to clear the slate once and for all.  Gyllenhaal – also an executive producer – is terrific as Candy, whose employs her entrepreneurial instincts as a prostitute into the adult film world.  With finely detailed set designs, strong cast and a killer soundtrack, The Deuce is poised to be the next series to come out of the HBO canon.  You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.
Blade Runner 2049.  35 years after the original, the sequel to the Ridley Scott sci-fi classic returns to theaters.  Scott is on board as Executive Producer with Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) directing.  Set 30 years after the original, it stars Ryan Gosling as LAPD Officer K, a new Blade Runner who unearths a secret that could plunge what’s left of the world into chaos.  To prevent this from happening, he must track down two people who hold the key:  Niander Wallace, who now oversees the creation of replicants; and former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who hasn’t been heard from in over 30 years.  The filmmakers have asked that key plot points be kept under wraps, but rest assured, the script – co written once again by Hampton Fancher – expands on many of the themes addressed in the original.  Gosling is perfectly cast as K, bringing a measure of cool as the newly minted Blade Runner out to discover an ultimate truth.  He’s only eclipsed by Ford, who brings a sense of grizzle and world weariness as the long retired Deckard.  Leto is also strong as the mysterious, yet formidable Wallace, looking to leave his mark on what’s left of the world.  But the real stars of the film are Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger A. Deakins and Production Designer Dennis Gassner.  The visuals they have created echo Scott’s original vision, but take it to an entirely new level.  It will totally blow your mind.  Anyone who was skeptical about a sequel to one of the greatest Sci-Fi movies ever, will be pleased to know that in many ways, it transcends the original.  One of the year’s best.  You can also go to www.bladerunnermovie.com for more information.
 
The Florida Project.  Director Sean Baker’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Tangerine is a unique, yet powerful look at the joys and wonders of childhood.  It follows the day to day life of Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), a 6 year old who lives at The Magic Castle with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaitel).  Located just a few miles from Disney World, The Magic Castle is anything but, a cheap three story motel that pulls in customers who think they are staying at The Magic Kingdom.  Halley eeks out a living selling perfume out of shopping bags to neighboring hotels.  Moonee spends her days with a group of friends doing a range of activiites that range from playful to destructive.  Keeping an eye on her and the motel is Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the gruff manager who serves as Moonee’s father figure and foil.  Moonee’s loose and carefree life is on a collision course with the realities of Halley’s real life struggles – which is pushing Halley into a lifestyle that threatens to shatter an already fragile dynamic.  Baker, who also co-wrote the script, graduates into top filmmaker status with this carefully nuanced story on the beauty and wonder of youth, while also spotlighting what he called ‘America’s hidden homeless’.  The performances are simply electric:  Prince all but carries the film as the mischievous Moonee, balancing the line between innocence and attitude.  It’s hard to believe that she has that much poise and confidence for a 6 year old.   Vinaitel also puts in a solid turn as Moonee’s mother, trying to carve out a new life for her and her daughter..  The always solid Dafoe puts in a career-defining role as the world weary Bobby, who tries to keep this roaming band of kids at bay, but still manages to sympathize with the situations that put them there.  It’s a moving, poignant work about those on the outer fringes of society that should not being forgotten during awards season.  One of the year’s best films.  
Lady Bird.  There’s been considerable buzz surrounding the semi-autobiographical directorial debut for Greta Gerwig and its completely justified:  It’s one of the year’s best.  It stars Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Brooklyn) as Christine McPherson, an underachieving, rebellious teen who literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks in Sacramento.  She insists on being called Lady Bird and spends most of her senior year at a Catholic high school thumbing her nose at its rules and regulations.  Lady Bird is also lobbying to get into a high end college on the East Coast, but, as her college advisors are quick to point out, her grades aren’t exactly Ivy League material.  Life outside the classroom isn’t much better.  Her father (Tracy Letts) is unemployed and depressed and her mother (Laurie Metcalf), is an overworked nurse who’s trying to hold the fragile family dynamic together.  Lady Bird also finds herself torn between two suitors, Danny, an aspiring actor wrestling with sexuality and Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), an up and coming musician.  But at the core of the film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, two strong willed individuals who love each other, but refuse to give an inch to the other.  The film fires on all cylinders – the writing, direction, the acting, cinematography and the score (another winner by the one and only Jon Brion).  After establishing herself as a formidable actress and screenwriter, Greta Gerwig can now add director to her resume with this outstanding debut.  It will be shocking if this film doesn’t make considerable noise during awards season Go to ladybird.movie for more information.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  The latest film from Academy Award winning writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) stars Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, who is furious that in the seven months since the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, police have yet to find a lead, much less a suspect.  She decides to take them to task by commissioning three billboards with messages aimed directly at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), Ebbing’s revered police chief.  This doesn’t sit well with Willoughby,  his racist, loose cannon, second in command  Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), or with the community, who never quite took to Mildred in the first place.   All of this only spurs to Mildred to act out – and up – even more, hoping the attention will pressure Willoughby and Dixon to find the killer.  McDormand is pretty much lights out in anything she does, but here she’s pure fury, piss, vinegar and on fire as Mildred.   Rockwell is a close second as barely hinged mama’s boy Dixon, mining enough of his humanity to make you like him as much as you loathe him.  Harrelson is brings a measured sense of frustration and weariness as Willoughby, while the rest of the cast – which includes John Hawkes as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, Lucas Hedges as her son and Peter Dinklage as a local who has the stones to take Mildred on a date – are in peak form.  This is a dark comedy of the highest order, leaving no stone unturned and taking zero prisoners.  Sure to be in the awards season mix. You can also go to www.foxsearchlight.com for more information.
Mudbound.  The new Netflix original film from Dee Rees (Pariah, Bessie) is an extensive, epic look at post-war life in the South.  Using multiple narrators, it tells the story of two families:  The Jacksons, led by Hap and Florence (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige) who sharecrop on the land owned by The McAllans, fronted by  Henry (Jason Clarke) and Laura (Carey Mulligan).  Henry doesn’t have the sharp business and agricultural acumen needed to tend the often harsh Mississippi Delta soil, so he relies heavily on the Hap and Florence, whose dreams of owning their own land are met with the systematic economic inequalities that often came with sharecropping.  Both families’ lives change with the end of World War II and the return of Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel, (Jason Mitchell) Hap and Florence’s oldest son.  Both are combat veterans and they form a friendship based from those experiences.  They also share a similar view of a much broader, inclusive world, incurring the wrath of Jamie’s racist father (Jonathan Banks), tests the dynamics of both families and ultimately, puts their friendship through the ultimate test.   Rees – who also co-wrote the screenplay with Virgil Williams – can now add her name as one of the best directors in the game, capturing all of the social, economic and political nuances and intricacies of the American South that is not so eager to move with the oncoming shifts.  Working with cinematographer Rachel Williams, you can almost feel the stifling heat, strained muscles toiling the soil.  All of the performances – particular Mitchell, Hedlund, Mulligan and a breakout performance by Mary J. Blige – are outstanding.  Tamar-Kali Brown’s haunting string-laden score will reduce you to mist.    This is good old fashioned epic filmmaking breaking new ground on issues that we are still grappling with today.  One of the year’s best.  Mudbound is available now on Netflix.
I, Tonya.  The bizarre, wildly absurd story of Tonya Harding’s improbable rise and spectacular fall from Olympic grace is makes its way to the big screen.  Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars & The Real Girl), it stars Margot Robbie as Harding, a self-professed ‘redneck’ from Portland, Oregon who loves figure skating, heavy metal, chopping wood and driving trucks.  Joining her is husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who shares her passions for trucks and Lavona Golden (Allison Janney), Tonya’s profane, chain smoking stage mom from Hell (Allison Janey).  Harding’s talent is undeniable – she’s able to pull off the difficult triple axel with ease.  But her trailer park presentation is a turn off to judges and U.S. Olympic team officials, who prefer the more traditional ice princess potential in fellow teammate/rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).  Hoping to clear the lane for Harding to win Olympic gold , Gillooly hires a man to break Kerrigan’s leg at the National Figure Skating Championships, and what happens next became history.  Working with an exceptional script by Steven Rogers, Gillespie breaks all rules and conventions with this film – casting against type and playing fast and loose with narrative and timeline.  Everyone involved has a chance to speak up, even breaking in at various points to say that the event we’re watching didn’t happen.  Robbie humanizes Harding, coming off more victim of circumstance than an opportunistic villain.  The movie shows that Harding’s deck was stack from birth, dealing with a verbally abused mother, a physically abusive husband, and constantly being judged for her appearance and lifestyle rather than her talents on the ice.  Robbie channels her insecurities and frustrations perfectly while still finding room to make her points with bile, bite and yes, comedically.  Stan also goes all in as the oily Gillooly, the ringleader behind the crew that makes the Keystone cops look like Scotland Yard.  Janey all but stills the movie as the acidic Lavona Golden.  She pulls off the amazing feat of being both Harding’s chief motivator and tormentor.  Janney’s all but a lock for Best Supporting Actress – she’s absolutely electric.  It’s a dark, comedic look at one of the outrageous moments in sports – and American – history.
Phantom Thread.  Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 8th film has already drawn strong awards show consideration and its easy to see why:  it captures a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers.  It stars Daniel Day Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, who along with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), are at the top of the British fashion food chain – designing and dressing royalty, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and movie stars.  Reynolds lives a comfortable, cultured bachelor’s with the women in his life often provide inspiration and short companionship.  One weekend, while eating a restaurant near his weekend getaway home, he encounters Alma (Vicky Krieps), the new waitresses.  Impressed with her sharp memory and attention to detail, Reynolds invites her to dinner and later, to his studio to model for him.  In short time, Alma returns with Reynolds to London and becomes his latest muse and lover.  But even as Alma fuels him personally and creatively, her strong willed personality comes in direct conflict with Reynolds’ carefully controlled and proper lifestyle. It slowly builds to clashes that have startling consequences for them both.  Anderson is firing on all cylinders as writer, director and cinematographer pulling us into the London that has starting to thrive again after World War II but is on the dawn of the cultural revolution that will emerge in the 1960s.  In short, the film – which owes a great debt to Hitchcock and Kubrick – looks fantastic.   Lewis, in what he has said will be his final film, once again gets completely absorbed in the role as Reynolds.  Detail, nuance, emotion, detachment, Lewis absolutely nails it.  Krieps more than holds her own playing Reynolds’ strong willed muse and Manville is a formidable presence as Reynolds, brooding, always present sister.  Anchored by another gripping score by long time collaborator Jonny Greenwood, Anderson has added another great film to his already legendary resume.  You can go to www.phantomthread.com for more information.
The Post.  Three Hollywood powerhouses – Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks – join forces in this new film about a key moment in American history.   Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who is looking to gain access to, and publish the remaining series of highly classified documents about the American involvement in The Vietnam War.  The New York Times had begun the process, only to be halted by The Nixon Administration citing national security concerns.  Bradlee turns to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) for support and together, wrestle with the decision whether or not to defy the President – and go before the Supreme Court – to expose the so called Pentagon Papers.  Its a decision that puts their personal and professional lives at risk and calls into question the role of the power of a free press.  Spielberg treats the topic for what it is – a political thriller – and leaves no stone unturned when it comes down to capturing even detail of the period.  Hanks captures Bradlee perfectly – confident, aggressive, at times arrogant, but determined to graduate the Washington Post to big newspaper status, and above all, have the truth revealed.  Streep puts on another tour de force performance as Graham, the first female publisher of a major newspaper.  She effortlessly conveys Graham’s emotional roller coaster of being the only woman in a male dominated field as well as all of the personal and national ramifications behind what is ultimately her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.  Backed by a terrific script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer and scored, as always, by long time collaborator John Williams,  Spielberg has put together a powerful love letter to power behind a free, independent press.  

LISTEN TO THIS: Best of 2017

Shade by Living Colour.  In 2012, Living Colour was invited to take part in a centennial celebration for blues great Robert Johnson at The Apollo Theater.  They performed a roof shaking version of ‘Preachin’ Blues’ that owed more to Cream than it did to acoustic Mississippi Delta blues.  Inspired by the reception, the New York based quartet decided to use the blues – and all of its complexities and permutations that it spawned – as the impetus for their long awaited 6th studio album.   Working with producer Andre Betts (Madonna, Chaka Khan, Lenny Kravitz), they make the cultural connection between Johnson (‘Preachin’ Blues’), Marvin Gaye (‘Inner City Blues’) and The Notorious B.I.G. (‘Who Shot Ya?’) while expertly displaying how the blues and hard rock are only separated by volume.  ‘Who’s That’ – featuring a nasty slide-fused intro by Vernon Reid – morphs into a monster blues jam that sounds like Otis Redding sitting in with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Former DDBB member Big Sam Johnson guests on trombone).  While the bulk of ‘Shade’ was written during the Obama years, the material sounds like it could have been ripped right from yesterday’s headlines,.  The punk inspired rave up ‘A Pattern In Time’ shows how many of world’s social ills really hasn’t changed throughout the years.  It also throws in a sly nod to their 1990 classic, ‘Time’s Up’.   ‘Freedom Of Expression (F.O.X.)’ is all sides look at how speaking one’s mind has consequences, good and bad.  ‘Program’ is a biting look at how the impact of so-called ‘reality shows’ has made its way into every day life.  Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ – done here as a muscle car rocker  – still sounds like it could’ve been written yesterday. The new album also showcases Living Colour moving relentlessly into the future.  ‘Come On’ is a funk infused future anthem, while ‘Blak Out’ and ‘Always Wrong’ puts the otherworldly talents of bassist Doug Wimbish on full display.  The band is firing on all cylinders:  vocalist Corey Glover once again shows why he’s one of rock’s top vocalists nearly 30 years into the game; the same for Vernon Reid, as his fret work, slices, dices throughout each song.  Every great rock band needs a top flight rhythm section and they don’t get any better than Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun.  Big credit must also go out to Andre Betts for incorporating new sonic nuances into the tracks without sacrificing the essence of the band’s sound.  It might have been 8 years between releases, but it was certainly worth the wait.  An instant classic and one of the year’s best.  Shade by Living Colour is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.
 
Black Origami by JLIN.  It’s been quite a wild ride for producer Jerrilynn Patton, better known as Jlin.  In 2015, she was still working swing shifts at U.S. Steel in her hometown of Gary, Indiana when she found out – via Facebook – that her debut album Dark Energy was making best of the year lists ranging from The New York Times to Wire and Pitchfork.  It led to concert appearances all of the world – all while maintaining shifts at U.S. Steel.    Finally quitting her day job a year later, Patton found herself working steadily in India.  It was her extensive stay in this adoptive home base that forms the basis of her latest album.  Working with Indian choreographer and performance artist Avril Stormy Unger, German experimentalist Holly Herndon and rapper Dope Saint Jude, the album is a blizzard of tribal and electronic rhythms, sweeping soundscapes and well placed vocals and sound bites.  This is sound alchemy at its finest and merely hints of her sonic brilliance.  Two albums in and JLIN has already changed the game significantly.  One of the year’s best.  Black Origami by JLIN is available now through  Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.  You can also go to http://planet.mu/artists/jlin/ for more information.
From A Room, Vol 1 by Chris Stapleton.  As the Nashville machine pushed country more into a mainstream pop sound, Chris Stapleton – who first made a name for himself writing for Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker – got country back to its roots with his 2015 award winning album Traveller.  With all of the accolades, awards and a slew of new, famous friends and fans, no one would have been surprised if the follow up would show lean into a more pop direction.  Instead, Stapleton retreated to RCA Studio A in Nashville – the same studio where Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard made their outlaw country classics – and cut an album with all of the elements that makes country music so revered in the first place.  Roadhouse rockers, late night laments, backyard boogie and vocals that owe more to Stax Records than Grand Old Opry, this is an album that showcases an artist in peak form.  The real deal and one of the year’s best.  From A Room, Vol 1 is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major retailers.  You can also go to www.chrisstapleton.com for tour dates and more information.
 
From A Room: Vol 2 by Chris Stapleton.  The follow up to this spring’s best-selling, Grammy nominated Vol 1 picks up where that album left off.  continues the path that was established in the previous collection.  Working once again with producer Dave Cobb, Stapleton – with a huge vocal assistance from his wife – tips into his vast songbook to cook another musical stew that includes more roadhouse rockers, countrified soul confessionals, and choice covers.  Stapleton is on a creative and commercial peak and this collection caps off another stellar year.  Vol 1 will be represented during this year’s awards season.  Vol 2 will all but guarantee he’ll repeat the feat next year.  One of the year’s best.  From A Room: Vol 2 is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major retailers.  You can also go to www.chrisstapleton.com for tour dates and more information.
 
Intro by Blak Emoji.  The latest project from singer-songwriter-musican Kelsey Warren is both a departure and evolution from the guitar driven sound of his previous band, Pillow Theory.  Powered more by electro funk with splashes of rock and pop, Blak Emoji is slinky, sexy cool and wears its sensuality proudly on its sleeve.  ‘Sapiosexual’ rocks as it champions intellect over physical attraction (‘I love your brain just as much as I love your ass’), while ‘Baby Making Heels’ i(Legs back…screaming…Daddy….heel to the wall) and ‘Honey’ are lusty grinders that recalls Dirty Mind-era Prince and Nine Inch Nails.  ‘Poison To Medicine’ closes out the EP and its meditative, uplifting song as the nation heads into uncharted waters.  It begs to be an across the board hit.  It’s a bold and exciting new chapter for an undeniable talent.  The first great record of 2017.  Intro by Blak Emoji is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
 
Roadhouse 01 by Allan Rayman.  At a time where artists are using social media to put every aspect of their artistry – and their lives – on full blast, Allan Rayman prefers to cloak himself in mystery.  He doesn’t include any bio information (other than he was born in Wyoming and now lives in Canada) and only posts release dates and show information.  His videos work more like short films which may or may not offer a backstory behind his songs.  Rayman’s live shows are also stripped down with him singing live to backing tracks while wearing a hoodie.   Outside of ‘thank you’, there’s no stage banter and once the show is done, he makes a hasty retreat.   The process has worked for him:  Rayman’s has a dedicated and growing fan base and a deal with Communion Records (co-founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons).  Rayman released the exceptional Hotel Allan back in October and less than four months later, he’s already back with Roadhouse 01.  Written during a retreat to a house in the woods, its a conceptual album that finds his musical alter ego Mr Roadhouse confronting, blaming and justifying his ‘selfish behaviors’.  Loaded with big beats that are found on hip hop records and guitars that can be heard on alt-rock records, it sounds more like big budget production with a DIY brain leading it.  Then there’s Rayman’s vocals that has the rasp of a seasoned bluesman and the ache, pain and regret of a jazz singer.  Firing on all cylinders, this album bridges a number of genres, styles and era to a mind blowing effort.  One of the year’s best albums.  Roadhouse 01 is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
Greyland by Tiny Hazard.  This Brooklyn based band has been performing standout sets throughout New York City and parts of the Northeast and after putting out an EP and a on off single, has released its eagerly awaited full length.  The group simultaneously deconstructs and forms an unlikely alliance between pop and the avant garde that has forges ahead the continuum that was establish by such artists as Frank Zappa, Kate Bush, Bjork and King Crimson.  Holding it all together is singer-keyboardist Alena Spanger whose vocal acrobatics emote both a wistful innocence and full blown freak outs.  Guitarist Ryan Weiner is poised to be the next great guitar hero generating sounds that push forward the wire pulling heroics of Robert Fripp, Lindsey Buckingham and Adrian Belew to the next level.  Anchoring the band is the rock solid rhythm section of Derek Leslie on bass, drummer Ronald Stockwell, and sound alchemist Anthony Jillions,  handling the musical shift and tempo changes with extraordinary ease. Featuring pop epics (‘Sesame’, ‘Greyland’), punk/Plastic Ono Band style rave ups  (‘Sharkwhirl’, ‘Little One’), moody DIY recordings (‘Baby’, ‘Thirsty Sponge’), and off-kilter pop lullabies (‘Ekon’), Tiny Hazard has put together an album that shows that avant garde and pop can not only be musical bedfellows but can take both mediums to the next level.  One of the year’s best.  Greyland by Tiny Hazard is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.  You can also go to www.tinyhazard.com for more information.
Araminta by Harriet Tubman.  If you are going to name your band after one of the most celebrated freedom fighters in American history, there better be some weight and musical muscle behind it.  But when you are Melvin Gibbs (bass), Brandon Ross (guitar) and J.T. Lewis, – three musicians whose resume of collaborators run the full spectrum of popular music (Lou Reed, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Whitney Houston, Marianne Faithfull, Cassandra Wilson, Tony Williams, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rollins Band, Living Colour, Sting, among others) – you have more than earned the right to put such a powerful name behind your group.  Over the course of nearly 20 years, Harriet Tubman has released three albums that have taken rock, jazz, punk, avant garde, funk and fusion to new, at times, overwhelming heights.  For their 4th album, they make one key addition: trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize for Music finalist Wadada Leo Smith.  MIles Davis once said that his ‘electric period’ was not jazz, but ‘social music’.  Harriet Tubman – with a huge assist from Smith’s explosive solos – not only carry on that spirit but they carry on to any entirely different level.  Everyone is in peak form with everyone getting a chance to share the spotlight, putting their virtuosity on display.  The political bent of the band and the music isn’t lost either – all you have to do is peep at the song titles:  ‘Nina SImone’ is named after the iconic singer-songwriter-musician and activist.  ‘President Obama’s Speech at Selma’ is a homage to the 44th President’s speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Selma marches.  ‘Real Cool Killers references the iconic novel by noted Black writer Chester Himes while ‘Sweet Araminta’ lovingly salutes the name’s meaning (prayer and protection) and the birth name of….Harriet Tubman.  If you looking to hear an album made by musicians at the most potent, their most expressive, unfiltered and free, it does not get any better than this.  One of the year’s best.  Araminta by Harriet Tubman is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
The Order Of Time by Valerie June The latest from acclaimed multi instrumentalist Valerie June expands on many of the themes that she introduced on her breakthrough album Pushin’ Against A Stone.  Working with producer Matt Marinelli, June tells wonderful stories against sweeping soundscapes that incorporates blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, country alongside Brian WIlson/Phil Spector style pop.  What makes this album even more brilliant is how it manages to be rootsy but experimental, personal yet universal, current but timeless.   The first half of this work will hypnotize you.  The second half will blow you away.  Another contender for one of the best of 2017.  The Order Of Time by Valerie June is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.valeriejune.com for more information.
 
The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff.  Reclamation is the central theme behind much anticipated followup to Small Town Heroes.  The album is a concept piece that centers around the character Navita Milagros Negron, a teenage who travels through ‘The City’, barring witness to its destruction via displacement, segregation and gentrification.  It also tells of reclaiming the roots and the culture from which she comes from – and where it will take her.  Whereas Small Town Heroes drew from the best parts of American roots music of the South, The Navigator uses the sounds that sprang out of New York City and, more specifically Alynda Segarra’s hometown of The Bronx (doo wop, punk, New Wave, along with the styles that came out of Fania Records in the 70s) that puts on urban spin on the term ‘roots music’ .  Political, potent and highly personal, Segarra – with a huge assist from producer Paul Butler – has put together an album marking the arrival of music’s next great force.  One of the year’s best.  The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff is available now through Amazon, Itunes, and all major retailers.
 
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem.  This Brooklyn based dance-punk rock band were just starting to gain full scale national traction when they decided to call it quits in 2011.  Their farewell shows at New York’s Terminal 5 – and all night blowout at Madison Square Garden became legendary.  The accompanying film, Shut Up And Play The Hits is considered by many as an instant classic.  It seemed like the perfect way to put an end to a successful 10 year run.  But the band – led by James Murphy – shocked everyone by reforming in 2016 for a series of festival shows.  Now they are back with a new album that takes the group into new sonic terrains.  Heavily influenced by groups such as Talking Heads, Public Image Limited, Low-era Bowie, Kraftwerk and early U2, LCD presents an extended song cycle that awash in dense synths, pulsating rhythms and distorted Adrian Belew-like guitars.  Sounding like the soundtrack to the downtown New York scene that is long gone, Murphy and Co. have put together their finest work to date.  One of the year’s best.  American Dream by LCD Soundsystem is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.

READ THIS: Best of 2017

The Awkward Thoughts Of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell.  This new book by the host of CNN’s United Shades Of America is both memoir and an extension of his brand of sociopolitical comedy.  It tackles everything from fatherhood, being in an interracial marriage, the fallacies with left and right wing politics, and, of course race relations.  Bell also reflects on his early struggles to find his comedic voice, especially when his brand of comedy didn’t necessarily ‘fit’ within either the Black and White comedy club circuit.  Loaded with great stories, insight, and candor laced with a ton of humor, Bell has crafted a tome that will only re-assert his status as one of the top comedic social commentators and comics working today.  The Awkward Thoughts Of W. Kamau Bell is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.  You can also go to http://www.wkamaubell.com/ for more information.
Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock and Roll In New York City 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman.  In this extensive, sprawling new book by music journalist Lizzy Goodman, she looks back how, for the first decade of the 21st Century, New York City was once again rock’s epicenter – and how it all quickly fell apart.  Goodman conducted over 200 interviews for the book with everyone from the musicians (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Ryan Adams, Interpol, Vampire Weekend), managers, and talent bookers, right down to long time fans and groupies to get a full view of the social, political and cultural forces that were at work to help build the Lower East Side, and later, the Williamsburg music scene.  It wonderfully captures a New York City still reeling from the 9/11 attacks and increasing gentrification, yet still willing to forge ahead and channel it all through their art.  There’s also plenty of tales of sex, drugs, and backbiting, that played a role in building up – and later tearing up – the movement.  Goodman leaves no stone unturned in getting into the guts of the 21st Century’s first great rock scene.  A must read for all music fans.  Meet Me In The Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
A Beautiful Ghetto by Devin Allen.  On April 2015, the city of Baltimore was the site of a series of protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody,  Devin Allen, a long time Baltimore resident and amateur photographer, was able to capture key, on the street, neighborhood images that were largely missing from the mainstream news outlets.  His photos were so riveting, that Allen became only the third amateur photographer to get the cover of TIME magazine.  Since then, Allen’s work has been featured in galleries around the world, but he remains committed to Baltimore, teaching photography to at risk youth.  His new book, A Beautiful Ghetto, is a love letter to his community, capturing the beauty and love of its people, even as they grapple with the onslaught of drugs, crime, and poverty.  Baltimore has its share of problems, but this book shows the fighting spirit within each neighborhood to rise above it all.  A strong debut by one of photography’s brightest new stars.  A Beautiful Ghetto is available now through Amazon, IndieBound and all other major book outlets.  You can also go to http://www.haymarketbooks.org/ for more information.
The Mudd Club by Richard Boch.  Named after the doctor who treated Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, The Mudd Club initially opened to counter to the more glitzy Studio 54.  Several of 54’s attendees eventually would wind up there and it also became the final destination for punks, poets and visual artists.  The Mudd Club also showcased some of the best bands that emerged from the New Wave, No Wave and punk scene including Talking Heads, Blondie, and The B52s, among others.  It would eventually develop a tough door policy and hired Richard Boch, who was only a few years removed from graduating college, to be the doorman. He got a front row seat to an epicenter of the downtown Manhattan arts scene that is now the stuff of legend. Boch’s new memoir recalls his days at the door, its regulars and the many celebrities who as he recalls, passed through, passed out and, for some, passed on. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, John Belushi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Madonna (who was dating Basquiat at the time), Johnny Rotten and The Hells Angels are just some of the notables who make appearances in this highly entertaining tome. Told in a style and a pace that is synonymous with the city, it’s a honest, moving look at the New York City downtown arts scene. The Mudd Club by Richard Boch is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
The Individualist by Ricky Powell.  For over 30 years, photographer Ricky Powell has been capturing the good, the quirky, cool and the funky happening in New York City.  Always with a camera in hand, Powell, a long time Village resident, found himself at the epicenter of New York’s hip hop, street art, fashion and art scene during the 80s, 90s and right through today.   His latest book compiles some of his best images and features a virtual who’s who of NYC cool.  Hip hop legends (Run DMC, KRS One, Wu Tang Clan, and, of course The Beastie Boys, of which he is closely associated with), sports titans (Joe Namath, Mike Tyson, Walt Frazier, Derek Jeter) art work icons (Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Chuck Close), street art/graffiti artists (Dondi), actors (Laurence Fishburne, Debi Mazur, Bonz Malone) influences (George Lois, Ron Gallela, Burt Glenn, George Kalinsky, Elliot Erwitt), skate kids, neighbors and every day street people are all lovingly and warmly captured through Powell’s lens.  The book is also a celebration of how each of Powell’s subjects – along with Powell himself – embody a strong sense of self, confident and proud of the individualistic streak that fuels each of their crafts.  With great stories by Bill Adler, Nemo Librizzi and Powell himself, and crisp editing by Tono Radvany, Powell has put together his best book to date.  A must have for anyone who loves New York City culture.  The Individualist by Ricky Powell is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.  You can also go to www.therickfordinstitute.com for more information.

NYC Street Photography: It’s The Joint by Brian Nobili and Ricky Powell. Brian Nobili teams up with the eternally cool street photographer Ricky Powell to present this collection of iconic shots featuring 10 of New York’s finest lens people, to show the city’s evolution over the last 30 years. The Hall Of Fame lineup includes Jamel Shabazz, Joe Conzo, Sue Kwon, Cheryl Dunn, Craig Wetherby, Akira Ruiz, Peter Pabon and SDJ – all of whom capture the grit, the grime, heroes, villains, and everyone and everything in between which gives New York City its unique character. Even the book’s cover – done by world renowned Bronx artist CES – is a nod to the city’s street art roots. It’s a time capsule, vital social document, celebration and love letter to the greatest city in the world. NYC Street Photography: It’s the Joint is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.

Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016 by Annie Leibovitz.   The follow-up to her books Photographs 1970-1990 and A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 collects over 150 portraits that were taken over the last decade for Vanity Fair.  It runs the full range from Presidents and world leaders to artists, poets, musicians and filmmakers, to people and objects that she encountered while putting together her book Pilgrimage.  In short, it’s a master photographer at the top of her game.  Rich, vibrant, full of emotion and essence, it shows once again where Leibovitz is one of the greatest to ever pick up the camera.  Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016 is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
What Is It All But Luminous:  Notes From An Underground Man by Art Garfunkel.   Whether as one half of Simon & Garfunkel, as a solo artist or as an actor, you always had a sense there was always a lot more going through Art Garfunkel’s head that he was given off.   A lot of those thoughts and remembrances form the basis of his memoir.  Dispensing conventional narrative, the book leap frogs between years, taking many detours and pauses.  His long, complex relationship with Paul SImon is covered here, including the events that have led to their current musical and personal estrangement.  But it also covers a range of topics including his admiration for the artistry of James Taylor and Mike Nichols;  growing up in Queens, NY, the number of singers who influenced his vocal style, right down to favorite songs on his Ipod.  Garfunkel also details how he dealt with the suicide of his girlfriend Laurie Bird, overcoming a injury that theatened to end his singing career and the strength his wife Kathryn Cermack showed during her fight against breast cancer and much more.  It’s Art Garfukel at his most open, and candid, told with insight, depth and warmth.   We wouldn’t expect anything less.  What Is It All But Luminous is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
Eight Years We Were In Power:  An American Tragedy by Ta-Neishi Coates.  The eagerly awaited follow up to his best selling book Between The World And Me looks at race through the prism of the election of the first Black President Of The United States.  It culls eight essays that Coates wrote for The Atlantic leading up to and during the Obama Administration, concluding with the inauguration of the 45th President.   At the center of this collection is ‘A Case For Reparations’, Coates’ critically acclaimed article that lays out chapter and verse how racism played into everything in policies that had, on the surface, good intentions.  Coates also writes new introductions to each piece to provide the context in which the story was written.   It’s at times, a crushing look at how the country went from being on the precipse of truly fulfilling its promise, to regressing – quietly, then abruptly – back to the darker side of its past.  The book also shows Coates’ development as a writer charting his rise into becoming one of the top social commentators today.  A powerful, probing work.  Eight Years We Were In Power by Ta-Neishi Coates is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers.
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Earl Douglas is a writer/photographer based in New York City. A frequent contributor to The Interrobang, Earl is also Executive Director for the New York chapter of The Black Rock Coalition. Earl worked in radio for nearly two decades at WNEW-FM and XM Satellite Radio, which included being the on-air producer for Carol Miller, Scott Muni and Ron & Fez, and a contributor to Opie & Anthony. Earl has also independently published a number of books including Black Rock Volume 1, Urban Abyss, Mobile Uploads, and For Shimmy. His latest project is the photojournalism magazine PRAXIS, which is available exclusively through Blurb.com.

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