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UMG REVS RISING,
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THE NEW GRAMMY POWER
Change is nigh.
Critics' Choice
TOP 10 RETRO ALBUMS OF 2015
7/6/15

By Bud Scoppa

The trend was foreshadowed by the guitar lick lifted from the Isley Brothers’ 1973 classic “That Lady” that kicked off Kendrick Lamar’s “i” last fall, and hammered home by “Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ homage to early-’80s Minneapolis R&B, the dominant single of the year so far.  To a surprising degree, the best records released during the first half of 2015 are rooted in the sounds of past decades. A friend of mine dubbed this recent spate of picture-perfect vintage-sounding LPs from young bands nouveau old-school; I can work with that. The following backward-leaning list of faves could practically double as my overall midyear Top 10. 


JD McPherson, Let the Good Times Roll (Rounder)

Home base: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Touchstones: Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran

McPherson, who’s an accomplished visual artist, a former schoolteacher and a knowledgeable hip-hop fan, reaches back further into the past than anyone else on this list, but he’s managed to bring in-your-face currency to the first-gen rock & roll he inhabits on his second album. JD co-produced with Mark Neill, who engineered The Black KeysBrothers.
 

 

Leon Bridges, Coming Home (Columbia)

Home base: Fort Worth

Touchstones: Ben E. King, Howard Tate

Uncanny evocation of vintage soul music from the 26-year-old Texan and his dexterous band. The album, which sold 36k in its first week, could serve to open the door for some of Bridges’ lower-profile stylistic soul brothers.

 

The London Souls, Here Come the Girls (Feel)

Home base: NYC

Touchstones: Beatles, Byrds, Love, Badfinger, Free

The duo of singer/guitarist Tash Neal and drummer Chris St. Hilaire has mid- to late-’60s British rock down pat, and their songs are loaded with picture-perfect period details. An African-American, Neal is the latest in a line of black rock & rollers that begins with Chuck Berry and includes Arthur Lee, Phil Lynott and The Bus Boys.  


Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (Stax)

Home base: Denver; originally from Herman, Missouri

Touchstones: Sam Cooke, Van Morrison, Otis Redding

On his second album, Rateliff transforms himself from a Heartland blue-collar troubadour to a raging soul man belting out songs of shattering desperation. Producer Richard Swift—who’s in The Arcs and The Black Keys’ touring lineup—vividly captures the visceral immediacy of Rateliff and the Night Sweats onstage. Extra points for the perfect band name. 


 

Elle King, Love Stuff (RCA)

Home base: Brooklyn; originally from Ohio

Touchstones: Tom Petty, Amy Winehouse, White Stripes

King—the daughter of comic Rob Schneider, believe it or not—is well on her way with “Ex’s & Oh’s,” which is crossing to Top 40 after topping the Triple A chart and rocketing into the Alt Top 10. Like Bridges, this soulful firebrand is bringing a double shot of retro cool to contemporary pop, while drawing comparisons to the late, great Amy. 


 

The Arcs, Yours, Dreamily (Nonesuch/WB)

Home base: Nashville

Touchstones: Creedence, The Band, Tom Petty

Based on the two available tracks from Yours Dreamily, hitting 9/4 (a third song, is on YouTube), this Dan Auerbach side project (think Raconteurs to White Stripes) is far from a throwaway. The prevailing vibe, vintage noir-ish soul, is right in the sweet spot of erstwhile Dap-Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss.

Mail the Horse, Planet Gates (Sexual Decade)

Home base: Brooklyn

Touchstones: Rolling Stones, Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Like the Buffalo Springfield, Mail the Horse boasts three alternating frontman, each with a distinctive vocal style. Check out a delightful live-in-the studio performance by their cover-band alter ego Mail the Crazy Horse for a rundown of their primary influences.

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (ATO)

Home base: Athens, Alabama

Touchstones: Curtis Mayfield, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin

A prime contender for Album of the Year, Sound & Color seamlessly absorbs and repurposes five decades of rock & soul, while marking the emergence of polymath Blake Mills as a major producer.  


 

My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall (ATO/Capitol)

Home base: Louisville

Touchstones: Philly and Chicago soul, Beach BoysLed Zeppelin

One of America's very best Gen-X rock & roll bands (along with Spoon and Wilco) sails into the mystic in the musical equivalent of Vonnegut's time-traveling/shape-shifting Slaughterhouse Five.     


 

Dawes, All Your Favorite Bands (Hub)

Home base: L.A.

Touchstones: Jackson Browne, Eagles

Is there a sharper lyricist these days than Taylor Goldsmith? Sample lines from the title song: “I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be/I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever/I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me/And may all your favorite bands stay together.”