Best and Worst of 2017


Few things delight me as much as music. Here are my Top Ten Albums. Live links will take you to the original review.

Top honors go to a band that simply knocked me off my feet.: I Draw Slow, an Irish ensemble that ended up being the best bluegrass band of the year. More proof that music is global. Beauty, grace, and surprises. Wonderful stuff.

 Numbers 2 through ten are listed two through ten are listed alphabetically by surname:

Debra Devi--a kick ass rock and rolling yoga teacher from New Jersey.
Hope Dunbar--A Lori McKenna goes to Nebraska-style slice of honesty.
Alaisdair Fraser and Natalie Haas--Scottish fiddle and cello go global.
Nikki Lane--full-throat, sassy antidote to little girl voices. 
Kate MacLeod--Celtic fiddle as inspired by the American West.
Peter, Paul and Mary--Their retrospective reminds us of more hopeful times.
Quiles and Cloud-- Where folk, bluegrass, jazz, and Americana picnic together.
Sleeping at Last--Can music heal? You're damn right it can.
The Waifs--An Aussie folk ensemble that blurs genres.

I shall refrain from naming the worst album of the year. Musical tastes simply differ too much, so my poison might be your ambrosia.


These Prince Edward Islanders are smart. witty, and talented.

A medical scare kept me in more than I wished this year, but let me give shout outs for several great performances:

My favorite was an April performance of Ten Strings and a Goatskin (pictured above) at the Iron Horse Music Club. It was a lively, accomplished, and exuberant display of Celtic music as filtered through the lens of joyful Prince Edward Island lads. My foot hasn't stopped tapping.

Other great performances included: Canadian chanteuse Rose Cousins (Iron Horse, February), the dazzling fretwork of Robbie Fulks (Parlor Room, September), Quebecois stalwarts Le Vent du Nord (Ottawa, June), the surprising energy of Irish squeeze box legend Mairtin O' Connor (February, Iron Hourse), the synergy of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (Academy of Music, November), the bluesy brilliance of Chris Smither (Academy of Music, March), and the catch-a-rising-star flat-picking artistry of young Molly Tuttle (West Whately Chapel).

As for duds, a big set of horns for Dan Bern, who stunk up the Parlor Room in October with a sloppy, unprepared performance that he made worse by encouraging the drunks who were annoying everyone else.


It was an okay, but not great year for fiction and I didn't really have a favorite, though Ruth Ware gets consideration for In a Dark, Dark Wood, a dark, dark thriller. I mention this because her second book was putrid. I'd also give consideration to Paul Beatty and Christina Kline Baker. [See below.]

My vote for the best non-fiction book goes to Jeremy McCarter for Young Radicals, his look at what World War One and government repression did to youthful idealists. My close runner-up goes to my colleague Chris Appy for another unvarnished look at what the Vietnam War did to America in American Reckoning.

I enjoyed the short stories of Richard Russo in Trajectory; Jamie Ford's Love and Other Consolation Prizes; really admired Christina Baker Kline's take on Christina Olson in A Piece of the World and Alice Hoffman's prequel The Rules of Magic. Ian McGuire chilled and thrilled me with The North Water. Paulette Giles made me like Westerns anew in her quirky News of the World. Chris Bohjalian kept me up with The Sleepwalker.

Paul Beatty gave us a look-in-the-mirror look at racism in The Sellout, surely among the year's best. Kevin Canty wrote one of the better looks at blue-collar life in The Underworld. Who could not admire the human story and graceful prose of Amor Towles in A Gentleman in Moscow? Ian Rankin wrote a first-rate twisty mystery in Even Dogs in the Wild. I also really liked Beth Underdown's look at the English witchcraft hysteria in Witchfinder's Sister.

Boo hiss to Ruth Ware for the derivative, if-not-plagiarized The Woman in Cabin Ten. I wasn't very fond of Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben either, but at least he's an activist, not a novelist. Tom Perotta recycled too much in Mrs. Fletcher. Carl Hiaasen's Razor Girl was simply pop flash trash and I'm at a loss to understand why reviewers raved over the Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible or Ian McEwan's Nutshell.

If I had to pick one truly lousy book it would be Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, simply because she's too good of a writer for such a lame effort. I don't care how well praised this book was; it would have been savaged from anyone with a lesser reputation. 


My very favorite show of the year, I'm proud to say, took place the University of Massachusetts Amherst: a razor-sharp look at the political heft of graphic art and it didn't make any less proud that a former student co-curated the show. This show definitely needs to be picked up by other museums. The Kara Walker show there was also first rate.

As for the most fun, hands down it was the Hanna-Barbera cartoon art at Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum. I regressed by decades viewing it and danced with my Inner Child.

I adored Patty Yoder's quirky alphabet sheep in Hooked on Patty Yoder at Vermont's Shelburne Museum. Kudos to the Currier Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire for its fabulous exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec posters. The National Gallery of Canada has unveiled its new wing and one simply must see the Inuit art if anywhere in the region. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams also showed off its new wing and new exhibits. The venerable Clark Museum scored with a new look at Picasso.

I did not expect to be dazzled by the an exhibit of ocean liner art at the Peabody Essex Museum, yet I was. It also scored big with an exhibit of wearable art, an idea that surfaced first in New Zealand. The MFA in Boston had great shows of Botticelli and Matisse, which redeemed an otherwise lackluster year.

The not-so-coveted Art on Velvet Stinkeroo Art trophy goes to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for its trite display of Takashi Murakami, who's not an artist so much as a pop conman. Places like the MFA shouldn't try to be hip. Every time they do, their squareness shows.

MOVIES: Wait for Oscar time!

Rob Weir

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