Time isn't real you know, so if I'm being totally honest here, the best music of 2017 for me at least would be Joe Diffie's nearly 30-year-old song 'John Deere Green.' I heard heard it driving back from Rehoboth Beach last month on Southern Star Country Club, an incredible country music radio show broadcasting out of the small town of Worton, Maryland on WKHS, a commercial-free station connected to Kent County High School.
The 1993 storytelling hit is easily one of the most touching tracks of all time. Diffie sends you back to the '60s with a couple, Billy Bob and Charlene, and a specific "hot summer night" in July where Billy climbed atop a water tower and "in John Deere green" paint, wrote on the tower, "Billy Bob loves Charlene," Diffie tells us, "in letters three foot high." Charlene loved it and the town was nitpicky the way small towns often are: "And the whole town said that he should've use red," Diffie sings. "But it looked good to Charlene."
It's a song that'll make tear you up for sure and it really worked and made me cry a bit surrounded by Eastern Shore darkness and about to stare down another week of work.
Even though time is just a construct and the only people thinking in quarters are bean-counting businessmen and, well, music critics, lists are lots of fun, so here are my favorite albums and singles from the first three months of this awful, awful, oh-so-Trumpy 2017.
1. Sunny Sweeney, "Trophy": Imagine Oma from "Fat City" on her best day picking up a guitar and cranking out a record of unafraid confessional country both prickly and precious—heroin fiendin' Rolling Stones meets the overcast ballads of Loretta Lynn.
2. Ralo, "Famerican Gangster 2": Demon-haunted yelper best known for making it rain on hobos instead of strippers can't shake his little brother's suicide, scoffs at cops, don't see nothing wrong with dealing (nor should he, really), and has to tell himself "calm down, Ralo."
3. Thundercat, "Drunk": Frank Zappa and George Duke hand Thundercat a prog lark cocktail and chant "chug! chug! chug!" and the West Coast bass wizard abides with tears in his eyes, remembering dead friends and pondering the police state the whole sloppy time.
4. Fire-Toolz, "Drip Mental": Like you've got a bunch of browser tabs open and one's playing black metal, and another the theme music from "A Current Affair," and another a Chelsea Manning lecture, and another New Order live in 1984, and you're just endlessly scrolling Space Ghetto.
5. Young Moose, "Home Detention": A determined mixtape with plenty of party record humor and a testament to Moose's buoyancy: He can still smile after a tumultuous few years of half-buzz but mostly police harrassment and murder all around him.
6. Stormzy, "Gang Signs & Prayer": U.K.'s next great hope goes gospel at times, raps his ass off, is down for property damage, worries too much about what people say on Twitter, and crafts grime's "Tha Carter III."
7. The xx, "I See You": Erotic dorks peel themselves off the wall of the club and deign to dance a little bit more than usual with songs that'll send all the club kids home with one another—music to make out in a Lyft to!
8. Jefe, "The World Is Yours": This taut EP from the artist FKA Shy Glizzy is shorter on insight than usual (and short on victory too) though it has plenty of unaffected, gymnastic enthusiasm—like Curly from "the Three Stooges" whoop-whooping and floor-spinning to no end besides brief moments of affirmation.
9. Priests, "Nothing Feels Natural": DIY punk gone glammy and very, very real ("I don't make friends easily or naturally") with a touch of doom (of the post-Sabbath, Black Flag "Damaged" sort) and plenty of DOOM (of the Trump is the president so resist, resist, resist sort).
10. Freaky, "Red Hot Cheeto Fingers": Off the dome-distracted raps that all feel in media-res—"The Education Of Sonny Carson" gets sampled recalling old Ghostface and the beats collapse and glitch like that Editions Mego rarity you've been trying to torrent for three years now.
1. Goldlink feat. Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy, 'Crew': An unwrinkled anthem you barely know is there thanks to knavish, meter-aware MCs bouncing syllables off an impervious beat—the drifting music video full of Baltimore and D.C. dirtbikers and their convivial defiance is a bonus.
2. Kane Brown feat. Lauren Alaina, 'What Ifs': '50s rock-like in its embrace of teenager love where who you're hanging out with, kissing, and revealing how you feel to at 17 really seems like the only person that'll ever matter; 2017 bro country in its My Chemical Romance-y mall kid sturm und drang.
3. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, 'Hope The High Road': A gutsy send-off to 2016 that rails against the myth that Trump's success is populism. "There can't be more of them than us, there can't be more," Isbell says half-hopeful, his band the 400 Unit chugging along and really selling that sentiment.
4. Downtown Boys, 'Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)': Translation if you need it, courtesy of these Providence punks themselves: "We're elegant and intelligent, we're not dumb." A cumbia-Fugazi whirlwind, an agitated incantation, and again I defer to the band, "a declaration of one's ability to decolonize one's mind, and the importance of fearlessly unlearning the ways white supremacy conditions people to think and exist."
5. Romeo Santos, 'Héroe Favorito': It's Romeo Santos so it's good, but there's this point in the middle of this where it's less a song and more a whole doting, romantic ecosystem all its own with guitar noodling touched by "Strawberry Letter 23" reverb and some ambrosial new age.
6. Oddisee, 'Things': Dilla-tinged production makes for anxious hip-house for 2017 that politely tells everybody to pull their heads out of their asses.
7. Kendrick Lamar, 'Humble': A stirring counterpoint to the mealy-mouthed 'The Heart Part 4,' a possibly #problematic celebration of stretch marks, and pretty much a "Chicken Talk"-era Gucci Mane song, by the way.
8. Lor Ronald, Lor Melly, & BanRunnaA, 'Wat U Mean (G Mix)': Baltimore young MCs reconfigure Dae Dae's street hit into a cubist banger; an askew and exhilarating, off-balance verse from Melly finds the beat, loses it, finds it again, and then realizes he never really needed it.
9. Sampha, '(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano': The other night I watched two dudes dressed way cooler than me, kind of douchey really, walking briskly to a bar, blasting this forlorn confession from one of their phones pumped up on the feelingz, man.
10. Underworld, 'Slow Slippy': Makes whatever point the ill-advised "Trainspotting" sequel's trying to make much better and brings DJ Screw's heartstopping avant-garde to lager-downing progressive house.