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Our favorite music of the year: Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Sleater-Kinney and much more

Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” was named several times in The Star’s annual favorite music of the year survey of local musicians and fans.
Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” was named several times in The Star’s annual favorite music of the year survey of local musicians and fans. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The year 2015 may belong to Taylor Swift and Adele financially and numerically, but critically it belongs to Kendrick Lamar, 28, the rapper from Compton, Calif., who in March released “To Pimp a Butterfly,” his third studio album.

“Butterfly” received widespread critical acclaim, garnering a composite score of 96 at Metacritic. On Dec. 7, the album received 11 Grammy nominations, including album of the year, song of the year and best rap album.

In The Star’s annual end-of-the-year survey of musicians and music arbiters around Kansas City, “To Pimp a Butterfly” emerged as a favorite, even a “classic,” as some said. Following are those lists, which illustrate the diversity of music that emerged in 2015.

Timothy Finn The Kansas City Star

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”: On his third album, Lamar fearlessly, authoritatively and poetically confronts head-on issues of race, violence, poverty and injustice amid a mix of soul, jazz, blues and hip-hop. It has been a while since a recording could be considered legitimately “vital” or “important,” musically and socially, but “Butterfly” qualifies.

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah,”: This comeback album was released so late in 2014, it missed a lot of Top 10 lists. A potent mix of throwback soul with gospel, jazz, funk and rock.

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”: Not sure which is smarter and more charming: the tunes, which engage instantly, or the lyrics, which plumb the mundane with much insight and wit. She’s a rocker with a poet’s heart, a mix of Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith.

▪ Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love”: Another comeback album, 10 years in the making. They returned with their batteries fully charged, delivering short, punchy salvos of raw punk.

▪ Wilco, “Star Wars”: It’s as if Jeff Tweedy and mates decided that because they were giving this album away, they could unleash some of their wilder, unhinged urges and edgier creative ideas. Yet it all holds together. .

▪ Mikal Shapiro, “The Musical”: She’s from Kansas City, and she has made the record of her life (so far), one that deserves wider attention. It’s melodic and lyrical, a savvy and seamless mix of folk, rock, pop, jazz and blues from one of our area’s most gifted songwriters.

▪ Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”: A supreme lyricist and storyteller whose knack for turning a keen phrase is matched by his knack for composing memorable melodies.

▪ Bill Ryder-Jones, “West Kirby County Primary”: It’s not perfect, but its better moments are stellar. A mix of indie-pop, -folk and -rock from the co-founder of the Coral.

▪ Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”: An extravagant pop odyssey, filled with candid sentiments about sex, romance, life, love, loss.

▪ Thee Oh Sees, “Mutilator Defeated at Last”: More of the same: stout psychedelic garage-rock.

▪ Tame Impala, “Currents”: A splendid pretty-pop album.

25 recommended recordings from artists in the Kansas City area

▪ The Ants, “Control Your Thoughts”

▪ The Architects, “Border Wars Episode II”

▪ Beautiful Bodies, “Battles”

▪ Berwanger, “Demonios”

▪ Betse & Clarke, “Birdnotes”

▪ Bummer, “Spank”

▪ Amanda Fish, “Down in the Dirt”

▪ Samantha Fish, “Wild Heart”

▪ The Grisly Hand, “Flesh & Gold”

▪ Hembree, “Can’t Run Forever”

▪ Hipshot Killer, “They Will Try to Kill Us All”

▪ Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, “Long Shot of Hard Stuff”

▪ Ernest James Zydeco, “Automatic Harvester”

▪ La Guerre, “Sapphires”

▪ Barclay Martin, “Voices of the Unbound: Madagascar”

▪ Sara Morgan, “Easy to Dream”

▪ My Oh My, “Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”

▪ Jessica Paige, “Sweet Nothings”

▪ Radkey, “Dark Black Makeup”

▪ Mikal Shapiro, “The Musical”

▪ The Sluts, “The Sluts”

▪ Tech N9ne, “Special Effects”

▪ Victor & Penny and Their Loose Change Orchestra, “Live at the Living Room Theatre”

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”

▪ Yes You Are, “A Dream”

10 favorite live moments of 2015

▪ June 27: The Rolling Stones at Arrowhead Stadium

▪ Oct. 23: Stevie Wonder at the Sprint Center

▪ Nov. 18: Ben Folds with yMusic at the Uptown Theater

▪ July 15: Wilco at Crossroads KC

▪ Nov. 14: Gladys Knight with the O’Jays at the Music Hall

▪ Aug. 27: The Church with the Psychedelic Furs at Crossroads KC

▪ April 18: Drive-By Truckers at Madrid Theater

▪ Feb. 17: Jason Isbell at the Uptown Theater

▪ March 20: Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Public Radio Stage at SXSW

▪ July 30: Beautiful Bodies at Warped Tour

Some of our favorite music fans and contributors share some of their favorite music of 2015:

Jenee Osterheldt Columnist, The Kansas City Star

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”: This is every bit as big as the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. There is no album more important in 2015. Song: “Alright”

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah”: Politically charged, funky, sexy, edgy and 100 percent D’Angelo. His 14-year hiatus was worth the wait. Song: “The Charade”

▪ Wale, “The Album About Nothing”: He has always gotten points for his Seinfeld collaborations and catchy singles, but for me, this album is his voice finally coming together. Song: “White Shoes”

▪ Jadakiss, “Top 5 Dead or Alive”: Jadakiss is not one of my Top 5 favorite rappers, but his lyrics, beat selection and cockiness had me reconsidering my decision. This album is ’90s greatness. Song: “Synergy”

▪ The Game, “The Documentary 2”: When you get Will.I.Am, Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar on the same project, I think it’s safe to say you covered all ways to California dream. Song: “Don’t Trip”

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”: She should have shared that AMA stage with Alanis Morissette. Barnett is the new-school jagged little pill. Song: “Pedestrian at Best”

▪ Drake, “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late”: The most loved and hated singing rapper is hard to deny as a great song-maker. Song: “Know Yourself”

▪ J. Cole, “2014 Forest Hills Drive”: I have been wanting to love J. Cole as much as everyone else for a few years. It finally happened. I am a believer. Song: “Apparently”

▪ Lupe Fiasco, “Tetsuo & Youth”: Poetry laced with hip-hop beats sings to my heart every single time. “Paint cold pictures like Nova Scotia landscapes …” Song: “Mural”

▪ The Internet, “Ego Death”: It’s like the Brand New Heavies meets the Roots dripped in sexy soul. Song: “Special Affair”

▪ Erykah Badu, “But You Caint Use My Phone”: Only Badu could make an entire mixtape inspired by Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and turn it into a magnum opus on cellphones. Song: “Hello”

Marion Merritt Owner of Records With Merritt

New works and reissues

▪ Various artists, “Ork Records: New York, New York”: The first punk label was created in 1975 by budding filmmaker and Warhol Factory hanger-on Terry Ork. The set comes with a 190-page book full of images of artists like Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Alex Chilton, The Feelies and more. Plus, you get to hear rock critic Lester Bangs sing.

▪ Darondo, “Listen to My Song”: The Rolls Royce-driving, Superfly-dressing hospital maintenance worker, access-television love guru and San Francisco funk and soul singer Darondo claims he didn’t care about music. This album proves otherwise.

▪ Stanislas Tohon, “Dans le Tchink Systeme”: Called “The Soul Brother From Benin,” Tohon recorded this album in 1979, and it has been called the holy grail of Afro-soul with its mix of soul and Beninese traditional rhythms.

▪ Death and Vanilla, “To Where the Wild Things Are”: The Swedish duo of Marleen Nilsson and Anders Hansson fill a musical void for fans of Stereolab and Broadcast.

▪ Lizzy Mercier Descloux, “Press Color”: A Parisian avant-garde artist and musician, she arrived in New York in 1975 and immediately fell in with the Patti Smith crowd. Originally, this album was a bargain-bin cut-out, only proving that Descloux was ahead of her time.

▪ Joanne Robertson, “Black Moon Days”: Multitalented British artist and musician’s second album in six years leaves you hungry for more of her intense, ethereal sound.

▪ Monophonics, “Sound of Sinning”: Soul, neo-psychedelic, funk, dirty disco and old-school hip-hop, all in one album. And it works.

▪ Various artists: “Remembering Mountains: The Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton”: Dalton (a favorite of Bob Dylan’s) recorded two albums of covers in her short, tragic career. Now we get to hear her original songs interpreted by Sharon Van Etten, Lucinda Williams, Marissa Nadler and more.

▪ Isaiah Owens, “You Without Sin, Cast the First Stone”: A gritty, direct and seemingly unpolished gospel album taken from a live radio broadcast. Owens and his electric guitar sound more like the raw Delta blues musicians recorded by Alan Lomax. Yet his mission is clear.

Judy Mills Owner of Mills Record Co.

▪ Jim O’Rourke, “Simple Songs”: These are not simple songs, but O’Rourke tones down the noise and brings us songs about aging and being world-weary, etc. with intelligent humor and luxe arrangements.

▪ Neko Case, “Truck Driver, Gladiator, Mule”: No new music but the Virginian on vinyl for the first time in this glorious package got me all giddy.

▪ Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”: Find it because of its hip-hop connection, love it because it’s simply great new jazz.

▪ Bummer, “Spank”: Heavy, hard-hitting opening track will make you bang your head, but the hooks keep you till the end. Do not miss this band live either.

▪ Shamir, “Ratchet”: Guilt-free pop with a delicate vocal, but don’t worry, Shamir has an edge and this is just his first record. Can’t wait to watch his career unfold.

▪ Wand, “Golem”: Fuzzy, lo-fi and heavy with a lick of psych, but undoubtedly a Ty Segall record.

▪ Grimes, “Art Angels”: I feel like I’m watching Claire Boucher decide the voice she wants to have. Empowered, smart pop that needs to be in everyone’s headphones.

▪ Low, “Ones and Sixes”: Sure it’s slow-core, but it’s still tense and gorgeous and engaging. “Lies” (song) gets in your head and leaves you all the better for it.

▪ Joanna Newsom, “Divers”: Will not convince you if you are not a Joanna fan. But if you are, you’ll love “Divers” for being more concise but equally ethereal.

▪ Title Fight, “Hyperview”: Not the hardcore emo band you remember. This record shows a more shoe-gaze version of the band that I keep going back to.

Jeff Harshbarger Jazz bassist, host of Jazz Afternoon on KKFI (90.1 FM)

▪ Jakob Bro, “Gefion”: Quietly melancholic and understated, this is the height of trio playing for the listener who values the sublime over the pyrotechnic.

▪ Kneebody and Daedelus, “Kneedelus”: The absolute best combination of jazz and electronica this decade. Someone finally figured it out, and it’s these guys.

▪ Bob Dylan, “Shadows in the Night”: Dylan reminds us, once again, that he is a master of inhabiting a song, regardless of its author.

▪ Jack DeJohnette, “Made in Chicago”: This live recording of the free-jazz super-group including Henry Threadgill, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams is not to be missed.

▪ Liberty Ellman, “Radiate”: While his compositions are incredibly intricate, Ellman’s group performs them with a clarity of vision that is a joy to hear.

▪ Myra Melford, “Snowy Egret”: My favorite set from the Winter Jazz Festival last year, Melford’s latest outing has been in heavy rotation ever since. I’ve never heard music quite like this. Absolutely masterful.

▪ Matthew Stevens, “Woodwork”: This record has everything I like — great writing, tone, concept, group-think — a very impressive debut from one of my favorite guitarists on the scene.

▪ Rudresh Mahanthappa, “Bird Calls”: Virtuosity that borders on the overwhelming, Mahanthappa’s dissection of Charlie Parker will leave your head spinning. Equally impressive is trumpet wunderkind Adam O’Farrill.

▪ John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters”: For the completist, this is every moment recorded in the making of a masterpiece, including a booklet with all of Coltrane’s musical sketches for the session. I picked it for the live performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, July 1965.

▪ Miles Davis, “Miles Davis Live at Newport 1955-1975”: Comprising every live concert Davis performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, this is a perfect way to experience the progression of one of the most transformative figures in jazz.

Enrique Chi Songwriter/guitarist with Making Movies

▪ Kendrick Lamar (performance): It has been over a decade since a record this fearless, daring and culturally relevant was also a chart-topper. My mind was so blown away by “To Pimp a Butterfly” that I flew to watch his Kennedy Center performance with the National Symphony. Seeing this performed in a space created in John F. Kennedy’s honor after the civil rights movement was a powerful statement and only affirmed the weight of this material.

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah”: The grooves on this album push the boundaries. It sounds like “Voodoo” on an acid trip. “Really Love” intoxicated me with its nectar; I think I fell in love inside that song.

▪ Bjork, “Vulnicura”: Bjork’s heartbreak on this album is so naked and raw that it makes me feel uncomfortable. I think great art should challenge you; Bjork certainly does.

▪ Bomba Estereo, “Amanecer”: Psychedelic electro-cumbia that transcends language and culture. Their singer, Liliana Saumet, is magnetic throughout.

▪ Tennis, “Ritual in Repeat”: So few songwriters can craft melodies as sweet and infectious as Tennis has on this album. Check out the deluxe version, which includes “Mean Streets.”

▪ Wilco, “Star Wars”: This album sounds like artists free to be themselves and still excited to create music 20 years into being a band. Jeff Tweedy sounds fearless and wise.

▪ Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”: Every musician should listen to this album for the brilliant production alone. It’s the most exciting sounding rock album of the year. Producer Blake Mills is a genius.

▪ Thee Oh Sees, “Mutilator Defeated at Last”: Ten albums in, and they’ve perfected their psych garage rock. They are self-made and have truly earned their place in the scene.

▪ Natalia LaFourcade, “Hasta La Raiz”: Beautiful songwriting and another naked and honest breakup album. Check out her Spotify session performance of the songs; they really shine when her voice is supported with minimal accompaniment.

▪ Kendrick Lamar “-To Pimp a Butterfly”: This albums stands so far above the rest that I feel I need to re-iterate it. Free jazz, hip-hop, spoken word, storytelling, pop hooks and a real indictment of institutionalized racism, celebrity culture and gang violence all wrapped up into one work of art. A true masterpiece.

Ray Velasquez DJ/music programmer

▪ New Order, “Music Complete”: A true return to form. Hook heavy sans Hooky’s heavy bass hooks.

▪ Floating Points, “Elaenia”: Jazz-infused techno that’s miles ahead.

▪ Sleaford Mods, “Key Markets”: Sleaford Stranglers? I believe so, yes.

▪ Four Tet, “Morning/Evening”: Sunrise, sunset, deeply flows the day.

▪ Paul Weller, “Saturns Pattern”: The Modfather’s offer can’t be refused

▪ Tame Impala, “Currents”: Psychedelic pop that just don’t stop.

▪ Julia Holter, “Have You in My Wilderness”: Morning tea with Carole King and Kate Bush

▪ Dasha Rush, “Sleepstep”: Haunting, cinematic, electronic elegance

▪ Zenker Brothers, “Immersion”: Darkness on the edge of sound.

▪ Holly Herndon, “Platform”: Challenging, satisfying, electronic avant-groove.

Steve Wilson Music critic/commentator

▪ Libertines, “Anthems for Doomed Youth”: The greatest English band no one in America cares about.

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”: Intelligent, funny, distinctive, rocking. That’s all that matters, right?

▪ Jesse Malin, “New York Before the War” and “Outsiders”: A man has to get some cred for putting out two really good records in the same year.

▪ JD McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll”: At once brilliantly, passionately retro (the songs), and smartly, sonically po-mo (the production).

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah”: The great black music of the last half-century, personalized and made revolutionary anew.

▪ Mourn, “Mourn”: Teen angst, adult focus.

▪ Deerhunter, “Fading Frontier”: Band approaching greatness hits “cruise” and gets better yet.

▪ Kacey Musgraves, “Pageant Material”: Yeah, she’s Dolly and John Prine. She’s also Elliott Smith and Aimee Mann. It’s the combination that makes her interesting.

▪ Leon Bridges, “Coming Home”: It’s soul music. Personal and archetypal. Sounds good to me.

▪ John Zorn, “Pellucidar: A Dreamers Fantabula”: I dreamt of lyrical jazz-fusion, ace tunes and incredible musicianship. Fusion that didn’t suck.

Britt Adair Josey Records, guitarist with the Bad Ideas

▪ Really Red, “Teaching You the Fear” (reissue): I totally freaked when I heard Really Red’s stuff was going to be repressed. Easily one of my favorite punk bands of all time. First-wave punk-rock from Houston.

▪ Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Spellbound: The Collection”: An 18-song mixtape. I listened all the way through once, then played it again. Can’t get enough.

▪ Bad Future, “Nightchurch”: This EP tugs at my heart. The buildups don’t have letdowns. You’re thrown face-first through the whole thing. The two guitarists make it work.

▪ Rats Rest, “Hedonite” (single): Thoughtfully written punk rock. Some members from KCMO. Raw as hell.

▪ Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “Night Creeper”: When you’re in a darker mood and driving a sexy car. Psychedelic doom metal from England.

▪ Plastix, “Ich Bin Modern!” (reissue): 1981 Austrian weirdo punk. Reminds me of X-Ray Spex. Can’t do much else when listening to this record because it’s jarring.

▪ Ex-Cult, “Cigarette Machine”: Sassy and nasty art punk from Memphis. They have a killer drummer. Starts and stops on a dime, but then again, every band from Memphis is tight.

▪ Screaming Females, “Rose Mountain”: This band is always hard to describe, and that’s why I like it. Tuff, full-frontal female vocals with rip’n guitar licks.

▪ Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love”: A really fun group of songs. Can’t stop moving and feel like I’m 17 again.

▪ Useless Eaters, “Bleeding Moon”: Garage rock ’n’ roll that crosses over into post-punk at times. A unique collection of songs. (Listen to while drawing something.)

Duncan Burnett Musician, rapper

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”: Album of the year in 2015, easy.

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah”: A close second for album of the year.

▪ Joey Badass, “B4.DA.$$”: ’90s-flavored golden-era hip-hop with a modernized sound

▪ Bobby Caldwell, “Cool Uncle”: Love the old-school R&B vibes. They just don’t do it like this anymore.

▪ Allen Stone, “Radius”: Man, it’s just good. Listen to it. Young artist still bringing content with funk and soul.

▪ Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”: It’s the sounds and colors of the album that really get you.

▪ Duncan Burnett, “Soulcially Conscious”: You gotta love yourself before anyone else does. Good, clean, soulful intelligence in rap form.

▪ Tame Impala, “Currents”: Cool psychedelic vibes.

▪ Erykah Badu, “But You Caint Use My Phone”: It’s Erykah Badu.

Jody Hendrix Owner of Little Class Records

▪ Josh Morningstar, “Songs for Fools With Broken Hearts”: One of underground country’s fastest-rising stars. This album was recorded one-man-band style with a little added instrumentation from Dusty Rust and Tyler Giles. One smooth retro country hit after another.

▪ Tracy Huffman and the Walkingsticks, “Tracy Huffman and the Walkingsticks”: Tracy is a unique songwriter reminiscent of both Daniel Johnston and Neil Young.

▪ Missouri Homegrown, “Stray Dogs of Rock ’n’ Roll”: Stray Dogs is pure rock ’n’ roll with just a touch of country goodness. These guys embody the working-class rocker on the fringe of society.

▪ Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, “Long Shot of Hard Stuff”: Retro honky-tonk at its finest. You get a late ’70s to early ’80s feel the entire record. Smart lyrics and golden country sounds from start to finish.

▪ Pete Berwick, “The Legend of Tyler Doohan”: His sixth release is an ode to a child who lost his life, saving his family from a house fire. Somewhere between Springsteen, Cash and the Clash, this record is for fans of Americana and cowpunk.

▪ Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers, “How Am I Supposed to Get Back Home”: This record comes across somewhat rockabilly because of the fantastic one-man rhythm section on upright. But Kalish writes and sings like John Prine, Tompall Glaser and Kris Kristofferson.

▪ Julian Davis, “Who Walks In, When I Walk Out?”: This record is for fans of Pokey Lafarge, Jimmy Rogers and old-timey sounds.

▪ Shawn James and the Shapeshifters, “The Gospel According To …”: Most of the time when people talk about mixing heavy metal and country I cringe. This is not most of the time. The album mixes soul and industrial metal, and they do it with banjos and fiddles.

▪ The Hobosexuals, “Definitive Dirtbag, Vol. 1”: Like Buck Owens meets Unknown Hinson. Incredible harmonies, traditional arrangements and exemplary country musicianship. Tongue-in-cheek songs about drugs, booze, sex, religion and broken relationships.

▪ Dusty Rust, “Kansas City Cowboy”: Nothing short of perfection: country waltzes and hot hillbilly licks that make you want to boot-scoot. There may not be a better multi-instrumentalist in Kansas City.

Dominique Sanders Jazz musician

▪ Dr. Dre, “Compton”: His first album in a while, and I think he came out with all the firepower he needed to make it a classic.

▪ The Xtraordinair$, “X-Life”: I might be a little biased because I took part in this album. But it’s definitely on caliber with any top release in the last five years.

▪ Knowledge, “Hud Dreams”: Great from front to back. Plus Knxwledge and my bro Anderson Paak put out one of the best songs of 2015, “Suede.”

▪ Thundercat, “The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam”: Thundercat is one of the most creative minds in all music today and I think he delivered once again. Wish it had more tracks but still grade A!

▪ Ty Dolla $ign, “Free TC”: Ty has been one of my favorite artists for a long time, And “Free TC” brings that L.A. sound front and center.

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”: A musical masterpiece with an overall lyrical statement the world needed to hear. A classic.

▪ Drake, “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late”: Drake worked his magic once again. And this wasn’t even an album, it was a mixtape.

▪ Vince Staples, “Summertime ’06”: From the beats to the lyrical delivery, this album is all around dope. Vince is gonna be a problem in the near future.

▪ Tech N9ne, “Special Effects”: This is definitely Tech’s strongest and most creative album. Great all around.

▪ Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”: It’s always good to see jazz put back in the mainstream. And this year Kamasi and the whole L.A. team did just that.

Barry Lee Station manager, show host at KKFI (90.1 FM)

▪ Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”: Best pure songwriter album I’ve heard this year. He has hit his stride.

▪ Mikal Shapiro, “The Musical”: Her music exists in its own world, and it’s a deep pleasure to live in it.

▪ Leon Bridges, “Coming Home”: If he’s not the reincarnation of Sam Cooke, so be it, but Leon’s carrying on where he left off.

▪ Iris DeMent, “The Trackless Woods”: A labor of love: setting the poems of Anna Akhmatova to haunting music. Iris’ voice out of her usual musical context is a revelation.

▪ Rhiannon Giddens, “Tomorrow Is My Turn”: A deep exploration of American musical history with breathtaking range and depth.

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”: KC’s finest musical export goes major label and is more than up to the task. The musical synchronicity between mother and son is the sound of two souls singing and playing as one.

▪ Dwight Yoakam, “Second Hand Heart”: A rip-roaring masterpiece of rock and country music. The band plays like their guitars are on fire, and he tears through these songs with a new-found intensity.

▪ Julia Holter, “Have You in My Wilderness”: She’s beyond category, and her songs sound like no one else’s. This is music that’s impossible to take for granted. It requires your full attention and you will be richly rewarded.

▪ Richard Thompson, “Still”: The old master has lost none of his rapier dry wit, and his guitar playing still cuts to the bone. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, this is one of his best works in recent years.

▪ Bob Dylan, “The Cutting Edge”: The reissue of the year. An in-depth look at one of our greatest songwriters at work and play during the most white-hot creative years of his life. Even his cast-off rough drafts of these classic songs are worth learning from.

Joel Francis Contributing reviewer

Presented with haiku commentary.

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

Rap epic is deep

Accessible, layered, fun

We gon’ be alright.

▪ Robert Glasper, “Covered”

Joni, Bilal, Raitt

Radiohead and more — live

Ends powerfully.

▪ White Reaper, “White Reaper Does It Again”

Louisville trio

Make power-pop/garage rock

Psych-punk ear candy.

▪ Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, “Surf”

Chance the Rapper’s pal

Enlists many friends to make

Great party album.

▪ Miguel, “Wildheart”

NIN, Kravitz

Inform R&B pastiche.

Asks “What is normal?”

▪ The Decemberists, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

Portland indie band

Strips down and channels Nick Drake.

Kelly Hogan helps.

▪ Beach Slang, “Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us”

Do you miss the Mats?

Raw, introspective punk rock.

Paul Westerberg smiles.

▪ Blackalicious, “Imani, Vol. 1”

Gone for a decade

Back at the top of their game.

Welcome back, old friends.

▪ Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love”

Riot grrls return

Makes their fans forget Wild Flag

and Portlandia.

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

Aussie’s debut is

Conflicted, confessional

Nails the small moments.

Bill Brownlee Music writer/blogger, contributing reviewer

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”: His crucial examination of social strife and spiritual malaise on the murderously funky “Butterfly” defined the year.

▪ Jill Scott, “Woman”

▪ Rudresh Mahanthappa, “Bird Calls”

▪ Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, “Live in Kansas City”

▪ Vince Staples, “Summertime ’06”

▪ Valentina Lisitsa, “Plays Philip Glass”

▪ Ghostface Killah and Badbadnotgood, “Sour Soul”

▪ Torche, “Restarter”

▪ Lalah Hathaway, “Live”

▪ Tech N9ne, “Special Effects”

Mac Lethal Rapper and writer

Songs most played on my phone in 2015

▪ A$AP Rocky, “Canal St.”

▪ Jamie xx, “The Rest Is Noise”

▪ Young Thug, “Constantly Hating”

▪ Mark Ronson & Mystikal “Feel Right”

▪ Florence and the Machine “What Kind of Man”


▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

▪ Jamie xx, “In Colour”

▪ Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

▪ Tame Impala, “Currents”

▪ Tech N9ne “Special Effects.“

Kliph Scurlock Drummer with Gruff Rhys

▪ Deerhoof, “Fever”

▪ Major Games, “Major Games”

▪ Euros Childs, “Sweetheart”

▪ Sweet Baboo, “The Boombox Ballads”

▪ Yo La Tengo, “Stuff Like That There”

▪ H. Hawkline, “In the Pink of Condition”

▪ Zefur Wolves, “Zefur Wolves”

▪ Public Enemy, “Man Plans God Laughs”

▪ Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love”

▪ Tame Impala, “Currents”

Krystle Warren Singer/songwriter


▪ Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

▪ Emily King, “The Switch”

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

▪ Jacob Snider, “Carrier”

▪ Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Multi-Love”

▪ Jim O’Rourke, “Simple Songs.”


▪ David Bowie, “Blackstar”

▪ Tame Impala, “’Cause I’m a Man”

▪ Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”

▪ 2001, “Broke Me in Two.”

Chris Haghirian Ink magazine, co-host of Eight One Sixty on KTBG (90.9 FM)

10 favorite Kansas City-area releases

▪ Barrel Maker & Lion, “Continuity”

▪ The Beautiful Bodies, “Battles”

▪ The Grisly Hand, “Flesh & Gold”

▪ Heidi Gluck, “The Only Girl in the Room”

▪ Lion, “Disquiet”

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”

▪ Sara Morgan, “Easy to Dream”

▪ Sisters of., “The Serpent, the Angel, and the Adversary”

▪ The Sluts, “The Sluts”

▪ Stik Figa & D/Will, “JOBB”

Nathan Reusch Owner of the Record Machine (label)

▪ Seoul, “I Become a Shade”

▪ Tobias Jesso Jr., “Goon”

▪ Beach Slang, “The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us”

▪ Skylar Spence, “Prom King”

▪ Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

▪ Beirut, “No No No”

▪ Neon Indian, “VEGA INTL. Night School”

▪ Straight White Teeth, “Medicine Sword” (EP)

▪ Valley Hush, “Don’t Wait” (EP)

▪ Lord Huron, “Strange Trails”

Chuck Haddix Host of the Fish Fry on KCUR (89.3 FM)

▪ Buddy Guy, “Born to Play Guitar”

▪ Rhiannon Giddens, “Tomorrow Is My Turn”

▪ J.D. McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll”

▪ Steve Earle & the Dukes, “Terraplane”

▪ Danielle Nicole, “Wolf Den”

▪ Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, “Livin’ It Up”

▪ Ernest James Zydeco, “Automatic”

▪ Texas Horns, “Blues Gotta Holda Me”

▪ The Knickerbocker All-Stars, “Go Back Home to the Blues”

▪ Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet, “Acknowledgement”

Bill Shapiro Host of Cyprus Avenue on KCUR (89.3 FM)

▪ Various artists: “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes”

▪ Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”

▪ Rhiannon Giddens, “Tomorrow Is My Turn”

▪ Van Morrison, “Duets”

▪ Don Henley, “Cass County”

▪ Tom Jones, “Long Lost Suitcase”

▪ Pop Staples, “Don’t Lose This”

▪ Jerry Lawson, “Just a Mortal Man”

▪ Bob Dylan, “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge”

▪ Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Easy Skanking in Boston ’78”

Robert Moore Host of Sonic Spectrum on KRBZ (96.5 FM)

Favorite singles/songs

▪ Thee Oh Sees, “Web”

▪ The Unwed Teenage Mothers, “Ghost Hospital”

▪ El VY, “Paul Is Alive”

▪ Foals, “Mountain at My Gates”

▪ Low, “No Comprende”

▪ Gang Signs, “Stay Awake”

▪ Savages, “The Answer”

▪ Robert Forster, “Let Me Imagine You”

▪ Yacht, “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler”

▪ Destroyer, “Times Square”

Danny Alexander Music commentator/ journalist

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”

▪ The Bottle Rockets, “South Broadway Athletic Club”

▪ Ariana Gillis, “Freedom”

▪ Gary Clark Jr., “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim”

▪ Darlene Love, “Introducing Darlene Love”

▪ Whitehorse, “Leave No Bridge Unburned”

▪ Terry “Buffalo” Ware and Gregg Standridge, “Everybody’s Got One”

▪ Ashley Monroe, “The Blade”

▪ Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, “Soultime!”

Christian LaBeau Josey Records, DJ

▪ Chelsea Wolfe, “Abyss”

▪ Deradoorian, “The Expanding Flower Planet”

▪ Panda Bear, “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper”

▪ Death and Vanilla, “To Where the Wild Things Are”

▪ Adrian Young and Ghostface Killah, “Twelve Reasons to Die II”

▪ Shannon and the Clams, “Gone By the Dawn”

▪ Sheer Mag, “II”

▪ Battles, “La Di Da Di”

▪ William Onyeabor, “Atomic Bomb”

▪ Phantom Head, “Demo”

Mark Manning Host of Wednesday Midday Medley, KKFI (90.1 FM)

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”

▪ The Grisly Hand, “Flesh & Gold”

▪ The Architects, “Border Wars Episode III”

▪ Mikal Shapiro, “The Musical”

▪ Iris DeMent, “The Trackless Woods”

▪ Radkey, “Dark Black Makeup”

▪ Dolls on Fire, “Synesthesia”

▪ Pink Royal, “Taps”

▪ Mat Shoare, “Right As Rain”

▪ La Guerre, “Sapphires”

Sarah Bradshaw Music director KTBG (90.9 FM)

▪ Other Lives, “Rituals”

▪ Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

▪ Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”

▪ Samantha Crain, “Under Branch & Thorn & Tree”

▪ The Grisly Hand, “Flesh & Gold”

▪ Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, “Skeleton Crew”

▪ Kurt Vile, “B’lieve I’m Goin Down”

▪ Radkey, “Dark Black Makeup”

▪ Rayland Baxter, “Imaginary Man”

▪ Ezra Furman, “Perpetual Motion People”

Kianna Alarid Songwriter, lead singer with Yes You Are

Favorite songs

▪ Justin Bieber, “Where Are U Now”

▪ Jaenki, “Wrangler”

▪ Major Lazer feat. MO, “Lean On”

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

▪ Bob Dylan, “Stay With Me”

▪ Phases, “I’m in Love With My Life”

▪ Rihanna, “B*tch Better Have My Money”

▪ The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

▪ MIA, “Borders”

Ryan Heinlein Jazz trombinist with Project H

▪ Tigran Hamasyan, “Mockroot”

▪ Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, “Black Music”

▪ Donny McCaslin, “Fast Future”

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

▪ Becca Stevens Band, “Perfect Animal”

▪ Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”

▪ Matt Villinger, “All Night”

▪ Matt Kane and the Kansas City Generational Sextet, “Acknowledgement”

▪ Kneebody & Daedelus, “Kneedelus”

▪ Jose James, “Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday”

Hermon Mehari Jazz trumpeter


▪ Logan Richardson, “Shift”

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

▪ D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Black Messiah”

▪ Matt Villinger, “All Night”

▪ Glenn Zaleski, “My Ideal”


▪ Dayna Stephens, “Isn’t That So?”

▪ Logan Richardson, “Slow”

▪ Taylor Swift, “Style”

▪ Dr. Dre, “Animals”

▪ Sean Price, “Go, Rambo”

Lauren Krum Singer/songwriter with the Grisly Hand, Ruddy Swain

▪ Joanna Newsom, “Divers”

▪ JD McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll”

▪ New Riddim, “Second Sight”

▪ Emily King, “The Switch”

▪ Gloria Ann Taylor, “Love Is a Hurtin Thing”

▪ Vince Staples, “Summertime ’06”

▪ US Girls, “Half Free”

▪ Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly

▪ The Staves, “If I Was”

▪ Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”

Laura Lorson Kansas Public Radio


▪ Missy Elliott, “WTF (Where They From) ft. Pharrell Williams”

▪ Hot Chip, “Huarache Lights”

▪ Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”

▪ Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’ 

▪ Makthaverskan, “Witness”

▪ Open Mike Eagle, “Celebrity Reduction Prayer”

▪ The Soft Moon, “Black”

▪ Panda Bear, “Boys Latin”

▪ Speedy Ortiz, “Raising the Skate”


▪ Steven Wilson, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”

Michelle Bacon Musician, writer with KTBG (90.9 FM)

▪ Diane Coffee, “Everybody’s a Good Dog”

▪ Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love”

▪ Foals, “What Went Down”

▪ Speedy Ortiz, “Foil Deer”

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

▪ Leon Bridges, “Coming Home”

▪ Blur, “The Magic Whip”

▪ Noel Gallegher & the High Flying Birds, “Chasing Yesterday”

▪ Songhoy Blues, “Music in Exile”

▪ Thunderbitch, “Thunderbitch”

Keenan Nichols Musician, DJ

▪ Biters, “Electric Blood”

▪ Bummer, “Spank”

▪ Gang of Four, “What Happens Next”

▪ Frank Turner, “Positive Songs for Negative People”

▪ Ghost, “Meliora”

▪ The Sword, “High Country”

▪ The Wet Ones, “The Wet Ones”

▪ Keith Richards, “Cross-eyed Heart”

▪ The Dead Weather, “Dodge and Burn”

▪ Eagles of Death Metal, “Zipper Down”

Alicia Solombrino Lead singer, Beautiful Bodies


▪ Adele, “25”

▪ Mikky Ekko, “Time”

▪ Grimes, “Art Angels”

▪ Joywave, “How Do You Feel Now?”

▪ Halsey, “Badlands”


▪ Beck, “Dreams”

▪ Death Cab for Cutie, “Black Sun”

▪ Elle King, “Ex’s & Oh’s”

▪ Muse, “Dead Inside”

▪ Skrillex, Diplo ft. Justin Bieber, “Where Are You Now?”

Erik Voeks Vinyl Renaissance & Audio

▪ The Amazing, “Picture You”

▪ FFS, “FFS”

▪ Craig Finn, “Faith in the Future”

▪ James McMurtry, “Complicated Game”

▪ Dungen, “Allas Sak”

▪ Julia Holter, “Have You In My Wilderness”

▪ Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

▪ Waterboys, “Modern Blues”

▪ Deerhunter, “Fading Frontier”

▪ PiL, “What the World Needs Now”

Martin Bush Musician, DJ

▪ Jamie xx, “In Colour”

▪ Mutoid Man, “Bleeder”

▪ Coliseum, “Anxiety’s Kiss”

▪ Hot Chip, “Why Make Sense?”

▪ Killing Joke, “Pylon”

▪ Torche, “Restarter”

▪ Battles, “La Di Da Di”

▪ The Sword, “High Country”

▪ !!!, “As If”

▪ Yo La Tengo, “Stuff Like That There”

David Cantwell Author, music writer

Favorite country singles

▪ Mickey Guyton, “Better Than You Left Me”

▪ Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

▪ Chris Janson, “Buy Me a Boat”

▪ Reba McEntire, “ Going Out Like That”

▪ Carrie Underwood, “Smoke Break”

▪ Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen, “Standards”

▪ Billy Currington, “Drinkin’ Town With a Football Problem”

▪ Jana Kramer, “I Got the Boy”

▪ Ashley Monroe, “On to Something Good”

▪ Cam, “Burning House”

Mark Davis Vinyl Renaissance & Audio, sound engineer

▪ Steven Wilson, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”

▪ Lonely Robot, “Please Come Home””

▪ Killing Joke, “Pylon”

▪ Periphery, “Juggernaut”

▪ Failure, “The Heart is a Monster”

▪ Other Lives, “Rituals”

▪ Between the Buried and Me, “Coma Ecliptic”

▪ Mew, “-+-”

▪ Caligula’s Horse, “Bloom”

▪ Tesseract, “Polaris”

Billy Smith Musician

▪ Tyler the Creator, “Cherry Bomb”

▪ Major Games, “Major Games”

▪ Amason, “Sky City”

▪ Nev Cottee, “Strange News from the Sun”

▪ Deerhunter, “Fading Frontier”

▪ Beach House, “Depression Cherry”

▪ Girl Band, “Holding Hands with Jamie”

▪ Sie Lieben Maschinen, “June Gloom”

▪ Parquet Courts, “Monastic Living”

▪ Darkstar, “Foam Island”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain