Dave’s Favorite Music of 2023

Hi all,

Here is a list of my favorite music of 2023, the songs, records, and concerts that inspired me, brought me joy, and made every day brighter through their presence. I hope you find something new to dig – please let me know if you do! Best wishes for a peaceful, healthy, and music-filled 2024.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs of the year.

Peter Gabriel – i/o
Peter’s first record of new music in 21 years (!) released at age 73 (!!) is a stunning, thoughtful album that alternately celebrates and expresses concerns for this strange world we live in. Recorded with his key collaborators from over the years – Manu Katche on drums, Tony Levin on bass, and David Rhodes on guitar – i/o absolutely stands up with his best work. It’s worth spending time with the two sets of mixes, Bright-Side and Dark-Side (the latter done by the brilliant Tchad Blake).  

You’ll Dig If You Dig (YDIYD): C’mon, it’s Peter Gabriel!

Mark Guiliana – Mischief
Mark is one of the best drummers in the world and a fantastic composer. He has done amazing work in jazz (his own quartet, Brad Mehldau, Donny McCaslin, Gretchen Parlato, and Avishai Cohen), in rock (David Bowie, St. Vincent), and in electronic music (his Beat Music project). I’ve had the good fortune to study drumming and composition with Mark for nearly four years. Mischief is a follow-up release to 2022’s The Sound of Listening, which made last year’s top ten list. I’ll quote from the press release because it sums it up better than I can: “Effortless and flowing, this is music by a band of eight years standing at its most spontaneous.”

YDIYD: Classic piano-sax jazz quartets returning from the future with thoughtful melodies and incredible collaborative playing.

Donny McCaslin – I Want More
Donny McCaslin’s band is best known for serving as David Bowie’s collaborators on his final masterpiece, Blackstar. That same lineup – Donny (sax, flutes), Jason Lindner (synths), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and Mark Guiliana (drums) – returns here for a powerful, deep work that captures the band at their compositional and improvisational best. In Donny’s band and in their own projects, these guys have been a mainstay in my rotation for the last eight years, and they’ve reshaped how I think about drumming and composition.

YDIYD: Bowie’s Blackstar, classic dub, the boundaryless approach of late period Miles Davis

The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
Let’s be clear: I’m not handicapping for age or sentimentality here. This is the Stones’ most vibrant work since 1986’s Dirty Work. The guitars crackle, Steve Jordan takes over for the departed Charlie Watts and drives the rhythm, and they once again sound like a band having fun in the studio. “Whole Wide World” is my theme song of 2023.

YDIYD: C’mon, it’s the Stones, mate!

Jeff Babko/Tim Lefebvre/Mark Guiliana – Clam City
A live record of three Grammy-nominated artists led by pianist/keyboardist Jeff Babko blazing over two nights in a Los Angeles club. There is nothing more thrilling to me these days than hearing brilliant musicians improving while at the tops of their games. This is available only at the record label’s website – go here for more info. You can find a taste of the record on YouTube.

YDIYD: The Bad Plus. Thelonius Monk in a trio and dropped in 2023 after he spent the time in between listening to Kraftwerk.

GoGo Penguin – Everything Is Going To Be OK
GGP have always existed in a sublime space between jazz piano trip and Aphex Twin-inspired electronic soundscapes. Moving into a new chapter after the departure of original drummer Rob Turner, the band leans more into their chill, meditative electronic side while still retaining much of the rhythmic drive of their previous records.

YDIYD: Portico Quartet, Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Aphex Twin producing the Neil Cowley Trio

Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band – Kings Highway
Brian Blade is one of the most in-demand drummers in the world, having recorded and toured with Joni Mitchell, Wayne Shorter, Norah Jones, Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, Emmylou Harris, Bill Frisell, Joshua Redman, Daniel Lanois, and so many more. He’s one of my favorite musicians – seeing him play with Black Dub was the first of three key moments that led me back to drumming after 25 years on guitar. A photo of him smiling while blazing on the kit is on the wall across from my drums. Brian is also an excellent composer and Kings Highway finds him and his longtime band in fine form with their unique style of pastoral, layered jazz.

YDIYD: Bill Frisell, Ron Miles, the mellower side of Joshua Redman

The Tubs – Dead Meat
I discovered this record via a year-end best-of list and immediate fell for it. It’s jangly indie rock that hits on some familiar touchstones without ever sounding derivative.

YDIYD: Johnny Marr, The Go-Betweens, a bit of Bob Mould

Paint – Loss For Words
Spotify recommended this record to me and for once, the algorithm did not disappoint. The lead guitarist of The Allah-Las trades his band’s psychedelic garage rock for moody, bubbling instrumental that draw on nodding at lounge music, krautrock, and dub.

YDIYD: Stereolab, Thievery Corporation, Air

Bruce Cockburn – O Sun O Moon
I began this list with a voice – Peter Gabriel’s – that always comforts me and I’ll end it the same way. For me, Cockburn’s voice is like a warm blanket and tomato soup on a cold winter day. It’s gotten gruffer with time – he turned 78 this year – and it still retains the warmth and depth of his classic years. As always, Cockburn balances between social commentary and introspective songs. What a titan.

YDIYD: Richard Thompson, Greg Brown, Patty Griffin, Leo Kottke

  • Jon Dee Graham – Only Dead For A Little While
  • The Church – The Hypnogogue
  • Get The Blessing – Pallett
  • Blur – The Ballad of Darren
  • bar italia – The Twits
  • The Pretenders – Relentless
  • Grian Chatten – Chaos For The Fly
  • Foo Fighters – But Here We Are
  • Ian Hunter – Defiance Part 1
  • Jimmy Deveney + the Hold Fast Union – High Desert Soul

My new band, Radio Free ABQ, debuted in January and quickly found our footing in the local scene. With a five-piece band spanning nine instruments, it’s a blast to write with a bigger box of crayons than ever before. Our record will be out in late spring/early summer. You can find us at our website, Facebook, and Instagram. I’m also planning on a solo project with hopes of getting it out before the end of 2024.

In chronological order, and in Albuquerque or Santa Fe unless otherwise noted.

  • Solo appearance on Brandon Kennedy’s show on KUNM radio with a surprise guest appearance by Artha Meadors – 01.26.23
  • Mark Guiliana Quartet at The Outpost – 03.01.23
  • The Reelers (an Irish band I’m in with an all-star group of friends) at Canteen Brewhouse – St. Patrick’s Day
  • Bill Frisell at NM Museum of Art – 03.20.23
  • Crawdaddy Music Festival at The Mine Shaft (Madrid, NM) – 03.20.23
  • Los Lobos at The Bridge – 08.12.23
  • Ghost Ranch Music Festival in Abiquiu, NM, including Spoon, Yola, Japanese Breakfast, and The Breeders – 08.25-26.23
  • Donny McCaslin Band at The Outpost – 09.21.23
  • The Church at Lensic Theater – 10.07.23
  • Peter Case at Fusion – 11.11.23
  • Radio Free ABQ at Canteen Brewhouse – 11.12.23 (my favorite of our shows this year)
  • Mark Guiliana solo at Zebulon (Los Angeles) – 12.18.23
  • So many great local shows — I’m not mentioning names for fear of leaving anyone out

A bit skewed, as this counts music I listen to for relaxation or work as well as for musical enjoyment.

  1. Calexico
  2. GoGo Penguin
  3. Los Lobos
  4. R.E.M.
  5. Bill Frisell
  6. Spoon
  7. U2
  8. Latin Playboys
  9. Miles Davis
  10. Bob Dylan
  11. Peter Gabriel
  12. Mark Guiliana
  13. David Bowie
  14. Bruce Cockburn
  15. John Coltrane
  16. Sting
  17. The Church
  18. Morphine
  19. The Clash
  20. Paul Weller