Jake’s Take: The Top 16 Albums of 2016

2016 was a big year for music!

While we lost remarkable artists, hundreds of artists from four generations released excellent albums.

Hypothetically, if we counted down every album that was released, we would probably be in the middle of the Top 400s of our countdown by the time Ryan Seacrest countdowns to midnight during Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

Therefore, Jake’s Take has narrowed the field down to 16 albums and EPs from a diverse group of genres that reflects the many different flavors of our loyal readers.

That being said…Let the countdown begin!


Cyndi Lauper Detour

(Album cover property of Mutzarella Inc. & Warner Music Group)

#16: Detour-Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper’s trip to Nashville kicks off our countdown! Earlier this year, Ms. Lauper teamed up with legendary record producer Seymour Stein to fulfill one item on her bucket list: record a country music record. “Seymour suggested that I record songs from the 1950s and 1960s,” said Lauper, when Jake’s Take spoke with her in April. “This was the era that Elvis (Presley) kicked the door down, and I happen to love that period in music.” Detour features several country gems such as Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” Guy Mitchell’s “Heartaches By the Numbers,” and “Misty Blue.” Sandwiched in between the fantastic covers included  A-list collaborations with music heavy hitters including Willie Nelson (“Night Life”), Vince Gill (“You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”), Emmylou Harris (the title track), Jewel (“I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”) and Allison Krauss (“Hard Candy Christmas”).  Detour satisfied country lovers of all types and listeners felt like they were instantly transported to a Nashville 1950s honky-tonk.

Tracks to Download: Funnel of Love,” “Heartaches by the Numbers,” “Misty Blue,” “You’re The Reason Why Our Kids Are Ugly” & “Night Life.”


Peter Hollens A Hollens Family Christmas

(Album cover property of Peter Hollens)

#15: A Hollens Family Christmas-Peter Hollens

When it comes to creating A cappella music, Peter Hollens is the king. This year, the YouTube sensation released his first full-length holiday album. When Peter returned to the blog to take The Five Question Challenge in November, he shared that A Hollens Family Christmas was the result of “many long nights” putting the record together, and with the assistance of his phenomenal arranger, Tom Anderson, Peter was able to create some “unique, excellent arrangements” of some of our favorite holiday songs. Also, Peter was able to recruit some fantastic talent including his wife, Evynne, America’s Got Talent alumni Jackie Evancho and One Voice Children’s Choir, longtime collaborator Mike Thompkins and A cappella supergroup Home Free, who helped him bring this spectacular album to life.

Tracks to Download: “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Believe,” “Grown-Up Christmas List,” “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” & “Amazing Grace.”


FOX The Passion

(Album cover property of FOX & Dick Clark Productions)

#14: The Passion New Orleans-Various Artists

One album that took me by surprise was the soundtrack to the live FOX special: The Passion-New Orleans. The live television event used New Orleans as the backdrop to re-tell The Passion of Christ. The cast featured music superstars such as Chris Daughtry, Jencarlos Canela, Prince Royce, Seal, and Trisha Yearwood as they interpreted the final hours of Jesus’ life.  Music director Adam Anders (Glee) made a very courageous decision to use contemporary songs as the base that drives The Passion. Each song was perfectly picked out to represent each part of the emotional spectrum from despair (Trisha Yearwood’s “Broken”) to joy (Yolanda Adams’ “When Love Takes Over”) and also symbolized actions such as betrayal (Chris Daughtry & Jencarlos Canela’s “Demons”) and current events (Seal’s haunting “Mad World”).

Tracks to Download: “When Love Takes Over,” “Broken,” “I Won’t Give Up,” “Bring Me to Life,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero” & “Mad World.”


High Valley Dear Life

(Album cover property of Warner Music Nashville)

#13: Dear Life-High Valley

High Valley’s Dear Life is next in our countdown. Brothers Brad & Curtis Rempel are a country/bluegrass duo from Alberta, Canada and their music is a breath of fresh air in my humble opinion. Today, the duo dropped their first studio album from Warner Music Nashville, and it is one of the best country crossover albums that I have listened to all year. The songs are inspirational, the production is crisp, and the music will make you bounce in your seat. I hope and pray that High Valley conquers 2017 because their music is pure bliss.

Tracks to Download: “Dear Life,” “I Ain’t Changing,” “I Be U Be,” “Make You Mine,” “The Only,” & “Roads We’ve Never Taken.”


Dolly Parton Pure & Simple

(Album cover property of Dolly Records & Sony Music Entertainment)

#12: Pure & Simple-Dolly Parton

Earlier this year, I had the real honor to interview Dolly Parton for the second time in my career. This past August, Ms. Parton released her 43rd studio album: Pure & Simple. The album reflected her over 50+ years in the music industry and experience one universal topic that unites us all: love.  Ms. Parton is one of the last legendary wordsmiths and arrangers in country music, and her music is always filled with sage advice that Gen X, millennials, and the digital generation should listen to.  Pure & Simple is filled with many treasures and is worthy of being a part of her multi-decade legacy of toe-tapping and reflective songs.

Tracks to Download: “Pure & Simple,” “Can’t Be That Wrong,” “Outside Your Door,” “Tomorrow is Forever” & “I’m Sixteen.”


Starboy The Weeknd

(Album cover property of XO & Republic Records)

#11: Starboy-The Weeknd

It is always hard to follow up a massive album that blows everyone’s expectations away and earn countless awards and recognition. For Canadian singer-songwriter The Weeknd, he had to reach higher to top his 2015 album: Beauty Beneath the Madness. He recruited a diverse group of songwriters and producers such as Max Martin, Cirkut, Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat, The Romantics, Diplo, Labrinth, and Savan Kotecha to assist him with crafting the tracks. Also, Daft Punk, Future, Kendrick Lamar, and longtime collaborator Lana Del Rey make cameos throughout the album. The Canadian singer-songwriter continued to stretch his dark R&B sound into other musical genres such as techno pop and Hip-house.

 Tracks to Download: “Starboy,” “False Alarm,” “Rockin’,” “A Lonely Night,” & “I Feel It Coming.”


Alexander Jean Head High EP

(Album cover property of Alexander Jean Music)

#10: Head High-Alexander Jean

2016 was a big year for friends to the blog: Alexander Jean!  In addition to getting married, the singer-songwriter duo of Mark Ballas and BC Jean released their excellent debut EP: Head High, which peaked at the number one slot on iTunes’ Singer-Songwriters’ Chart. Between Mark’s energetic guitars and BC’s beautiful voice, Alexander Jean will not only attract music lovers to their exquisite party but should attract radio play across the country.

Tracks to Download: “Thief,” “Head High,” “So Bad,” “Roses & Violets” & “Whiskey & Morphine.”


Elton John Wonderful Crazy Night

(Album cover property of Mercury Records)

#9: Wonderful Crazy Night-Sir Elton John

Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin are one of my all-time favorite songwriting teams. Between Bernie’s excellent lyrics and Elton’s outstanding arrangements, they have conquered many music charts and earned numerous awards throughout their nearly 50-year-partnership. Wonderful Crazy Night continues to show the gold standard that both longtime fans and critics expect from this dynamic duo.  In addition to the fantastic tracks, Wonderful Crazy Night reunites the legendary piano man with the Elton John Band, who last recorded with the Kennedy Center Honoree on 2006’s The Captain & The Kid.

Tracks to Download: Wonderful Crazy Night,” “Blue Wonderful,” “A Good Heart,” “Looking Up,” “Guilty Pleasure” & “England and America.”


Usher Hard II Love

(Album cover property of RCA Records)

#8: Hard II Love-Usher

It is hard to believe that it took four years since Usher released his 2012 album: Looking for Myself. His eighth studio album showcased how Usher blended R&B, soul, hip-hop, and Latin together for an impressive collection of 14 tracks. The former Voice coach embraced two of his cities’ rising rap stars Future and Young Thug with “Rivals” and “No Limit” respectively, while welcoming a diverse group of collaborators such as songwriters and producers Paul Epworth, Rock City, The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, PartyNextDoor, Frank Dukes, and Raphael Saadiq, that helped Usher craft superb tunes.

Tracks to Download: “Missin U,” “No Limit,” “Let Me,” “Crash,” “Rivals,” & “Champions.

David Bowie Blackstar cover

(Album cover property of ISO Records & Columbia Records)

#7: Blackstar-David Bowie

It is hard to believe that one of the greatest rockers of all-time passed away after releasing his final record.  David Bowie celebrated his 69th birthday in a huge way by releasing one of his most interesting albums in years. For Blackstar, the “Space Oddity” singer-songwriter experimented with two genres of music: experimental jazz and art rock.  The tracks on the album are an eccentric bunch. “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” is a mellow Mission Impossible theme that could transport its listeners into a Jazz-rock wonderland, while “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” takes place in an aggressive jazz club that wants to honor the Armstrong-Fitzgerald legacy, while reluctantly trying to incorporate the modern drum sound made famous by Mick Fleetwood and John Bonham.  While this album may polarize some of his more casual fans, Blackstar was Mr. Bowie’s final opus and would secure his legacy in the music world.

Tracks to Download: “Blackstar,” “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Lazarus,” “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” & “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”


(Album cover property of RCA Records)

#6: The Definition Of- Fantasia

One of my favorite R&B/Soul artists to have come from the recently departed American Idol was Fantasia Barrino. Every time she hit the Idol stage, Fantasia told a story and with her perfect one-of-a-kind voice. Her fifth studio album, The Definition of, showcased the Season Three champion at her best. Fantasia mixed sultry and sassy on the R. Kelly-penned “Sleeping With The One I Love,” blended two musical genres (R&B and country) in “Ugly,” and channeled her inner Mary J. Blige on “Roller Coasters,” which features a sweet beat dropped by Aloe Blacc.

Tracks to Download: “No Time for It,” “Ugly,” “Lonely Legend,” “So Blue,” “Sleeping With The One I Love” & “Roller Coasters.”


Britney Spears Glory album review

(Album cover property of RCA Records)

#5: Glory-Britney Spears

Britney Spears has been one of my all-time favorite pop music artists since I was first introduced to her music when I was in Mrs. Huyser’s fourth-grade class at Indian Valley Elementary School. I have seen her go through her ups and down and several of her songs such as “You’ve Drive Me (Crazy),” “Stronger,” “3,” “Til the World Ends,” and “Scream & Shout” are a permanent part of my workout playlist.  After conquering Las Vegas, Britney has released her ninth studio album: Glory. Gone are longtime collaborators Max Martin, will.i.am, Dr. Luke, Shellback, and Stargate and in are the next generation of hitmakers such as Cashmere Cat, Sterling Fox, E. Kidd Bogart, Nick Monson, and the excellent songwriting teams of Justin Tranter & Julia Michaels and Mattman and Robin. This new generation of songwriters and producers have guided Britney into a new era of excellence that blends numerous musical genres such as R&B, EDM, and dance pop together into a spectacular album that will satisfy both the Britney Army and music lovers.

Tracks to Download: “Private Show,” “Man on the Moon,” “Clumsy,” “Do You Wanna Come Over?” “Hard to Forget Ya,” “Make Me…” & “Liar.”


(Album cover property of Hamilton Uptown LLC & Atlantic Records)

#4: The Hamilton Mixtape-Various Artists

I always have a soft spot for cover albums, and 2016 has been a great year for cover albums. However, The Hamilton Mixtape is the best cover album of 2016. Just like last year’s Finding Neverland: The Album, The Hamilton Mixtape features a diverse group of artists representing pop, R&B, soul, and hip-hop sharing their interpretation of tracks from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony and Grammy-winning soundtrack.  Rap icons The Roots team up with Joell Ortiz, Busta Rhymes, and Nate Ruess for a heart-pounding “My Shot,” while Kelly Clarkson moved fans to tears with “It’s Quiet Uptown.”  Also, Sia and Usher bring the dance hall to the 1700s with “Satisfied” & “Wait for It” respectfully. Other artists who bring the house down with their covers include Alicia Keys (“That Would Be Enough”), Andra Day (“Burn”), Jimmy Fallon (“You’ll Be Back”), John Legend (“History Has Its Eyes on You”) and Wiz Khalifa (“Washingtons By Your Side”).

Tracks to Download: “My Shot,” “Wrote My Way Out,” “Wait for It,” “Satisfied,” “It’s Quiet Uptown,” & “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).”


Sia This is Acting

(Album cover property of Inertia, MonkeyPuzzle & RCA Records)

#3: This is Acting-Sia

Ever since she collaborated David Guetta on his 2011 smash, “Titanium,” singer-songwriter Sia Furler has become the millennial generation’s Carole King.  She has co-written songs that have been performed by Beyoncé, Britney, Celine, Christina, Eminem, Kelly Clarkson, and Kylie Minogue. While some of her tracks have become chart-topping hits, several tracks were sadly rejected. However, Sia proves that one singer’s trash is another singer’s treasure in her seventh studio album: This Is Acting. With the help of several fan-favorite songwriters such as Adele, Chris Braide, Greg Kurstin and Kanye West, Sia was successfully able to tap into the emotional spectrum and take listeners on one fantastic listening experience. When the Grammy nominations were announced, I was very surprised and shocked to learn that Sia earned only two Grammy nominations for this excellent album! Hopefully, Sia will continue to rise and deliver outstanding material that will satisfy music lovers and the Recording Academy alike.

Tracks to Download: “Alive,” “Bird Set Free,” “Unstoppable,” “Cheap Thrills,” “Move Your Body” & “One Million Bullets.”


(Album cover property of Interscope Records & Streamline Records)


#2: Joanne-Lady Gaga

Attention, Little Monsters! Lady Gaga is back with her fourth solo album (technically, fifth studio album if you count her 2014 collaborative album with Tony Bennett). This was Gaga’s first venture in pop music since 2013’s Artpop, and the Golden Globe-winning actress has not lost her edge that won her one American Music Award, six Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and 13 BMI Awards. She co-wrote a bulk of her tracks with some of the hottest names in music such as Mark Ronson, Hillary Lindsay, Jeff Bhasker, BloodPop, and the man who introduced us to Ms. Gaga: RedOne! Also, keep an ear out for her duet with Florence Welch: “Hey Girl,” which might give “Telephone” and “Do What U Want,” her respective collaborations with Beyonce and Christina Aguilera, a run for their money. Lady Gaga poured every ounce of her being into these tracks and I firmly believe that her fans will not be disappointed! I cannot wait for the 2018 Grammy Awards because I think Lady Gaga will have the most nominations.

Tracks to Download: “Diamond Heart,” “A-YO,” “John Wayne,” “Perfect Illusion,” “Million Reasons,” “Hey Girl,” & “Angel Down.”


(Album cover property of Parkwood Entertainment LLC & Columbia Records)

#1: Lemonade-Beyonce

Beyonce’s Lemonade was the most talked about album of 2016! For the second time in six years, she dropped a studio album when we least expect it. Mrs. Carter recruited an all-star troop of producers and songwriters such as Diplo, Panda Bear, The-Dream, Hit-Boy, Rock City, Andre 3000 and Mike Will Made It to craft tracks for the album.  Also, this marked the first time that Beyoncé recorded with collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, James Blake and Jack White.  The tracks are edgy, and the lyrics might have hinted that there was trouble in paradise with her fellow superstar husband: Jay-Z. While Lemonade contained a lot of samples from beloved songs such as Burt Bacharach & Hal David’s “Walk on By” and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” Lemonade continues to break new boundaries in music, marketing, and video. In addition to racking up the most Grammy nominations this year (nine), Beyonce’s Lemonade earns the title of Jake’s Take’s Best Album of 2016!

Tracks to Download: “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “6 Inch,” “Freedom,” “All Night” & “Formation.”

I do not own any clips that are sprinkled in this article. They belong to the artists and their respective labels.


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