BEST OF 2023 – Bob Bannister (Radio Host/Voice Guy)
You can find the Collective List as well as all our Best of 2023 content including contributors’ individual lists, podcasts and radio DJ shows here: CGCM’s Best of 2023 (Year in Review)
Seasons Greetings and New Year Salutations to all you beautiful Rockaholics and CGCM Rock Radio Faithful. How is it possible that we are already at the end of another year? And, as 2023 draws to a close already, I am completely gobsmacked at the speed with which the year has slipped by. So, I feel that the only fitting response to this is to quote my favourite sportscaster of all time, the late, great Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, “Ho-lee Cow!”
The end of another calendar year also means that it is time once again for the annual CGCM Rock Radio lists of our DJs/Writers’ Top 10 favourite albums of the year. Now, as many of you have come to expect, my list has traditionally been “the most commercial list” of all our staff lists. While this year brought us some solid submissions from the likes of Dokken, Winger, Extreme, L.A. Guns, Alice Cooper, Mammoth WVH and Metallica, not a single one of those albums have made it to my list this year. Yes, Rockaholics, you read that right.
I, Bob Bannister, have been successfully deprogrammed from the grip of commercial radio and the draw of the major record label. And while all those groups put out some great music in 2023, I felt that they did not, nor could not compare to the music that has come from what I believe to be the healthy, hungry next generation of Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Classic Rock. So, in effect, what you are about to read are the impressions and reflections of a listener and music junkie reborn.
2023 offered A LOT of phenomenal albums, and at one point, I had a list of over 200 albums I was seriously considering for my top ten, but thankfully, 190 albums were eliminated, and the cream rose to the top. But as always, I do need to offer some most honourable mentions.
Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons – Kings of the Asylum. This is an absolutely amazing album from the band that rose from the ashes of the mighty Motorhead. A most fitting tribute to Lemmy and his legacy, indeed.
Black Star Riders – The Wrong Side of Paradise. Another legacy band, this one rising from another one of my favourites, Thin Lizzy. It is safe to say Phil Lynott is looking down on this band and is proud of what they have achieved.
Jose Ferro – Of Darkness and Desire. The album that really started me digging my way out of commercial hell. Thank you, my friend. You have helped to open my eyes to an absolutely massive world of music that 99.9% of the world will never hear.
And finally, I would like to give the biggest amount of thanks and gratitude to you, the Rockaholics, CGCM Rock Radio Faithful as well as my brethren and sisters here at CGCM Rock Radio for indulging this curmudgeonly old broadcaster’s addiction to the best industry in the Universe, and encouraged (and sometimes forced) me to explore new music. Thank you.
So, now that I have blathered on for most of a page, I can already feel that some of you have already skipped ahead to my list. That is not a bad thing, I am just as excited to bring you my Top Ten of 2023 as you are to receive it.
DEAD MAN’S WHISKEY – In the Storm
A band I did not discover until literally two months after the release of their sophomore album, In the Storm. Going into my initial listen to this album from the 5-piece London, UK-based band, I was not expecting a lot, I broke the cardinal rule and was judging the album by the cover and was expecting to be met with kitschy pirate-based rock, I have never been SO glad to have been SO wrong.
The sound this band has built draws upon the rich heritage of European and British-based hard rock and heavy metal. Listen close enough and you’ll hear the influences of Maiden, Priest, Scorpions and Whitesnake without being a clone of any of those bands.
While the whole album clocks in at 49 minutes in length, aside from the intro, there are ten songs that I found enjoyable to listen to and kept me coming back to this album for the short time I have been exposed to it. Stand-out songs: “Masquerade”, “Do or Die”, “Digging For Fame” and “What’s Your Name”. If the music scene in London is represented by these 5 lads, damn, that city is in good shape.
THORSLUND – Thorslund
Last year, 2022, we had Montreal-based, Deraps, a 3 piece outfit that brought us party-ready, in your face 70’s influenced rock. 2023 brings us Thorslund. An L.A.-based trio consisting of brothers, Jeff (guitars and vocals) and Tom Thorslund (drums), who were born and raised in Southern Ontario and Charles Horin, an L.A.-based bass player, who are bringing us fresh party-ready 70’s influenced rock, minus the Van Halen riffs.
Jeff’s guitar skill has more of an Aerosmith/Montrose/Nugent/Zeppelin feel with a touch of Southern Rock, all the while maintaining a fresh sound unique to the trio. Vocally they are closer to Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes but with close harmonies that only come from years of making music with family.
The shortest album on this list, with only 8 songs, it clocks in at a mere 26 minutes, but it is 26 minutes you will thoroughly enjoy.
Stand-out tracks: “Firecracker Man”, “Hours To Go”, and “Armageddon Tonight”. This is a short album, so press repeat and enjoy. Let’s hope we get some more fresh offerings from this trio soon.
MISS VELVET – Traveler
This is an album that grabbed me and shook me hard. Sitting on the sofa having Sunday morning coffee with my wife and scrolling through social media and coming across a post for this young lady’s music, following the link for a listen and my wife stopped what she was doing to ask “Who is that? I like her, she’s good.” I trust my wife, she has good taste, she was the one who introduced me to Dorothy and Beth Hart.
The former frontwoman of Miss Velvet and the Blue Wolf released her debut solo album on November 10 and it has quickly become one of my favourites. I knew quickly that this album was going to be in my Top 10.
This talented young woman has the voice of Janice Joplin with a touch of Robert Plant mixed with the swagger of Mick Jagger, the lady is all rock star and has surrounded herself with musicians capable of supporting the sound of bands every one of us grew up listening to, all the while maintaining an image fresh and relevant to 2023.
If I must pick some songs from this almost perfect album, I have to choose “High Like an Aeroplane”, “Traveler”, “Zumirez” and “Lovin In The Afternoon” (Advisory, you may need a drink, cigarette and shower after that one).
Advice… Headphones are a MUST for your first listen of this album if you haven’t already discovered this one.
LA CHINGA – Primal Forces
My number 7 spot belongs to another Canadian power trio, this time hailing from Vancouver, this time with a Chicano name, La Chinga. A name that came about when bassist/vocalist Carl Spackler was surfing in Southern California and his Chicano beach buddies kept hailing each other with the mysterious phrase: “La chingaaaaa!” Drawing heavy influences from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and MC5 this trio has developed their own sound all the while allowing their ’70s influences bleed through.
It’s no secret that my first musical love has been ’70s hard rock and metal, so, when I stopped to have a listen to this, it was a no brainer, La Chinga were a hit with me, and their third album Primal Forces has stuck with me. It opens to the sound of a car crash before launching into a sonic barrage of the power chords that powers the song “Light It Up”, my favourite on the album, but it doesn’t stop there, the remaining 9 songs are equally as fun, especially “Rings Of Horsepower” and “Electric Eliminator”.
It would be fun to get a modern taste of the friendly rivalry that existed between Rush and Triumph, as to who was the dominant Canadian power trio, but this time between Thorslund and La Chinga.
ACE MONROE – Ace Monroe
There was a time when a band was from Nashville, it meant one thing. That band played one or both types of music played at the infamous Bob’s Country Bunker, “Country AND Western.” Thank God those days are long gone and now Nashville is known as a city responsible for amazing music of all genres.
Such is the case with Ace Monroe what you get with this band is straight-ahead, unapologetic rock that you not only can groove to but can dance to. Another short album, with just 8 songs and only clocking in at BARELY over a half hour in length, this self-titled debut album leaves you wanting more, so flip it over and play it again. There are no bad songs on this album, but “The Hangman”, “Bad News” and the lead off-track “Lightning” really are the standouts for me.
This is a band that will undoubtedly be going places, but the best place to see them will always be some dingy, beer-soaked, smoky dive bar that is packed to the rafters every Friday and Saturday night.
PRIMAL MOON – Ain’t Gonna Change
Hailing from Chicago, Illinois comes a band that promotes itself as “Your friendly neighbourhood rock band.” This would be a cool tagline on its own, but add to the fact that, on the cover of this album, lead singer, Joe Brunker, has a striking resemblance to 1980’s Ron Howard, complete with mustache and in my opinion actually becomes slightly funny.
Joking aside, this album rocks. I have been very impressed with it since my first listen. These guys have been relentlessly honing their craft since forming 5 years ago under the name Blu Vision. The result of having spent an entire year in the studio crafting this album, their dedication to each and every song on this 9 song collection shows. There are no clunkers or skippers on this one. If you enjoy straight ahead classic rock-sounding rock then, “This One’s For You.” which coincidentally, is my favourite track on this album. Pick any other song from this album, be it the opening track, “Spinning” or the closer “Burn,” there is little wonder why this album received repeat play from me.
ART OF DYSFUNCTION – Art Of Dysfunction
Back in October when I discovered this band, I stated that in my honest opinion, Australia had given us an honest heir to AC/DC’s throne. I still believe that 100%, and I will add to that statement. Along with the Southern River Band and a few other bands coming to us from Auz, the Australian Hard Rock scene is very much alive and extremely healthy.
Art Of Dysfunction, the self-titled debut from this Aussie quartet is so strong it could easily hold down the top spot on this list, in fact, aside from the top spot, the rest of my Top 5 could be interchangeable.
The thing that grabbed me right out of the gate about this album was the guitar sound this band has developed. Dirty, and grungy, yet crisp and clean if that makes sense. This is straight ahead good old-fashioned hard rock in the vein of some of the 70’s and 80s greats. I cannot say enough good about this band and this album, so, do yourself a favor and have a listen to the debut album from Art Of Dysfunction, your ears will thank you.
Stand-out tracks, honestly, I would like to submit the entire track listing, but if I have to pick 3: “Left Handed Cigarettes”, “Before The Moment Dies” and “Bedford Blues”.
BLACK ROZE – Penny For Your Sins
The sophomore album from UK-based Black Roze was released in April and has been a dark horse favourite for my Top Ten since then. This Kent based four piece have offered up a tasty 11-song album full of ever-changing styles from Rock to Metal, to Goth, to Classic Rock and a singer, Viixen, who at one moment is sounding like Gwen Stefani in her No Doubt days (before No Doubt sold out) the next, like Marianne Faithfull.
But it works and don’t ask me how, it just does. The rest of the band are just as amazing. The fretwork of Baz Roze, while not a flashy player by any means, he is a skilled player who really proves this on the song “Not Your Whore (Anymore)”. The rhythm section of Steve Rankin, on bass and Vic Finch, on drums is tight and fits perfectly into this outfit.
Other songs I keep coming back to on this album:
“Wake Up”, this song features a slap bass intro and fills, as a former bass player, that gets me every time.
“Penny For Your Sins”. The title track is the most aggressive on the album and the intro reminds me of a song by some recently animated retired rockers…
KING KRAKEN – MCLXXX
This album dropped WAY back on January 27 and was the FIRST on my 2023 Top 10 list and it has come and gone several times, but when it came to crunch time, I had to put it on the list. This album is that damned good.
Coming at us from Cardiff Wales, this band is touted as the Welsh’s answer to Clutch. Now seeing as MCLXXX (1180 in regular numbers) is their debut album, I have to say that is a big deal. These 10 tracks, 47-minute-long album kicks some serious ass, there is not a single song that makes your hand reach for the skip button.
The band comprises of the gravel-throated, roaring, prowling bear Mark Donoghue, the thunderous timekeeping of Richard Lee Mears who locks in tight with bassist Karl Meyers and rhythm guitarist Pete Rose (Thank God not that Pete Rose) to provide the platform that virtuoso guitarist Adam Healey offers up his stellar lead breaks.
What, aside from the entire album stands out for me? “Man-Made Monster”, heavy aggressive, loud and a thinly veiled retelling of my favourite monster story, Frankenstein.
“Walls of Jericho”, could be a certain metal-loving Canadian Wrestler’s entrance music. Full of aggression and energy, a fun song to say the least.
And finally, the third track on this album, “Green Terror”. I LOVE the riff this song opens on; I need to make it the ringtone on my phone.
ELEGANT WEAPONS – Horns For A Halo
The brainchild of Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner. This supergroup offered forth their debut album Horns For A Halo back in May. I had heard rumblings of this album early on then forgot about it. That is until YouTuber, rabid music collector and fellow metal head Brendan Snyder talked about it on his channel. His synopsis was that while it was a great album, not many people would pay attention to it because it was from a “Supergroup.” I am happy to see that has been far from the truth.
The other members of this Supergroup consist of, vocalist Ronnie Romero, from Rainbow, Vandenberg and Michael Schenker’s band. Drummer Dave Rimmer of Uriah Heep and Christopher Williams from German Metal veterans, Accept on bass.
Horns For A Halo, for me, is as close to a perfect album as a band can get. Ten extremely well-crafted and produced songs that flow seamlessly from one to another, making the passage of its 53-minute run time feel like mere moments. This was one of the albums on my “Lawn Cutting Playlist”. I love this album. That is why it is my number one. And therefore also the reason why I will not pick any stand-out tracks since I love every song on this collection. My only wish is that we get a follow-up, maybe in 2025.
Well, Rockaholics and CGCM Rock Radio Faithful, there it is. The Top Ten albums as seen through the dirty glasses of yours truly, Bob Bannister. As promised, a list devoid of big record companies and big-name bands. Thank you for indulging me and for urging me to explore outside of my comfort zone in the much bigger universe of music than I was used to.
Check out my other articles here. Bob