David Bowie – The Next Day Extra
I’m glad that I listened to so much Bowie last year. It brought the news of his death home to me in a more powerful way that might not have otherwise happened. This was his penultimate album, released in a deluxe 2-CD set. Bowie’s voice sounds, frankly, better than it ever has on this album. He’s aged into a beautiful kind of gravitas.
David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
This career retrospective comes in various editions; be sure to get the three-disc version. It covers Bowie’s entire career, up to his last pre-Black Star single and back all the way to his first “billed as David Jones” single. You really get to hear Bowie’s voice shift and change over his career and it’s a strong reminder of just why this guy was a legend.
Chance the Rapper – Acidrap
Chance the Rapper delivers the goods on this brilliant mixtape. He has a strange, tremulous voice at times and an off-beat delivery style that works with the production perfectly.
Roger Daltrey – Live at Leeds
Daltrey surely needs no defense as a vocalist at this late date. On this live album, you get to hear him at his best, maintaining an epic roar of pure passion over a nearly two-hour long concert. Powerful, awe-inspiring, brilliant.
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
I listened to a lot of early Dylan this year and it really brought up the degree to which Dylan was master of his voice. As his style shifts and changes over the years, his vocal style does as well. Here, he’s operating in a strange, whining tone that screams above the music perfectly. And then, after three sides of that . . . who could deliver a song like Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands in a voice like that? Only Dylan.
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
Bringing It All Back Home features Dylan’s most tonally varied singing of his first several albums. From motormouth rock singing to quiet, luminous ballads, this album finds Dylan suiting his voice perfectly to the dueling influences of rock and folk. If you’re not sure why Dylan’s one of the greatest singers of all time, start with this album.
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
After his strident first album, this album is a real revelation. Dylan has found his groove and his singing on this album is quiet, assured, never flashy or overly aggressive. Dylan’s found his space, after a disappointing first album, and that’s nowhere as evident as in the quiet vocals. And this album features some of the best phrasing he’s ever done as well.
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Dylan’s first full rock album called for a new vocal approach and Dylan is up to the task. Neither as quiet as his usual folk singing nor as aggressive as the singing he’ll do on Blonde on Blonde, Dylan manages to spit amazingly complicated lyrics at incredible speed, his rasp fitting right into the cacophonous musical backing.
Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
On John Wesley Harding, Dylan eases into a down-home country style. His singing here is endearingly simple, surprisingly smooth and yet brilliantly phrased. A bigger change from Blonde on Blonde is hardly imaginable.
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a-Changin’
On an album entirely taken up with protest songs, Dylan channels Woody Guthrie even more than usual, letting his voice drift into a harsher tone than on Freewheelin’, but still refusing to be strident or wheedling. And if you don’t know what phrasing is exactly, listen to The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll for a masterclass.