The 20 Best Paste Studio Sessions of 2017

Paste recorded more than 500 unique live performances this year, from newcomers to hall of famers. Here are our favorites.

Music Features
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 20 Best Paste Studio Sessions of 2017

Paste recorded more than 500 unique performances in our New York Studio during 2017, showcasing just about every kind of music in the process. Some of our artists were legends, like Taj Mahal, Bill Frisell and Steve Martin, who brought their devoted audiences to us. Others were baby bands seeking an introduction to the listening public. In every case, our Midtown recording library, with its perimeter of concert master tapes going back over 60 years, helped coax inspired performances from singer-songwriters and 10-piece Afro-jazz orchestras alike—well over 1,000 musicians in all. Choosing our favorite Paste Studio sessions was obviously a difficult, painful process, with spirited debate shifting into outright argument as we narrowed them down. Here are the 20 that stood out in our collective memory.

20. Native Sun
Dec. 20
Every 15 years or so, right when you think New York City has finally forgotten how to sprout great roll bands from its concrete soil, a crew like Native Sun comes along to remind everyone that the anarchic, wild spirit of the city cannot be killed, no matter how many J. Crew branches open up downtown. This quartet from Brooklyn has been around for all of six months and positively gives no fucks—and that’s what you need in a young band: hunger, amplifiers, and something to scream about. Watch these guys shred, and remind yourself why you loved rock ‘n’ roll in the first place. —Matthew Oshinsky

19. The Drums
June 14
Abysmal Thoughts , which arrived June 16, is packed with delightful hooks offset with a familiar doom-laden whimsy that only Jonny Pierce could balance so well. As Paste noted in our review of The Drums’ latest album, Pierce “wrote every song and plays all the instruments, but each sound is so distinct that one might think a whole mess of session players are packed in the studio with him. The resulting sound is simultaneously lo-fi and electro-dreamy, as though Morrissey found a magical reverb unit that gave him three wishes.” At Paste, the newly solo Pierce went minimal, with just two guitars and light drums backing his elegant tales of doomed love and cold blood. —Matthew Oshinsky

Read: The Drums’ Jonny Pierce Talks About Making Art From Abysmal Thoughts

18. Grace Vanderwaal
Jan. 23
The 13-year-old America’s Got Talent winner starred in Paste’s most-watched session video of the year, flooring us with her soulful, wise-beyond-her-years vocals and delicate strums of the ukulele. Most impressive was her cover of Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” which she played for on guitar for the first time ever—that is, she was playing the guitar for the first time ever. Vanderwaak also played “Gossip Girl” and “I Don’t Know My Name,” from her 2016 EP Perfectly Imperfect. —Matthew Oshinsky

17. Durand Jones & The Indications
Aug. 28
When these Midwestern soul throwbacks started playing at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, leader Durand Jones was a budding saxophonist with no plans to sing. Then he got in front of a microphone at an undergrad party, and plans quickly changed. With a tingling rasp that screams James Brown and coos Otis Redding, Jones simply has to be heard to be believed on these vintage R&B pleas. On singles “Smile” and “True Love,” the Indications back him with tight rhythms and street-corner backing vocals. And on “Is It Any Wonder,” soft-spoken drummer Aaron Frazer steals the mic for a falsetto ode to his sweetheart. —Matthew Oshinsky

16. Steve Earle
June 13
So You Wannabe an Outlaw, Earle’s 2017 record with his longtime backing band, The Dukes, marked a stylistic return to his 1986 debut, Guitar Town, which almost singlehandedly launched an era of alt-country outlaws. More than a reclamation, though, Outlaw imbues a more fluid application of his roots attack and tattered romanticism. Earle went solo for his Paste session in June, showcasing his rare ability to play the part of hard-bitten Texas narrator in the grand tradition of outlaw country music with three new songs: “Lookin’ for a Woman,” “The Girl on the Mountain,” and “So You Wannabe an Outlaw.” —Matthew Oshinsky

Read: Steve Earle: On the Trail of an Outlaw

15. Ani DiFranco
June 9
When Ani DiFranco first visited the Paste Studio back in November 2016, three days after the presidential election, the room felt bleak. Shock had yet to subside, heads were down, and even the sanctuary of music felt marginal and useless. DiFranco returned to Paste in June to mark the release of her 20th studio album, Binary, and along the way she reminded us how music can both heal us and push us forward. In one word, she said: “Hopeful.” “Alrighty” was poetic and sarcastic; “Binary” was stripped back from its funky studio incarnation to a spare acoustic format, but with all the vibrancy coursing through it; and “Zizzing,” a track featuring Justin Vernon on the record, served as a quiet and haunting way to cap the performance. —Natalia Barr

Read: The 11 Best Ani DiFranco Songs

14. Songhoy Blues
Sept. 27
Formed after a jihadist militia took over their homeland in the north of Mali and forced them south to the capital of Bamako, Songhoy Blues capture the spirit of global musical fellowship with an uplifting combination of Western blues and traditional West African music. Inspired by B.B. King and The Beatles as much as Malian legend Ali Farka Toure, the quartet—the first African group signed to Atlantic Records in 40 years—can boogie with the best American bands, yet never lose sight of the violent conflicts that led to their formation. This is both the pain and joy of blues music, wrapped in the swathe of an unquenchable artistic thirst. Their second album, Resistance, was released in June, and tackles much of the history that forced their exodus. Watch the band play “Sahara.” —Matthew Oshinsky

13. Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
Aug. 16
Guitarist-composer and sonic innovator Bill Frisell paid a nearly 45-minute-long visit to Paste with his bass-playing partner, Thomas Morgan. Together, the two brilliant instrumentalists danced around and with each other on tunes from their new ECM recording, Small Town, showing an uncommon empathy and a conversational chemistry on the title track, as well as Morgan’s beautiful “Pearl,” an intimate reading of John Barry’s James Bond theme “Goldfinger,” and a highly interactive rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.” —Bill Milkowski

12. Colter Wall
May 16
The 22-year-old Canadian troubadour with a jaw-dropping Johnny Cash bass performed tracks from his debut self-titled record, which was one of our 50 favorite albums of 2017. His third song of the day, “Kate McCannon,” resurrected the traditional murder ballad, telling the story of an honest guy who quits his rambling to settle down with his beloved, only to find her out by the creek with another man. After some mild cajoling, Wall also offered a chilling rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Snake Mountain Blues,” which also appears on his debut. —Natalia Barr

11. Nai Palm
Oct. 5
“I wanted to make something really raw and simple and direct and emotional,” Hiatus Kaiyote frontwoman Nai Palm proclaimed of her debut solo album, Needle Paw, at Paste. Armed with Michael Jackson (that’s the name of her guitar), the singer-songwriter swept through the Studio to perform a stripped-back session showcasing her new sound. Fans of Hiatus Kaiyote, the future-soul quartet that burst out of Australia in 2012, may be in for a shock. Although Palm’s preternatural guitar work and emotional performance are ever-present, much of Needle Paw strips away the lush instrumentation found on Hiatus records in favor of just a guitar, a voice, and some light accents here and there. Few solo artists commanded the room this year like Nai Palm. —Matthew Oshinsky

Recently in Music