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www.sablues.org gets Jerome Douvendahns to survey some of the so called top album covers of 2016
and present his choice of top album covers

Over this holiday break I have been reflecting on ALBUM COVER DESIGNS. A number of music sites and blogs at this time of the year list their top designs. I thought I would do the same and present some of the album covers that have caught my eye this year. I know this is a ‘roots and blues’ site but I am going to cast my discerning eye across a variety of genres in pursuit of some truly outstanding album cover designs.

It is an interesting challenge to focus on the creative and design qualities of a record cover and not be influenced by one’s regard for the music on the record and by the musician/s performing on it.  Pick a genre of music that you absolutely distain. OK Heavy Metal it is. View a selection of record covers from that genre. Would they make it into your list of top designs? Objectivity is difficult.

Heavy Metal, love it or hate it, it this a good album cover?
The design is stereotypically “Heavy Metal”. The red cross is my addition. I know it improves the design but I wanted to clearly designate designs that are not outstanding. Perhaps the hallmark of a good album cover design is that it alludes to the music on the album.  This design would not get in my top 100 covers regardless of the genre.  

This one would! It is stylish, elegant and haunting.

Speaking of things stylish and elegant. This album (it is not Heavy Metal, but one that featured in this year’s podcasts) caught my eye. It has style and elegance with a dash of WTF! This cover is making my 10!
Escondido - Walking with a stranger
Escondido - Walking with a stranger

Back to Heavy Metal. Hey this one might make it into my top 100 also. Psychedelia with a dash of Gustave Klimt. Not bad for heavy metal album cover.

What about Hip Hop and R&B? Now this is where my objectivity will get seriously tested. How about some of these designs? They made it into “The 15 Best Hip-Hop & R&B Album Covers of 2016” at http://djbooth.net

Hmm. This clumsy collage doesn’t do it for me at all.

Hmm. Nice dress! Beautiful hues. Young Thug has perhaps missed his calling.

What about J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only? Sadly it is not for my eyes.

What about this one? Ugly isn't it. Guess what? It has just scraped into my top100.

According to the old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Does the same hold for an album and its cover?  Maybe. Take this terribly schmaltzy cover design on one of the landmark recordings in 20th century popular music.
You would have to be a goat if you bought this album based on its cover.

Then again, think of some other major recordings of the 20th century and now consider their cover design. The converse is true isn’t it? Great albums have great covers like this one. Therefore you can judge a record by its cover!

I have often claimed that you can judge a record by its cover! I know that some of my favourite records also sport some of my favourite covers. I think this has been the case with some of the album designs nominated this year! In other words, the popularity of the musician may have overly influenced the judge’s vision! How on earth could this design make it into a list of this year’s top album covers? Oh it’s the latest Kayne West album. That explains it.

Now I am going to confess to some biases that I have about cover designs. I am tired of seeing stagey, theatrical and glossy photos of musicians as wannabe movie stars on the cover of albums.

Cyndi how could you?

Ellie how could you?

Hang on! Who is this? Not sure. Interesting textures. Captivating image and it has made its way into many of the lists of 2016’s Top Album Covers. Jeez. This might just make it into my Top 10 also.

So I don’t like stagey, theatrical and glossy photos of musicians as wannabe movie stars on the cover of albums. That probably explains why I Iike this one. It is definitely in my Top10. Good on you Julie.
Julie Rhodes - Bound to meet The Devil
Julie Rhodes - Bound to meet The Devil

Now if you want to be on the cover of your album in an artistic and unpretentious way, Elise Davis shows you how.
Elise Davis - The Token
Elise Davis - The Token

Here is one that I thought would surely make those lists also. It didn’t. Why? I think it is clever, captivating and engaging. It has strange echoes of a Norman Rockwell painting. I am certainly putting it into my list of top album designs.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers - The Getaway
Red Hot Chilli Peppers - The Getaway

OK. OK. It is time to lay my cards on the table. What are my top album covers for 2016?

In the BLUES GENRE this design is head and shoulders above the rest. A grainy image of a shot gun shack with a dobro guitar on the front porch does the job nicely. Not sure about the need to add the heart with the flames.
Mike Eldred Trio - Baptist Town
Mike Eldred Trio - Baptist Town.

In the ROOTS GENRE it is this one. Sometimes less is more.
Don Morrison - Fly Away
Don Morrison - Fly Away.

This was the cover that received the votes from many design gurus and pundits in 2015.
David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock
David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock.

Drum roll please.
Regardless of the genre, here is the RUNNER UP for the best album cover design of 2016. A meteorite storm over a mysterious landscape. I had never heard of the artist. I had no idea about the genre but this cover roped me in and motivated me to listen to the album.
Mikael Lindt - Intentions and variations
Mikael Lindt - Intentions and variations

…and as indicated in one of this year’s podcasts here is the best album cover design of 2016 as judged by Jerome Douvendahns. Interesting to note that this and the runner up both fearture paintings on the cover. The painterly and brushy rendering of these "super heroes" on a smoke break in a back alley somewhere is a gem.
Richard Shindell - Careless
Richard Shindell - Careless.