John Bergstrom of Edina:
1 Michael McDermott, farmhouse concert in Wayzata. He’s an amazing songwriter from Chicago. His songs are not light, but real, and deeply moving. Two tracks on his latest CD “Willow Springs” stand out: “Butterfly” and “Shadow in the Window.”
2 Martin Zellar, house concert in Edina. Remember the Gear Daddies? This was their leader plus his pals on lead guitar and drums. Great music, intimate setting and memorable stories of Zellar’s encounters ranging from Muhammad Ali to Prince. Zellar, who now lives in Mexico, returns to the Midwest a couple of times a year.
3 The New Standards, the Dakota. Their holiday shows are fun to be sure, but what better way to ring out the year than with the trio up close. I’ve seen them many times, but “Goldfinger” (yep James Bond) was new, and John Munson’s story about Santa as a lead in to “Up on the Roof” was funny — and perfect.
Jon Bream of the Star Tribune:
1 Rolling Stone magazine cover subjects. Not only has the longtime cultural bible celebrated its 50th anniversary and revamped its format and periodicity (it’s a glossy monthly now), but the recent cover subjects have been reflecting what’s popular in pop culture — namely Travis Scott, Cardi B, Migos and Shawn Mendes — instead of old standbys like Bono, the Stones and Springsteen. Moreover, the cover stories have been colorful, informative and entertaining.
2 The Bad Plus, the Dakota. With new pianist Orrin Evans making his Twin Cities debut, the veteran jazz trio featured a limited set list over eight shows, but the newcomer has locked in with drummer Dave King and brings a fuller, funkier sound.
3 The Jayhawks, First Avenue. Aided by guest Kraig Johnson and the horn section from the Suburbs, the Twin Cities’ signature Americana group nicely balanced new and old tunes and even mixed in a Golden Smog nugget. Always a December treat, especially since frontman Gary Louris moved to North Carolina about a year and a half ago after four decades in Minnesota. Highlights in the 27-song set: “I’d Run Away,” “Settled Down Like Rain” (Louris solo), “Nothing Left to Borrow” and, of course, “Blue.”