Here it is, the long-awaited list of the best albums of 2019. It has been a really great year for music. We heard from a couple of deceased legends in Harry Nilsson and Leonard Cohen, were treated with new records from Texas Honky Tonk legends Jack Ingram, Corb Lund, and Dale Watson, and bright lights shone for the first time with a bevy of new artists to discover including the one name wonders Lizzo and Yola.
Rock is not dead with White Reaper, Drugdealer and Black Country Communion all inviting us to a party like it’s 1979. And of course, the singer-songwriter is back. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, is back and better than ever and Rock is the New Roll favorite Tom Russell gave us a history lesson in 11 songs with October in the Railroad Earth.
This year we will be releasing our top 100 list 10 tasty gems at a time, so sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy the ear-pleasing top 100 records of the year.
21. The Limboos – Baia
The Limboos are pretty much the very definition of a genre-defying band. A bit soul, retro in all the coolest of ways fusing together Soul, Rumba, Jazz, Blues, Funk, and a bunch of others we are probably skipping. On songs like “Till The End Of Town,” you would bet your last dollar this was a Stax single from the ’60s. When the sax kicks in on “Where Did She Go,” the first single from the album, there is a sense that you should be in some sort of Jetsons hipster go-go bar. The vocals are front and center and the production value is first-rate with no single instrument overpowering another. And yes, they have a female drummer, as if they needed anything else to add to their coolness.
20. Brittany Howard – Jaime
Alabama Shakes front-woman steps out with her powerful solo record. Combining Rock and Soul along with contemporary beats, her debut record goes low Nina Simone Slow one minute, James Brown Funk the next with a lot of Janelle Monáe flair thrown in for good measure. Named after her sister who passed away from retinal cancer when Brittany was 9, this album is a stunner.
19. Ryan Bingham – American Love Song
With a sound that could be coming from a backwoods juke joint in the middle of Texas, Ryan Bingham along with guitar player Charlie Sexton lay down 15 tracks of Americana and Blues Boogie that will melt your frets. The album has a lived-in feel that is perfect for multiple listens.
18. Hollis Brown – Ozone Park
Named after the character in a Bob Dylan Song, this Queens, N.Y. these guys are more U2 mixed with Tom Petty and a dash of Black Crowes than Dylan. An album that is a bit more Rock than Roll, this is an extremely accessible record that will be on your regular listening rotation very soon. There is not a bad song in this basket.
17. Tanya Tucker – While I’m Living
This record was a pleasant surprise on a couple of fronts. First, the fact that we were treated with any new music at all was a revelation since we have not heard much from Tanya since her 2009 covers album, My Turn. The second semi-surprise is that While I’m Living is so darn great. Teaming up on this one with Shooter Jennings providing knob-twirling production duties, and Brandi Carlile outright writing or co-writing on the songs, a partnership made in Americana heaven was formed. Recalling Tucker’s classic albums from the ’70s and ’80s, songs like “The Wheels of Laredo,” a song that would have been superb as a duet with Mary Robbins, and “Bring My Flowers Now” show-off a scarred voice that has not lost any of its vocal power.
16. The New Roses – Nothing But Wild
This one might be the Rock and Roll record of the year. And, if this were thirty years ago most of the songs on this scorcher of a record would be in the top 10 with a bullet. “The Bullet” would have made a perfect Night Ranger ballad, “Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” sounds a bit like Bon Jovi on steroids. The choruses are huge, the hooks are everywhere and with songs that extoll the virtues of a six-pack and a radio down by the river, you won’t even need throwback Thursday to bring back the good old days.
15. Rodney Crowell – Texas
Ronnie Dunn, Willie Nelson, Billy Gibbens, Lyle Lovett and more celebrate all things Texas from the border to the oil patches, the strip bars honky-tonks. From the Piney Woods to the Rio Grande this record is almost as big as the state.
14. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Nick Cave pretty much writes every record that he delivers using what life is like for him at the time for inspiration. On this one that he started writing six months after his prior release, Skeleton Tree, he is starting to come out on the back end after the tragic death of his teenage son. Much like most of Nick Cave’s work, this record is not overly embraceable at first listen. But, once you sell yourself to the devil and immerse yourself in the beatific wonderment of this one as his heart is ripped from its cavity and presented to you, a believer you will become.
13. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Blending classic American Pop with contemporary touches, Lizzy Grant, aka Lana Del Rey has created one for the ages. Mostly low key, the songs carry a bit of a 70’s FM feel in particular on “The Greatest” where the vibe is Carole King by way of Karla Bonoff. Lot’s of Ladies of the Canyon imagery on this one especially on “Bartender.” The huge Pop hooks are pretty much gone on this album in favor of more lush and expansive soundscapes. “Venice Beach” is simply a stunner.
12. Walker Lukens – Adult
With Adult, Walker Lukens has released his most fully-formed record to date. Produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno, the album has an underlying contemporary feel to it while still maintaining its singer-songwriter soul. Secret weapon and member of his band The Sidearms, Mckenzie Griffin, really shines on several tracks, most notably on “Frankie & Bella” and “Black Matter.” Vocally, Walker can go from a Harry Nilsson croon to honeyed voice Marvin Gaye at the turn of a tonsil, and he does so often here with the ease of a seasoned professional. The production value on Adult is first-rate and there is a lot of nuance and texture for your ears to enjoy as they travel from song to song. There is a lot discover with repeated listens of this record.
11. Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
This guy keeps getting better and better with each subsequent album. Here, on his latest album following up the highly excellent 2016 release, Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka lays down a pate of Afro-Rhythms, Soul, and Funk along win an Indie-Pop sensibility. This Danger Mouse co-produced gem should land towards the front of many year-end best-of lists. including ours.
10. Yola – Walk Through The Fire
You won’t need to wander much past the first song on this record, “Faraway Look”, for this one to grab you. With pipes that would make Dusty Springfield blush along with the production fairy dust from Dan Auerbach and his Easy Eye team, this is one could have been released in 1968.