One of the best debut albums of the year, Foxwarren, a band of childhood friends now living in various provinces around Canada, have a loose casual sound that is part Indie Rock and part Psychedelic. There is a smoothness throughout the record that allows Andy Shauf and his bandmates space for the music to breath. “To Be” is a pastoral beauty, and “Everything Apart” is a great driving tune.
024. Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
When Americana Royalty, one a Blaster the other a Flatlander, come together to make music together the result is pure magic.
023. The Mother Hips – Chorus
Fans of the San Francisco Bay Area band The Mother Hips were over the moon ecstatic when they were treated to a new record. Newcomers to the group that flies somewhere between Tom Petty and the Grateful Dead will be even happier to discover their favorite new band that has a very rich back catalog.
022. Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians – Rocket
Not very far from one of the best albums in their career, this new record by Edie Brickell is fresh and bursting with energy. “Exaggerate” and “I Don’t Need a Man” are show stoppers. Anybody that can rhyme prison cell with hypno cell has got to be on top of their game.
021. Asleep at the Wheel – New Routes
Taking a bit of a break from their Bob Wills traditional mainstay tunes, the kings of Western Swing have released a true Americana record. The current line-up of Asleep at the Wheelers is a rock solid unit with one boot on the dance floor and the other in the back of a dimly lit bar having a drink with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown.
020. Amy Helm – This Too Shall Light
Her version of Mandolin Wind is the centerpiece of a wholly satisfying album. The daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm doesn’t mess around here. “Odetta” and “The Stones I Throw” are as good as songwriting gets.
019. JP Harris – Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing
While he is starting to establish himself as a bit of an Outlaw Country bad boy, JP Harris is one hell of a songwriter. “JP’a Florida Blues #1 is a scorcher, and “I Drink Alone” could have easily have been a Merle Haggard tune.
018. Amanda Shires – To The Sunset
One of two husband and wife teams to make the list with separate albums Mrs. Jason Isbell has crafted the best album of her career. The musicianship is over the top good, the songwriting is stellar, and there is even a little Rock and Roll thrown in on “Eve’s Daughter.”
017. Church of the Cosmic Skull – Science Fiction
As you would expect from a seven-piece band from Nottingham, U.K., there are a lot of sounds to come from this group. Multiple harmonies and keyboards, the vibe is Kansas meets The Alan Parsons Project by way of Yes. Sometimes different is not better, but that is not the case here. “Cold Sweat” is pound for pound one of the best songs of the year.
016. Lera Lynn – Plays Well Will Others
On her latest record, Lera Lynn enlists a stable of Falcon’s Nest favorites including Rodney Crowell, Shovels and Rope, John Paul White formerly of The Civil Wars, Nicole Atkins, and Dylan LeBlanc among others.
015. Shannon Shaw – Shannon In Nashville
Any album that spins the hip sounds of the 60’s pretty much is guaranteed to have our ear-tention. Produced by Dan Auerbach, the vintage sound he creates on this record brings to mind Dusty Springfield at the peak of her powers.
014. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Mrs. Ruston Kelly lifts her Emmylou inspired voice to new heights with this excellent album. “Space Cowboy” is in the running for song of the year, and “Slow Burn” is not far behind.
013. Joshua Hedley – Mr. Jukebox
One of a handful of artists that are bringing the “classic” to the resurgence of classic Country to the Americana scene. The Honky Tonk album of the year, the song “Mr. Jukebox” is a timeless masterpiece that would make Faron Young blush.
012. The Devil Makes Three – Chains Are Broken
More Wet Willie than Lynyrd Skynard, these Southern rockers are putting the Country in Country Rock. With an expanded sound that now includes a drummer, Chains Are Broken is a fun set of mid-tempo rock melded with breezy ballads.
011. Cody Jinks – Lifers
Outlaw Country is alive and well and living in the very essence of Cody Jinks. There really is no logical reason, other than he does not live in Nashville, that this guy is not as big as Chris Stapleton.
010. Howlin’ Rain – The Alligator Bride
Blues Boogie Meets Classic Rock, the latest effort from Howlin’ Rain brings to mind the very early pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers.
009. The Essex Green – Hardly Electronic
Take a listen to “Sloane Ranger” by The Essex Greene and you might be listening to the song of the year. The entire album simply sparkles with happy organ riffs and perfectly produced male-female vocal interplay. “Don’t Leave It In Our Hands” would have been a perfect duet vehicle for Billy Idol, and “Waikiki” would have played quite nicely with any of those early ABBA hits.
008. First Aid Kit – Ruins
First Aid Kit jumped on the scene singing new songs that sound old and this trend continues on Ruins, their fourth L.P. “Fireworks” has a girl group Phil Spector quality about it and on “Rebel Heart” the vocal harmonies freelance a bit which is a good countermeasure to the otherwise pristine production.
007. Nicki Bluhm – To Rise You Gotta Fall
At first listen, with titles like “I Hate You,” “You Stopped Loving Me,” and “Last to Know,” Nicki Bluhm’s break up record seems to somewhat of a Debby Downer listen. But with more careful reflection there is a lot of depth to be absorbed. The title track is one of the songs of the year and “Battlechain Rose” is as good a piece of songwriting as you will have heard in a long while.
005. Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Nightsweats – Tearing at the seams
This one has to have been one of the most anticipated records of the year. Having scorched the festival scene with their unique brand of Rock and Soul. “Hey Mama” might be the song of the year.
004. Lucero – Among the Ghosts
Thankfully these road dogs took time our from a 200 dates a year touring schedule to lay down a record this year. A lot more tight and concese that we are used to from Lucero, the band seems to be in lock step laying down their Bruce Sprogsteen by way of the Drive-by Truckers of Rock and Roll direct from America’s heartland.
003. The Struts – Young and Dangerous
With all due respect to Greta Van Fleet, if any band is, The Struts are the saviors of Rock and Roll. Rock is not dead it has just inhabited the body of lead singer Luke Spiller, Freddie Mercury on steroids. Anthems abound on this one. “Bulletproof Baby” and “Body Talks” would have worked well at Live Aid and ‘Somebody New” is a bit more nuanced than the rest of the tunes and might be the best song on the record.
002. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Years
A great set of ragged Honky Tonk song, Sarah Shook sets the stage on fire standing tall with Lydia Loveless, Nicki Lane, and Margo Price. The opener “Good as Gold” is a perfect introduction to a talent that should be much more famous.
001. Ruen Brothers – All My Shades of Blue
The title track might be the best song of 2018. Elvis, Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers all wrapped up into one deliciously retro listen. “Walk Like a Man” should have been a Sun Records single.
049. Jesse Dayton – The Outsider
One of the best session guys in the business today, Jesse Dayton steps out on his own to deliver a fine set of where did I go wrong vignettes. “Killer on the Lamb” is a “Long Black Veil” worthy murder ballad, and “Charlottesville” is one of a couple of political statement songs.
048. Richard Swift – Hex
Known mostly as a producer for Foxygen, The Shins, Kevin Morby, Damian Jurado, and many others, Swift delivers an intense set of songs that dive right into the heart of the soul. With lyrics like “My name will go missing but my name will be still there,” it’s almost as if he had a premonition that he would die due to complications from alcohol abuse shortly after this record was completed.
047. Sonny Smith – Rod For Your Love
Shades of Matthew Sweet and late-era Beach Boys, Sonny Smith, the head honcho for Sunny & The Sunsets, steps out on his own for a Power Pop spectacular album. Produced by Dan Auerbach in his Nashville studio the guitars have a fifties Sun Records flavor to them.
046. Whitey Morgan & The 78’s – Hard Times and White Lines
With Waylon gone, there are only a handful of real bonafide Outlaws left to carry the torch. This record is full of Honky Tonk gems, “Honky Tonk Hell,” “Hard to Get High,” and “Bourbon and the Blues” just to name three.
045. Horse Feathers – Appreciation
The mostly Americana band has turned a bit towards Stax-era Country Soul on their sixth album. There are flashes of John Fogerty and Sturgill Simpson swirling around everywhere.
044. Brent Cobb – Providence Canyon
Stepping out of his super producer brother Dave’s shadow, Brent Cobb has his moment in the Laurel Canyon sun with this laid-back set that features hints of Jackson Browne, Drive-By Truckers and 70’s Outlaw Country
043. Caroline Rose – Loner
Caroline Rose is a woman that is wholly comfortable in her own skin. Her latest record is full of observational vignettes centered around making a go of things in a complicated world. “I got a bicycle I’m cruising down the street, I like to keep it loose and freaky in the sheets.” On “Soul No. 5” she really shines full of soul and swagger.
042. Doc Robinson – Ring of Love
Think Crosby Stills and Nash without the Young for the best description of this record that will take you back to your Pure Prairie league days.
041. Sam Phillips – World On Sticks
Hard to believe this is her first proper release in five years, but it was very much worth the wait. From the Spanish guitar on “Different Shades of light” to the almost Western feel of “Roll ’em,” every song is a textured gem that stands out on its own.
040. Frank Turner – Be More Kind
The light-hearted touch to this album is a refreshing antedote to an otherwise turbulent world. “Don’t Worry?” tells us not to let our hearts turn into stone and not to give up if we just can’t get our way, and the title track should be a mantra for us all.
039. The English Beat- Here We Go Love
Not quite the English Beat as you might remember, and probably should, love, front-man Dave Wakeling has assembled a new band that carries the torch in quite fine fashion. The Pop, R&B and Jamaican rhythms lay down an infectious groove that would make Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw proud.
038. Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (Part 2)
Not quite as bombastic as its prequel Dirty Pictures (Part 1), this set of Jerry Lee-style piano warblers is a fitting example of what one of the best live acts on the planet can deliver to your ears now playing in a venue near you.
037. The Wilde – Gunning For You
Another living and breathing example why Rock and Roll is not dead and never will be. There are echoes of early Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, and Guns ‘n’, Roses rocking everywhere on this one.
036. Anderson East – Encore
A much more than a suitable follow-up to his 2015’s Delilah, on his latest record East lays down some cool Muscle Shoals sound courtesy of super producer Dave Cobb who brings out the vintage Soul from a timeless singer.
035. The Dirty Nil – Master Volume
The Dirty Nil plays pure uncompromising Rock and Roll. Master Volume, their latest record, is a more mature album than what we are used to from these guys, but there are still hooks galore to sink your ears into. Part Oasis, part James Gang. and part Clash, it is songs like “Pain of Infinity” that will steal your Rock and Roll heart.
034. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Poor Until Payday
If there is an album that will debunk the rumors that Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is just a kick-ass live band that doesn’t translate well to vinyl, Poor Until Payday should be the one. Sort of Mississippi John Hurt by way of ZZ Top and Bukka White is probably the best way to describe this band of warriors that play close to 300 shows per year.
033. Ruston Kelly – Dying Star
As good as Dying Star, the debut album from Ruston Kelly is, he may not have released the best album in his own household. That honor would go to wife Kacey Musgraves, but more on that later. Dying Star is a terrific record. Within the Country Folk skeleton presented here, there is a certain vulnerability that comes through in his fine gritty voice. Early Ryan Adams comes to mind. “Paratroopers Battlecry” and the mournful “Blackout” would have fit in just perfectly on any Whiskeytown record.
032. Jimmy LaFave – Peace Town
Peace Town, the latest and last record released by Jimmy LaFave is a 20 song set that includes two reinterpretations of previously released songs along with covers from a variety of influences ranging from Chuck Berry to Pete Townshend, to Bob Dylan.
031. Luke Winslow-King – Blue Mesa
On his fourth L.P. for Bloodshot records, Luke Winslow King seems to have found his stride. From the John Lee Hooker inspired Blues Boogie of “Thought I Heard You” to the hauntingly beautiful title track, everything about this album is inspiring. “After the Rain” has a real Mark Knopfler vibe going for it and “You Got Mine” will remind you of later day Eric Clapton.
030. Robbie Fulks and Gail Lewis – Wild! Wild! Wild!
At first listen, the pairing of Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis may seem a bit odd. But stay with this one and what you get is one barnstormer of a record. From honky-tonk piano to Sun Records guitar licks this is a fun record. The opener “Round Too Long” sets the rock-a-billy stage and “I Just Lived a Country Song” bridges the gap between Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Garth Brooks all in the span of one song.
029. Marianne Faithfull – Negative Capability
Playing forward a life well lived, Marianne Faithfull’s latest, and hopefully not last, album is a carefully curated road trip from the early days with beautiful new versions of “As Tears Go By” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” all the way to her nod to her own mortality on “Misunderstanding.” Nick Cave even pops in for a cameo on “The Gypsy Faerie Queen.”
028. Aaron Lee Tasdan – Karma For Cheap
Every song on this solid set of Psychedelic Pop could have easily been included on either a solo John Lennon album or a Travelling Wilbury’s record.
027. Dawn Landes – Meet Me at the River
There is a vintage 80’s country feel to this record that comes across as genuine and is very appealing. Dawn Landes has a delivery that can be compared to K.T. Oslin with a side order of Dolly. “Southern Girl” and “Travelling” are two of the best country songs you will hear all year.
026. Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Town
Our covers album of the year, Muscle Shoals: Small Town Big Town celebrates the music recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. From the Country tinged Alan Jackson cover of “Wild Horses” to Aloe Blacc’s stunning spot-on rendition of “I’ll Take You There,” everything about this record is great. Steven Tyler’s “Brown Sugar” is Aerosmith worthy and Keb Mo’s “Road of Love” is about as fitting a tribute as you can get.
025. Black Coffee – Take One
To some, a band that goes all in with their love for 70’s good old-fashioned retro-tinged Rock and Roll should be a one and done listen. In the case of Black Coffee when it is done so well and without a hint of irony, your ear-tention is not only warranted, it is demanded.
074. Reef – Revelation
This very aptly named record has shades of Steely Dan, Kansas, Toto, and Joe Cocker. Really? Yes really, and it’s amazing.
073. American Aquarium – Things Change
Singer-Songwriter BJ Barham is the musical tour-de-force behind American Aquarium. On this set of Alt Country gems, he lays down a set of slower tempo reflective tunes that seem to be a perfect antidote to a poisoned world.
072. Rosanne Cash – She Remembers Everything
It has been too long since Rosanne Cash released a record, but her latest was very much worth the wait. Still spinning rich and detailed storyboards “8 Gods of Harlem” featuring guest vocals from Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello is worth the price of admission alone.
071. Belle Adair Tuscumbia
Recorded in the famed Muscle Shoals studio and mixed in Wilco’s loft in Chicago, Tuscumbia has a lot of musical pedigree to fall back on. There is a distinct flavor of Wilco, The Byrds, and mid-era REM flowing in the very DNA of this excellent album.
070. Beach House – 7
The record is called seven. It was released 2/14 and 2+1+4=7. The 11 songs on the album bring their entire catalog to 77 songs, and the initial label release number was 777. Numerology aside, this is an entrancing listen best enjoyed while enveloped in the glowing embers of incense.
069. Lucy Dachs – Historian
A stable-mate at Matador Records with Julien Baker, Dacus delivers a crystalline set of songs that touch on broken relationships and personal loss.
068. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Written over a two week period in a suite at the Omni hotel in downtown Nashville John Prine is at his observational best. John Prine is a national treasure.
067. Christina and the Queens – Chris
Glossy and R&B tinged this one is Madonna meets Prince with a dose of Michael on the side. “Feel So Good” with its provocative subject matter might be the centerpiece, but “5 Dollars” puts the stamp on what is one of the smartest records of the year.
066. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
This one might be the debut album of the year. Going back a couple of decades to The Smiths, The Strokes, Sonic Youth and even Television, this one is heavy on the guitars and three singer harmonies. If you are from the cool side of the pond this one should be right up your alley.
065. H.C. McIntyre – Lionheart
The lead singer of Mount Moriah steps out on her own with a set of songs mostly recorded in her living room. The stellar contributions from Indigo Girl Amy Ray, Tift Merrit, and Mary Lattimore only make an already great album even better.
064. Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
This supergroup includes Danny Wilson, Robin Bennett, and Tony Poole. The album represents everthing that is good about music. Tight harmonies, jangle guitars, and a chemisty that slices through the air like a double rainbow. The band sounds like they have been playing together for a long time with a love for the Byrds, Crsoby Stills and Nash, and the Laurel Canyon sound coming through on virtually every song.
063. Lake Street Dive – Free Yourself Up
Mining the same territory as St. Paul and The Broken Bones and Alabama Shakes the band doesn’t stray too far from the Jazzy Blues template. But, when it is done this well there is a level of sweet forgiveness that is more than satisfying.
062. Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds
A bit of Pink Floyd Via Alan Parsons driving through the night. When he is not producing for Father John Misty this Laurel Canyon denizen is making pure Psychedelic Pop of the highest order.
061. Rosali – Trouble Anyway
Only her second album, Philadelphia based songwriter Rosali has crafted a style that is sensual, immersive, and somewhat sprawling in the best of ways. “Rise To Fall” is an 8-minute compelling tour-de-force that puts her musician first guitar chops on full display.
060. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Better than her last record, if that is even possible, there are tones of Neil Young along with 90’s Indie Rock sensibilities sprinkled all around this record. A bit darker than we are used to from this Aussie, but Courtney continues to captivate.
059. Cowboy Junkies – All That Reckoning
Six years from the last record, their new release just might be their best record since the 30-year-old The Trinity Session. It’s that good.
058. Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
Brandi Carlile is a Canadian national treasure. “The Joke” end “Every Time I hear that song are just two favorites on this high-quality set of songs.
057. Anna Calvi Hunter
With this, her long-awaited third album, Calvi doesn’t disappoint delivering her strongest set yet. Channeling Patti Smith one minute and Scott Walker the next, Nick Cave probably has this one his on frequent spin on his turntable.
056. Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens
On the short list of bands that just might be saving Rock and Roll. This one is meant to be listened to at maximum volume. “I Need a Doctor” might rip the hair from your skull and the title track is an angry piece of Rock and Roll that is bristling with the type of energy that would make Tesla proud.
055. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Look Now
Look Now is one of the finest Elvis Costello albums in years. This one has all of the touch points. Beautiful ballads, “Don’t look now,” Uptempo Rockers, “Under Lime,” and Burt Bacharach-inspired tunes with “I Let The Sun Go Down.” There is even a Carole King co-write on “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter.” This one will move up your own personal list with multiple listens.
054. Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing
When Willie Nelson puts out a record we are contractually obligated to include it on the best of the year list. And, when he puts out two albums in the same year, well there are decisions to make. And the winner is Last Man Standing edging out My Way only because it is a set of original songs, and yes, Willie’s still got it.
053. Chris Stills – Don’t Be Afraid
The apple doesn’t fall far from the Stephen Stills tree as demonstrated on this Laurel Canyon tinged beauty of a record. Every song is LA fun in the sun friendly, but “This Summer Love” stands head and palm trees above the rest.
052. The Nude Party – The Nude Party
Full of Austin Powers fun and swagger, The Nude Party would have been a hit in 1969. “Chevrolet Van,” their ode to life on the road is worth the price of admission alone.
051. Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People
Just lock yourself into the “Low Rider” dance vibe of “Don’t You Know I’m In a Band” and you will want to check out what is around the next corner. This one is a dance fever eclectic listen that will leave you wanting more.
050. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Filled with guests the likes of Bryan Wilson, Pharrell Williams, and Grimes, this semi-concept album will take you down some pretty eclectic wormholes.
Another tremendous year of music is just about in the books with a lot of notable releases to consider. Rock and Roll is definitely not dead and Great Van Fleet didn’t even make this years list while De Wolff, The Dirty Nil, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever definitely did. Hybrid groups were denitely front and center this year with Bennett Wison Poole making the list along with the Sleater-Kinny spinoff band Bat Fangs both making appearances on the list.
Country of the Classic (Charley Crockett and Joshua Hedley), and Outlaw varities (Cody Jinks and Whitey Morgan) were very well represented as were the girls with Kacey Musgraves, Amy Helm, and Nicki Bluhm all releasing great albums.
The sounds of the rockin’ 70’s were well represented with the band Black Coffee coming in high, and the 80’s hair metal sounding Thunderpussy carreened onto the scene as well.
Now, as we turn the page in anticipation of 2019 The editorial staff of The Falcon’s Nest and Rock is the new Roll wish you all………..Good Rockin’ Tonight!
100. Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue
The band’s second record shows a group maturing right before your very ears. With Pop undertones displaying a real Fleetwood Mac meets The Go Go’s sensibility.
099. Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy
Get past the silly band name and treat yourself to some real Rock and Roll. These chicks are one of the best real Rock bands going gender be damned.
098. Buffalo Tom – Quiet and Peace
The quieter and gentler Buffalo Tom proves they can still rock out a bit while still maintaining their semi shoegazing appeal. The cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York” is worth the price of admission alone.
097. Rick Parfitt – Over and Out
The Status Quo guitarist leaves a posthumous release that is highly crafted with an ear to classic Queen Brian May style melodies. Parfitt’s first and only solo record is a Pop marvel. There is a bit of a Travelling Wilbury’s vibe going on here as well, and that’s never a bad thing.
096. Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers
The Gaslight Anthem frontman continues to shine on his own with this fine set of scaled-down story anthems that would make Springsteen proud.
095. Erin Costelo – Sweet Marie
With a voice that floats somewhere between Britney Howard of Alabama Shakes with hints of Nina Simone, Canadian songstress Erin Costelo should be on your musical radar in 2018 and beyond.
094. Bat Fangs – Bat Fangs
Bat Fangs is a spin-off band rising from the ashes of Ex Hex while Ex Hex sprung from the loins of Wild Flag and Wild Flag was a Sleater-Kinney spin-off band. If you can absorb all that, now just sit back and enjoy this female empowered hair metal throw-back band that takes influences from Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and The Bangles into one heck of a fun listen.
093. Supersonic Blues Machine – Californisoul
Just don’t call them a supergroup. Kris Barras, Fabrizio Grossi, Kenny Aronoff, and Billy F. Gibbons share their love of the Blues and good old Rock and Roll with the rest of us mere Mortals. Throw in Walter Trout, Steve Lukather, and Eric Gales and you go from good to great.
092. The Marcus King Band – Carolina Confessions
This more than strong set of soul-influenced psychedelic Southern Rock features a guitar prodigy coming of age right before our ears.
091. The Magpie Salute – High Water I
Former Black Crowe Rich Robinson has assembled a gypsy crew of wandering countrified minstrels for their first all-originals album. This one is pure no-frills Rock and Roll.
090. Bettye Lavette – Things Have Changed
When one of the best interpreters of song covers the works of one of the best songwriters as she does here on this Bob Dylan tribute, it is time to just sit back and listen to the magic.
089. DeWolff – Thrust
With 70’s vocals as the main course and a greasy Hammond organ as an appetizer, this one from the Dutch trio DeWolff is a gamechanger. This is prime-era Classic Rock at it’s riffing and over the top best. Every note of this record sounds like it could have not been recorded any later than 1978. When you have an over the top lead singer in Pablo van de Poel, a kick-ass guitar player in brother Luka, and a Hammond organ is thrown in for good measure the result is Rock and Roll at its finest.
088. Elle King – Shake The Spirit
With Shake the Spirit, the latest record from Elle King, she takes pretty much of a scorched earth policy to her life struggles and her marital woes. Jumping genre trains, following up her monster single “Exe’s and Oh’s” with a country duet with Dierks Bently, there is no sophomore slump for this daughter of Rob Schneider.
087. Oh Pep! – I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You
A reward awaits with multiple listens of this Pop-Folk Album. When Billy Bragg met this Aussie duo at a music festival he said, “I’m not your hero, I’m your peer.” If ABBA decided to become serious songwriters they might sound like these guys.
086. Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie
Matthew Houck behind his monicker Phosphorescent has created a musical landscape that at once Americana and pastoral. The move to Nashville has not scourged the creative juices with “New Birth in New England” standing tall as one of the songs of the year. Stunning is the only word to describe the non-Christmas song “Christmas Down Under.”
085. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
Kurt Vile is perfectly capable of embarking on a minute’s long psychedelic mind warp like he does on “Bassackwards” with lyrics that contain phrases like “buried deep in the sake of my soul,” but he is at his best when he just lays back and chills with the rest of us circa song number 6, “Rollin’ With The Flow.”
084. Sister Sparrow – Gold
Big, Bold, and sometimes over the top bombastic, this is contemporary Soul-Pop at it’s finest.
083. Dana Fuchs – Love Lives On
Come for the bluesy stripped down version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” but stay for the stellar scorching blues of “Backstreet Baby” and the Bonnie Raitt stylings of “Sittin’ On”. Dana Fuchs is the best female blues singer you may never have heard of.
082. Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa – Black Coffee
The pairing that is Blues Rock heaven take the chemistry to the studio once again for a guitar and vocal tour de force. The title track cover version of the Humble Pie song is worth the price of admission alone.
081. Janiva Magness – Love Is An Army
12 really cool songs that delve deep into both Americana and Soul. Janiva is filling the gap Sharon Jones left behind.
080. Luke Winslow King – Blue Mesa
Eric Clapton meets Chris Isaak on this fine Blues Rock set of songs. Opener “You Got Mine” could have been on the Slowhand record and the title track is a beautifully understated stunner.
079. Israel Nash – Lifted
Shades of “Helpless” era Neil Young and “Holland” vintage Beach Boys this is a soaring Pop symphony of the highest order.
078. Charley Crockett – Lonesome as a Shadow
Allow yourself to settle into his voice a bit and you will be rewarded. Charley has an old school Country vibe to him that will take you back. Smooth and soulful, this record sounds like it was recorded at Muscle Shoals. Once the saxophone solo kicks in on “Aint Gotta Worry Child” you will be in for the long haul.
076. Traveller – Western Movies
Calling these guys a singer-songwriter supergroup would be highly dismissive of the group Traveller, a band that features Cory Chisel, Robert Ellis, and Jonny Fritz. The resulting collaboration works to sweet harmony perfection.
075. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain
This is an album of characters. Mostly written from her experiences behind the bar working as a bartender between albums, the tales she weaves are common man troubled woman vignettes that are worth multiple listens. With a voice that brings to mind Linda Ronstadt from the early days, she lets you enter her world of cheap motels, diners, and dives. “Two Cold Nights In Buffalo” should be at least on of the top five songs of the year.
With 70’s vocals as the main course and a greasy Hammond organ as an appetizer this one from the Dutch trio DeWolff is a game changer. This is prime-era classic rock at its riffing and over the top best.
Right of the bat, the addition of producer Ted Hutt who has knob twirled for Dropkick Murphy’s, The Gaslight Anthem, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones is paying major dividends. The production value is top notch as the band sings of redemption and ruin against a Western Noir backdrop that captives and sucks you in. There is an early Byrds echo throughout the record with some heavy Ryan Adams influence.
The song “Paint My Face” is a song that captures all that is good with this band and their own unique style of Americana. The 60’s jangle guitar flows effortlessly into three piece harmonies that caress the song perfectly, and “All Is Quiet” is a slow burn stunner of a song.
The new record represents a bit more of a sophisticated approach for the band with the addition of Stefan Amidon to make them an official three piece band, hence the name. The change and more polished sound may not put the band in favor with some of their ardent fans that are used to their ramshackle live shows, but heck, even The Replacements had to grow up.
The real beauty of this record is the way that the band weaves different styles and tempos into eleven songs that fit perfectly as a whole and also stand individually as individual artistic entities. Just listen to “Castles” and you will see the light.
With a spot already reserved on our best album of the year list, Take One, by Ohio Rock and Rollers Black Coffee is a musical force to be reckoned with. Sure, Greta Van Fleet is getting a lot of hype for sounding like, perhaps too much like, Led Zeppelin, but save some room on the saviors of Rock and Roll medal stand for lead singer Ehab Omran, guitar player Justin Young and drummer Tommy McCullough of Black Coffee.
Every song on this record is good, some bordering on great. “I Barely Know Her” could have been a Montrose “Bad Motor Scooter” era hit, “Hurricane” is a fast rocking uptempo driving tune that could have been an outtake on Appetite For Destruction, and the highly excellent “Born to Lie” sets your hair on fire with Bon Scott era AC/DC fury. Even when they go down low and slow like they do on the epic “Traveller” they wear the Zeppelin jacket patch but never stray too far from their own Black Coffee vibe.
These guys even put on their best Black Sabbath shroud channelling their inner Ozzy Osbourne on “Psychedelic Red,” one of the most fun tracks on the record. Listen closely and you will be able to here the faint hint of a cowbell on “Fade,” and on the mostly instrumental closer “Away” there is even a whiff of the band Boston in the air. The guitar solo on this one is worth the price of admission alone.
Now, forget everything you just read, especially the part where comparisons are made to Rock and Roll bands from the 70’s. These guys are their own dudes, with a sound and spirit, that is supremely unique. A cap is certainly tipped in the direction of the past, and the influences on this record are present and accounted for on most of the tunes. But, taken as a whole and digested in it’s entirety in one sitting, the verdict is in. Black Coffee might not be the Ghosts of Rock and Roll past, or even the Saviors of the genre and the torch bearers of the future. What they are is one hell of a compelling Rock and Roll band and exactly what we need right now in 2018.
To Rise, You Gotta Fall is a pretty solid description for the newly released record from Nicki Bluhm. Having recently ended a long term relationship and moving from the San Francisco Bay area to Nashville, Nicki shares her journey every step of the way with the listener. Recorded in Memphis at the Sam Phillips studio, the record has a deliciously retro vibe about it that is part 50’s Phil Spector girl group and part early 70’s country queen. The title track lays down a Memphis Soul Groove that is Dusty Springfield worthy.
Produced by Matt Ross-Spang, the man who knob-twirled most recently for Margo Price and Jason Isbell, the arrangements are of the first class variety. “Battlechain Rose” is a clear stunner describing in some detail her inner feelings she was dealing with in her personal life.
On the mournful bluesy Ballad “You Stopped Loving Me (I Can’t Stop Loving You)” the Hammond B-3 and Johnny Gimble are featured floating in and out in just the right places. A bit of a lover scorned push-back is provided courtesy of a cover of Dan Penn’s “Hate You” even though the closing track “Last to Know” gives every indication that she is completely over the relationship as she says “You Can’t Fool a Fool Any Longer.” Listen to this once, then grab a glass of wine and give this one another whirl. The leader in the clubhouse for the break-up album of the year.