025. Larkin Poe – Self Made Man
Larkin Poe, a band comprised mostly of sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, whose great grandfather is Edgar Allan Poe, delivers a healthy dose of Southern Roots rock in the Allman Brothers mold. Their latest record, Self Made Man, rocks a bit more than their previous efforts with shades of Southern Rock, Chicago Blues, and even a bit of Americana Country entering the song cycle at unexpected times. The choruses carry a lot of hooks and the guitar work is aggressive and first-rate particularly on “Back Down South” where guest guitar slinger Tyler Bryant does the heavy lifting.
024. Nicole Atkins -Italian Ice
Ever since the release of her excellent 2017 record Goodnight Rhonda Lee Nicole Atkins has been on our radar. Here, with her new record Italian Ice she takes her retro wardrobe to the next level. Recorded in Alabama at the Muscle Shoals Studios with two members of the vintage Muscle Shoals rhythm section, bassist David Hood and Keyboardist Spooner Oldham, this elegant record does a lot of genre-hopping. There are sprinkles of ’60s girl group, plenty of Dusty Springfield influences, as well as splashes of Disco-Lite and Classic Country. Guest turns from Spoon’s Brit Daniels, Civil Wars veteran John Paul White, and Avett Brother Seth Avett take this one up to next-level coolness.
023. 2nd Grade – Hit To Hit
Formed by a collective of like-minded musicians gathered up from the ashes of various Philadelphia area Pop-Punk band, 2nd Grade with their debut record Hit To Hit, deliver an infectious set of Indie inspired Power Pop gems. 24 tightly knit songs in just under 42 minutes, the ride takes you on a gentle roller coaster of jubilance on “Sunkist,” Beach Boys-inspired harmonies on “Not in the Band,” and Replacements worthy energy on the short but extremely sweet “Boys In Heat.” With musical touchpoints, the likes of The Rubinoos, The Replacements, The Greg Khin Band, and Teenage Fan Club your summer Jam just might be here a little bit early.
022. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You
Albeit a bit slowed down, Bruce Springsteen is back with his entire E-Street band in tow for another set of superbly written anthems. Everything that embodies the boss, and then some, is here including downbound trains, the edge of town, and even a river or two. There are even a couple of three songs that were culled from ’72 demos with “Janey Needs a Shooter” finally seeing the light of day after having been left off all of the early-era albums.
021. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
Mark Lanegan has a dark poetic sensibility that brings to mind Nick Cave or Scott Walker. His latest record coming on the heels of the release of his no holds barred bare-knuckle autobiography features guest turns from the likes of John Paul Jones, Greg Dulli, and Ed Harcourt.
020. Cherie Currie – Blvds of Splendor
Perhaps the least famous of the Runaway’s, Joan Jett gets all of the press, Cherie Currie has carved a Glam Rock and Roll path of her own as a solo act along with the likes of Lita Ford and Suzi Quatro. Still in fine voice, her latest record features Guns ‘N’ Roses Slash and Duff McKagan on the supercharged “Mr. X, a highly polished and quite enjoyable take on Nick Gilder’s Roxy Roller that would make Suzi Quatro blush, and a finale that brings together Brody Dalle, Juliette Lewis, and The Veronica’s on the Runaways song, “Queens Of Noise.” Cherie Currie, still rocking after all these years.
019. Elijah Ocean – Blue Jeans & Barstools
Opening for the likes of Dale Watson and Charley Crockett this L.A. based by way of Maine troubadour should very soon be carving his own Outlaw Country niche right alongside Chris Stapelton, Whitey Morgan, and Tennessee Jet. His latest record, Blue Jeans and Barstools will be on the shortlist for Texas-style Hony Tonk record of the year. With highlights like the title track, “Blue Jeans & Barstools” his tribute to Buck and Dwight on “Bring Back That Bakersfield Sound,” and “I Left My One Spot (Back at the Five Spot)” his Outlaw Country street cred passport is stamped, sealed, and delivered.
017. The Struts – Strange Days
Ears, down our favorite real and true Rock and Roll band in the last five years, Luke Spiller along with his band The Struts are back and as Glam-fastic as ever. Wearing the Queen, Def Leppard, and AC/DC crown with honor, this new record dials down the showmanship and dials up the guitar riffs most noticeably on “Cool” and “Wild Child,” a song that features Tom Morello. This is a band that is maturing before our very ears, heck they even throw in an “Angie” style ballad that is part Rolling Stones and part Black Crowes. Strap your ears on and enjoy. Just start on song number two and skip the title track that features Robbie Williams. But the literal call-in from Def Leppard’s Joe Eliot on “I Hate How Much I Want You” on the chorus is wicked fun.
016. Old 97’s – Twelfth
The Old 97’s, the Americana version of The Replacements, is back and with the leading man, Rhett Miller singing as good as he ever, the band’s playing is better than ever. While the group has fine-wine mellowed (sort of) with age, their core values of singing songs about women, whiskey and life on the road are still intact. And face it, Rhet Miller’s voice alone could melt butter. Highlights here are many, but “Absence (What We’ve Got)” and the mournfully beautiful “Belmont Hotel” are definite standouts.
015. Rufus Wainwright – Unfollow The Rules
When it comes to producing elegant and lush Pop symphonies there are not many artists that do it as gloriously well as Rufus Wainwright. This makes us extremely glad to experience his return to Pop glory after having been distracted by producing his own opera and releasing a record of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This from a guy that uncannily reproduced Judy Garland’s Live from Carnegie Hall almost note for note. With Unfollow The Rules is a set of lush theatrical gems with Pet Sounds worthy production courtesy of Mitchell Froom who has worked with Sir Paul, Elvis Costello, and Crowded House among others.
The daringly beautiful “Early Morning Madness” will certainly stand up as one of his best works, and “Peaceful Afternoon” is a love song for the new millennium.
014. Paul Weller – On Sunset
Whether it is with The Jam, The Style Council, or with his ever-growing cache of solo albums, Paul Weller is always a must-hear. Much like Nick Lowe, Sir Paul is establishing himself as a torchbearer for the old guard rock and roll fraternity. Returning to his old friends at Polydor Records, the label for both of his former bands, on this, his first record since 2018’s True Meanings, Weller has on full display his love for Folk and 60’s Pop in equal measure. “Baptiste” could be a Steve Winwood single from back in the day, and “Old Father Tyme” is a Steve Mariott special. As is becoming Paul Weller’s M.O., there is a bit of an electronic flair mixed in with the troubadour folk leanings that keeps things contemporary while never losing that Country Squire edge. On Sunset is a surprise around every turn great listen that should, scratch that will be, on our list of record of the year candidates.
013. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
It seems that the sisters Este (Guitar/Bass), Danielle (Vocals/Guitar), and Alana (Guitar/Keyboard), collectively known as HAIM, are just getting better and better with each subsequent release. The songwriting is turned up a notch, the Dixie Chicks meet Fleetwood Mac vocal harmonies are front and center delicious, and the overall vibe of their third proper release, Women In Music Pt. III, is cool, melodic, and oozing with confidence. While “The Steps” has more of a Sheryl Crow essence wafting in the air, “Leaning On You” has crystalline harmonies only sibling sisters can generate. This is a great record worthy of end-of-the-year honors for sure.
012. Sam Doores – Sam Doores
With a moody atmospheric vibe that could very well be the soundtrack of some hipster New Orleans dirge after-hours party, Sam Doores uses strings, vintage organs, marimbas, vibraphones, and even an autoharp to create a moody, psychedelic vibe. This eclectic record also includes a stellar guest turn from Alynda Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff.
011. Early James – Singing For My Supper
It almost seems that we are contractually required to like any record that comes from Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound record company, but we have no problem with that. From Yola, Dee Smith, on to Kendell Marvel and beyond everything that they touch seems to turn into ear-pleasing gold. And the new one from Early James, Singing For My Supper, is certainly no exception. From the opener, “Blue Pill Blues” we are treated to a semi-lengthy instrumental solo before the song turns into some sort of 70’s inspired warp zone that floats somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Jethro Tull. As it turns out, the opener simply opens the door to the time travel portal that is fully realized with “Gone as the Ghost” and beyond.
010. Bye Bye Blackbirds – Boxer At Rest
Trying to choose a favorite song or to cull band influences or genres from the choice morsels presented here on Boxer At Rest, this high shelf booze of a record courtesy of Bradley Skaught and The Bye By Blackbirds would be somewhat of a fools’ errand. There is literally nothing not to like with this album. Sure, there are fairy dustings of Big Star, The Birds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Box Tops sprinkled everywhere, but make no mistake. Lenny, Bradley and the rest of the band aren’t simply riding the coattails of those that have gone before them, they are playing it forward with depth and deep reverence. Just listen to the guitar licks that would make Sun Records and Sam Phillips proud towards the end of “War Is Still Hell” and tell us we’re wrong. On “Watch Them Chime” you might catch the scent of R.E.M.’ or even a Tim-era Replacements vibe. And, on “Baby It’s Still You” the horns are back in just the right spots and the band’s secret weapon, Kelly Atkins, announces herself in fine fashion even though she has been classing up the joint earlier with her elegant harmonies throughout many many of the tracks.
At a nice and tidy 33 minutes and 23 seconds, this one is best savored in one sitting with a nice cocktail in hand, surrounded by good friends, toasting those that are no longer able to join us.
009. Hazel English – Wake Up
Wake Up, the hippy, trippy debut L.P. from New Zealander Hazel English is some sort of wicked hot tub time machine, Austin Powers soundtracking, mind warp blending of a Best Coast, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithful extravaganza as produced by Phil Spector. Just listen to “Shaking” and tell us we’re wrong.
008. Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started
After having garnered lavish praise with her 2016 release Midwestern Farmers Daughter, an artistic tour-de-force that drew comparisons to Loretta Lynne and Bobbie Gentry, with her new record she walks that line between ’70s countrypolitan and present-day Nashville with genius and aplomb. With the realism of the title track and the left-turn of “Heartless Mind,” a song that could have been a Deborah Harry single, her versatility is shown around every corner on a release that will certainly stand the test of time.
007. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real – Naked Gard
With Lukas Nelson, the Willie Nelson apple certainly doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Straddling Rock, Country, Soul, as good as brilliantly as anyone not named Chris Stapleton, here the goodness rolls on with songs like “Focus on the Music,” a song that sounds like Willie could have written it, and “Out In L.A.” as bellwethers for an album hits all of the right buttons in just the right places.
06. Ashley McBryde – Never Will
As official members of the Ashley McBryde fan club from the days when she was hanging out in “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” we are calling our shot now. Never Will, her latest record will be on many of the year-end best-of lists, genre be damned. Rocking it up a bit more than her prior efforts yet maintaining her 80’s ladies charm, this one will put her right up there with Lilly Hiatt and Margo Price in the reigning queen of Country music sweepstakes.
05. Born Ruffians – Juice
Full of hyperkinetic energy, the latest record from Born Ruffians is full of festival chorus-worthy hooks and punchy Jangle-Pop that will bring to mind Weezer and The Pixies. The epic opener, “I Fall in Love Every Night” sets the tone with a frenzied string-laden piano-driven anthem that pretty much drives everything that is yet to come. Brilliant stuff and sorely needed when we are all in need of a mood-changer.
Chris Stapleton is not messing around with his latest record, Starting Over. Returning to the comfortable environs of RCA Studio A in Nashville with Benmonth Tench and Mike Campbell, a couple of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers in tow, he continues to deliver his own brand of Outlaw Country blending Classic Country, Country Rock, Soul, and Americana to create a soul-soothing mix of impeccably written and produced tunes. It would be a fools-errand to cull a favorite track from this package, suffice it to say all of them are the best. The title song is great, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” Waylon by way of Steve Earle, is even better, and “Whiskey Sunrise” is a mournful Country-Noir belter.
Proving in full measure that he can step out from The Marcus King Band and show that he is no guitar whiz one-trick pony, Marcus King shows his songwriting chops and his ability to deliver roots-based melodic masterpieces. Blues and Southern Soul is the order of the day and the top of the mark backing band provided by producer Dan Auerbach and his team at Easy Eye Sound is ‘Wrecking Crew’ worthy. What this record lacks in King’s trademark guitar-shredding is more than made up with the emotional depth and heartfelt vintage soul of an artist that will be on our radar for many years to come.
002. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
With his first album of new material since 2012’s Tempest, on this, his latest, Dylan is once again in a fine form combining Blues, Folk, Country, Rockabilly, and Gospel with a bit of protest thrown in for good measure. As we have come to expect, the songwriting on this one is a master-class level history and pop culture lesson with each verse.
There are Road-House Blues on “Crossing the Rubicon,” Jimmy Reed inspired Blues on “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” and on “Key West (Philosopher Pirate) we are taken on a stripped-down 9:00 journey down the acknowledgment path of mortality. And, the epic “Murder Most Foul” brings us face to face with the Kennedy Assassination for good measure.
This one might be the best album of the year.
001. Jason Isbell – Reunions
As expected, the new Jason Isbell record is spectacular. His band, The Four Hundred Unit is one of the cracker-jack units in the business, and this one might surpass Southeastern as the best album in the Jason Isbell canon given enough listening time. Extra credit to Jason for releasing the album exclusively to independent record stores one week in advance of delivering the finished product to the unwashed masses.