Best Albums of 2018: Devil Makes Three – Chains are Broken

devilmakesthreeRight 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.

Best Albums of 2018: Black Coffee – Take One

blaccoffeeWith 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.

Best Albums of 2018: Nicki Bluhm – To Rise You Gotta Fall

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.