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Best Albums of 2018

Read about our best albums for 2018 – plus more insights about the year

Photo: LTTL

 

By Rob Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Welcome to the Listening Through The Lens Best Albums Volume VI.

Now, this may not be one of the biggest yearly reviews you’ll find out there in cyber-land, but it’s pretty much the latest.  Yes folks, I like to use the full twelve months to assess the merits of the year.  Pretty basic stuff and I observe with bemusement best-of’s published early in December, as if we only want to see the pinnacle of the last eleven months.  Nah, here at LTTL HQ, there’s so much music listening going on during the last four weeks of the year, we are usually in danger of missing Santa.

Another year – another rush of brilliant releases, with the roots music scene in good hands given the high number of younger artists that are carrying on traditions but infusing their own unique qualities.   Americana, folk, alt. country et al – the golden period continues.  You only have to travel to Nashville for AmericanaFest each year like I do and you will see the plethora of great music, so many new faces, crazy-hard choices of whom to see.  So much good music.

A few trends I might observe.  Record labels continue to seemingly not be that interested in promoting and selling records in the genre halls I inhabit (Some notable exceptions – Bloodshot and Compass).  No, that task seems to be with a limited campaign from a publicist or the life-long burden of the artist him/her/themselves.  This year appeared to have a proliferation of singles released on a regular basis – perhaps a marketing ploy to keep the artist’s name around, a reason to have a launch show or a lead-in to a full album.  I somehow managed to get on more music distribution mailing lists again in 2018 and was inundated with stream-only access albums.  Have you ever tried to review an album of MP3s which you can only access while sitting at a computer or listening through headphones with NO background information? I cannot.  And will not.  So anyone wanting to submit music for review, at least send us a download link or, much better, pop the CD in the post please.  Check out our About Page for more details.

Digital presentation – the growth trend continues, so much music via files, the organising, storage, backup and listening is becoming quite the logistical issue.  Further, I use iTunes to sort the digital stuff, software with which I have always had an uneasy relationship, with quite a few losses over the years.  I listen to music via the lounge hi-fi, in the car, at the PC, via the iPad, iPhone or iPod.  It’s getting confusing – any advice appreciated on how to run things more smoothly!!  Ah well a third-world problem.

Christmas records.  Sigh.  Remember Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart?  Is there no escape?  Perhaps that’s why some best-of’s come out so early, to avoid being swamped by snowy and cheery tales of a man in a red suit.  I cannot recall any of my friends that would buy any of these, but I guess there must be a hell of people who do.  In 2018, some of our favourites have somehow taken the step of releasing a Christmas album – Rodney Crowell, Old 97’s and JD McPherson come immediately to mind.  Sorry, there seasoned ears have had enough of yule-tide offerings.  Bah humbug indeed.

 

Departure Lounge

One of the last performances by Tony Joe White – Nashville 11 Sep 2018. Photo Jim Jacob

 

Roy Clark, country music legend

Pete Shelley, founder of the Buzzcocks

D.J. Fontana, original and long-standing drummer for Elvis Presley

Charles Neville, saxophonist for the Neville Brothers

Ray Thomas, flautist and singer with The Moody Blues

Tony Joe White, swamp rock legend

Marty Balin, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship singer/songwriter

Conway Savage, keyboardist for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Rick Hall, producer extraordinaire Fame Studio

Ed King, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

Yvonne Staples, part of the Staple Singers

Nokie Edwards, long-time Ventures guitarist

Barbara Ann Alston, co-founder of The Crystals

Dennis Edwards, lead singer of The Temptations

Hugh Masekela, trumpeter (whose “music was black as night” – Eric Burdon and the Animals in “Monterey”)

Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries

 

 

All Seats Taken

These are the collections, all highly regarded but would not quite squeeze into my very best.

 

Wade Bowen – Solid Ground (Bowen Sounds)

Jason Eady – I Travel On (Old Guitar Records)

Leftover Salmon – Something Higher (Soundly Music)

Gregory Alan Isakov – Evening Machines (Dualtone)

Erin Rae – Putting On Airs (Single Lock (Red))

Sunny War – With the Sun (Hen House Studios)

Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys – Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys (Waterbug Records)

Joshua Hedley – Mr. Jukebox (Third Man)

John Schumann & The Vagabond Crew – Ghosts & Memories (ABC)

 

Missed Flight

No one gets to listen to every new release each year and, with no question, I have missed some that should have been given proper consideration.  I have researched some of those and their reviews to enable me to do two things.  One, is to bring them to your attention immediately and the other is for me to pursue their acquisition in no uncertain manner over the next twelve months.  The collections below have appeared in at least four other best-of lists to warrant their inclusion below.  Here are the top-rated releases that have neither crossed my desk nor my ears:

 

Dan Parsons – Sunday Morning Cinema

James Ellis and The Jealous Guys – It Ain’t Texas (But It Ain’t Bad)

Will Hoge – My American Dream

Brothers Osborne – Poor Saint Joe

I’m With Her – See You Around

Jeff Tweedy – Warm

Neko Case – Hell-On

American Aquarium – Things Change

Ashley McBryde – Girl Goin’ Nowhere

 

Late Arrivals

During the year I caught up on some earlier issues, either 2017 new releases I just missed last year, diving back for some classic albums, picking up a bargain along the way, checking out some back catalogues or even just dipping into the unplayed section of my record collection (yes, there’s still a few unopened – their time will come).

Here are my favourite albums heard during the year with a release date pre-2018.  All highly recommended!  In alphabetical order and a one-word descriptor:

 

Angaleena Presley – Wrangled 2017 – ‘feisty’ (thanks to her manager for sending me a copy after reading last year’s ‘Missed Flight’)

Corb Lund – Cabin Fever 2012 – ‘rustic’

Hope Dunbar – Three Black Crows 2017 – ‘warm’

John Prine – Lost Dogs + Mixed Blessings 1995 – ‘quirky’

Kruger Brothers – Spirit Of The Rockies 2013 – ‘majestic’

Lee Roy Parnell – Midnight Believer 2017 -‘soulful’

Ordinary Elephant – Before I Go 2017 – ‘gentle’

Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What 2011 – ‘sophisticated’

The Westies – West Side Stories 2014 -‘passionate’

 

From The Cockpit

This is your captain speaking.  There’s some pretty fair music up ahead.  Just sit back and get ready for the drop dates:

 

Yola – Walk Through Fire **

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis Is The Texas Piano Man

Danny Burns – North Country  **

Whitehorse – The Northern South Vol. 2

Hayes Carll – What It Is

Ryan Bingham – American Love Song

Son Volt – Union

Mandolin Orange – Tides Of A Teardrop  **

Liz Brasher – Painted Image

How Gelb – Gathered

Charles Wesley Godwin – Seneca  **

** we can vouch for these already

 

Past Winners

Looking back over the past, here are the published number one releases of past years, just for a bit of perspective:

 

2017 Rhiannon GiddensFreedom Highway

2016 Darrell ScottThe Couchville Sessions

2015 Chris Stapleton – Traveller

2014 Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

2013 Jason Isbell – Southeastern

 

Past Lists

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

 

 

Best of 2018

 

 

 20. Rosanne Cash – She Remembers Everything (Blue Note)

Cash’s first new album in nearly five years and the successor to the triple-Grammy winning 2014 album The River and The Thread .  A hard act to follow but this ten song collection oozes with the class that we have come to expect.  All tunes here are written or co-written by Cash and represent a more personal perspective than the looking-back take of previous offerings. 

Her unique and powerful female perspective of the flaws and fragility of current events was on display as she accepted an Americana Honor this year.  There’s further proof on this record.

Recorded in Portland, Oregon and New York City, with Tucker Martine and John Leventhal respectively, and featuring contributions from Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, Colin Meloy and Sam Phillips, it is a beautiful package.

“The Only Thing Worth Fighting For”, “8 Gods Of Harlem”, “She Remembers Everything”     More Info

 

19. Sarah Shook & The Disarmers – Years (Bloodshot)

From the key music town of Chapel Hill (North Carolina), Sarah Shook & the Disarmers impressed with their debut Sidelong, released early in 2017 – a fresh, different, tough take on country.  With Years, Shook ups the ante considerably with her honesty and deadpan forceful delivery.  Her punkish looks belie the musical style but not the lyrical content.  The country ethos underpins what is on offer here.  Her forthright lyrics evidence a life full of tense experiences from which she can readily draw.  The defiant wit and sly turns of phrase (at times a little mean, other occasions a bit funny) gives you the impression that she rising above the anger and negativity. 

It all ends up with what can be described as compelling and urgent, a full serve of what you can describe as insistent, contemporary outlaw country.  The collection is built around Eric Peterson’s guitar and the ringing pedal steel of Phil Sullivan.

Honky tonk never sounded so earthy.

Witnessing the band live this year at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion affirmed my already high opinion.

Key Tracks: ” The Bottle Never Let Mes Down”, “Parting Words”, “Lesson”    

 

18. Mike and the Moonpies – Steak Night At The Prairie Rose (Independent)

From Austin Texas, a band renowned for their live shows with a tight mix of country, swing and soulful honky-tonk.  The vibe is captured in the studio as well here.

Frontman Mike Harmeier wrote or co-wrote all but one of the album’s ten songs (the exception being “The Last Time” by friend Jonathan Terrell) which were recorded at Yellow Dog Studios where Harmeier handed over the reins to Adam Odor (himself a musician).

Steak Night at the Prairie Rose is far-reaching and spirited and contains a wonderful economy and an irresistible cohesion.  Blazing pedal steel, electric guitar and organ totally put the garnish on this tasty collection of country boogie, country funk and punchy Western Swing.  The arrangements sparkle.

Key Tracks: “Steak Night At The Prairie Rose”, “The Last Time”, “We’re Gone”  Full Review

 

17. The War and Treaty – Healing Tide (Strong World/Thirty Tigers)

First up, this is not the best way to be welcomed into the world of Michael Trotter Jr and Tanya Trotter.  Seriously.  Rather, know the back story of Michael’s war service and subsequent trauma, his meeting and marrying Tanya, the chemistry which lead to them making music together and the hard-to-explain emotional impact of being in a group watching them perform.  I witnessed them no less than five times this year – on land, on sea, in three different cities.  Every time, I have been close to tears, taken completely by their sheer honesty and talent.  It’s not just me either as many friends also saw them for the first tome and all had much the same response.

I have just about witnessed first hand their star on the rise during the year, largely unknown in February to a debut release produced by the experienced hand of Buddy Miller who has done well to capture their passion on stage, in a recording studio.  The recording has a nice broad selection of material, some crack Nashville musicians and tasty contributions from Emmylou Harris and Sam Bush.

Go see them live!

Key Tracks:  “Healing Tide”, “If It’s In Your Heart”, “Little New Bern” 

 

16. Geoff Achison – Sovereign Town (Jupiter/Landslide)

Veteran blues journeyman Geoff Achison has come up with a wonderful release.  Sovereign Town is an intimate, acoustic and personal collection of twelve songs, inspired by issues and themes around the gold rush and close up through his own childhood.   It was recorded in the historic heart of that gold-mining area.   

The project grew out of a music jam during a guitar workshop he was running.  The collaboration went so well that it turned out to be a perfect fit, and a departure from his regular band, to use these musicians for the new, stripped back material that he was writing at the time.  The regular travel back to the region to finesse and record the songs perhaps has helped him re-connect with his past which has culminated in an intimate and organic set of very accessible lyrics.

The record was produced by Achison and Ric Formosa and features Andrew Fry (upright bass), Dave Clark (drums), Liam Kealy (Hammond organ) and John McNamara (backing vocals).

Masterful and soulful.

Key Tracks: “Miniature Men”, “Sovereign Town”, “Hand Of Faith”

 

15. Gretchen Peters – Dancing With The Beast (Scarlet Letter)

Peters previewed some of the new songs during her appearance at Folk Alliance International this year.  They sounded good then.  They sound even better here.  

Since moving to Nashville in the late 1980’s, she has become renowned both as a performer and in-demand songwriter, writing songs for Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Anne Murray, Shania Twain and Neil Diamond.  She has also collaborated with Bryan Adams.

Dancing with the Beast comes after the excellent Blackbirds. 

Female characters are to the fore, reflecting significant developments such as the #MeToo movement.  This is a perfect example of A-grade songwriting teamed up with pristine and tasteful arrangements and on-the-money recording techniques.  Not a weaker track in sight. 

Key Tracks: “Wichita”, “Disappearing Act”, “Truck Stop Angel”     More Info

 

14. Goodnight, Texas – Conductor (2 Cent Bank Check)

The Americana-folk outfit Goodnight, Texas provide a striking display of light and shade in their music.  They run the gamut of musical styles and songs that pack a wallop, with twin vocals enabling diversity allowing them to alternate between foot stomping roots rock, front porch jamming and haunting tales that chill. 

The band was formed by its two core songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf who met in the San Francisco Bay Area and began a cross-country collaboration when Wolf moved to North Carolina.  They derived their band name from the exact as-the-car-drives midpoint of their two homes in San Francisco and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  This is where the tiny town of Goodnight in the Texas panhandle resides.  The two front men still live in those locations which does not seem to deter the impetus of the band.

This is the band’s third full-length release and contains songs that reflect the varied events that have impacted on the band members since their last recording – loss of a number of family members, one baby and political troubles.

Key Tracks: “Tucumcari”, “Long Shot”, “Outrage For The Execution Of Willie McGee”     More Info Here

 

13. The Cordovas – That Santa Fe Channel (ATO)

A band I saw for the first time at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, knowing nothing about them.  

From Nashville, the band boasts a three-pronged vocal attack, a powerful blend of southern rock, blasting country and Americana which mark the band’s major label debut (ATO).  The Cordovas are not an exactly an overnight sensation, having been plying their trade for years and leading to this point where they appear to be a particularly tight unit, a band of brothers which gives their music a communal and shared touch.  The songs were written together, performed together and that level of cohesion seems to run through whatever they do. 

That Santa Fe Channel was produced by the Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale in hip East Nashville, in a converted barn with hours spent fine-tuning a sound that is winning – shades of The Band, classic chord shifts, layered harmonies.  I love the opener “This Town’s a Drag” bemoaning the lack of access to alcohol (like Nashville every Sunday!)  

A colourful and multi-faceted find.

Key Tracks: “This Town’s A Drag”, “Santa Fe”, “Step Back Red”

 

12. Lori McKenna – The Tree (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)

Here is a perfect example of a consummate and extraordinary songwriter documenting the lives and situations of everyday people. 

Eleven songs about motherhood, the female spirit, broken relationships, the ageing process, the experiences witnessed by a tree (!), choosing to do the right thing, homesickness and singing like Patsy Cline.  The songs were all written or co-written by McKenna and the record was produced by man-in-demand Dave Cobb with playing contributions from Cobb, Brian Allen, Chris Powell, Kristen Rogers and Natalie Hemby.  Recorded at RCA Studio A in Music Row, Nashville.

I saw McKenna perform at AmericanaFest 2017 which I found warm and stirring.  Very humble and down-to-earth with an ability to explain the songs, letting us into her world and, in the same breath, appreciate her considerable talent.

Key Tracks: “A Mother Never Rests”, “People Get Old”, “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone” 

 

 

11. Haley Heynderickx – I Need To Start A Garden (Mama Bird Recording)

Her debut album, so named for a longing for a sense of calm, routine and connection to the earth amidst troubled times.  Perhaps also, because its cultivation and bounty is communal.

Heynderickx grew up in a religious household in Oregon and learned guitar with her father, falling in love with the music of Leo Kottke and his ilk with the bold and idiosyncratic open tunings and rhythms employed by them.  Now residing in Portland, her continual self-reflection and insights have fed a bunch of songs that are strikingly distinct and unpredictable in their structure.

Through soft guitar picking, trombone interventions and jazzy, undulating vocals, we have an insight into the thoughts and aspirations of a talented, generously minded young performer, one whose quiet strength of mind shines through.

I Need to Start a Garden was produced, engineered and mixed by Zak Kimball at Nomah Studios in Portland, Oregon and the record features Lily Breshears (bass, keys, backing vocals), Denzel Mendoza (trombone, backing vocals), Phillip Rogers  (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Tim Sweeney (upright bass).

Key Tracks: “The Bug Collector”, “Drinking Song”, “Untitled God Song” 

 

10. John Prine – The Tree Of Forgiveness (Oh Boy)

What a treat. 

For this, Prine’s first original material in thirteen years, he turned to producer-in-demand Dave Cobb for presumably a fresh touch.  It works.  The songs here are a delightful mix of sardonic political commentary (“Caravan of Fools”, “The Lonesome Friends of Science”) and reflections on human transience (“Summer’s End”, “When I Get to Heaven”).

We welcome the familiar, weary voice, the sheer simplicity of what is presented, the finger-picking patterns engrained into our psyche and the well-chosen collaborations –  Brandi Carlile (the duet, “I Have Met My Love Today”), Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. 

Welcome back old friend.

Key Tracks: “Summer’s End”, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan Of Fools”  Full Review

 

9. Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads (Proper Records)

A project of such warmth and empathy. 

There is a quote on the album cover from Larry Moss – “There is no higher healing than turning trauma into art”.  All eleven songs in this collection were co-written by armed service members and their spouses.  The deeply personal stories that are revealed here, the personal impact on those affected, their tremendous struggles both abroad during service and upon returning home are front and centre.  It is hard to conceive of a collection of songs with more power and poignancy. 

Importantly, the beauty is in the process, where Gauthier, exhibiting immense courage herself, puts herself into many fractured lives and immerses into so many trauma situations to create an atmosphere of healing and moving forward.

A portion of the proceeds from Rifles & Rosary Beads are being donated to SongwritingWith:Soldiers a non-profit organization that pairs US veterans with professional songwriters.

Key Tracks:  “Soldiering On”, “The War After The War”, “Iraq”

 

8. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain (Fat Possum)

Her self-assured debut Honest Life garnered much acclaim (including making LTTL’s best albums of 2016).  Andrews is blessed with a stunning, soaring voice which has the ability to cast both light and shade, another extremely talented member of seemingly a new generation of women speaking her mind.  After years of touring solo and with pop bands (she started touring at the tender age of sixteen) this Washington State songwriter has settled for a new direction and simplicity in her life.   Between then and now, her star has risen (as it should) with a new album exhibiting a level of maturity and confidence in her observations and lyrical phrasing.

Andrews was nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year at AmericanaFest in 2018 and her rendition of “May Your Kindness Remain” almost blew the roof off the Ryman Auditorium.  One of the most exciting soulful voices in Americana.  Recorded in the Los Angeles hills, the record was produced by Mark Howard and Andrews.

Key Tracks: Whew!  Too tough to call.

 

7. The Mammals – Sunshiner (Humble Abode Music)

The Mammals at the core are Mike Merenda (wordsmith and multi-instrumentalist) and Ruth Ungar (fiddler and daughter of the legendary, and Grammy awarded, fiddler Jay Ungar).

After a nine-year hiatus, the band emerged, refreshed, revitalised with new personnel and put this album together in West Hurley (outside of Woodstock), New York.  The result takes the listener to a higher, hypnotic level. 

So many examples to cherish.  The biting commentary of “Cultural War”, the tender, instructive “Beautiful One”, “Maple Leaf” with its longing and soulful vibe, the title track with its whispering, mesmeric hum vocals, plus the commanding and winsome “Stayin’ Up Late”.  To close proceedings, we have the extended tour de force ”Big Ideas” which is long on groove and short of lyrics – seven/eight lines stretched over its ten-minutes. 

A captivating collection, totally uplifting and touching. 

Key Tracks: “Sunshiner”, “Stayin’ Up Late”, “Big Ideas”

Full Review

 

6. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (MCA)

A supreme singer and imposing songwriting figure in the alt. country and mainstream country scene with probably the most acclaimed release of 2018, including a surprise, most prestigious Country Music Association Best Album award.  Usually that award comes off the back of one or two or three country hits but none of the songs here quite fit into that Very Popular category (although the album opener “Slow Burn” is one of the may favourite songs of the year).

The thirteen songs here evidence a nuanced and brave vision from this accomplished Texan who appears to have avoided striving for a formula that many in her position would be tempted to ensue.  Hats off too to her major label (MCA) for letting her pursue her singular vision.

The arrangements and production values are splendid. 

The set was produced by Musgraves, Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk.  Polished.

Key Tracks:  “Slow Burn”, “Oh, What A World”, “Golden Hour” 

 

5.  John Hiatt – The Eclipse Sessions (New West)

A solar eclipse which traveled the length of the continental U.S. darkened Nashville on Kacey Musgraves’s 29th birthday.  John Hiatt and his band were hard at work recording during that same event, hence the title here.  

The eleven-track set is the Grammy-nominated singer songwriter’s first new album in four years and is a significant and very agreeable return to form.  It bustles from the speakers, carefully crafted songs and wonderfully presented.  Hiatt’s voice is in prime fettle, growling with word-weariness and sharp scrutiny.

The record was produced by Kevin McKendree and features Hiatt’s longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist Patrick O’Hearn, as well as Yates McKendree (Kevin’s then sixteen-year old wunderkind son, who also engineered).  Hiatt places The Eclipse Sessions in a lineage alongside two of his greatest works – 1987’s mainstream breakthrough Bring the Family, which sprung from an impulsive four-day session with an all-star combo led by Ry Cooder, and 2000’s Crossing Muddy Waters, an unplanned and largely unplugged effort that garnered a Grammy Award nomination and also set Hiatt on the rootsier path he’s still pursuing today.  He is on the money.

Key Tracks: “Over The Hill”, “All The Way To The River”, “Aces Up Your Sleeve”  More Info

 

4. Brandi Carlile – By The Way I Forgive You (Low Country Sound)

It has taken some time, but I am now a Brandi Carlile convert.  

On this sixth album, which was co-produced by Shooter Jennings and super-producer Dave Cobb, we have a collection of original songs written by Carlile and Phil and Tim Hanseroth, the twins who have been playing, recording, and writing with Carlile since the beginning of her career. 

The material focuses on identity, family, politics, addiction – serious topics them all.  The lyrics delve deep and the intensity with which they are presented lead me to opine that it is one of her most profound records to date.

Not much fluff and filler here as the emotions of soul-searching, reflection and forgiveness are laid bare.  There is the majestic grandeur of “The Joke” (her live rendition at AmericanaFest this year was a goose-bump moment), the trampling “Hold Out Your Hand” and the touching piano of “Party Of One”.

 

Key Tracks: “Every Time I Hear That Song”, “The Joker”, “Party Of One”

 

3. Alejandro Escovedo (with Don Antonio) – The Crossing (Yep Roc)

The Crossing follows the story of two young immigrants, one from Mexico and one from Italy, as they come to the United States (Texas) to pursue their American dream and in search of their punk rock idols.  The two protagonists, Salvo and Diego, find they have arrived to a place and mood they were not expecting, mirroring Alejandro’s own experience as the child of Mexican immigrants.

With a string of European tour dates booked, Escovedo went looking for a band from the Continent to back him up.  He found Don Antonio.  They got on so well, thus came the album, put together in a month at a farmhouse in Villafranca.  Also featured here is a host of guest musicians, including The Stooges’ James Williamson, Wayne Kramer (MC5) and Joe Ely.

The Crossing embraces us all with its cinematic sweep and humanity, an epic seventeen-song collection with a rich diversity, an honesty in shining the spotlight on important current issues in this particularly troubled time (immigration, racism, loss of identity).  The input of Antonio and his Italian confreres provides an original, masterstroke touch.

Key tracks “Silver City”, “MC Overload” “The Crossing”    Full Review

 

2. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel (RCA Nashville)

Class from head to toe. 

I suppose that is not a surprise when you consider that Interstate Gospel is the third outing from The Pistol Annies  the girl-country supergroup of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.

The album was written by the three artists on the road as well as Lambert’s farm outside Nashville.  They engaged, with wonderful effect, the services of Matt Chamberlain on drums, Glenn Worf on bass, Frank Rische and Dan Dugmore on guitar, Fats Kaplan on steel, guitar and dobro and Chuck Leavell on piano.

It is a high-spirited take over fourteen engaging and sometimes moving tracks.  From chants of celebration, A-grade country storytelling and a swagger that will get your foot tapping and mouth smiling.

“Coming together, you get these three different artists’ perspective in one, so it has some more punch,” Monroe offers, as Presley adds, “It’s like crutches: something so personal to me, I can stand between them, and sing it.”  Or as Lambert continues, “We’ve all gone through all of it.  At some point.  We understand.”  “And,” Presley finishes, “telling the truth is easier when we’re together.”

And we are the beneficiaries.

Key Tracks:  “Milkman”, “Leaver’s Lullaby”, “Masterpiece”  

 

1. Colter Wall – Songs Of The Plains (Young Mary’s Record Co)

I saw Colter Wall at Folk Alliance International early this year, about eight months before Songs Of The Plains was released.  His set was on the top floor of the conference hotel and the room was a little too noisy for my liking.  He was standing with his guitar in an all-glassed corner of the room, his stature slight, his voice of such profound timbre that it took me a little while to adjust to the human incongruity and the hubbub of the room.  During that set which only lasted thirty minutes, I noted that he played at least two new songs.  I left the room wanting for much more.

The wheel comes around and this Canadian singer, songwriter has released a striking statement which cements a place for this one-of-a-kind performer.  The album was recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A with producer Dave Cobb (this Cobb, Nashville, RCA Studio thread was unknown to me before I settled on and documented this list!). 

In addition to seven original songs written by Wall, the album also includes versions of Billy Don Burns’ “Wild Dogs”, Wilf Carter’s “Calgary Round-Up” and two cowboy traditional tunes, “Night Herding Song” and “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail”. 

Of the album, Wall has commented, “One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, in the United States and playing in Europe, is that people all over the world really don’t know much about Canada at all…When you talk about Saskatchewan, people really have no idea.  Part of it is because there are so few people there.  It’s an empty place—it makes sense that people don’t know much about it.  But that’s my home, so naturally I’m passionate about it.  With this record, I really wanted people to look at our Western heritage and our culture.”

This assemblage may be a little slow and sparse for some tastes, but I revel in its musical simplicity, in the author’s passion for a time and place that means so much to him and a hankering for well-worn and worthy traditions, some of which we have passed by.  Even the album cover is reminiscent of times gone.  In order of priority, we doff our hats to Colter’s vision, Colter’s voice, Colter’s pickin’ and the more-than-handy support cast – Cobb (acoustic guitar), Lloyd Green (pedal steel), Chris Powell (drums, spoons), Jason Simpson (bass), Mickey Raphael (harmonica), Blake Berglund (vocals) and Corb Lund (vocals). 

Key Tracks: “Wild Dogs”, “Manitoba Song”, “Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail” 

 

 

Read about our best albums for 2018 – plus more insights about the year

***

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Author: Rob Dickens

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6 Comments

  1. thanks for all your fabulous work Rob.you are star pal.
    xx
    rob wallace

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    • If I have any stellar capacity, it come from observations of you. Cheers my friend

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  2. Not sure if my message went through a few minutes ago. Anyway: Great job! I’m going to buy some of these albums.

    Neil

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    • Thanks YAB! Hope you share my joyful enthusiasm for these releases

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  3. hey, happy new year rob! this year, i’m really only familiar with a quarter of the top 20. (but i’ve now added several to my TIDAL ‘roster’ to catch up!) as for me, i particularly liked the john prine and kacey musgraves albums. and i have played the john hiatt, i’m with her and rosanne cash a lot. some others that i’d recommend from 2018 include: dawn landes ‘meet me at the river’, chris smither ‘call me lucky’, alela diane ‘cusp’, amanda shires ‘to the sunset’, kurt vile ‘bottle it in’, brent cobb ‘providence canyon’, lera lynn ‘plays well with others’, israel nash ‘lifted’, ry cooder ‘prodigal son’, the jayhawks ‘backroads and abandoned motels’ and neil young ‘songs for judy’. cheers, geoff r

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    • Happy NY to you Geoff! Thanks for your tips – I say aye to Chris Smither, Amanda Shires, JayHawks, Brent Cobb, Lera Lynn! I’ve got the Dawn Landes somewhere, will go looking for it (maybe iTunes decided I didn’t need it and deleted it while I wasn’t looking!) Actually listening now to The Black Lillies newie which is growing on me – “Weighting” is a great track. I forgot to thank you for the recommendation on the boat about The Westies – West Side Stories is a belter. I didn’t like Michael’s 2018 release as much, fair call you think?

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