It’s the most wonderful time of the year… let’s go!
I’ll start this off with a short and sweet explanation of the why and the how… Why? Not really sure, but since I was in high school I have taken some time at the end of each year to determine the greatest albums I heard over those last 52 weeks. Yes, this is subjective AF: to paraphrase the great Jeffrey Lebowski, this project is, just, like, my opinion, man.
As for the “how”: I’m a new music junkie, combing the internets and Spotify each week to find as much tuneage as is feasible for an employed person with a semblance of a social life, while still trying to listen to, oh I don’t know, all of the other non-new music that I love.
This year I have on pretty good authority that I listened to over 350 brand-spankin’ new LPs or EPs, and of that group I ended up noting (and typically writing about here) 90 of them along the way as being worthwhile. Of these I grabbed the ~30 best and have painstakingly dissected and turned them up to 11 to decide which were the ten greatest.
For now, here are the ten best that didn’t make the top ten, my 2019 Honorable Mentions. These are all really solid records, listed by alpha and not by any rank. My commentary for each will be very brief, as I have written about these albums before. Links to those earlier reviews as well as the records on Spotify are included for your reading/listening pleasure.
Honorable Mentions: #11-20 Records of 2019
Caamp – By and By
These mostly mellow peach fuzz boys are back with more goodness that conjures up a Ray Lamontagne-fronted folk band.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Ib3LE6FimfhNVnY7Tc1zM?si=jyuYOGQEQb-gHYztXVLA9Q
The Cactus Blossoms – Easy Way
I’m over the Everly Brothers comps at this point, however apt they may be. These two have established themselves as not only possessing beautiful voices but as a duo with some tremendous songwriting chops as well. They did not disappoint on this sophomore effort.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/1baZsLfWdRMcdXqgko3Bo7?si=E8PvsZepSGeI427Hm9tdVw
Chris King & the Gutterballs – Painwaves
A record that finds the formerly aloof and loose band get considerably more serious, both in subject matter and musical discipline – while still retaining their edge and fun. They were a new find for me in 2019 and I am pleased to have discovered them – I think you will be, too.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/5S9ajZaasopMfoFgmNMNTe?si=drHYndyXS5umwymY2fKDHw
Jamestown Revival – San Isabel
“Stronger with each release” is something that is rarely said in honesty, but three albums in and these cats are living proof it can be done. The show-stealer here may be their exquisite cover of “California Dreamin’”, but it comes towards the end of a collection of great originals.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0ujviO24y6WGV1KQwkcwIv?si=yBl0au06QPeVoxvwzvwu5g
Johnny Boy Kunk – Rough Start
This cat plays the blues like he means it – which he does, on both the originals and covers found on his debut solo album. No frills, no tricks, and zero bullshit on this consistent and fun outing that finds John in a studio with his guitars, harmonica, and nothing (or no one) else. I heard several great contemporary blues albums this year (shout out to J.D. Simo as well) but this one hit me the hardest.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3bkrHTBpng9VrZIYjRgSjX?si=9kVOEIt9RWm4uoNTlHRWhQ
Lonesome Shack – Desert Dreams
It’s about damned time Ben Todd’s unique and fantastic brand of desert boogie/blues/funk gets some love – check him out if you like minimalist but compelling guitar music that makes you want to drop some acid or take a cold shower, or both.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/71OHum7ucyhzFO7QnLiEhj?si=zPlQVw5_SnWNMjf3lGGWKg
Mandolin Orange – Tides of a Teardrop
Emily Frantz, Andrew Marlin, and their band make beautiful and straightforward music that has an essence of timelessness that hits you at first listen. This album was written and recorded not long after the death of Marlin’s mother and the grief and remorse are palpable throughout. This is quite a listen and one of five of the ten acts listed here that I got to see perform in 2019. What a year!
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/09NM7gTdr3ij71aksxr4Qs?si=kzwc_13WRIq-Tl_SK9UFjQ
Kevin Morby – Oh My God
Religion – and man’s relation to it – may be the central theme of the subject matter here, but Kevin is far from preachy. Rather, he takes an introspective and eclectic approach over these 48 minutes that has both plenty of high and low points. This may not be his greatest outing yet, but it is further proof that he is one of the most interesting artists we have going today.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Xugyt3sTfDgvALU1St1QA?si=ijEhIizAQKq4iwTkJq4MeQ
The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
After more than a decade without a recording, the Jack White and Brendan Benson-led supergroup decided it was time to ride again. Turns out they still have it, and also scored a #1 album on the Billboard charts.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/12rfrkN4eZOpmJUmVzE84M?si=4tQXCV5hRWq2uGElutRrxA
Susto – Ever Since I Lost My Mind
Another new discovery in 2019 (just after his Boise appearance, of course) that is well worth your time.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/07Lss95oyQ0H0UP5i87G0A?si=Rkg9UutgQpi5bXU9FMsfbQ
Generally speaking, live albums are not part of this project, as they are not really “new” music, are they? However, these five recordings are all stellar and capture great musicians (some who are no longer with us) doing what they do at a high level. Check ‘em out!
David Byrne – American Utopia Live on Broadway (recorded 2019)
Gov’t Mule – Bring on the Music (recorded 2018)
Pearl Jam – Vault 9: Live in Seattle (recorded 1993)
Soundgarden – Live from Artist’s Den (recorded 2013)
Neil Young – Tuscaloosa (recorded 1973)