*the ones that weren’t bluegrass, blues, or ‘old stuff’ like compilations, reissues, and archival releases
This is the second run at my list. The first is lost somewhere on my hard drive, obliterated by the Blue Screen of Death. Reassembling the list wasn’t terribly difficult (although I did decide to cut back from thirty to twenty titles), but I do know some of the placings changed, which is natural: once past the ‘top five,’ albums could flip-and-flop a position or three all down the list. What was more difficult was recalling all my brilliance of opinion- so, that is lacking. Still, this is how I’m feeling today, and I think I am comfortable with this being representative of my Roots Music Opinion for 2018. As always, these are my favourite albums of the year; it is not a ‘best of’…although, really it is!
- Mike Plume Band Born By The Radio– It took twenty-five years, but Mike Plume has emerged as the next great Canadian songwriter, a man who comfortably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those who influenced him. It has been a long ride, filled with songs memorable and albums impactful, but full realization is achieved with Born By The Radio. The songs are comprised of images universal and personal. “Waste a Kiss on Me,” on which he again squeezes in Kerouac, “Mama’s Rolling Stone,” “Monroe’s Mandolin,” and “Western Wind” are as strong songs as Plume has created, and the instrumentation and energy from the MPB is the stuff of legend. An album without waver. One of two Steve Coffey album covers on the list! (purchased download)
- Pharis & Jason Romero Sweet Old Religion– A pair of Canadian Folk Music Awards last month further embellished the repute of this focused British Columbia duo, and well-deserved they were of the recognition. Pharis’ voice is a wonder, Jason is no slouch, and together their old-timey harmonies and instrumentation are things of wonder, while their songs are contemporary slices of the world past and present. A beautiful album replete with memorable performances. (serviced CD)
3. John Wort Hannam Acres of Elbow Room– Alberta’s venerable folk songwriter went even deeper on his seventh album, sharing with listeners his innermost tribulations. Recent years appear to have (almost) got the best of Hannam, and he has poured his darkness and challenges into an expertly-crafted collection of songs that are inspiring and impactful while being just plain enjoyable. “Key of D Minor,” “The Quiet Life,” and “Ain’t Enough” are among the finest songs he has written and recorded, and the title track is a wonder: “where the dotted-lines turn to gravel” may become Fervor Coulee’s new tagline. John has long been a Fervor Coulee favourite, and that his album comes in #3 is testament to the strength of the Plume and Romero albums. (purchased download)
The new Word Press settings and features are turning what should be a twenty-minute copy and paste, insert the links, and publish activity into an hour of misery and wonky formats. Bear with me- I will try to fix upon publishing via editing. Sigh.
6. Hadley McCall Thackston Hadley McCall Thackston Reviewed here (serviced CD)
7. Rosanne Cash She Remembers Everything From first listen, and as she has since Seven Year Ache and Somewhere In The Stars hit the turntable at Climax Records 35 years ago, Cash drew me into her current state of mind. As she has long done, Cash is reflecting on current circumstances- politics, division, gender inequality, complexity of relationships- encouraging engagement at higher levels while ensuring her songs are listenable, intriguing, and nuanced. Beautiful, as ever. That she can address weighty topics without sounding didactic is a bonus. (purchased CD and vinyl)
8. Craig Moreau- A Different Kind of Train Reviewed here (serviced CD)
9. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Downey to Lubbock– Albums like this are the reason I continue to listen to music with a passion that has only increased over forty+ years. Two Americana masters come together to create an album standing with everything they’ve produced across lengthy careers. Hearing Alvin sing John Stewart’s “July, You’re A Woman” gets Downey to Lubbck a place in the top thirty: the two originals (including the autobiographical, mood-establishing title track- “I’m an old Flatlander,” Gilmore sings) and the expertly executed covers sneak it into top ten territory. (purchased download)
10. Mary Gauthier Rifles and Rosary Beads– An early favourite this year, the album dropped in regard simply because I lost the disc in June: sometimes I really regret my propensity toward clutter. Had I had it all year, Rifles and Rosary Beads may well have rated higher on this list. Still, I bought the vinyl last week and I was immediately reminded of the recording’s intensity. Gauthier and her songwriting collaborators have delved as deep into the experiences of America’s military service men and women (and their families) as likely anyone has before done. The effect is lasting, with lyrical detail capturing the full-impact of service experiences shared in songs far-reaching and memorable. Mary Gauthier has been quietly building her career and artistic vision for twenty years- it is terrific to see her ‘break-through’ (again!) in 2018. (purchased download; purchased vinyl)
11. Florent Vollant Mishta Meshkenu Long one of Canada’s finest and most influential roots musician, Vollant has been making time-stopping music since Kashtin’s first album. As far as I have heard, he never falters; Mishta Meshkenu is as anticipated- rhythmic, energetic, and memorable. I don’t need to know what he is singing about to appreciate this album. (purchased download)
12. Roscoe & Etta Roscoe & Etta– Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze are about as rock ‘n’ roll as this list is going to get. I ignored this album when it arrived- to be fair, it came without cover art or notes, a simple advance disc housed in a clear plastic sleeve. Once I listened, I was won over. Rewriting “You Oughta Know” as “Stupid Pretty Face” was fair brilliant, but the strength of the album is found across the entirety of eleven songs. “Play On” and “Broken Headlights” are among the strongest songs heard this year. Roscoe & Etta is a terrific album. (serviced CD)
13. John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness– A master who refuses to compromise. The Tree of Forgiveness is a concise album, all the more powerful for its intensity. Little lightness here, Prine is on a mission to expose his human condition. (purchased CD)
14. Kaia Kater- Grenades– Where our favourite female, biracial, Canadian, old-timey clawhammer banjo player reaches way out to grasp the flowers at the end of the branches. Kaia explores her heritage and family throughout Grenades, creating an album singularly engaging and insightful. More mainstream, even pop-oriented, than previous Kater albums, Grenades is a natural progression. (serviced download)
15. Ashley McBryde Girl Going Nowhere– Yeah, there is no room for music this good on country radio. (That clip brings this cynical and grizzled old man to tears. Seriously- the emotion!) No filler, these eleven songs alternately create moods and describe experiences that everyone can relate with, for good or bad. This is what country music needs to once again become. Fingers crossed; breath not held. (purchased download)
16. Eliza Gilkyson Secularia– Reviewed here (serviced download)
17. The Gibson Brothers Mockingbird– A significant departure for the perennial bluegrass powerhouse, but not a jarring one. The lead and harmony vocal signatures remain, and that they’ve broadened their approach for this album isn’t something anyone within the paranoid, protectionist bluegrass collective should fear. As always, excellent songs. (purchased download)
18. Pistol Annies- Interstate Gospel– A little bit irreverent (The album kicks off with, “Jesus is the bread of life without him, you’re toast”) and a whole lot brilliant (“I Got My Name Changed Back,” “5 Acres of Turnips,” “When I Was His Wife,” and “Masterpiece,” being but four) their third album is somehow even better than those which came before. The trio of dixie chicks- Lambert, Monroe, and Presley- mine fifty-plus years of songwriting history to craft a set of original, self-written songs that is smart, sassy, and certainly superior to that clogging country music airwaves. (purchased CD)
19. Leslie Satcher & the Electric Honey Badgers 2 Days in Muscle Shoals– While previous albums were enjoyable but uneven, everything comes together for Satcher on 2 Days in Muscle Shoals. A venerable rockin’ southern country masterpiece that dares you to not dance. (purchased download)
20. Joe Nolan Cry Baby– A moody, soulful album of finely-tuned roots music. Last time I heard Nolan, he was busking at a farmers’ market. While good practice to test-run his songs, I hope Cry Baby takes him further down his hillbilly highway. (serviced download)
Honourable mentions: D. B. Rielly Live From Chester (#21, and bumped by the late arrival of the Pistol Annies) reviewed here, Vivian Leva Time Is Everything (reviewed here), Steve Forbert The Magic Tree, Mandy Barnett Strange Conversation, J. P. Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing (reviewed here), Edward David Anderson Chasing Butterflies (reviewed here), Kevin Gordon Tilt and Shine, Amos Lee My New Moon, Tim Easton Paco & the Melodic Polaroids, Mark Erelli Mixtape, Kristina Murray Southern Ambrosia, Mariel Buckley Driving in the Dark, The LYNNes Heartbreak Song For the Radio (reviewed here), and Thomas Stajcer Will I Learn to Love Again? (reviewed here)
There you have it, my favourite singer-songwriter (-ish) albums if 2018. Hopefully my choices lead you in a direction you find satisfying; my list is likely different from others’ you’ve encountered. Later this month we will finalize my Top Ten albums of the year. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.