Longtime BLURT contributor Prof. Steinfeld weighs in on the year that’s just about done. Picks to click: Amanda Palmer (pictured above), Durand Jones, The Monroes, Tom Petty, Natalie Walker, and more.
BY DAVE STEINFELD
Top 10 Albums of 2019:
- Amanda Palmer — There Will Be No Intermission (8 Foot Records/Cooking Vinyl)
These days, it’s easy to throw around phrases like “his/her most personal work to date.” But in Amanda Palmer’s case, if anything, this is an understatement. There Will Be No Intermission is Palmer’s first solo outing in nearly seven years — and it indeed her most personal work to date. Palmer throws it all out there on Intermission: losing her best friend to cancer, talking another friend through an abortion, not to mention being a new Mom in these apocalyptic times. It adds up to a song cycle about loss that can be harrowing at times but is ultimately uplifting. There is no one else like Amanda Palmer — not in the music she makes, not in the way she delivers that music to the public.
- Durand Jones & the Indications — American Love Call (Dead Oceans)
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that Durand Jones & the Indications recorded this album in the early ‘70s. This Indiana-based band has already perfected the kind of soul that The Delfonics and The Stylistics popularized back then. It doesn’t hurt that they have two lead singers (Jones and Aaron Frazer) whose voices compliment each other. This album is comprised mainly of love songs, but there are a couple of moments — like “Morning in America”— where the band tackles more topical material with fine results.
- The Monroes — The Monroes 2.0 (Tugboat Music)
The Monroes are best known for their 1982 hit “What Do All the People Know,” one of the great songs of the New Wave era. Now, frontman Bob Monroe returns with a new album and lineup more than three decades after the fact. The resulting album confirms that he had more than one great song in him. 2.0 covers a lot of ground — from the radio-friendly rocker “Midnight in Hollywood” to the unabashedly vulnerable ballad “Made for You” to the Beatlesque pop song “Tell Me Tonight.” Then there’s the great opening track, “White Lace and Blue Jeans,” an ode to a woman who is “sometimes wild and crazy, sometimes so austere.” File under “Comeback of the Year.”
- Mary Lambert — Grief Creature (Tender Heart Records)
Mary Lambert came to prominence in 2012 when she sang the hook of Macklemore’s #1 hit “Same Love” — one of the few hip-hop songs to support same sex marriage. Her own music couldn’t be further from hip-hop, though. Lambert is a singer-songwriter who writes on piano. Grief Creature is her first album since 2014 and it’s a great one, tackling everything from breakups (from both sides of the coin) to living with bipolar disorder to surviving rape. It It’s a testimony to Lambert that she can cram 17 tracks onto an album and not overstay her welcome.
- FKA Twigs — Magdalene (Young Turks)
Magdalene is the long-awaited sophomore set from English artist Tahliah Barnett (better known as FKA Twigs) — and it was worth the wait. This is a concise masterpiece, drawing equally from Kate Bush and urban music. The album’s centerpiece is a haunting meditation on Mary Magdalene, repurposed for the trip-hop age.
- The Highwomen (Elektra)
The Highwomen are a country-rock supergroup — a female answer to ‘80s band The Highwaymen. The women in question are Brandi Carlisle, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. Each of the four gets at least one moment in the spotlight on their self-titled debut, and the album is alternately introspective and rocking.
- The Jellybricks — Some Kind of Lucky (Wicked Cool Records)
The latest disc from this veteran Pennsylvania-based band is straightforward power pop. The Jellybricks aren’t reinventing the wheel, but on songs like “Corner of My Eye” and “Mrs. Misery,” they polish that wheel until it shines.
- Joslyn & the Sweet Compression (Robert Hall Records)
Joslyn & the Sweet Compression are another band — like Durand Jones & the Indications — that specializes in classic soul of the ‘70s variety. Joslyn Hampton sings her heart out on originals and a surprise cover of George Harrison’s “Long Long Long,” and the Sweet Compression provides great backup.
- Rickie Lee Jones — Kicks (TOSOD Music)
The latest album from Rickie Lee Jones is a collection of covers (her fourth). This time around, she interprets songs that were popularized by a wide variety of artists — from Dean Martin to Bad Company to Elton John.
- Vince Gill — Okie (MCA Nashville)
Veteran country artist (and sometime Eagle) Vince Gill hits a late-career peak on this extremely personal album.
Top 5 Compilations/Reissues:
- Tom Petty — The Best of Everything (Universal/Geffen)
- Various Artists — 1977: The Year Punk Broke! (Cherry Red)
- Various Artists — Electrical Language: Independent British Synth-Pop ’78 — ’84 (Cherry Red)
- New England — The New England Archives, Vol.1 (HNE Recordings/Cherry Red)
- The Rolling Stones — HONK (Universal/Interscope)
Top 5 EPs:
- Natalie Walker — Evenfall
- Rogers & Butler — Diana Dors
- Puss N’ Boots — Dear Santa
- Emily Mure — Sad Songs and Waltzes
- Jesse Terry & Alex Wong — Kivalina
Scott Walker, Ric Ocasek, Eddie Money, Ranking Roger, Ginger Baker, Marie Fredriksson, Dave Bartholomew, Andre Previn, Dr. John, Mark Hollis, James Ingram, Peter Tork, Hal Blaine, Keith Flint, Johnny Clegg, Larry Wallis… And so it goes.
Best Instrumental Album: Bruce Cockburn: Crowing Ignites (True North Records)
Best Concert: Amanda Palmer at Joe’s Pub, NYC
Best New Artist: Durand Jones & the Indications
Hype of the Year: Billie Eilish
2020 Release I’m Most Looking Forward To: Drive-By Truckers — The Unraveling
Favorite Piece for Blurt: Glen Matlock: From the Pistols To Palestine!
Wildcard/Summary: Where do I begin? Women clearly ruled the year in 2019. Six of my Top 10 new releases and three of my Top five EPs were made by women or female-fronted bands.
Unlike a lot of my peers, I still believe there is a ton of great music being made. The difference is that you can’t find most of it through the old channels. Record stores continue to struggle, while radio stations (commercial ones, at least) are all owned by Clear Channel and like-minded corporations who don’t know shit about music and don’t care to learn about it. So you really have to seek the good music out — which can be challenging. But it’s there and it’s being made by artists young and old, male and female, black and white, straight and gay, and everything in between. And these days — when we’re dealing not only with our own personal issues and losses but also with the collapse of our environment and the most divisive President of our lifetimes — it’s more important to seek out good music (and good art in general) than it ever has been.