Herein find Doctor Dave’s eminently erudite observations for the year just passed. Guarantee: MeShell is the Queen of Rock, Macca still thrills us, and Trump will always be an asshole no matter whose year-end list is cited.
Top 10 Albums of 2018 (in order):
MeShell Ndegeocello — Ventriloquism (Naive Pop/Believe)
I’m rarely a big fan of covers albums so nobody was more surprised than I was that this one blew me away. On Ventriloquism, the ever unpredictable Ndegeocello offers up versions of 11 R&B classics from the 80s and 90s. And she makes them her own while somehow staying true to the originals. This album is worth it for her sublime cover of Prince’s 1986 gem “Sometimes It Snows in April” alone. With the addition of songs by TLC, Al B. Sure and the Force M.D.s, it’s indispensable.
The English Beat — Here We Go Love! (Here We Go Records/Megaforce)
This is the first new album in 35 years from ska legends The English Beat — and it’s a good one. While Dave Wakeling is the only member of the original sextet on board here, that hardly matters since he was always the voice of the Beat and its principal songwriter. The material on Here We Go Love runs the gamut from the rollicking title track to sociopolitical songs like “If Killing Worked” and “How Can You Stand There” to the lovely ballad “Never Die.” Welcome back, Dave!
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever — Hope Downs (Sub Pop)
Full disclosure: I have no idea what “Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever” means — apart from good music. The full-length debut from this young Australian band lives up to the hype. It’s a concise album (roughly half an hour long) that draws on the talents of three members who all write, sing and play guitar, and never outstays its welcome. Highlights include the urgent “Bellarine,” the more contemplative “Cappucino City,” and “Mainland,” which falls somewhere in between. If you like moody guitar-driven music, you would do well to check these guys out.
Paul McCartney — Egypt Station (Capitol)
What can you say about Paul McCartney at this point? Egypt Station is his first studio effort in four years and it’s well worth hearing. To these ears, a few of the 16 songs could have been lost, making the album a little tighter — but that’s a minor complaint. Egypt proves that McCartney is still making good music at 76. Being that we’ve lost so many legendary musicians in the past few years, it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re lucky he’s still with us.
Dirty Sidewalks — Bring Down the House Lights (No Count Records)
If you didn’t know otherwise, you might think that Bring Down the House Lights is the latest album by The Jesus & Mary Chain. And in fact, this band is also led by two brothers. But Erik and Evan Foster actually hail from Seattle, not from Scotland. Regardless, their debut album has the Mary Chain’s combination of fuzzed out guitars, deadpan vocals, dark lyric matter and infectious melodies down pat. For proof, check out “Rock & Roll (Save My Soul),” “Never Be Alone” and the wonderfully titled “Heard You Wanna Kill Me.”
Mary Elaine Jenkins — Hold Still (Good Child Music)
Mary-Elaine Jenkins is a singer-songwriter from South Carolina by way of Brooklyn. Hold Still, which is her debut, finds her singing mostly originals but throwing a few covers (like “St. James Infirmary”) in for good measure. Opening song “The Rooster” sets the tone and is my personal favorite. But the whole disc has a down-home charm due to the cozy production and Jenkins’ distinct vocals.
Blood Orange — Negro Swan (Domino)
Negro Swan is the fourth album by Devonte Hynes (AKA Blood Orange). He has said that it’s an attempt to capture what it’s like to be black and queer in this day and age. Regardless of whether you can relate to the subject matter, there’s a lot of good music here that draws from genres as diverse as hip-hop, alt-rock and Quiet Storm. Hynes handles most of the vocals and instruments himself but also welcomes a very diverse group of guests, ranging from transgender model and activist Janet Mock to Puff Daddy!
The Innocents — Teardrop Kiss (Public Records)
Veteran band The Innocents return with their first offering in many moons. Teardrop Kiss doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel or keep up with trends but instead finds this Australian trio doing what they do best: infectious, intelligent power pop. As a bonus, the cover art is great.
Mary Gauthier — Rifles & Rosary Beads (In The Black)
If you’re familiar with Mary Gauthier, you know that she’s one of the great American songwriters of the past 20 years or so. Rifles & Rosary Beads, if not quite up to the level of her last two discs (I chose Trouble & Love as my top album of 2014), is still a winner. Generally, Gauthier writes from her own experience but on Rifles, she tried something different. These songs were co-written with war veterans and influenced almost entirely by their experiences. Highlights include “The War After the War,” “Bullet Holes in the Sky” and “Iraq.”
Paul Simon — In the Blue Light (Sony/Legacy)
The latest album from Paul Simon does not include new material per se. Rather, Simon delves into his extensive and legendary back catalog and reinterprets 10 songs that he feels he could have improved on. The result is a quiet triumph that touches on many phases of his solo career (no Simon & Garfunkel tunes are included). In the Blue Light takes its title from the song “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” — which first appeared on 1980’s One Trick Pony and is featured again here.
* Brandi & the Alexanders — How Do You Like It (Red Parlor Records)
* Jonathan Byrd & the Pickup Cowboys — Pickup Cowboy (Jonathan Byrd/Waterbug)
* The Beths — Future Me Hates Me (Carpark Records)
* Raul Midon — If You Really Want (Artistry Music)
* HAWK — Bomb Pop (New Garden Music)
Tom Petty — An American Treasure (Reprise)
The Beatles — White Album 50th Anniversary Edition (Capitol)
Various Artists — Harmony in My Head: UK Pop & New Wave, 1977 — 1981 (Cherry Red)
Fleetwood Mac — 50 Years: Don’t Stop (Warner Brothers)
Bob Dylan — More Blood, More Tracks (Sony/ Legacy)
Bram Tchaikovsky — Strange Men, Changed Men (Cherry Red)
Permanent Green Light — Hallucinations (Omnivore Recordings)
Indigo Girls — Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Rounder)
Toto — 40 Trips Around the Sun (Sony/Legacy)
The Quick — Mondo Deco (Mercury/Real Gone)
Best EP: Public Practice — Distance Is A Mirror (Wharf Cat Records)
In Memoriam: This is a tough one… From a purely historical and influential point of view, there’s little question that it would be Aretha Franklin. But from a personal one, it would have to be John Wicks.
John was the lead singer, rhythm guitarist and composer of The Records, one of the great pop bands of the New Wave era (or any era, really). I’ve loved The Records since I first heard their hit “Starry Eyes” as a kid. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know John and Will Birch (his songwriting partner and a talent in his own right) and writing about them for Blurt and other outlets. John was an underrated musician and a good guy and I’ll miss him.
Read our story on John: https://blurtonline.com/feature/still-starry-eyed-the-records/
Most Disturbing Trend: Hard to pick one, as most of the disturbing trends this past year are nothing new. Major labels generally releasing crap when there’s so much good music out there… More venues closing… Magazines that expect their writers to work for free… Sexist behavior throughout the industry… And perhaps worst of all, Jon Bon Jovi is still releasing albums.
Best Label: Cherry Red
Best New Artist: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Best Concert: Nona Hendryx and Rock Solid Women, Joe’s Pub, NYC
Strangest Concert: An Evening of Christmas Songs with Mark Kozelek, City Loft, NYC
Best Band Name: Everyone Dies in Utah
Biggest Asshole: Donald Trump
Hey, I know he’s not a musician but he’s not much of a President either. 2018 was an awful year both personally and politically. But it was a better than average year musically. And during times like these, we need musicians — and artists of all stripes — more than ever.