Monday, December 31, 2018

Robert Kinsler's Favorite New Albums of 2018

As many of you know, I have long given up trying to rank my favorite albums of the year; I prefer to list my favorite titles alphabetically by artist and don't necessarily restrict myself to a "Top 10" if there is a greater number deserving of the attention. This list features my favorite 18 studio album releases of 2018. Click here to see a list of my favorite deluxe reissues/special editions/live releases of 2018...

Artist: Bird Streets
Title: Bird Streets (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist wonders John Brodeur and Jason Falkner have joined forces as Bird Streets. Just listening to the pair's eponymous 11-track disc is to be awed by the power of song craft, virtuoso musicianship and creative give and take. The shimmering "Betting On The Sun" impresses with a fusion of strong melody, probing lyrics and a soundscape that thrives on vocal layers, immersive guitars and a unifying rhythm. The ambitious "Stop To Breathe" builds to a swirling climax, with multiple guitar lines that thrill even in the fade out. The tuneful Americana-tinged power pop "Same Dream" is a driving nugget, avoiding cliche while soaring to tuneful heights. On the beautiful "Spaceship" Brodeur's affecting vocals explore life's disappointments with artful candor. Bird Street was produced by Falkner, and features 11 tracks written and performed by Brodeur (in conjunction with Falkner); the disc also features guest appearances by Miranda Lee Richards and Luther Russell (The Freewheelers, Those Pretty Wrongs). Information:

Artist: Rosanne Cash
Title: She Remembers Everything (Blue Note)
Tell me more: Songstress Rosanne Cash released the deeply-affecting She Remembers Everything on Nov. 2. The album  the artist's first new LP in nearly five years  allows one of today's most gifted female singer-songwriters to probe the continuing challenges women have in the 21st century. Indeed, Cash's 10-track disc is a powerful and revealing exploration of the experience of women highlighted in a number of roles vividly described in songs that are both lyrically literate and musically beautiful. As if Cash's talents and insight weren't formidable enough, she is joined by the illustrious likes of Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Presley (the two share lead vocals with Cash on the wonderful "Gods of Harlem"), Colin Meloy (of the Decemberists) and Sam Phillips on the brilliant album. Information:

Artist: Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Title: "Look Now" / Deluxe Edition (Concord Records)
Tell me more: 
Who knew Elvis Costello & The Imposters would be back and release one of the best albums of 2018? The proof comes via the glorious Look Now, Costello's first new album in five years (Wise Up Ghost, a collaboration with the Roots, was released in September 2013). Look Now most closely recalls Costello's 1982 Geoff Emerick-produced gem Imperial Bedroom and his masterful baroque pop collaboration with Burt Bacharach, 1998's Painted from Memory. Indeed, Bacharach has co-written and added his piano talents on several tracks on "Look Now," including the stirring title track and the poignant "Photographs Can Lie" (the latter featuring some of Costello's most affecting vocals in memory); elsewhere there are echoes of Memphis soul (the rousing "Burnt Sugar is So Bitter," a song he co-wrote with Carole King back in the '90s), Springsteen "Burn to Run"-era rock ("Unwanted Number") and even Philadelphia soul ("Suspect My Tears"). "Look Now" is co-produced by Costello and five-time Grammy winner Sebastian Krys. The stellar collection also proves to be an outstanding celebration of The Imposters (Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher). The Deluxe Edition of Look Now expands the standard LP with four additional gems including the lovely "Isabelle in Tears," French language "Adieu Paris (L'Envie Des Etoiles)" and tender "Final Mrs. Curtain." If you have not picked up "Look Now" yet, get the Deluxe Edition. Information:

Artist: The Fallen Stars
Title: Leaves on the Wind  Vol. 3: Can't Take The Sky From Me (Kiss My Squirrel Music)
Tell me more: When Firefly first aired on the Fox network in September 2002, it immediately captured the attention of discerning fans (now known as "Browncoats") of science fiction with its unique cast of authentic characters, blend of outer space and Western landscapes, and sharp storytelling. Although the Joss Whedon-created series was cancelled after a mere 14 episodes, the influence of the series was profound (indeed the film "Serenity" was released in 2005 to critical acclaim). Look no further than the Fallen Stars' compelling trilogy titled Leaves on the Wind, with Vol. 3: Can't Take The Sky From Me having been released in 2018. On volume 3 of Leaves on the Wind, musical duo Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes have crafted songs inspired by the final four episodes of "Firefly," as well as offering up their emotive take on Whedon's theme song for the series ("The Ballad of Serenity"). Fans of the first two "Leaves on the Wind" titles will pleased that "Can't Take The Sky From Me" is the equal with its Americana-styled songs capturing the magic of the series in song. The countrified rocker "Naked" serves as a duet for Tracy and Bobbo, whose voices shine alone or together in the spirited choruses. "Carry Me" is especially poignant, with an acoustic flavor and sweet melody that plays out in the verses and choruses. The rollicking "Home" and yearning "Here I Am" also capture the creative power of the groundbreaking sci-fi series. Information:

Artist: First Aid Kit
Title: Ruins (Columbia)
Tell me more: The world's most amazing young Americana group is actually a duo from Sweden. Comprised of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, First Aid Kit released one of the first epic albums of 2018, the masterful Ruins. The siblings each have exceptional voices that soar alone but when blended together the results are never less than otherworldly. Take the first song "Rebel Heart,"  locked together across the intoxicating verses and choruses there is one section leading to a break where timbre of their voices mirror each other via an extended note that is simply dazzling. On the introspective "It's A Shame," their sopranos cascade amidst a sonic backdrop of electric guitar (courtesy of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck), pedal steel, percussion and a sublime mix of piano and organ - the song's nuanced finale has their voices dropping low against light acoustic guitar. Other songs that impress powerfully include the melancholy-laced "Fireworks," countrified "Postcard" and yearning "Distant Star." The lyrics across the disc are gloriously literate as well, solidifying the substantial might of this 10-song release. Information:

Artist: Gorillaz
Title: The Now Now (Warner Bros./Parlophone)
Tell me more: On the brilliant 2018 Gorillaz release The Now Now, singer-songwriter Damon Albarn has essentially followed up his 2014 release Everyday Robots with a sequel of sorts; the disc is intoxicating musically even while offering a lyrically-impactful search for finding one's self in a world - America in particular  where people seem to be more alone than ever. Whereas 2017's Gorillaz return Humanz was packed with all-star guests ranging from Mavis Staples and Grace Jones to Popcaan across the track listing, The Now Now is a decidedly more intimate and stronger affair. A soundscape paved with cool beats, retro synths and grooves surrounding Albarn's signature vocals, the 11-track disc includes the breezy "Humility" (featuring jazz guitarist George Benson's shining fretwork), the '80s-mining "Tranz," infectious "Lake Zurich," distant "Magic City" (complete with Blur guitarist Graham Coxon's flourishes) and the enthralling "One Percent." Information:

Artist: The Jayhawks
Title: Back Roads and Abandoned Motels (Legacy Recordings)
Tell me more: Fresh off their role backing legendary Ray Davies on his Our Country: Americana Act IIthe Jayhawks have released their own brilliant masterwork titled Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. Anyone who has admired any of the Twin Cities-spawned troupe's previous albums issued across the past three decades will want to get a listen of this outstanding LP. The album opens with the Memphis-styled soul of "Come Cryin' to Me," featuring the shining vocals of band keyboardist Karen Grotberg (whose voice draws strong comparisons with Roseanne Cash). That song was co-penned by Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris and members of the Dixie Chicks and was first featured on Natalie Maines' 2013 release Mother  this version outdistances that recording in spades. The rest of the album is just strong, with band drummer Tim O'Reagan singing several tracks (including the acoustic-flavored "Long Time Ago") and Louris offering up his signature vocals across most of the disc. Outstanding song craft, lush vocal harmonies and creative arrangements are everywhere. The instantly-infectious alt-country rocker "Everybody Knows," melodic "Backwards Women," romantic "Need You Tonight" and acoustic nugget "Bird Never Flies" are among this writer's favorite songs on Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. As if the album wasn't impressive enough, all 11 tracks were recorded in just two sessions. Amazing. Information:

Artist: Paul Kelly
Title: Nature (Cooking Vinyl)
Tell me more: Paul Kelly's new LP combines poetry from five literary masters (Dylan ThomasWalt WhitmanSylvia PlathGerard Manley Hopkins and Phillip Larkin) as well as his own prose with a shared theme reflecting the disc's title Nature. The songcraft is as glorious as the verse with a diverse soundscape encompassing folk rock (the propulsive "With the One I Love"), Celtic-tinged folk ("And Death Shall Have No Dominion," "A Bastard Like Me"), baroque pop ("The River Song") and Americana ("Little Wolf," "Morning Storm," "The Trees"). The lush neo-classical "Bound to Follow (Aisling Song)" features soprano Kate Miller-Heidke and further captures the exhilarating spirit of this special project that simultaneously and magically celebrates the power of poetry, song and the natural world. Information:

Artist: Johnny Marr
Title: Call the Comet (New Voodoo Records)
Tell me more: Since the breakup of The Smiths in 1987 guitarist Johnny Marr has carved out a wide-ranging path performing with everyone from The The and the Pretenders to Modest MouseTalking Heads and even famed composer Hans Zimmer! But the most astounding ripple in Marr's incredible journey has been a solo career launched with 2013's The Messenger. That album, as well as 2014's Playland and 2015's live import Adrenalin Baby, have rapidly established Marr as one of this decade's most exciting rock artists. On June 15, 2018, Marr released his third studio album Call the Comet, and the 12-song set offers definitive proof that while Marr's signature guitar work put him on the map his elevated songcraft and top-tier vocals guarantee listeners will be swept away and immersed across "Call the Comet." The disc's track listing shines from start to finish, with the spacious "Rise," evocative "Hi Hello," hypnotic "A Different Gun" and breathtaking "Walk Into the Sea" among the awe-inspiring songs. Information:

Artist: The Monkees
Title: Christmas Party (Rhino Records)
Tell me more: Capturing the magic of the Monkees' most beloved recordings of the 1960s and fusing that with the energy of contemporary power pop, Christmas Party features a mix of classic seasonal favorites, artful remakes and newly-penned songs that make for one of the most inviting sets of the season. Gems fill this sparkling collection; the Andy Partridge-penned "Unwrap You At Christmas" is bolstered by a sweet string section and soaring vocals from Micky DolenzMichael Nesmith's affecting vocals add just the right moodscape to a wistful cover of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." A shimmering cover of the Alex Chilton-penned Big Star classic "Jesus Christ" and lush version of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" are reworked enough to make them essential. Several of the late Davy Jones' vocal tracks are used on the disc, including a lovely "Silver Bells." Peter Tork uses his rich baritone and skills on the banjo in a poignant Americana-styled version of "Angels We Have Heard On High." Among this writer's favorite tracks are the instantly-infectious "What Would Santa Do," a melodic rocker written by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo that takes a playful swipe at those who can't get into the Christmas spirit; "House of Broken Gingerbread" is another killer new cut (this one penned by album producer Adam Schlesinger and Michael Chabon), a potent and tuneful modern rocker. Information:

Artist: Old 97's
Title: Love The Holidays (ATO Records)
Tell me more: The members of Old 97's truly do "love the holidays" and created the wildly spirited Christmas album in 2018 to prove it. The majority of songs on the 14-track Love The Holidays are original and fully capture the freewheeling spirit of the Texas-spawned band. The rollicking title track "Love The Holidays," '60s-flavored "I Believe in Santa Claus," cowpunk-tinged alt rocker "Gotta Love Being A Kid" and beautiful countrified folk nugget "Snow Angels" are early standouts on the disc. The world's most famous reindeer gets a new musical chapter courtesy of the colorful "Rudolph Was Blue." The reworked versions of traditional material such as "Auld Lang Syne," "Angels We Have Heard On High," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Up On The Housetop" are equally marvelous, with the quartet using their best instincts to capture the spirit of the originals without abandoning their raw and decidedly raucous approach. Information:

Artist: Phosphorescent
Title: C'est La Vie (Dead Oceans)
Tell me more: Since discovering Phosphorescent at the Stagecoach Festival in 2011, I've been a fan of the genre-blending troupe headed by singer-songwriter Matthew Houck. Now after an extended wait of more than five years (the group's previous album Muchacho was released in March 2013), Phosphorescent is back with their seventh studio album, C'est La Vie. The good news is the long wait was worth it; Phosphorescent's unique approach of crafting luxurious songs that occupy a dreamlike soundscape is fully intact. There are the wistful quiet nuggets ("Christmas Down Under," "These Rocks"), a driving Americana-tinged indie rocker ("Around the Horn") and even a meditative synth pop foray (the title track "C'est La Vie"). Information:

Artist: Ken Sharp
Title: Beauty in the Backseat
Tell me more: Ken Sharp's fifth LP Beauty in the Backseat mixes up things in all the right ways, unabashed in terms of being forcefully melodic while fused with a heavy dose of Philly soul. Lead-off track "Rock Show" is a splendid mix of soulful gospels, power pop tunefulness, fuzzy guitar textures adorned with a great solo from KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. The driving melodic rocker "Mona Lisa Smile" is pure ear candy. Other sonic delights include the intoxicating "No One Seems to Stay Together Anymore," lovely "Closer" and racing "24 Hours a Day." Sharp is joined by another one of his heroes when Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Oates guests on "Philly Kind of Night." Sharp also pays tribute to several other musical heroes courtesy of the ambitious baroque pop "The Day That David Bowie" died and joyful "I Wanna Be David Cassidy." Information:

Artist: Michael Simmons
Title: First Days of Summer (Crab Apple Records)
Tell me more: The Michael Simmons album First Days of Summer captures the spirit of summertime even while creating a sweeping soundscape that means this album will sound great anytime. The lyrics are sharp while the musical chops enhance the enticing melodies; there is just a great positive vibe and freewheeling spirit across the dozen-track run. Simmons' wide-ranging explorations yield a strong crop of great originals and no two sound alike. The soulful "Do Your Best to Care" and explosive "Get Back What You Put In" kick off the full-length album. "No More Girls" is an intoxicating romp that could have been recorded by hitmakers in the '60s; the crunchy pop of "Let's Fall In Love" is one of my favorites on the disc with its mix of Matthew Sweet melodic rock and smart Ric Ocasek styling. "Rudderless Day" is a similarly winning rocker. The lush title track somehow revisits classic Beach Boys territory while sounding completely original. The wonderful baroque-meets-psychedelic "Centre of the Spiral" is a tender and mature look inside a relationship as the best moments of a couple's journey together have passed. Simmons handles most lead vocals and the majority of musical duties on the album with a masterful touch; a few notable guests crop up here and there (including guitarist Robbie Rist, cellist Matthew Carney and lead guitarist Addison Love). Not only are all the songs outstanding and produced perfectly, but the release comes in several wonderful configurations. Information:

Artist: Simple Minds
Title: War Between Worlds (BMG)
Tell me more: Simple Minds returned with yet another masterwork. The Scottish outfit's 2018 album War Between Worlds is bolstered by an amazing collection of songs that are both artful and intoxicating; listeners who connected with 2014's thrilling Big Music will definitely want to pick up War Between Worlds. The material here blends ethereal synthesizers, infectious rhythms, blazing and soaring guitar work (just listen to the fiery "Barrowland Star") and Jim Kerr's signature vocals. Standouts on the disc abound; the electronica-tinged "Magic" and "The Signal and the Noise," driving "Summer" and dreamy "Utopia" showcase a 40-year-old group still focused on the future. Produced by Simple Minds with Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg, the album is available on standard and deluxe audio CD, standard, deluxe and picture disc vinyl, and digitally, The deluxe edition features three additional tracks, including the sweeping "Silent Kiss" and a reworked cover of the traditional Irish song "Dirty Old Town" featuring Kerr sharing vocals with Sarah Brown. Information:

Artist: The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Title: Merrie Land (Studio 13)
Tell me more: The second release from The Good, The Bad & The Queen (featuring Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simonon) is titled Merrie Land and the recently-issued title also happens to be one of the best new albums of 2018. A deluxe edition of Merrie Land comes as a sensational package featuring a 56-page hardback book with the album on audio CD; the book itself features sheet music, lyrics and cool artwork. While the deluxe edition is wonderful, casual fans can also pick up the album-only release as a single audio CD disc or digital download. Information:

Artist: Michael Ubaldini
Title: Song Of Our Time (Blackwater Records)
Tell me more: Michael Ubaldini released yet another brilliant full-length album in 2018; the aptly-titled Song Of Our Time features a dozen cuts finely crafted with nothing more than the artist's signature vocals, acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica. The tracks offer probing and penetrating observations of life in a fast-moving world caught in a state of seemingly-endless turmoil. Ubaldini's sound recalls the acoustic approach of legacy masters Bob Dylan and Neil Young but the Southern California troubadour has a strong voice of his own. The title track reflects the timbre of the age with Ubaldini looking around at a world filled with troubles and admitting "There's nothing I can do, but sing a song for you." Make no mistake that while the artist offers an honest assessment of our world there is a hopeful and uplifting resonance in his songcraft that provides comfort and optimism. Ubaldini's musical pen is wide and aside from the sharp political observations (just listen to "A Clean Mind," "Free Speech Blues" and "Teardrops") and personal defeat ("Walkin' Cane Blues") there are songs of love (the Celtic-flavored "Maddie O' Day") and loss ("When The Chips Were Down," "Gambled Away My Woman"). Song Of Our Time delivers on its stark title more fully with every listen. Information:

Artist: Danny Wilkerson
Title: Wilkerson (SpyderPop Records)
Tell me more: Listeners hungry for new music that is melodic, intelligent and ambitious almost beyond measure will be floored by Wilkerson, the brilliant debut from singer-songwriter Danny Wilkerson. The sonic ghosts of the Beatlesthe ZombiesJeff Lynne and XTC can be heard but to be sure the songs here are original and performances uniformly inspired. With songs this exceptional it doesn't hurt that Wilkerson is joined by an all-star cast of supporting players including Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (of Jellyfish, Imperial Drag and Beck fame) on keyboards and backing vocals, guitarist Pat Buchanan (Hall & Oates, Cyndi Lauper, Don Henley), multi-instrumentalist Joe Siders (The New Pornographers) and many others. If Jellyfish had teamed with Burt Bacharach it might sound something like the infectious opener "Everybody Loves to Love." The propulsive "Enough For Somebody" is buoyant and exuberant, perfectly capturing the joy of youthful love. Backed only by a string section, Wilkerson's inviting vocals shine on the probing "Endless Haze"; the Beatlesque "When Your Number's Up" puts his masterful talents as songwriter on display. The shimmering "How She Lost My Heart," lofty "Carry The One" and baroque pop "Let It Go Tonight" are late disc standouts. Produced and engineered by bleu, and mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London, Wilkerson is an amazing debut. Information:

Robert Kinsler

Robert Kinsler's Favorite Reissues, Live Albums and Special Editions of 2018

There is little doubt that 2018 was an amazing year for those who love deluxe editions and reissues, and special concert recordings (including those audio-only titles, as well as multi-format releases that came via Blu-ray, DVD and digital). Here are my 15 favorites I heard during a fantastic year...

Artists: The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade
Title: 3 X 4 (Yep Roc Records)
Tell me more: Los Angeles' so-called "Paisley Underground" was an exciting genre blending garage rock, jangly power pop and psychedelic rock that emerged at the dawn of the 1980s. The movement's best-known proponents  the BanglesRain Paradethe Dream Syndicate and the Three O'Clock  have joined forces on a must-hear collection where each group performs one song from each of the other three outfits  hence the clever title 3 X 4. Every cut on the 12-track disc is fantastic, capturing the individual talents of the groups and strength of the songwriting. The Dream Syndicate brings an almost Neil Young and Crazy Horse muscular approach to Rain Parade's "You Are My Friend." Rain Parade brings a Beatlesque touch to Three O'Clock's atmospheric "As Real As Real." Susanna Hoffs' shimmering lead vocals help propel the Bangles' lovely take on Rain Parade's dreamy "Talking In My Sleep." The Dream Syndicate offers up a rollicking take on the Bangles' classic "Hero Take a Fall," the version bolstered by the lush harmonies of Vicki Peterson and Linda Pitmon. The melancholy-drenched "Real World" finds Rain Parade bringing new depth to the Bangles favorite. 3 X 4 is one of the most glorious releases of 2018. Information:

Artist: The Beatles
Title: "The Beatles" White Album / Super Deluxe edition (Capitol Records)
Tell me more: This writer considers The Beatles' 1968 album best known as the "White Album" the greatest rock album of all time, so the release of the six-disc Super Deluxe 50th Anniversary edition earlier this year is likely an essential addition to any music lover's collection. The diverse and intoxicating range of brilliant songs include the eloquent "Blackbird," sweeping "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," blistering "Helter Skelter," poignant "Julia" and ethereal "Long Long Long." In addition, it features Ringo Starr's first solo contribution as both singer and songwriter, the wistful "Don't Pass Me By." The inclusion of the acoustic "Escher" demos is a revelation, showcasing early and sparse takes on many of the "White Album" classics. For more casual lovers of the Fab Four, a three-disc version is also available. Information:

Artist: Big Star
Title: Live at Lafayette's Music Room (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: For long-time fans and new followers of Big Star, the release of the Memphis' band's Live at Lafayette's Music Room is a true revelation. Recorded in the uncertain aftermath after co-founding member Chris Bell had left the pioneering power pop outfit in January 1973, singer-guitarist Alex Chilton, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer-singer Jody Stephens were captured during an opening slot for Houston R&B ensemble Archie Bell & the Drells. The live recording has been newly-remastered from Grammy-winning Michael Graves (the concert set was previously only available as disc 4 on the Grammy Award-winning Keep an Eye on the Sky box set released in 2009). Highlights on Live at Lafayette's Music Room abound; a rollicking "When My Baby's Beside Me," a raucous "She's A Mover" complete with extended fiery guitar work from Chilton, a lovely "The Ballad of El Goodo" and artfully reworked covers of classics from The Flying Burrito BrothersThe KinksTodd Rundgren and T. Rex to name a few. Information:

Artist: The Choir
Title: Artifact: The Unreleased Album (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: The 10 tracks featured on the Choir's aptly-titled Artifact: The Unreleased Album were recorded back in 1969 and each bristle with a timeless energy and creative approach that will never be dated. Things begin with the stirring British Invasion-spirited "Anyway I Can" and quickly extend with sonic seams that include psychedelic (especially "Ladybug" and the instrumental "For Eric"), as well as art-, folk- and melodic- rock styles. The rollicking "If These Are Men," the lovely baroque-styled "Have I No Love to Offer," the majestic "It's All Over" and vertiginous "Boris' Lament" could have all been radio hits at the time. The Choir was among the leading artists in Cleveland during the 1960s, and several of the musicians in the quintet would soon go on to help form the Raspberries. How wonderful it is that Artifact: The Unreleased Album has found new life almost 50 years after its creation. Information:

Artist: Gene Clark
Title: Gene Clark Sings for You (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Omnivore Recordings has recently released previously unheard post-Byrds recordings from Gene Clark. The good news for fans of the Byrds' early material as well as of Clark's solo work is this is an exciting new collection (Gene Clark Sings for You) that celebrates and expands the legacy of an important artist whose groundbreaking solo work was often overlooked in his lifetime (he died at the age of 46 in May 1991). Clark was the principal songwriter in the Byrds from 1964 to early 1966, writing classics such as "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "Set You Free This Time" and "She Don't Care About Time." Comprised of tracks recorded in 1967, Gene Clark Sings for You explore folk rock with beauty and insight. The opener "On Her Own" features Clark's signature vocal styling and taps into a wistful '60s sound. The follow-up "Past Tense" is even stronger, an upbeat folk rocker that captures the magic of his work with the Byrds but also foreshadows the alt-country movement of that latter part of the '60s and early '70s. Other nuggets on the album include the wistful "That's Alright by Me" and baroque-flavored "Down on the Pier." In addition to the eight actual tracks pulled from the "Gene Clark Sings for You" acetate in the aftermath of his departure from the Byrds, there are an additional five songs from another 1967 acetate given to the Rose Garden for that band's consideration (Omnivore have simultaneously released their 1968 album; it is reviewed later in this column). A final track, a lovely acoustic demo of "Till Today," features Clark running through the song for the Rose Garden. Information:

Artist: Thomas Dolby
Title: Hyperactive (BMG)
Tell me more: As Thomas Dolby prepared to set out on a rare tour last summer fans of the groundbreaking English musician, producer, author and university professor were rewarded with a two-disc audio CD collection Hyperactive. Casual fans may know Dolby best for his timeless hits "She Blinded Me With Science" and "Hyperactive" but this collection focused renewed light on Dolby's master strengths as a recording artist. The range of material on the essential set includes the buoyant "Hyperactive!", New Wave-flavored "Europa and the Pirate Twins," the lovely synthesizer foray "Valley of the Mind's Eye" and funky "Airhead — and that's just on the first disc. Moving on to disc two includes the bewitching "One of Our Submarines," the genre-defying "The Flat Earth," the soulful ballad "Beauty of a Dream," and melodic "Close But No Cigar." Information:

Artist: The Kinks
Title: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (Sanctuary Records)
Tell me more: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Kinks' 1968 masterwork The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is amazing. It features both stereo and mono mixes from the HD masters, bonus tracks and a previously-unreleased new single titled "Time Song." The two-disc audio CD version reviewed here also comes with a 20-page booklet and extensive liner notes. Lead singer-songwriter Ray Davies penned a slew of outstanding nostalgia-drenched songs exploring life and death, growing up and growing old, and wove those works together via a mix of musical styles that work perfectly. Indeed, pop-rock ("Starstruck"), psychedelia ("Wicket Annabella"), blues ("Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains"), chamber pop ("Big Sky," "Village Green"), and an intoxicating dose of British Music hall ("Sitting By The Riverside," "All Of My Friends Were There") are among the styles used by the Kinks on the wide-ranging title. Casual rock fans who only know the Kinks via the band's radio hits should consider delving into this wondrous title that was sadly overlooked at the time of its release in November 1968. Information:

Artist: Lone Justice
Title: The Western Tapes, 1983 (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: It's clear listening to the glorious 6-track EP The Western Tapes, 1983 featuring groundbreaking country roots rockers Lone Justice's earliest demo recordings that the band was decades ahead of its time. The strength of these early tracks  five of which are previously unissued  led the troupe on a glorious path to being signed to a major label and releasing several memorable LPs later that decade. The original lineup of Lone Justice (singer-guitarist Maria McKee, lead guitarist-vocalist Ryan Hedgecock, drummer Don Willens and bassist Dave Harrington) carved out a handful of songs that sound as potent today as they did 35 years ago; the rollicking "Working Late," aching "Don't Toss Us Away" and no-holds-barred "The Train" are among this writer's favorites on the disc. The stylish package is excellent and includes liner notes penned by producer Marvin Etzioni, who is spot-on when he writes "I believed we were creating a 21st century country band."  Information:

Artist: Buck Owens
Title: Country Singer's Prayer (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: More than 40 years after it was recorded, Buck Owens' last Capitol Records album has finally been released. Recorded in 1975, Country Singer's Prayer was never released by the label – likely because of widespread indifference to the title of the single of the same name. Listening to the stellar expanded edition of Country Singer's Prayer issued by Omnivore Recordings in 2018 is to wonder what the heck Capitol executives were thinking 43 years ago; the album is a stunning reflection of Owen's groundbreaking Bakersfield country music (an inspiration and influence on artists ranging from Ringo Starr and Gram Parsons to Dwight Yoakam). In addition to the album's original track listing, the new release features both B-sides from Owens' final two singles from the 1975-unissued LP. Fans of Owen's authentic country-western brew will be swept up by the disc's riches; dance-minded material ("John Law," "The Battle of New Orleans") and potent ballads (notably "A Different Kind of Sad" and "How's Everything") make this a rewarding listen from start to finish. The release is bolstered by new liner notes by Scott B. Bomar with interviews with long-time Buckaroos piano player Jim Shaw and Robert John Jones ("Rocky Topp"), who together co-wrote the memorable single "Country Singer's Prayer." Information:

Artist: Tom Petty
Title: An American Treasure (Reprise Records)
Tell me more: Filled with previously-unreleased studio songs, live cuts and spellbinding alternate takes of beloved favorites taken from throughout his career, the aptly-titled An American Treasure' captures the singular sound that Tom Petty carved out over forty-plus years. The four-disc set is broken down by decade with cuts from the 1970s, '80s, '90s and 2000s featured. Things kick off with the Byrds-flavored "Surrender," recorded by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 1976. Listening to the track is to be instantly transported back to the exuberance of the ensemble's early days. Live performances of "Listen To Her Heart" (from April 1977), and "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll and "Breakdown" (from a November 1977 set) also capture that spirit. The power of this collection thrills with each cut, and across the expansive set. The soulful "Lost in Your Eyes" (from 1975), power pop-meets-psychedelic album track "You and I Will Meet Again (1991), lush "Crawling Back To You (1994) and a live version of "Southern Accents" are among the super cuts on this 63-track collection. My favorite track is the previously-unreleased melodic rocker "Gainesville," an autobiographical track recorded in early 1998. Information:

Artist: The Rose Garden
Title: A Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Gene Clark, the Hollies, Sonny & Cher
Tell me more: Just listening to the expanded reissue of the Rose Garden's eponymous album is to hear why the best music from the 1960s continues to resonant so strongly a half century later. A Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection shines a bright light on the Rose Garden, a troupe best known for their hit single "Next Plane to London." The group's full talents are on display on the expansive 26-track collection issued last summer. John Noreen's nuanced 12-track guitar adorns the pretty "I'm Only Second," while everywhere the lead vocals of Diana DeRoseand James Groshong entice the listener. Beyond the sterling original material there are memorable covers of material by the celebrated likes of Gene Clark ("Long Time"), Neil Young ("Down to the Wire"), Bob Dylan ("She Belongs to Me") and the Byrds ("So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star"). There is also an outstanding 20-page, full illustrated booklet that further completes a complete re-introduction to the Los Angeles-spawned Rose Garden. Information:

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Title: Springsteen On Broadway (Columbia)
Tell me more: The audio companion to the acclaimed film currently showing on NetflixBruce Springsteen's Springsteen On Broadway features the complete audio recording of the Netflix special. Running the full length of two audio CDs (or also available as a 4 LP vinyl set), Springsteen On Broadway is a mix of intimate performances and spoken stories leading up to the presentation of the songs. The winner of a Tony Award, Academy Award and 20 Grammy Awards, Springsteen brings the rich mix of songcraft and storytelling featured in his autobiography "Born to Run" to his performance captured at the Walter Kerr Theatre featured on Springsteen On Broadway. There is a mix of humor, wit and life's lessons that compel the recording at every turn. Songs include "Growing Up," "My Hometown," "The Promised Land" and "Born to Run." Information:

Artist: Styx
Title: The Mission — CD + Blu-ray (UMe)
You might like if you enjoy: Styx, Boston
Tell me more: When Styx released The Mission on June 16, 2017, few saw the album coming. The band's first new studio album in 14 years, The Mission was a creative and commercial triumph. Among the notable songs featured on "The Mission" are the rocking "Gone Gone Gone," expansive "Radio Silence" the Neo-classical "Khedive" and anthemic "The Outpost." Fast forward to 2018 and Styx rewarded rock fans with a deluxe two-disc edition that includes the album on audio CD and a second Blu-ray Disc loaded with essential content. Not only is listening to the immersive 5.1 Surround Sound mix a great experience but there are stellar visualizations for each of the album's 14 songs based on the original album artwork. Among the bonus content on the Blu-ray Disc are music videos that add insight into the concept album and its creation. "Gone Gone Gone" is featured as both a concert-minded video and a secondary video created by NASA using the space agency's considerable resources, and a terrific live version of "Radio Silence" performed in Syracuse, NY.  Also included is "Making The Mission" where Tommy Shaw discusses the making of The Mission as a 5.1 mix (he even showcases some of the specific guitars he used on the album). Information:

Artist: Henry Townsend
Title: Mule (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Armed with a potent baritone voice and keyboard and guitar skills to match, Henry Townsend's talents shine across the expanded reissue of his 1980 album Mule. The late bluesman was born in 1909 and his spirit and sound emerge as fresh and enthralling today as when the disc was recorded nearly 40 years ago. Townsend's recording career dated back to the early 1930s and Mule marked an effort to put Townsend front and center on a full-length recording. The album is worth discovering, with the artist artfully pounding away on keyboards and plucking on guitar across the disc. As detailed in the album liner notes, Townsend would improvise while recording; the result is the performance of tracks that are vibrant and fully unique. The Delta-flavored "Tears Come Rollin' Down," rollicking piano-anchored "It's A Hard Road To Travel," spot on "Talkin' Guitar Blues" and the joyful romp "The Other Night" (a bonus track) ring out with an immediacy and power that are as much a tribute to Townsend as American blues music itself. Information:

Artist: The Zombies
Title: Greatest Hits (Varèse Sarabande Records)
Tell me more: The Zombies were an early member of the British Invasion and the new completely-remastered collection Greatest Hits showcases why the English quintet is bound for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2019. Completely remastered, the new 16-track Greatest Hits set features many of the band's most beloved songs. Early hits such as "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" as well as late '60s gems (notably "Time of The Season" and "This Will Be Our Year" from the group's masterwork Odessey and Oracle) are here; of equal interest are the terrific selections that expand the legacy of The Zombies including the soulful "Whenever You're Ready," intoxicating "I Love You" (still a key part of the band's concert sets), the cinematic thriller "Just Out of Reach" and the stirring "The Way I Feel Inside" (the latter a mostly a cappella track featuring lead singer Colin Blunstone). The colorful booklet includes outstanding liner notes penned by Andrew Sandoval that add insight about each of the songs included on the outstanding collection. Information:

Robert Kinsler

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Eclectic Range of Releases Close Out 2018

Although 2018 is in the history books, there are several late-year releases worthy of attention. The latest releases from country music supergroup Pistol Annies and Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry, as well as important deluxe reissues from English rockers the Kinks and bluesman Henry Townsend are available now.

Artist: Pistol Annies
Title: Interstate Gospel (Sony Music Nashville)
You might like if you enjoy: Kacey Musgraves, Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe
Tell me more: Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley have each carved out successful solo careers in country music so when they join forces as Pistol Annies expectations are high. On the celebrated trio's third full-length studio set Interstate Gospel there is an honesty and depth across the 14-track album that fully delivers on the talents of the three singer-songwriters. While never abandoning the greater sonic template associated with contemporary country music, Pistol Annies offer up original songs of empowerment and independence from a welcome feminine perspective. The freewheeling "Stop Drop and Roll One," lovely "Best Years of My Life," buoyant "Got My Name Changed Back," and introspective "When I Was His Wife" and "Cheyenne" leave their mark via undeniable song craft and telling lyrics. In addition to confessional tales of lust, regret and love gone mostly wrong, there are uptempo proclamations of faith ("Interstate Prelude," "Interstate Gospel") and a particularly affecting look at the challenges of life on the farm ("5 Acres of Turnips"). It doesn't hurt that Lambert, Monroe and Presley have voices that shine and soar with every stellar turn. Information:

Artist: The Kinks
Title: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (Sanctuary Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Kinks, Blur, the Zombies' "Odessey and Oracle"
Tell me more: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Kinks' 1968 masterwork The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is amazing. It features both stereo and mono mixes from the HD masters, bonus tracks and a previously-unreleased new single titled "Time Song." The two-disc audio CD version reviewed here also comes with a 20-page booklet and extensive liner notes. Lead singer-songwriter Ray Davies penned a slew of outstanding nostalgia-drenched songs exploring life and death, growing up and growing old, and wove those works together via a mix of musical styles that work perfectly. Indeed, pop-rock ("Starstruck"), psychedelia ("Wicket Annabella"), blues ("Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains"), chamber pop ("Big Sky," "Village Green"), and an intoxicating dose of British Music hall ("Sitting By The Riverside," "All Of My Friends Were There") are among the styles used by the Kinks on the wide-ranging title. Casual rock fans who only know the Kinks via the band's radio hits should consider delving into this wondrous title that was sadly overlooked at the time of its release in November 1968. Information:

Artist: Henry Townsend
Title: Mule (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Big Joe Williams, Pinetop Sparks, Sonny Boy Williamson
Tell me more: Armed with a potent baritone voice and keyboard and guitar skills to match, Henry Townsend's talents shine across the expanded reissue of his 1980 album Mule. The late bluesman was born in 1909 and his spirit and sound emerge as fresh and enthralling today as when the disc was recorded nearly 40 years ago. Townsend's recording career dated back to the early 1930s and Mule marked an effort to put Townsend front and center on a full-length recording. The album is worth discovering, with the artist artfully pounding away on keyboards and plucking on guitar across the disc. As detailed in the album liner notes, Townsend would improvise while recording; the result is the performance of tracks that are vibrant and fully unique. The Delta-flavored "Tears Come Rollin' Down," rollicking piano-anchored "It's A Hard Road To Travel," spot on "Talkin' Guitar Blues" and the joyful romp "The Other Night" (a bonus track) ring out with an immediacy and power that are as much a tribute to Townsend as American blues music itself. Information:

Artist: Bryan Ferry and his Orchestra
Title: Bitter-Sweet (BMG)
You might like if you enjoy: Roxy Music, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, DeVotchKa
Tell me more: Bryan Ferry and his Orchestra are casting new light on the music of Roxy Music and some of Ferry's solo works via the aptly-titled Bitter-Sweet. Fans of the early 20th century British Music hall genre will be find that aplenty on "Bitter-Sweet." Ferry's work on the LP was inspired by his role with the Sky Atlantic/Netflix television series "Babylon Berlin" (a show set in the 1920s and based on the books authored by Volker Kutscher). The pensive "New Town," yearning "Bitter Sweet," gorgeous "Zamba" and ambitious instrumental "Limbo" are among this writer's favorites on the sweeping collection. Information:

Robert Kinsler