The arrival of Christmas means the year is quickly drawing to a close. Here are some standout titles of 2019 that I had somehow missed upon their initial release that are well worth adding to your music library.
Artist: Kiefer Sutherland
Title: Reckless & Me (BMG)
You might like if you enjoy: Merle Haggard, Michael Ubaldini, Johnny Cash
Tell me more: Although Kiefer Sutherland's outstanding Jude Cole-produced debut Down in a Hole was among my favorite albums of 2016, I somehow missed the release of the famed actor-musician's sophomore album when it was released back in April 2019 (I'll blame it on my Coachella-related duties). Well, I've finally had a chance to listen to Reckless & Me and I'm kicking myself that I didn't wrap my ears around this 10-track LP sooner. All the honest real life tales and authentic traditional country music elements that made Sutherland's debut a thrill are firmly in place this time around as well with the raspy-voiced singer demonstrating even more confidence with his signature vocals. Take "Saskatchewan," whose stirring arc includes an otherworldly musical intro, beautifully-delivered spoken word and sung sections as well as poignant literate verses worthy of the genre's greatest icons. The honky tonk gem "This is How It's Done," Leon Russell-flavored romp "Run to Him," evocative "Song for a Daughter," enthralling "Open Road," genre-busting "Agave" and countrified rock take on the 1993 Patty Loveless hit "Blame It On Your Heart" are as artistically rich as they are unquestionably listenable. One of the year's best. Information: KieferSutherland.net.
Artist: Hootie & the Blowfish
Title: Imperfect Circle (Capitol Nashville)
You might like if you enjoy: Hootie & the Blowfish, Carbon Leaf, Darius Rucker
Tell me more: It had been nearly 15 years since Hooties & the Blowfish last released a new album when Imperfect Circle was issued at the beginning of November. Fans of the South Carolina-spawned quartet's infectious blend of melodic alt and country-tinged rock will not be disappointed with this long-awaited return. The magic and innate gift the band has for creating instantly-memorable and inviting jangly roots rock is featured across the 13-track disc. The bouncy "New Year's Day," captivating "Wildfire Love" (featuring guest singer Lucie Silvas), reggae-flavored "Turn It Up," reflective "Why" and buoyant heartland rocker "Rollin' " are among the top-tier cuts on the LP. Singer Darius Rucker's rich baritone is as potent as when it was first heard on Hootie & the Blowfish's 1994 debut album Cracked Rear View. The talents of guitarist-backing vocalist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld provide nuanced musicality to the set, making this an essential listen for fans of the group. Information: hootie.com.
Artist: Andy Hill & Renee Safier
Title: Fuse32 (Andy Hill & Renee Safier)
You might like if you enjoy: Fleetwood Mac
Tell me more: Fixtures on the Southern California music scene, Andy Hill & Renee Safier, have just issued their 16th audio CD title, Fuse32. The talented duo's wide-ranging sonic spirit extends from uptempo classic rock-styled material to affecting ballads. It is the diversity of material, their wonderful voices (whether solo and or when harmonizing together) and their ability to tap into compelling songwriting traditions that make the album such a great listen. The riff rocker "Jack (Get Me Out of the Hole)," electronic-draped "It's Fine," Bob Dylan-worthy "Blood On The Tracks," the country tearjerker "I Fall Apart" (showcasing Safier's lovely soprano), opulent "Great Big Light" and ambitious roots rocker "Fuse32" are among the excellent songs on the album. Information: andyandrenee.com.
Artists: Culture, Gladiators, the Mighty Diamonds, more
Title: Send I a Lion: A Nighthawk Reggae Joint (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Morwells, Wailing Souls, Culture
Tell me more: Reggae lovers will want to fully immerse themselves in the 20-track compilation Send I A Lion: A Nighthawk Reggae Joint. The new title gathers together Nighthawk Records founder/producer Leroy Jodie Pierson's favorite roots reggae tracks from that vital label. The range of material is bound by strong songwriting and strong production bringing out the vocals and musicians. The material is uniformly strong; my favorites on the disc include Culture's hypnotic "Calling Rastafari," Justin Hinds and the Dominoes' tender "Weeping Eyes," the Mighty Diamonds' alluring "4000 Years," celebratory horns-adorned "Bless Our Soul courtesy of the Gladiators, and Morwells' pop-tinted "Young Lover." Of particular interest is a previously-unissued demo where the Mighty Diamonds perform the aforementioned "4000 Years," where Bunny Diamond is providing the rhythm played on the back of a phone book! The retrospective contains detailed liner notes and photos from Pierson's collection adding depth to the wonderful release. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.