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Sunday
Dec302018

Best of 2018

Here we are again, renewing the franchise...

2018 was shaping up along similar lines to 2017 for me musically until we decided late in the day to sod the expense and catch Springsteen on Broadway in New York in December, just a few days before it closed.

Astonishing and worth every ludicrous penny. Much more than a one-man concert, it was a fascinating and moving disquisition on how the "Bruce Springsteen" persona was constructed and how it works. A glimpse behind the Springsteen mask, delivered by the man wearing the Springsteen mask. If that sounds weird and off-puttingly postmodern, it wasn't - just very effectively multidimensional. Then, of course, there were a shedload of timeless songs too, performed timelessly. Do catch it on Netflix if you can.

It was a year in which some glorious archive releases have taken up a fair amount of listening time: the long-awaited More Blood, More Tracks Bootleg Series release from Bob Dylan; the Grateful Dead's gloriously sprawling Pacific Northwest 73-74; and, most recently, Neil Young's Songs For Judy, live and acoustic in 1976.

Fewer concerts than in recent years, with a lot of other things going on in life, but non-Bruce highlights included Patti Smith, back at the Dome and inimitable, as always; Harry Manx, out in Sidney, British Columbia; the Decemberists in Dublin; and Kronos Quartet at the Brighton Festival.

On to the top ten new records.

10. Stick In The Wheel - Follow Them True 

Muscular folk, delivered with verve and a real swagger. Fearless and forthright singing and playing. Thoroughly English - in a good way.

An object lesson in working within a tradition without being unduly constrained by that tradition.

Try this for size.

9. Gwenifer Raymond - You Never Were Much Of A Dancer

The debut album from this fine Brighton-based guitar and banjo player. I saw her supporting Charlie Parr at the Prince Albert in March and then very much enjoyed this collection of dextrous instrumentals.

Here's an example.

8. The Decemberists - I'll Be Your Girl 

Not my favourite of their albums overall, but the best tracks are memorable. Sung and played with the assurance of an established band, but still pushing the boundaries musically. The show in Dublin confirmed the fun they still have playing together and the confidence with which they do it.

 

7. Braden Gates - Pictures Of Us

Another excellent collection from Braden, with a varied palette of supporting musical contributions alongside his own assured fiddle and guitar. Very nice to see the great Jaron Freeman-Fox making a guest appearance.

Here's the title track, with "a smile as wide as Saskatchewan".

 

6. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet - Landfall

A song-cycle starting with Hurricane Sandy and ranging widely. It's angular, clever, moving - and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

"I was in a Dutch karaoke bar, trying to sing a song in Korean..."

Give it a go here.

5. Tunng - Songs You Make At Night

One of my favourite bands of this century and great to have them all back in action this year.

As well as releasing this earworm-laden collection, they played a memorable gig at Brighton's Komedia in October.

4. Nathan Salsburg - Third

Another album of guitar instrumentals making the top ten this year.

Beautiful and precise, without ever becoming twee.

Here's one of my favourites, 'Timoney's'.

3. Lori Watson - Yarrow Acoustic Sessions

A new voice to me this year - clear, pure and distinctively Scottish. She tells her stories almost conversationally, without affectation.

I was immediately won over by her compelling version of 'Flooers O The Forest' and this immaculate cover of the Incredible String Band's 'October Song".

2. Trembling Bells - Dungeness

Not an easy listening set, with the band's proggier instincts fully indulged. But bursting with energy and invention and entirely distinctive.

Also featuring one of my two very favourite new songs of 2018 in the shape of 'Christ's Entry Into Govan' - which is available here. A good example of their ability to throw in some bizarre but effective lyrics that can stop you in your tracks.

1. Ryley Walker - The Lillywhite Sessions

An unexpected delight. Ryley took it upon himself to cover in its entirety an unreleased, but bootlegged, set by the Dave Matthews Band. I knew nothing previously of the DMB, and other reviewers seem to rate the Ryley version as an interesting but inessential curio. For me, though, it's fascinating - and a more engaging listen than Ryley's mainstream 2018 release, Deafman Glance. And it includes the second of my two favourite new songs of the year, the ravishing 'Grace Is Gone'. Immerse yourself here.

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