Stuart Munro’s best albums of 2018
“The Prodigal Son” Cooder’s first album in six years hearkens back to his early work in the way in which it explores and reimagines American roots music traditions, in this case classic gospel from the likes of Blind Willie Johnson, the Pilgrim Travelers, and the Stanley Brothers. Nowhere is that practice better seen than in his weirdly wonderful update of the parable of the prodigal son in the title track, which has the prodigal becoming an acolyte of legendary steel guitar player Ralph Mooney in a Bakersfield honky-tonk.
ANNA & ELIZABETH
“The Invisible Comes to Us ” Prior to this album, Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle had already made their collective mark with two records of Appalachian mountain music that hewed to the traditions of that form. On “The Invisible Comes to Us,” they choose an entirely different path, endeavoring to represent their encounter with the songs they collected for the project through sonic reconstitutions and experimentations. The results, oscillating between the transformative and the clawhammer-ancient, are audacious and stunning.
THE BOTTLE ROCKETS
“Bit Logic” They’re into their third decade as a going concern, they’re still producing records as reliably as clockwork, and they never seem to issue a dud. Their latest, “Bit Logic” is full of vintage Bottle Rockets twang-rock and songwriter Brian Henneman’s idiosyncratic perspectives — more bemused than outraged (“Anger makes you blind,” he sings), self-deprecating, and at the end of the day, celebrating the little bits of human perfection that are always there, if only you look for them.
“Blood Brothers” Perhaps a bit quieter, a bit more understated than its immediate predecessors, “Blood Brothers” is another gem of a record from this singer-songwriter, informed by a perspective that feels earned, full of a spare poetry that points in certain directions but is allusive in a way that invites pondering, and offering music of an abiding intensity that draws in folk, blues, country, and rock and roll.
THE WAR AND TREATY
“Healing Tide” Married couple Michael and Tanya Trotter, who perform as the War and Treaty, have produced a chameleonic debut full-length: One minute you would swear you’re listening to the reincarnation of Ike and Tina Turner (“All I Wanna Do”), the next you’re going to church (“Are You Ready to Love Me?”), and then you’re hearing loping, autoharp-flecked country (“One and the Same”). In the end, it’s all soul music that hangs together beautifully.
“Appreciation” Justin Ringle and the rotating cast that he calls Horse Feathers have a history of moving to different sounds from record to record. On “Appreciation,” they’ve come up with a distinctive, left-turn variant of country soul that turns out to suit the emotive timbre of Ringle’s voice to a T.
ROBBIE FULKS AND LINDA GAIL LEWIS
“Wild! Wild! Wild!” Robbie Fulks returns to hard country music — and barrelhouse rock and roll, and lazy Nawlins jazz, and jumping R&B, and even a bit of gospel — to make a duets record of sorts with Linda Gail Lewis, little sister of wildman legend Jerry Lee and no small force in her own right. As one of their duets says, it all came from the South, and the pair’s recapitulation is as wildly entertaining as the title’s promise.
“Look Now” Last year, Elvis Costello and the Imposters mounted a marvelous tour that revisited, without simply re-presenting, one of the peaks of his weighty catalog, “Imperial Bedroom.” This year, he reunited in the studio with the Imposters to make a record that, coincidentally or not, is at times distinctively evocative of the sound and sensibility of that landmark record.
“Walterio” This was a good year for long-haulers, at least on this list. Here’s another one: Walter Salas-Humara has been making his own brand of rootsy rock and ’n’ roll since the mid-1980s with the Silos (one of the great bands-that-should-be-better known) and on his own. His latest boils his vocation down to its essence: “I write it all down/I shoot from my heart/I do what I know and I blow it apart/Do what you love, get it done and move on/You come in a singer, you leave a song.”
“The Outsider” On his last outing, Texas twangbanger Dayton was “The Revealer”; this time, he’s “The Outsider,” giving sing-along articulation to personal trials and tribulations — “May Have to Do It (Don’t Have to Like It),” “Tried to Quit (But I Just Quit Tryin’”) — sketching those of an outsider of another kind (“Killer on the Run”), and changing pace for some commentary on recent events (“Charlottesville”). Whatever he’s dubbing himself, Dayton is a steady purveyor of some of the finest high-test honky-tonk and turbocharged rock and ’n’ roll you’re likely to hear.
LOCAL ARTIST PICK
“Neon” Why try to come up with a different way to say the same thing? When I interviewed Sam Moss last March in these pages, I described his excellent “Neon” as the latest manifestation of his evolution from instrumental fingerstyle guitar to a more expansive, full-band folk sound. The record invests that wider sound with a resonating, magnetic stillness: intricate fingerpicking, gorgeous guitar and piano combinations, understated synth lines, and gently loping gaits accompany introspections, musings, and recollections — of connections missed and lost, of road trips and late-night urban wanderings, of 3 a.m. phone calls and morning awakenings.
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