Editor’s Pick: The Dirty Dozen Top Albums of 2018

Reviews

Okay, it’s a Baker’s Dozen — or a Lucky 13.

There are so many different aspects of so many albums to like and appreciate, and if you’re an earworm junkie like me, making big playlists comes a lot more naturally than narrowing down a small list of great overall albums.  List-making and ranking itself is a challenge too, because after more than a decade of formal training in philosophy I’ve honed my ability to be “open-minded” to a fault. Or maybe I’m indecisive, it’s one or the other.

But it’s the season of lists, and as the managing editor of this enterprise I’ve heard so much music this year, and once I started it turned out to be so rewarding, so, here you go. My top dozen — baker’s dozen, lucky thirteen — albums of 2018.

[Click here for my “Road Trip Earworms” 2018 list and playlist, which is definitely NOT the same as this top album list.]

[Click on anything in bold to read more about the artist; click the icons to purchase for your very own if you haven’t already; then scroll to the bottom for playlist and follow all of them.  Play it on shuffle!!! ]

J.D. Wilkes — Fire Dream — The Excitement. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again & again… & then probably again. This entire album blew my mind and I’m betting it’ll blow yours too. In a world of similar sounding music, this album is absolutely innovative, on top of being wild frenetic fun. There’s nothing predictable here, from the very first opening note.  With an awesome lineup, this is about far more than the brilliant twisted lyrics, it’s excellent music all the way down.

Malcolm Holcombe — Come Hell or High Water — The Great Songwriting. Malcolm Holcombe is a national songwriting treasure and this album clarifies that yet again.  And with the easy, loping, grooves, the gravelly vocals, and Iris Dement, the whole thing is utterly hypnotic.  “I don’t want to disappear anymore,” and I know you don’t either.

Sarah Borges — Love’s Middle Name — The Art of Rock. The album is a work of art — rock ‘n roll art — with incredible lead guitar and perfect drumming that’s never, ever, over-clashing. Underneath its immediate level of raucous fun, it’s thoughtful.  Musically it rocks hard all the way through, with innovative skillful hooks, and without any instrument ever stepping on any other’s toes.  To top it off, there is a wide range of songwriting styles, from songs of grief and longing, through politics to adventure and even a murder in the woods.


Gretchen Peters — Dancing With the Beast — The Stories, oh dear god, The Stories. Peters know how to draw out real cathartic release for the saddest parts of our collective unconsciouses, all set to a full band sound. These songs cover all manner of personal experiences from aging and Alzheimer’s, to love, loss, prostitution, and abuse. Get out the tissues while you’re letting this album wash over you.

John Hiatt — The Eclipse Sessions — The Vocals. Hiatt is particularly adept at creating multiple exceptional songs and singing them in vocal styles and with tones you’ll never tire of.  This album is consistently enjoyable odes to life and the heart — from start to finish — and has successfully accomplished the task of creating a great memorable experience.

Ry Cooder — The Prodigal Son — The Music. The music is consistently profound, which essentially commands that you plan for multiple listens to this album on repeat. Ry is a undeniably a consummate multi-instrumental virtuouso, but the contributions of the rest of the band — especially the rhythms laid down by Joachim — are equally hypnotic.

Jerry Joseph — Full Metal Burqa — The Passion. This album has absolutely everything from serendipitous powerful music to the fullest passionate vocal outpouring that echoes to the ends of the earth and beyond. Something spiritual is afoot.  Listen to this to rip your soul open to its widest humanity. And don’t let 5 songs fool you, the jams and extended plays make it a full length album.

Lori McKenna — The Tree — The Insights. This entire album is songwriting perfection and McKenna’s vocals have that intangible quality that render the whole thing irresistible.  There’s a chance this one will hit you in the heart just a little more if you’re a woman and/or a mother, but try it for yourself and ask your friends and loved ones and let me know.

Will Hoge — My American Dream — The Bravery. Will Hoge remains a perpetual powerhouse and this time he flings his messages of defiance to the far edges of the horizon in songs that will draw you in to a sense of empowerment.  Plus the musical energy is boundless.

Alejandro Escovedo — The Crossing — The Solemnity. This album provides hushed observations of high political significance rendering it a real standout this year.  It’s also a concept album with metaphorical meanings. Escovedo delivers his messages directly in his eclectic vocal style, over the extra punch of his hard rockin’ electric band.

Mary Gauthier — Rifles and Rosary Beads — The Observations. This was written about and with people who have been in the military, on the subject of their heartbreaking experiences. The grit, the bloody boots, the dire bass lines, the raw vocals — taken all together create a deeply compelling work. “Don’t that make me a brother too?”

John Prine — The Tree of Forgiveness — The Emotion. This one from the master songwriter is superlative songwriting excellence.  Songs tug on your heartstrings from every direction imaginable and the syncopated offbeats discretely help seal the deal.

Brandi Carlile — By the Way I Forgive You — The Personal. This album is a perfect blend of a powerhouse vocalist with songs about all manner of struggles, empathy, and about rising up to do the right thing. And Carlile’s vocal build-ups — and the harmonies — create exactly the right climate for chills running down your neck. “I gave you all I had and got the worst of you.”

Malcolm Holcombe — Come Hell or High Water — The Great Songwriting. Malcolm Holcombe is a national songwriting treasure and this album clarifies that yet again.  And with the easy, loping, grooves, the gravelly vocals, and Iris Dement, the whole thing is utterly hypnotic.  “I don’t want to disappear anymore,” and I know you don’t either.

Sarah Borges — Love’s Middle Name — The Art of Rock. The album is a work of art — rock ‘n roll art — with incredible lead guitar and perfect drumming that’s never, ever, over-clashing. Underneath its immediate level of raucous fun, it’s thoughtful.  Musically it rocks hard all the way through, with innovative skillful hooks, and without any instrument ever stepping on any other’s toes.  To top it off, there is a wide range of songwriting styles, from songs of grief and longing, through politics to adventure and even a murder in the woods.


Gretchen Peters — Dancing With the Beast — The Stories, oh dear god, The Stories. Peters know how to draw out real cathartic release for the saddest parts of our collective unconsciouses, all set to a full band sound. These songs cover all manner of personal experiences from aging and Alzheimer’s, to love, loss, prostitution, and abuse. Get out the tissues while you’re letting this album wash over you.

John Hiatt — The Eclipse Sessions — The Vocals. Hiatt is particularly adept at creating multiple exceptional songs and singing them in vocal styles and with tones you’ll never tire of.  This album is consistently enjoyable odes to life and the heart — from start to finish — and has successfully accomplished the task of creating a great memorable experience.

Ry Cooder — The Prodigal Son — The Music. The music is consistently profound, which essentially commands that you plan for multiple listens to this album on repeat. Ry is a undeniably a consummate multi-instrumental virtuouso, but the contributions of the rest of the band — especially the rhythms laid down by Joachim — are equally hypnotic.

Jerry Joseph — Full Metal Burqa — The Passion. This album has absolutely everything from serendipitous powerful music to the fullest passionate vocal outpouring that echoes to the ends of the earth and beyond. Something spiritual is afoot.  Listen to this to rip your soul open to its widest humanity. And don’t let 5 songs fool you, the jams and extended plays make it a full length album.

Lori McKenna — The Tree — The Insights. This entire album is songwriting perfection and McKenna’s vocals have that intangible quality that render the whole thing irresistible.  There’s a chance this one will hit you in the heart just a little more if you’re a woman and/or a mother, but try it for yourself and ask your friends and loved ones and let me know.

Will Hoge — My American Dream — The Bravery. Will Hoge remains a perpetual powerhouse and this time he flings his messages of defiance to the far edges of the horizon in songs that will draw you in to a sense of empowerment.  Plus the musical energy is boundless.

Alejandro Escovedo — The Crossing — The Solemnity. This album provides hushed observations of high political significance rendering it a real standout this year.  It’s also a concept album with metaphorical meanings. Escovedo delivers his messages directly in his eclectic vocal style, over the extra punch of his hard rockin’ electric band.

Mary Gauthier — Rifles and Rosary Beads — The Observations. This was written about and with people who have been in the military, on the subject of their heartbreaking experiences. The grit, the bloody boots, the dire bass lines, the raw vocals — taken all together create a deeply compelling work. “Don’t that make me a brother too?”

John Prine — The Tree of Forgiveness — The Emotion. This one from the master songwriter is superlative songwriting excellence.  Songs tug on your heartstrings from every direction imaginable and the syncopated offbeats discretely help seal the deal.

Brandi Carlile — By the Way I Forgive You — The Personal. This album is a perfect blend of a powerhouse vocalist with songs about all manner of struggles, empathy, and about rising up to do the right thing. And Carlile’s vocal build-ups — and the harmonies — create exactly the right climate for chills running down your neck. “I gave you all I had and got the worst of you.”

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