Here’s a shorter-than-usual version of my annual music list (PDF version here). I hope you find something new to dig. Best wishes for a peaceful, healthy, and music-filled 2019. Check out the accompanying Spotify playlist.
Favorite 2018 releases
1 (tie). Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us
I’ve long been a casual Calexico fan. This is the first release of theirs I’ve loved from beginning to end. It helps that their show at Woodward Theater was one of my top shows of the year – a joyous blast with a multi-talented band and a deep catalog.
Angelique Kidjo – Remain in Light
There’s a classic line from The Wire – “You come at the king, you best not miss” – that applies here. It takes a lot of courage to cover one of the greatest records of all time. Fortunately, Angelique Kidjo – a fierce artist with an earth-shaking voice, a native of Benin who developed Paris and NYC – is the right woman for the job. She took Remain back to Fela Kuti and the other African artists that David Byrne and Brian Eno used as inspiration. This was another top show of the year.
3. Donny McCaslin –Blow
I fell in love with McCaslin and his band after they collaborated with David Bowie on Blackstar (2016). Amy and I have seen them twice since – once at the venerable Village Vanguard – and they’re now my favorite live act. On Blow, McCaslin followed Bowie’s lead and changed up his usual approach. While it feels like a transitional record, it’s still one of my faves of the year.
4. Alejandro Escovedo –The Crossing
Alejandro turns 68 in January and he still produces some of the most vital, soulful, and important music we have. Here, Alejandro draws on the experiences of his immigrant Latino family and of his collaborators, an Italian rocked band called Don Antonio.
5. Snow Patrol –Wildness
On their first release in seven years, singer/songwriter Gary Lightbody rebounds from years of alcoholism-fueled depression to produce this gem. Many music critics have mostly hammered it; many music critics are full of crap.
6. John Coltrane –Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
Newly discovered recordings from 1963 by Coltrane’s classic quartet. A gift from the heavens.
7. Mark Brasington –X
X finds one of Cincinnati’s best guitarists putting his ax aside for ten beautiful, piano-driven songs. Mark is one of my favorite, most inspiring artists (and not because he’s a dear friend or because I had the good fortune to play two shows to support the release of X). Check out the video for “The Next Song (Stick Figures)” for a taste.
8. I Think Like Midnight –This Land Is Your Mind + Kompromat EP
You’ll hear about my new all-instrumental band soon. Pell Mell was a main source of inspiration for it – and for I Think Like Midnight as well. While the band describe themselves as “longtime devotees of the lost art of the succinct rock instrumental,” reviewers think they sound like a cross between The Grateful Dead/ Television and The Pernice Brothers/Tortoise. I say that you’ll hear shimmering guitars, warm keyboards, bits of Krautrock, and some wonderfully-written songs.
9. Get the Blessing –Bristopia
GtB is Portishead’s rhythm section combined with sax and trumpet players steeped in jazz. Trippy, mysterious, simmering, and so good.
10. Richard Thompson –13 Rivers
Another classic from the master, and my favorite since 1999’s Mock Tudor. His December show at the Southgate House Revival was one of my faves of the year – at 69, he is absolutely still at the top of his game.
- David Byrne – American Utopia
- Glen Hansard – Between Two Shores
- Sam Phillips – World on Sticks
- Sly & Robbie Meet Nils Petter Molvær Feat. Eivind Aarset and Vladislav Delay – Nordub
- Sorg & Napoleon Maddox – Checkin Us
- David Bowie – Loving The Alien (1983-1988) box set
- David Bowie – Glastonbury 2000 (not really a reissue, but it’s made of old songs, so I’m putting it here)
- Joe Strummer – Joe Strummer 001
Favorite discoveries and rediscoveries outside of 2018 records
- Continuing a trend from last year, I spent a lot of time with reggae, ska, and dub instrumentals: classic Bob Marley, Aswad, Toots & The Maytals, the Two-Tone groups, and late period Clash (yes, Virginia – there’s a great record inside Sandinista).
- Continuing another trend from last year – one that had a major influence on my current playing and songwriting – I dug in deep to instrumental music that hovers between rock, jazz, and something else: Bill Frisell, Floratone (Frisell with Matt Chamberlain, Viktor Krauss, and producer Tucker Martine), Mulatu Astatke, The Comet Is Coming. My favorite discovery this year was Public Service Broadcasting, who combine Krautrock rhythms and cinematic instrumentals with voice clips from historical archives (mostly from the British Film Institute). While it might sound gimmicky, their storytelling is more compelling to me than any most dudes with Dust Bowl outfits and acoustic guitars.
Reading about music
- Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century – Nate Chinen. A fantastic book.
- I went down a rabbit hole with The Clash:
- We Are The Clash: Reagan, Thatcher, and the Last Stand of a Band That Mattered – Mark Andersen
- Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash – Pat Gilbert
- Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer – Chris Salewicz
- Broken Music – Sting
- Reggae Explosion: The Story of Jamaican Music – Chris Salewicz. This one is just ok, but it has some fantastic photos.
- Creative Quest – Questlove. Also just ok.
- Currently reading — Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music’s Hometown – Robert Gordon
A great year of shows (in chronological order)
- Los Lobos – Memorial Hall, 01.25
- Van Morrison – Knight Center (Miami, FL), 02.08
- GroundUp Music Festival with Mark Guiliana/Jojo Mayer, Joshua Redman (with Lionel Loueke, Larnell Lewis, and Michael League, Snarky Puppy, Jojo Mayer & Nerve – North Beach Bandshell (Miami, FL), 02.10
- Calexico – Woodward Theater, 04.26
- U2 – Bridgestone Arena (Nashville), 05.26
- Spoon – PNC Pavilion, 06.25
- Steely Dan w/ Doobie Brothers – Riverbend, 06.27
- Radiohead – US Bank Arena, 07.25
- Angelique Kidjo w/ Femi Kuti — Ravinia Festival Pavilion (Chicago), 08.06
- A mariachi band – The Malecon (Chapala, Mexico), 08.26
- David Byrne – PNC Pavilion, 08.12
- Mark Guiliana & Space Heroes – Music Resource Center, 11.16
- Psychodots (last show) – Woodward Theater, 11.23
- Richard Thompson Electric Trio – Southgate House Revival, 12.06
Favorite musician moments
Pike 27 at Woodward Theater with New Sincerity Works and Young Colt. Sharing stages with Wake The Bear, Plastic Ants, The Amprays, Endive, and 500 MTM. Having the good fortune to drum for Mark Brasington, The Graveblankets, Copper, Justin Lynch & The New Usuals, and Jeff Roberson.
Most plays by artist (via Last.FM)
1 – Calexico – 859
2 – David Bowie – 745
3 – U2 – 658
4 – Los Lobos – 452
5 – Sting – 407
6 – Latin Playboys – 399
7 – The Police – 382
8 – Van Morrison – 373
9 – Joe Strummer – 370
10 – R.E.M. – 361
11 – Floratone – 341
12 – The Clash – 302
13 – Bill Frisell – 288
14 – Public Service Broadcasting – 284
15 – John Coltrane – 277
16 – Paul Weller – 263
17 – GoGo Penguin / Mulatu Astatke – 254
19 – Miles Davis – 252
20 – Snow Patrol – 250
21 – Talking Heads – 241
22 – Bob Marley & The Wailers – 230
23 – Donny McCaslin / Pell Mell – 228
25 – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – 188
26 – Elvis Costello – 171
27 – Thievery Corporation – 170
28 – Chris Whitley – 169
29 – The Church – 164
30 – Spoon – 159
31 – David Byrne – 150
32 – Angélique Kidjo – 146
33 – Thelonious Monk – 142
34 – Tony Allen – 131
35 – Sonny Clark – 125
36 – Sly & Robbie – 122
37 – Dire Straits – 119
38 – Get the Blessing – 116
39 – Norah Jones / The Psychedelic Furs – 113
41 – Horace Silver / I Think Like Midnight / King Tubby – 112
44 – Alejandro Escovedo – 109
45 – Richard Thompson – 107
46 – Mark Guiliana – 102
47 – Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band / The Meters – 101
49 – Buena Vista Social Club / Glen Hansard – 100