Serving up our editors’ eclectic selections from the year’s musical smorgasbord, and looking toward their most anticipated releases for 2019.
Call it a sonic smorgasbord, a recorded cornucopia, a mélange of melody, an aural abbondanza.…
Well, you get the idea. There were a lot of great recordings released in 2018. And while hip-hop and country continued to rule the charts, the electric crackle of creativity came from all corners—including our guitar-centric sector of the musical universe. Veteran artists and relative newcomers rub elbows among our editors’ picks for best albums, from country to metal to skronk to alt-rock to classic reissues to world music to dreamscape portraiture.
What’s interesting—at least to us, and hopefully to you as well—is that there is literally no overlap among our choices. Eight editors, 20 different albums. And sure, while we enjoyed and shared the experience of listening to many of the same recordings, these are the ones that found a genuine place in our hearts. Maybe some of these titles have found or will find their place in yours as well?
So read on, and we look forward to seeing your own picks for 2018, and your wish lists for 2019, in the comments section. Oh yeah … and Happy New Year!
ANDY ELLIS — SENIOR EDITOR
Loud, soulful, funky, hands-down cosmic steel guitar. As a member of the Lee Boys, Collier came up through the sacred steel tradition, so his lines and riffs are deeply rooted in African-American Pentecostal music. Essentially, he’s testifying with his lap and pedal steels. Instead of the clean, often carefully manicured tones favored by traditional country steelers, on this all-instrumental debut Collier uses searing, overdriven sounds to deliver his blistering, yet rhythmically nuanced phrases. Be forewarned: You can’t sit still listening to Exit 16.
Landau continues to have a stellar studio and solo career, but it was his bands Burning Water and Raging Honkies that kicked my butt in the ’90s—just when it needed kicking. On Rock Bottom, Landau reunites with Burning Water’s lead singer, David Frazee, and the results are epic. You can sense Hendrix lurking in the shadows, but Landau is always original in his approach to Strat-o-spherical tone. I’ve spent many nights this year in a large open room blasting Rock Bottom through an old-school Pioneer stereo amp and vintage Klipsch Heresy speakers. Sonic nirvana.
If we could translate fractal images into solo guitar, I believe it would sound like Music IS. “Infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales.” Check. “Crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.” Check. Armed with simple tools—a few guitars, a few pedals and amps, and a multi-track recorder—Frisell takes us on an intimate journey through the code that underlies jazz, classical, folk, roots, and rock guitar. Blending impressionistic harmony, gospel progressions, dirty thrumming tones, outer-space beeps and howls, tinkling harmonics, sultry blues licks, bubbling robotic sounds, and—above all—masterful counterpoint, the 67-year-old 6-string sensei reveals what’s right at our fingertips, waiting to be discovered.
Most-anticipated 2019 releases: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Signs, the next album by oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros, and anything with Ben Harper.
Wish list: Bruce Cockburn, Jeff Beck.