2018: Hello Goodbye

by Jason Warburg

In a year when both losses and gains felt too large to measure at times, I struggled to give my full appreciation to music. Interestingly, the artist whose body of work played the biggest individual role in my musical year didn’t even come out with a new album in 2018, though he and his band did star in my favorite live concert experience of the year (see below). It was a year of ups and downs, advances and retreats, looking forward and looking back. In the end, I found perhaps fewer musical events to celebrate, but a greater intensity of feeling for each. To paraphrase one of the made-up award names employed below, here’s to making it all new again in 2019.


Everything Old Is New Again Award

Semisonic - Feeling Strangely Fine (20th Anniversary Edition)
Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy (20th Anniversary Edition)

Shawn Mullins – Soul’s Core Revival

With music sales trending somewhere south of shares in Toys ’R’ Us, the smoking ruins of the music industry continue to milk the nostalgia of those older listeners still willing to pay for product. The thing is, I’m a card-carrying member of that crowd, and sentimental to boot, so imagine the silly grin on my face when not one, not two, but three of my favorite albums of 1998 all got the 20th anniversary treatment? Just take my money, people.


Jazz Is A State Of Mind Award

Greg Skaff - Soulmation

As longtime readers know, even after decades of listening to the stuff I’m a relative jazz newbie; it’s just not my old familiar neighborhood. But I know what I like, and so does Greg Skaff, a veteran sideman and solo bandleader who caught me by surprise with his 2018 release Soulmation, a diverse, engaging take on jazz fusion that embraces influences from Wes Montgomery to Jimi Hendrix, the James Gang to Duke Ellington.


Late To The Party *Again* Award

Original Soundtrack – Hamilton

I know, I know—I’m years late, again. I’m also not a big fan of either Broadway musicals or hip-hop, and didn’t know much more about Alexander Hamilton going in than the average American-who-majored-in-political-science-35-years-ago. And I’ve never seen the show. But I do know this: Lin-Manuel Miranda is a freaking genius, the original cast is astonishingly talented, and this might be the best soundtrack album to a Broadway musical that I’ve ever heard – catchy, compelling, clever, moving and completely engrossing, even without the visuals. It deserves every accolade it continues to gather.


Truth In Advertising Award

Tom Petty – An American Treasure

Petty was exactly what the title of this superb, enlightening four-disc open-up-the-vaults set—curated by his family and The Heartbreakers—declares.

Live Show Of The Year

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit

In a year when I spent a lot of time catching up with earlier Isbell releases like Southeastern and Something More Than Free, and the man himself kept busy touring rather than recording, the highlight of my concert dance card was catching JI and band live on a mild late-summer evening in Berkeley. It was, in a word, spectacular.


Prog Album of the Year

Big Big Train – Merchants Of Light

This double album, which pulls the strongest takes from Big Big Train’s three-night 2017 live stand at London’s Cadogan Hall, is a near-perfect summation of the band’s now 10-year ascendancy, from The Underfall Yard to Grimspound, with the eight-person core lineup teaming with a five-strong live horn section, a genuine rock orchestra that sends these tremendous songs right through the roof.


Indies of the Year

For me it was a year dominated by indie releases. Whether that might be because the major labels only put out pop, hip-hop, and endless Special Anniversary Edition reissues these days, I’ll leave to the judgment of others.

3. Ben Bostick – Hellfire

A memorable collection of music to raise hell by from LA-based “outsider country” artist Bostick; I called it “a rollicking primer on self-destruction set to a toe-tapping honky-tonk beat.”


2. Spottiswoode And His Enemies – Lost In The City

Lost In the City is “a kind of urban fantasia, an immersive theater-of-the-mind love letter to New York City,” the Englishman Spottiswoode’s home of many years.


1. Arms Of Kismet – Ballast And Bromides

The “sparkling, unmerciful” Ballast And Bromides from musical alchemist Mark Doyon “delivers equal measures of snark and sweetness, nostalgia for a less abrasive time and blunt assessment of the one we’re living through.” Highly recommended.


Album of the Year

Last Charge Of The Light Horse – Race To The Sound

It’s an indie, yes, but it’s also far and away my favorite album issued in 2018, and the album that singlehandedly rescued me from a musical funk. “[A] poet who sets his striking words to imaginative roots-rock that is all substance and no flash,” Jean-Paul Vest delivers “songs stun you with subtlety and wow you with precision; every instrument, note, and voice is placed with forethought and purpose.” This album simply knocked me out.


Honorable Mention

Seven more very enjoyable listens from 2018, again mostly indies.

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
The Aussie singer-songwriters returns with a more subtle but no less impressive sophomore album.

Michael McDermott – Out From Under
A gripping song cycle about addiction and recovery from a master craftsman.

Jeremy Nail – Live Oak
The author of one of my favorite albums of 2016 returns with an album that’s “full of stark beauty and a dusty, resilient soulfulness.”

Perfect Beings – Vier
In which the indie prog darlings take on a Topographic Oceans-sized song suite and deliver an album that’s surprisingly cohesive.

D.B. Rielly – Live From Chester
“[A] world-class storyteller who can paint a picture with just his voice and guitar, mixing humor, pathos and a scruffy, hard-scrabble wisdom.”

Sideshow Tragedy – The View From Nowhere
The Sideshow Tragedy’s “intense, poetic, at times apocalyptic blues-rock has never felt more current, more relevant, more powerful.”

Hadley McCall Thackston - Hadley McCall Thackston
Melding traditionalist country-folk with a knowing tone, singer-songwriter Thackston delivers “a distinct perspective on the world that feels both idiosyncratic and timeless.”

Overhyped And Underloved Award

Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army

Neither as great as the hype might make it seem nor as derivative as the snarkiest critics might lead to you to believe, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army is a pretty good album by a talented band with a ton of potential (and an endorsement from Robert Plant).


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