Liner Notes by Brian Chozick
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Top 20 2019
1. Bob Mould, “Sunshine Rock,” Merge Records
He has passed the half-century mark and is inching very close to Social Security, but musically he is “Benjamin Buttoning” it, with each release demonstrating a more youthful exuberance than the previous one. “Sunshine Rock” is the latest — and with 12 earth-scorching tracks he has never ever sounded better, be it Husker Du or Sugar, and that’s the bottom line.
2. Hold Steady, “Thrashing Thru the Passion,” Frenchkiss Records
Though they were poised for mainstream success a few discs ago, it does not seem to matter because they have only gotten better with age. They’ve been together for over a decade and a half, and have stayed true to their love-child sound of Bruce Springsteen blue-collar storytelling and quirky Elvis Costello pop.
3. Son Volt, “Union,” Transmit Sound
As the title suggests, this is politically fueled, with a direct hit to the man in charge with “Reality Winner” and “Lady Liberty.” The entire record questions the current state of affairs, but if you aren’t politically aligned with the band, not all is lost. Just sit back and listen to some fantastic harmonies and the strumming acoustic country wash, all accented by Jay Farrar’s unmistakable ragged vocals that bring happiness even in the darkest of times.
4. Guster, “Look Alive,” Nettwerk
The sounds on this one quickly evoke more Beach Boys, Beatles, a few psychedelic flashbacks and much less Grateful Dead. By combining rich harmonies, pop layering and a percussive thread, they create tunes that are always instantaneously infectious. This venture also shows their funny bone is still strong, with the inclusion of a very European-themed track, complete with lead vocalist Ryan Miller adopting a faux English accent for “Overexcited.”
5. Collective Soul, “Blood,”
Being self-released has perhaps loosened that record company pressure valve and explains how they have taken their game to a new level of excellence. The slick-production and extraordinarily hook-laden arena rockers churn proper quantities of soloing, pop and glam, while still managing not to be overcome by them. The outstanding result proves that their special formula is sure to procure a few more hits.
6. Sponge, “Demoed in Detroit,” Cleopatra Records
This is the lost album crafted during a record label hiatus in the mid ’90s. After the very first listening, it becomes a real mystery why this was shelved. This incredible piece of the Sponge catalogue doesn’t stray far from their tried and true, but we wouldn’t want it to. They have also updated it with three fantastic covers and stripped-down versions of their hits “Plowed” and “Molly.”
7. Dan Baird and the Homemade Sin, “Screamer,” JCPL
The former frontman for the Georgia Satellites brings his trademark gritty raucous vocals, a bounty of fuzz-filled guitars and bales of twanged-out Honky Tonk perfection. It is filled with the soul of the South and cow-punk slathered generously throughout the record. On “Mister and Ma’am” he even seems channel Jason and the Scorchers, which seems apropos since on the very next track is Warner E. Hodges, a man who pulls double guitar duties in the “Homemade Sin” and “the Scorchers.”
8. Donnie Vie, “Beautiful Things.” Deko Music
He is the main songwriter and vocalist for pure power-pop masters Enuff Z Nuff, a band he left after almost three decades in 2013. This is his third disc of all-new material. For those fans of his past work, you know the power pop bliss you are in for, but there are a few more ballads and some countrification afoot that blend seamlessly.
9. Kevin Griffin, “Anywhere You Go,” The End Records
Better Than Ezra vocalist Kevin Griffin has stepped out on his own for his very first solo album. From the psychedelic tendencies and guitar-centric sound with soaring solos of the disc’s first cut, “Are We Still Here,” it is apparent that we are going to be going everywhere. Then he takes us into more familiar Better Than Ezra territory with “When I Metcha.” The record continues to zigzag with a few dance cuts, a bit of country flavoring, a couple of stripped-down ballads and a dash of Latin flair.
10. Buckcherry, “Warpaint,” Red Music
The band’s ninth full-length album still features some of the same spit and vinegar as their debut from two decades ago (yeah they’ve been around that long). Right away we know to strap in for a wild ride, and part of that roller coaster is hearing some unusual sweeteners in their sound. They sprinkle some barroom honky-tonk into “No Regrets” and go for a blatant radio hit ballad with the very appropriately named “Radio Song.”
11. Hollywood Vampires, “Rise,” EARMUSIC
At their core the gang is fronted by the legendary Alice Cooper, Aerosmith guitar icon Joe Perry, and silver screen idol Johnny Depp. It is comprised primarily of originals, with some fantastic choices when it comes to the cover tunes. The bulk of the vocals are handled by Cooper, which probably explains why it is more reminiscent of an Alice Cooper record than anything else, but surprisingly enough when Depp takes over the mic it would seem as if his career was based in music and not film.
12. Stevie D Featuring Corey Glover, “Torn from the Pages,” Mighty Music
With multi-colored braided long hair and fluorescent bicycle shorts, the lead singer of Living Colour was unforgettable. Stevie D — producer, mixer, musician, and owner operator of Sound Spa Productions out of New Jersey — have transported us back in time by inviting Corey Glover to take over the mic duties on his latest disc. He has recaptured that energetic combustible monster with a wailing guitar, a constant rattle of the percussion section, some slivers of funk horns and those enraged vocals.
13. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “Servants of the Sun,” Silver Arrow
This is the sixth full-length studio album by the Brotherhood, and although they haven’t completely lost their penchant for musical exploration, it’s kept to a minimum on this one. They have instead homed in on creating a more direct rock record. We aren’t talking three-minute radio hits: This is still Chris Robinson at the helm after all, so there is a bit of jam spread across these numbers, but it isn’t slathered in the sweet substance.
14. R.E.M., “R.E.M. at the BBC,” Concord Bicycle Music/ Craft
This massive eight CD and DVD box set covers a ton of material, three decades to be exact. This features the incredibly rock centric show in none other than Rock City, Nottingham. The next show comes in the form of a double disc from Milton Keynes in 1995 that was part of their “Monster” tour. The performance platters conclude with the 2004 St. James’ Church outing highlighted by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke guesting on “E-Bow the Letter.”
15. Meat Puppets, “Dusty Notes,” Megaforce Records.
Most cuts on this one find them riding out to the range, with some serious guitar picking and incredible harmonies. If you find you are missing the good old days, hang out until the end with the second-to-last track “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy” satisfying that loud itch.
16. Todd Snider, “Cash Cabin, Vol. 3,” Aimless Records
He is a musician that moves from country, to rock, to folk without missing a beat, but this primarily an acoustic affair. It has his familiar charm, storytelling and overflowing sarcastic wit. He also clears the cobwebs by dusting off a tried and true recipe: 25 years ago it was all about the Seattle blues, and in 2019 it is “Talking Reality Television Blues.” He is joined by alt. country poster boy Jason Isbell on the brilliant “Like a Force of Nature”.
17. Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, “Living the Dream,” Eagle Vision
The concert runs two hours and includes tracks from all four of his solo records, including a cut that originally featured Motorhead’s Lemmy on vocals that are now handled by bassist Todd Kerns. The only diversion of the night is when they visit the Guns N Roses catalogue with an incredible version of “Nightrain.”
18. John Mellencamp, “Other People’s Stuff,” Republic Records
This collection has him taking on music that is not his own, but still gathered from his past records, compilations, unearthed sessions and documentaries. The disc, although not comprised of original material, feels as if they could be. The sound harks back to his mid-’80s heyday with plenty of fiddle, foot stompin’ and storytelling. These are not huge hits that have been covered dozens of times. Most people will not even be familiar with the tunes, making this a very fresh album.
19. Duff McKagan, “Tenderness,” Universal Music
The Guns N Roses bassist strikes out on his own. If you are also familiar with his band Loaded then forget everything about it, because this is a complete 180 from that band. This one wears its title on its sleeve, with anguish, trauma, the current political climate and gun violence (in the form of the tear-jerking song “Parkland”). This is an album filled with 11 heart-wrenching singer songwriter balladesque tunes, all having a very intentional alt. country feel complete with acoustic guitar, a plethora of pedal steel, gospel singers and a fiddle.
20. Mick Jagger, Solo Vinyl Reissue Campaign, Ume
C’mon, you know I wouldn’t miss getting in some sort of Rolling Stones or related release into my Top 20. If you believe only the entire band matters, think again. “Wandering Spirit” and “Goddess in the Doorway” are some of his best work. While you are at it, you might as well see what gems await you on “Primitive Cool” and “She’s the Boss,” all on 180-gram, half-speed remastered vinyl. What could be better?
Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’
Dice Music. Drop him a line at
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