Liner Notes by Brian Chozick
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Top 20 2018
1. Buffalo Tom, “Quiet and Peace,” Schoolkids Records
The 11 cuts are closer to “loud and disruptive” than “Quiet and Peace,” and that is really when they are at their absolute best. Although it is important not to dismiss their quieter times, especially when it comes to their amazing rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York.” Let Buffalo Tom wander around your sound system and you will bring an end to peace and quiet once you wrangle in their entire heard of discs.
2. Gin Blossoms, “Mixed Reality,” Cleopatra Records
They are still delivering fantastic tunes. This time thy’re upping things on the production side with legendary producer Don Dixon, the man who helped bring in the jangle pop movement of the early ’80s, so you know this is going to be pure pop perfection. Not to be missed is their exclamation of the benefits of the “Devil’s Daughter,” a song that will go in the books as the raciest Gin Blossoms song ever, with sex, drugs, and general debauchery.
3.Grant Lee Phillips, “Widdershins,” Yep Roc Records
“Widdershins” is a word that means moving counterclockwise and has spiraling-backwards connotations to it. This seems to be the completely wrong way to describe this magnificent release. The new CD showcases his airy warm vocals and rich melodies that move effortlessly between rock, alternative folk and — new to his arsenal — an almost punky attitude. The entire collection has a more urgent feel that begs for your immediate attention.
4. Enuff Z’ Nuff, “Diamond Boy,” Frontiers Music SRL
At this point original member bassist and vocalist Chip Z’ Nuff is basically doing all the heavy lifting since the rest of the band has only been on board since a little before the last one, but he is truly all that is needed, because it sounds just as syrupy sweet as it did more than three decades ago.
5. Ike Reilly, “Crooked Love,” Rock Ridge Music
This has a grittier blues pulse than past efforts while still managing to maintain a completely loose, improvised jam tone. Not to worry, his take on the world is still very much intact with lyrics full of his favorite topics: drinking, fighting the powers that be, sex, tongue in cheek apocalyptic love and, of course, drugs.
6. David Byrne, “American Utopia,” Nonesuch
Right out of the gate we are back in the peculiar brain of David Byrne with “Dance like This.” The track ping-pongs back and forth a multitude of times between a sparse piano ballad and into an upbeat club cut, all in the blink of an eye. Skip a song and we are transported to a selection that feels like it has been ripped directly from his former band’s catalogue. The CD is filled with world rhythms, a powerful percussion section, dance beats and all with his distinctive vocals.
7.Alejandro Escovedo, “The Crossing,” Yep Roc Records
This is an ambitious collection boasting 17 tracks that has all the trappings of a classic Alejandro Escovedo record: an Americana base with a splash of horns, at times a political agenda, a few haunting ballads, and serious cow punk. When it comes to this crossing, there is no need to proceed with caution, it is full steam ahead.
8. Arthur Buck, “Arthur Buck,” New West Records
The new collaboration features Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck. This combines both their alternative singer-songwriter sensibilities, throws them in a blender with some trippy and hypnotic sounds, sets it to frappe and pours it liberally over a heap of electronic beats. The vocals are handled by Arthur who can go from a whisper to growl in the blink of an eye.
9. The Jayhawks, “Back Roads and Abandoned Motels,” Legacy Records
The alt. country pioneers are back with an album of cover versions, but don’t get disappointed if you were psyched for originals: these are remakes of songs by the band’s very own leader, Gary Louris, that he had penned for many others. Each track easily exceeds the version that was done by another artist, which begs the question why he ever gave these away in the first place.
10. Matthew Sweet, “Tomorrow’s Daughter,” Honeycomb Hideout
This is classic Matthew Sweet: sugary pop slathered liberally over equal parts distorted and jangly guitars. The record’s third cut, intriguingly titled “Lady Frankenstein,” is of course his version of a love song, and well worth diving back into the Sweet pool if you have found yourself shivering on the deck since the early ’90s.
11. Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, “Living the Dream,” Roadrunner Records
They have never sounded better and things are really starting to gel with Myles Kennedy on the mic. It seems as if they are no longer a Guns N’ Roses cover band with some originals thrown in for good measure, but a full-fledged rock ’n’ roll machine of their own.
12. J Mascis, “Elastic Days,” Sub Pop Records
This features acoustic strumming front and center coupled with his familiar nasal-tinged impassioned whine. The other instrumentation is kept to a minimum, and with his very gentle serenades he quietly morphs into the most sensitive, skull-crushing, earth-shaking, and fear-inducing cuddly creature ever. These are his “Elastic Days,” so kick back and take it easy with this one for now, because he is sure to be stretching back to his roar soon enough.
13. Glen Philips, “Swallowed by the New,” Compass Records
The lead vocalist of Toad the Wet Sprocket ventures out alone and the disc’s lifeblood flows through a very familiar Toad vein. It should be noted that it was inspired by his divorce and its aftermath, so it isn’t the most upbeat affair, but those familiar with his late ’80s band know that their lyrics could easily go down a dark road.
14. John Wesley Harding, “Greatest Other People’s Hits,” Omnivore Records
The 17-track collection is culled from material over his entire career. The versions are primarily stripped-down acoustic renditions, with many taking an entirely new direction from the original composition and in some cases surpassing the familiar.
15. Bottle Rockets, “Bit Logic,” Bloodshot Records
They have managed to keep it together for over a quarter-century, and just like a fine wine (a comparison I am sure they get all the time) they only seem to get better with age. This set leans harder on the country side, but there is still plenty of fuzzed-out, feedback-riddled guitar, combined with that twanged-out tone that provides the soundtrack to life in rural America.
16. Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood, “With Animals,” Pias
If you expect this album to rock and be the feel good-album of the year, you may want to look away. Be prepared for the complete opposite: chills through your entire body with a deep exploration into death. This is going to take you on a dark adventure you may not soon recover from, but it is a trip well worth the exploration.
17. Joe Perry, “Sweetzerland Manifesto,” Roman Records, Inc
This CD is all about his instrument, and it is front and center on most every track. Who else starts off with an instrumental but a guitarist? It is a raw collection of solid blues and rock tracks that have not been overworked or over-polished.
18. Eels, “The Deconstruction,” PIAS
He continues doing what he does best, defying commercialism and throwing conventional music-making aside, creating beautiful lush arrangements. This time he only goes into grooves, hooks and loops for a few cuts; instead he opts for gentle piano, acoustic guitar and some serious pulling of the heart strings. He even makes time for a brief lullaby to his son Archie.
19. Guns N Roses, “Appetite for Destruction,” Geffen Records
Sure it was released 30 years ago, and may not technically qualify as a new release, but to not mention this reissue in a 2018 best of list would be criminal. The packaging goes above and beyond, and of course there is the music, featuring 73 tracks with 49 previously unreleased. There are electric and acoustic versions of their rendition of the Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the acoustic “Move to the City,” and all the other amazing Sound City Sessions. If you have a large Appetite for all things Guns N Roses, which you should, then this will be very satiating.
20. Rolling Stones, “From the Vault: No Security – San Jose 1999,” Eagle Rock
The patented Keith Richards’ double pump leg move literally kicked off the show. The entire performance is incredible. The set was heavy on hits, but included the rarely played “Some Girls” and a blistering rendition of “Out of Control” that would make you think it was as welcomed by fans as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which was equally unbelievable. Other highlights include Keith’s solo vocal spot. The Rolling Stones ARE the “World’s Greatest Rock N Roll Band.”
Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’
Dice Music. Drop him a line at
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