- Between the Country — Ian Noe
Discovered this album via NPR First Listen on a whim (ala 2016’s top album) and never looked back. A perfect mix of folky songs spanning a number of emotions and influences while still holding together as part of their own refreshingly new voice.
- On the Line — Jenny Lewis
A strong, cathartic, singable companion/sequel to The Voyager. Jenny Lewis just keeps getting better with each release. Bonus points for how my mind was blown when I realized you can (probably inadvertently) sing the chorus to Champagne Supernova over the opening verse to Heads Gonna Roll. The intentionally train-wreck-y launch day all-star telethon special was also a nice touch.
- Help Us Stranger — The Raconteurs
The best album Jack White has been involved in since Get Behind Me Satan â€” with the possible exception of Rome which I consider more a Danger Mouse album with Jack White guesting.
- Night Shift EP — Jenny Owen Youngs
I know every year I say EPs don’t count, but then almost every year I pick one anyways. This was a late breaking discovery a few weeks ago (thanks to the unexpected yet welcome return of TwentyFourBit), but I really dig it. Looking forward to diving into her back catalogue in 2020.
- Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains
Like many, my excitement over the triumphant return of David Berman was overshadowed by his death which put me on a nostalgic Silver Jews listening spree for the second half of the year. But this new record stood out as a highlight even before that shift in perspective. It’s sonically different than the Joos for the most part, but still very Berman on the lyrics front. RIP.
- Dog in a Manger — Smooth Hound Smith
Despite what you may assume from the title, this isn’t an Xmas record. Instead it’s a big step forward for the Americana duo (now with a full band at live shows!)
- Monster (25th Anniversary Remix) — R.E.M.
Still my favorite R.E.M. album (and the first record I ever waited in line outside a record store to buy at midnight on release day), I love how the remix raises the vocals way up in the mix to better understand Michael Stipe’s lyrics. There also seem to be a few additional flourishes ala the remix treatment In Utero got in 2013. I had a lot of fun revisiting Monster this year.
- Weezer (The Teal Album) — Weezer
Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure covers album. But it’s also the best Weezer album since Maladroit.
- Topo Chico — Robert Ellis
- Eyelash — Asian She (cowritten by Benji Hughes)
- Uh Huh — Jade Bird
- Jesus & Elvis — Hayes Carll
- If Today Doesn’t Do Me In — Ian Noe
- Rabbit Hole — Jenny Lewis
- Hold Me Anyway — Wilco
Gin Blossoms @ Scoot Inn 3/7
Spiral Stairs, Sweet Spirit, Carson McHone, Kevin Galloway @ Mohawk 3/12 (Nine Mile Touring SXSW)
Hayes Carll @ SXSW 3/15-3/16 (4 shows in 27 hours!)
The Tallest Man on Earth @ Moody Theatre 4/23
Lemonheads @ Barracuda 5/31
Felice Brothers @ Barracuda 6/12
Will Courtney (solo acoustic) @ Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches 7/5
Mason Jennings @ 04 Center 7/12
Ian Noe @ Scoot Inn 8/17
(biggest disappointment of the year – he cancelled to have his wisdom teeth out)
Black Pumas @ Mohawk 8/24
Guns N Roses @ ACL 10/12
Reverend Horton Heat w/ Alejandro Escovedo @ The Continental Club 10/22
Wilco @ Moody Theatre 10/27
Ray LaMontagne @ Moody Theatre 11/2
Smooth Hound Smith @ Mohawk Indoor 11/19
Robert Ellis @ Armadillo Christmas Bazaar 12/23
Since David Berman was already covered above, I’d be remiss not to give a little eulogy for Shawn Smith as a wrap up to the year in music.
This one hit me the hardest, as I’ve been a big fan for a long time. As previously mentioned, I sought out the first Brad album early on and ended up stumbling onto a guy they call “Seattle’s Best Kept Secret” in this singer.
His voice was amazing, and even more amazing was the volume of side projects he sang for. Brad. Satchel. Pigeonhead. All Hail The Crown. From The North. Twilight Singers. Vincent & Mr. Green. Plus a plethora of solo releases, many of them underrated classics. (Shield of Thorns & The Diamond Hand still slay me.)
I named the protagonist of my short story Fester after Shawn Smith, and still shudder in glee when I encounter the part where my Shawn Smith listens to THE Shawn Smith in the car. I never intended for the namesakes to cross paths in the story, but I love that they did.
Shawn Smith 1965-2019 RIP