2018 in Music
2018 was not a great year for music, at least for the kind of music I love. I’m not as adventurous as my host Iman, who listens to hip hop, pop, you know, all the stuff the kids like. Although I have fairly broad tastes, I think they’re more appropriate to a 63-year-old brought up on classic rock and folk. Now that you know my bias, here’s my take on this past year in music.
There was a great deal of new music from performers I really have loved and admired over the years. Unfortunately, a lot of it was not up to their usual high standards. The common thread was lack of great, memorable songs.
From the bottom up, more or less, this could be applied to new albums from Dave Matthews, Ray Davies (particularly dreary), Death Cab for Cutie, Steve Forbert, James Maddock, Mumford and Sons, and John Hiatt. Graham Parker’s “Cloud Symbols” was a cut above. McCartney’s “Egypt Station” had some of his usual wonderful melodies but was interspersed with some embarrassingly juvenile moments, as if his sexual feelings never passed age 16. Elvis Costello’s “Look Now”, with the Imposters, was too clever by half- very sophisticated but needed to rock harder. Paul Simon’s reworking of 10 old songs wasn’t great, although the reworking of “Can’t Run But” was a highlight of his farewell tour.
Two of the better rock efforts were by new artists ( at least new to me), thanks Iman! Amy Rigby’s “The Old Guys” and Matt Whipkey’s “Driver” featured diverse sounds and some of the sharp songwriting lacking in the other records.
Another old guy at the top of his game was Buddy Guy. His new album “The Blues is Alive and Well” was a lot of fun, as was Bettye Lavette’s “Things Have Changed” all Dylan covers.
My two top rock albums were Willie Nile’s “Children of Paradise” even though the title track was recycled; and Greta Van Fleet’s “Anthem of the Peaceful Army”. Greta is unapologetic 70s rock, as if Led Zeppelin and Rush had a baby. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but really does. A breath of fresh air.
Some reissues and compilations of note: Tom Petty’s “An American Treasure” and Dylan’s “More Blood,More Tracks”. Neil Young released another acoustic live set, “Songs for Judy”.
The genre that really flourished for me was alt country. We got excellent new music from John Prine, The Jayhawks, Lori McKenna, Rosanne Cash, and Pistol Annies. The best of all was Brandi Carlile’s,”By The Way I Forgive You”.
As for live music, I was a little less active than usual but here are my highlights. At the arena scale, U2 was compelling, The Eagles without Glenn Frey but with Vince Gill were professional as always, every harmony perfect. Billy Joel last week threw in a little too much Christmas Schmaltz, but hey, it’s Billy at the Garden. Paul Simon’s farewell tour, which I got in Philly, was fantastic. Great band, a career spanning set with some fantastic reworkings of some songs and heartfelt renditions of others.
At smaller venues, Steve Earle lit up the Beacon twice, once on a bill with Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam, once opening for the always entertaining Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were great fun in Rahway NJ. And I caught old friends James Maddock and Willie Nile twice in small venues – always great shows.
Lastly, some of my favorite musical moments were on Broadway. Come From Away was wonderful, a moving story cleverly staged and sung. Bruce on Broadway (twice) gave us a chance to see the great man up close and personal, singing solo versions of some of his best songs and telling stories to match. And “Hamilton”- (twice) Wow! for a guy who doesn’t generally like hip hop to say this is a work of genius, you’d better believe it. It was even better the second time after listening to the cast album a few times.
Here’s hoping for a wonderful musical 2019- and The Stones are coming!