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The Best Rock And Country Of 2019

As 2020 begins, I’d like to talk a little about the best – and worst- music of 2019. Unlike my host, Mr. Lababedi, I have no interest in teen pop, hip hop, EDM, so none of that will be here. This discussion will be limited to rock of all sorts and some country.

Country continued to be the home for some of the best songwriting of this past year. There were excellent albums by The Highwomen, Todd Snider, and Americana star Rhiannon Giddens. And of course, Bob Dylan released his latest bootleg material including some wonderful duets with Johnny Cash from the Nashville Skylines sessions. Ken Burns’s Country Music TV documentary was fascinating, even for people generally not in love with the genre. It really emphasized how its roots are the roots of much of American music including rock and blues. It was a good preparation for my visit to Nashville a few weeks ago.

Rock is not dead despite some disappointing releases by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Brittany Howard (hiding her light under a basket), and Robbie Robertson (surprisingly terrible!). Gary Clark Jr, The Raconteurs, The Hold Steady, the Black Keys, and The Tedesci Trucks Band proved that guitar based rock is not dead. The Lumineers kept doing what they do with III. And Jesse Malin from the downtown NY scene released the excellent Sunset Kids with production and some vocals by the great Lucinda Williams. The Milk Carton Kids’ EP The Only Ones was full of terrific songwriting.

Bruce Springsteen went in a new direction with his country influenced Western Stars. I liked the record, but loved the songs more after seeing the movie: The songs came across better live, filmed beautifully in a warm atmosphere of a barn, and aided by his narration and commentary. Looking forward to an E Street Band tour in 2020! And Bruce’s consiglieri Little Steven released Summer of Sorcery, his second terrific album in a row, and led one of the most fun tours of the year. (see my review here)

Some of the best live music of the year was as usual in smaller venues. Willie Nile and John Hiatt continued to be vital live performers, exuding warmth from the stage, Nils Lofgren led a rare solo tour featuring material from his Blue with Lou LP, featuring songs co written with the late Lou Reed (here). And some of the most inspiring performances I saw were by opening acts. Lucius’s stunning harmonies outshone headliner Jackson Browne (here); the always fantastic Bonnie Raitt turned MSG into a club while a disappointing Mark Knopfler kept us at a distance; and Peter Wolf gave Little Steven a run for his money.

The Who provided two of the highlights of the year. Their tour with an orchestra had them at their inspiring best, with new arrangements of songs from Tommy and Quadrophenia (here). Their self-titled album was one of the best records of the year, all new material that, while not up their with the 70s stuff, was their best since then. And the Stones were on the road too! Always welcome and after a slow start at the show I saw seemed rejuvenated by the time Midnight Rambler came around

Special mention to a museum show: Play It Loud at the Met displayed instruments and stage setups from The Beatles, The Who, Clapton, Springsteen, Dylan, Page, Hendrix, and Young. I felt unworthy in the presence of such greatness.

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