This week’s column continues from last week, listing the remaining five of what are the top-10 records that came across my desk, turntable and digital music device in 2019.
It’s never easy to compile 10 favorites into an order that favors one over the other. Ask me in a month, and this list will likely be different. Every year is better than the previous, and if you are one of the people who believes “no good music has been made since __,” then you aren’t looking hard enough.
Here are my favorites to round out 2019:
5. The Felice Brothers, “Undress.” The overall vibe on “Undress” is playful, as The Felice Brothers bang out their weird version of indie-roots rock. Graced with subtle horns that punch along with pedal steel that lingers throughout the record, there are moments where the instrumentation gives the record psychedelic leanings. The playfulness comes via a melodic bounce, at times masking the lyrics that critique our current questionable times – using catchy roots music is, in fact, a fun way to heckle those in charge, especially delivered via The Felice Brothers’ drunken, sing-along vibe.
4. Graham Reynolds, “MARFA: A County & Western Big Band Suite.” Animated, fun and scenic while loaded with soundscapes that range from classical suites to punchy doses of noir, Reynolds has put together a record that nods to Ennio Morricone, Carl Stalling and John Zorn. Loaded with Austin, Texas, musicians including guitar wiz Redd Volkaert, there are doses of twang that burst between sultry lounge and avant-garde noise, as Reynolds has found a way to write a score that captures the sleaze of Times Square of the ’50s and shares it with a dance hall that features Bob Wills on stage.
3. Charley Crockett, “The Valley.” Crockett is one of the hottest people in independent country today, and “The Valley,” in all its honky-tonk glory, shines of roots country while dabbling in boogie-blues. The glory of this album lies in its simplicity – Crockett’s straight-ahead tunes are pulled from the golden era of country music, an album ripe for two-stepping and crying in a beer or two, with a few country rockers loaded with soul. Solid instrumentation lives comfortably behind Crockett’s real-as-a-heart-attack croon, and his latest proves good country hasn’t gone anywhere.
2. Sarah Lee Langford, “Two Hearted Rounder.” Alabama continues to be a state cranking out great independent releases of every genre, with record label Cornelius Chapel serving as the mother producing, raising and watching over them all. Sarah Lee Langford’s debut is a laid-back country effort where Telecaster punch and pedal steel nod to classic country, while it’s rough enough around the edges to ward off the new country squares while attracting the cow-punk crowd. Langford’s vocals are the ace, at times angelic and innocent, and at others, deliberate and experienced – the perfect voice to deliver her heartbreaking songs of strong-willed women and broken-down love.
1. The Delines, “The Imperial.” Songwriter and guitar player Willy Vlautin refers to this band as country soul. Vlautin led Richmond Fontaine for years, and his Delines continues to tell his stories of broken characters and beat dreams, conveyed through the voice of Amy Boone and backed by a band forever in the pocket that marries ambient steel, organ and horns in a delightful groove, scoring an end-of-the-night slow dance you’ll want to be entangled in forever. Even if the stories on “The Imperial” are depressing as hell, like Vlautin’s books, the characters in these songs, along with this band, are people you’ll champion.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.