Again I was a little disappointed that I had fewer than 20 records to review. This was a year where the top 10 of those all had a shot at being top 5, with the top group standing out somewhat from the rest for a number of reasons.
After going back through all my 2017 reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here are your top 5 for this year.
5. “Further!!” by Revolushn
Original review: October 14.
If you were really into the psychedelic rock era, this one is a worthy latter-day successor. Certainly the band reflects a Bay Area (that would be San Francisco, not Chesapeake) mindset and politics, but good, fun music is still that.
These guys have been around for a little while and they’re perhaps on the cusp of breaking out into a little more commercial success, assuming they truly long to be sellouts. They may just like their status as an “American protest band” better.
4. “Push On Thru” by Rich Lerner and the Groove
Original review: August 5.
A band that almost defies classification, the appeal of this album was the variety it possessed. These guys seemed right at home transitioning from a Grateful Dead-style jam to more straight country to a serious blues number. You may not like every single song on this one, but Rich Lerner and the Groove hit more home runs on this one than they struck out.
Not necessarily the touring type anymore, they have an impressive cover list when they do play and host a benefit concert each year.
3. “White Oak & Kerosene” by Justin Allen and the Well Shots
Original review: February 25.
There’s a lot of honesty in Justin’s music; the sort of thing that only comes about when you get your degree from the School of Hard Knocks. While this is only a five-song EP, I’m sure Justin and his supporters hope and pray it’s the bridge to something much bigger.
But Justin may have a choice to make, since it’s tough to straddle the line between country and rock. He walks that tightrope pretty well on this EP, but I’m hoping he doesn’t just slide into the idea of just being another country artist without kicking and screaming about leaving the world of boozy, bluesy rock behind.
2. “Remember The Alamo” by Free Willy
Original review: September 16.
What carries this album to its lofty position is the unique and talented musicianship shown by the artists on this record. Free Willy didn’t play every bluegrass festival, country bar, or local honky-tonk watering hole, but they sure sound like they did. In terms of technique and song structuring this is probably one of the best albums I’ve ever reviewed, even if it’s not a genre I listen to an awful lot.
After I did my review and as I was trying to find more on each band, I found more of the backstory on Bill Jones (“Willy”) on the Bluegrass Today website. Definitely worth the read.
1. “Shake The Cage” by Freddie Nelson
Original review: July 29.
I think I outdid myself with the opening lines of this review, which really sum up this compilation:
When I went to check out this just-released album from Pittsburgh-based rocker Freddie Nelson, for three minutes and 55 seconds I was transported back to 1987. Back then you could have taken a tape of the lead song on this CD, called Turn You On, to any A&R guy in the country worth his salt and he would have given you cash money to take you to the band’s next show.
If you just want to straight-up rock, this one is the album for you. I’m definitely partial to bands that draw heavily from classic rock, and this is certainly and enthusiastically one of them. These songs, they stick with you.
I began 2017 with a look at where some of the bands I’ve reviewed over the years have gone, and in the next week or two I’m going to revisit that post with updates. Like I said last year, that should be a fun post to put together as we all combat the post-holiday blues.
In the meantime, I hope to get the finishing touches next year on a couple albums that could make the 2018 top 5 list when finished, both from alumni artists: Matt Townsend did the first half of a proposed two-part project this past year and 2014 winner Paul Maged began the release of what he envisions as a trilogy of EPs that will create his next full-length.
While I have pretty well backed out of the day-to-day political game with this site, I still like to do the music reviews. Here’s hoping I have a better pace in 2018.