Once again, for at least the third year in a row, I was disappointed that I had fewer than 20 records to review – that in spite of adding a few unsolicited contenders for the prize, one of which is represented on this list (and another that just missed it.) Thanks to those two I had a couple extra contenders because otherwise my top 5 would have been sort of “meh.”
So after going back through all my 2018 reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here are your top 5 for this year.
5. Maxwell James (self-titled)
Original review: July 14.
This debut straddles lines between several genres despite its short length – it’s a five-song EP. Taking elements away from classic country, blues, and alternative rock, Maxwell James puts them together in something that was a pleasure to listen to. Unlike a lot of other artists who give us too much filler to pad out an overly long effort, Maxwell makes you wish there were a couple more on the CD. It leaves a listener wondering which direction James will decide to go as his career advances.
4. “Buffalo Hotel” by Geoff Gibbons
Original review: January 27.
Gibbons presented the image of a rough-and-tumble Western-style artist based on the cover of this one, but it turned out he was rather far from the “hat band” style of country that’s dominated the charts over the last couple decades. Instead, he reaches back to a bygone time when country music wasn’t rock music played with different instruments, and when there is the rock influence it’s done with a light touch. It’s worth listening to for the stories that are told.
3. “Electric Bouquet” by Peak
Original review: December 16.
If you look at the album cover hard enough, you’ll figure out that it indeed is an electric bouquet. If you listen to the album long enough, you’ll wonder why these guys aren’t raking in millions on a record deal and tour. They certainly have the musical chops to do so – perhaps they have more talent than the market will allow.
This was one of the three “filler” albums I closed out my year with, and by a pretty good margin it was the best of the three. I’ll be interested to see what this group that intersects funk and rock will do with their next release.
2. “Isolated Thunderstorms” by Jared Weiss
Original review: August 18.
There’s no doubt that Jared can sing, since he’s a performer on the musical theater circuit. But this album became a winner because Weiss can also write very compelling songs that range the gamut from acoustic ballads to active prog rockers like my favorite song of all those I reviewed this year that comes from this album, Elusive Particle.
Another thing that set Jared apart from the rest was the sense of humor he has in his lyrics, a trait long-ago balladeers like Harry Chapin or Jim Croce could also pull off (and sell a truckload of singles in the process.) The music industry has changed since then, but good writing will still sell eventually.
1. “Campfire Party” by Justin Shapiro
Original review: June 9.
This was actually a very close competition between 1 and 2, but what pushed Shapiro over the line first was the multitude of well-written songs set with a backdrop of clear Southern rock influence – something that for me is really tough to beat having grown up and listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers as they gave way to the heavier takes on the genre presented by Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Jackyl, and others.
As I said in the original review, this one hit my sweet spot and try as he might, Weiss couldn’t dislodge it nor could anyone else. Not only did it end up in my top 5, but “Campfire Party” finished as the top one.
I should add that a couple albums from 2018 deserve an honorable mention as they were also contenders for these spots: “Inward” by Ghostly Beard (reviewed the week before Shapiro in June) and last week’s offering “Past” by Kate Coleman were also seriously considered for this list. It’s also unfortunate that Paul Maged didn’t finish his trilogy this year because that would certainly be in contention for a position – but I want to judge it as a whole despite the fact it will be released in three different calendar years.
Next week (or perhaps January 12, depending on how long the research goes) I’ll revisit these and my previous listed artists – at least those who are still around and making music – and see how they’re doing.
In the meantime, go check these folks out if you like good music!