It’s become one of my favorite first-of-the-year traditions: the annual “where are they now?” following of groups which have landed in my top 5 albums from each year. I now have five years’ worth of them to follow, a total of 25 in all although some of them are no longer active. For the purpose of this exercise, if the band or group released new music, played some shows, or even did social media in 2018 I would consider them active.
My 2014 crop included five groups: Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders, the Tomas Doncker Band, The Lost Poets, Monks of Mellonwah (now inactive), and Paul Maged.
While Billy Roberts is still on the full-length 2017 release “Greenbah,” last year he put out a pair of singles: the brassy but rocking Hillbilly Blues and the more somber re-release of a 2015 song, Gone to the Dogs. He’s staying somewhat country, but trends more toward pop with these songs.
At the beginning of 2018, Tomas Doncker (as a solo artist) did a 10th anniversary reprise of a collaboration with poet Yusef Komunyakaa called “The Mercy Suite.” But more recently his True Groove record label announced they’re putting out yet another take on Doncker’s 2015 release “The Mess We Made” dubbed “A Slight Return” in February. So the band is on a hiatus of sorts, or perhaps it’s morphed into the very active “True Groove All-Stars.” In either case, I don’t think moss is growing under Doncker’s feet.
In that same vein, The Lost Poets are still promoting the short film Insubordia Pt. III – which has played at a half-dozen film festivals – but, more importantly, have an upcoming single to be released January 19 called River Runs Dry. One thing I missed in their 2017 update was a neat single called Vulture that I would love to see included in their next full-length, whenever that is. Will it be Insubordia Pt. IV or have they mined that genre? Stay tuned.
While I await the third part of his proposed trilogy (2018’s “The Glass River” was part 2), Paul Maged put out a heavy rock single on Election Day eve called The Resistance. To say he’s no fan of Donald Trump would be an understatement, so it will be intriguing to see how that influences his 2019.
Moving up to 2015, the groups who won that year were Idiot Grins, The Liquorsmiths, Tumbler, Space Apaches, and solo artist Jas Patrick. (The latter two are now inactive.)
While Idiot Grins didn’t put out any new material in 2018, their most recent release of the album “State of Health” came out late enough in 2017 that they are still putting out singles – the most recent being Take It Back, which is charting on digital radio, according to a recent Tweet by the band.
Similarly, but on the flip side of the business, they’re still working from their 2016 album “All My Friends Are Fighters.” But instead of pushing for digital radio airplay, The Liquorsmiths are still doing the occasional live show around their San Diego home.
Lost in the runup to Christmas was the release of a new 2-song EP (for lack of a better term) by Tumbler called “The Power of the Song.” I just happened to stumble across it on Amazon Music, meaning I’ve only found samples to listen to – from the little I could tell, it sounds much like their earlier work. But on social media they’re promising, “We’ve already got some new things in the works for you in 2019!” so I will take them at their word.
From 2016, the groups in question were Michael Van and the Movers, Midwest Soul Xchange, Jim Peterik, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy, and The Magic Lightnin’ Boys.
Lamenting that “I’m Not Country Enough,” Michael Van and the Movers put out an album in September that claims to have “Cowboy Reggae and other Atrocities.” This follow-up to “A Little More Country” that I reviewed is being supported by the occasional show around their California base.
Topping that, though, Midwest Soul Xchange put out their own album in November and supported it with a mini-tour through their home region last fall and plans for a more ambitious tour spreading eastward into Michigan slated for this coming spring. That’s appropriate given “Weakened At The Asylum” is described by the band as “a story (which) centers around the water crisis in Flint, MI, and follows the lives of several fictional characters as they navigate through unspeakable tragedy.”
The purple-haired one, Jim Peterik, is apparently taking a bit of a break from a solo career to do some new stuff with his old band, The Ides of March – an album that will include a guest gig from Mark Farner. Midwest-raised people like me would know that name, as he used to play for the Michigan-based Grand Funk Railroad. His other iron in the fire is the World Stage project, which has a recent collaboration with Dennis DeYoung of Styx for an upcoming show/album. Throw in a spring 2019 cruise for good measure and one of two things is true: either Jim is putting musicians a third of his age to shame or he’s got a great social media guru making up good stuff.
From what I’ve been able to gather, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy still occasionally collaborate but are apparently working on different musical projects on an individual basis. Their joint website is no more and the combined social media page wasn’t updated in 2018.
Conversely, the previously-described demise of The Magic Lightnin’ Boys was more of a hiatus. They returned last month with an album combining some new songs with acoustic versions of older tunes called “The Last Ride.” Whether that is the last ride or not remains to be seen, but I’m hoping for more. In the meantime I will place those last three in the “semi-active” category insofar as continuing in their reviewed form.
2017’s top 5 (Revolushn, Rich Lerner and the Groove, Justin Allen and the Well Shots, Free Willy, and Freddie Nelson) is, as you might expect, still building on those releases.
For example, a brief California tour next month and a recent single called Little Red Dolls means Revolushn is still doing their best version of “American protest rock.”
But a funny thing seems to have happened to Rich Lerner and the Groove. While they went to studio in the spring of 2018 to follow up on “Push On Thru,” the trail seems to have grown cold insofar as that goes. But Rich and his band had a (slightly delayed) Groove Jam VII benefit concert in September and have been playing around their area over the last few months, so maybe 2019 is the year for a follow-up.
A couple of these groups have entered radio silence, though. Justin Allen and the Well Shots, who slated some shows in the spring of 2018, has abandoned social media and their website at some point since. So they may have done their last well shot for all I know. Similarly, Free Willy pops in on social media once in awhile but doesn’t seem to be making any progress on new music.
Meanwhile, Freddie Nelson continues to pick up airplay for songs off his “Shake The Cage” album and the occasional show around his native Pittsburgh area.
Last week I revealed 2018’s top 5, which were Maxwell James, Geoff Gibbons, Peak, Jared Weiss, and Justin Shapiro.
Of course, some of these artists just recently released their albums but I saw Maxwell James is promising a new song in the new year as he plays around Nashville. Interestingly enough, his song Roll Down Your Window Slowly made the top 200 digital radio charts in October, just a few slots behind Inspiration Nation by Justin Shapiro off his #1 album. Completely random but worth mentioning.
Geoff Gibbons has kept busy with three singles (including a Christmas song) and an EP taking up his 2018 – bear in mind I reviewed “Buffalo Hotel” almost a full calendar year ago and it had already been out several months prior to my review. So we’re talking about a year and a half for Geoff, and he’s made good use of the time.
Another group that’s been resting on an album for awhile is Peak, since we’re closing in on a year since their “Electric Bouquet” came out. They’ve been doing their share of shows around the New York area, but no word quite yet on new stuff.
The same goes for fellow New Yorker Jared Weiss, who has so many irons in the fire I don’t know when he’ll have time to do a follow up to his 2018 album.
The good news on the Justin Shapiro front is that we are slated for a live EP sometime in early 2019 as he continues to play in the area. Maybe we can get an Eastern Shore appearance? He is from the D.C. area, you know.
So that’s a wrap on my 2019 followup. Or is it? I think next week I am going to try something new as a companion to this piece: some “quick hit” (meaning a paragraph or two) reviews of music these previous top 5 artists put out in 2018. It should be fun to revisit their music as they develop. I also have a special treat in mind for January 19, so stay tuned.