Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Year in Music: Albums you might have missed in 2018

There are so many music titles released each year that it's easy for some of them to get overlooked. Below is a final quick look at a selection of 2018 albums that should be on the radar of music listeners with a variety of tastes...


photo by: Cybele Malinowski
(Cooking Vinyl)
Kelly's second consecutive studio album to debut at No. 1 in his native Australia, Nature continued the acclaimed Americana singer/guitarist's winning creative streak that has resulted in five releases in less than four years. All the songs here started as poems and are thematically linked to the natural world. Some were penned by Kelly; others are by Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Phillip Larkin. Nature kicks off strong with the upbeat, jangly "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" and is followed by a fine sinewy rocker, "With the One I Love" - easily standing among the veteran's best in a career that spans decades. The stately "With Animals" contains some thought-provoking lines about the possible benefits of living beside beasts: "They do not sweat and whine about their condition...they do not make me sick discussing their duty to God/Not one is dissatisfied." An atmospheric "Morning Storm" features backing vocalizations from Kelly's daughters Maddy and Memphis and baritone guitar by his nephew Dan. "Mushrooms" and "River Song" - the latter boasting a string quartet - are both quietly alluring. Finally, the album ends on a breezy note with "The Trees," as shimmering electric guitars, subtle Farfisa organ and Mellotron lead the way and Kelly harmonizes with Alice Keath.

Wouldn't it Be Great
(Sony Legacy)
Delayed a year due to health issues, Loretta Lynn finally returned with the pleasantly enjoyable
Wouldn't it Be Great, co-produced by daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash. It is comprised of songs either written or co-written by the Queen of Country Music. The title track is a poignant ballad inspired by Lynn's late husband, while the old school country of "Ruby's Stool" is feisty and fun (with the singer describing a "battle axe"). Two big hits from the past - "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)", "Coal Miner's Daughter" - are revisited in versions that don't stray much from the originals. Lynn also puts a new mandolin and violin-infused spin on "God Makes No Mistakes," first heard on the 2004 Grammy-winning Jack White-produced Van Lear RoseAll told, Lynn still remains in fine voice.
Forever Words - Johnny Cash
(Sony Legacy)
Also overseen by co-producer John Carter Cash, Forever Words is the audio companion to a book of the same name. The tribute album has an impressive array of country, rock and Americana artists setting unheard Johnny Cash poems, lyrics and letters to music. Standouts include Brad Paisley's heartfelt "Gold All Over the Ground," husband-and-wife duo Kacey Musgraves & Ruston Kelly's stark harmonies on "To June This Morning," the late Chris Cornell's haunting "You Never Knew My Mind," Roseanne Cash's compelling "The Walking Wounded," John Mellencamp's rousing "Them Double Blues" and Elvis Costello's orchestrated ballad "I'll Still Love You." Elsewhere, Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jewel and The Jayhawks, among others, also contributed to the project.

True Meanings
(Warner Bros.)
Practically defining "pastoral," True Meanings found Weller adopting a more relaxed musical approach, utilizing string arrangements, orchestration and a singer/songwriter vibe straight outta the late 1960s/early 1970s. The Zombies' Rod Argent does a brief, but memorable Hammond organ solo on opening track "The Soul Searchers," while notable folk musicians Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy guest on "Come Along." Noel Gallagher adds harmonium to the Indian-sounding "Books" and Hammond organ to the subtle "White Horses" (Argent also plays Mellotron and piano). A good soundtrack to a lazy Sunday afternoon at the park.


Paul McCartney and Wings
Wild Life; Red Rose Speedway
The latest expanded and remastered 2CD titles in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection are Wild Life, the 1971 debut album from Wings and Red Rose Speedway, which arrived two years later. Wild Life is notable for the reggae cover of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and a bonus disc featuring UK hit single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish." Red Rose Speedway, a chart topper in America, contains the No. 1 pop and adult contemporary ballad "My Love." The 18-song bonus disc is the real focal point, with UK hits/non-album cuts "Hi Hi Hi," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Live and Let Die" and their respective B-sides. The latter is included in a group only, alternate take version and there are also three live songs. 


In 2015, RCA Records put out an Elvis Presley compilation where orchestral arrangements were added to hits and album tracks. It was a success, so RCA released more of them. This year, saw three more prominent acts giving a similar treatment to their catalog. 

Richard Carpenter produced, conducted the RPO at Abbey Road Studios in London and arranged all but one of the tracks on this album, which paired Karen Carpenter's original vocals, instrumental tracks and new orchestral backing. The result ups the already lush quotient on 1970s hits like "(They Long To Be) Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "Top of the World," "Yesterday Once More," "Superstar" and more. 

Executive produced by Jerry Schilling (Elvis Presley), with orchestral arranging and conducting primarily handled by Sally Herbert, several of the group's classics soar higher than ever before here with new sweetening. Case in point: "Fun Fun Fun," "Don't Worry Baby," "In My Room" (now grander) and "Help Me Rhonda." Surprisingly, even "Kokomo" benefits from the revison (namely in the chorus). The treatment adds little though to the already big sounding "Good Vibrations." Other songs include "California Girls, "Wouldn’t It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," "Heroes And Villains." Beach Boy Bruce Johnston put it best when he said upon release that the new arrangements "added the beautiful fairy dust of the orchestra to what we already recorded. It’s another interpretation of us without losing the groundwork of us.”

Unchained Melodies
(Sony Legacy/Roy's Boys)
The follow-up to 2017's orchestrated A Love So Beautiful, Unchained Melodies features 15 songs that are mostly deep album cuts (a half dozen are from the singer's final two albums Mystery Girl and King of Hearts). The inclusion of “Walk On,” “Leah,” “Crawling Back,” “Blue Bayou,” “Danny Boy” and “California Blue” were the result of a fan poll. An alternate version of “Heartbreak Radio” is a virtual collaboration between Roy and rising young country music star Cam. Roy’s sons, wives and kids also contribute additional instrumentation and vocals. 

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