Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead, people, it’s just thriving on the fringes of pop culture while a mess of young and old artists alike are banging the gong and getting it on. The following ten albums listed below aren’t necessarily the “best” of 2018 but rather those that were my favorite releases for the year and spent the most time on my stereo. I’ve also listed another ten albums that almost, but not quite made the cut but, truth is, any of these albums would make a great addition to your music library. Check out the Rev’s lists of favorite archive/reissue and blues music albums from 2018 while you’re here!
Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers – More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows (Schoolkids Records)
Joe Grushecky’s More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows is an entertaining, exciting work that takes full advantage of the Houserockers’ immense musical chemistry – forged by decades of hard knocks and a shared faith in the religion of rock ‘n’ roll – to create a wonderful collection of songs that rock recklessly but pump the brakes when needed. Reunited with his longtime band after a handful of solo albums, Grushecky displays a renewed fervor and commitment to rock music as both soapbox and as a catalyst for social change. With More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows, Grushecky delivers a career milestone, outdoing himself once again. BUY!
Tom Guerra – American Garden (Casa del Soul Records)
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tom Guerra is a veteran musician that’s been toiling in the shadows far too long while lesser talents grab the spotlight. American Garden features a high-octane blend of guitar-driven classic rock and blues music with Guerra’s smart (and often timely) lyrics paired with a clamorous soundtrack that reminds of similar rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky. Tom Guerra’s American Garden is a solid collection of muscular, no-frills, old-school rock ‘n’ roll. BUY!
Handsome Jack – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Alive Natural Sound Records)
Buffalo NY area “boogie soul” power trio Handsome Jack have one foot in the blustery hard rock sound of the ‘70s and the other in the guitar-driven British blues explosion of the ‘60s; the band’s raw, immediate garage-rock worldview builds on the past while looking defiantly towards the future. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright is the band’s sophomore effort and it’s a real fine barn-burner, Handsome Jack the real thing, a switchblade-toting gang of ‘Rust Belt’ blues-rock thugs demanding your time, money, and attention. BUY!
Peter Holsapple – Game Day (Omnivore Recordings)
The voice of the revered power-pop outfit the dB’s, Peter Holsapple hasn’t released a solo album in 21 years (since 1997’s Out of My Way), but he climbs back in the saddle effortlessly with the gorgeous, shimmering Game Day. Holsapple’s deft songwriting chops and emotive vocals have always fueled his band’s best material, and with his second solo effort, he dials up the intensity to eleven. Holsapple plays nearly every note on the excellent Game Day, making it a true “solo album.” BUY!
Howlin Rain – The Alligator Bride (Silver Current Records)
A damn fine rock band, Howlin Rain nevertheless brings a soupçon of its previous Americana-styled twang to the songs on The Alligator Bride, their fifth album. Infusing deceptively complex tunes with elements of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and even Joe Walsh, The Alligator Bride provides a shining display of frontman Ethan Miller’s songwriting chops and the band’s immense instrumental skills. There are a lot of echoes of the past in these grooves and the album’s wonderfully-balanced musical dynamics make it sound like it’s 1975 all over again. BUY!
Willie Nile – Children of Paradise (River House Records)
Longtime Willie Nile fans won’t be disappointed by the more topical material on Children of Paradise, most of which is delivered with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit. In spite of the album’s frequent lyrical vision of a world in flames, Nile closes out the song cycle with the hopeful, pastoral “All God’s Children.” The song offers salvation through faith in our fellow humans and (unspoken) the power of rock ‘n’ roll to transcend life’s indignities. Nile’s simple plea of “sing for the angels, sing for the sinners, all of the losers one day will be winners…” provides a ray of light piercing the darkness that has enveloped our society. You can ask of nothing more from the true artist. BUY!
David Olney – This Side or the Other (Black Hen Music)
Singer/songwriter David Olney has been making music in Nashville for over 40 years, and the humble, talented scribe has been exploring the depths of folk, rock, and country music just as long, breaking through genre barriers years before anybody coined the “Americana” term. This Side or the Other, Olney’s debut for Steve Dawson’s Black Hen label, proves to be a snug artistic fit, the like-minded Dawson producing and adding his considerable six-string skills to the songs. Olney’s poetic wordplay, intriguing story-songs, and world-weary vocals put him in a class by himself, the man’s talents transcending mediocrity to deliver the truly magnificent with This Side or the Other. BUY!
Shuggie Otis – Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra Records)
When everybody else in popular music is running, lemming-like, in a single direction, Shuggie Otis is veering off towards left field. For his first studio album in better than forty years, the songwriter responsible for soulful gems like “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information” delivers a mostly-instrumental set guaranteed to blow your mind. A buffet of rock, soul, funk, and jazz, Inter-Fusion is a breathtaking collection of virtuosity, proof that Otis has lost none of the chops, imagination, or innovation that made him a legend in the first place. BUY!
Sour Ops – Family Circuit (Feralette Records)
Contrary to conventional industry wisdom, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead – and Sour Ops proves my point with the delightfully raucous Family Circuit. Price Harrison and his musical gang take their obvious cues from the legends of classic ‘70s and ‘80s rock but manage to provide this original material with a contemporary spin via their imaginative songwriting and skilled instrumentation. In addition to Family Circuit, Sour Ops also released a fab 12” single this year comprised of “Photograph” and “Mind Like Glue,” two of the album’s best tunes and a safe bet for vinyl collectors looking for cheap thrills. BUY!
The Textones – Old Stone Gang (Blue Elan Records)
The Textones’ Carla Olson put the original band back together for another shot at the brass ring, and their first new album in 30+ years sounds like they never really left the game. The band’s pioneering hybrid of rock, country, and a touch of soul (i.e. ‘Americana’) is much in evidence here and the Textones’ Old Stone Gang offers a lot of twang and bang for your buck. If you didn’t know them back in the ‘80s, you owe it to yourself to discover the band today. BUY!
Honorable Mention: Arthur Buck’s Arthur Buck; Crack the Sky’s Living In Reverse; The Damned’s Evil Spirits, Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing; Graveyard’s Peace; Wilko Johnson’s Blow Your Mind; King Crimson’s Live In Vienna; King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Gumboot Soup; Uriah Heep’s Living the Dream; Barrence Whitfield’s Soul Flowers of Titan.