The albums, songs, people and places (in no particular order) that were our favorites in 2018.
Kevin Galloway – The Change
Galloway’s powerful vocals drive each song and provide them the proper gravitas to match the lyrics he has strained from his real life’s experiences. These songs are unmistakably positive and affirming. Galloway is confident, romantic, soulful, thoughtful and commanding. Allman-esque guitar solos have been replaced in some aspects with copious, but tasty use of steel guitar and keys. It’s a balanced, country sound that evokes Don Williams with Otis Redding’s voice.
Amanda Shires – To the Sunset
That’s the first word that comes to mind upon listening to Amanda Shire’s fantastic new record To the Sunset. It’s a word that returns to your consciousness throughout this masterful collection of songs. Unbound from genre, burdened with expectation, fulfilled with artistry. Shires’ evokes firebrands of all types throughout the ten tracks. Echoes of Robyn Ludwick, Holly Williams, Robert Ellis, Father John Misty and Sean McConnell coalesce into something supremely Shires’ own.
Brandon Jenkins – Tail Lights in a Boomtown
The Red Dirt legend released this album a mere month prior to his passing. Echoing the themes of many of his earlier works, Jenkins’ subconscious was leading him to some songwriting epiphanies that he delivered in that unmistakable tone of his. He is missed, but works like this one will resonate for decades.
Mike and the Moonpies – Steak Night at the Prairie Rose
Austin honky-tonk throwback outfit and road warriors released the best encapsulation of their live show yet. The entire project sounds as if you’ve stumbled into a roadside steakhouse and the jukebox is stuck in 1985.
William Clark Green – Hebert Island
The current master of matching melody with riff, WCG has returned with another acclaimed effort that makes heady songwriting match up to heavy guitars.
Kayla Ray – Yesterday and Me
A troubadour with neverending wanderlust and Haggard’s independent streak, Ray has made her way by speaking truths…both those of observed strangers and her own.
James Steinle – South Texas Homecoming
Smart, detailed songwriting is paired with melodic and strong country arrangements that help make this record sing in a way a country record from Texas hasn’t in many years. It’s a Texas Country record that doesn’t pander.
Joshua Hedley – Mr. Jukebox
The title says it all. Hedley cut his teeth in the honky-tonks around Lower Broadway in Nashville. Much like 2017’s standout from Zephaniah O’Hara, Hedley treads similar 60’s ground on cuts that could have just as easily been unearthed from a shelved Webb Pierce project.
John Prine –Tree of Forgiveness
Your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter, John Prine, returned to national prominence with his best work in decades. Smart and witty as ever, introspective and mortal all across the board. Haunting, real, humorous, life…set to music.
Jamie Lin Wilson – Jumping Over Rocks
The Queen of the scene continues her excellent output. JLW works hard and writes peerlessly. Lori McKenna has become a national name off the backs of songs this good. JLW is just one Tim McGraw cut away from being a household name.
Adam Hood – Somewhere In Between
Hood has long been a master of matching country with soul and groove, this album is no different. It’s got the audio cache of vintage Alabama, the smarts of contemporary Drew Kennedy and the drawl and grease to make it all real.
Jason Eady – I Travel On
Striking a balance between his early Delta-blues-groove influence and his honky-tonk throwback resurgence, Eady delivers a collection of songs that are true to him. When an artist’s truth is this excellent, we should all pay attention.
Leon Bridges – Good Thing
Fort Worth’s Bridges jumped up a notch in national consciousness with this effort. It was a slow burn, but track for track this one may be better than his debut. He’ll never fully outrun the Otis Redding and Sam Cooke comparisons…but that’s not bad company to keep.
Red Shahan – Culberson County
Following up a debut as strong as Men and Coyotes is always difficult. Shahan proves his saltiness with Culberson County’s collection of tunes that mine the same desolate and emotional territory as its predecessor.
Caitlyn Smith – Starfire
A unique, pop-influenced record that features some of the freshest songwriting and perspective to hit our ears in some years. This started garnering acclaim in the Americana realm and exploded far beyond that label.
American Aquarium – Things Change
BJ Barham regrouped, recharged and reemerged with his best release yet. Raw, attitudinal, motivated and real…Barham draws a proverbial line in the sand but finds enough common ground with his demons and nonbelievers that everyone can find something to dig here.
Brent Cobb – Providence Canyon
Pure talent and crystalline vocals howl across this record from Brent Cobb that finds him dialing up the groove and turning up the teles. A companion piece to his 2016 release Shine On Rainy Day, this record is ballsier, grittier, groovier and better…which says a lot.
Lori McKenna – The Tree
A tour de force. Many writers and songs crank out songs about life, but few do it with such vivid verve and detail as McKenna. Her reality is a shared reality. There are no bits of fantasy here…just stone cold truth. But, nobody said stone cold truth has to be ugly. McKenna makes the difficult beautiful and the mundane sublime.
Caitlyn Smith – “This Town is Killing Me”
Brandon Jenkins – “Be the Revival”
American Aquarium – “When We Were Younger Men”
Lori McKenna – “People Get Old”
Kacey Musgraves – “Space Cowboy”
John Prine – “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”
Courtney Patton – “What It’s Like to Fly Alone (Hawk Song”
Adam Hood – “Easy Way”
Brandi Carlile – “The Joke”
Paul Cauthen- “Everybody Walkin’ This Land”
Jade Marie Patek – “Calling My Name”
Hayes Carll – “Jesus and Elvis”
Bri Bagwell – “If You Were a Cowboy”
William Clark Green
Shane Smith and the Saints
Mike and the Moonpies
Jamie Lin Wilson
Josh Serratto – guitar, William Clark Green
Jerrod Flusche – guitar, Koe Wetzel
Austin Gilliam – multi-instrumentalist/vocalist
Justin Cogneato – percussion, Josh Ward
Caleb Jones – bass, Wade Bowen
Rio Tripiano – guitar/vocals, Copper Chief