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Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 5 - "Back Roads & Abandoned Motels " by The Jayhawks

This was my favourite album of 2018 and an edited version of my original review of appears below. Now we're into the top half we are talking about the best of the best here.

With the benefit of time I'd like to add that the sheer level of craft on display here is staggering. That these songs were written over a period of time rather than specifically for this album maybe helps that, but nonetheless this is songwriting of the highest quality with performances and production to match.
My only sadness is that they've not found it viable to tour over here since the 2016 tour to support the also very good "Paging Mr Proust". I was fortunate enough to see them at the Art School in Glasgow on that run,(solo acoustic guitar version of "Broken Harpoon"!), my fourth time overall, and sincerely hope that won't be the last. Arriving just over two years after 2016’s “Paging Mr Proust”, the new album from Minnesota’s finest is a departure, in that most but not all o…
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Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 6 - "Wovenwar" by Wovenwar

The 2014 debut from the band that rose phoenix-like from the ashes of As I Lay Dying  is the next in my list of the best albums of the last decade.

Surveying the mess left behind in the wake of Tim Lambesis' arrest and imprisonment for attempted murder, the remaining members of As I Lay Dying teamed up with Shane Blay of Oh Sleeper to create what is almost the best metal album of the last ten years.

Retaining the power of their former band, whilst vastly more melodic this became an instant classic in my collection and deserves a far larger audience that in achieved.
Using the classic moody instrumental introduction before firing into the staggeringly good 1-2 punch of "All Rise" and "Death to Rights" this is punch the air stuff.
Breath is drawn during "The Tempest" although the liquid guitar work of Nick Hipa & Phil Sgrosso still shines.
The heights are climbed again with "Movin' Up" and especially "Sight of Shore", possibly the…

The Unraveling by Drive-By Truckers: Album Review

If you thought Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were angry on 2016's excellent "American Band" then wait until you get your ears around their latest album, "The Unraveling". 
Never a band afraid to call it as they see it, you'll have no issues deciding the targets of their ire. "Murmur" this is not.

Easing us in gently with "Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun", they bring the energy with the high octane "Armageddon's Back In Town".  This one rocks hard, and that energy continues when Mike Cooley takes over for the catchy "Slow Ride Argument".
The music may be calmer and even jolly, but the lyrics of "Thoughts and Prayers" are an utterly coruscating assault on the all too typical response of many in power to gun violence. Hear, hear I say. The tragedy is that this song will be appropriate many times every year. 
The political commentary continues with "21st Century USA", the inequality of the American Dr…

Ian Noe Live at St. Luke's in Glasgow: A Little Ain't Enough

I first discovered Ian Noe's music in May last year with the release of "Letter To Madeline", a tale of a bank robbery gone wrong, which fits into a long line of country songs about desperate men and women who still end up holding the short end of the stick. Think "Long Black Veil". 
The timeless quality of this single song had me highly anticipating his debut album, "Between The Country" and it did not disappoint, just missing out on the top spot in my best albums of 2019. Consequently when I heard he would be playing in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections, I had to be there. 
It was somewhat appropriate then that he opened with the aforementioned "Letter To Madeline". Unaccompanied on acoustic guitar, the sparseness of the arrangement allowed the quality of both the songs and his voice to cut through in the former church.
"Junktown", "Irene (Ravin' Bomb)", "Dead on the River (Rolling Down)" and "If Tod…

Sturgill Simpson Live At The Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow: Plenty of Fury With Some Sound

Appearing as part of the annual Celtic Connections city wide festival, Sturgill Simpson the producer of not only one of the ten best albums of last year, "Sound & Fury" (full review here), but one of the best albums of the last decade, "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" (full review here), had my interest was piqued as to what kind of show my first time seeing the Grammy winning artist would bring.
The band came out on stage at 9:25pm, (5 minutes early!) with Simpson saying "we've got a hard 11:30 curfew and a 2 & 1/2 hour set so we not gonna talk that much". Fine by me, let the music do the talking I thought. For the first hour they tore through "Sound & Fury" in no-nonsense style, although Simpson was clearly having monitor issues.

An elongated "Brace For Impact(Live A Little)" that morphed into a 10 minute Zeppelin-esque jam, with Sturgill giving it his best Jimmy Page brought the first half of the show to a hard rocking …

Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 7 - "Push The Sky Away" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Whilst last year's "Ghosteen" and "Skeleton Tree" from 2016 have hoovered up plaudits aplenty, it is the album that proceeds those two companion pieces that makes the cut as one of the best albums of the last decade.

It marks the beginning of the shift from his more traditional song based work to the more ethereal style of those two most recent works. The unique mix of the carnal, spiritual and sinister that runs like a thread of DNA through his catalogue is perfectly balanced here against the film soundtracks that he and Warren Ellis have dragged their work towards.
Rhythmic pulsing underpins many of the songs like a spine holding everything together, over which the varying layers and styles drift in and out like the tide coming and going.
Those tides reach a couple crescendos with "Mermaids" and "Higgs Boson Blues" before the beautiful, elegiac, (and almost foreshadowing what was to come), title track breaks like a wave upon the shore and set…

Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 8 - "Hymn of a Broken Man" by Times of Grace

Unnoticed by many, but this side project, stymied by the reunion it led to, is one the best metal albums this century, never mind the last decade. Upon listening to this you will be struck by two things; firstly the sheer number of arms aloft, chest thumping riffage that pounds your ears, and secondly envy for the talents of Adam Dutkiewicz. Not only did the Killswitch Engage guitarist write all the music, play all the instruments he also produced, engineered and mixed it for good measure! Former, (at the time), Killswitch vocalist Jesse Leach contributes lead vocals and lyrics loaded with his usual passion and intensity.

Whilst the pace is punishing, although melodic, for the first half, it takes a gentle instrumental pause halfway through with "In the Arms of Mercy" and revisits the more mellow tone on "The Forgotten One" and "The End of Eternity".
Be in no doubt though, from the moment the martial drums start to build during the intro to stunning opener,…

Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 9 - "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" by Sturgill Simpson

Equal parts concept album, (a letter to his son from the road), and a middle finger to the expectations of the industry, this 2016 masterpiece from Sturgill Simpson is the perfect midpoint between the traditional sound of his earlier work and the freewheeling craziness of last year's "Sound & Fury". (Full review of that here). What this album achieves is a sublime balance between the authentic country of Simpson's voice and background with the ambition and grandeur of rock. Cosmic American Music perhaps; I can imagine Gram Parsons looking down like a spectral Obi-Wan saying "well done my young padawan- the force is strong with this one".
From the lullaby-esque piano start of "Welcome To Earth(Pollywog)", (decorated with the pedal steel that adorns much of this record), and its heartfelt message that morphs into a horn-driven soul stomper, right through to the angry and urgent protest of "Call To Arms" this is a work that ebbs and flow…

Best Albums Of The 2010s: Number 10- "In Spades" by The Afghan Whigs

Released in 2017, the second album since they were resurrected by band leader Greg Dulli, "In Spades" stands comparison with the finest of their 1990s output. Whereas "Do To The Beast" occasionally hit the heights, this grabs the listener from the outset on "Birdland";  its otherworldly sounds morphing into wobbly synth stabs offset with string work making you question what you are hearing. The familiar Whigs traits soon take over before "Arabian Heights" confirms we really are hearing something special that demonstrates why this band have always been a touchstone for me. The slippery grooves, the yearning vocals, the soul, funk and rhythm & blues influences molded to rock attitude, the movie soundtrack feel and above all the impassioned songs that linger long in the mind.
Lead single "Demon In Profile" is an absolute classic. Put it on the greatest hits, with the horns carrying the day along with the usual Dulli mixture of carnal a…

Top Ten Albums of 2019

Here are my top ten albums released in 2019. To hear a detailed discussion listen to Terry Smith and I discuss these and his top ten as well on his Music Talks podcast.(Either go here or search for "Music Talks Terry Smith" on your podcast supplier of choice). 
10. "Tuscaloosa" by Neil Young & The Stray Gators (full review here)
9. "Destroyer" by Black Mountain (full review here)
8. "Sound & Fury" by Sturgill Simpson (full review here)
7. "On The Line" by Jenny Lewis (full review here)
6. "Power" by Seratones (full review here)
5. "Atonement" by Killswitch Engage (full review here)
4. "Eraserland" by Strand of Oaks (full review here)