Albums of the Year 2018

In 2018 I have reviewed nearly seventy albums and listened to many more. The albums I have chosen to review have all connected with me for different reasons, so picking a favourites list feels strange and almost cruel to those I have left out. And yet such a list is also a satisfying way to reflect on the year in music, as a writer and a fan.

In the end I have chosen thirty favourite albums of the year for this list. I have based my choices on a combination of gut instinct and how often I listened to an album. Be aware that my mood changes so much that anything beyond the top four albums might have changed order if I wrote this tomorrow.

This list includes links to my original album reviews, rather than risk repeating myself. Please let me know your favourites in the comments.

Continue reading “Albums of the Year 2018”

Album of the Year: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

At the end of her recent live show in Glasgow, Courtney Marie Andrews parted the crowd and jumped down off the stage to meet her people. In the centre of the room she began singing the title track to her album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ entirely unplugged. Without amplification the already epic song somehow grew in sound and stature. We stood round her in awe, smiling and wiping away tears. When she finished she received a roar from the crowd, all of whom were thankful to be witness to this musical moment of sense and sanity in an ever spinning world.

Courtney Marie Andrews is a songwriter who asks questions – of her listeners and of herself. She makes us consider the importance of kindness, compassion, love. The power and presence of her music in my life this year has been such a gift and thus there was only one possible choice for the Highway Queens album of the year. Continue reading “Album of the Year: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain”

Favourite Songs of 2018

Choosing favourite songs of the year is always an enjoyable experience where you get the chance to savour and celebrate the music that has been the soundtrack to your life over the last twelve months. What I find tricky is trying to rank the songs in some kind of order, as if art can be reduced to a competition. Still I think it’s an interesting challenge to try and compose a chart so I have made an attempt to play favourites. There were so many golden songs this year that really I could have written this tomorrow with an entirely differently order!  Continue reading “Favourite Songs of 2018”

Musical Lowlights of 2018

I am an advocate of reviewing music with kindness, positivity and respect. Nothing upsets me more than people ripping through artists and songs just for the sake of it, or to further their own narrow vision of what is ‘good’ music. Still that doesn’t mean it’s possible to like all the music you hear and I think it’s important from a critical perspective to be honest about what you didn’t enjoy or what disappointed you. So, with a heavy heart, here are my musical lowlights of the year. Continue reading “Musical Lowlights of 2018”

Film Review: A Star is Born

**Please Note This Discussion Contains Spoilers**

Looking at the most popular movies of recent times you would have to conclude that most of us don’t want to see a tragedy set in the modern world. Maybe we feel safer, more reassured if the potential horrors are set in a post apocalyptic landscape or a world populated by superheroes. Telling the truth about the nasty struggles of everyday people is a tougher sell. Thankfully that fact did not deter Bradley Cooper from remaking A Star is Born, refusing to shy away from addressing some of the all too real complexities of life as a famous musician and an addict. Anyone who enters the theatre expecting a lightweight tale of the rise of a pop star will be surely shocked at the depths of despair this film is prepared to reach.

Tragedy on such an epic scale could only be set in the world of show business, where it seems even the biggest stars lurch from one inexplicable personal horror to another, with many dying young or in desperate circumstances. Another tragic element of the industry, and of life I guess, is that eventually your time runs out and another younger, fresher talent is waiting to step into your spotlight. To balance the downfall A Star is Born, as the title suggests, will also brings us the rise of a superstar, with music so good it will crush your heart in two. Continue reading “Film Review: A Star is Born”

Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

After writing my recent post about Dolly Parton’s 1974 album Jolene, I thought I would delve a little deeper into the title song and contemplate its influence on country music and beyond. Of course this song has generated endless cover versions from artists as wide ranging as The White Stripes, Reba McEntire, Strawberry Switchblade and Olivia Newton John but what I’m interested in is how Jolene has inspired the songwriting of others.

Jolene connected with listeners because it was a nakedly vulnerable song, full of fear, desperation, panic and even paranoia. Partly what makes this song memorable is the simplicity of that repeated use of Jolene, sung over thirty times and the ominous beat underneath. But it is the characters that Dolly created who really make this song so iconic. We sympathise with the narrator because everyone has doubted themselves or felt that stab of jealousy when your beloved notices another. And the title character is so vividly drawn, with her ‘flaming locks of auburn hair…ivory skin and eyes of emerald green’ that you can’t help wanting to know more about Jolene’s story.

Here is a brief list of songs, some which are written in direct response to Jolene, others which just echo this modern classic but all of which owe a debt to Dolly. Continue reading “Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’”

Pistol Annies Are Back! Here’s Everything We Know About Their Return

Five long years have passed since the Pistol Annies’ second album Annie Up and in that time Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley have all released critically acclaimed solo albums and been through some serious living. Thankfully Holler, Hippie and Lone Star Annie have finally found time in their busy and dramatic lives to reunite and record a new album.

Over the last few days fans have been getting postcards in the mail from the band, which might seem retro but these slices of American life are signs which tell a story. Hidden on these postcards are clues to the new album, which fans have been encouraged to share on social media using the hashtag #PistolAnniesAreBack.

Here’s everything we know about the album so far (also keep checking the hashtag for real time updates). Continue reading “Pistol Annies Are Back! Here’s Everything We Know About Their Return”

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