In the music world, 2019 should be remembered for continuing an encouraging trend: the rise and reign of female artists. These include Lizzo, Halsey, Sharon Van Etten, Billie Eilish, King Princess, and country supergroup The Highwomen.
There were also memorable “farewell” tours by some of the great (male) artists of our time, including Peter Frampton and Elton John – Ozzy Osbourne, the “Iron Man,” had his own farewell tour scrapped but plans on performing again, despite his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.
As for releases, as per usual, I’ve combined my favorite studio, live, EP, and compilation releases into one eclectic list – in no particular order. I listened to somewhere near 70 new releases in 2019. So here is my Top 40, along with about 10 or so others that deserve some love.
Top 40 Releases of 2019
Miranda Lambert – Wildcard
This is the country superstar’s seventh studio album, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
Jesse Malin – Sunset Kids
The latest from the former D Generation co-founder was co-produced by Lucinda Williams and features Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong on one song and Joseph Arthur on three other tracks.
Gov’t Mule – Bring on the Music – Live at the Capitol Theatre
There will never be a shortage of live releases when it comes to Warren Haynes’ band Gov’t Mule. You always get your money’s worth.
DIIV – Deceiver
Just the fact that this album exists is an achievement in and of itself, with one band member leaving due to drug addiction (drummer Colby Hewitt), and the much-publicized arrest, rehab, and (heroin) relapse of singer Zachary Cole Smith in recent years. Now sober, Smith and DIIV have followed up 2016’s brilliant LP Is the Is Are with another shoegaze gem.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Signs
Much like Gov’t Mule, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi always deliver the goods (live or in studio), and they rock harder than ever on their latest album.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Steven Hyden from UPROXX says it’s a “soft-rock fantasia.” Sounds about right to me.
The Who – WHO
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend still have the magic touch, and this was not to be expected given their age and inactivity – WHO is their first studio album in 13 years (Endless Wire, 2006). Key tracks: “Beads on One String,” “I Don’t Wanna Get Wise,” and “All This Music Must Fade.”
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Lizzo finally reached superstar status with this release – she even closed out SNL’s run of 2019 shows.
Greet Death – New Hell
If you’re nostalgic for heavy, melodic rock, you’re in luck. RIYL Hum and Cloakroom.
Beck – Hyperspace
Beck always brings something new to his sound. This record is highlighted by the bouncy synth folk pop tune “Saw Lightning” (which features Pharrell Williams).
The Beatles – Abbey Road 50th Anniversary box set
Just when you thought there was nothing new you could say about The Beatles, here we have a 3CD/1Blu-ray super deluxe edition of the one of the greatest LPs of all time full of new anecdotes and rare demos/takes. Among many highlights is Paul McCartney’s original version of a song he gave to Badfinger that became their big hit, “Come and Get It.” The slipcase edition with 100 pages of history and photos of this era is rich with detail on every recording session and other projects each band member (and producer George Martin) was working on at the time.
And as for the sound? Martin’s son Giles has done it again, with a noticeably richer guitar and fuller bass sound on “Come Together” and other remastered/remixed gems here. Also highlighted here is the complete demo of “Her Majesty” – it’s actually three takes in a row. Highly recommended for the Beatles maniac in your family (if not yourself).
The Replacements – Dead Man’s Pop 4CD/1LP box set
This is the (producer) Matt Wallace remix of the band’s last studio album, 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul as they originally envisioned. It’s a more back-to-basics raw sound and less dated-sounding. If you were ever a fan of Paul Westerberg’s band and passed over it because the sound may have been too commercial for you, this reissue should change your mind. Oh, and there’s those rare legendary sessions with Tom Waits and other previously unreleased recordings included in this set. Highly recommended.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Servants of the Sun
This one has a Grateful Dead-ish and summery vibe, and it counts as the final record with Neal Casal before his tragic death at age 50 in August of last year. With The Black Crowes reuniting and touring in 2020, this may be the last Chris Robinson LP for a good while.
Tool – Fear Inoculum
After a ridiculously long 13-year layoff, Maynard James Keenan and crew have created another album of epic prog metal pieces – and the sound here feels fresh at times but often calls to mind their 2001 classic LP Lateralus.
Sheryl Crow – Threads
The latest from Crow has many star collaborators – ex. with Jason Isbell on “Everything Is Broken” (a Bob Dylan cover from his 1989 LP Oh Mercy), the late Johnny Cash on a new version of 1996 tune “Redemption Day,” and Maren Morris and Stevie Nicks on “Prove You Wrong.”
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Another enjoyable prog rock recording, the 13th in all for the Swedish band.
Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Not only is this the best and most ferocious Slipknot LP since Iowa, it features Jay Weinberg, son of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Max Weinberg, on drums.
Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding
The hits just keep on coming: “Circles,” “Wow,” and “Sunflower” among them.
Taylor Swift – Lover
Speaking of hits, Taylor Swift continues her evolution into synth pop but also strips back at times to a quieter sound, giving Lover more depth than her previous album, 2017’s Reputation.
Lana Del Ray – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
It’s her masterpiece. Period.
Bon Iver – I,I
Justin Vernon is always reinventing himself.
Pelican – Nighttime Stories
Hard to believe but this is the sixth album already (since 2003) for the post-metal band from Illinois. (It makes Tool seem like slackers.)
Thom Yorke – ANIMA
Another electronic music album by Yorke? Not exactly shocking but consider that he had writer’s block until being inspired by Flying Lotus. Themes here include anxiety and dystopia.
Jesse Ahern – My Truth and My Truth Only
The spirit of Springsteen and country/folk greats of yesteryear has always inspired Ahern’s output, included his latest. He is about to tour Europe with The Dropkick Murphys, whose biggest hit also came from the lyrics of folk legend Woody Guthrie (“Shipping Up to Boston”).
Nils Lofgren – Blue with Lou
It features new originals along with five songs the E Street Band guitar virtuoso co-wrote with Lou Reed in the late ’70s.
Neil Young – Colorado
Speaking of Lofgren, he appears on this new Young and Crazy Horse album. It’s pretty historic, since it’s the first time he’s been on an album with Young since 1982’s Trans and the first time with Crazy Horse since the early ’70s. It’s a mix of gritty and heartfelt, and carries more of the environmental activism of recent years (“She Showed Me Love”). In all, it’s the best Crazy Horse album of the 2000s.
Sturgill Simpson – Sound and Fury
Billed as the companion to the Netflex film Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound and Fury, this is the surprise of the year for me, as it is more rock than country. And it’s more sleazy rock than sour (country) to boot.
Bob Dylan – The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings
Two facts made my jaw drop about this release. 1) I had no idea David Bowie’s (late) guitar ace Mick Ronson was part of Dylan’s (allstar) band for this legendary tour. 2) On a personal note, after flipping through the liner notes and seeing a picture of Dylan in a Halloween mask, I realized my own parents and uncle attended the start of this tour – the Halloween show in Plymouth, MA. Though no songs appear from the Plymouth show(s), there is enough versatility and power in these performances in MA, NY, RI, ME, and Montreal to make this set worth your while – and enjoy with your loved ones.
Jay Som – Anak Ko
Melina Duterte is one of the brightest songwriters in indie pop right now.
Prince – Originals
Just getting to finally hear his original version of “Manic Monday” (which Prince gave to The Bangles in what turned out to be one of their biggest hits), is worth the purchase of this collection.
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
I have to admit that it took the movie and soundtrack for me to really get into and appreciate this album. Then again, it took years for me to truly appreciate Nebraska.
Baroness – Gold & Grey
This is the Pennsylvania group’s most ambitious album to date.
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
When President Barack Obama lists one of your songs in his own favorites of 2019 list (he picked “Seventeen” from this LP), you know you’re having a breakout year.
Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
Any album recorded with members of My Morning Jacket (even if Jim James isn’t included) is a winner to me.
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – Soulfire Live! (Blu-ray Edition)
The CD and digital versions are adequate but to do this release true justice, you have to have the Blu-ray version – to see the band play a set at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, where The Beatles used to perform.
Little Steven – Summer of Sorcery
It’s his first new studio album of originals in 20 years – and there’s about a handful of soulful rockers here that could be staples of live sets in years to come (when he’s not touring with The Boss).
The Cranberries – In the End
Dolores O’Riordan tragically left this world too soon (at age 46 in 2018), but her bandmates bravely carried on to finish and release a fine final studio album, highlighted by the gentle “A Place I Know” and “All Over Now.”
Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance
Speaking of closing musical chapters, Leonard Cohen’s son Adam has done a commendable job in carrying on his father’s legacy with these final recordings.
Dream Theater – Distance over Time
DT has always been a “next level” band – John Petrucci and John Myung both went to Berklee School of Music – and their latest is one of the finest prog metal albums of 2019.
Jenny Lewis – On the Line
Jenny Lewis is the queen of indie folk/rock.
Torche – Admission
Silversun Pickups – Widow’s Weeds
Collective Soul – Blood
The Pixies – Beneath the Eyrie
Jimmy Eat World – Surviving
Juliana Hatfield – Weird
William Patrick Corgan – Cotillions
Death Cab for Cutie – The Blue EP
Liam Gallagher – Why Me? Why Not.
Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
Van Morrison – Three Chords and the Truth
Further reading: My Top 50 Tunes of 2019