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CD Reviews:
The best albums of 2018 were...

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2018

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The times they are a-continuing to change, especially when it comes to music.

The past year in music saw further increases in streaming over purchasing (physical or download), vinyl growth and CD decline, and a growing preference for individual songs over albums.

We still believe in albums, however, as the most vital creative expression a musician can make. That doesn't downplay the importance of a great song, or the challenge of writing one, but albums remain the line that separates true artists from hitmakers.

With that in mind, these were the dozen best albums we heard during 2018, in alphabetical order, as well as a few more that merit attention.

Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Downey To Lubbock" (Yep Roc): This rootsy California-Texas duo is an Americana dream team whose collaboration was long overdue and delivered on every expectation we could have had for it.

August Greene, "August Greene" (August Greene/Amazon): This "supergroup" of Common, Robert Glasper and Detroit native Karriem Riggins sounds every bit as powerful on its debut album as it looks on paper.

David Byrne, "American Utopia" (Todo Mundo/Nonesuch): The former Talking Heads leader's musicality, and sense of irony, are needle-sharp on his first proper solo album in 14 years. This, and the jaw-dropping shows to promote it, gave everyone reason to come to his "House" again.

Rosanne Cash, "She Remembers Everything" (Blue Note): The daughter of Johnny has reached a point in her career where she only writes and releases when she has something to say and this deeply felt work shows Cash hasn't spent the past four years simply admiring the Grammys she won for 2014's "The River & the Thread."

Elvis Costello & the Imposters, "Look Now" (Concord): For his 30th studio album, and first in five years, Costello returned to his longtime band and a sound most fans could regard as classic, including songs co-written with Burt Bacharach and Carole King.

Mary Gauthier, "Rifles & Rosary Beads" (In The Black): It's impossible to come away from this set of songs, which Gauthier co-wrote with military veterans and their families, unaffected.

Angelique Kidjo, "Remain In Light" (Kravenworks): The Beninese singer makes Talking Heads' 1980 album her own, injecting even more authentic African flavors into the original's groundbreaking synthesis.

Janelle Monae, "Dirty Computer" (Wondaland/Bad Boy/Atlantic): She may be making more news in movies these days, but this genre-blending stylist still managed to slip out another fascinating album featuring collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Grimes, Zoe Kravitz and a surprising Brian Wilson.

Pistol Annies, "Interstate Gospel" (RCA Nashville): The all-star country trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashlee Monroe and Angaleena Presley is as bulletproof as ever, a tough 'n' tender combine that delivers the "Masterpiece" they sing about towards the end of the album.

The Struts, "Young & Dangerous" (Interscope): Rock is dead? This British quartet's roaring sophomore set says otherwise, a bona fide speaker-rattling opus meaning the kiddies should unplug the ear buds for this one.

The War and Treaty, "Healing Tide" (Strong World Entertainment): Producer Buddy Miller brought an Americana flavor to his married Michigan couple's gospel-soul blend, elevating an already transcendent experience. A guest appearance by Emmylou Harris didn't hurt, either.

Jack White, "Boarding House Reach" (Third Man/Columbia): The Detroit-born auteur reached significantly on his third solo album, with new collaborators, fresh production techniques and different stylistic experiments making all of them sound like a comfortable "House" for wide-ranging ambitions.

Ten More Albums Not to Be Missed: Doyle Bramhall II, "Shades" (Provogue); Rita Coolidge, "Safe in the Arms of Time" (Blue Elan); Greta Van Fleet, "Anthem of the Peaceful Army" (Republic); John Hiatt, "The Eclipse Sessions" (New West); Bettye LaVette, "Things Have Changed" (Verve); Tom Morello, "The Atlas Underground" (Mom+Pop); Willie Nelson, "Last Man Standing" (Legacy); Old Crow Medicine Show, "Volunteer" (Columbia Nashville); Punch Brothers, "All Ashore" (Nonesuch); Kamasi Washington, "Heaven and Earth" (Young Turks).

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