We’re a little past the mid point of 2018 and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what has happened in the year so far. It’s been a good year for music in my view, tho some acts have disappointed other acts have really surprised and excelled. As such, here’s my top 5 songs of 2018 far. Honorable mentions go to the Spotify Single “Delicate” by Taylor Swift and “The Storm Won’t Come” by Richard Thompson (which may have made this list if it had come out more than a day before my publication date). This ranking is approximate but I feel confident that this is the cream of the crop for this year.
5. Proof of Life – Brian Fallon
Sleepwalkers felt like a bit of a dud when it first came out, however I was reminded by a Facebook memory that I initially only ranked Painkillers, Brian Fallon’s masterpiece, 8/10, so maybe it’s common for Fallon’s work to need time to grow on me. A handful of truly great cuts like “Forget Me Not” (which would be on this list instead if it weren’t for it’s release as a single going back to 2017) and “Watson” have really grown on me and made me more excited to someday hear more from the ex-Gaslight songwriter.
“Proof of Life” was the standout track off Sleepwalkers because it felt so different from the rest of the album. The percussion is reminiscent of “Smoke” from Painkillers but the arrangement over it gives a more tired, easy feel and the rhythm feels less rigid, easing the listener into the song instead of sharply alerting them to it. It’s the only track on the album that uses mandolin and it makes me long for Fallon to experiment more with that instrument. The guitar and mandolin instrumentation remind me of “Going To California” by Led Zeppelin, which I really wasn’t expecting given what else is on the album. It’s a lovely track that may not be the most representative of Fallon’s work but it’s definitely one of his best,
4. So Real – Black Pistol Fire
Black Pistol Fire isn’t a band I’ve gotten to talk about in my column yet but they are my favorite band founded in the last 30 years. Their first two or three albums were everything I love about the garage blues movement, with such memorable riffs as on “Hipster Shakes” from Hush or Howl and “Beelzebub” from Big Beat ’59. As they explored more progressive sounds on Don’t Wake The Riot and Deadbeat Graffiti they only got more exciting and innovative. And their live shows are the best I’ve ever seen – the best show I’ve ever been to was when they played The Great Scott in Allston in the winter of 2015, the second of four shows I saw of them in a 12 month period.
Black Pistol Fire hasn’t released an album in 2018 but they have released two singles, “Cry Wolf” and, the fourth best song of the year so far, “So Real.” This song feels very much like something off of the first two albums. Riff heavy and rhythmically intense, Eric Owen sets aside the keyboard he’s been playing on the last two albums and just wails on his drum kit for this stellar blues infused rock anthem.
3. Mountain – Dorothy
Reading my review of 28 Days in the Valley I think it was easy for the album to sound worse than it was. Just because I felt it wasn’t innovative doesn’t mean it didn’t have some great tracks on it. “White Butterfly” and “Ain’t Our Time To Die” are lovely mixes of traditional spirituals and Led Zeppelin style rock and roll.
The song on 28 Days that always gets to me, that makes me feel like Dorothy Martin is singing into my soul in a way that keeps me nodding my head, tapping my feet, and feeling a great swell in my heart, is “Mountain.” The lyrics are a simple enough to get the motifs on the first listen even casually, and the refrain is such a beautiful little chorus. The double Dorothy duet during the outro is one of the most stunning vocal performances in rock, up there with Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet.
2. Take Me Away – The Bones of JR Jones
As I said in my last column, Ones To Keep Close is one of the best blues albums of the decade and is currently leading the pack for album of the year. With a third home run of an album, Bones brings everything the blues and Americana need to stay modern in the early 21st century. The most obvious example being the opening track “The Drop,” a beautiful synthesis of the John Lee Hooker school of blues and a modern punk production and sound.
But “Take Me Away” is perhaps the most (or second most, behind the Nicole Atkins duet “Burden”) unbluesy song on the album, but it captures a beautiful desire to escape. The slightly syncopated drumming carrying the weight of the song during the verses until the moog (or prophet? I’m not good at identifying synths) comes blaring through with great energy and power. The gentle middle eight is a beautiful break before one more verse drives home the point that the narrator needs to get away.
1. Crow Jane – Hopeless Jack
Hopeless Jack’s eponymous first album, succeeding two stellar EPs, is a phenomenal gritty electric blues album. The pensive opening track “Hollow” is a beautiful ballad perfect for anyone who loves line cliches as much as I do. Other tracks are a little grittier, with more intense rhythms like on “Withered Tree” and rougher tones on the guitars like on “Beg Me To Stay,” but none tug at my soul like “Crow Jane.”
The introductory riff, two hammer ons with a chromatic climb, is a powerful hook to draw in the listener before Hopeless Jack’s voice moans like a troubled, raspy Chris Stapleton about how he “must’ve lost ’cause Crow Jane won” but he “never learned from anything [he’s] done.” The organ usually just compliments the overdriven guitar but truly shines when it needs to. The chords are innovative, far from the I-IV-V cliches of a traditional blues. Overall “Crow Jane” is just such a stellar track it stands out as the best song of 2018 so far.
Greg von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. His expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.