2019 Top 50 Albums
By Luther Center
2019 was a phenomenal year for new release studio albums. My tastes tend to include music from traditional country, soul, rock, Ameripolitan, punk, classic rock, blues rock, metal, power pop, southern rock, and just about any mashup of the listed categories. As such, this isn’t strictly a “country” countdown, but you’ll certainly see plenty of “country” in this list.
I listen to hundreds of new albums from all over the world every year. In recent years, I admit that the “Kentucky thing” that has blossomed over the last 3-4 years has consumed much of my time, and rightly so. It’s a vibrant movement that is creating boatloads of quality music in almost all of the genres I’ve listed. You’ll see a lot of that in this list as well.
That said, I include 50 albums in my countdown this year. There are at least 150 more that are worthy of mention, and I’ll try to follow up at a later date with my honorable mention list.
My rules are to include only studio albums released during the calendar year, or during the 4th quarter of the prior year, if they were missed on the previous year’s countdown. This allows for the very real possibility that I may not be aware of or had a chance to listen yet to a late year release. I do not include anthologies, live albums, EP’s, or re-issues. So for those of you looking for Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound’s self titled re-issued first album or Eric Bolander’s “The Wind” reissue, you won’t see them listed here. However…please note that if those records were originally released in 2019, they would be easy top 15 picks and you should definitely go check them out.
A welcome return, after 10 years, from one of the best bands in the world! Newcastle’s own are back with what most fans consider their “classic” lineup. This album is a near perfect slab of rock and roll, incorporating all of the best elements of punk, classic rock, and metal. Jason and Warner from Jason and the Scorchers told me once that they thought the Wildhearts were their favorite band in the world, even enlisting Ginger Wildheart to write and contribute to their last studio album. I do not disagree. Many times since their 1993 debut album (“Earth vs. The Wildhearts”, a classic not-to-be-missed masterpiece) they’ve managed to trip over their own feet on the way to success. This is one of those instances where they planted a big old foot directly on the right path and in the right direction. The album led to a very successful 2019 Euro tour, and it looks like it’s extending well into 2020. They’ve never reached the popularity in the US that they enjoy in the U.K., but I’m hoping they’ll give thought to a few US dares in 2020.
An excellent 6 song EP followed in the fall and is a fantastic complement to the LP. Rumor has it that another LP is on the way in 2020.
2. Joseph Huber- Moondog
I’m a longtime fan of Joseph Huber, and he has, with “Moondog”, produced an album that satisfies from the first notes until the final fade. A member of the now defunct .357 String Band (check out their music if you never have), this is Huber’s 5th and most fully realized album. It contains 15 meaty tracks incorporating elements of bluegrass, Appalachian and Celtic folk, and old timey country music. You’ll hear lots of guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle on this record, to go along with Huber’s fantastic voice and songwriting. It’s hard for me to pick favorite tracks on this album, as I like them ALL, but “Moondog”, “Found Penny”, and the hauntingly beautiful “A Northwood Waltz” certainly hit the spot. The album certainly makes me look forward to his future music output. And, by all means, if you get a chance to see him live, do it. You won’t regret it.
3. Mike and the Moonpies- Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
What an album. It’s definitely a throwback and homage to the fully-produced 70’s style country music album. Mike and the Moonpies have gone all in on this style, writing and performing it perfectly. Led by Mile Harmier, this is the Austin, Texas band’s 6th full length album. With soaring strings, twangy guitars, and sweet harmonies, tracks like “You Look Good In Neon” and “If You Want A Fool Around” would fit in right between those Conway Twitty and Charlie Rich songs of the 70’s. An ambitious and successfully executed concept, I can’t recommend this album enough.
4. Tyler Childers- Country Squire
Tyler’s first major label release, “Country Squire”, is produced by the same team that gave us his breakthrough 2017 album “Pugatory”, Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson. The album takes us further down the Eastern Kentucky path that Tyler has followed since his first album back in 2011. There’s a “high lonesome” quality to his music that evokes the same kind of feelings I’ve always gotten from listening to The Stanley Brothers. It’s not bluegrass, but it’s definitely bluegrass-influenced.
Some of these songs have been road tested in his live show for several years, and some are brand new. Among this collection of 9 songs, “Country Squire”, “Bus Route”, House Fire”, “Peace of Mind”, and “All Your’n”, are instant classic country songs that I think will be singalong standards for a long time. The addition of keyboards as one of the primary instruments and the approach of treating the songs as suites, with connector music between songs adds a welcome element to Tyler’s music, and has translated well into his live show.
Already one of the top talents in music today, this album helps cement his legacy, and I am really looking forward to what Childers brings us next.
5 .Jason Ringenberg- Stand Tall
Jason Ringenberg, formidable vocalist for legendary band Jason and the Scorchers and alter ego of extremely successful children’s music artist Farmer Jason, in 2019 released his first solo album since 2004, and it is a doozy!
First off, a little history. In the early 1980’s, Jason and the Scorchers invented a hybrid style of country and punk music that still endures today, and has influenced every band since who plays any sort of hybrid cowpunk, psychobilly, country-punk, or punk-grass music. Without JATS breaking the barriers and enduring the vehement criticism for introducing their style in Nashville of all places, bands like Goddamn Gallows, Hank 3, Legendary Shack Shakers, Southern Culture on the Skids, and the Supersuckers would have had a much more difficult path to success.
On this return album, Jason covers a lot of bases, including JATS style country punk, 70s outlaw country, Celtic, western, Spaghetti western, and folk music. There’s even a New York Style punk rock ode to the Ramones called “God Bless The Ramones” which is a kind of “thank you” to them for letting JATS open for them on an early tour. Jason Ringenberg is a musician with a unique vision, and after hearing this one, I hope He doesn’t make us wait another 15 years to hear the next album.
6 The Rhyolite Sound- Mojave Gold
Rhyolite Sound is a Las Vegas band specializing in a style they call “Desert Honky Tonk” (also the name of their first album). Their second album “Mojave Gold” is a honky tonk outlaw country classic. Larry Rhea, who handles the bulk of the lead vocal duties has a Waylon-esque voice that perfectly fits their harder edged boot stomping slide and steel guitar fueled country rockers like “Margaritas and Cocaine” and “On Stolen Time”. The rest of the lead vocal duties fall on Erik Alesi, whose smoother vocals remind you at times of Raul Malo on the Mavericks’ style “There I Go” and other times are reminiscent of Brooks and Dunn on tracks like “He Can Have Her”. The musicianship is top notch and the songwriting is wonderful.
This album is a true country throwback and a tremendously enjoyable listen.
7 . The Franklin County Trucking Company- The Further Adventures Of….
Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers. Jim Rotramel and Taylor Sphere of the Number 9 Blacktops. Sean Hopkins of Dallas Alice. Numerous appearances by Colonel JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers and The Dirt Daubers. Cowpunk music. Trucker songs. What’s not to like???
“The Further Adventures of The Franklin County Trucking Company” starts where their first album left off. Traditional old style country trucker songs done punk-rock style. Along with 8 all excellent new trucking songs that will leave you looking up your old Dave Dudley records, there are two excellent covers, Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” and Little Feat’s “Willin’”. See my review for this album earlier this year on Garyhayescountry.com.
8 The Steel Woods- Old News
￼The Steel Woods playground is that of 70s southern rock in the mold of Lynyrd Skynyrd. This Nashville band was founded by Wes Bayliss (guitar/vocals) and Jason Cope (lead guitar). Bayliss’s vocal delivery sounds eerily like Ronnie VanZant at times (“Rock That Says My Name”, “Compared To A Soul”) and Bayliss is a master of coming up with Gary Rossington and Allen Collins-like guitar riffs (“Blind Lover”, “All Of These Years”). The band is rounded out with Jay Tooke (drums) and a Johnny Stanton (bass).
The best description I can give for this album is that it is one straight up kickass southern rock and roll album. Essential for fans of Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke, and Whiskey Myers.
9. Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle- Stranger In The Alps
Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle hail from Cincinnati, but their music evokes a feel for parts south of the Ohio River. They’re part bluegrass, part country, part folk and all excellent musicians. The band includes Buffalo Wabs on guitar and vocals, Casey Campbell on drums and vocals, Scott Risner on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and harmony vocals, and “Bullseye” Bill Baldock on upright bass and vocals. There are guest appearances by Joe Macheret on fiddle and John Victor on harmonica.
The album is a mixture of covers and originals that highlight the band’s strengths of musicianship and vocals. Favorite songs include the Leadbelly cover “Stewball”, and the original “Oh Ramona”, both of which I dare you not to sing, chant, or toetap along with. Also, check out that harrowing cover of Skynyrd’s “Four Walls of Raiford”, complete with percussion chains straight out of the Jacob Marley handbook of ghostly percussion! Great band, great album.
10. Cotton Mather- Young Life and Other Mysteries
One of my all time favorite bands is Austin, TX power pop band Cotton Mather. Led by pop genius Robert Harrison, Cotton Mather has roots in the 90s resurgence of power pop led at the time by artists like The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Oasis, and Material Issue. Their 1997 album “Kon-Tiki” is a power pop masterpiece and one of my 20 all time favorite albums. Check it out if you already haven’t. After a 2002 album, the band broke up until a 2013 reunion, which has led to a large number of releases since that time.
“Young Life and Other Mysteries” is the first full album offered to followers of Cotton Mathers’ Patreon offering, and it is, as always, top quality power pop. The bad news is that I don’t believe the full album is available on any platform other than the Patreon site. The good news is that it is STILL available on the Patreon site, and six songs are available on streaming sites under the title “Young Life”.
Starting off with the soaring and ridiculously catchy “Mighty Girl”, the first six tracks just never let up with hooks. Sublime power pop of the first order. The final 7 tracks have slightly less continuity, but that is likely due to being recorded at different times, and in some cases to being acoustic and alternate mixes. However, there is absolutely no reduction in quality of music on those tracks. Give this band a chance on your favorite streaming platform, then go support their work if you like them!
11. Whiskey Myers- Whiskey Myers
Skynyrd and Black Crowes inspired southern guitar rock from Texas, with an emphasis on ROCK! And lead singer, Cody Cannon, who reminds me a lot of Paul Rodgers from Free and Bad Company.
12. Urban Pioneers- Come Out Swingin’
Self proclaimed purveyors of Hillbilly Swing Music featuring plenty of banjo and fiddle music and a healthy dose of good humor. Bluegrass, Western swing, and just a touch of Tex-Mex. The Urban Pioneers will never let you down.
13. Henry’s Funeral Shoe- Smartphone Rabbit Hole
Two brothers Aled (guitar) and Brennig Clifford (drums) from South Wales, playing excellent overdriven guitar based blues rock. Rocks awful hard for just two guys! Look up and listen to “Damn Right I Mean It” to see why I like this album so much.
14. White Reaper- You Deserve Love
Louisville, KY’s White Reaper shows that Kentucky has more to offer than just roots music. This band has progressed from garage rock to one of the finest power pop bands in the world today.
15. Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds- Cosmic Americans
These guys hail from the Pomeroy, Ohio area and I REALLY like them. With a style reminiscent of a refined southern rock band crossed with outlaw country sensibility and songwriting (think Drive By Truckers or Lucero), this, their 2nd album, shows a young talented band maturing into a very poised yet still-rowdy country southern rock band. And they decided to show off that 3 guitar attack this time!!
16. Dead Bronco- The Annunciation
Dead Bronco, from Bilbao, Spain call their music black folk. I call it punk country. You call it what you want, but just give it a listen. Led by front man Matt Hiram, originally from Florida, this is music influenced by Hank 3, Those Poor Bastards, and Goddamn Gallows. A little darker than their 5 previous albums, this is a great album.
17. Ian Noe- Between The Country
From Beattyville KY, this 29 year old has written and performed a folk-country masterpiece. Universally critically lauded, and deservedly so, this guy paints pictures of a desperate Appalachian landscape with words and voice. Listen to “Meth Head” and “Irene” and hear why I think this guy just may become a major player in the genre.
18. Reverend Beat-man and Izobel Garcia- Baile Bruja Muerto
Swiss musician Reverend Beat-man is front man for psychobilly band The Monsters and is head of Voodoo Rhythm Records. Izobel Garcia is from LA and of a Mexican descent. The Rev plays guitar and Izobel plays drums and keys. Together, they are a blues trash folk punk force! An outright aural attack… I love it!
19. Redd Kross- Beyond The Door
80s LA punk pioneers return once again with their brand of revved up power pop. The McDonald brothers (Steve and Jeff), sound as fresh today as they did on when they were playing shows with Circle Jerks and Black Flag. The sound is more refined now, but is still high energy. The current lineup features 2 members of a The Melvins (Steve McDonald and Dale Crover) and Steve also plays bass for OFF!
20. Nic Allen and the Troubled Minds- On The Hilltop
See my full review from last month in Garyhayesmusic.com. Nic’s first album is a masterful first effort with mature songwriting and fantastic vocals and musicianship. This guy has a high ceiling. I look forward to watch his growth progress.
And the remainder albums 21-50
21 Tilford Sellers- Another Day With You
22 Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequinn Ghosts- This Is The Sound
23 Charley Crockett- The Valley
24 Janus Stark- Angel In The Flames
25 Don Rogers and the Apostlebillies- This Ain’t My Generation
26 Dallas Moore- Tryin’ To Be A Blessing
27 The Spangles- Sweet FA
28 Down ‘n’ Outz- This Is How We Roll
29 Lolas- A Dozen or Seven Tapestries
30 Billy Strings- Home
31 Airbourne- Boneshaker
32 The Rembrandts- Via Satellite
33 Cody Jinks- After The Fire
34 Cody Jinks- The Wanting
35 Tanya Tucker- While I’m Livin’
36 Jeff Lynne’s ELO- From Out of Nowhere
37 Whiskey Daredevils- Bonafide
38 Kelsey Waldon- White Noise/White Lines
39 Guided by Voices- Zeppelin Over China
40 Guided by Voices- Warp and Woof
41 Status Quo- Backbone
42 Angel- Risen
43 Ginger Wildheart- The Pessimist’s Companion
44 The Local Honeys- Song The Gospel
45 Moonshine Wagon- Straight From The Mud
46 Sierra Ferrell- Pretty Magic Spell
47 Adrian Belew- Pop Sided
48 Rival Sons- Feral Roots
49 Colonel JD Wilkes- Will I See You One Day In God’s Glory Land
50 Danko Jones- A Rock Supreme