Here below – in chronological order only (because it’s never a competition) is a list of the albums I loved the most in 2019; the caveat being that these are albums I wrote about – and so the chronological bit refers to the order I reviewed them in. Also there’s always one or two of my favourite albums that I don’t review, and some of the best albums of 2019 I might only get to in 2020. (To that point, some of these albums were released in 2018 and I only got to them – or got around to writing about them – in 2019). For each album listed here you can click on the link to read the full review…
Jocelyn Pook, The Wife OST – I loved the film and felt the music was both a crucial element and an album I could enjoy on its own away from the movie. It was released in 2018 and I caught up with it right at the end of the year. This was the first new album review for Off The Tracks in 2019.
Brisa Roché, Father – album-as-memoir, a grief laid bare – songs like photographs. Also PJ Harvey fans might want to take note. Wonderful.
The Delines, The Imperial – doubles as one of the better collections of short-stories this year too. After five years between drinks The Delines returned sounding every bit as good as the promise of that wonderful debut record. And then maybe a little bit better even…
Francisca Griffin, The Spaces Between – in fact it was a 20-year space between albums for Francisca Griffin (formerly Kathy Bull). You wouldn’t instantly guess this. In form and sounding great. A terrific burst of an album.
The Necks, Body – celebrating their 30th year as a band The Necks delivered one of their finest recordings – back to the magic of a single, album-length track and yet they continue to find new ways in.
Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising – maybe if I had to pick a single ‘best’ album of the year, the one that has moved me to play it and keep playing it, to buy it on a couple of formats, to do my best to spread the word on it, then it would be this. Bonus: Weyes Blood also released a very nice wee stripped-back EP of some of these songs and that’s probably worth your time too if you have loved the parent-album as much as I did.
Norah Jones, Begin Again – begin again indeed. My favourite thing Norah Jones has done. So much so it made me want to go and see her play live again (I did – and it was good) but this is the masterpiece of her career-to-date, also the format is superb – somewhere between album and EP a mini-Greatest Hits collection of standalone singles.
Phil Judd, Flightless Bird – it’s always of interest to me to hear a new set of songs by Judd. A genius-level writer and musician, incredible creative spirit. And this is one of his very best sets of songs from his solo career. People forget that he has a solo career. They shouldn’t.
Hammock, Universalis – released right at the end of 2018 this is one of the two great Hammock records I reviewed in 2019. Another band that hasn’t really changed the formula over a couple of decades, but continue to find new ways to perfect it with each release.
George Benson, Walking To New Orleans – whilst it’s easy to expect something classy from George Benson I was wowed by this tribute to heroes Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. I did not expect it to be this good.
William Tyler, Goes West – in my world when William Tyler makes a record it goes straight to the best of the year list. That’s just a fact. (Later in the year he released a great wee covers EP that I loved a lot also).
She Keeps Bees, Kinship – I had forgotten all about them, a band I had – for a short time, admittedly – really dug. Hard. And then a new album. A very good new album. Nice…
Andrew Cyrille, Lebroba – sure, drummer Andrew Cyrille’s name was the one in bold but this is a trio album featuring Bill Frisell (guitar) and Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) and it could have had either of their names at the top too/instead. They all shared the songwriting too. Masterful jazz noises here.
Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward, Music!Music!Music! – always loved Hunter’s playing, but Woodward’s singing was fairly new to me, magic duo. More of this please!
Mavis Staples, We Get By – much as Mavis is a living legend the last few albums have only been great in part. This is back to the form of the Ry Cooder-produced “classic comeback” and then that magic live album, both a decade or so old now. Ben Harper was the collaborator here. And he did good. Real good. That was a bit of a shock. But credit where it’s due.
David Cross, Oh, Come On – who reviews comedy albums these days? I do. And this is the best one I’ve heard in an age. No surprise there, Cross is a class act. Here there’s pure fire.
David Crosby, Here If You Listen – he’s on a late career hot-streak to rival Van Morrison.
Faye Webster, Atlanta Millionaires Club – deceptively simple, utterly charming contemporary adult-pop album. Classy. Breezy. Lovely.
Theon Cross, Fyah – Fyah is right. Pure fyah!
Eric Reed, Everybody Gets The Blues – in a mighty fine year of jazz listening this was one of the best for me.
Mark Mulcahy, The Gus – need a fucking good song written? Call Mark Mulcahy. This was a welcome return from a great, very-in-form songwriter.
Floating Points, LateNightTales – big, big fan of the LateNightTales series and this is one of the best. And probably my favourite mix-album of 2019.
The Dead C, Rare Ravers – I love that The Dead C continue to make noisy, messy, bloody beautiful, brutal music. That they do it without caring if anyone cares continues to be super-inspiring also.
Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains – this might have been my record of the year with its sad, funny, great songwriting. But the awful news that followed means it’s hard to “love” this album, and now hard to listen to – but still a profound, puzzling, bittersweet album.
T-Bone Burnett & Jay Bellerose & Keefu Ciancia, The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space – another contender for the very top spot for me. An idiosyncratic tone-poem of an album from a dream-team of players. And if you couldn’t handle the spoken-word element they released an instrumental version and I loved that nearly as much!
Kate Tempest, The Book of Traps and Lessons – another artist riding a hot-streak and this is probably her finest collection of songs and spoken-word with music to date.
Nicholas Brittell, Succession [OST] – this year’s must-watch best-ever TV show was Succession. And that’s a fact. And I loved everything about it including the soundtrack. Nicholas Brittell has a mighty fine catalogue of music for TV and film outside of this too. Check out some of his other work.
Paul Kelly, Live At Sydney Opera House – at the end of last year I saw a version of this gig – utterly brilliant. The best I’ve seen Paul Kelly, and I have a story or two about seeing him over the years. And so then this live album came out, slightly different vibe, slightly altered setlist, great in its own right but also a chance to remember a magical night.
Daniel Hart, The Old Man And The Gun [OST] – “Coen Brothers-lite” could be a film sub-genre (and it could include some of the Coen Bros. own material even). I certainly didn’t think much of this movie when I got to see it but the reason I watched it was because of how much I loved this music. I’m still listening to the score and I haven’t really had a second thought about the film.
Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble, Valve Bone Woe – Hynde sounds amazing here and a wonderful selection of covers. The production and playing is sublime.
Erin Rae, Lagniappe Session (ep) – Erin Rae became my new favourite artist overnight after hearing this set of covers. She’s a great talent and this is a must-hear. (Brilliant song selections too).
Joan Shelley, Like The River Loves The Sea – Joan Shelley has been making great music for a while now but hopefully this is the one that sees her break big, or as big as an artist of this style and vibe can go. Beautiful singing, playing and writing. Such a purity to this.
Ahmad Jamal, Ballades – Jamal has been making great music for over 60 years. And here he continues one of the longest hot-streaks in jazz. Simply brilliant. Living legend.
Willie Nelson, Ride Me Back Home – speaking of living legends in their late 80s making many great records, still delivering…
Ratso, Stubborn Heart – I love a good late-in-life debut album. Here’s one from one of rock’s great journeyman party-men songwriters. Finally gets to putting an album down and in a way it’s all there. The songs. So many great songs.
Into Orbit, Kinesis – Wellington’s best instrumental ambient-metal duo is three from three for me. Look forward to album number four now!
Chick Corea/Christian McBride/Brian Blade, Trilogy 2 – three of jazz’s greatest living players got back together to make a sequel album to their original trilogy album/tour. Masterful.
Joan As Police Woman, Joanthology – a brilliant career-overview from a talented performer and songwriter. Well overdue.
The Beatles, Abbey Road (Deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition) – my favourite Beatles album, or certainly my most-played, turned 50. It was nice to hear it again and nice to celebrate – even talked about it for 40 minutes on the national radio station.
Joel Paterson, Let It Be Guitar! Joel Paterson Plays The Beatles – a brand new album of solo guitar versions of various Beatles favourites from a brilliant player, straddling country, rockabilly, blues and jazz. Slick licks. So good.
Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker [OST] – whilst I didn’t think much of the film I did think it was worth seeing. My favourite thing about it though, by miles, was the brilliant score. Hildur’s got form in this area with some brilliant work across the last couple of years in particular. But this was everything a score for a Joker film could be.
The Muffs, No Holiday – a lovely posthumous set from The Muffs. So sad that Kim Shattuck died two weeks before this album was released. So amazing she lived with her condition almost in secret and completed this work.
David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights, Bobbie’s a girl – easily one of the albums I’ve listened to the most this year. A lovely languid album that is deceptive, beguiling and beautiful.
One Man Bannister, Rubber Solo – Matthew Bannister’s song-by-song cover of Revolver (which he called Evolver) was good. His Rubber Soul reimagining is even better.
Aoife O’Donovan, In The Magic Hour Sessions ep – any time Aoife releases an album (or in this case EP) it’s Top Shelf. She’s a great writer and an extraordinary singer. Here she delights with a couple of covers from Top-Shelf writers; all but re-writing them…
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Cypress Grove – the best blues album I heard in 2019 – and more than that, one of the best albums. Brilliant playing, great vibe. Sublime.
Marc Cohn & The Blind Boys of Albama, Work To Do – always rated Marc Cohn, haven’t always rated The Blind Boys but simply loved this collaboration.
Harry Connick Jr, True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter – Harry Connick can nearly do no wrong – at least when he puts his mind to it. And Cole Porter certainly couldn’t do any wrong by me, so this is a winning combination of talents.
Rhiannon Giddens with Franceso Turrisi, There Is No Other – two extraordinary talents combine for an incredible album. Amazing.
Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men, Tall Dark and Handsome – a journeyman musician who, late in his career, has released one of his very best albums.
Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury – as far as left-turns go this has to be one of the very best. Nothing like his previous work at all but still at the same great level.
Jesca Hoop, STONECHILD – another artist that blows me away anytime she releases a record.
The Bad Plus, Never Stop II – sublime return from one of the more innovative jazz trios of recent years; a new pianist – replacing the leader – and yet all is as it was.
Hammock, Silencia – two great albums from Hammock in less than a year; two career-highs form a band that seems to release nothing but career-high music. I lose myself in their music. It’s a great way to also find yourself.
Spines, Dreamboat – a great batch of songs and the best production and arranging the Spines have ever had. Always a treat to have new Spines music in the world.
Come On Up To The House – Women Sing Waits – a 70th Birthday present to Tom. Celebrated and brilliant female singer/songwriters (Rosanne Cash, Aimee Mann et al) chose their own favourite Tom Waits songs and totally fucking nail them!
Anthony Naples, Fog FM – I love a good techno album. And this is a very good techno album.
Ducks Unlimited, Get Bleak (ep) – this was such a nice surprise; great songs – Canadian band. Expecting big things.
The Bird And The Bee, Interpreting The Masters Volume 2: A Tribute To Van Halen – genius-level covers from a brilliant band. An absolute gem.
Harry Nilsson, Losst And Founnd – the posthumous album from Harry – not a ‘classic’ – but it is still from Harry so that is what gets it on this list.
There were heaps of other albums I reviewed, many of them I loved too – though not as much as this lot. Others I hated, or simply didn’t get to…so if your favourite album isn’t here it’ll because I haven’t heard it or hated it or just didn’t quite rate it. But maybe you’ll find some things here to enjoy, to agree with or argue about.
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