You are here
Ten of the Best 2018
Ten of my favourite albums released this year. Best of 2018, many I reviewed, some I sought out, some arrived to be new friends. I've put them in alphabetical order, rather than counting down to a definitive single release. It was hard enough getting it down to ten. Although if I had to pick a favourite, as I'm still playing it and it's still beautiful and strange then it has to be 3hattrio, Lord Of The Desert. All were played to death. Where I reviewed these, which was most of them, the reviews appeared in Northern Sky Magazine. Can't wait for 2019. As traffic said 'who knows what tomorrow may bring.' - Marc Higgins
Bird In The Belly - The Crowing
Duotone - Life Reappearing
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita - Soar
Jim Ghedi - A Hymn To Ancient Land
Mishaped Pearls - Shivelight
Niteworks - Air Fàir An Là
Sans - Kulku
Andy Sheppard - Romaria
3hattrio - Lord Of The Desert
Raoul Vignal - Oak Leaf
Along with Offa Rex's treatment of Folk classics and Mishaped Pearls often hallucinogenic music, Bird In The Belly have a sound that breathes a new life into old old music. In their professed mission to rediscover and represent lost musics, they produce a powerful and evocative music that places the past very much in an exciting present. The Crowing is visceral and distilled down to an essential essence that is both ancient and contemporary.
Like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Nick Drake's Bryter Later or the already mentioned Bon Iver's For Emma Forever Ago. This is a rare delight, a set of songs and music, linked by narrative, mood and theme that be can listened to as a shimmering whole but stand up perfectly as individual jewels. As John Peel said, in another time and another place, a lifetime ago on the sleeve of the first Pentangle album "Play this record to those you love."
Welsh Harp and Kora. Two virtuosos bringing together the musician griot and classical traditional Harpist together. Sometimes the explore closely linked common ground, other times they counterpoint. A stunning instrumental album with beautifully expansive playing.
Jim Ghedi is a masterful musician and writer, and like a pagan lightning rod running backwards, the power of the landscape he describes flows back up through his feet, his body and out into the air. Jim like Michael Chapman, knows how to wring everything ounce of emotion out of a big guitar strum, playing the air around the instrument as well as the strings themselves.
Mishaped Pearls album THAMESIS was a dreamy stunner, SHIVELIGHT manages to build on that strong set, making something that consolidates and exponentially grows their sound and appeal. If the former album was a dreamer dozing by the banks of the Royal River, SHIVELIGHT is a joyful shouted set of poems too insistent and beautiful to be ignored.
The music Niteworks plays is traditional, the title track is composed by Màiri nighean Alistair Ruaidh a 17th Century poet who lived on the Isle of Skye, but their instruments of choice and approach, I think, takes what they do as from what we understand as traditional music, as it possible to be. Dookin opens with some wonderfully expansive and descriptive electronica washes that completely contrasts the fiddle and pipes. But this is no fish fingers and custard or snail porridge, the resulting sound, a kind of call and response between electronics and the traditional, traditional instruments, is simply captivating.
Sans music is rich with the spirit of the Scandinavian landscape and that icy ECM Jazz Folk that Jan Garbarek has made his own. But there is an emotional edge, a warmth and an intensity that is unique to Sans. The melodies played by the Bass Clarinet of the Duduk can be listened to on their own and they individually hold your interest, like the other worldly music of Stephan Micus. Sanna Kurki-Suonio’s vocal on the traditional Finnish lyrics is a feast on its own. Rauta - Iron and The Recollection Of That Day - O Chiadain An Lo / Lusabatz Ararati Vra have the bubbling synth like pulse of the Zither that is pure Cronshaw at his most beautiful evoking flashes of sunlight or movement that are pure poetry.
I came to Jazz via the rich Saxophones of early UB40, Birmingham ska band The Beat and of course Dick Parry's appearances with Pink Floyd. By 1981 I was buying classic Jazz vinyl at car boot sales. A friend's dad played me Chris Barber Petite Fleur and that started a life long obsession. Saw Pat Metheny on 80s Whistle Test bought Off Ramp on ECM. Andy Sheppard was a student record library discovery. Saw him with John Martyn. Loved his 80s and 90s albums. Loved the experimental Provocateur label albums, but the ECM haunting production has made his albums for them a career high. ROMARIA is a haunting melancholic, but sometimes swinging and popping album. His sound, timbre and flowing style is stunning.
This is the sound of the Americana of the distant hills and bleached animal skulls of Georgia O'Keefe paintings. Desert music as grounded in a place as the sound of the wind whipping through a weather sculpted canyon or a distant wheeling bird of prey. At its core 3hattrio are acoustic good time porch bluegrass bleached and worn by the sun with some hypnotic 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' vocal harmonies. But it is sprinkled with weirdness and a supersized side order of strange, the musical equivalent of staring into the sun.
French singer and guitarist Raoul Vignal creates a music that shimmers and rests lightly on your ears, without ever being throwaway or lightweight. Pepas Eyes features his perfect Nick Drake like acoustic guitar and a very intimate, hypnotic vocal. In a development from his previous album there are wafts of atmospheric wind and brass instruments rising and falling around him. Think languid Cool Jazz or Modern Jazz Quartet. No Faith continues the ethereal Folk Jazz, with another beautiful melody and vocal on a song that has a John Martyn Solid Air or Van Morrison Astral Weeks feel. The tracks have a stripped back economical beauty and grace, like watching the weather or a slowed down dancer. Tom Chargnard's Saxophone is just a perfect piece of phrasing, languid and minimal. Contemporary musicians like Ryley Walker and Raoul Vignal make a thoughtful moody Electro acoustic music that Janus like looks back to the more freewheeling looser 60s and 70s sounds of John Martyn, Tim Buckley, Davy Graham and Michael Chapman while sounding bright lively and contemporary. More power to them I say, this is gently powerful music that should be on everyone's radar. Vignal with his quartet of sympathetic players summon up a quiet storm. Check out too The Silver Veil, Raoul's previous album and a more intimate stroll through his musical musings, you won't be disappointed.
Jesse Matas - Tamarock
Sam Reider - Too Hot To Sleep
Northern Flyway - Northern Flyway