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2019 – music as a source of happiness, healing and creativity

So, here it is my 5th annual music blog – especially for the many people I’ve heard from about my previous music lists.  As usual with more exploration, I discovered that 2019 had so much more to offer from artists familiar and new.  

You can find my playlists, including this year’s, on my YouTube channel:

And if you are still wondering how it relates to coaching, the simple answer is that music can rewire our brain, it can relax us, it can uplift us, and it can make us receptive to new ideas (there’s a longer explanation in my best of 2017 blog).

With the release of the 50th anniversary edition of Abbey Road, I expected 2019 to be a year where reissues dominated my thinking. While there were some great reissues, there were many exciting new records (and I’ve not finished exploring!)

Few topics covered in this piece:

  • Recommendations from 2019, with some detail
  • Recommendations from Liverpool
  • Mindfulness playlist
  • Reissues worth seeking out
  • And some sources for further exploration

Recommendations from 2019

Here are 16 records I think you should check out – I gave up on a Top 10 last year and I am going with that trend:

  • Wilco – Ode to Joy
  • iLe – Almadura
  • Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet – Orange
  • Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
  • The Highwomen – The Highwomen
  • Mdor Mocta – Ilana (The Creator)
  • Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
  • The National – I am Easy to Find
  • Sharon van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
  • Billie Eilish – When we all fall asleep, where do we go?
  • Lumineers – III
  • Cate Le Bon – Reward
  • L’Epee – Diabolique
  • Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
  • Aldous Harding – Designer
  • Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream

A little more detail on the essential stuff

  • Wilco – Ode to Joy – I realized when listening to this that I’ve not really gone back to Wilco’s recent albums as much as I have ‘The Whole Love’ or ‘Wilco (the album)’ which are now 9+ years old.  This album seems to be more Wilco-like than their last few albums, and I am enjoying it competing for needle time on our record deck.
  • iLe – Almadura – I read that the artist is modernizing the traditional Puerto Rico sound with the lyrics offering strong social commentary. My own take is that this record has so much great energy that it’s worth a listen even if you don’t understand the underlying messages.
  • Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet – Orange – there are pieces of classical music that I love, and when I saw this recommended in various forums I had to check it out. See later on in choices for mindfulness…
  • Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka – I have no idea how successful he is, but in my world he should be selling out big stadiums. It’s soulful and it’s energizing. I have loved everything he has done.  To me this album has a more joyful sound than its predecessor, ‘Love and Hate’, although the topics seem no less serious.
  • The Highwomen – The Highwomen – this all-female collaboration has produced a really good album – perhaps not as good as Brandi Carlile’s solo work, but plenty to admire. I really love the reworked eponymous title track with the re-written lyrics (updated from the 1985 Highwayman version.
  • Mdor Mocta – Ilana (The Creator) – classified as ‘international’ music in some of the lists I saw. If that means someone who draws on multiple cultural influences to make a great guitar record then I agree. 
  • Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. It’s his first work in 5 years since the wonderful Dream River. The instrumentation is sparse, the voice is warm and the humor and humanity are never far away.  Check out ‘Ballad of the Hulk’ as an example. Fortunate to see him at the World Café in Philadelphia late last year.
  • The National – I am Easy to Find – this album has really grown on me. I love this band very much, but this is not just another The National album, it sees them partnering with some great female vocalists to create a different sound, albeit one that becomes The National’s own through the intensity it displays.
  • Sharon van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow – another artist who hadn’t released an album in 5 years. Look for the version of ‘Seventeen’ with Norah Jones on the YouTube playlist, and there’s plenty more to enjoy.
  • Billie Eilish – When we all fall asleep, where do we go? – introduced to me by my dear friend Stewart early in the year. I realized she may have wider appeal when I was playing her new album and my son asked how I knew who Billie Eilish was? After Kacey Musgraves last year, apparently I am picking out Grammy winners now.
  • Lumineers – III – maybe not be as immediately appealing as their first 2 albums, but songs like Gloria, Donna and Life in the City wouldn’t be out of place on either of those 2 albums. 
  • Cate Le Bon – Reward – I’ve been ignoring her for a while, assuming she may have something to do with Duran Duran. Apparently, far from the truth, she’s been making great music, talked up by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and now making this album that sounds so mature. As an example, ‘Miami’ displays so many interesting influences – from German rock to the Welsh valleys.
  • L’Epee – Diabolique – the cover tells me that this is a ‘super group’, although I hadn’t heard of any of the artists involved. It has a very warm sound with shades of early 90’s shoegazing bands like Slowdive.
  • Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains – this was a project of David Berman, formerly of the Silver Jews. He made this music shortly before his premature death last year. ‘The Nights that won’t happen’ is a haunting song given its subject matter and the subsequent events. 
  • Aldous Harding – Designer – apart from knowing she’s from New Zealand, I know little more than she has a really distinctive voice and her music has this really calming feel. ‘The Barrel’ is a great illustration of these 2 features.
  • Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream – the ‘difficult’ 3rd album reviews weren’t terrific. For me, having seen them play this music live in 2019, the new songs sounded as strong as the music went before. Love their energy.

I didn’t get to some of previous favorites yet – e.g. Sturgill Simpson, Solange, Nick Cave, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), Tinariwen and Coldplay.  I hope to discover their music as this year moves on.

And from Liverpool (my hometown) 

New artists to recommend

  • Red Rum Club released their first album Matador.  It’s one of my daughter’s favorites and I think it has such great energy. 
  • The Shipbuilders – described as gypsy surf rock – whatever that is!  So far they’ve only released singles, but they are worth a listen in my mind.

Choices for mindfulness:

The list for 2019 comprises a single work:

Attacca Quartet/Caroline Shaw – Orange

Amazing Reissues

Some wonderful music was reissued in 2019:

  • Abbey Road turned 50 last year.  For all the outtakes on the previous Beatles reissues, these are my favorites – especially the ‘The Long One’. Nerdily, I played my copy of the 2012 reissue and then played this version and the difference was really noticeable – the sound was warmer and fuller, which is an amazing thing to say about one of the best albums ever recorded.
  • Bob Dylan – Rolling Thunder Revue.  More reissues with 70s Dylan.  This is a really vibrant record – suggests that the live shows would have been amazing to see. One reviewer described the version of ‘Isis’ sounding like the Clash 2 years before they emerged.
  • Ronnie Lane – Just for a Moment – if you don’t know the work of the former member of the Small Faces and the Faces, I think it’s worth checking out. He was critically acclaimed in his lifetime, but not that commercially successful. His music has a warmth and spirit that I am drawn to. Check out Barcelona.
  • Marvin Gaye – You’re the Man – new Marvin Gaye music after all this time – of course we want to hear it.  It’s hard to understand how the title track didn’t get released in his lifetime – it’s a logical companion to What’s Going On and a thing of beauty.
  • Gene Clark – No Other – another artist not necessarily appreciated in his lifetime. Former Byrds band member – ahead of his time in being outstanding alt-country before that was a serious thing. Although one review I read said it was a lost classic of philosophical soft rock – not sure I like that, but does help you get a sense of how hard this is to categorize..

If you need more

One of my sources is NPR’s All Songs Considered – if you have an hour, take a listen to their listeners’ picks end of year show or to the NPR best of 2019 show

More lists to explore:

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