2019 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 30 Albums Of The Year

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

I know, I know, it’s virtually the end of January 2020 and I’m only just publishing my review of 2019. I could invent many excuses for its lateness, but in truth, I’ve just been too drunk and too lazy. So, for the two of you who have been patiently waiting for this nonsense, please accept my apologies for the delay. For the rest of you, please accept my apologies for posting it at all!

The great news is that 2019 was one of the best years for new music in a long time. But, (my gaff, my rules) I will only ever include albums I’ve bought and paid for. This means that as I only have a finite budget and there aren’t (sadly) enough waking hours in a day for “proper” work, keeping Mrs Egg Box happy AND listening to new music, the downside is that I miss out on lots of brilliant records. However, the upside is that I miss out on some utter shite too. Every cloud and all that…

As an ageing Mod and long-standing soul/ r&b fan, a big bonus for me in 2019 was a mini-revival in the genre. Especially pleasing was the number of youngsters embracing the scene and releasing new music. Apart from the acts who made my Top 30, cracking new soul/ r&b albums were also released by Eli Paperboy Reed, Nick Waterhouse, The Dip (who provided excellent support on the Durand Jones tour), French Boutik, Alexis Evans and old stagers Mavis Staples and The Brand New Heavies. These were just the ones I got round to buying – there were undoubtedly many more that escaped my ears.

My other favourite things in 2019 were:

Gig:  Durand Jones & The Indications – The Thekla, Bristol, 22nd October

Film:  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

TV:  After Life

Book:  Dylan Jones – The Wichita Lineman: Searching In The Sun For The World’s Greatest Unfinished Song

Disappointments Of The Year:  The utterly shambolic state of British politics and politicians. Climate change deniers. The death of Scott Walker.  Morrissey

So there we have it. If you get to No.1 without falling asleep or wishing a plague of boils on me, I’d like to thank you for your time. If, however, you really can’t be arsed to read any more of this complete cobblers, there’s a Spotify playlist below.

30: KELLY FINNIGAN – The Tales People Tell (Colemine)
29: THE GRIEF BROTHERS – 35 Years On Woodfield Street (Country Mile)
28: ELBOW – Giants Of All Sizes (Polydor)
27: LEE FIELDS & THE EXPRESSIONS – It Rains Love (Big Crown)
26: BLACK PUMAS – Black Pumas (ATO)
25: ANGEL OLSEN – All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
24: FONTAINES DC – Dogrel (Partisan)
23: PAUL ORWELL – Smut (Heavy Soul!)
22: RW HEDGES – The Hills Are Old Songs (Wonderfulsound)
21: MERCURY REV – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited (Bella Union)

20: JENNY LEWIS – On The Line (Warner Bros)

After four albums with her band, Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis launched her solo career in 2006 with the quirky alt.country album  “Rabbit Fur Coat”. Now, thirteen years later she’s released her best and most personal collection so far. Notable collaborators on the record include Ringo Starr, Don Was, Beck and Jim Keltner. These old stagers have helped add a knowing edge to Lewis’s lyrically dextrous songs; not least “Little White Dove” about the reconciliation after twenty years with her heroin-addicted, terminally ill mother.

19: EDWYN COLLINS – Badbea (AED)

After suffering two near-fatal brain haemorrhages in 2005, it’s more than noteworthy that Edwyn Collins turned sixty in 2019. The fact that he’s still with us is great news – the fact that he’s still making fantastic records like “Badbea” (his ninth solo album) is heroic. From the opening Northern Soul bars of “It’s All About You” via bittersweet ballads and post-punk rockers to the album’s titular, reflective closing track, Collins ruminates on a life well-lived. The story of his journey is none-more-evident than on the driving electronica of “Glasgow To London” when he sings “Long ago back in Glasgow, ambition drove my life, now I note I must admit, I couldn’t give a fuck”. I’ve always loved your attitude Edwyn and it’s so good to still have you around.

18: YOLA – Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound)

In early 2019 I watched Yola perform at Bristol’s Rough Trade shop. She was there in her home town to launch “Walk Through Fire”, her debut album. Possessing one of the most powerful voices I’ve heard in a long time, she was jaw-droppingly good. Although having previously sung with those other local heroes, Massive Attack, it wasn’t until The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach offered his production services that her career started to flourish. The album has a foot in both soul and country camps with each song showcasing a different facet to Yola’s expressive and versatile vocals. Notable tracks include the soaring, Dusty Springfield channelling  “Faraway Look”; the beautiful country-tinged ballad “Deep Blue Dream” (complete with pedal steel and fiddles), and “Love All Night (Work All Day)” – a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mavis Staples album. This young lady with her big personality and even bigger voice is definitely one to watch.

17: LLOYD COLE – Guesswork (earMUSIC) 

Along with his Commotions, in 1984 Lloyd Cole made “Rattlesnakes”, one of the best albums of the decade.  In 1991, as a solo artist, he made one of the best albums of that decade in “Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe”. Now, nineteen years and eleven studio albums later, this bookish intellectual-about-town golf-nut should be a household name. However, in a world in which Ed Sheeran is one of the biggest selling artists, Cole’s brand of intelligent, lyrically sharp and impeccably crafted music tends only to appeal to the astute music-lover who appreciates substance over, well, shite. With all his songwriting gifts still intact, Cole has employed synthesizers to great effect on Guesswork – often with unexpected and hugely enjoyable results. This is evident when, sandwiched between the lush, melancholic beauty of album opener “The Over Under” and final track “The Loudness Wars” is “Violins” – an incongruous little ditty sounding not unlike (in a good way!) Abba’s “The Day Before You Came”. It’s great to have you back Lloyd.

16: JESSICA PRATT – Quiet Signs (Mexican Summer)

Jessica Pratt’s gorgeous third album, “Quiet Signs”, is a perfect antidote to the relentlessly dismal and damp days of this British winter.  With echoes of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies”, the album drifts nonchalantly into existence with the beautiful piano-led instrumental “Opening Night”. With more than a nod to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Ms Pratt’s hypnotic vocals weave their way through the course of the album’s eight tracks like a gentle Californian breeze. The whole lysergic experience (for that’s what “Quiet Signs” is – an experience) only lasts for around twenty-eight soothing minutes before gently floating away on the final notes of “Aeroplane”. Had a bad day? Put your feet up, your headphones on and let this delicate but enchanting record soothe your soul.

15: RICHARD HAWLEY – Further (BMG)

Back in 2001, Sheffield’s Richard Hawley released his first solo record, a self-titled seven-track “mini-album”. Over the course of his following eight studio LPs (2015’s “Hollow Meadows” was my joint album of the year), he’s become one of the UK’s most consistently excellent performers.  With his soothing, Orbison-esque baritone gracing sublime songs that often hark back to an era when melody and arrangements were kings, Hawley has carved out his own 21st-century balladic niche. “Further” (his first album without a place name in the title) cements his place at the singer/ songwriter’s top table. The album opens with “Off My Mind” – a raucous 70s style wig out proving that there’s more to the man than just being a crooner – and closes with the gorgeous, twangy ballad, “Doors”. Sandwiched in between are nine superb tracks of vintage Hawley.

14: RAPHAEL SAADIQ – Jimmy Lee (Columbia)

Unless you follow the soul/ R&B scene, Raphael Saadiq is probably a name that means very little. But, for those that do, this polymath of the black music scene is a bit of a legend. Now aged 53, Saadiq has forged a career as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. He has worked with Prince, Whitney Houston, Mary K Blige, D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar and was also the main man in Lucy Pearl and Tony! Toni! Tone! before embarking on a solo career.  “Jimmy Lee”, (named after his brother who died of a heroin overdose), is his 5th, and most accomplished, solo album to date. The songs deal with addiction, racial injustice, love, loss and redemption across a variety of styles encompassing soul, blues, gospel, jazz and hip-hop. Jimmy Lee is such an accomplished album that, if they were still with us, Marvin, Curtis or Gil would have been proud to call it their own.

13: LAVILLE – The Wanderer  (Acid Jazz)

Occasionally, British soul acts emerge that rival anything the Americans can throw our way. In 2019, North London’s Laville is one of those acts. An accomplished young singer who, if he continues to release material as fine as “The Wanderer” has an exciting future ahead of him. The sultry, summery groove of “Easy” sets the tone for the rest of the album with the laid-back mood only broken by the funky disco groove of “This City” – a track which leads us out of the bedroom and straight into Studio 54!  Laville has a voice as smooth as silk and is very much a soul man in the classic old-school sense; “Giants”, “Thirty One”, “Love Shine” and “What You Won’t Do For Love” are all impassioned and sexy delights. I suspect that fans of Grover Washington Jr, Bill Withers and more recently, Omar, will find much to enjoy here because, like them, Laville is most definitely a lover, not a fighter.

12: BRITTANY HOWARD – Jaime (Columbia)

Most people will know Brittany Howard as the powerhouse frontwoman of Southern Soul outfit, Alabama Shakes. On her fine debut solo album, “Jaime” (named after her late sister) she is still a formidable presence but her musical palette has now expanded to include funky rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, jazz and psychedelia. By the sound of it, Prince was a major influence on Howard’s songwriting as his spirit looms large throughout “Jaime’s” eleven tracks. This influence is especially evident on “History Repeating”, “Baby” and “Run To Me”. Apart from the album’s pleasing array of musical styles, Howard’s choice of subject matter is also refreshing. She eloquently deals with subjects as diverse as her sexuality (“Georgia”) racial prejudice (“Goat Head”) and her faith (“He Loves Me”). Although there isn’t a duff track on the album, for me the gorgeous sunshine-filled, Curtis Mayfield channelling ballad “Stay High” is one of the best songs of the year. Alabama Shakes as a band are great, but Brittany Howard as a solo artist is absolutely bloody fantastic!

11: LANA DEL REY – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Polydor/ Interscope)

It’s eight years since the enigmatic Lana Del Rey had a worldwide hit with the brilliant “Video Games” single and twelve-million selling album, “Born To Die”. Strangely though, despite her success, some people wrote her off as a quirk. Now, “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” (named after the American author, artist and social commentator) is the artist formerly known as Elizabeth Woolridge Grant’s fifth studio album and proof that those people were idiots. Del Rey is a master of discombobulation; the lush arrangements of these songs hide shadowy secrets among their sweet melodies. Her unique brand of darkly skewed Laurel Canyon melancholia draws you in with a warm welcome but then completely wrong-foots you with lines like “And if I wasn’t so fucked up, I think I’d fuck you all the time” (“Fuck It I Love You”). There’s a definite retro feel to NFR (think The Shangri-las style “death-discs” of the 60s) but with Del Rey’s own twisted 21st-century slant stamped into every nuanced line. It’s a Sunday morning album for sure, but a Sunday morning which follows a really fucked up Saturday night.

10: NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Ghosteen (Ghosteen Ltd)

Much like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits et al, some people refuse to listen to Nick Cave as they’ve already decided they won’t like him. They think that he’s too niche; an enigma; difficult to “get”. So if you’ve arrived at this review and fall into that camp, please suspend your preconceptions right away. I implore you to listen to “Ghosteen”, but before you do, read about the tragic death of Cave’s son in 2015. Then, with the perspective of a grieving parent, please give this achingly beautiful double-album a chance. In Cave’s words: “The songs on the first record are the children. The songs on the second record are their parents. “Ghosteen” is a migrating spirit.” The instrumentation throughout is almost hymnal with swooping synths adding to the feel of otherworldliness. These soundscapes serve as a backdrop to Cave’s cryptic, plaintive meditations and allude to an unspecified spirituality. This is no more evident than on the ethereal, spoken word “Fireflies” when he intones: “We are photons released from a dying star. We are fireflies a child has trapped in a jar. And everything is distant as the stars. I am here and you are where you are”. Given the tragic nature of the subject matter, in less skilled hands “Ghosteen” could have ended up a mawkish dirge but, in Cave’s, it has a redemptive almost uplifting quality. Fans of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian or late period Talk Talk will find much to love about this mesmeric and bewitching album.

9: WEYES BLOOD – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)

The sublime “Titanic Rising” is Weyes Blood’s (aka Natalie Mering) fourth studio album in eight years. Although she gained favourable reviews for her previous work, this sublime record has raised her stock to another level altogether. Although some of the album’s subject matter (climate disaster, perils of the internet, the failure of capitalism) is serious and earnest, Merings honeyed vocal delivery disarms the listener and delivers the weighty messages with hypnotic charm. Either side of the album’s instrumental title-track and the soaring electronic grandeur of “Movies”, the tone of “Titanic Rising” shouts, unashamedly, “seventies singer/ songwriter”. “Everyday” and “Something To Believe”, especially, owe much to the songwriting craft of Carole King and Judee Sill all topped off with dreamy vocals that Karen Carpenter would have been proud of. This is an exceptional album for extraordinary times.

8: DRUGDEALER – Raw Honey (Mexican Summer)

When I came across the video for “Fools”, the superb first single from Drugdealer’s second album, “Raw Honey”, I wasn’t sure whether they were taking the piss; several listens later and I’m still not sure! But, pisstakers or not, Michael Collins and his merry band of stoners have crafted an accomplished, harmony drenched (dare I say) “yacht-rock” album that sounds like it could have been recorded at any time between 1967 and 1977. It appears that they wear their influences like large tie-dye patches: “Lost In My Dream” (Crosby, Stills & Nash); “London Nightmare” (Beatles/Kinks); “Wild Motion (feat Dougie Poole)” (Roy Orbison), and even the instrumental album closer “Ending On A Hi Note” has the hallmarks of a lost Beach Boys classic. In fact, you could spend a lost weekend smoking fat ones and guessing who each track sounds like. Pastiche? Maybe. But if you’re going to take that route, make sure you do it as well as these guys and no one will ever care. Bong!

7: PURPLE MOUNTAINS – Purple Mountains (Drag City)

Purple Mountains IS David Berman and David Berman was one of America’s finest songwriters of recent years. I say was, as shortly after the release of the album he tragically took his own life. “Purple Mountains” was Berman’s first new music since his band, The Silver Jews, broke up in 2009, and whilst these ten songs will serve as a wonderful parting gift, the world has lost a lyrical titan who still had so much left to offer. Like many other geniuses, Berman struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life. The death of his mother in 2016, (the subject of one of his most beautiful songs “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son”) completely floored him and was the catalyst for a period of darkness from which he didn’t escape. When you hear his Johnny Cash like drawl on the incongruously upbeat “All My Happiness Is Gone”: “All my happiness is gone, It’s all gone somewhere beyond”, the frail state of his mind, in hindsight, is obvious. There are further clues to his troubled psyche on “Darkness & Cold”: “Darkness and cold, darkness and cold, Rolled in through the holes in the stories I told, Conditions I’m wishing weren’t taking control”. However, despite the explicit pain and self-loathing that is so evident in many of these songs, Berman created one of the funniest, most passionate and listenable albums of the year. He confronted the imperfections of the human condition head-on and throughout “Purple Mountains” sang it back to us with wry and perceptive nods and winks. I mean, how can you not laugh out loud at the following lines in “That’s The Way I Feel”:  “I met failure in Australia, I fell ill in Illinois, I nearly lost my genitalia, To an anthill in Des Moines”.

RIP David, you’ll be badly missed.

6: THE SPECIALS – Encore (UMG/Island)

When it was released in 1979, The Specials’ eponymous debut album changed my life forever. I’d never heard anything quite like it, or them, before. Despite already being a music-obsessed teenager, they, and their hugely influential 2-Tone label opened my sixteen-year-old mind to a world of music, culture and attitude that has never left me. Forty years on and still as vehemently anti-racist and anti-Tory as ever, the current incarnation of The Specials (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding & Horace Panter) were deservedly rewarded with their first No.1 album. The record kicks-off with a funky cover of The Equals’ “Black Skin, Blue Eyed Boys” quickly followed by the wonderful BLM (Black Lives Matter). This great track has Lynval Golding narrating a personal account of racist treatment in the UK after arriving from Jamaica in 1954 and then being subjected to more of the same when he moved to the USA some forty-years later. Throughout the album, political or social commentary is rarely more than a line or two away. “Vote For Me” (which gently reprises the classic “Ghost Town”) is about snout-in-the-trough politicians; “10 Commandments” sees activist Saffiyah Khan reworking Prince Buster’s “Ten Commandments Of Man”; “Embarrassed By You” berates the current generation for a lack of respect and their obsession with gang culture and knife crime. Album highlight for me though is the lilting reggae of “The Life & Times (Of A Man Called Depression)” – a spoken word track in which Terry Hall bares his soul about his battle with bipolar disorder.  Encore’s closing track, the plaintive “We Sell Hope” brings things to a close with the lines: “Looked all around the world, We’ve gotta take care of each other”, which, in an increasingly divided society, might be the best advice of the year. The Specials, like all of us original fans, may well be getting old, but “Encore” is more than enough proof that they’re sure as hell not hanging up their loafers just yet.

5: P.P. ARNOLD – The New Adventures Of…P.P. Arnold (earMUSIC)

When a soul legend releases her first new album in over fifty years, it’s a noteworthy event. When that legend is mod icon P.P. Arnold and her Steve Cradock and Paul Weller produced album is one of the best things she’s ever done, well, that’s just a massive bonus. Although this isn’t the first we’ve heard from Ms Arnold recently, (Cradock was also instrumental in getting her “lost” late sixties LP “The Turning Tide” released in 2017) it’s obvious from the opening notes of the poppy Northern Soul belter, “Baby Blue”, that she’s lost none of her power or range. The New Adventures Of… is certainly value for money. It weighs in at over an hour and, across the album’s fifteen tracks, P.P tackles a variety of styles and genres, all with great aplomb. There are gorgeous ballads: “Though It Hurts Me Badly” and, “I’m A Dreamer; groovy house “Hold On To Your Dreams”; a funky nine-minute spoken word version of Bob Dylan’s “Last Thoughts Of Woodie Guthrie” plus a brand new Paul Weller penned track “When I Was Part Of Your Picture”. She also manages to fit in a cover version of Weller’s “Shoot The Dove”. On top of all this, Steve Cradock (not just content with production and playing duties) wrote one of the albums many highlights – the rousing, Motown-esque cracker, “Magic Hour”. Without any doubt, The New Adventures Of P.P. Arnold is THE comeback album of the year.

4: CARLTON JUMEL SMITH – 1634 Lexington Avenue (Timmion)

It seems that every year at least one album appears out of nowhere and completely blows me away. This year that album is “1634 Lexington Avenue”, from one of soul music’s unsung heroes, Carlton Jumel Smith.  I’m not sure what’s more bizarre, the fact that he’s left it until his late fifties to release such a brilliant set of songs or that in 1999 he somehow failed to become a huge star after appearing as James Brown in Barry Levinson’s excellent movie, “Liberty Heights”. “1634…” contains ten original tracks of classic old-school soul straight from the Al Green, Bobby Womack and (his hero) James Brown school, each expertly performed by the flamboyant and charismatic Smith and expertly supported by Timmion Records’ in-house band, Cold Diamond & Mink.  Every track on this wonderful album is worthy of mention here but “Woman You Made Me”, “You Gonna Need Me” and one of the singles of the year “This Is What Love Looks Like” (if you can watch the video here without smiling then you’re probably a serial malcontent). Don’t leave it too long between records next time please Mr Smith.

3: DURAND JONES & THE INDICATIONS – American Love Call (Dead Oceans/ Colemine) 

When Indiana based Durand Jones & The Indications released their excellent self-titled debut album in 2016, I didn’t expect them to follow it up with one of the finest soul albums of the 21st century (so far!) “American Love Call” is a genuine classic; vintage, old-school soul made by a bunch of young men who pay homage to the greats (Al Green, Smokey Robinson, The Dramatics among many others) but whose style is very much their own. In Durand Jones, the band possess a dynamic, cool-as-fuck frontman (as evidenced when I saw them perform at Bristol’s Thekla back in October) whose pleading vocals dovetail perfectly with drummer Aaron Frazer’s sweet falsetto. “American Love Call” is more laid back than their funky debut, and this new direction works in their favour. Frazer’s vocals, plus the lush arrangements on tracks such as the Stylistics channelling Philly-soul of “Court Of Love” and the dreamy “How Can I Be Sure?” are especially exquisite. What sets this album apart from their previous effort is a greater sense of cohesion. This is especially evident on the album’s opening three tracks:  the not-so-optimistic state of the nation lament, “Morning In America” plus the pleading “Don’t You Know” and “Circles” on which this supremely talented quartet are at the top of their respective games. If album number three continues in this vein then we really are in for a special treat.

2: MICHAEL KIWANUKA – Kiwanuka (Polydor/ Interscope)

Michael Kiwanuka’s previous effort (his second), “Love & Hate” was my 2016 album of the year. Because this superb No.1 record was such a runaway commercial and critical success, it would have been easy for him to sit on his laurels and succumb to the “difficult third album” syndrome. However, I’m extremely pleased to report that he hasn’t been afflicted with this common malady and that his Dangermouse and Inflo produced follow up, “Kiwanuka”, is every bit as good as its predecessor. Admittedly, there’s nothing quite as grand on here as “Love & Hate’s” atmospheric, ten-minute opener “Cold Little Heart” (the gorgeous two-part “Piano Joint” comes close) but across “Kiwanuka’s” fourteen tracks there’s a greater sense of purpose and that MK has become more comfortable in his own skin. The album opens with two upbeat belters; “You Ain’t The Problem” starts out sounding like a distant Caribbean party before bursting into a funky, fuzzy barefoot groove straight outta ’71. The psychedelic soul of “Rolling” then takes up the reigns with a driving percussive beat before segueing into one of the album’s gentler tracks – the glorious gospel-tinged “I’ve Been Dazed”. Kiwanuka writes about subjects close to his heart; racism, police brutality and societal division are all fair game to him. “Another Human Being” is especially hard-hitting when, after a passage of recorded civil-rights commentary, the track ends abruptly with a telling gunshot. The gorgeous seven-minute love-song-of-sorts “Hard To Say Goodbye” (which wouldn’t sound out of place on Weller’s “22 Dreams”) drifts in and out like a daydream. It also marks the point at which “Kiwanuka” starts its descent into a gentler aural realm. The mellow vibe culminates in the closing track, “Light”; a lysergic, orchestral (heavenly?) beauty of a song in which he appears to have found inner peace: “Shine your light over me (shine on me), (All of my fears are gone), All of my fears are gone, baby, gone, gone (And it don’t bother me), It don’t bother me, don’t bother me, now… “. Three albums in and Michael Kiwanuka has released two bona fide classics in a row. For me, he should be hailed as one of the most important and vital artists to have emerged from the UK so far this century.

1: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Western Stars (Columbia)

And so here we are at The Acoustic Egg Box Album Of The Year. Thank you for reading – I hope you enjoyed the ride!

I adore Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen; I love his music and I respect him immensely as a person. However, in choosing “Western Stars” as my album of the year, I now have a problem…

You see, I’m just a “normal” fan and Bruce is one of the few artists whose obsessive followers know (I mean REALLY know) every last detail about them. They can tell you how many different versions there are of every format (plus catalogue numbers) of each of his nineteen studio and twenty-three live albums. They will know who designed and printed the cover sleeves for each of his seventy singles, and they will have the name, address and inside leg measurement of the man who drove his tour bus in 1985. In short, they know more about The Boss than he knows about himself.

So, rather than harp on about the specifics of “Western Stars” only to find myself being castigated by the Springsteen lynch-mob for getting a detail wrong, I’ve instead written a few words below about why it’s become such an important record to me.

If I’m honest, when I first heard “Western Stars” back in June, I knew that it would be my album of the year. It felt like a record I’d known forever; a record crammed full with songs that sounded new and yet familiar at the same time.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the sixties and seventies on a musical diet of Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Glenn Campbell & Jimmy Webb, Roy Orbison, Harry Nillson and Jim Reeves that I love songs with expansive orchestral arrangements. These legends made records which told stories of the loved and the scorned, the lost and the found; about gamblers, chancers and unsung heroes from far off places that I’d never been to but longed to visit.

Songs like “Wichita Lineman”, “Everybody’s Talkin” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” perform a feat that only the greatest songwriters can achieve. In the space of just a few beautifully constructed verses, these tracks have the power to fill your head with characters and feelings brought to life by emotive words and lush melodies.

The songs on “Western Stars” have this quality too. All of them. They are sumptuous and textured; sweeping widescreen epics as big as the Nebraskan sky. They tell tales of drifters, hitch-hikers and lovers who find themselves too many miles from where they long to be. And every time you hear them they conjure up new images. This is music you inhabit as well as listen to.

But, on top of all this, no matter how wonderful these new songs are, they don’t just transport me to far off places, they transport me back to the happiest years of my childhood. And I think THAT is the real reason why “Western Stars” has affected me so profoundly.

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