I know, I know, it’s nearly the end of January 2020 and I’m only just publishing my review of 2019. I could, of course, come up with all sorts of excuses for it being so late but the truth is that I’ve just been too drunk and too lazy. So, for the two of you who have been waiting eagerly for this nonsense, please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in posting this blog. For the rest of you, please accept my sincere apologies for posting this blog.
2019 was one of the best years for new music that I can remember in a long time but, as I say every year, I will only ever include albums in my chart that I’ve physically purchased. This means that as I only have a finite budget and there aren’t (sadly ) enough waking hours to do my day job, keep Mrs Egg Box happy AND physically listen to everything I want, it’s a sad inevitability that I miss out on lots of brilliant music. Thankfully, it means that I also miss out on some utter shite too. Every cloud and all that…
As an ageing mod and a long-standing soul/ r&b fan, one of the big plusses for me in 2019 was seeing something of a renaissance in the genre. Especially pleasing was the number of young acts embracing the scene and releasing new music throughout this vintage year. Apart from those acts in my Top 30, there were cracking new soul/ r&b albums released by Eli Paperboy Reed, Nick Waterhouse, The Dip (who were an excellent support act on the Durand Jones tour), French Boutik, Alexis Evans and old stagers Mavis Staples and The Brand New Heavies. And these are just the ones that I got round to buying. Long may it continue!
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. Collaborators on the record include Ringo Starr, Don Was, Beck and Jim Keltner who 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 a heroic achievement. From the opening Northern Soul style 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 when he sings “Long ago back in Glasgow, Ambition drove my life, Now I note I must admit, I couldn’t give a fuck” over a driving electronic beat on “Glasgow To London”. It’s so good to still have you with us Edwyn.
18: YOLA – Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound)
In early 2019 I watched Yola perform in the small Rough Trade venue of Bristol (her home city) to launch this, her debut album. Possessing one of the most powerful voices I’ve heard in a long time she really was jaw-droppingly good. Although she had previously sung with Massive Attack, it wasn’t until The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach offered to produce this production services after watching a video of her singing in Nashville, that her career started to flourish. “Walk Through Fire” 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 are 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)” that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mavis Staples LP. This young lady with a big personality and even bigger voice is certainly one to watch.
17: LLOYD COLE – Guesswork (earMUSIC)
Along with his Commotions, in 1984 Lloyd Cole made one of the best albums of the decade in “Rattlesnakes”. 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, hugely enjoyable results. This is no more evident than 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 which could be a companion track to 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 a British winter. With echoes of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies”, the album drifts 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 vocal weaves its 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”) and over the course of the following eight studio albums (his last record, “Hollow Meadows” was my joint album of the year in 2015) he has become into 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 king, Hawley has carved out his own 21st-century balladic niche. “Further” (his first album without a place name in the title) just 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 backed by strings – 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 will mean little to you. But, for those of us 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, amongst others, Prince, Whitney Houston, Mary K Blige, D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar. He was also the main man in Lucy Pearl and chart -toppingTony! 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. With songs dealing with addiction, racial injustice, love, loss and redemption across a variety of styles encompassing soul, blues, gospel, jazz and hip-hop, Jimmy Lee is the sort of album that, if they were still with us Marvin, Curtis or Gil would have been proud to call their own.
13: LAVILLE – The Wanderer (Acid Jazz)
Occasionally, British soul acts emerge that rivals anything the Americans can throw our way. In 2019, North London’s Laville is one of those acts. An accomplished young singer who, if “The Wanderer” is anything to go by, has a big future ahead of him. The sultry, summery groove of “Easy” sets the tone for the rest of the album with the mood only broken by the funky disco beat of “This City” which leads us out of the bedroom and straight into Studio 54. With a voice as smooth as silk, Laville 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 as laid-back as they come and I suspect that fans of Grover Washington Jr, Bill Withers and more recently, Omar, will find much to enjoy here. Laville is most definitely a lover, not a fighter.
12: BRITTANY HOWARD – Jaime (Columbia)
Most people will know Brittany Howard as the lead singer with the powerful Southern Soul voice from Alabama Shakes. The great news is that on her debut solo album, “Jaime” (named after her late sister) she’s lost none of that soulful power and has also expanded her musical palette to include funky rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, jazz and psychedelia. Through the course of “Jaime’s” eleven tracks, Howard deals with subjects as diverse as her sexuality (“Georgia”) racial prejudice (“Goat Head”) and her faith (“He Loves Me”). The ghost of Prince looms large throughout the album, not least on “History Repeating”, “Baby” and “Run To Me” and on one of the record’s high points, the gorgeous “Stay High”, you’d also be forgiven in thinking that Curtis Mayfield was alive and well and alongside Howard in the studio. Alabama Shakes as a band were good, 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 burst onto the music scene with her mega-selling single “Video Games” and twelve-million selling No.1 album, “Born To Die”. Some people wrote her off as a quirk but “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” (named after the American author, artist and social commentator) is now 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 sweet melodies and lush arrangements of these songs hide shadowy secrets. Her unique brand of beautiful but darkly skewed Laurel Canyon melancholia draws you in, makes you feel warm and comfortable but then punches you in the face 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; 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 now. Before you listen to “Ghosteen”, read about the tragic death of Cave’s son in 2015 and only then, with the perspective of a grieving parent, 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 synth-heavy and hymnal; mournful washes of sound serve as a backdrop to Cave’s cryptic, plaintive meditations and allusions 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, otherworldly album.
9: WEYES BLOOD – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
The sublime “Titanic Rising” is the fourth studio album in eight years from Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering), and whilst she’s gained favourable reviews for her previous work, this sublime record has raised her to another level altogether. Although some of the album’s subject matter (climate disaster, the 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 legacy of Carole King or Judee Sill but channelled effortlessly through a dreamy Karen Carpenter. 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. I’m still dubious. However, pisstakers or not, Michael Collins and his merry band of stoners have crafted a supremely accomplished, harmony drenched (dare I say) “yacht-rock” album that 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 hallmark of a Beach Boys classic stamped on it. In fact, you could spend a lost weekend rolling fat ones and guessing who each track sounds like. Pastiche? Maybe. But if you’re going to go down 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 tragically, shortly after the album was released, he took his own life. “Purple Mountains” was Bermans first new music since his band The Silver Jews broke up in 2009 and whilst these (now poignant) songs will serve as a wonderful parting gift, the world has most certainly lost a lyrical titan. Like so many geniuses, Berman struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life and the death of his mother (the subject of one of his most beautiful songs “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son”), in 2016 floored him. Listening in hindsight to his deep Johnny Cash like drawl on the incongruously upbeat “All My Happiness Is Gone” and the signs of his frail state of mind are there: “All my happiness is gone, It’s all gone somewhere beyond”, whilst “Darkness & Cold”, offers up: “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 often self-loathing subject matter, this is one of the funniest, most passionate and listenable albums in my chart. Berman confronted the imperfections of the human condition head-on and through “Purple Mountains” sang it back to us with a wry and perceptive nod and a wink. I mean, how can you not laugh out loud at these 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 missed.
6: THE SPECIALS – Encore (UMG/Island)
When it was released in 1979, The Specials’ self-titled 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, along with their hugely influential 2-Tone label opened my sixteen-year-old mind to a world of music, culture and attitude that has never really 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) which has Lynval Golding narrating his personal story of racist treatment in the UK after arriving from Jamaica in 1954, and then 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 their lack of respect and 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 all and tells of his battles with bipolar disorder. Album closer, 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 some great aplomb. There are gorgeous ballads: “Though It Hurts Me Badly”, “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” and a brand new Paul Weller penned track “When I Was Part Of Your Picture” (plus a Weller cover, “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!). Trust me, “American Love Call” is a classic. It’s 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 a more laid back album than their funky debut and this new approach 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 exquisite, whilst the mid-tempo “Don’t You Know” and “Circles” plus the jaunty “Long Way Home” lend themselves more to Jones deeper delivery. What sets this album apart from their debut 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 all gel together and are at the top of their respective games. If album number three continues this upward trajectory then we really will be in for an even bigger treat.
2: MICHAEL KIWANUKA – Kiwanuka (Polydor/ Interscope)
Michael Kiwanuka’s brilliant number one LP, “Love & Hate” was my 2016 album of the year and because it was such a commercial and critical success, it could 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 his Dangermouse and Inflo produced follow up, “Kiwanuka”, is every bit as good as its predecessor. Admittedly, there’s nothing quite as grand as “Love & Hate’s” atmospheric, ten-minute opener “Cold Little Heart” (“Kiwanuka’s” gorgeous two-part “Piano Joint” comes close) but across the album’s fourteen tracks there’s a greater overall sense of cohesion plus evidence of an artist who at last is starting to feel 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”. There are references to racism, police brutality and division dotted throughout, no more so than on “Another Human Being” a telling gunshot ends the track abruptly after a passage of recorded civil-rights commentary. The gorgeous seven-minute love-song-of-sorts “Hard To Say Goodbye” (which to these ears 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 gentle descent into another aural realm, culminating in the lysergic, orchestral (heavenly?) final track “Light”, in which he appears to have found some kind of 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 MK has now released two bona fide classics in a row. Make no mistake, he is one of the most important and vital artists to have emerged from the UK this century.
1: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Western Stars (Columbia)
And so to this year’s Acoustic Egg Box Album Of The Year. Although since its release, not a week has gone by when I haven’t played “Western Stars”, I honestly don’t know how to go about reviewing one of the best albums (in my opinion!) made by one of the greatest rock stars of all time. It sounds like a cop-out but I genuinely don’t feel that I can add anything worthwhile to the thousands of reviews that have already been written and are widely available anywhere you care to look. I love Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. I love his music and I respect him immensely as a person, however, I realise that he is one of that select group who has obsessive fans who know (I mean REALLY know) every last detail about him and his music. They can tell you how many different pressings (plus the catalogue numbers) there are 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 probably have the name and address of the man who drove his tour bus in 1985. So, rather than harp on about the specifics of “Western Stars” and then recycle the millions of words already written about its creator, below I’ve written just a few words about why it’s become such an important record to me.
If I’m honest, from the moment I first heard “Western Stars” back in June, I knew that it would be my album of the year. It felt like a record that I’d always known; a record crammed with proper songs and gorgeous melodies that sounded new and yet familiar at the same time. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the sixties and seventies on an aural diet of Bacharach & David, Glenn Campbell & Jimmy Webb, Roy Orbison, Harry Nillson and Jim Reeves that I love records with sweeping orchestral arrangements. Records with lyrics telling stories about the loved or the scorned, the lost and the found; about gamblers, chancers and unsung heroes from far off places I’d never been to but where I knew I wanted to go. Those songs burrowed their way into my young brain without me even realising it and they’ve stayed there ever since. The songs on “Western Stars” have that quality. Every single one of them. They are sumptuous and textured songs; sweeping widescreen epics as big as the Nebraskan sky and telling tales of drifters, hitch-hikers and lovers who are too many miles from where they long to be. “Wichita Lineman” or “Everybody’s Talkin” or “Rhinestone Cowboy” also achieve this feat. In the space of just a few beautifully constructed verses, these songs fill your head with characters and emotions brought to life by fine words, all carried along on melodies to die for. The songs on “Western Stars” have that quality. Every. Single. One.