TJ Music’s Best of 2018

Another year of music is in the books. TJ’s best of 2018 celebrates the diverse work of artists we love, ranging from country legends to impressive newcomers. Thank you to all of our TJ family for contributing their time, taste, support and representing who we are as a publication.


Editor’s Top 10 Releases

By Courtney S. Lennon

Outlaws, Flatlanders and Honky Tonk Heroes: 2018 best Country and Western

* Indicates 2018 Ameripolitan Award Nominee

1. Lefty Frizzell – An Article From Life: The Complete Recordings

2. Joe Ely – The Lubbock Tapes: Full Circle

Early Joe Ely tracks recorded by fellow Lubbock, Texas native, steel player and producer, Lloyd Maines (Terry Allen, Wayne Hancock).

3. Charley Crockett – Lonesome as a Shadow

4. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – Years

5. Pat Reedy and the Longtime Goners – That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More) * 

6. James Steinle – South Texas Homecoming


7. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock

8. Jesse Daniel – Jesse Daniel * 

9. Dallas Moore – Mr. Honky Tonk * 

10. Gethen Jenkins Bottle in My Hand (Single)


TJ EAST Top 10

By Brian Rock

1. Andrew Sheppard –  Steady Your Aim
Dylanesque Folk with a touch of attitude

2. The James Hunter Six – Whatever It Takes
The sophistication and grace of early 60’s Soul

3. Jeff Plankenhorn – Sleeping Dogs
Elvis Costello tinged smorgasbord of Americana

4. Liz Frame & The Kickers – Sparrow In A Shoebox
Hauntingly beautiful vocals and arrangements

5. Luke Winslow King – Blue Mesa
Fifty shades of Blues

6. Mike Farris – Silver & Stone
Solomon Burke meets Robert Cray Blues/Soul

7. Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer
Americana stalwarts getting better with each release

8. Tammie Nelson – Sassafrass!
Fiery feminist lyrics with irresistible, genre-bending hooks

9. Uncle Ben’s Remedy – The Things That Bring You Back
Unapologetic Outlaw Country

10. 6 String Drag – Top Of The World
Crazy catchy, Alt-Rock revival grooves


TJ WEST Top 10

By Kim Grant

1. Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You

2. The Wood BrothersOne Drop of Truth

3. Lindi Ortega – Liberty

4. Mike and the Moonpies – Steak Night at the Prairie Rose

5. Mary GauthierRifles and Rosary Beads

6. Nicki Bluhm – To Rise You Gotta Fall

7. Neko CaseHell–On

8. Yo La TengoThere’s a Riot Going On

9. PhosphorescentC’est La Vie

10. Ashleigh Flynn & the Riveters (self-titled)


Gonzo Country Top 10

By Mark Lennon

1. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams

2. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – Years

3. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

4. Dallas Moore – Mr Honky Tonk

5. Mike and the Moonpies – Steak Night at the Prairie Rose

6. Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing

7. Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains

8. Kinky Friedman – Circus of Life

9. Asleep at the Wheel – New Routes

10. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black


Americana Top 10

By Terry Roland

American roots music is still in its infancy as a sub-genre of country music. But this year it found its stride. As the music moves through its third decade ahead of the curve with promising newcomers, established artists and veterans who show they still have miles to go before they fade into the Americana sunset. Some artists, old and new, have emerged to the top of the mainstream country and rock charts with little radio airplay or promotional push.   

Americana roots music represents the best of our national life experience. It expresses our hopes and heartbreaks, our insights and our misgivings in a way that cuts deep with the lyrical and soulful musical knife dividing the fine line between simplicity and complexity.

At a time when our country needs to find ways to bridge our differences, find grace and tolerance through our conflicts and to celebrate our common joys, the artists who have released albums this year have reached out and welcomed us to our own national front porch of mercy, forgiveness and celebration.  With this in mind, here are the releases this year that have underscored this experience. 

1. John Prine –  Tree of Forgiveness  
With a decade between releases Tree of Forgiveness is a welcome return to the unique sensibilities of singer-songwriter and national treasure John Prine.

With his voice a little more ragged with each decade, Prine’s songwriting continues to mine the ironies, quirks and humorous side of life on the planet. It’s always a relief to sit down with a new series of songs. This album is no exception.

2. Malcom Halcombe (with Iris Dement and Greg Brown) –  Come Hell or High Water
Halcombe stays blissfully raw and bluesy on these sessions with Iris Dement and Greg Brown. The album lets us walk along a gutsy, poetic blues trail that gets better with each step.

3. Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You
As she continues her run of song-cycles that reflect both the depth of the pain and the comfort of intimate relationships, this album delves deep into the heart of the matter taking her work a step further. 

4. Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
There is an unmistakable gospel echo that permeates The Prodigal Son that must make Blind Willie Johnson dance in heaven. Indeed, the album’s title song is one of Johnson’s best calls to repentance. The impression of the need for national repentance is a thread that ties this album together from one of our finest roots artists.

5. The Textones – Old Stone Gang
One of the early pioneers of Americana music, Carla Olson and friends have not so much made a comeback album as a realization of what drove this band and the best of America’s musical past.

6. Lone Justice – The Western Tapes, 1983   
Another seminal L.A. band, who have become a touchstone for the best of American music of their day (or any day for that matter), these early sessions are a clear indication of the celebration and passion a newly discovered musical genre can bring to the table.

7. I’m With Her – See You Around
With an ease that would suggest years of work together, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, have once again fashioned a spare, beautiful series of songs with tight instrumentation and seamless vocal harmonies.

8. Shooter Jennings – Shooter
This time out manages to outrun the shadow of his famous father, even as he establishes their unbeatable connection with songs that are full of good timin’ honky tonk fun.

9. Loretta Lynn – Wouldn’t It Be Great
At 86, with this album of original songs-with some help from Shawn Camp, Loretta Lynn may have earned the coveted title of the Picasso of Country Music. The album is beautifully produced with loving care as it revives the best of what country music is all about with songs about cheating, love and redemption.

10. I See Hawks in L.A. – Live and Never Learn
Starting from the familiar tradition of L.A. country rock, Hawks have always managed to take us to new, original places in songs that remind of us of the value of our land and its people. This is their most consistent effort to date, it reminds us of what is most important in America today…the land and each other.    

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