This is Mixed Bag and it’s time for our annual ritual, yet another meaningless awards segment, the 2018 Graham Awards. I’ve been doing these things since the 1970s, and that makes well over 40 times. In years past, I have done these long, elaborate general commentaries on the world of music that were a combination of tongue in cheek and cynicism, talking about the state of the pop music world. But it has gotten to the point that the commercial music industry is an almost entirely different universe from the little musical sphere we inhabit on this program. So it would be like commenting on say, Martians you have never met. I frankly have not looked at the pop charts in a long time, and with the music business’ paradigm having changed so much, to ephemeral streaming music that most of its fans never keep or even possess, I’ll do what I did last year and just give you a list of my ten favorite albums that we have featured on Mixed Bag during 2018. Eligibility requires that the music be released in physical form. Download only and streaming music is not considered, since in perhaps a few months, it will might be gone – deleted or disappeared from the cloud. One of my criteria is has to be music that will last artistically, and physically for that matter. After all I have been doing this for a very long time, and I have heard a lot of fad music come and go, with a lot of it seeming ridiculous after just a couple of years. So music that is based on sonic and musical fads and cliches has several strikes against it as I see it.
So with that in mind, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2018, starting with #10.
10. Umphrey's McGee: It's Not Us. The veteran art-rock and jam band continues to make interesting and worthwhile music. They actually had two recordings in 2018. This was the first of them, and I think it’s a little better, but their second one of the year It’s You is also a strong contender.
9. Oliver the Crow: Oliver the Crow. This is a distinctive duo of a violinist Ben Plotnick and a cellist Kaitlyn Raitz, just the two of them, who do creative versions of traditional folk and original music.
8. I'm with Her: See You Around. The vocal trio of Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz are all from differed bands, but have been touring and performing together for a while, and appearing on Public Radio quite a bit. Their debut album as a trio fully liven up to high expectations.
7. Shemekia Copeland: America's Child. The daughter of the late bluesman Johnny “Clyde Copeland” Shemekia Copeland has been making a name for herself in both blues and soul. Her new album featured great performances and thoughtful, insightful lyrics.
6. Playing for Change: Listen to the Music. The latest installment of an ongoing series produced by Mark Johnson again involves traveling to musicians around the world, into their home territories, and recording their parts of songs, mostly outdoors, and then assembling then into a big, enjoyable cross-cultural pastiche arrangements of some familiar songs.
5. Justin Gray and Synthesis: New Horizons. A very creative instrumental album by a Canadian musician who plays the bass veena, an electric version of an Indian instrument with sympathetic strings. The albums mixes Indian and jazz-rock fusion very creatively.
4. John McCutcheon: Ghost Light. A veteran folksinger and songwriter shows that on his 39th album he hasn’t lost it, with some of the best 21st century social-consciousness and story songs you’ll hear.
3. Sheila Nicholls: All of Nature. Creative somewhat jazzy singer-songwriter from the UK, with thoughtful, sometimes feminist lyrics and interesting, multi-faceted arrangements.
2. Paul Simon: In the Blue Light. Normally an artist re-doing some of his old songs would seem hardly noteworthy, but Paul Simon at age 76 re-examines some of his more obscure and a couple of more familiar compositions with sometimes radically different arrangements, and sometimes alters some his lyrics with fascinating and very engaging results.
1. Gabriel Kahane: Book of Travelers. Gabriel Kahane is a multi-faceted musician who writes orchestral music, and is also a singer-songwriter. Following the 2016 presidential election, he decided to take a cross-country train trip and meet as many people as he could along the way, and get some of their stories. He weaves them into a striking album with just Kahane’s piano and vocal, with his orchestral skills showing in the often plaintive musical settings he created for his lyrical vignettes.
And there we have it, our top ten albums for 2018. I think that it’s probably fair to say that this list is pretty quirky. But that may be one of the reasons you tune in, or at least I hope.
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