It Was That Kind of Year, Soulful Americana Edition

2018 produced some really great edgy Americana albums from acts like Neko Case and Will Hoge. But there were also a handful of releases you would generally call “Americana” with less edge and more soul. Here are the four I spent the most time with.

Amos Lee’s My New Moon (Dualtone) has some absolute gems on it, like “Louisville,” “Crooked,” and the first single released from the album, “No More Darkness, No More Light.” It’s on the strength of those three records that I recommend this album, but the other eight on the album don’t disappoint. In the end it’s a smidge uneven, but My New Moon is my favorite Amos Lee project since his 2005 debut.

I am the only Freddy and Francine fan I know. Honestly, nobody else I talk about music with knows them, and the ones who do aren’t all that enthused, with the random exception of my wife’s best friend, who lives in France. After a hiatus that included a breakup, my favorite LA-based romantic/musical duo got back together and made a new album. Barely. Moonless Night (self-released) is six songs stuffed in a 21 minute package, short enough for me to listen to it twice all the way through on my morning commute the morning it was released.

“Hail Me A Cab” is one of my favorite songs of the year. It’s mournful and beautiful, and it balances the more playful side of the album on songs like “Sweet on You.” You won’t regret at least checking this album out.

Lake Street Dive made my EP list already, but their real contribution to the year in music was Free Yourself Up (Nonesuch Records), the LP they put out in early May. It is absolutely crammed with the kind of funky folk appeal the band has been known for since their 2010 self-titled debut Signature Sounds, or, for most people, since they released the single “Bad Self Portraits” off their 2014 follow up.

Landon doesn’t go for the “Bonnie Riatt” vibe, but I honestly can’t get enough of it. The songwriting is self-aware and elevated by a certain honesty about the way of things in romantic relationships (“Good Kisser” and “Dude”). And still, the earnest notes of ballads like “Musta Been Something” and “I Can Change” just ache with longing. Rachel Price sings like nobody’s business, too.

“Evenutally” is a Tame Impala song that the duo Lucius covered on Nudes (Mom+Pop), and that I played so much in the car and in the kitchen that my 10 year-old daughter now sings it without even realizing she’s doing it.

Nudes is the most interesting project on this list, because it was recorded over two days and includes a bunch of stuff that the quartet has made centerpieces of their live shows, including their own songs and covers like “Eventually.” I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t blown away when it came out in the spring, but songs from it kept finding their way into my rotation, and by the end of the year I had to include it. “Right Down The Line” and a Roger Waters collaboration, “Goodnight, Irene” are the real standouts.

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