2019 Music Review

2019 was a year of BIG numbers for me, I turned 60 in August and celebrated 30 years of wedded bliss with my beautiful wife Izzy.  The amazing thing about those crazy numbers is that it made me appreciate the many long-term relationships I am blessed to have in my world.  We celebrated my B Day with great friends that I have been close to for 30 to 50 years.  Two guys have been friends since second grade, that’s over 50 years! I have known my amazing wife for well over half her life.

Its funny how listening to music is dominated by streaming services.  Spotify is my personal go-to, and it let me know that in 2019 I listened to over 42,000 minutes of music with their service.  Pandora reported that I listened to over 12,000 minutes with them.  Combined that works out to 900 hours of music!  While albums continue to be less important with all the streaming access to music, I am still a fan of the album structure which is why I continue to share this list with friends who may want to try something new.  One side note, Jay Z, greatest rapper alive, released his extensive catalogue on Spotify on his 50th Birthday.  What a great gift to his fans including me!

2019 was another great year for concerts.  The Met on Broad Street opened in our neighborhood, and it’s a magnificently-renovated old theater, similar in age and structure to the Tower Theater, with ornate ceilings, balconies, and lots of gold.  It’s where we saw Hozier, Bon Iver, Gary Clarke, Jr., Kamasi Washington and Herbie Hancock.  I saw the Wu Tang Clan reunion tour at the old Electric Factory with my son Liam.  Robert Glasper played a tribute to Jay Dilla at the Blue Note in NYC, and that was definitely a highlight.  Brandi Carlyle killed it at the Mann Music Center.  The World Café Live celebrated its 15th Birthday this year.  Still one of the best venues in the City, the WCL paved the way for many other venues in Philly’s vibrant music scene.  We always see great acts at World Café Live, and this year that included Citizen Cope, Josh Ritter, and Sandy Alex G (an up-and-coming star from Havertown).  Lucinda Williams performed a 20th Anniversary show celebrating her ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ album at WCL, and it was amazing!

Top 10 Albums of 2019

Michael Kiwanuka – Michael Kiwanuka – This is the guy that became well known for performing the intro song to the “Big Little Lies” series on HBO.  Michael incorporates choirs, horns, strings and echoes to create a dreamy, atmospheric sound.  This is his third album, and his themes are about challenges in our world, yet they still remain hopeful.  All the songs are different and high-quality making this an easy choice for my personal #1.  Izzy surprised me on Christmas with ticks to see Michael in NYC in February!

The National – I am Easy to Find – For those familiar with The National, you are well aware of lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep baritone vocals.  In this album, for the first time, the band incorporates women vocalists as co-lead singers or for significant backup, creating a much different sound in the vocals.  The music continues to feature the same driving drums, interesting lyrics and exceptional sound from a long-time backup band that features two sets of twin brothers. 

Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury – Sturgill is usually associated with country songs, but this album is a complete departure from that genre and is just a great rock & roll album.  Like many of the themes in music this year, there is a frustration with the insanity in our world and artists are voicing their objections through music.  Sturgill is angry, as evident through many of these songs, and Sound & Fury expresses that in this consistent up-tempo rock album.

Hozier – Wasteland, Baby! – Hozier hails from Ireland and this is his second album.  He is best known for his big commercial hit from his first album, “Take me to Church.”  Hozier has a fairly standard song structure that starts slow, builds to an anthem, then goes back to how it started.  Despite this, it is a consistently good album.  Themes center on overcoming world issues without being too preachy.  I saw Hozier at The Met in November, and he was fun live.

Carly Rae Jepson – Dedicated – Carly Rae is pure pop music: danceable, upbeat and fun.  This Canadian singer songwriter put out her 4th full album in May.  She is best known for “Call Me Maybe,” her breakthrough song from 2012.  She has a great voice for pop songs, and her lyrics tend toward love and break up themes.  Quite simply a fun album for any environment.

Citizen Cope – Heroin and Helicopters – Citizen Cope has been around for a while.  He is over 50 years old, and this release is the seventh of his career.  I really knew very little about him when I saw him at Non-Comm at World Café Live.  (Non-comm is an annual opportunity to see 30-minute sets by new bands or old bands with new releases.)  His music is described as blues, folk, soul and funk.  I would describe this album as reggae/dub.  Another band I discovered this summer is Stick Figure, a reggae band from Bosto.  Stick Figure and Citizen Cope featured prominently in my summer songs playlists.

Bon Iver – i,i– Bon Iver is becoming one of my favorite artists.  His music is weird, featuring high-pitched vocals, and lots of oddball sounds.  His last full solo album was in 2016 called “22, A Million” which I feel is one of the best albums in the last 5 years.  This new album is exceptionally weird, but interesting, and grows on the listener.  We saw Bon Iver at the Met this year and it was one of the best shows of 2019.

Britany Howard – Jamie – Britany is the lead singer and song writer for the Alabama Shakes.  This is her first solo album and is a very personal look back into her early childhood.  She was brought up in a racially torn southern town and was the child of a mixed-race marriage.  Jamie was the name of an older sister that Britany looked up to and who, sadly, died young.  A close listen to the lyrics explores mean spirited and sad memories.  The music is all over the place as she felt free to record in any style she chose: rock, soul, funk and jazz.  This album appeared on most top album lists and was well deserving. 

Queen of Jeans  – If you are not afraid, I am not afraid – Queen of Jeans is a Philly-based threesome, two women and one guy, that made a great album in 2019 that’s a mix of indie pop, surf rock, with a little psychedelic thrown in for good measure. 

Rick Ross – Port of Miami 2You won’t see this album on too many year-end lists, but it was my favorite rap/hip hop album of 2019.  Rick Ross is funny.  His baritone rapping has an easy flow and his rap lyrics feature boastful themes of drugs and lots of cash.  My son bought me a cool Rick Ross shirt for my 60th B day which I proudly wore the night of my birthday. 

Honorable Mentions:

Billie Eilish – When we all fall asleep, where do we go – This was a wow album for its unique sound from a 17-year-old future star. 

Highwomen– Redesigning Women – Brandy Carlyle, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby formed a super group and put out a countryish collection featuring great harmonies. 

Bruce Hornsby Absolute Genius – Bruce is a fave of mine.  He is an all-time pianist and songwriter of almost all genres.  He put out his 21st album that is classic Bruce Hornsby — piano based pop, soul, and funky music. 

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride – The fourth album from this NYC band features indie rock and pop songs.  It was a great summer album. 

Big Thief (indie rock) released two good and interesting albums this year.

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib released Bandana which was my runner up rap album featuring great samples from a wide variety of songs.