Best Of 2019
INsite Looks Back at Some of the Best Releases & a Few You Might've Missed
The world of entertainment is becoming more segmented by the minute. New platforms, new fads and new artists are all jockeying for even a moment of attention from an increasingly distracted public. These advances make it even more difficult to select a proper "best of" collection of any media, so all an observer can do is offer their own personal preferences.
Popular culture has lifted up its own batch of recent favorites with Lizzo, Billie Eilish and even Lil Nas X garnering awareness from even pedestrian listeners. The sheer onslaught of available material leaves critics bombarded with a spate of unconventional choices for end of year round-ups. With that in mind, INsite dusts off the ol' shelf to present a few of our own personal favorites from an incredibly tumultuous 2019.
Bookending 2015's See What You Started by Continuing, Blood finds the Georgia favorites in fine form. Some bands wither after their sophomore release, but the years have been kind to frontman E Roland's well of creativity. The original core of the group, aided by relative newcomers Johnny Rabb and Jesse Triplett continue to fuel the bands conscious but rocking anthems. Standout tracks: "Now's The Time," "Observation of Thoughts" and "Big Sky."
What's My Name?
The 20th studio album by the former drummer of some obscure band is his best overall release since his self-titled album from 1973. Like the best of his work, it plays as a fast and loose Starr-studded party. This time around members of his recent touring bands contribute to the tracks, recorded in the musicians home studio. Joe Walsh, Ben Tench, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Richard Page and Warren Ham are along for good vibes. Standout track: Colin Hay's "What's My Name?"
Fast Faster Disaster
Formed in Denver (with strong ties to the Athens music scene) in the late '90s from the world of the hyper-creative Elephant 6 collective, the Tammy Ealom and John Hill-led project continues to issue effusive, snarky pop. Standout track: a heartfelt cover of the Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?"
(Wild Heart Records)
Beloved by fans of The Voice as "The Feelin'," roots and soul explorer David taps into the New Orleans vibe with his latest, produced by blues star Samantha Fish. Standout track: "I'm Interested."
The Carter Family
A patchwork quilt of old and new, the recent Carter Family album takes raw, vintage recordings of the early Carter Family members and turns the album into a bittersweet family reunion. Sara, Maybelle, June and Carlene Carter and even Johnny Cash make appearances through the miracle of modern technology. Standout track: "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," featuring several generations of country music royalty.
There Will Be No Intermission
An artist who deftly dances on the fine line between art and entertainment, Palmer's first solo album in over six years was released on International Women's Day. Her third proper solo album is her most confessional yet, with ruminations about life, death, and the overall human condition. At once harrowing, defiant and exuberant. Standout tracks: "The Ride," "Voicemail for Jill" and "A Mother's Confession."
No Holiday (Omnivore)
The final album from the punk trio stands as a defiant statement on how to construct perfect pop-punk tunes. It plays as demanding, delicate, and haunting due to the determination of leader Kim Shattuck to complete the project before her death last year. Standout track: "Sky."
Baby Please Come Home
(Last Music Company)
Texas guitar-slinger Vaughn is so dedicated to the origins of the blues, his earnest devotion to the craft makes this a must-have collection of some of the best blues songs ever written. Standout track: "Baby, What'sÂ Wrong?"
Due to recent biopics and historic anniversaries, the music documentary has never been a hotter commodity. Last year, an incredible batch of archival films were released as deluxe sets from the history buffs at Shout! Factory. There wildly diverse releases included:
Peter, Paul And Mary At Newport 1963-65
Finds the socially aware trio at the peak of their commercial success with a batch of performances culled from three separate concerts at the Newport Folk Festival. Seen in edited form last year on PBS, the new full-length DVD (and matching CD) includes eighteen previously unreleased live performances. Embodying the ambitious essence of the influential folk revival movement, the set includes exciting versions of "Blowin' In The Wind," "If I Had A Hammer," and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," with insightful period-centric context in the engrossing liner notes by Peter Yarrow.
The Harder They Come Collector's Edition
Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff is featured in this sprawling three-disc set that includes an incredible six hours of bonus features, commentary, featurettes and a new 4K scan from the original 16mm negative. The cult-fave 1973 film features an extensive soundtrack of reggae tunes and the crime-drama story is pure '70s grit. Worth adding to any collection due to the extensive archival material including interviews with cast and crew and Sir Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien), PJ Soles (Carrie, Stripes), Carl Bradshaw and director Perry Henzell's family. Disc three, "The Legacy of Perry Henzell: A Story of Jamacian Cinema" is a priceless and exhaustingly informative overview of Caribbean filmmaking.
Santana Live At US Festival
With the recent collapse of the Woodstock 50 reunion, this look back at Santana's Labor Day Weekend show at the historic US Festival in San Bernardino is a good bookend for a binge weekend of music documentaries. Compare the Carlos Santana of 1982 to the raw naivete of the '69 Woodstock performances and the result is a dynamic before-and-after primer on song arrangement and freeform improvisation. The early-'80s visions of his best work from the previous decade is a jam-lovers delight. "Black Magic Woman," "Gypsy Queen," and "Oye Como Va," are all present and accounted for with fascinating interviews with the man himself discussing his career and explaining his unique sound.
Jordan Peele's follow up to the surprisingly brilliant Get Out, though not as universally praised as its predecessor, still manages to be a thought-provoking, thoroughly original story. The horror movie focuses on a family going to their vacation rental in Santa Cruz and discovering an entire race of evil doppelgangers in red outfits out to kill their mirror images. The acting, especially by Lupita Nyong'o, is stellar and the mix of horror and dark comedy is flawless. The only downside is the actual origin story of the Reds, which seems tacked on an underexplained. Regardless, Us is a continuation of Peele's strong track record as a writer/director. (By John Moore)
Once Upon A Timeâ€¦ In Hollywood (Sony Pictures)
You know what you're getting with a Quentin Tarantino movie, nearly three decades into his career. And Once Upon A Timeâ€¦ In Hollywood is pure Tarantino, crammed with beautifully odd characters, revisionist history, bursts of violence and quirky dialogue. Though this Oscar-nominated film is already dividing audiences, it also happens to be one of his best films in years. Leonardo DiCaprio is a fading Hollywood actor getting left behind in the late '60s and Brad Pitt is his loyal stunt double. DiCaprio happens to live next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski as the Manson Family is planning to make their mark on history. Once Upon A Timeâ€¦ is a movie that only Tarantino could have made. (By John Moore)
Bad Reputation (Magnolia)
It's a pretty big task to synthesize Joan Jett's 40-plus year career into an hour-and-a-half documentary, but director Kevin Kerslake does a commendable job here. Starting with her mid-to-late'70s stint as co-founder, guitarist and eventual singer of the ground breaking all-female group The Runaways, up to her current role as a solo artist, Bad Reputation covers a lot of ground. Alongside interviews with Jett and her longtime producer/collaborator Kenny Laguna, a slew of musicians from Pete Townsend and Iggy Pop to Billie Joe Armstrong and Debbie Harry are featured singing the praises and influences of this remarkable artist. (By John Moore)
Tickled (Magnolia Home Entertainment)
You'd hardly expect a documentary about competitive tickling to be so suspenseful. But New Zealand journalist David Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve have managed to pull it off with this wildly entertaining look into the highly secretive people behind online tickling videos. The duo flies across the world to the U.S. to interview former video subjects who were blackmailed and harassed by organizers, who turn their focus on the filmmakers as a result they face legal threats and a bizarre stream of homophobia. Suspenseful up to the last few minutes, Tickled takes to a bizarrely niche corner of the Internet and comes back with a fantastic documentary. (By John Moore)
The Cure â€“ 40 Live â€“ Cureation-25 + Anniversary (Eagle Vision)
Last year, The Cure performed and filmed two wildly hyped shows to commemorate their four decades as a band and as this DVD set proves, the hype was well deserved. This set includes two separate shows, the first recorded on the final night of the Meltdown Festival at London's Royal Festival Hall, where the band played a song from each of their 13 studio albums, while teasing several unreleased songs mid-show. The second show finds the band playing a 29-song set in London's famed Hyde Park, equally impressive. Both shows, each with a slightly different feel, offered something for the casual fans to the diehard Cure acolytes. These two shows are the only answer you need as to why the band still remain relevant four decades into it. (By John Moore)
Rock and roll books are often overlooked, but not only do they look good on the shelf, next to the prized box sets and multi-disc DVD collections, they are great for reference, winning trivial arguments and a great way to zone out of the real world for a while. Last year, the market was flooded with a number of good tomes for any taste imaginable. Carly Simon, Liz Phair, Booker T. Jones, Corky Laing, Debbie Harry, Elton John, Peter Asher, Nick Lowe and Allison Moorer all figured prominently. But the best rock book of the year had roots firmly planted in the red clay of the Georgia music scene.
This past September, Steve Gorman released Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes - A Memoir, co-written with Steven Hyden, the 364-page book was published by Da Capo Press. Comedian Bill Burr called it "â€¦literally the Angela's Ashes of rock memoirs," and he's right. It's truly one of the best-written rock remembrances in recent memory. Old-timers will enjoy references to the club scene and local landmarks. Gorman is refreshingly candid about his time with the Atlanta-born band and the often frustrating innerworkings of the mercurial members. At times it's an absolutely exhausting retelling of the Crowes' rise and fall, punctuated with self-depreciating humor and occasionally moments of sincere remorse. Recommended not only for fans of the Black Crowes, it's a simply fascinating look at the inner workings of a major-label act. If you've ever wondered what goes on in the studio, backstage or on the bus, this is the book for you. Gorman's new band Trigger Hippy returns to town on March 5 for a show at Aisle 5.