A week today it’ll be Christmas and you’ll open up that gift box of three different Lynx deodorants as you surreptitiously check to see what condition it’s in, in case you can regift it to someone else on Boxing Day. You could save yourself that deflated feeling by looking through our writers’ list of the albums which have meant the most to them over the last 12 months, and then just ask for them. You might be sweaty but at least you’ll have Nick Cave nestled under your arm. Without further ado, here’s part one of our top albums of 2019.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds ‘Ghosteen’ (Independent) The third record in a loose trilogy, Nick Cave’s latest album ‘Ghosteen’ is a masterpiece. Haunting and cinematic, these minimalist, otherworldly and ambient soundscapes for synth, piano and strings deal with love, loss, grief and existentialism, and are, at times, harrowing, but also moving, beautiful and optimistic. Truly stunning – a career high point. (Sean Hannam)
The Delines ‘The Imperial’ (Decor) Who knew that Willy Vlautin had two bands in him? The carryover from Richmond Fontaine is the increasingly literary storytelling, the closely observed vignettes of lives going from bad to worse, and then some. The Delines though focus the song telling through Amy Boone who brings an incredibly soulful touch to everything she sings – she inhabits these songs and with musicians as proficient as those making up The Delines the effect is dazzling, mesmerising, heartbreaking and so much more. (Jonathan Aird)
Steve Earle ‘Guy’ (New West) Paying tribute to his heroes has almost become a sub-genre for Steve Earle. When you’ve had the mentors that he has and you’re as good at breathing new life and meaning into their work as he is, that’s not a bad thing at all. (Steven Rafferty)
Vetiver ‘Up On High’ (Loose) An album of consistently fine songs that come almost gently at you, charming all the time, delivered in a simple, pared way, just acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars, all laid back and positive, a perfect antidote perhaps, to these complicated, angry times. (Russell Murphy)
Delbert McClinton ‘Tall, Dark and Handsome’ (Thirty Tigers) Texas blues with country, New Orleans jazz, old school R & B and flavourings from Mexico all delivered by a master vocalist and an exceptionally tight band, The Self-Made Men, make this an easy album to enjoy while the songs repay repeated listens. This music is the essence of Americana which is why Delbert was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Americana Music Association this year. (Martin Johnson)
Our Native Daughters ‘Songs Of Our Native Daughters’ (Smithsonian Folkways) Aside from being an excellent collection of songs from four extremely talented women this album is also an important document. It tells of the trials and injustices suffered by African American women through the ages but is fiercely topical as racism and sexism persist. It’s soulful and moving and deserves to be heard. (Paul Kerr)
Josienne Clarke ‘In All Weather’ (Rough Trade) A brave, unflinching look into the heart and soul of one of the UK’s brightest talents. A raw, emotional, yet totally accessible record that charts a path somewhere on the borders of modern folk and intelligent indie. An album that sounds undoubtedly contemporary and yet harks back to a folk heritage where the head and heart create in perfect harmony. Really wonderful. (Del Day)
The Crooked Jades ‘Empathy Moves the Water’ (CD Baby) Just a wonderful melange of all manner of instruments; rootsy fiddles; voices, acapella and accompanied; traditional tunes and songs reborn and revitalised. My wife who knows about these things admires the musical interplay between the band members. And all with a tojerryuching dedication to Jeff Kazor’s Mum and Dad. Should have scored it higher than I did – but it’s my album of the year. (Gordon Sharpe)
Jerry Leger ‘Time Out for Tomorrow’ (Latent). 2019 has been a very strong year which makes choosing a favourite album a real challenge. There have been great records by homegrown acts such as Pete Gow for ‘Here There’s No Sirens’, Peter Bruntnell’s ‘King of Madrid’ and Ags Connolly’s ‘Wrong Again’. But my favourite is Jerry Leger with ‘Time Out for Tomorrow’. It shows the prolific Canadian going from strength to strength with his songwriting, while his backing band, the Situation, are on superlative form. A perfect ten songs, here’s hoping this provides them with a platform for greater success when they return to these shores in 2020. (Mark Underwood)
Mike and the Moonpies ‘Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold’ (Prairie Rose) A string soaked, sugar-coated country ELO in stars and stripes boots and double denim, I know, anathema to AUK right? OK they’ve been playing dusty, drafty dingy dancehalls in Austin for years. Tearing it up for two-steppers. Now they’ve made their fourth record that sounds like it comes from a missing 1966 Owen Bradley session but was actually recorded at Abbey Road, with moonlighting LSO players. Go figure! No, go listen. It’s bloody brilliant. (Guy Lincoln)
Michael Kiwanuka ‘KIWANUKA’ (Polydor) It came late but when it arrived it was a breath of real soul in a harsh twilight world of Brexit and misanthropy. Creating soundscapes simultaneously modern yet entrenched in the early seventies styling of ‘Trouble Man’ it is Kiwanuka’s masterpiece. Listen without prejudice. (Keith Hargreaves)
Part two of our 2019 writers’ picks is here
>>> Please help to support musicians affected by the coronavirus crisis in the UK by donating £2 a month to us - we'll send you an exclusive 20 track curated playlist every month plus the opportunity to win tickets and CDs. Click here for more information.