I’m delighted that Left Bank has invited me to introduce this playlist of a few of the amazing artists we at Hearth PR have had the honor of promoting this year. As the firm’s newest publicist, it’s been a great chance to catch up on the ones I missed before I started at Hearth…and what a catalog! From gritty fringe country to poignant craft songwriters, from roots traditionalism to lush indie shot through with Arctic throat singing, here’s a sampling of 2018’s best:
Free Dirt Records had a big year this year, and fringe country artist JP Harris was kind of their flagship. A carpenter by day, JP’s lived a Woody Guthrie life, hopping trains and living in the mountains. But his new album taps into his wide Nashville network (and was produced by Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show).
One of our breakout artists this year, Sunny War came off the LA streets with a wildly inventive and virtuosic guitar style, and lyrics that were brutally honest views at life, love, and being black in America right now.
The Rails are like if Nick Drake and Coldplay had a fashionable British baby, but without any of the sentimentalism. They’re perfect for an angry walk around town, the soundtrack for your morning commute, or seeing your lover in a more honest light.
Byrd’s diamond-sharp songcraft is in turns slyly comedic, bittersweet, and vividly narrative. Expansive electric guitar and cello convey the vastness and grit of the American West, home to many of the ranch hands, roughnecks, and other contemporary cowboys that populate Byrd‘s songs.
We still can’t figure out how Appalachian-country songwriter Vivian Leva, not even old enough to drink, could write a song that so piercingly describes a marriage gone cold. “Bottom of the Glass” sounds like a tears-in-your-beer instant-classic but chills our bones with its hard observations.
3hattrio’s American Desert music has a wild and otherworldly sound, the product of three very different musicians merging their work together with the arid, high-altitude soil and shifting shadows of the Utah wilderness. Mixing the routine with the unusual, they fuse American folk music with outsider elements like autotune, psychedelia, and minimalism.
Beatrice Deer is wildly difficult to classify; not because she refuses to be, but because a cloud of mystery clings to each of her artistic endeavors (she is also a seamstress and educator). Her throat singing, in the vein of Tanya Tagaq, brings an eerie beauty to her releases that has earned her countless awards, such as the Canadian Aboriginal Music Award. Her latest record, My All To You, calls upon the strength of her native culture and womanhood.
Kevin Gordon is an anomaly as a storyteller. In Lucinda Williams’ words, “His songs are like short stories.” In the economy of words, Gordon is a savvy deal-maker, imbuing the final product with a value that is hard to come by in the broad landscape of contemporary music. Whether he has more in common with John Prine or Jim Jarmusch or Ovid or Walker Percy is a discussion that could be had over the course of a four-pint night in a muggy Nashville bar, but even then, it would be difficult to arrive at a conclusion. But in any case, as Buddy Miller says, “It reminds me why I love music.”
Americana originals Leftover Salmon have been on the road for thirty years, but the music only grows brighter. Their new album features more contributions from each band member, taking them into new territory like horn-blasting R&B and reverb-drenched desert noir.