Noteworthy local album releases

The past year brought forth a bumper crop of superb albums in every genre from artists local (or with strong connections) to Asheville and the surrounding region. Any of these 10 could arguably claim the top spot, and at least 10 more easily warrant inclusion on the list. The pool of talent here is simply that good. Presented in alphabetical order:

• Laughing Hearts by Amandla — Technically, Laughing Hearts had a soft release in 2017, but the vinyl version appeared in 2018. Mixing classic soul, rock and other forms, Claude Coleman (who’s also the drummer in Ween) has crafted modern pop for the ages.

• Flight Patterns by Marley Carroll — A one-man-band project, Flight Patterns hits the sweet spot between organic and synthesized. While Carroll’s earlier releases were delightfully eclectic, bouncing from one style to another, this one is more fully realized and flows even better.

• Qalupalik by Daydream Creatures — It’s actually a delight for critics to discover an act that defies categorization. There are hints of everything from The Andrews Sisters to western swing to psychedelic rock and folk on Qalupalik. And somehow all those disparate elements blend seamlessly into a satisfying whole.

• Shadowless Man by Doc Aquatic — The band’s bassist, Charles Gately, calls the Doc Aquatic sound “psych rock, but with a pop sensibility.” If you enjoy the music of Flaming Lips from before that band seemed to run out of ideas, Shadowless Man should be your next stop.

• Little Things by Hearts Gone South — The success of albums like Hearts Gone South’s latest may — if we’re lucky — spell the beginning of the end for insipid, focus-grouped bro-country. This is the real deal: honky-tonkin’ country and western, done with commitment and authenticity.

• Navigate the Madness by Eleanor Underhill — On her staggeringly superb solo debut, the co-frontwoman of Underhill Rose shows that her musical ideas are simply too wide-ranging to fit into the context of a single project. The wonderfully eclectic and appealing Navigate the Madness is a triumph.

• Kindness, A Rebel by River Whyless — On its third full-length, the group’s early foundation in acoustic folk sounds now coexists comfortably with more modern (and sometimes electronic) textures. And the quartet hasn’t made any compromises to reach this point.

• Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Sessions by Nina Simone — The Tryon-born “high priestess of soul” passed away more than 15 years ago, but this new set collects all of the sides she cut for Bethlehem Records. Better still, it’s sourced from the original master tapes.

• Rare Birds by Jonathan Wilson — These days, he’s based in California and travels the world as Roger Waters’ lead guitarist. But Wilson’s Spindale upbringing colors his original music. Rare Birds is the epitome of the rock artist synthesizing influences into something original.

• Jawbone by The Zealots — It’s impressive to sustain three concurrent creative careers — visual artist, country musician and rocker — and George Terry McDonald does it in style. Jawbone is topical, intelligent and catchy roots-rock of the highest order.

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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