Music Reviews by the Rock Doctor – The BEST of 2018!


From January to December of 2018, I wrote and published 22 album review columns at, for a total of 222 album reviews- including the Tom Petty box set. Many hours were spent in The Bat Cave with the headphones on listening to discs as I asked 2 basic questions; “Do I like this or not?” and “Why?” while Mrs. Rock Doctor slumbered in the room above me.  It’s true that I DO tend to write about music I like, but I’m not a critic; I’m a music lover, possibly even a musicologist.

And now, in the days leading up to Christmas, I am blasting through all of those reviews to pick the best. And, as I say every year at this time, had this been attempted on a different day this list would likely be different. 222 reviews, pared down to a rough list of 53, then the 26 discs that ultimately caught my fancy in a year full of pretty great music.

#26: MUDDY GURDY Muddy Gurdy (Vizz Tone)  

(reviewed in January)

Well this is different.  A trio of French musicians have created a place where French hurdy gurdy meets the north Mississippi hill country blues, creating a delirious mixture of cultures that you won’t be able to forget.

KEY CUT:  That Girl Is Bad

#25: ANGRY CYCLIST The Proclaimers (Cooking Vinyl/ Sony)

(reviewed in August)

Here is the 11th album from these Scottish twin brothers. Angry Cyclist is exactly the album you hoped it would be; full of honest, earnest pop songs with thoughtful lyrics and gently inspiring melodies- surely an anomaly in the current pop scene.

KEY CUT:  The Streets Of Edinburgh

#24:  GOIN’ BACK DOWN Dave Hole (Black Cat Records)

(reviewed in July)

Excellent new album (and the 10th) from this 69 year old Australian bluesman- a rollicking, rocking good time!  If you like high octane slide guitar Dave is your guy but watch out for new touches too, like the nylon stringed classical guitar.

KEY CUT: These Blues Are Here To Stay

#23:  DRAGONFLY Long Tall Deb & Colin John (Vizztone)

(reviewed in July)

An intoxicating blend of styles and sounds here that would make Page & Plant jealous.  Dragonfly incorporates a bedrock of blues sensibilities with rock & roll, surf, spaghetti western, noir jazz, pop, Americana and world roots influences.  Dark, mysterious and adventurous.

KEY CUT: title track

#22:  LUCKY HAND Steve Dawson (Black Hen Music)

(reviewed in May)

It takes a lifetime to become this good. Lucky Hand, Steve Dawson’s 8th album, is astounding from start to finish. His approach to slide and finger style guitar is unforced and natural, revealing an embarrassment of musical riches at every turn.

KEY CUT:  The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Force

#21:  THREE RIVERS Jordan Officer (Spectra Musique)

(reviewed in April)

Jordan Officer’s 4th album is delightful.  It has everything I love about his music; swing, jazz, the blues, romantic soul, and even a touch of gospel.  Three Rivers is his most fully realized musical expression yet.

KEY CUT: One Armed Push Ups

#20: HIGH DESERT HEAT Too Slim & The Taildraggers (Vizztone)

(reviewed in May)

Straight whiskey blues with a Southern Rock beer chaser is how this band gets described.  Starting with a remake of The Chamber Brothers’ Time Has Come Today leaves no room for doubt- these guys came to party, and they mean business.

KEY CUT:  Broken White Line

#19:  LONG LIVE THEM BLUES VOL. 1 Dry Johnson (Connor Ray)

(reviewed in November)

The debut album for this Houston based duo is a scorcher.   Yes this is the blues and it’s well played but with a lighthearted feel. Songs like Too Many Hipsters and Fried Chicken are as much fun as the titles suggest.

KEY CUT:  Trashy Women & Cheap Guitars

The Ice Queen by Sue Foley#18:  THE ICE QUEEN Sue Foley (Stony Plain)

(reviewed in February)

As fine a slice of traditional blues as you’re likely to hear, The Ice Queen is Sue Foley’s first album for Stony Plain. “I’m extremely excited to be working with Holger Petersen and Stony Plain Records” Sue says.  Based on what I’ve just heard, I predict a long and satisfying partnership.

KEY CUT:  Fool’s Gold

#17:  GOIN’ GONE Kat Danser (Black Hen Music/ True North)

(reviewed in October)

Edmonton’s Kat Danser is back with her 5th album, and you’re going to fall in love. Part blues, country and swamp, GG is like a tour through the U.S. south. Kat’s music is a steel belted radial easily flexing between a dusty gravel road and a fresh coat of asphalt.

KEY CUT:  Voodoo Groove

#16:  SHAKE THE LOVE AROUND Suzie Vinnick (independent)

(reviewed in March)

This is Vinnick’s 6th album, following a couple of solo acoustic efforts, and it’s the best thing she’s done.  Suzie performs these songs with a warmth and generosity that would make them at home on your front porch or on stage.

KEY CUT:  A Hundred and Ten In The Shade

#15:  THE BLUES IS ALIVE AND WELL Buddy Guy (Silvertone)

(reviewed in June)

Buddy Guy is 82 and he’s still the baddest blues guitar player that ever was.  The Blues Is Alive And Well is blues poetry and exquisite playing.  Many of the melodies and themes feel familiar- that’s how it goes with the blues- but here in Buddy’s hands, it has rarely sounded sweeter.

KEY CUT:  Cognac (with Jeff Beck)

#14:  STONE TEMPLE PILOTS Stone Temple Pilots (Warner)

(reviewed in March)

A terrific new record from STP, their first with new lead singer Jeff Gutt.  It rocks, it rolls, it struts, it wanders… its really cool.  This is a fresh start for the band, a re-set, so calling it Stone Temple Pilots is the right move.

KEY CUT:  Meadow

VOODOO WOMAN by Crystal Shawanda#13:  VOODOO WOMAN Crystal Shawanda (New Sun Records)  

(reviewed in February)

Stunning, absolutely stunning.  With the possible exception of Beth Hart, I haven’t heard a woman sing the blues with this much power since Koko Taylor.  Voodoo Woman is the hard, hard blues and Crystal Shawanda holds absolutely nothing back. This is the sound of an artist finding her voice.

KEY CUT:  I’d Rather Go Blind

#12:  WINNING HAND Tinsley Ellis (Alligator)

(reviewed in January)

A brawny blues/rock album from Tinsley Ellis, featuring what Rolling Stone calls “feral blues guitar”, and The Chicago Sun-Times says “It’s hard to overstate the raw power of his music”.  Winning Hand is the most potent exercise in the blues I’ve heard since Buddy Guy’s Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues in 1991.  Yeah- it’s that good.

KEY CUT:  Sound of A Broken Man

#11:  FIREPOWER Judas Priest (Columbia)

(reviewed in March)

Judas Priest has made perhaps THE album of their career.  Firepower is the record I’ve been waiting for since Rob Halford re-joined Priest in ’03. It combines the brutal power of Redeemer Of Souls with the band’s mid-period awesomeness for an exciting disc.

KEY CUT:  No Surrender

#10:  FREE Amanda Fish (Vizztone)

(reviewed in October)

This is a powerful follow-up to Fish’s 2015 debut Down In The Dirt. Free contains a dozen tracks driven by a terrifically groovin’ band and Amanda’s gospel-inspired, from-the-gut vocal style… very intense stuff here.

KEY CUT:  The Ballad of Lonesome Cowboy Bill

Myles Goodwyn#09:  MYLE GOODWYN & FRIENDS OF THE BLUES Myles Goodwyn (True North)  

(reviewed in February)

Been waiting on this one since first hearing about it a couple of years ago.  Myles Goodwyn & Friends Of The Blues is, I think, the April Wine front man’s second solo set and as blues records go,  I’m lovin’ it.

KEY CUT:  Willow Tree Blues

#08:  HORNS & HARPS Lee Palmer (independent)

(reviewed in August)

Horns & Harps is a combo of jazz and blues with pop song craft and some pretty funky playing by an amazing band, and it’s by far the best thing he’s done.  Palmer has a warm, friendly, storytellin’ singing voice and, judging from the lyrics, he has lived quite a life since the last record,  There isn’t a single cut on here that I don’t enjoy, and that’s rare.

KEY CUT:  Old Picture Frame

#07:  LIVING THE DREAM Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators (Snakepit/ Roadrunner Records)

(reviewed in September)

With the success of GNR’s “Not In This Lifetime” tour, I was afraid THIS would never happen again… whew!  Slash is back with a planet killer of a guitar-based rock record that is just what we need. He makes better records on his own, and this disc is all the proof you need.

KEY CUT:  The Call Of The Wild

#06:  17 VULTURES David Gogo (Cordova Bay Records)

(reviewed in October)

This is Gogo’s most diverse and rockin’-est record to date.  There’s plenty of blues to sink your teeth into and lots of greasy bump ‘n’ grind to spare. 17 Vultures is one of those discs that makes you glad to be alive.

KEY CUT:  Sulfite Boogie

#05:  EGYPT STATION Paul McCartney (Capitol)

(reviewed in September)

He’s a Beatle, he has 18 solo albums under his belt.  God knows that, at 76, if anybody has earned the right to put their feet up and relax, it’s Paul.  Instead, he’s decided to put out an engaging and captivating record for us all to enjoy.

KEY CUT:  Come On To Me

#04:  LAST MAN STANDING Willie Nelson (Sony Legacy)

(reviewed in May)

Willie has released a batch of brilliant, captivating songs just in time for his 85th birthday.  Comprised entirely of new songs penned by Willie and his longtime producer/ creative partner Buddy Cannon Last Man Standing, a title seemingly acknowledging friends that have gone on before him, Willie’s new album is country gold.

KEY CUT:  title track

#03:  PARADISE BLUES John Akapo (Mensch House Records)

(reviewed in November)

A fresh blues breeze has just come in off the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii of all places. Tamuei “Big John” Akapo has a soulful voice and a nimble finger-picking style on the acoustic guitar, and this disc is totally and completely captivating.

KEY CUT: Ramblin’ On My Mind

#02:  GEMINI Layla Zoe (independent)

(reviewed in September)

The 13th album by this soulful Canadian singer and longtime guitarist/ creative partner Jan Laacks is stunning.  Gemini is something Layla has wanted to do for years; show the acoustic and fragile side of her voice and personality, as well as the fiery and courageous electric side of her songwriting and vocal ability.  Ambitious- and gloriously successful.

KEY CUT:  Weakness

#01:  SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY Bruce Springsteen (Columbia)

(reviewed in December)

Just when you think he’s done it all, The Boss finds a new way to reach in and squeeze your heart and stoke your dreams.  This is the ultimate Springsteen experience. Recorded during Bruce’s record setting run at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre as a one man show, Springsteen On Broadway takes us into his life and his songs in an intimate and inspirational way. If you weren’t a big fan before this, you will become one. Catch the filmed version on Netflix.

KEY CUT: Born In The USA


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