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Songs and gongs of 2018

Updated: May 5, 2020

Neil Morton


This Too Shall Last: Anderson East

Our final Song Of The Week of 2018 at is an encore from Anderson East's album of that name, the southern soul ballad This Too Shall Last. The song, co-written by Aaron Raitiere and Natalie Hemby, has been slowed slightly with strings added to the familiar horns and East's seductively smoky tenor.

The Alabama-raised East is our male artist of the year. His outstanding performance at Camden's Jazz Café would have been our gig of the year but that honour goes to bottleneck roots maestro Ry Cooder for his show at the intimate venue of Chelsea's Cadogan Hall. Hear his version of the lovely Carter Stanley song Harbor Of Love.

Our female artist of the year is the wonderful Courtney Marie Andrews. One could choose any track from her acclaimed May Your Kindness Remain – our album of the year – but Took You Up showcases the power and maturity of her singing and writing. Rosanne Cash, Gretchen Peters and Shawn Colvin are torch-bearers she can emulate.

In a year dominated by women songwriters, our Song of 2018 is Olivia Chaney's achingly beautiful Shelter from her album of the same title. Classically-trained Chaney, her guitar sounding almost harp-like, swoops and soars on Shelter's haunting refrain.

A close contender was Green Unstopping, a hypnotic track from The Rheingans Sisters' Bright Field album. Banjo, fiddle and voices interweave exquisitely. We shall instead bestow on them duo of the year alongside their Swedish counterparts, Klara and Johanna Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, whose Halloween concert at Brixton was spectacular, aptly full of Fireworks.

Shelter was also the title of a memorable Song Of The Week by Zialand from her album Unbridled & Ablaze, a jazz-flavoured love letter to her daughter by the Greenland-born, Oslo-based Zia Meyer. Also impressive (see playlist below) were the ever influential Rosanne Cash with She Remembers Everything, Gretchen Peters with Arguing With Ghosts, Madison Cunningham with Beauty Into Clichés, Kim Richey with Pin A Rose, Brandi Carlile with The Mother and Laura Veirs with Seven Falls.

We should also applaud I'm With Her for their inventiveness, musicianship and divine harmonies. Our trio of the year – so good we saw them twice – comprise Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and Aoife O'Donovan, each of them a singular songwriting talent as evidenced by their album See You Around.

Our band of the year is a joint Bostonian award. Take a bow Lake Street Dive, thriving on Rachael Price's soulful vocal and stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney's songwriting, especially on Musta Been Something, and Darlingside whose Hold Your Head Up High is for all lovers of vocal gymnastics.

Talking of togetherness, we should also mention the jingle-jangle Rickenbacker retro men Bennett Wilson Poole whose eponymous debut album was an infectious delight. Their live shows are highly recommended. UK Americana is alive and kicking as is psychedelic folk rock in the creative hands of Liverpool-based group The Fernweh. Their debut album, which included a Song Of The Week in Brightening In The West, is a triumph.

River: Cara Dillon & Joni Mitchell

I never thought it was possible, or even necessary, to try to recreate the majesty and melancholy of Joni Mitchell’s timeless classic River. But Ireland and Somerset’s finest, Cara Dillon, does a beautiful job with a recording of a fans' favourite from her Upon A Winter's Night album tour, our Song Of The Week at ‘It’s comin’ on Christmas...’

Despite the festive references, this is a song about personal loss, its subject unable to deal with all the merriment after a broken relationship. John Smith's exquisite acoustic guitar faithfully echoes the subtle Jingle Bells undertones. Here’s Joni’s piano-led jewel. We’re dreaming of a ‘Blue’ Christmas...

I wish I had a river I could skate away on I wish I had a river so long I would teach my feet to fly

'River has been a favourite of mine for as long as I can remember,' says Cara, 'and after performing it live on my Christmas tour the past couple of years the response I got each night was incredible. I’m so blessed to be able to sing this and to top it off I’m accompanied by the wonderful John Smith on guitar and John Garrison on keyboards.'

River – by Joni or Cara – is a welcome antidote to the predictable, cheesy or sugar-coated fare filling the airwaves from Slade and Wizzard to Boney M and Johnny Mathis. For an alternative guide it’s worth revisiting Phil Shaw’s thoughtful, below-the-radar playlist. River is there, as is Davitt Sigerson’s uplifting It’s A Big Country. 'Tis the season to be different...

The Ghost Of Tom Joad: Bruce Springsteen

A flight to New York to see Springsteen On Broadway was a dream unfulfilled in 2018. But the 150-minute soundtrack to the acclaimed Netflix live film provides some consolation. Song Of The Week at is The Ghost Of Tom Joad. 'Welcome to the new world order,' sings Bruce.

The song, stripped back even further than the eponymous 1995 album version, has the Walter Kerr theatre in thrall, still relevant and resonant despite its Depression era setting. Springsteen, the New Jersey rocker, pays homage to John Ford's film portrayal of the John Steinbeck hero in The Grapes Of Wrath – and to the music of Woody Guthrie. The intimate setting and mood reminiscent of Nebraska are welcome after the decades of cavernous arenas and vast city parks.

In his soul-baring introductions The Boss proves an adept raconteur – as if flicking over the pages of his 2016 memoir Born To Run – and cannot resist preaching to the converted. Donald Trump is not mentioned but is the elephant in the hall when the 69-year-old songwriter talks of an America lacking compassion and 'folks in the highest offices of our land who want to speak to our darkest angels, who want to call up the ugliest and most divisive ghosts of America’s past. They want to destroy the idea of an America for all.'

The ghosts of our host's past come thick and fast during the monologues between the equally emotional music – from Tom Joad to his revered but difficult father and beloved mother, departed E Street Band saxophonist and soulmate Clarence Clemons ('it was like losing the rain') and his own mental health issues.

Springsteen, amusingly and self-deprecatingly, pokes fun at his own mythical status as a blue-collar champion: 'I’ve never worked five days a week until right now. Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something of which he has had absolutely no personal experience. I made it all up! That’s how good I am.' He calls it his magic trick.

It is remarkable how powerful one showman can sound, even on the high-energy hits such as Dancing In The Dark. For two songs, Tougher Than The Rest and Brilliant Disguise, he is joined by his wife Patti Scialfa who contributes delightful harmonies. 'I need a love reaction,' the 69-year-old sings on Dancing In The Dark before pausing, and the audience oblige. They did again on Saturday night during a near three-hour marathon performance as the final curtain descended on Springsteen's Broadway tour de force.

Brightening In The West: The Fernweh

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, goes the old quip. But through the sepia-tinged glasses of that songwriting team known as The Fernweh, days of yesteryear are well remembered. Song Of The Week at is Brightening In The West, my favourite track from The Fernweh's long-anticipated debut album, just released, which is a delicious blend of psychedelia, pop, folk and indie rock.

Fernweh is a German word that roughly translates as 'wanderlust' but this Liverpool-based band, whose members hail from West London, Leeds and Oxfordshire, take pride in their very British, whimsical sound. Catch one of their live gigs and you'll be hooked on catchy, cleverly constructed numbers such as The Liar.

The retro 60s-70s influences abound: Beatles, Kinks, Zombies, Moody Blues, Left Banke, Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs, Procol Harum, Danny Kirwan, Al Stewart, Ronnie Lane. But Ned Crowther (bass and lead vocals), Jamie Backhouse (guitars), multi-instrumentalist Austin 'Oz' Murphy and friends conjure their own distinctive vibe. There are 80s bands who would have loved to have covered Brightening In The West.

Oz Murphy, asked which composition best summed him up as a songwriter, said: 'I like the way it was a collaboration between the three of us, and keeping up with this idea of us all throwing stuff in. After The Liar, it was the next one we finished, so that was quite nice. I started it off with some chords, and one weekend we were just jamming it out. Jamie came up with the riff, and then Ned put the words in. It just seemed to flow really nicely together. It’s something I’m really proud of.'

There are so many standouts on The Fernweh's eponymous album – Is This Man Bothering You, Dressing Up Box and New Brighton Sigh, which takes me back to seaside Sundays during my Merseyside youth. We shouldn't forget the infectious Next Time Around which Simon O'Hagan wrote so fondly about on this website in 2017. It's certainly brightening in the North-west.

Shelter: Olivia Chaney

Two of the loveliest songs I've heard this year share a one-word title, Shelter. Song Of The Week at is Olivia Chaney's bewitching ballad from her Thomas Bartlett-produced album of the same name. Welcome to intimacy.

'Beautiful, moving, intelligent singing' was the great Shirley Collins' verdict. Chaney’s elegant music is an exquisite blend of ancient and modern, as evidenced by her memorable Offa Rex project with the Decemberists. The sound is sparse and sophisticated, with Chaney (guitar, piano, harmonium), long-time collaborator Jordan Hunt (violin) and producer Bartlett (mellotron, bass, percussion) providing the subtle instrumentation. The voice, however, is the instrument that lodges in the memory.

Chaney wrote Shelter in a lonely cottage after a long spell on the road. 'I was struggling with the grit and loneliness of urban life,' she says on the website of her record label Nonesuch. 'I think I'd been questioning what home, belonging, a sense of purpose, and my own culture even meant. I'd been craving wilderness and a return to essentials for a long time. Then, while touring in the US, I realised the place I needed was already in my life. It was ancient, barely habitable, and remote.

'Thus a crumbling eighteenth-century cottage in the austere but magical hills of the North York Moors – a family retreat since my teens, with no electricity or plumbing, where the only water comes from a spring – became the home for my work on Shelter. We brought out a piano and an old wood-burner to the house; and as summer's end turned to autumn's shorter, colder days, the room with the upright and stove fueled my stay.' That solitude has been sweetly rewarding for artist and audience.

Give me warmth, give me shelter

Give me food, bring me water

But till I come to befriend and face

The demons do persist

Classically-trained Chaney, her guitar sounding almost harp-like, swoops and soars on Shelter's haunting refrain. Her second solo album, following The Longest River in 2015, contains eight original songs, including the outstanding IOU and House On A Hill. Here is the Italian-born, Oxford-raised, London-based artist performing Roman Holiday on Jools Holland's Later show. The two interpretations are Henry Purcell's O Solitude and the Frank Harford-Tex Ritter composition Long Time Gone, first recorded by the Everly Brothers.

The other Shelter was Song Of The Week back in March, a soulful, jazz-tinged love letter to her daughter by Greenland-born, Oslo-based Zia Meyer, who performs under the name Zialand. It appears on her enchanting album Unbridled & Ablaze. Chaney and Zialand: different voices, similar impact.

She Remembers Everything: Rosanne Cash

She Remembers Everything, the disturbing, moving title track of Rosanne Cash's much anticipated album, is Song Of The Week at It concerns a woman who has survived an unspecified trauma but faces the third degree. This could be an anthem for the #MeToo movement.

Who knows who she used to be before it all went dark

Was she like a streak of fire, a painted glass, a broken heart?

The haunting piano hook, producer-husband John Leventhal's subtle guitar and Cash's impassioned vocal, backed by Sam Phillips, combine for a topical masterpiece.

Cash's album deals with attitudes to women and her frustration with the slowness of change. 'There is a woman’s real life, complex experiences and layered understanding in these songs. I could not have written them 10 years ago – not even close. Time is shorter, I have more to say.'

This is a more personal but still poetic work after the magnificence of her previous recording in 2014, triple-Grammy winning The River & The Thread, in which she explored her legacy and ancestral southern roots.

One of the great liberal voices in the US, Cash recently received the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award in Nashville for her activism on artists' rights and her gun control advocacy. Apart from performing a selection of her father Johnny's timeless songs with Ry Cooder, she has been working on a musical about the life of Norma Rae, a factor worker who became a union organiser in 1970s North Carolina, which was the subject of a 1979 film starring Sally Field. A US tour to promote Cash's new album beckons.

Cash also contributed to Keb' Mo's stirring single, Put A Woman In Charge, which he wrote with Beth Nielsen Chapman and John Lewis Parker. 'There have been a lot of great achievements by men,' says the veteran bluesman, 'but maybe, just maybe, we've gotten too comfortable with the imbalance of men in power and have fallen short by not listening and embracing what women have to offer when they lead.' The song has a simple, gospel-tinged message about empowerment. Put Rosanne in charge, we suggest.


Songs Of The Week 2018 in chronological order...

TIM O'BRIEN: Brother Wind (with Darrell Scott and Jerry Douglas & Transatlantic Sessions house band)

LINDISFARNE: Lady Eleanor (Alan Hull)

FIRST AID KIT: Ruins and Fireworks (Klara and Johanna Söderberg)


CALIFORNIA HONEYDROPS: Call It Home (featuring Bonnie Raitt;

written by band’s Polish frontman Lech Wierzynski)


SHELBY LYNNE & ALLISON MOORER: Not Yet Dark (Bob Dylan) and Is It Too Much? (Lynne-Moorer)

ZIALAND: Shelter (Zia Meyer)


LUKAS NELSON & PROMISE OF THE REAL: Find Yourself and Just Outside Of Austin (with Willie Nelson)

THE RHEINGANS SISTERS: Green Unstopping (Anna & Rowan)

RY COODER: Shrinking Man

JOACHIM COODER: Fuchsia Machu Picchu

COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS: Rough Around The Edges and I’ve Hurt Worse

BENNETT WILSON POOLE: Ask Me Anything (Robin Bennett & Danny Wilson) and Hate Won't Win (Tony Poole)

GRETCHEN PETERS: Disappearing Act and Arguing With Ghosts (co-written by Matraca Berg and Ben Glover)

WILLIE NELSON: Last Man Standing (co-written by Buddy Cannon) and No Más Amor (with Alison Krauss)

THE HIGHWAYMEN: Highwayman (Jimmy Webb). Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings & Kris Kristofferson

LAKE STREET DIVE: Musta Been Something and Shame, Shame, Shame (both written by bassist Bridget Kearney)

ANDERSON EAST: House Is A Building (written with Aaron Raitiere and Natalie Hemby) and King For A Day (written with Chris and Morgane Stapleton)

ROBERT CRAY & HI RHYTHM: The Same Love That Made Me Laugh (Bill Withers) and Just How Low

GEOFF MULDAUR: The Wild Ox Moan (Vera Ward Hall)

NORMA WATERSON & ELIZA CARTHY WITH THE GIFT BAND: The Beast (Michael Marra) and The Beast In Me (Nick Lowe)

BEN GLOVER: Catbird Seat (with Mary Gauthier)



THE BAND: The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

THE MILK CARTON KIDS: Just Look At Us Now (Kenneth Pattengale & Joey Ryan)

LAURA VEIRS: Seven Falls

KARL BLAU: Fallin' Rain (Link Wray)

DAWES: Time Flies Either Way and Feel The Fire (Taylor Goldsmith)

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone (with Bonnie Raitt)

RICHARD THOMPSON: The Ghost Of You Walks

THE BROS LANDRETH: Tappin' On The Glass and Nothing (Joey Landreth)

SCOTT SHARRARD: Everything A Good Man Needs (Sharrard & Gregg Allman; featuring Taj Mahal)

KIM RICHEY: Pin A Rose (with Chuck Prophet)

THE BYRDS: Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man (Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons)

GILBERT O'SULLIVAN: This Riff (Chas Hodges guests on piano)

JOHN SMITH: Hummingbird

THE BROTHER BROTHERS: Frankie (David Moss)

STEVE MILLER BAND: Mercury Blues (KC Douglas & Bob Geddins)

THE STAVES: Trouble On My Mind



THE WOOD BROTHERS: River Takes The Town


CARA DILLON: River (Joni Mitchell)

ANDERSON EAST: This Too Shall Last (East, Aaron Raitiere & Natalie Hemby)


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