It’s been a great year at Real Gone. Not only did the website celebrate its tenth birthday, but we got more requests and submissions for review than ever! This year, everything felt like it had truly come together and paved the way for the next phase of the website’s lifespan.
This year, Real Gone received hundreds upon hundreds of review items and digital streams. Obviously, there isn’t enough time to review everything…but from the mountain of stuff we got to listen to and review, there was a lot of great music.
As always, we’ve picked out a few of the best albums and EPs to share with you and Real Gone’s top ten might just be more varied than ever, taking in rock, Americana, acoustic singer songwriter works, punk, ska and brilliant pop.
We can’t even pick a clear winner, so in no particular order, here are our top ten releases of 2019!
THE SPECIALS – Encore
By the beginning of 2019, the reunion of (most of) the classic Specials line up had been playing live for a few years. There had been some rumours of returning to the studio previously but, this year, a new album finally appeared. Released early in the year, it could possibly have been forgotten under the sheer weight of new albums over the next eleven months, but very few albums could match it for both quality and intelligence. Across a vinyl friendly forty minutes, Terry Hall and his band tackle important issues like equality, racism, dignity and gun control with an acerbic and direct approach. That’s balanced out by the some of best Specials tunes since their debut album back in 1980. [Read a full review here.]
CHEAP GUNSLINGERS – Cheap Gunslingers
Over the past couple of years, the Rum Bar Records label has served up some great, no-frills rock music. This, very much straddling the label’s favoured garage rock and sweaty blue collar styles, brings riff after riff on a timeless sounding disc. Despite the name, it’s raw without sounding cheap. [Read a full review here.]
STEVE HEWITT – Bigger Than Words
A big surprise and a big hit with us at Real Gone. Steve has an old soul and his acoustic blend of singer songwriter charm, folky lilt and occasional forays into country music showed an almost timeless talent. With a near flawless set of songs and a style that felt like something or someone we’d known forever, his ” deserved its praise. It’s the kind of album that needs a bigger audience. [Read a full review here.]
STATE COWS – Challenges
One of our old favourites and a late entry into the year’s race for best albums. State Cows took the brave move this year of releasing most of their album a track at a time. Early signs suggested the Toto/Maxus obsessed ‘Challenges’ (finally released in full on December 13th) would be their best record since the debut, but when heard as a whole, the album sounded absolutely stunning. If you’ve heard this band previously, you know what to expect. First time listeners would do well to start their journey here with the reincarnation of early 80s Chicago and classic Steely Dan. Yacht rock from 1981 is alive and well in 2019…and living in Sweden. [Read a full review here.]
LONERIDER – Attitude
Some old friends with a new band, Lonerider brings together FM vocalist Steve Overland, Heartland guitarist Steve Morris and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke. The result, very much as you’d expect, sounds like a hybrid of FM and BadCo, but a few cracking choruses really hit the mark, despite a predictable mood. Melodic rock and AOR has always remained an important backbone of Real Gone and this album was streets ahead of the competition. [Read a full review here.]
MY LIFE STORY World Citizen
My Life Story have been wowing people on the live circuit for the past few years (their 2018 xmas show was particularly fabulous), but 2019 saw Jake Shillingford and band returning to the studio for the first time in two decades. The resulting ‘World Citizen’ presents the band in a poppier frame of mind than before, but Shillingford’s knack for a musical hook or six remains undimmed. [Read a full review here.]
THE WONDER STUFF – Better Being Lucky
The Wonder Stuff’s 2019 release is much darker than a lot of their previous works, but its none the worse for that. The band’s ninth studio album finds frontman Miles Hunt in a particularly acerbic lyrical mood, but with that comes a sophisticated set of songs that provides a timely update on the band’s sound without ever losing their gift for great melodies and even greater hooks. One of those albums that sounds great from first play, ‘Better Being Lucky’ is a stunning return and the band’s best album since 2003. [Read a full review here.]
MEDICINE – Scarred For Life
‘Scarred For Life’, the covers album from US shoegazers Medicine puts a whole new slant on tunes by Judee Sill, Buffalo Springfield, Fleetwood Mac and other unlikely candidates. It very much adheres to the idea that things are only worth covering if done with invention. As far as listening goes, most things come with a sheet of noise, but within that, you’ll find a world of dense melodies that really entertain. [Read a full review here.]
REDD KROSS – Beyond The Door
When Redd Kross made their long overdue return with ‘Researching The Blues’ in 2012, they gave the world their best album since 1990. With a hefty mix of Cheap Trick-ish power pop, some kitsch, a heavy dose of glam and some help from a Melvins guest star, ‘Beyond The Door’ is better still. If you’ve still no idea how Redd Kross sound or why they’re so influential, one listen to this will set you straight. Brilliant stuff. [Read a full review here.]
JOSH RITTER – Fever Breaks
A cult hero, Josh has been releasing albums since 1999 and this tenth platter is one of his best. It does everything you’d expect a Ritter record to do – swathes of Americana, a dash of R.E.M. and self-reflection are essential core ingredients – but the way ‘Fever Breaks’ hangs together is fantastic. With this album, Ritter makes it all sound so effortless, somehow. [Read a full review here.]
With so much stuff arriving at Real Gone HQ on a weekly basis, we can’t just leave it there. There were a few other things that deserve an honourable mention. So…a big drumroll please… Here’s our best of the rest.
Firstly, we’d like to draw your attention to UK blues rockers Big River, who released their ‘Redemption’ debut this year. Various set-backs meant the album appeared a year later than originally planned, but this tenacious band wouldn’t be knocked down. The album includes a few absolutely cracking songs – it’s far better than those early singles would have you believe – and well worth half an hour of your listening time. Likewise, The Morning Line provide another strongly retro listen on their debut album as they tap into various sounds that evoke classic Soul Asylum and The Connells. If you still dig those sounds where Americana meets the gentle end of 90s alternative, check them out as soon as you can – you won’t be sorry.
A surprise of the year came from Scandinavian rockers Animal Drive. Their 2018 LP ‘Bite!’ was an enjoyable slab of melodic rock, but their 2019 covers EP is something else. It’s fun hearing them give tunes by Whitesnake and Warrant a kick up the arse, but a full on, hard rock cover of Roxette’s ‘The Look’ needs to be heard to be believed. It really suits a chunky riff and it’s great hearing a rock band so obviously having a good time.
A divorce + heightened emotions + punk music = ‘Up From Here’, an autobiographical romp from Extra Arms that’s far more enjoyable for the listener than it seems on paper. In about twenty minutes, Ryan Allen takes us through a whole world of emotions and musical moods on a record that needs to be heard by fans of Bowling For Soup, Blink-182 and Weezer. Therapy was never quite as much fun.
[Reviews for each of our “best of the rest” can be found by clicking on the band name links.]
Real Gone has covered a lot of reissues this year too, but we’d like to give a special mention to two of the best. Rum Bar Records reissued The Peawees‘ ‘Dead End City’ in the spring. An Italian punk ‘n’ roll classic, it’s hard to believe it hadn’t been available on CD (or any format in the US) until this year. If you like good, melodic pop punk, the album is essential. Cherry Red released most of the REO Speedwagon back-catalogue across two mid-priced box sets in 2019. Both are worth picking up, but the second volume (‘Classic Years‘) covering 1978-1990 is absolutely indispensable. Almost everyone knows the ‘Hi-Infidelity’ album, but this box should remind people that in 1982’s ‘Good Trouble’ and 1986’s ‘Wheels Are Turnin’, REO released two albums that are almost of an equally high quality. Most of the Speedwagon albums had always been hard to find in the UK; this – along with its ‘Early Years 1971-1977‘ companion – finally rights that wrong.
Lastly, a note from Lee Realgone:
As always, we’d like to thank each and every one of the bands, record labels and PR guys for making sure our inbox is always full and always interesting. Thanks especially to Lou @ Rum Bar, Matt @ Cherry Red, Curtis @ Dewar PR and Shauna @ Shameless PR for always going the extra mile to support us. We’d also like to thank our website’s friends for throwing a few coins in the hat and helping to keep the wheels greased this year – your help has been truly appreciated and you’ve all made sure the site kept ticking this year despite mounting running costs. Lastly, we’d like to thank every one of our readers, whether you’ve just found us or have been checking in for a few years. As we’ve said before, without you, we’d just be here chucking opinions out into the void. If you’ve enjoyed anything we’ve shared this year, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got thoughts, music, praise, suggestions or anything at all to share, please feel free to drop us a line using the contact tab at the top of the home page.
We’ll have a couple more bits to share with you in the last days of this year – and this decade – including a playlist of some of the best tunes you might have missed. …And as always, we’ve got one eye on the future. We promise to try and make next year just as entertaining! Until then, keep listening and keep well. Every one of you. Cheers!