“Resolution” differs from “revolution” by a letter, but – as the Oxford Dictionary definitions demonstrate – there’s more than a consonant that differentiates them. A resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” while “revolution” is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” In colloquial terms, however, a resolution is what we often make on New Year’s Eve and sometimes break a few weeks or months later. Revolution, on the other hand, has become synonymous with non-violent change that upends society – the first and second industrial revolutions, for instance, or the (mis)information age we now live in. The secondary definition of revolution, however, is “the movement of an object in a circular or elliptical course around another or about an axis or centre.” 

As I see it, a resolution can result in a personal revolution that spins out a new you. It’s not easy, as we humans are flawed creatures: stumbles are as likely to happen as perfect pirouettes. But resolve to revolve, anyway. It takes time, patience and stick-to-itiveness, and the willingness to forgive yourself when or if you tumble.

To that end: There’s a new wave coming…

One thing that struck me when compiling my Top Posts of 2019 was that my Top 5 lists accounted for an astounding 35 percent of posts over the past 12 months, while my First Impressions came in at just 27 percent and Essentials at only 13 percent…and, of my now-70 posts for the year, only two were Of Concert Pasts. Concert reviews were minimal, as well.

Which leads to this: In 2020, I resolve to overthrow that status quo and focus more on new releases and old favorites, while reducing the Top 5s. Already, the Year of Visual Acuity is shaping up to be a magical, momentous 12 months of music due to forthcoming releases from such longtime favorites Diane Birch, Maria McKee and Rumer. New favorites, including Emma Langford and Harriet, also have albums due, too, and a slew of archival wonders are sure to be shared by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, among others.

See ya in the new year.

Breathe deep and exhale: We, as a people, have survived another run around the sun. I may or may not reflect on the year writ large in the next week, but suffice it to say that 2019 has had its share of good and bad times, and plenty of moments that fell somewhere in-between. We’ve all weathered days not with smiles or frowns, after all, but a stoic determination to get the job – whatever it may be – done. We soldier on.

That said, I posted less often over the past 12 months than the past few years – about 75 percent of what I managed last year, which was curtailed by preparations for our move, and a little more than half of what I shared in 2017, when life was groovy. The main reason? As David Crosby sang on a now decades-old song of his, “time is the final currency/not money, not power/the time will come/when you will give/anything for one more hour.” Life’s demands took a toll, in other words.

(Hopefully, the Year of Visual Acuity – aka 2020 – will see me return to frequent postings.)

Yet, despite the steep drop-off in my posts, traffic actually ticked up by a bit more than 15 percent; it was my best year, stats-wise, since resurrecting The Old Grey Cat back in 2014. Thank you to everyone reading this for that.

Below are the top 20 posts (old and new) for the past 12 months, along with the published date and links to each.

  1. Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon (9/27/2015)
  2. Shelby Lynne: Here I Am (Movie Soundtrack) – The Review (8/12/2018)
  3. The Natalie Merchant Collection – The Review (7/4/2017)
  4. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt’s Rare TV Appearances (1/21/2019)
  5. The Essentials: Stephen Stills – Manassas (9/23/2017)
  6. The Essentials: Maria McKee’s Life Is Sweet (6/23/2018)
  7. Blinded by the Light: A Fan Is Born (8/17/2019)
  8. The Essentials: Natalie Merchant’s Live in Concert (7/4/2019)
  9. Of Concerts Past: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in Philadelphia, 9/24/1999 (7/6/2019)
  10. Today’s Top 5: The Paisley Underground (3/9/2019)
  11. Today’s Top 5: March 21, 1966 (via Newsweek) (12/17/2016)
  12. Linda Ronstadt: Live in Hollywood (2/2/2019)
  13. First Impressions: Juliana Hatfield’s Weird (1/6/2019)
  14. Neil Young’s 1973, Part I (4/24/2018)
  15. The Essentials: Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse (9/7/2019)
  16. First Impressions: 3×4 – The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade (2/24/2019)
  17. First Impressions: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Colorado (10/27/2019)
  18. Melody Gardot: Live in Europe – The Review (2/11/2018)
  19. Neil Young & the Santa Monica Flyers – ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live – The Review (4/28/2018)
  20. Stone Foundation: Everybody, Anyone – The Review (9/2/2018)

Making music is not akin to building a model, though sometimes it may seem that way. Prefabricated pieces aren’t stamped out at a factory in some far-off foreign land. Picture-laden directions aren’t included. There’s no inserting of staccato guitar solo A into steady rhythm B, and no slathering on glue and waiting for it to dry. Otherwise, the world would be awash in indistinguishable songs.

Oh wait. We are.

But such has been the case since the dawn of the entertainment industry. Hits beget blurry copies that smell of mimeograph ink – and if you don’t appreciate that reference, don’t worry. It only serves to point out my age and say, slyly, that much of modern pop music isn’t being made for me. (Nor should it be.) As Paul Simon summarized in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

Anyway, although my much-ballyhooed “Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve doled out every year since 1978, when I was 13, putting forth an “Album of the Decade” never occurred to me until a month ago, when the notion was mentioned in someone’s tweet; and then, this month, magazines, newspapers and online outlets began posting their lengthy and semi-lengthy lists. The ones I’ve seen basically weigh artistry and commercial impact, and inevitably mix in a handful of niche records while ignoring select popular hits.

Most are little more than clickbait exercises designed to boost ad impressions.

You’ll find no advertisements on this page. To borrow/adapt the lyrics from Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You,” I don’t write for Pepsi/I don’t write for Coke/I don’t write for nobody/Makes me look like a joke. Also, very few of those lists achieve what I love most about reading about music: a sense of the author. From where I sit, the best music reflects the listener(s) as much as it does the artist. It intertwines with our DNA. (And “best” in that sentence construct is a subjective thing.) 

With all that said, the reality of the past decade – which saw good times, bad times, and plenty of in-betweens for me and mine – is that a handful of albums turned my ear every year, and quite a few became constants. And of those, a select some have pretty much become one with my soul; they mean as much to me as the music of my youth.

One caveat: Your mileage may vary. One more caveat: It’s too early for my favorite albums of this year to be included here, as one never knows just how long they’ll stick with you (though I can’t imagine Allison Moorer’s Blood fading away). And one last caveat: I’m a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes. (To quote Paul Simon again, “I know what I know.”) While I enjoy many different musical avenues, I generally find myself circling the same blocks of rock, pop and Americana/country.

And with that out of the way, here are my top seven albums for the 2010s.

1) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). In my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch (which I’ve since moved to this site) in February 2012, I called it “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart.” It spoke to me then and speaks to me now. It’s the definition of “essential.

2) Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (2016). I cannot properly put into words the many ways this album affected me, other than to say this: From the moment I first heard it, it felt like it had been with me all my life. “Honest Life” is a song I want played at my funeral, whenever that may be. “Some things take a lifetime to fully understand.” (For my initial review of it, click here.)

3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2012). This may be a controversial pick for some, as not even all Neil fans appreciate its grandeur. Such is life. But as I wrote in this “essentials” essay, “it features sprawling songs that capture the messy essence of this thing called life.”

4) First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (2014). So, long about 2012, I had pretty much given up hope for the youth of the world. And then I heard “Emmylou” by the Swedish sister act known as First Aid Kit and realized that, indeed, I was wrong. As good as The Lion’s Den album was, however, nothing prepared me for this gem. The psychedelic folk of “Cedar Lane” remains as hypnotic to me now as it did then.

5) Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018). I can hear some guffaws echoing through the interconnected tubes that make up this thing we call the “internet.” Whatever. This album saw two of my favorite worlds collide, and made a rough last half of the decade much sweeter. To rework a line from my initial review, it captures the spirit of the originals while adding a touch of Juliana’s heart.

6) Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (2012). From my original review (another first posted to the Patch but since relocated here): “[W]hat makes a song great isn’t that it conjures spirits from our youthful nights, but that it speaks to the present. Maybe the first blush of melody hurtles us into the past, but the bridge jerks us as fast into the here and now. And the lyrics ring true no matter the age – or our age, for that matter. The runaway American dream that drives Born to Run, for example, represents today as much as 1975, just as the bitter realities and resignation of Darkness reflect working-class life of every era. As Springsteen sings on the title track of Wrecking Ball, his new album, “hard times come and hard times go/yeah, just to come again.” Some things, for good and bad, never change.”

7) Diane Birch – Nous (2016). This EP is a true work of art anchored by what, to me, is one of the decade’s greatest songs: “Stand Under My Love.” To borrow from my review, Nous “documents dreams, disappointments, disillusionment, faith and acceptance, and an awareness not spoken that, indeed, the Last Things are the First Things.”

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last week, while flipping through my photo library, I came across pictures from just prior to our move last year from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, when we were sorting through the collected ephemera of two lives and deciding what to take and what to toss. Among the latter: cassettes I made in the late 1980s and early 90s to listen to in the car. (I know: How quaint.) The above tape, from sometime in late 1992 or early ‘93, was one.

For those who don’t recognize the songs on Side A, they represent Paul Weller’s 1992 eponymous solo debut in full, with the closing “Kosmos” spanning onto Side B. My stereo setup had the ability to fade in or out when recording to tape, so I might have done that here, but since the song also fades out and in, who knows? I may have made use of one of the natural stop, cut out the five minutes of recording groove (see Wikipedia’s entry on the album for more on that), and kicked off Side B with the 30-second reprieve that closed the album. The remainder of the second side consists of Jam tunes, most likely lifted (for expediency’s sake) from Snap! and Extras.

Paul Weller’s solo debut, which followed his days with the Jam (1976-82) and Style Council (1983-89), has never been far out of my reach since its release. In some respects, it laid down the blueprint he’s followed ever since, mixing heavy soul with jazzy touches, self-reflection and self-recrimination. It opens with the propulsive “Uh Huh, Oh Yeah,” which sets the stage: “I took a trip down boundary lane/trying to find myself again…”

Though he’d been to the top with both the Jam and Style Council, by the end of the ‘80s he seemed in danger of teetering into oblivion. This Coventry Live article delves into that fall from and return to grace, but to cut to the chase: Instead of giving up, he formed a band, hit the road and self-released a single (“Into Tomorrow”) that turned enough ears to land him a record deal.

The urgency that drives the performance coupled with the philosophical/questioning bent of the lyrics equals Paul Weller at his best, and defines the album in total. Another high point: “Above the Clouds,” which is one of my favorite Weller songs.

The early ‘90s were a time of CD singles laden with bonus tracks, of course, and Weller released a few in support of the album. (They were hard to find in the States, but I managed to locate most.) In 2009, however, a deluxe reissue made those long-ago efforts moot by gathering them all together alongside alternate mixes and demos, plus a cool cover of “Abraham, Martin & John.” It’s well worth the expense.

Of those bonus tracks: My favorite was and is “Everything Has a Price to Pay.”

(The two studio albums that immediately followed, Wild Wood and Stanley Road, are equally essential to my ears, as are a smattering of his latter-day albums, including 22 Dreams, A Kind Revolution, True Meanings and this year’s double-disc live opus, Other Aspects.) 

Here’s the track listing of the original release: