Newport Folk Festival 2019: All about the women & one famous frog

In July of 2018 I attended the Newport Folk Festival for the very first time. When I left that festival I remember thinking to myself that the experience would never be topped. It just wasn’t possible.

Now for a little journalism 101: I am not going to bury the lede!

Instead I will shoot it into the sky like a 100 foot blazing arrow and to further embarrass myself, I’m going to do it in all caps and goddamn bold too. Ready?

DOLLY PARTON AND KERMIT THE FROG WERE SURPRISE GUESTS AT THE 2019 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL.

I still can’t believe it. Dolly Parton AND Kermit the Frog. Both were surprises and both slayed every single person at the festival.  Parton slayed us five times and Kermit did it with one song and a little help from Jim James (My Morning Jacket).

I’ll have more on the country icon and the beloved Muppet shortly. But first, a little unpacking of the rest of the festival.

As I quickly learned at my festival debut last year,  it’s not possible to see all of the performances. There are  a total of four stages and unless I had Orphan Black-esque clones with me, there are always brutal decisions to make. For example, I missed Sheryl Crow’s entire Fort stage set. Ditto for Kacey Musgraves, save for one song. And I foolishly only hung around the Quad stage long enough to see a few songs from Our Native Daughters. I’m still kicking myself over that misstep.Those are but three examples. But I also quickly learned that it’s futile to worry about what you missed, especially when you hear about the surprise guests that jump on stage all weekend long. For example, James Taylor’s boat docked by the fort and he joined Crow on a song. I didn’t see it.

But I sure saw a lot. Some acts I caught the entire sets of, some just a song or two. But everything I saw and heard touched me one way or another. Sometimes I got teary, other times I was spellbound by the music or singing and dancing along with everybody else. Other times I thought my heart was going to beat its way right out of my chest. Like when surprise guest Linda Perry, surrounded and accompanied by an array of extraordinary, mostly female musicians, sang her early 90s anthem “What’s Up?”

I mean for the love of god WATCH THIS:

It’s been more than 25 years since that song was first released and we’re all still trying to get up that great big hill up hope for a destination.

Newport Folk Festival is like spending three days in a place that’s one part Fantasy Island, one part Candy Land and one part heaven, all with a to-die-for live soundtrack and with 10,000 people who are damn happy to be there with you.

If you’re curious and want to see the entire schedule so as to better understand the magnitude of the lineup and why decision making was so rough click HERE.

For the past several days I’ve been thinking that I have to someone qualify this next part or include several disclaimers. But doing that would actually take some of its power away.  Therefore, I’m declaring this as plainly as I can:

THE WOMEN WERE THE STARS OF THE 2019 NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL!

That is what I’m going to focus on.

Were the fellas also outstanding? Obviously. In particular J.S. Ondara (do yourself a favor and check him out!) and Jeff Tweedy.

J.S. Ondara
J.S. Ondara on the Harbor Stage of the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.19
Photo by Aimsel Ponti
Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy on the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

So not only were the women the superstars of this year’s festival, one in particular led the charge. It would not be a stretch for the unofficial name of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival to be the Newport Brandi Carlile Folk Festival. She likely appeared on more stages than anyone else all weekend long (Amy Ray Band, Hozier, Sheryl Crow, etc. etc. etc) but she was also the leader on what was referred to on the festival schedule only as this:

the collaboration

In fact, it is this collaboration that I’ll spend the most time on because if I live to be 119, I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again.

It closed out Saturday night and although we had a whole other day of festival left to go, it’s the part of the festival that for me at least, was the most incredible part.

But there were many other moments of the festival that MUST be mentioned and these I’ll mention in the order that I saw them.

It all began on Friday morning.

YOLA. If you don’t know her name you likely will soon enough. Then you’ll listen to her debut album “Walk Through Fire” on repeat. She was the first act I saw at this year’s festival. YOLA is a British country soul singer and if Brandi Carlile was queen of the festival, YOLA was princess, or co-queen, or co-supreme being. She too was on several stages and for good reason, I mean listen to her sing.

YOLA
YOLA on the Harbor Stage of the Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Friday afternoon on the Quad stage, I’m With Her performed. They’re the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. To know them is to love them and even though all three of them have well-established solo careers, what they do as I’m With Her is its own galaxy of musical perfection.

I'm With Her 1
Sara Watkins, Sara Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan of I’m With Her on the Quad Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I also caught parts of sets by Adia Victoria, Liz Cooper & The Stampede and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. All outstanding.

Amy Ray Band on the Harbor Stage were also  tremendous. It didn’t suck one bit that Brandi Carlile hopped on stage for a handful of songs. Ray released the album “Holler” last year and it’s SO GOOD! 

Amy Ray and Brandi Carlile
Amy Ray with special guest Brandi Carlile during the Amy Ray Band set on the Harbor Stage. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

This brings me to what was arguably the most highly-anticipated performance of the entire festival: The world debut performance by The Highwomen.  They’re the new country  supergroup (and I don’t give three shits if you disagree with the use of the term. It’s accurate) of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires. Not unlike I’m With Her, all four women of The Highwomen have significant solo careers. They’ve joined forces to turn country music on its ear. The album drops on Sept. 6 and the first single is “Redesigning Women,” which they played twice at Newport because why the hell not right?

When festival director Jay Sweet took the stage to introduce The Highwomen the level of excitement beneath -and well beyond- that Quad stage tent was as palpable. I could barely contain myself. You know who couldn’t either? Brandi Carlile. This is the exact moment when she took to the stage, with her fellow Highwomen right behind her. If this isn’t the world’s most genuine expression of joy, I don’t know what the eff is.

BC smile highwomen walk out on stage
Brandi Carlile walks onto the Quad Stage at Newport Folk Festival as The Highwomen get set to play their first-ever show. 7.26.19
iPhone Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Highwomen played their entire new album in order, starting with “Highwomen” and ending with “Wheels of Laredo” plus a bonus replay of “Redesigning Women” and if that wasn’t enough, the set also include their take on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” from the soundtrack of the film “The Kitchen.”  I never had any intention of breaking the chain when Fleetwood Mac sings it and I sure as hell won’t now having heard Highwomen’s take on it.  Plus they had YOLA and Sheryl Crow join them on  a few songs. I loved every single nano-second of their set. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires and their friend Chris Tompkins wrote a gay country love song called “If She Ever Leaves Me.” It’s on the album and the Highwomen played it. Holy Shit. 

In a press release I received a few weeks ago, here’s what Carlile said about The Highwomen:

“Anyone can be a Highwoman,” Carlile notes. “It’s about banding together, abandoning as much ego as humanly possible, holding one another up and amplifying other women every chance we get. Shoulder to shoulder. One push, one love.”

COUNT ME IN!!!

The Highwomen
Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby playing their first show as The Highwomen at Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photos by Aimsel Ponti

Now onto Saturday!

Jade Bird was fantastic as was Gregory Alan Isakov and as I said above, Jeff Tweedy. I’m sad I missed Lucy Dacus, Ruston Kelly, Mountain Man and a bunch of other acts but such is festival life.

I did however catch Maggie Rogers’ set on the Fort stage and her performance was dynamic and an absolute blast to see and hear. Despite not playing my two favorite songs, “Alaska” and especially “Dog Years,” her set was fabulous and packed with tunes from “Heard It in a Past Life” along with John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” 

Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers on the Fort Stage on 7.27.19
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Soon it became time to gather for the semi-mysterious collaboration. I say semi-mysterious because it was already known that this was Brandi Carlile’s thing. And yes, the rumors about Dolly Parton were also flying around the media tent and the festival on a whole. But let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference between a rumor and actually witnessing something.

I skipped the photo pit for this performance and took up the spot secured to me by my friend and fellow Carlile fanatic Tracy Albernaz. Tracy was to my right and to her right was another friend, Marian Starkey. The three of us all went to Brandi’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend so it only made sense that we ended up together for this performance. To say we had a good spot would be an understatement. We were RIGHT UP against the railing, front and center. And the three of us, along with the other 10,000 fans around us, lost our minds. I may never quite find mine again and I’m entirely OK with that.

There were so many exceptional women on stage that night. SO MANY.  And SO MUCH HAPPENED. Here are some highlights:

Pretty much the entire time, all four Highwomen were on stage along with Tim and Phil Hanseroth (Carlile’s bandmates,)  Jason Isbell and Chris Powell (Carlile’s drummer).

Women of Bluegrass kicked things off. They’re Bonnie Payne, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull and damn it…who am I forgetting? If you know, by all means chime in via the comments. Thanks!

Amy Ray came out and busted out the Indigo Girls’ song “Go” (one of FAVORITE Ray-penned songs!!!) with Lucy Dacus and Carlile. It was a blistering storm of musical thunder. I freaked right out.

Linda Perry
Surprise guest Linda Perry on the Fort Stage at Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Linda Perry (surprise guest) as I already mentioned DESTROYED us all with “What’s Up?”

crow and rogers
Sheryl Crow and and an awestruck Maggie Rogers on the Fort Stage at Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19
iPhone photo by Aimsel Ponti

Sheryl Crow sang “Strong Enough” with Maggie Rogers and YOLA. Oh and she also did “If It Makes You Happy” with Carlile and Maren Morris.

Courtney Marie Andrews and a few friends sang  “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Collins and Carlile USE
Judy Collins with Brandi Carlile on the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Judy Collins sang “Both Sides Now” with Brandi Carlile. I know. I can’t deal either.

YOLA, Bonnie Payne, Molly Tuttle and a bunch of other fabulous females sang “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves.” They CRUSHED IT!

But nothing could have ever prepared any of us, including and perhaps especially Brandi Carlile for the arrival of Dolly Parton and Carlile’s the one who invited her in the first place. She wasn’t just in on the secret, she made it happen.

Here’s what Carlile before said beforel Parton walked out onto the stage:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Newport Folk Festival. On its 60th anniversary, I bring you one of the greatest surprises ever. The incomparable unicorn legend that is Dolly Parton…” WE ALL WENT BANANAS.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton on the Fort Stage. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Oh heck: WATCH THIS:

Parton sang  an astounding FIVE SONGS!!

“Eagle When She Flies” came first. I have chills even thinking about it. The Highwomen were backing her up on it along with the all-star band. Even if Parton had JUST done that one song it would have been enough.

BUT FOUR MORE CAME.

Next was “Just Because I’m a Woman.” OMG.

AND NEXT WAS “JOLENE.” At this point I’m dead. I mean WTF? I heard Dolly Parton SING ‘JOLENE” live. I can’t even. I just can’t…

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton on the Fort Stage. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

And it wasn’t over yet because next came a live music moment that will always live in the corner of my heart reserved for such moments. I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t believe it now. It will go down as one of the most sublime duets ever performed live.

Here’s Dolly Parton with Brandi Carlile singing Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”:

I still have no idea how I held it together for this. Same goes for Brandi Carlile. You can tell at the end of the song that Carlile knows this is one of the most significant moments of her life. We all felt it. I still do. As I write this I’m watching the above clip with goosebumps all over. It’s that good. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of and I am sticking by that cliche because it fits.

And…say it with me: IT STILL WASN’T OVER.

Saturday night at Newport Folk Festival ended with a sing-along for the ages with “9 to 5.” Everyone joined in: Yola, Brandi, Linda, Jade, Maggie, Courtney Marie, Amy, Sheryl, Lucy, Natalie, Amanda, Rachael and Bridget (Lake Street Dive) to name some.

My friend Marion and I walked out of there in a dream-like state but also in a bit of a hurry. Despite having just experienced something that we could barely process, we hot-stepped with our festival-worn feet to her car parked a mile and a half away and experienced a Newport miracle: We found a parking spot directly across the street from the Jane Pickens Theatre. Our night wasn’t over because we had managed to snap up a pair of tickets to a festival after-show. These tickets were as hot as a ticket could get. Why?

Because they were for Mavis Staples! She and her crackerjack band put on a hell of a show and her 80th birthday which has been celebrated several times already this year was celebrated once again because of course it was.

Not only was Mavis herself spectacular, the stage was a revolving door of special guests. Lake Street Dive, Milk Carton Kids,  Jeff Tweedy, YOLA, Jason Isbell, Hozier and Brandi Carlile all graced the stage that night during a 14 song set.

After all that you would have thought I would have slept like the dead. Hardly. I was awake until almost 2 a.m. because I could not come down from the high. And yeah, it was a music one. Of course it was! With the exception of a lone whiskey,  water and watermelon seltzer was all this kid consumed all weekend long.

Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples played on Saturday night at the Jane Pickens Theater and was part of the If I Had A Song finale on the Fort Stage on Sunday. 7.28.19. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

ONTO SUNDAY!

After two BLISSFUL and long days of festival joy, not to mention the Mavis show on Saturday night, I didn’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank. As I walked into the festival (after a grueling 45 minutes in the blazing sun waiting in line) I thought to myself that I would see what I could see but may need to mostly chillax either in the media tent or in a spot far from the action.

Instead I went pretty much all in and saw as much as  I could. Yeah, I took breaks when I needed to but for the most part, I immersed myself in the music and once I reached a certain point, it didn’t matter how hot (quite) or tired (mf exhausted) I was. I was INTO IT.

I started Sunday off by catching part of Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the Fort stage.  Then I raced over to the Quad stage for part of J.S. Ondara’s riveting set.  Then I zipped back (my Fit Bit damn near exploded it got so much action) to the Fort stage for some of Lake Street Dive’s set because I adore them.

rachael 2
Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive. LSD played on the Fort Stage. 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I made it back to the Quad stage in time for the beginning of one of the most talked about sets of the weekend. As I said above, I didn’t see all of it. But I saw enough.

Our Native Daughters is Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell. Google the hell out of them and go down a YouTube rabbit hole. Follow them on every platform. Get a copy of their album. Become a superfan! Trust me on this. Their music is important. Their message is important. And they’re tremendous. Got it?

Rhiannon Giddens Our Native Daughters
Rhiannon Giddens from Our Native Daughters who played on the Quad Stage. 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After catching the beginning of Hozier’s set (and damn it, I missed it when he brought out Brandi Carlile and sang “The Joke” with her), I ducked into the museum because on that stage is where Judy Collins was playing with Ari Hest. I was there long enough to hear Collins sing Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and the sun poured in like butterscotch all over my heart.

Then it was time for the grand finale of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival over at the Fort stage. It was called If I Had A Song and songbooks were handed out.

While the rumor mill had been buzzing about Dolly Parton, what happened next was out of nowhere. Hats off to all those involved with guarding this secret. It needed to be guarded. I am SO GLAD I had no idea what was about to happen.

And so it came to be that what kicked off If I Had A Song was Kermit the Frog leading us in a sing-along of “The Rainbow Connection.” For the second verse, Kermit brought out Jim James of My Morning Jacket. I cried real tears. This was upper level special and I stood there ( crouched down to not block peoples’ views) and took it all in, doing my best to take photos while keeping my shit together.

BTW, Kermit the Frog duties have been handled masterfully for the past couple of years by puppeteer and singer Matt Vogel who was assisted by puppeteer  Peter Linz at the Newport appearance.

Kermit the Frog
Kermit the Frog on the Fort Stage 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s another photo of Kermit.

Kermit the Frog
Kermit the Frog on the Fort Stage 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The rest of the If I Had  A Song was entirely glorious. The band was guitarist Chris Funk from Decemberists (he also served as bandleader) , Benmont Tench  from the Heartbreakers on keys, John Stirrat from Wilco on bass, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes on guitar and Sleater-Kinney alumnist Janet Weiss on drums.

So much went down. Including this:

Trey Anastastio sang “God Only Knows” with Rachael Price.

Rachael Price and Preservation Hall Jazz Band covered “We Shall Overcome.”

Our Native Daughters played “If You Miss Me at The Back of the Bus”

Alynda Segerra (from Hooray for the Riff Raff!!!!) sang “IF I Had a Hammer” with Brandi Carlile.

Hozier sang “Everyday People” with Lake Street Dive

Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Jason Isbell and Eric D. Johnson played “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and halfway through it Judy Collins came on stage and finished it with them. I’m not making this up!

Collins stayed on stage and sang “Turn Turn Turn” with Robin Pecknold.

Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) joined Milk Carton Kids for “This Land is Your Land.”

And the evening ended, as it always does, with “Goodnight Irene” this time led by none other than Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who is still bringin’ it at 88 years old.

I drove home that night, back to Maine, with my eyes on the road and my head in the clouds.

I thought about everything I had seen and heard over the previous 72 hours.

I thought about Brandi Carlile and YOLA. I thought about Linda Perry, Amy Ray and I’m With Her. I thought about Our Native Daughters and Lake Street Dive. I thought about The Highwomen.

I thought about, as you can imagine, a lot of things.

But what I thought about the most was Kermit sang “Rainbow Connection” and that moment when Dolly Parton walked out onto that stage.

The world needs more moments like these. May we all continue to find them.

Thank you, Newport Folk Festival.

THANK YOU.

Ponti out.

 

The 43 Best Songs of 2018

Hi.

I’ll start by saying that as soon as I hit the almighty “publish” button on this thing I’m going to start twitching and a wall of angst will close in around me as I’ll suddenly remember all of the incredible songs I left off of this list.

As someone who wears a few hats as a music journalist, radio host and music blogger I am inundated with new music in a way that I can’t even begin to keep up with.  This causes me equal parts joy and stress. But here’s the good news: I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing this year’s crop of songs because this list comes from an honest place and one of sheer joy.

Some of these songs are from artists  I am a hardcore fan of, others are ones I’m just getting to know. But they’re all songs that I have mad love and respect for and ones that have moved me to tears, made me dance, raise my fist in the air and most of all, experience the range of emotions that can only be elicited from music.

I started working on this list in January and every time a strong struck me in just the right way, I added to it. A few came in just under the proverbial wire (I’m looking at you, SHEL and Dido) and in some cases, there are two songs from the same artist because I couldn’t help myself.

I’m now going to sit and write out this list and if I have something specific to say about a song on it, I’ll say it. In some cases I may share a photo and/or video. These songs are not are in any particular order. I love all of these songs for different reasons and with different parts of my heart, mind and soul.

So we’re good on the disclaimers front right?

OK then. With a mixture of nerves, excitement and above all love I offer up my list of the 43 best songs of 2018!


1. “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” by Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power. I had a lot to say about this song and video. Amanda Palmer is many things to me including hero, spirit animal, source of huge inspiration, incredible songwriter and all around spectacular human. Take your time with this song and this video. (btw, video is NSFW).

2. “Heroin” by Lucy Wainwright Roche. Holy shit.I could easily put the entire “Little Beast” album on this list. Tremendous record. Do yourself a favor and check out”Little Beast” and LWR’s previous stuff too.

3. “Party of One” by Brandi Carlile. First off, I’m THRILLED beyond words that Carlile got SIX Grammy Nominations! “By The Way, I Forgive You” is among my absolute favorite records of the year. And yeah, ‘The Joke’ is epic. But it’s the song “Party of One”  that REALLY kills me on the album.  It straight up makes me cry. I saw Carlile many times in 2018 and the song brought me to tears in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Colorado.  BTW, I interviewed Carlile a few months ago. Read it here. Also, I reviewed “By The Way, I Forgive You.” And while I’m at it, here’s my review of her show at Red Rocks in August. She’s also a huge part of my review of the 2018 Newport Folk Festival.  I guess you could say I’m a big fan. How big? This kid is going on the Girls Just Wanna Weekend Mexico trip in January. (and yep, I’ll be writing about it here).

Also, HOLY SHIT. A video for the song starring Elisabeth Moss was dropped on Dec. 11. I can’t even…

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

4. “Dreamers” by Judy Collins. I saw Collins sing this live in Portland (Maine) a few months back and I sat there in stunned silence, tears rolling down my face such is its impact. One of the most important songs of 2018 hands down. “Dreamers” is written from the perspective of an immigrant woman and it’s a poignant, emotional song of stark desperation with some “fuck you, Trump” in there as well (in not so many words).  It’s just the famous, timeless vocals of Collins, no instruments. Ready yourself and click here.

5. “Halls of Sarah” by Neko Case. Case’s “Hell-On” is another one on my very short list of favorite albums of 2018. This woman can do no wrong in my book. That voice! That songwriting! “Halls of Sarah” is a goddamn spectacular song off of a goddamn spectacular record. P.S. Follow Case on Twitter. She takes no shit and it’s glorious.

6. “Good As Gold” by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. From the “Years” album. I’ve got a mad crush of Shook and am still in discovery mode with her whiskey drinkin’ outlaw country sound. I’m pissed I haven’t seen she and her band live yet but I have feeling that will change in 2019. So yeah, “Good As Gold.” Love at first listen. Catchy AF.

7. “Famous” by Serena Ryder (featuring Simon Ward of The Strumbellas). As far as singing along with a huge, gorgeous melody goes, it doesn’t get much better than this one. I’ve been addicted to this song since I first heard it months ago on WCLZ. “Famous” makes me happy.

8. “Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”  by Sheryl Crow (featuring Annie Clark). I mean it’s Sheryl Crow with St. Vincent for god’s sake.  I ain’t got nuthin’ else to say about this mighty fine song. Just listen.

9. “Such A Simple Thing” by Ray LaMontagne. Lest you think there wasn’t gonna be any fellas on this list. I know a beautiful song when I hear one. This song is a million percent lovely.

10. “I Can Change” by Lake Street Dive. My oh my what a song.  I adore this band. Had a chance to chat with singer Rachael Price last summer. Not only is the song a tender ballad that will hit you in the feels, the video is pretty special too.

11. “City Looks Pretty” by Courtney Barnett. From her scorching album “Tell Me How You Really Feel.” Interviewed Barnett this summer and saw her explosive yet all smiles set at Newport Folk Festival.  She’s the absolute bomb and “City Looks Pretty” is but one example.

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

12. “Diamonds” by JanaeSound. JanaeSound’s real name is Janay Woodruff and she lives right here in Maine. This is my favorite local song of the year and I’ve all but worn it out on my Music from 207 local radio show on WCLZ.  I also wrote about her. We’re lucky to have her in Maine. “Diamonds” is sacred to me and it’s got heart and inspiration to spare.

13. “Fruity” by Rubblebucket. I love this song because it’s fun, vibrant and full of surprises. Saw the band open for Lake Street Dive last summer and they were fabulous. Dig “Fruity!”

14. “Strangers” by Katie Herzig. The song is from the sensational album “Moment of Bliss” and Katie Herzig is a wildly talented and innovative artist. Here’s our chat from April and here’s “Strangers.”

15. “The Things We Do to Each Other” by Cowboy Junkies. Somehow I managed to forget how much I LOVE this band. But I fell back in love big-time upon hearing their “All That Reckoning” album and seeing them live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH last summer.  Just so happens I recorded their jaw-dropping take on Bowie’s “Five Years”. I digress. Check out the entire “All That Reckoning” album when you can. In the meantime, here’s “The Things We Do To Each Other.”

16. “Parking Lot Pirouette” by Amanda Shires. Her exquisite album is called “To The Sunset.” Just listen to this moody tune. Jesus.

17. “Never Surrender” by Rose Cousins. You’re damn right I mean a cover of the 80s Corey Hart song. Rose Cousins has taken the already powerful song (there, I said it) and turned it into something truly remarkable. Among the best damn covers I’ve ever heard of any song.  So if you’re lost and on your own…listen to this!

18. “All This Time” by Katie Herzig. Yep, she made the list again. This is my favorite “Moment of Bliss” track. Why? Hear for yourself.

19. “Me & My Dog” by Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus as boygenuis. The three of them released an EP together under the name boygenius and it’s insanely good. They’re all SO GOOD on their own. Together it’s almost more than I can stand as evidenced by “Me & My Dog.”

20. “Broken Headlights” by Roscoe & Etta. Roscoe & Etta is the dynamic duo of singer-songwriters Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze. They made an album together and I love it start to finish. Saw them this summer in Portland, Maine and they were all that. “Broken Headlights” is the album’s first single.

roscoe and etta
Anna Schulze and Maia Sharp of Roscoe & Etta.
Photo by Patrik Giardino

21. “Fireworks” by First Aid Kit. From their “Ruins” album. In a word: SWOON! Also, here’s my interview with Klara Söderberg and my review of their February show in Boston. And most importantly, here’s the dreamy “Fireworks.”

22. “Spark, Set Fire” by The Western Den. They’re the Boston duo of Deni Hlavinka and Chris West and they’re  a very recent discovery for me. If “Spark, Set Fire” is any indication, I have a very good feeling we’re gonna get along just fine.

23. “Don’t Let Go” by Tiny Deaths. The album is called “Magic” and it most certainly is. I listened to it several times through during a road trip a few months ago and love it. Tiny Deaths is the dream-pop duo of vocalist Claire De Lune and producer Grant Cutler. Fun fact, the song “Oceans” was one of my favorite songs of 2016. I’m still obsessed with it.  But let’s focus on the “Magic” album and this effin’ great song “Don’t Let Go.”

24. “The River” by KT Tunstall. Scottish singer-songwriter K.T. Tunstall released her sixth studio album called “Wax” in October. I’m savoring each track, including “The River.”

25. “423” by Roscoe & Etta. I simply HAD to include another one from the Roscoe & Etta album. Love the imagery and Sharp and Schulze’s vocals together.  And the refrain is spectacular, but in your head say another word for spectacular because I use it too much. Behold: “423.”

26. “Venice Bitch” by Lana Del Rey. Truth be told, I only know a handful of Lana Del Rey songs and I love them all. As for this one, you GOTTA love the “fresh out of fucks forever” line.  Also, I LOVE that this song clocks in at just under ten minutes. Dig it.

27. “The Wanderer” by Emilie Mover. Mover, out of Toronto, is another artist on this list that I didn’t know about until about five minutes ago. But I do know that this single, a cover of the early 60’s Dion song “The Wanderer” is swoon-worthy.  I’m confident you’ll agree.

28. “Django” by Janelle Monáe featuring Zoe Kravitz. First of all, and you don’t need me to tell you this, the entire “Dirty Computer” album is an absolute banger. Second of all, the song  gives a shout out to Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.” So you’re damn right that “Django Jane” is on this list.

29. “Fine With the Dark” by Amy Ray. Ray’s latest solo album is called “Holler” and it’s extraordinary. Any number of songs could have made this list but at the moment I’m all about “Fine With the Dark.”

30. “Fugitive” by Indigo Girls. The song first appeared on their 1994 studio album “Swamp Ophelia” and is in my top five list of favorite songs by the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. So why is the song on this list? Because a double live album was released earlier this year of Indigo Girls live with The University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Here’s my review. Anyway…when I heard the symphony version of “Fugitive” I wept and cheered and pretty much lost my mind.  Just when I thought I couldn’t love a song anymore, Indigo Girls hit me (and the world) with THIS.

31. “Wild One” by I’m With Her. I’m With Her is the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. After a few songs here and there over the past couple of years the debut full-length album “See You Around” was released in February. I chose “Wild One” for this list because it makes me entirely sad and happy and their voices together destroy me.

32. “The Night That Bowie Died” by KT Tunstall. Another track from “Wax.”  I’m still not over losing Bowie and when I saw his name in this song title I steeled myself and put my headphones on. The reward was huge.

33. “Are We Good?” by Eleanor Friedberger. From her 2018 album “Rebound.” I can’t remember when I first heard this song as I scan the past 12 months but listening to it again as I write this I remember why I stuck it on this list. Maybe I got a press release about it? Delivery mechanism doesn’t matter, the song is excellent. Lend an ear.

34. “Neon Prayer Flags” by The Wind and The Wave. From their latest album “Human Beings Let You Down.” All I know is that I can’t get enough of Patty Lynn’s voice. She and musical partner Dwight Baker have a fantastic thing going with this band. Plus, the song talks about therapy so of course I love it.

35. “Some Kind of Window” by Rachael Yamagata. Rachael’s one of my favorite singers on the planet and she surprised us all with the release of a seemingly-out-of-nowhere EP called “Porch Songs” a couple of months ago. There are five songs on it and they all put me into emotional orbit. I chose “Some Kind of Window” because the lines “I don’t know where my will has gone, I never felt so shut down before” are effin’ fantastic and Yamagata sings them in a profound, soul-searing way. Just listen!

36. “Black Monday” by Neneh Cherry. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really kept up with Cherry’s career. I’m lame. Up until this point I pretty much only knew her now 30-year-old hit “Buffalo Stance.” But then one fine I got wind of her latest album “Broken Politics” and I guess I got wind at the exact moment that I actually had time to listen to it. Wow. It’s going to knock your socks entirely off. Her vocals are to die-for. I’m still getting to know the album but “Black Monday” sure as shit made my list.

37. “Follow Me Home” by SHEL. It was love at first listen with the four mesmerizing Holbrook sisters back in 2016. Since then I’ve seen them in a Tennessee cave, at a festival in North Carolina and a festival in Colorado. Their latest project is scoring the new Catherine Zeta-Jones Facebook Watch series “Queen America.” Out of that came the song “Follow Me Home,” released a little over a week ago. I have a heart attack every time a press release arrives with SHEL in the subject line and this was no exception. Listen to the song and fall under the SHEL spell.

38.”Extralife” by Darlingside. Pleased as punch to report that I FINALLY saw them live a week ago and they were dreamy and I was transfixed. I’ve adored Darlingside for a couple of years and the adoration grew all the more with the release of their album “Extralife.” The title track made my list because when I listen to it I leave my body and float up to 60s folk heaven. Here it is.

39.”Hurricanes” by Dido. Cause …want to thank her… for releasing her first album since 2013. Well technically it’s not out quite yet. “Still on My Mind” is set for a March 2019 release BUT the first single “Hurricanes” was shared with the world on the 12th of November and it’s lovely and lush and well heck, just listen.

40. “Right Down the Line” by Lucius. Yes indeed I mean a cover of the 1978 Gerry Rafferty hit. It’s one of ten tracks on the “Nudes” album, released in March. The indie-pop quartet of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, guitarist Casey Foubert and drummer John Dion can do no wrong in my book. I got hip to them in 2013 and everything they’ve done since then has been fantastic. I was lucky enough to see them last year with Roger Waters. Holy shit. Anyway, “Nudes” is an acoustic album of new stuff, old stuff and some covers including their marvelous take on “Right Down the Line.”

lucius with lukas
Holly and Jess from Lucius on stage with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

41. “Blue Again” by Weakened Friends. I do sometimes like to rock out. Weakened Friends is the Portland, Maine trio of singer-guitarist Sonia Sturino, bass player Annie Hoffman and drummer Cam Jones.  They just won a Boston Music Award for Alt/Indie artist of the year. YEAH! “Blue Again” is from their tremendous debut full-length album “Common Blah.”

42. “Social Life” by Armies. Because it’s commentary on social media is blistering and spot-on. Also, I’m all about the vocals of Dave Gutter and Anna Lombard. “Social Life” is from the band’s second album “Armies II.” They’re a Maine act but do all sorts of cool stuff all over the place. There’s a video coming at some point for the song that was filmed at the album release show a few months ago (I was there). For now, take a listen to “Social Life.”

43. “Only Lonely” by The Ballroom Thieves. The Ballroom Thieves is the trio of Martin Earley, Devin Mauch and Calin Peters.  OMG I love this band. I even bought a necklace Martin made at a show a couple of years ago. I also love the fact that they now call Maine home. “Only Lonely” will have you at the first chill howl. It’s from their “Paper Crown” EP. Enjoy.


And there you have it.

Ponti out

p.s. Because I love you here’s a Spotify Playlist of all the songs!
https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/4AHxy9Dg1VNs9T8dg20PVI


Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

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