St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia: Jesus ain’t the problem, but he started one.

Artist: St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Album: Young Sick Camellia
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: A wonderfully diverse collection of songs that pay tribute to classic Southern soul and R&B influences while also leaving room for stylistic experimentation. Paul Janeway is a powerhouse vocalist, and the horn section and the rest of the band are incredibly tight. Really, the only thing keeping this record from unmitigated greatness is that it’s a bit short on content, having only 9 true songs (which is somewhat cleverly disguised by a series of short interludes and a bonus track).

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Lo Moon: Here’s a new genre for you… Sophisti-gaze.

Artist: Lo Moon
Album: Lo Moon
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: While Lo Moon’s synthesis of 80s pop and shoegaze aesthetics and their attention to background detail are commendable, there’s not enough interesting stuff in the foreground (hooks, riffs, variance in tempo and intensity, etc.) to make the album listening experience a particularly eventful one.

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Kevin Max – AWOL: All the people from the past just want it to last.

Artist: Kevin Max
Album: AWOL
Year: 2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: KMax once again proves himself to be more of a musical chameleon than a profound poet or a true innovator… but he obviously had a lot of fun taking a trip down memory lane on this heavily 80s-influenced album, and that makes the music quite infectious, even if it might not be terribly original.

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Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us: Half Delayed

Artist: Umphrey’s McGee
Album: It’s Not Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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Florence + The Machine – High as Hope: THIS IS NOT AN ENDING.

Artist: Florence + The Machine
Album: High as Hope
Year: 2018
Grade: C+

In Brief: The stripped down approach and more starkly personal lyrics are a strong move… in theory. But this just plain doesn’t work for a powerhouse vocalist and an eccentrically creative songwriter of Florence’s caliber. The production mushes everything together whenever the music tries to pick up a little steam. The songs have an irritating habit of cutting off before they really feel like they should end. And whatever’s left of “The Machine” feels like it’s too timid to assert itself the way it used to.

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I’m With Her – See You Around: Hey, it’s a better band name than “Make Americana Great Again”.

Artist: I’m With Her
Album: See You Around
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: A smart but subdued folk/bluegrass record from an all-female trio that at times appears to be holding back the full power of their vocal harmonies and songwriting skills. This took a while for me to fully get into, but I can now say that I’m with I’m With Her.

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The Innocence Mission – Sun on the Square: Some lost things I will hope to find

Artist: The Innocence Mission
Album: Sun on the Square
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Though it took a few listens to get over the initial “every song sounds the same” impression I had of this album, there’s more diversity in the color, tone, and instrumental textures to be found on the group’s tenth album than I can remember there being on those old Innocence Mission albums I listened to well over a decade ago. Now that the modest little vignettes in a number of these hopeful, innocent little folk songs have begun to sink into my subconscious, they seem to offer sublime glimpses of eternity despite their almost ephemeral nature.

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