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Favorites of 2018: Music

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The Mavericks at the Garde Arts Center, Nov. 30

The first half of the concert was a rollicking Christmas show, and the second half was the most fun dance party of the year. Absolute joy.

— Kristina Dorsey

Robert Earl Keen at the Knickerbocker Music Center, June 24

At some point in the near future, Bob Dylan will once again hit Foxwoods or the Mohegan Sun like a feeble ghost who can't remember where his tomb is. At that moment — once again — I'll wonder why Robert Earl Keen isn't every bit as revered and successful as Big Bob. Keen's show at the Knick was an intimate example of his artistic greatness: a wonderful band; genuine charisma and personality; and a seemingly endless batch of beautifully structured tunes with vivid stories and indelible characters — all expressed with a Nobel's worth of literary grace and wit.

— Rick Koster

Lindsey Buckingham at the Garde Arts Center, Nov. 29

By NOT trying to prove how important he was to Fleetwood Mac — the simultaneously touring, stadium-filling act that became giant largely through his songs, and from which he was recently fired for no clearly stated reason — singer/songwriter/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, leading a sharp four-piece band at the Garde, in fact did just that. A lot of folks have suggested it took two men — Neil Finn and Mike Campbell — to replace Buckingham in the Mac. Based on Buckingham's incredible performance and song catalog, there hasn't been a Fleetwood Mac lineup, going all the way back to the Peter Green days, that can claim to be his equal.

— Rick Koster

— Rick Koster

Connecticut Early Music Festival all-Mozart concert at Connecticut College, June 24

The warm and controlled vibrato of soprano Teresa Wakim brought the Connecticut Early Music crowd to its feet during the final all-Mozart concert of the annual series. Wakim, a Noank resident who in 2010 won first prize at the International Soloist Competition for Early Music in Brunnenthal, Austria, was simply dazzling as she dashed off nearly impossible colatura runs during the performance of Mozart's Exsultate jubilate, K. 165, with the Connecticut Early Music Ensemble.

Swirls of color cascaded in a waterfall of notes during the andante section that gave way to a spine-tingling conclusion in the thrilling allelujah finale. The concert also featured the immense talents of Early Music artistic director Ian Watson and his ensemble of nearly two dozen tossing off a playful rendition of Mozart's short overture from Bastien et Bastienne, K. 50, alongs with the a dancing Fortepiano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, and "Jupiter" symphony, No. 41, featuring the ecstatic melody of the opening allegro vivace section with perfectly calibrated dynamics.

— Lee Howard

Musical Masterworks "Wintereisse" song cycle, First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Dec. 1

It's not often that the voice of one person can transport a crowd so completely to another time and place with such pathos. But that's what baritone Randall Scarlatta, accompanied by Jeewon Park on piano, managed during a Musical Masterworks performance of Schubert's "Winterreise." The song cycle, written during the second to last year of the composer's life, is a tragic story taken from the dark poetry of Ludwig Wilhelm Muller. It follows the journey of a young man who leaves town after breaking up with his sweetheart, only to face the loneliness of a wallowing despair.

Scarlatta's operatic baritone could rumble like a tank at its lowest range and float fragilely in the occasional falsetto moments of heartbreak. It was a one-man opera covering two dozen songs that brought a rare talent to a local performance space.

— Lee Howard

Slayer at Mohegan Sun Arena, June 1

Thrash isn't remotely a style of music I listen to with any regularity, but to watch the best the genre has ever offered — sorry, Metallica, you blew it with the ballads — is a privilege, particularly as they bid farewell on what is reportedly their last tour. In the Arena, Slayer seemed to sense the finish line and roared like flame-battered demons for two hours and 20 career-spanning songs — and three generations of fans cavorted gleefully, as though acned rebellion, societal rage and some good ol' hell-worship weren't just precious, soon-to-fade commodities of Youth. 

— Rick Koster

U2 at the Mohegan Sun Arena, July 3

Somewhere in the Sun Arena, appropriately on 4th of July Eve, U2 played a concert — and a damned good one. It was hard to concentrate on the literal musical performance, though, inasmuch as The Big Rule for arena and stadium headliners these days is Effects Overkill. Like every 4th of July fireworks show ever, all happening in one night. In my review, I wrote that the U2 production was like a virtual reality tour of George R.R. Martin's brain. Lights, lasers, LED screens, three-dimensional holograms, explosions, virtual reality ... Oh, yeah: And if you looked and listened hard enough, you could pinpoint Bono and Larry, The Edge and Adam behind the curtain, so to speak, making it all happen. I'd have loved to see the four of them on a plain stage, playing their iconic songs. But what fun is that?

— Rick Koster

Kendrick Lamar at Xfinity Theater, Hartford, June 7

It was fun for ol' Pops, here, to watch the artist who might very well be the Voice of his Generation as he delivered The Word to thousands of followers who shouted along with every prescient and clever lyric on a fine summer night. Though accompanied by a live band hidden to both sides of the stage, the sound mix was so poor that it was left to Lamar — all alone on a two-tiered stage — to carry an 80-minute show. He's a damned mesmeric presence with great songs, and maybe it's just the we-saw-it-and-took-cell-phone-footage mentality of fans today that explained why so many of them left barely an hour into the show. Weird.

Lorde at Mohegan Sun Arena, April 7

Critics made much on the fact that Lorde's sophomore album, "Melodrama," didn't sell as much as her first, "Pure Heroine." Based on the wildly enthusiastic response of the crowd, which consisted mostly of teens and young women, in the Sun audience, it's pretty clear Lorde is still a huge draw. As she should be: this was an engaging, uplifting concert, and Lorde is a born performer.

— Kristina Dorsey


Favorite CDs of 2018

"Girl Going Nowhere" by Ashley McBryde

It's hard to understand why McBryde isn't Miranda Lambert famous. The title cut is a classic "look at me now" tune; check out her emotional performance at the Grand Ole Opry on My favorite cut is "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega." For now she'll have to settle for "breakout artist," but don't be shocked if she follows the same ascension as Chris Stapleton.

— Tim Cotter

"A Star is Born Soundtrack"

Cried my way through the movie and then cried for weeks as I couldn't stop listening.

— Tim Cotter

"Divide" by Ed Sheeran

The song? The video? The duet with Andrea Bocelli? Perfect.

— Tim Cotter

"War is Over" by the Von Hertzen Brothers

Yes, the majestic 12-minute title track is probably about 11-and-a-half minutes too long for today's attention spans. That's OK with me, though. I still love a "whole album" listening adventure, and these harmony-happy, beautifully nuanced Norwegian players impart incredible joy and creativity into their work. Other highlights on this nearly flawless record include "Long Lost Sailor," "The Arsonist," "Wanderlust" and "Beyond the Storm."

— Rick Koster

"A Grave Mistake — The Lore Variations" by Chad Lawson

The versatile and lushly melodic pianist/composer Chad Lawson signed on to provide atmospheric background context for "Lore," a popular podcast devoted to spooky stories. As it turned out, the songs were so strong in an independent context that Lawson released the work as a solo album. This is evocative, autumnal music perfect for twirling red and orange leaves, woodfires and pumpkins, and digging up a body on Halloween night with friends and family.

— Rick Koster

"Prequelle" by Ghost

Ghost's formerly anonymous "dead pope" frontman has been revealed as Tobias Forge, who's settled into more of a pestilential Clark Gable persona. His for-hire band-demons and the music they make have likewise evolved. On "Prequelle," their fang-in-cheek/melodic Satan Metal is more polished and multi-dimensional than ever, with genetic touchstones that include Kayak's gorgeous prog instrumentals, Marilyn-Manson-drinks-absinthe-with-Andrew-Lloyd-Webber show-tunery, "Secret Treaties"-era Blue Oyster Cultisms, and pure Scorpions balladry. I love this record.

— Rick Koster

"The Darkest Hour" Soundtrack by Dario Marianelli and Víkingur Ólafsson

It's almost easy to believe Churchill was stumped — his normal and instinctual eloquence shriveling under the crushing pressure of saving a nation — while trying to write what became known as the "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Then he heard this stirring, moving and emotional recording, and suddenly the words poured forth and Mother England was saved! As it turns out, it's sort of the other way around; Marianelli and Ólafsson were hired to write music for this fine film about Churchill's earliest days as Prime Minister. Hell, the first time I heard the recording, I wrote "The Tempest," unaware it had already been written. Still ...

— Rick Koster

"This One's for You" by Luke Combs

While Luke Combs looks more like the guy who pumps your gas than, say Alan Jackson, there's no doubting his greatness when he pulls up a stool with a guitar and sings "Houston We Got a Problem." In his hilarious "When It Rains It Pours," he coins the brilliant phrase "my ex-future mother-in-law." Lots of fun.

— Tim Cotter

"The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson" featuring various artists

KK's songs are often brilliant but usually best performed by others. (As he proved last year at the Garde.) Highlights in this compilation include Martina McBride on "Here Comes That Rainbow Again" and Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson on "For the Good Times." All in all, it's great to hear these classics again, even if Reba ruins "Me and Bobby McGee."

— Tim Cotter


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