Look at my lists for best albums and concerts of 2018 and you might conclude that women run the world of pop music. Perhaps. Future-funk high priestess Janelle Monáe, Americana ace Brandi Carlile and veteran song stylist Bettye LaVette all had impressive years.
So did rap sensation Cardi B and pop siren Ariana Grande, both of whom dealt with personal ups and downs in song (and were close to making my Top 10 albums). And don’t overlook young Latin pop star Camila Cabello and veteran Lady Gaga, who wowed us with her plain-Jane acting in the movie remake of “A Star Is Born” as well as with its throwback soundtrack.
No one wowed more in concert than David Byrne, whose arty high-concept staging was one of the most innovative music presentations in a theater since, well, his Stop Making Sense Tour with Talking Heads back in 1983. Similarly, Taylor Swift dazzled with a diversified, mammoth, multistage production at U.S. Bank Stadium, while LaVette, Bobby McFerrin and k.d. lang proved that sheer vocal artistry can captivate without any showbizzy staging.
Both of my lists contain longtime personal favorites including Elvis Costello, John Prine, LaVette, Monáe and Carlile, all of whom reached lofty heights once again. But let’s give a shout-out to some newer names, such as Ashley McBryde, a traditional twanger who has a clever way with words, and the Twin Cities’ own Joyann Parker, who was born to bare her soul in a wide variety of styles from rockabilly to torch songs.
Best concerts of 2018
1. David Byrne (May 17, Orpheum Theatre)
2. Bettye LaVette (April 12, the Dakota)
3. Bobby McFerrin (June 16, the Dakota)
4. Taylor Swift (Aug. 31-Sept. 1, U.S. Bank Stadium)
5. Janelle Monáe (July 3, State Theatre)
6. St. Paul & the Broken Bones (July 11, Minnesota Zoo)
7. The Pretenders (July 16, State Theatre)
8. Brandi Carlile (Nov. 30, State Theatre)
9. k.d. lang (March 14, State Theatre)
10. (tie) Pink (March 12, Xcel Energy Center)
Elvis Costello (Nov. 15, Northrop)
Best albums of 2018
1. Janelle Monáe, “Dirty Computer”
2. Bettye LaVette, “Things Have Changed”
3. Elvis Costello, “Look Now”
4. Ashley McBryde, “Girl Going Nowhere”
5. Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You”
6. Courtney Barnett, “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
7. Alejandro Escovedo, “The Crossing”
8. John Prine, “The Tree of Forgiveness”
9. Joyann Parker, “Hard to Love”
10. “A Star Is Born” soundtrack