Cover of "Who's Afraid of Indy Grotto?" Jason Masters/Angela Alexander


In case you missed it: Arkansas musicians were cranking out inspired compositions like mad in 2018: concept albums, recordings that unearthed the legacies of unsung legends, songs that ended up on Barack Obama’s
personal end-of-year playlist. Here are a few of the melodies that charmed us most from the year in music.

Ghost Bones – “Lipshifter”

Dark, creepy music you can dance to has been sonic nectar for me since the first time I heard Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them For Me,” and it still is. I love Ghost Bones for the band’s enchanting frontwoman, Ashley Hill, and for their well-oiled beats as much as for their graveyard groove aesthetic, perfectly conveyed in Devin Castle’s videos for “Sticky Willow” and “Lipshifter.”


Ashley McBryde – “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

The Mammoth Spring (Fulton County) native who Eric Church deemed a “whiskey drinkin’ badass” ended up with a track on Barack Obama’s 2018 end-of-year picks and, OK, even though this performance is from 2017, I couldn’t love this moment more, in which Ashley McBryde delivers the title track for 2018’s “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry” as a sort of out-of-body experience. It’s just this trembling-but-firm stand against fear itself, and it’s thrilling to see McBryde’s music move people this way.
 
Indy Grotto – “Eileen”

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This track takes me back (in a good way) to the mid-2000s, when the infectious pop jams on The Boondogs“Fever Dreams” hit my ears, and I’ve loved hearing Little Rock pop queen Indy Grotto’s voice treading new melodic territory.

Deadbird – “The Singularity”

I’m a sucker for intro segments and preludes, and I appreciate the way this lilting duet at the very beginning of Deadbird’s “III: The Forest Within the Tree” sets up the listener for the plodding heaviness to come. The more I listen to this much-anticipated record, the more I appreciate its pacing: the way a midnight-in-the-scrapyard vignette like “11:34” and an ethereal backmasking “Ending” lend pause and measure to core behemoths like “Luciferous Heart” and “Brought Low.” I’ll never, though, be able to fawn over it more aptly than did a Bandcamp commenter, who responded to a Deadbird comeback release with the words, “i’ve loved this band for so long/this new release is like finding your dead pet alive and well/i’m just tickled.”


Bonnie Montgomery – “Forever (Intro)”

Speaking of preludes, how warmly and inquisitively the overture for Bonnie Montgomery’s 2018 release “Forever” introduces the concept album’s thrust and spirit! There are so many swirling, lovely, layered pieces on this record, but this first free-metered introduction to the melodic and thematic material therein (“life on the road, loss and the mysticism of West Texas,” inspired by Willie Nelson’s 1974 album “Phases and Stages,” Montgomery said) might well be my favorite.


The Rios – “Get Along”

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I think the reason The Rios’ songs are so easy on the ears is that they seem so committed to making soul music, rather than imitating a style that’s inextricably, temporally wed to the 1970s. Or maybe it’s because they always seem like they’re holding back gratuitous virtuosity for the sake of the groove? Whatever it is, thanks for all the sweet 2018 jams, Rios. Your bass player is a beast.

Amasa Hines – “Life in the Wake of Eternal Noir”

It turns out that staccato horn arrangements and heavy thoughts aren’t mutually exclusive, and leave it to Amasa Hines to marry the two seamlessly on “7,” a track I fell in love with after hearing the band’s Audiotree session a few years back and which ended up on Amasa Hines’ gorgeously packaged and conceived 2018 release “Ivory Loving Glass.” For my ear, though, I love the suspended-above-Earth feeling of “Life in the Wake of Eternal Noir,” and the way it careens into its euphoric second half.


“Put On Your Shoes” – Melissa Carper and Rebecca Patek

Never mind its mentions of cold weather. This track is sunshine and lemonade and all the sweetness of summer distilled, from two members of the stellar jug band-inspired Sad Daddy.


Or – “Speaks”

It’s fun to see sound/beat experiments from Arkansas like The Body and Vision Control reach more unsuspecting ears, and I count Or, the trance-inducing project from Jack Lloyd and Everett Hagen, among those avant-garde ranks. I love (and am haunted in the midnight hour by) the menacing 8-bit march of “Speaks,” in which you’ll be provided with a list of terrors you weren’t yet afraid of but probably should be.

Adam Faucett – “King Snake”

The crushing, crashing opener of Adam Faucett’s 2018 release “It Took the Shape of A Bird” is one for the books: a death knell, a meditation on displacement and a rager all in one.

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Steve Davison – “Lord God Bird”

If you prefer your guitar like a babbling brook, fingerstyle guitarist Steve Davison’s “The Best of Friends” is probably already familiar to you. The guitarist plays in a combo called Finger Food and curates the Argenta Acoustic Music Series at The Joint Theater & Coffeehouse, and I dig his “Lord God Bird,” a four-minute interplay between the guitar and a dancing violin.


Colour Design – “Vulnerable Pt. 1”

I’ve grown to love this little crescendoing interlude, “Vulnerable Pt. 1,” the second track on Colour Design’s explosively urgent “They Don’t Exist.” With a string-like approach to the guitar arrangements and an assist from Adam Faucett, the track is a respite that makes the album’s louds even louder.

Er-Gene Kahng/Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra – “Andante” from Florence Price’s Violin Concerto No. 1

In 2018, Little Rock-born composer Florence Price received some posthumous and long overdue recognition. The Arkansan, who’d fled to Chicago to work under more amenable artistic circumstances, experienced a revival of sorts when a “lost” concerto of hers was unearthed and subsequently recorded by University of Arkansas Fayetteville educator and violinist Er-Gene Kahng with the Janacek Philharmonic. Check out the “Andante” from Price’s Violin Concerto No. 1 here, and hear a full performance of Price’s second concerto in this concert with the Arkansas Philharmonic.


Magic Cropdusters – “Snowfall”

Speaking of “lost” albums, fans of songwriter David Jukes and fellow Gunbunny/”Bob’s Burgers” composer Chris Maxwell (myself included; love ya, “BM in the PM”) were elated this summer to hear that a few of this beloved Little Rock band’s tunes had been released on two new EPs from Max Recordings, “Snowfall” and “Woodstock.” I love the changes and the mischief in this ditty, “By A Country Mile.”


607 and Davison – “New Year’s Resolution”

And, because I’d be a fool to leave you with any parting words other than these, here’s my new and forever holiday jam, “New Year’s Resolution.” ‘Tis but one of the many shining moments in “Holiday Blues,” a collaboration between TV-famous vocalist Levelle Davison and perennially brilliant rapper 607. Here’s what we’re not gonna do: