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1. The Novelists, alt-country/adult contemporary, “With Drawl”
The punny title track from the quartet’s 2018 Nashville-flavored album is this year’s winner. “With Drawl” wasn’t the only strong song on the band’s fourth self-produced album. All seven tracks are potent, and prospective fans are well advised to buy the album and check out such wonderful cuts as the breakup ballad “No Other Way,” the adult-contemporary “No Closer Word Than Goodbye” and other songwriting delights.
2. Jelly Bread,funk/soul, “Who Got Me (Feat. Peezy)”
Jelly Bread is Reno’s fiercest traveling band: capable of pumping up the funky jam and ruling the stage in any room from coast to coast, and — since its founding by gritty singer-guitarist Dave Berry and velvet-voiced drummer Cliff Porter in 2009 — always just a radio hit away from getting booked into bigger venues and festivals. On the high-energy sermon-to-self “Who Got Me,” Porter’s fluid vocals do impressive runs, and the keyboard punches and blares like a horn section.
3. Nick Eng, pop rock “Reminiscing”
A consummate and consistent professional on stage and in the studio, University of Nevada, Reno student Eng continues to craft pop-rock songs with early-1960s aesthetics that demand sweet sentiments and simple rhymes, straightforward top lines and clean guitar lines. “Reminiscing” will stick in your head from the first listen. Eng previously placed 11th in the 2016 roundup and fifth in the 2015 chart.
4. Sierra Bohnet, singer-songwriter, “Pretending”
The disbelief, fear — and, ultimately, frustration with political inaction — generated in the aftermath of the spate of contemporary mass shootings spurred the 18-year-old Bohnet to write and record this haunting, moving song. Judge Andy Schuon lauded the song and Bohnet’s vocal ability. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton praised the song’s “incredible vocal melody.”
5. Werewolf Club, indie rock, “This Space”
This quartet’s mellow, spacious, melodic rock sound — vocals and short, insistent guitar licks appearing and disappearing over a cloud of synthesizer chords anchored by driving but unobtrusive bass and drums — evokes 1980s bands such as Flock of Seagulls. (The tranquilizing “This Space” doesn’t sound three-plus decades removed from FOS’s “Falling in Love.”)
6. Jaycreux, rap, “Run Dry”
Jaycreux (pronounced Jay-crew) rapped this slice-of-life flow set to a Latin beat — reporting on modern normality of abusing drink. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton had this praise: “This is a hit! Going to keep my eye on this artist.”
7. The Grimtones, alternative rock, “Temper”
The guitar sneers and snarls like singer-guitarist Michelle Belle’s menacing vocals (“my heart is pumping gasoline”) — which signal she is just seconds away from a finger-clawing rage. Judge Andy Schuon weighed in: “‘Temper’ brought me back to the days when rock ruled the airwaves of FM radio … As a father of two young daughters, I also always love seeing a woman fronting a rock band. There aren’t enough of them!”
8. Rigorous Proof, alternative rock, “Postmodern Apocalypse”
The song — the title track of a forthcoming album from this longtime local favorite prog-rock band — is a suite clocking in a tad longer than 6 minutes, and is equally ambitious in its summation of millennial zeitgeist. Bright piano chords and background la-la-la’s give a happy sheen in contrast to lead singer Johnny Harpo’s bittersweet reminiscing about being a Nineties kid whose innocence is permanently lost by the jading “postmodern decay” and the ever-present threat of world destruction.
9. Silver, alternative rock, “Be Somebody”
Silver — singer-songwriter-guitarist Greg Gilmore’s newest band project — released its debut EP this year, snarkily titled, “Rock ’n’ Roll Is Dead.” Four of the five tracks — including “Be Somebody” — are spirited, well-crafted rockers rooted in several of the great rock eras all at once. There are 1960s organ grooves, British Invasion vocal harmonies and classic-rock guitar licks — all topped by Gilmore’s alternately gruff and piercing hybrid style of Tom Petty-meets-Jack White singing. As usual, he packs a ton of emotion into short phrases on “Be Somebody” — a castigation of a maddeningly frustrating lover which is arranged with plenty of cavernous reverb, an ominously wailing organ and a killer guitar solo rising from the depths of blues-rocky psychedelia.
10. Hayden Casey, indie rock/dream pop, “I Never Learn”
The song is a slow, slow burn — driven by a simple rumination on being in the helpless, painful, I’ll-do-anything-for-you throes of infatuation. With Casey’s soulful, understated talk singing confessing sentiments about how the object of his adoration has “Shaken the Earth/In this little life of mine/You’ve torn up the ground/I’m holding on for my life,” against riffing distorted guitar chords, the song’s dynamics gradually rise with his anguish until he finally howls with the helpless hurt. With the soul of a poet, Casey exhibits a masterful power of lyricism.
11. Eric H. Andersen, adult contemporary, “Stars on the Ocean (Naomi’s Song)”
Andersen — of the Novelists (this year’s winning act in the roundup) — was the primary songwriter (and lead singer/background vocalist and pianist) on this track that originated with his friend Chris Morgan, who wanted to pen a song for his wife. With Andersen’s gift for lyrics and melody, and his radio-friendly tenor, the pleasing result is no surprise.
12. Jeff Jones, singer-songwriter/folk, “The Princess, the Warrior and the Mage (For Juliet)”
Jones wrote this paternally warm and tender song for his young daughter, anticipating their relationship as the daughter passes through different phases as she grows into an adult. Judge Andy Schuon opined: “I liked the sentiment of the song. It was well written and composed.”
13. Matt Bushman, acoustic pop/indie folk, “Playing with Fire”
A self-cautionary monologue about resisting the seductive call of nihilism, “Playing with Fire” is similar in melodic vibe and vocal delivery to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Bushman — who quit a 9-5 banking job to pursue music 24-7 — and is gung-ho, to judge by his epic, cliff-jumping, fire-spinning video — is slowly crafting his own insistent, word-packed style.
14. K-Rizz, R&B/soul, “My Type”
No matter how many times Kris (K-Rizz) Rodriguez raspingly croons the title tag line in the song — smoothly stretching it to three syllables — it feels real and real good, and reinforces the infatuation he harbors for his love interest. The beat is chill, the rapping sections slow and smooth, the entire production of synthesizer, guitar and drums nuanced and clean. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton said of the track: “Def feelin’ this,” and “loved the lyrics.”
15. Boti, dance pop, “Sunshine on My Mind (Feat. Kalyn Payton)”
A piece of pop perfection featuring a bright and youthful, urban and pretty female lead soprano voice (think Ariana Grande) and pristine production by Boti (pronounced “bow-tie”; the songwriter/producer’s real name is Christopher Tapia) — “Sunshine on My Mind” can easily be envisaged as getting spins on Top 40 playlists coast to coast were such airplay reliant solely on quality. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton (curator of two syndicated radio-countdown shows) declared: “This is a hit!”
RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018: The almost winners and honorable mentions
16. Jonny Rolling, pop, “Sugar Human”
The song is Rolling’s third placement on the RGJ roundup list over the years. A deft lyricist who writes songs like a poet never struggling with a rhyme but tortured by a crisis of faith in matters of the heart, Rolling plaintively sings in this new song — set to a chill, brooding beat — to his “sugar human” to understand he’s an imperfect lover.
17. Kayla Rae, pop, “Midnight (Feat. ZP Ratik)”
Rae carries the song with an amazingly powerful, throaty pop voice for a 20-year-old — a vox difficult to match by any male rapper charged with handling the hip-hop breakdown. The song smartly gets to the chorus quickly and repeats it for today’s pop-radio short-attention-span listeners, but the verses — showcasing Rae’s gritty, soaring belts —are more shiver-inspiring than the hooky choruses.
18. Jamil Apostol, singer-songwriter/folk, “Open Ticket Ride”
Good vibes ripple from this jouncy, guitar-strumming, banjo-picking, folksy ditty (punctuated with happy trumpet accents) like a sunshiny day spent in the company of fellow footloose souls (and Deadheads, if any are left).
19. Cowboy Indian, indie folk/alt-country, “Love Song”
The quartet consisting of longtime local stalwart Lucas Paul on guitars and vocals, Saddle Tramps alumnus John Von Nolde on bass and vocals, Jorge Pulido on lead guitar and Jimi Revolver on drums and vocals — has created a warbly song with a hooky chorus sounding like a cross between the Eagles and the Marshall Tucker Band. Or, as the band explains, the sound “will make you feel like you’re listening to something old yet new!”
20. Prince Robot, psych punk/ art punk, “Rambo Country”
The trio explains, “We formed as an art project in October 2016 to explore how much noise we could make with as little as possible.” They packed enough punky speed, spit and spirit into the Ramones-esque “Rambo Country” to earn this effusive reaction from judge Brad Nelson: “Prince Robot is the future.”
21. The Electric, heartland rock/blues punk. “I Still Lie to My Friends”
An extremely twisted production, this is chromosome-shattering, three-chord rock ’n’ roll: off-kilter vocals and offbeat lyrics about a trivial matter of ghosting an ex-girlfriend. But it’s so thrashingly emotive, from the cowbell (yes!) in the intro onward that — love it or hate it — you’re likely to keep clicking on it. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton sees The Electric’s sound as well suited for the stage: “This is def a LIVE band.”
22. Hannah Etchison, folk/singer-songwriter, “The Flowers”
Accompanying herself with only a strummed baritone ukulele augmented by background vocal echoes and whispered lines, the smoky-voiced Etchison sings hauntingly and reflectively about “the constant balance of parenthood and the person you once were.” Her feelings of being like a “melted flower” resonate even to those who aren’t first-time mothers.
23. Andi Kilgore, country, “Hey Reno”
Kilgore’s sweet-tempered country ballad is sung confessionally to a courter she nicknamed “Reno” and conveys a complex mix of hope, longing and vulnerability — the ingredients of any just-starting relationship. Kilgore’s bio says she hails from “the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in Southern Virginia,” which fits, because her honey-sweet and crystal-pure voice warbles as gently as a flowing creek and soars as effortlessly as a whistling wind in its upper register, reminiscent of Emmylou Harris.
24. Huckleberry Road, country-rock, “Huckleberry Road”
Formidable enough for a whiskey-drenched roadhouse or a rock club, with its driving classic-rock guitar riffs and fast-picking banjo lines, “Huckleberry Road” should please both country and rock fans who relate to the rebel spirit and appreciate well-crafted songs that hit like a boilermaker shot of Jack Daniels and cut directly to the beer chaser.
25. The John Dawson Band, country-rock, “Day Drinkin”
Like many enjoyable, singalong weekend party tunes, this chipper one bears an instant familiarity. “Day Drinkin’” has a Jimmy Buffet-type carefree feel and a vibe similar vibe to Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me.” Dawson’s bio says he’s “a relocated Okie turned Nevadan. Here bringing my brand of Country/Southern Rock to the masses of Rednecks in this great state.” His drawly baritone is instantly inviting.
RGJ Best Local Songs of 2018:: The past winners
26. Cat Thomas, art rock/dream folk, “Alone”
Like Lana del Rey without the vocals tuned, and with the minimal accompaniment of a strumming guitar and some percussion and background echo, Thomas’ feelings are raw and genuine, delivered from deep in the dark recesses of a tortured soul. It’s an internal monologue of the reckoning that surfaces at 3 a.m. — and therefore psychologically gripping.
27. Jack Danny, country-folk, “Into the Wild (Find Our Way Back Home)”
A veteran of the northern California/northern Nevada bar and casino circuit, as well as the drummer in Reno Americana band Dusty Miles and the Cryin’ Shame — Danny exhibits solo singer-songwriter and folk guitar-picking chops and a gorgeous hillbilly voice with this back-country gem: a call to hit the road for freedom, adventure and self-discovery.
28. The Whiskey Heroes, new country. “This Old Town”
Small towns breed homesickness and nostalgia in natives who leave to seek their way in the wider world — and thus are potent fodder for country songsmiths for whom the subject is sacred. Lead vocalist Trent Wood’s cranky voice is full of honest pride and passion in singing the simple melody without trying to oversell the song with vocal theatrics. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton said of “This Old Town”: “Loved it — a hit! And this isn’t my type of music.”
29. Jesse Damon Easter, hard rock, “Poison in My Head”
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Easter has produced a track that evokes the pain of battling mental demons, without resorting to discordant metal-esque pyrotechnics. The song gets quickly to the visceral chorus.
30. The Herbalist, Pop/hip-hop. “Crazy”
Half pop love ballad, half motor-mouthed rap, The Herbalist sings her loyalty to her lady love. Judge Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton called “Crazy” a “feel-good record” and lauded Angela (“The Herbalist”) Hegne’s voice as “gorgeous.”
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