George Clinton, Billy Sherwood, GIG, Neal Morse, Lenny Castro + Others: Preston Frazier’s Best of 2018

Preston Frazier’s Best of 2018 list includes a broad array of sounds and genres from familiar names like George Clinton, Billy Sherwood, Lenny Castro, Randy Goodrum and Neal Morse. He also digs into projects from Adrian Quesada, Ghost-Note and the Sea Within, among others … 

ADRIAN QUESADA – LOOK AT MY SOUL: THE LATIN SHADE OF TEXAS SOUL (R&B):Given the numerous stellar projects that Austin-based guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada has been involved in (including his long tenure with Grammy winners Grupo Fantasma), it’s no surprise that this Best of 2018 honoree is wonderful. What is eye opening is how seamlessly Quesada melds R&B and Latin-flavors; Look at My Soul is genuinely gorgeous and totally captivating. In fact, if “Ain’t No Big Thing” with Johnny Hernandez and “One Woman Man” featuring David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Aaron Frazer from Durand Jones and the Indications don’t touch you deep down inside, then you have no soul.

LENNY CASTRO – HANDS OF SILK AND STONE (JAZZ / ROCK): Lenny Castro found fame as the percussionist for Toto, Joe Sample and – well, everybody. Last year, he delivered his first solo album, and hopefully it’s not his last. Hands of Silk and Stonecombines, jazz, rock, fusion and Latin music in a gumbo which is simply irresistible. Castro wrote the songs, recorded the album and produced it. A master percussionist, Castro also handles the drumming on the album. The stellar playing includes contributions by guitarists Doug Bossi, Mike Landau and Steve Lukather; bassists John Pena and Reggie Hamilton; and keyboardists David Paich, Ricky Peterson, Neil Larsen and David Garfield. Check out the David Paich co-written “Third Ave. El” as well as “Ain’t That Some Shit,” Castro’s tribute to his mentor and fiend Joe Sample.

THE SEA WITHIN – THE SEA WITHIN (PROG ROCK): The combination of super talents does not necessarily mean the resulting project will be super. Luckily, guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt, bassist Jonas Reingold, keyboard player/vocalist Tom Brislin, drummer/vocalist Marco Minnemann and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw completed an album which not only meets but exceeds expectations. Given the demands on people like Stolt, Brislin and Minnemann, you would think this Best of 2018 entry would be pulled in multiple directions. Songs like “An Eye for An Eye for an Eye” and “Ashes of Dawn” prove the group can focus and develop something not only new but compelling. Here’s hoping for a live album.

GEORGE CLINTON AND PARLIAMENT – MEDICAID FRAUD DOGG (FUNK): Yes, that George Clinton. It’s been almost 40 years since he released an album under the Parliament moniker, but Clinton still brings the funk hard. Always a gifted producer, he assembles the best of the best on Medicaid Fraud Dogg, then ties them together to make unmistakable and infectious grooves with wave after wave of driving, relentless grooves. Clinton never shies away from his social-activist center, yet the album isn’t preachy to the exclusion of the upbeat rock-funk vibe. Check out “Pain Management” and the blues-infused “Psychotropic,” then thank George Clinton for making new music.

GIG [Randy Goodrum, Dave Innis and Bruce Gaitsch] – BRAVE NEW WORLD (POP / ROCK): How about an unknown supergroup? Actually, these gentlemen are hardly unknown. Randy Goodrum, Dave Innis and Bruce Gaitsch have written and / or played on a mind-blowing array for great albums and songs, covering a number of musical genres. What is unusual, given the current state of music, is that GIG’s songs are played rather than programmed, with the likes of Keith Carlock (Steely Dan) and Billy Ward (Bill Champlin) on drums, and the late George Hawkins Jr. (Kenny Loggins) on bass. Their sympathetic playing and deft production are evident. What’s not unusual given the members of this trio, is that the album in captivating from start to finish.

NEAL MORSE BAND – THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM (PROG ROCK): Our next Best Albums of 2018 honoree was recorded live in Tilburg, the Netherlands as Neal Morse assembled a stellar band to document his 2017 Road Called Home tour. The resulting double CD/DVD is one of the best rock offerings of the year. Morse’s songs are sharp and engaging, and his band – which features Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer and Randy George – rise to the occasion on this challenging material. This is, indeed, the good stuff. Check out “The Ways of a Fool” and “Slave to Your Mind” to hear the power of the Neal Morse Band.

A LIFE IN YES: THE CHRIS SQUIRE TRIBUTE (PROG / ROCK): Clearly, this album’s 10 songs represent a labor of love for Billy Sherwood, who met Squire in the ’90s and became fast friends. I would also imagine the selection of songs from the album was difficult, yet Sherwood does throw in a few curveballs. “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is a brilliant start; he also closes with another song from 1978’s Tormato, a ballsy move that works. The result is an undeniable treat for Yes and rock fans, and a fitting salute to the late Yes legend.

GHOST-NOTE – SWAGISM (JAZZ FUSION): Yes, I’m late to the party, having discovered Ghost-Note after meeting Dominique Xavier Taplin at a Toto gig where the keyboardist is subbing for David Paich. Ghost-Note isn’t Toto. It’s a funky jazz rhythm group led by Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar) and by percussionist Nate Werth (Snarky Puppy). Songs like “Swagism” and “Funk You MuthaFunka” offer irresistible grooves, and higher-level playing. It’s impossible not to be drawn in.

CHROMEO – HEAD OVER HEELS (R&B / POP): The pop / funk synth duo returns with yet another gem. This final Best of 2018 entry is dominated by hopelessly funky guitars, talk-box drenched backing vocals and songs with hooks for days. When I heard “Don’t Sleep,” I thought: ‘Wow, Prince would love this.'” David “Dave 1” Macklovitch and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel don’t take themselves too seriously lyrically, but do know how to make fun and occasionally complex, multi-layered pop records. I love this album.