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The 50 Best Rock Albums of 2019 (so far)

30. Steve Hackett: At The Edge Of Light

Much like last year’s inimitable The Night Sire, Steve Hackett’s latest album reads like letters home from abroad. Once again he’s taken his guitar and gone rogue, making and finding music wherever he lands. 

When we spoke to him very recently he was days away from a trip to Ethiopia to see what music that land might offer. At The Edge Of Light reads like notes from the road less travelled, lilting, beautiful and suffused with colours and shades from across the globe. 

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29. Hollowstar: Hollowstar

Sleek and modern yet unmistakably steeped in classic heavy rock tradition, this concisely belligerent debut doesn’t try anything remotely fancy at all, and focuses instead on unalloyed power to ram the point home again and again. 

The only really low-key track here is the ever so slightly mellower Think Of Me. Apart from that there are plenty of muscle-flexing riff monsters, not least the slinky, mid-paced Down By The Water – possibly the top track here – or the more straightforward, punchy thrills of Take It All, Sinner and All I Gotta Say

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28. Stray Cats: 40

A quarter-century after their last studio album – and a decade since the trio played together – this record is a renewal of vows (read: more of the same). The vibe will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s dipped a toe in their back catalogue; well-worn rockabilly tropes abound. 

But it’s a credit to the line-up’s combustible chemistry – they tracked the album live on the floor in Nashville – and Brian Setzer’s twinkle-in-eye storytelling that these songs feel fresh and often thrilling.

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27. Jordan Rudess: Wired For Madness

Jordan Rudess shows his passion for all sorts of genres here, and is never afraid to take risks. For example, can you believe he indulges in a dirty blues fantasy, on Just Can’t Win? And not only has Rudess pulled in Joe Bonamassa for this one, it even includes a brass section! 

Elsewhere he taps into 70s-era Italian horror film soundtracks on Wired For Sound – Part 1, and throughout shows a dexterity and delight in performing multiple keyboard heroics. Yes, this is somewhat self-indulgent, but with guests such as John Petrucci, James Labrie and Vinnie Moore he has fashioned something outstanding.

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26. Bad Religion: Age Of Unreason

As you’d expect, musically they’re full-tilt melodic punk rallying cries, with the warmth of Greg Graffin’s vocals contrasting beautifully against Brett Gurewitz’s barbed riffs to suggest there’s still a chance for redemption if we stand up and fight. It’s leadership versus bullying writ large. 

And when they take the tempo down a notch, for the more personal, introspective Lose Your Head, it rounds off the sense of compassion and hope at the heart of their rage.

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25. Duff McKagan: Tenderness

Okay it isn’t quite a cryin’-at-the-sportsbar country and western album, but its dialled-back ambience, strategically deployed pedal steel guitars and gospel-tinged backing vocals put it in the ballpark. 

There was always more to the bassist than the Sunset Strip bozo caricature (it’s difficult to imagine Slash launching a wealth-management company, as Duff McKagan did when he kicked the hard stuff), so maybe this kind of departure shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is just how good it is.

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24. Overkill: The Wings Of War

With new drummer Jason Bittner in place, Overkill prove that their old-school thrash is still peerless. A cracker, the band blazing with intensity and humour.

“I was curious from the get-go – how would it pan out?" said Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth of the album "I think what we accomplished here is a new, upgraded Overkill that embraced the new chemistry, while taking our roots into the present. The new formula produced not only more raw power, but more places to go with melody – a win, win. The key is being not only interested in the change, but part of it."

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23. In Flames: I, The Mask

This is probably the Swedish band’s best album since 2006’s Come Clarity. The songs are memorable, the musicianship is fierce, and overall this is commanding melodic death metal.

I, The Mask pulses with a bleak anger that reflects the crazy world we live in today. “With social media playing such a big part in our lives, we have become quick to judge,” says singer Anders Fridén. “The judge and jury have moved online. People are trying to be so politically correct, pointing fingers left and right, that we have lost track of ourselves."

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22. Robin Trower: Coming Closer To The Day

Death is at Robin Trower’s elbow on the 74-year-old’s latest album – the title, he says, is an acknowledgement that “I’m nearer the end than the beginning”, while the grizzled vocal of opener Diving Bell likens him to ‘a burnt-out car, broken pieces is how things are’. 

Yet the ticking clock has its benefits. Trower plainly no longer gives a rat’s arse about courting the Bridge Of Sighs demographic, and his late-period material is growing pleasingly selfish, drilling deeper into the 50s US blues masters, wringing his Stratocaster for soul over cosmetic flash. 

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21. Tedeschi Trucks Band: Signs

Signs showcases an ensemble at their confident peak, whether on the gospel-charged funkery of Walk Through This Life or the torch ballad All The World. Susan Tedeschi has an earthy but seductive rasp. She’s not nearly as knowing as Bonnie Raitt, but she’s every bit as impassioned as Beth Hart and more vulnerable than both and when she turns political on the environmental anthem Shame (‘Don’t you wonder what’s in the air?’) she’s plausible. 

Derek Trucks, meanwhile, is the blues guitarist of his generation, and together they’re a formidable team. They lose their way when they amble in pub-rock fashion on the gormless Hard Case, but for the most part they’re as focused as they’re inspired.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.