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Yarn (from the album This is the Year) - This is the Year and this is the album for Yarn. Blake Christia...

GUY CLARK - NOVEMBER 6, 1941 – MAY 17, 2016

GUY CLARK - NOVEMBER 6, 1941 – MAY 17, 2016

Guy Clark November 6, 1941 – May 17, 2016(from the album Songs and Stories on Dualtone Records ) - The s...



Folk Alliance International - Aengus Finnan Interivew - Folk Alliance International was born as a miss...


Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley (from the album The Country Blues on Compass Records) - Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley give The Country Blues a warm welcome on their recent release. The album merges the career history of Rob Ickes (dobro) and his twenty-plus years in Nashville fronting Bluegrass band, Blue Highway, with new Music City arrival, Trey Hensley (guitar). The Country Blues is the second release from the pair, following their debut Before the Sun Goes Down album, which received a Grammy nomination for Bluegrass Album of the Year. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley keep their love of bluegrass in place for The Country Blues, expanding on their playing by touching on the album title genres, and having a whole lot of fun doing it. The album welcomes vocal guests Robinella and John Randall Stewart on Elton John’s “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun”, The Wood Brothers’ “Pray Enough”, and Merle Haggard “I Won’t Give Up My Train”. Vince Gill steps behind the studio microphone to lend a voice to Hank Williams, Jr’s “May You Never Be Alone”.

The sound switches between Bluegrass, Country and Blues seamlessly as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley smoothly glide over the bumps in the road with a percussive thump on Trey’s original “That’s What Leaving’s For”. They slide around the instrumental curves of Rob Ickes tribute to Buddy Emmons in “Biscuits and Gravy” as the pair bring pens and playing together, putting both parts on a fast track for “Everywhere I Go is a Long Way from Home”. Electricity flies from The Country Blues warning “Leave My Woman Alone” and in the acoustic gymnastics of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley go to The Allman Brothers’ for an exit plan for the album with “One Way Out”.

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Matty T Wall (from the album Blue Skies) - The Blues that rose up in Mississippi used tributaries leading out of the Delta to travel, moving up and down mighty waterway spreading its sound from Lake Itasca, Minnesota down into the Gulf of Mexico. The sound infected all it touched, spreading worldwide. Matty T Wall was caught in its grasp in Perth, Australia, following the paths backwards from the heavy sounds of his youth, through Metallica and into Stevie Ray Vaughan. Matty T kept digging and when he found Robert Johnson he found the link that would lock him into the music. Matty T Wall offers the results of his musical education on his debut album, Blue Skies. Matty honor his teachers with tracks that sit beside his original tunes on Blue Skies, showing a path that leads from today with Keb’ Mo’ (“Am I Wrong”) and into the past with Jimi Hendrix (“Voodoo Chile”).

Matty T Wall credits Crossroads history with words (‘I discovered Robert Johnson and he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I got into the Blues and have never gotten out of it’) and music on Blue Skies. He gently seduces and uproots the Blues from his guitar strings in the instrumental “Smile”, stretches moody tones as he sings of “Love Gone Wrong”, turns up the flame with chord slashes and regimented riffs marching through “Burning Up Burning Down”, and creates a flashpoint with his playing in “Scorcher”. Matty T Wall learned his lessons well, standing proud as the sun breaking through the clouds on the title track as he carves his name into the ranks of past/present Blues players like the ink stains telling the tale in “Broken Heart Tattoo”, and moving into the future with the same assurances he claims on “This Is Real”. Blue Skies exits with the sound of distant thunder, the cascading rain coming down to cover Robert Johnson as Matty T Wall walks the master’s path in Johnson’s tune “Hellhound on My Trail”.

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Ethan Crump (from the album Hellfire and Amazing Grace) - Listening to the words that Ethan Crump offers in his stories, his claim that ‘most of these songs are just stories that I felt compelled to tell, no fancy writing or pretty singing’ seems more matter-of-fact than modest. Hellfire and Amazing Grace is the debut E.P. from Ethan Crump, a nineteen year-old with a soul as old as the rural Georgia earth he calls home.  Ethan speaks to love as he kicks off Hellfire and Amazing Grace on a shuffling bounce with a request to “Come on Home”.  The album references his own life as well as offering a direct link back to the times of his grandparents in both the song and album title. Ethan speaks to the size of the album with a nod to another inspiration, citing that ‘Guy Clark used to say that he never did theme albums, he just picked ten or twelve of his best songs and put them on a record. I guess that’s what I’ve done with this record, except I only had five songs’.

A listen to Hellfire and Amazing Grace draws a line to another mentor, particularly on the title track. The student honors master songwriter (John Prine) with phrasing and characters as Ethan Crump deftly follows two humans through a life together as they maintain their own individuality while walking through “Hellfire and Amazing Grace”. The emotion of “Mason County Blues” is nearly physical as Ethan Crump relates family history over whispered finger picking and a hard-edged beat to keep his feet moving towards a tomorrow outside both his young age and surroundings. Hellfire and Amazing Grace presents five stories from Ethan, leaving listeners with the hope that his pen has a lot of ink. Soft breezes blow the melody under “Mary Ann” as Ethan Crump makes heartfelt promises as he remembers the lights of stages past while watching times take chunks out of his present life in “Waiting Here on You”. 

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Libby Koch (from the album Just Move On) - Libby Koch opened the pages of family history with her last release (Tennessee Colony) and reads sad love letters as tackles Country music traditions with her recent release, Just Move On. Libby uses her pen to describe the downturns, side-steps, pitfalls, and hurdles of the heart as she sings of crying and leaving times with Just Move On. She thanks the exiting lover on the title track as her path becomes clearer with every heartache while she still holds on to hopes that good love will conquer bad decisions. Libby Koch raises a glass, or a few dozen bottles, as she toasts to the empty chair across her kitchen table in “Wish You Were Here”, whispers a gamblers prayer to “Lady Luck” on soft picking and hushed fiddle sways, and slowly spins around a honky tonk floor as packs up boxes to re-arrange her own freedom with “Out of My Misery”.

Libby Koch puts flesh on the bones lying by the road that leads away from love as she helps broken hearts beat a little stronger in her tales. Just Move On opens the door, stepping out alone into the unknown with its head held high so that the light of a new day dries a face full of tears. Her words embrace the hard-to-believe promise of new love with a Tex-Mex backing in “Don’t Know How” as she bets big on her own heart in “Chance on Me”, and carves a line in the sand with the tough-edged rhythm of “Tell Me No Lies”. Libby Koch traded the security of an eighty hour a week law job in Houston for an hour pleading the cases of her characters on stages in 2013. She recorded Just Move On over two days with producer Bill VornDick behind the board. The album’s exits include a highway “Back to Houston” as Libby Koch leaves Tennessee fueled by sound track of Classic Country while she stands tall as she cuts love off at the knees in “Bring You Down”, and counts the years in the mirror admitting “I've Been Blind”. 

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Royal Southern Brotherhood (from the album The Royal Gospel on Ruf Records) - Royal Southern Brotherhood grows its membership with The Royal Gospel, the group’s fourth and most recent release. Under the musical leadership of Cyril Neville and the rhythm rules of Yonrico Scott, the band enter s a v2-stage on the album as the lineup welcomes new recruit Darrell Phillips on bass, joining guitarists Bart Walker and Tyrone Vaughan. The original traditions stay on track as Royal Southern Brotherhood rise to the challenge of making the world a better place to live as they preach The Royal Gospel, and its message of love, peace , and unity. The album pounds up to the pulpit on a mix of Soulful Blues Rock that spreads truisms over the smooth grooves of “Blood is Thicker than Water”, stomps out on an assured stride to feed “Spirit Man”, and rushes in on funk chops and rolling rhythms with “Can’t Waste Time”.

The positive message of Royal Southern Brotherhood foregoes the role of the lamb as they take lion-size bites out of the world’s problems, finger-pointing at the existing power structure with the joyful noise of heartpounding handclaps urging the faithful to “Stand Up”. The Royal Gospel suggests our decisions may be part of the problem rather than the solution in “Hooked on the Plastic”, cuts across the “Land of Broken Hearts” with slashing guitar chords, and shakes out the Blues as it points out that the have’s and the have-not’s share the same costs with “Everybody Pays Some Dues”. Cyril Neville bridges Royal Southern Brotherhood past and present members into one group, creating unity with simplicity, stating that ‘as far as the men making the music and playing the songs, the mission of the band has never changed’. Royal Southern Brotherhood immediately sets fire to The Royal Gospel with opening cut “Where There's Smoke There's Fire”, stoke smoldering coals with the promise of “I’m Comin’ Home”, and strut up to the altar of Blues-Rock with the assurances of “I've Seen Enough to Know”.

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Jerry Castle (from the album Not So Soft Landing) - Sound waves cascade and crash, ebb and flow, on No So Soft Landing, the latest release from Jerry Castle. The Nashville, Tennessee-based songwriter moves away from the Country-infused tunes on his previous albums, giving his tunes wings on Not So Soft Landing. Jerry credits the use of sensory deprivation tanks as a songwriting tool. Floating weightlessly, surrounded by liquid that matches his body temperature, put Jerry Castle inside a womb that allowed creativity to be nurtured. He felt the experience was ‘like floating in outer space. There really is nothing like it. When I go into the tank, it takes me to another area. It definitely has opened me up as a songwriter. Music and lyrics come to me quicker. I can remember ideas longer and my music sounds pretty different’.

The proof is an easy hear on Not So Soft Landing. There are touches of Beatles-esque psychedelic Pop as he takes a shot at “Medicine” being doled out as the only answer to health issues as melodies ride a Ferris wheel of rolling rhythms and the tune languishes amid sparkling snippets of vibrating tones. A dawn filled with textured clouds floats around the hopes of ‘getting through “Sunday”, well-dressed lies take the lead for the nightmare of corporate greed in “American Dream’ while “Change” quiets its arrangement to whispering notes and beats before breaking free to offer observations and advice. The music on Not So Soft Landing is kept from drifting by the use of words as a guide to keep the tracks earthbound with a story line.  An edgy hum rises up from the music that boils under “She Kills” as “How Long” wonders and wanders in a graceful motion, and “Self” looks into a mirror to take an assessment of the human staring back. Jerry Castle sheds the airy arrangements of Not So Soft Landing as he opens Not So Soft Landing with the determined beats of “Ride” and pushes through the doors of honky tonk twang to take a swing in “Weekend Brawl”.    

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Nathan Bell (from the album I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love) - Nathan Bell wears the skin of American workers on his latest release, I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love. He watches those workers board a freight headed up the Saginaw River, climb girders to build bridges, and tear skin from their hands pulling in shrimp nets in the title track, Nathan exposes the thread that links a path filled with feet trudging to long hours with the line ‘with everything I do, I write another love song to you’. Nathan Bell is an extension of the man and guitar playing in migrant camps, standing at the forefront of union turmoil as he becomes a modern day troubadour letting contemporary American men and women workers know that we all have the same experiences, no matter the color of our collars or our skin. Nathan gives his impressions of I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love with the reasoning that ‘it’s fairly easy to come up with a concept built around working men in the traditional sense—miners and factory workers, but there’s also these white-collar guys who thought there was a rainbow at the end of this thing—that if you worked hard and took care of your family, it paid off. So you gave up things, you made certain sacrifices. But when you really look at it, where’s the payoff? A lot of it is gone. I’ve worked hard all my life, and rarely in rarefied air. And if I’ve learned anything it is that the individual human being is a brave and kind son of a bitch, and the choices forced upon us to live with other people are often the deepest and bravest expressions of love. I think it’s important to give people credit for loving completely even when what they’re doing isn’t something they love’.

Nathan Bell nods a “Good Morning Detroit” as his words hear the tires roll from assembly line in a city where ‘love rusts’, lets “Dust” settle as hushed notes and chords on a ‘panhandle town’, uses his harmonica to shine a light on “Georgia 41” as he passes closed down factories and mills, and pounds a percussive rhythm into “Stamping Metal” as the story heads north to the promised land. I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love tunes its guitar for world-weary Folk music yet it never succumbs to self-pity. Nathan Bell uses the daily grind to polish the spirit as the days bleed into one with the dullness of repetitious tasks and exhaustive labor. The roads of America are one long highway that we all travel with Nathan Bell standing “At the Bottom of Kentucky” as a miner ‘with a pick axe in my hand’ as he swings a hammer in “Walking Boss”, shuffles and strums in “North Georgia Blues” to keep his head above the rising water of inflation, and slowly climbs the rungs of “King of the North” as his dreams of hockey stardom fall through the ice of age.

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Robert Rex Waller, Jr (from the album Fancy Free) - Robert Rex Waller, Jr takes a step away from his band for the recently released solo effort, Fancy Free. He has been on album credits for seven I See Hawks in L.A. albums as Rob Waller, and he extends both his name and talents to take on the songs of other writers for Fancy Free. Furthering his work as a song interpreter, Rob brought his show as a solo to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace for his record release party on July 2, 2016. The Alternate Root was lucky enough to be in the high desert honky tonk for the three-set show, and Rob took time to sit down and share background on Fancy Free. Recorded over the past three and a half years, Rob admits that ‘in theory, the recording process could go on forever, and I had to just stop at some point in order to get the album put out. The songs were ones I have loved for a long time, like Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” which I have been playing for thirty years, some were ideas from friends that fit in with what we wanted to accomplish’.

Co-producer and bass man, Marc Doten, joined Rob onstage at Pappy’s, as well as guitarist Paul Lacques, co-founder and bandmate in I See Hawks in L.A. Fancy Free includes Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul”, Rob hearing the cut as ‘the story of Paul (Lacques) and I. We have grown up musically in I See Hawks in L.A., touring the United States, and the world together for over a decade’. One of The Hawks stops was a SXSW gig where the band played with Daniel Johnston, whose track “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” appears on Fancy Free. Rob was interested the story of Daniel and his father, making the singer/songwriter special, relating that ‘Daniel and his father were flying, his dad as pilot. Daniel reached over in the cockpit and turned off the plane in mid-flight, and tossed the keys out the window. They survived and Daniel’s dad was surprisingly forgiving. Daniel Johnston is a musical savant. I had to put one of his songs on the album’. Fancy Free welcomes other mental marquee stars from the head of Robert Rex Waller. Jr and the album includes tracks from Neil Young (“Albuquerque”), The Kinks (“Waterloo Sunset”), The Doors (“The Crystal Ship”, Bruce Utah Phillips (“Walking Through Your Town in the Snow”), and The Hollies (“All I Need it the Air That I Breathe”).

The catalyst for the album is captured in the Oak Ridge Boys title track. Rob’s mom passed away last year, and he speaks to her in “Fancy Free”, admitting that he needed to set her free even though ‘she was the best part of my world’.  Rob’s mom becomes the album’s muse and was the center point of the night at Pappy and Harriet’s with Rob’s choice of hair decisions. Big Memphis Hair backed Robert Rex Waller, Jr on stage and sat right up on top of his head for the show. Rob gave the back story, saying ‘I heard about a guy who did hair in Eagle Rock for movie stars, rock stars, and drag queens, and I said I am in. David Cordova gave me my hair. My wife (Katie) and her friend tried to do it once and failed miserably. They used the same amount of hair spray but it still fell at some point’. For the show at Pappy and Harriet’s, Rob had David do the ‘do at 11AM, and every hair was still in place by the end of the third set at Pappy and Harriets as Robert Rex Waller. Jr closed the door on the record release party and headed west on Interstate 10 back to the ocean with a mountain of hair still proudly framed by the dawn creeping over him, as Fancy Free as the album title and his Mom’s spirit.

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The Avett Brothers (from the album True Sadness on Republic Records) - As the career star of The Avett Brothers rises, providing hope and light for Roots and Americana peers, their musical output continues its path of comfort with thought-provoking rambles and easy rhythms. True Sadness is the most recent release from The Avett’s, its tunes pouring out in tales with confident strides to discuss mortality (“Smithsonian”) as questions of future endings unfold on gentle strums (“No Hard Feelings”) as well as indecisions about the steps to take (“I Wish I Was”), and heavy-handed beats and promises (“You Are Mine”). The Avett Brothers expand on their sound with True Sadness, bringing the production into the band’s catalog seamlessly, offering heavier studio touches on an equal footing with their natural take on acoustics.   

The Avett Brothers have grown from the original core of two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, into a larger stage group, expanding on the players and sound, filling out the family and recorded output organically from their base in North Carolina. True Sadness hits the ground with a stomp as opening track “Ain’t No Man” pounds onto the album. The songs gracefully veer between the heavy bumps and heady observations of “Satan Pulls the Strings”, the front porch jam confessions in “Mama, I Don't Believe”, the mellow picking of personal history in “Fisher Road to Hollywood” as they balance on the road of life, looking over the edge at options in “Divorce Separation Blues”. From teenage years as a duo into a growing sound and band membership, The Avett Brothers manage to keep intentions for their music clear with the same assurances that give the True Sadness title track disclosures weight, and the spaghetti western string swells of closing cut, “May It Last” agility and style.

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Newtown (from the album Harlan Road on Mountain Home Recording Company) - The electricity in the songs of NewTown is nearly physical as the band travel down Harlan Road in the title track from their recent release. The juice that pours from the band is not from being plugged in however, the energy is generated from the Bluegrass acoustics of the Lexington, Kentucky-based outfit. The playing crackles and flies over Harlan Road as NewTown barnstorm on the instrumental “The Feast of the Gryphon”, confess “Can’t Let Go” over staggered strums and rhythms, and plaintively ask for a little more time in “Come Back to Me”. The band moves between grooves as they navigate the strong currents of “Drifter Blues”, fast track lost love in “Castaway”, and take “The Heart You Been Tending” for a spin around the dance floor.

The core of NewTown was formed by husband/wife team, Kati Penn Williams (vocals/fiddle) and Jr. Williams (vocals/banjo). The sound of Harlan Road has a Bluegrass heart though the music feeds into the album from varied tributaries of the style. Kati Penn Williams hears the songs as combined efforts, sharing that ‘we play traditional Bluegrass but we also have a little Newgrass feel. We don’t really get too extreme on either side, so I feel like we’re in the middle somewhere. We’re definitely more progressive. Especially with Hayes on guitar and Travis on bass because they’re so well-versed in jazz, and Mitchell is very versatile as well. But in the end, we’re still a Bluegrass band’. Harlan Road travels to the future with a Modern take on tradition that gives Bluegrass a tomorrow as NewTown put a foot on the accelerator as album opener “All That I Can Take” tracks across U.S. highways to hit the beaches of Mexico, admits to pitfalls as it looks towards personal futures in “The Crows and the Jakes”, and tames the flames of “Wildfire” with quiet strums and picking.

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The Adam Ezra Group (from the album Songs for a Movie) - Rhythms rule on Songs for a Movie, the most recent release from The Adam Ezra Group. The album separates from the past for The Group with the use of beats as well as a depth to the story telling and a more intuitive playing from the band, born from touring travel and road performances. While the tracks do not run under any specific films, the tunes open curtains on individual vignettes within the production. Songs for a Movie carves an edge into “Like an Angel” with angular guitar notes that pop out of the melody like a finger poking at your chest. The Adam Ezra Group use strums, handclaps, and a bounce bump to ground “A Boy’s Song” as guitar picking throws notes like rose petals to lay a path for “Becky”, climb feedback born sonics up into “The Mountain”, and trip lightly over sunny snippets of phrases out into a perfect night for a memory with “Let Your Hair Down”.

The heartbeats felt on Songs for a Movie in “Come on Over” bring together both the music and activism of Adam Ezra, a testament to there being no distinctions between the words he speaks in conversation and those he sings. Gentle playing cradles “Both of Our Voices” as Adam whispers ways to face life as a team rather than a solo act while “Shine” slowly turns the wheel on memories and lets the flow of “Rain Song” cascade with an easy determination. The Adam Ezra Group make a positive message part of the band as much as an ingredient in the stories on Songs for a Movie. Freedom is blowing in through an open car window as “Letters to Allison” takes to the highway while fast track chords catch traction in “Sprig”, airy melodies watch an exiting shadow in “Glory Song”, and The Adam Ezra Group walk down E Street to lay a Jersey shore echo over a “Trouble Heart” on New England backroads.

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Sara Watkins (from the album Young in All the Wrong Ways on New West Records) - Sara Watkins sheds her past with Young in All the Wrong Ways, her recent and third solo album release. Sara admits that it is ‘a break-up album’, pointing the finger back at herself as the one leaving while she processes the transformation of the past few years in song. She feels that ‘what the songs are documenting is the turmoil you feel when you know something has to change and you’re grappling with what that means. It means you’re losing something and moving forward into the unknown’. Sara Watkins travels in the tunes, heading to a high desert honky tonk as “Like New Year’s Day” captures the mysterious magic of the nighttime sky and her surroundings as its ethereal sound swashes rise up like heat from the desert floor below as she swings a rope of thick twang trying to lasso lies in “The Truth Won’t Set Us Free”.

Sara Watkins tapped long-time friend, fiddle man Gabe Witcher to produce Young in All the Wrong Ways as she stands solo after fronting for group efforts with Nickel Creek and Watkins Family Hour. The backing band on the album features Gabe Witcher’s Punch Brothers brothers Chris Eldridge (guitar) and Paul Kowert (bass).  Vocal help on Young in All the Wrong Ways comes from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) in “One Last Time” as she welcomes her own bandmates in I’m With Her, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz, on the title track. Sara Watkins has hand holding the pen on all the album’s tracks, foregoing cover tunes to tell her story in her own words. Young in All the Wrong Ways slowly beats the drum in the confessions of “Invisible” as Sara Watkins tenderly whispers “The Love That Got Away” over soft notes as she struts into “Move Me” with Rock confidence.

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Quaker City Night Hawks (from the album Here I Am on El Astronauta on Lightning Rod Records) - Coming off tour runs with Chris Stapleton, Lucero, and Leon Bridges, Quaker City Night Hawks update Texas Boogie on their recent release, El Astronauta. QCNH open with a slow churning welcome of “Good Evening” as the band provides a verbal history of their early years in Fort Worth, Texas. El Astronauta crackles and shudders with electricity. The beat is hard as it pounds Rock into Roots as they Quaker City Night Hawks slash “Mockingbird” with guitar chords, stomp out “Medicine Man”, and close the album with the determined stride of “Sons and Daughters”.

Quaker City Night Hawks sparkle notes over the hard drive of “Liberty Bell 7” as they “Beat the Machine” on an assured rhythm, throw feedback across the gentle audio waves lapping against “The Last Great Audit” and funk the fire of “Something to Burn”. A darkness shakes the ground in “Duendes” as Quaker City Night Hawks sink the track in a rabbit hole of fractured sounds and hard hitting beats.

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Mike Eldred Trio (from the album Baptist Town) - Greenwood, Mississippi is in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Right outside of the quaint beauty of the Southern city is Baptist Town, the title of the most recent release from The Mike Eldred Trio. Geographically the two towns are neighbors though economically and socially they are a million miles apart. The Mike Eldred Trio play a Southern soundtrack on Baptist Town, with tunes mined from the rich history of the Deep South, the title from the spot where Robert Johnson’s marker was called by the devil.  Baptist Town tells it tale in the title track with the album’s “Somebody Been Runnin'” turning to the final chapter in the life of Robert Johnson and his infamous deal with the devil.

Recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, Baptist Town captures the folklore of the South in its stories as it builds “Roadside Shrine” using acoustic Folk ramblings on the guitar while the album rumbles the rhythms to match the dancing of “Sugar Shake”, rattles percussive driven chants to welcome “Papa Legba”, and fixes its groove to match tire spins as it hits the highway with “Bess”. The Mike Eldred Trio toss down “Hunder Dollar Bill” on a chugging rhythm as they cruise into Baptist Town on the opening track as they push limits for “Hoodoo Man” with the demands of rhythmic beats and they stomp out a message   to “Black Annie” while seeking salvation in the gospel-tinged groove of “You're Always There”. Tracked with originals on Baptist Town, The Mike Eldred Trio crawl across the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” carrying deep electric Blues.

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Kira Small (from the album 3AM) - Blue jazz colors the voice of Kira Small. The same mood textures the backing soundtrack for 3AM, her recent release as Kira Small scripts the release with a storyline that matches her smoldering voice and slinky rhythms. 3AM is a break-up album as it parts its curtain with angelic harmony calling for “Attention” on the album opener, and puts for a return to sender stamp in “Send Him Home to Me”. Kira used her pen to dig out the pain, authoring her own critique of the process, citing that ‘the breakup actually strengthened me. It taught me to own my badassery. Going through this process has definitely helped me recognize it, and not be afraid to walk into a room with it hanging out unapologetically’.

Kira’s voice creeps close to the edge on 3AM, questioning and taking blame on the title track as she hushes to hear suitcase wheels make a click track for dying love in “For Love’s Sake” and staggers into “Stuttgart” on an assured groove. Kira Small bares her soul, leading with the drama that coursed like an out of control current through her life. 3AM crawls out of the hurt as it heals, swearing to not “Cover My Mirrors”, confessing ‘I’m not sorry I loved you, only that you didn’t love me back’ as Kira ups the pace finding footing as she realizes that that love’s exit was a “Gift That Keeps on Giving”.

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Levi Parham (from the album These American Blues on Music Road Records) - Levi Parham follows two successful E.P. releases (An Okie Opera, Avalon Drive) with his first full length, the Music Road Records release, These American Blues. Levi strides into the songs with confidence, a credit he gives to road work and musical backing, stating that ‘Avalon greased the wheels for the new record. Having found my feet on the road, and with such amazing talent to back me up, These American Blues fell right into place’. Red Dirt rhythms are a natural for Levi Parham as he opens These American Blues with the title track. The tune stomps out a beat as Levi rattles off a litany of wrongs he hopes to right as he asks ‘somebody please won’t you help me out?’. These American Blues stays true to Tulsa time with its groove as Levi Parham spreads Soul over the tracks with his vocals.

While his voice has a natural Soul delivery, Levi Parham works magic with multiple touches of Folk, Country, and Blues on These American Blues. His pain is physical as he bares his heart on “Love Comes Around” as Levi watches a former flame heading his way, bristling a little as he notices she ‘got another man and the nerve to wave’ in “Don't Care None (But I Used To)”. Levi Parham wears the skin of his songs as easy as he rolls over the rhythms. He tenderly shares secrets with his lover in “Your Blue Eyes Give You Away”, confides that “Ain't the Man to Tell You So” buoyed by church organ swells and piano trills, heats up the minutes with a seductive come-on in “Waiting Game”, and slowly grinds out distorted riffs as he boards “Chemical Train”. These American Blues presents some of the major talent percolating in Tulsa, Oklahoma as Levi Parham sways on a Memphis groove in “Steal Me” and picks up the beat as he heads home to “Central Time”.

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Michael McDermott (from the album Willow Springs) - Michael McDermott becomes the conscience of urban life in his songs. His characters have walked the streets in the music of his band, The Westies, as they head into dive bars and bad decisions. His stories chronicle the lives of the same lovers looking for a break (“Butterfly”) as he counts love that got away (“Half Empty Kinda Guy”), and heads to glory with a sip of lightning (“Getaway Car”) on his recent solo release, Willow Springs. Michael McDermott puts his heart on the passing sleeves as his words wrap lost souls in flesh and blood on Willow Springs as the album pastes another star in a twenty-five year career.

Michael McDermott was still living in his home base of Southside Chicago when an album deal in his early twenties gave him the ‘next big thing’ ring for his debut. His career was over at twenty-four years old, with Michael trading in high praise to become a notorious screw-up who can’t seem to catch a break. He found inspiration with a baby daughter and wife (Westies co-founder and bandmate Heather Horton). Heather is behind the microphone for vocals on Willow Springs, joined by a stellar cast of players, including guitarist Will Kimbrough and keyboardist John Deaderick. Guitar strums kickstart the heartbeat drums on “These Last Few Days” as Michael McDermott picks out notes one last time before he hangs up acoustics in “Folksinger”, lazily glides in the search for California gold with “What Dreams May Come”, scratches a Southern Soul itch with “Let a Little Light In”, and shares a Dad’s love of his little girl with “Willie Rain”. The title track opens the album as “Willow Springs” scatters notes that sparkle underneath Michael McDermott’s rapid fire words.

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Elizabeth Cook (from the album Exodus of Venus on Thirty Tigers) - Emotion pours from Exodus of Venus, the recent release from Elizabeth Cook. The album is her first in six years, and the time between recordings gave Elizabeth plenty of pain and tragedy to stage her stories. A half dozen years of death and divorce, rehab and reconstruction build flesh and bone characters that walk the audio streets on Exodus of Venus. The tales use personal experience to expose their drama, like the continuation of her story of a sibling’s drug addiction with “Methadone Blues”. Elizabeth Cook closes the door on Exodus of Venus with an image of a hometown horror in “Tabitha Tuder's Mama”. The story line relates the tale of the 2003 disappearance of a thirteen year-old East Nashville girl as Elizabeth puts a pin on the map of pain circling the event.  

Elizabeth Cook gets dubbed a Country Outlaw. Given the title, it would seem that living without laws includes telling truths in real time in an effort to circumvent huge holes of hard times and work through life’s crippling challenges. Exodus of Venus tackles “Dyin’” on a soundtrack of snaking guitar lines and bursts of organ notes, picks at “Slow Pain” on a smoldering groove cruising West L.A., burns through the haze in the air with slashing guitar chords on “Broke Down in London on the M25”,  and carves ”Cutting Diamonds” into Exodus of Venus with a heartbeat hammered rhythm. Elizabeth Cook has a sweet vocal, perfectly made for Country music, and attaches it to melodies that provide a future for the genre. Exodus of Venus takes a deep breath as it kicks off with the title track on shaky notes and a confident beat. Elizabeth Cook dons “Straightjacket Love” on the rattle of a classic country rise and fall rhythm in a co-write with album producer, Dexter Green, as she is joined in harmony on the tune by Patty Loveless, as she heads out to back country bayous on the edgy crackle of “Evacuation”.

Listen and buy the music of Elizabeth Cook from AMAZON or iTunes


Tommy Womack (from the album Namaste) - Tommy Womack is a chameleon through his various musical projects, saving the heart of his stories for solo outings as he presents a life lived on Namaste, his recent album release. Tommy began his career in Bowling Green, Kentucky in the post-punk choruses of Government Cheese. Since moving to Nashville he has joined friend and bandmate, Will Kimbrough, in Bis-Quits and Daddy as well as fronting cover bands that champion The Clash (Tommy Gun) and The Kinks (Alphabetical Kinks). Tommy Womack says hello to the world with the ancient Sanskrit greeting, Namaste, as he addresses citizenship in his own world, chronicling life with a happy joy based in the realization that, against all odds, he has made it to 2016.

Tommy Womack catches fans up on the cards he is dealt as hurdles, relating the past with “I Almost Died” as he addresses the loud ticking of his heart clock and marks the time in “Hot Flash Woman”, and on the funky bump of “Comb-Over Blues”. Tommy is ‘just getting’ by’ in “End of the Line” as he circles life with loops in “It's Been All Over Before”, turns up the volume to get out the message to “Angel”, and speaks words over a cool jazz beat to tell a hometown tale in “Nashville”. A wry humor is scripted in the songs of Tommy Womack as he remembers when “When Country Singers Were Ugly” and with the advice that Namaste doles out with “Darling Let Your Free Bird Fly”.

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The Low Anthem (from the album eyeland) - Psychedelic Noir is the theme for eyeland, the recent release from The Low Anthem. The Folk music of the band dives further into Indie on eyeland, coloring the acoustics with sound backing that strums and bumps, blips and bleeps, recording the album over a four year period while The Low Anthem parked the tour bus for a live performance hiatus. The band felt they had reached a uncomfortable plateau where they could tour solely on the success of their breakthrough album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (2008), and their 2010 release, Smart Flesh. Choosing art over commerce, The Low Anthem decided to take a break, posting on their website that ‘we know the Darwin/Smart Flesh material inside and out….maybe some artists reach this point and become safer, more refined, imitations of themselves. We’re not interested. So, we’ve decided that this upcoming tour will be the last tour of the chapter. The last tour devoted to this material, this incarnation. A final hurrah. A sweet goodbye. The refined completion of three years of work. It's anything you want it to be, but it will be the last for a while. It's not the end. There is no end. But it’s the last one for a while’.

It was a brave decision, and it gave The Low Anthem time to focus on eyeland, as they self-produced the album at the Columbia Theatre in their homebase of Providence, Rhode Island. The bravery the band displayed walking away from its success pales next to the fearlessness they have on eyeland as The Low Anthem let their self-described ‘night noise’ texture the tunes. The audio technology of eyeland is a constant, a barrage of ambient tones so present that they float through the album without demanding attention. Songs exist on eyeland as gentle pickings and an ethereal breeze of tones back “The Pepsi Moon”, and over the determined beat of “In the Air Hockey Fire” set against tender vocal whispers. Overriding the need for formal song structure to guide eyeland, The Low Anthem rely on making moods for listeners to take with them when they leave the album’s aduio. Skittery beats and low slung guitar notes hide “Behind the Airport Mirror”, frantic percussion barrels under the car crash sonics of “I am the Dream or am I the Dreamer”, as the dream state takes another path that rolls over “Circular Ruins in Euphio”.

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Clark Paterson put on a smile and hung with a couple of dolls to sing about “Sweet Baby”. Clark got out the glue for a cut and paste video of the tune.

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Annie Keating has a new album, Trick Star. Annie came down for a One on One Session to City Winery in New York City on March 14, 2016 to perform a track from the new album, “Lucky”, and captured the moment on video.

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Jackie Venson returns to the pages of The Alternate Root to debut the track “What I Need” from her upcoming release, Jackie Venson Live (due in September 2016). Jackie is on stage, fronting the band, leading her character through the story, and using six strings to cut a path through the Blues.

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The Record Company (from the album Give It Back to You on Concord Records) - A snaking Blues riff is the pied piper drawing anyone within ear shot in to “Off the Ground”, the opening salvo from Give It Back to You , the Concord Records debut from The Record Company. The L.A.-based band are a three piece in the power trio style of Mountain, ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The Blues has been receiving attention in releases honoring the roots of the genre. The Record Company go a dif...

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Elizabeth Cook (from the album Exodus of Venus on Thirty Tigers ) - Emotion pours from Exodus of Venus , the recent release from Elizabeth Cook. The album is her first in six years, and the time between recordings gave Elizabeth plenty of pain and tragedy to stage her stories. A half dozen years of death and divorce, rehab and reconstruction build flesh and bone characters that walk the audio streets on Exodus of Venus. The tales use personal experience to expose their drama, like the continuation of...

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Tommy Womack (from the album Namaste) - Tommy Womack is a chameleon through his various musical projects, saving the heart of his stories for solo outings as he presents a life lived on Namaste , his recent album release. Tommy began his career in Bowling Green, Kentucky in the post-punk choruses of Government Cheese. Since moving to Nashville he has joined friend and bandmate, Will Kimbrough, in Bis-Quits and Daddy as well as fronting cover bands that champion The Clash (Tommy Gun) and The Kinks (A...

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The selection of always the most difficult for our So Far list, and 2016 is no exception. The artists in the Roots community continually raise the bar for quality as they redefine the traditions in Country, Folk, Bluegrass. Americana, Blues, and Rock. The Top 50 So Far list is broken into two parts. Take a moment and go back to the music released in January, February, March, April, May, and June as we offer the music of 2016 with our Top 50 So Far lists of the best in American Roots music.

01 Stur...

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TOP 50 ALBUMS SO FAR 2016 - PART 2 #26 THRU #50

TOP 50 ALBUMS SO FAR 2016 - PART 2 #26 THRU #50

The selection of always the most difficult for our So Far list, and 2016 is no exception. The artists in the Roots community continually raise the bar for quality as they redefine the traditions in Country, Folk, Bluegrass. Americana, Blues, and Rock. The Top 50 So Far list is broken into two parts. Take a moment and go back to the music released in January, February, March, April, May, and June as we offer the music of 2016 with our Top 50 So Far lists of the best in American Roots music.

26 Tomm...

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Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Helen Humes, Sippie Wallace, are names equally as famous in blues music history as Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf. Women were among the original innovators and performers of the blues. Women blues singers were among the first to be recorded. They hold as important a place in the history of traditional American blues as any men, and today, they are leading the way forward, creating a revival of blues music.

As we say go...

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Albert King (from the album Born Under a Bad Sign) - Debut albums are important; the right songs, players, producer, sessions, studio, etc. Albert King had recorded for a number of other labels, making Born Under A Bad Sign his debut for Stax Records. Mr King was a good fit with the Stax label team of Al Bell, Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart, its songwriters Booker T. Jones and William Bell, and backing players from Booker T & The M.G.’s and the Memphis Horns. On its release, Born Under a Bad Sign...

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There are many factors that go into forming a band---shared musical tastes and family members becoming official after years of singing and playing together are just two of the many ways.  For Joe Cocker, the impetus behind forming Mad Dogs and Englishmen was contractual obligations…..hey, whatever it takes. From 1966 through 1969, Joe Cocker had released two albums with The Grease Band. After grueling tours in support of the albums, and a stint at Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, Joe and ...

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J.D. Souther  (from the album John David Souther) - For his debut album, JD Souther spelled his name out for the front cover title, John David Souther . It was a critical success, and has been viewed as a ‘lost gem’. The release was 1971, and a spotlight was on the Southern California Country Rock sounds and scene, as promoted by David Geffen and Asylum Records. The songs on John David Souther are completely timeless. Looking back, the phrasing and story lines feel outside of what Country radio wa...

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Waco Brothers   (from the album Going Down in History on Bloodshot Records ) - The Waco Brothers play Country music. The venues suitable for touring behind their most recent release, Going Down in History , offer a wider than net than more traditional Country outlets as The Wacos comfortably plug into clubs catering to fans from punks to posers. While their mix of Country and Punk Rock might not seem really revolutionary in 2016, The Waco Brothers have been knocking back shots of their own brande...

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Carter Sampson (from the album Wilder Side) - The words of Carter Sampson are sharp, scenes clear and characters that seem very familiar to those walking between the devils and angels hanging out on your own shoulders. She delivers her tales on the soft roll of Tulsa rhythms on her recent release, Wilder Side . Carter was backed in her Oklahoma Room performance by John Calvin Abbey, and on her album with an equally stellar cast of musicians from the Tulsa area including John Moreland on vocals, and ...

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Kalyn Fay (from the album Bible Belt on Horton Records ) - The Oklahoma Room was the hot ticket for Folk Alliance 2016. Kalyn Fay was one of Tulsa talents that played, and played, and played throughout the weekend.  The musicians mixed and mingled, backing one another and stepping to center stage as needed. The sound that Kalyn presents on her recent Horton Records release, Bible Belt , once again showcases the music of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its family of musicians. Kalyn Fay passes over her stor...

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The selection of always the most difficult for our So Far list, and 2016 is no exception. The artists in the Roots community continually raise the bar for quality as they redefine the traditions in Country, Folk, Bluegrass. Americana, Blues, and Rock. The Top 50 So Far list is broken into two parts. Take a moment and go back to the music released in January, February, March, April, May, and June as we offer the music of 2016 with our Top 50 So Far lists of the best in American Roots music.

01 Sturgill Simpson (from the album A Sailors Guide to Earth)  (4-15-16) - Well-deserved adjectives of praise have been heaped onto Sturgill Simpson for his recent release, A Sailors Guide to Earth. As a producer, Sturgill puts his own voice in as an instrument, a compass confidently pointing to the safety of land as Sturgill Simpson navigates a world of adventure hitting foreign shores ‘like a pollywog turning nineteen’ in “Sea Stories”.  Sturgill Simpson has created an immediate desert island disc, wisely including an old world map as part of the booklet on the physical album ‘cause if the water starts to get high, keep A Sailors Guide to Earth handy.

Listen and buy the music of Sturgill Simpson from AMAZON or iTunes

02 Elizabeth Cook (from the album of Exodus of Venus)    (6-17-16) - Emotion pours from Exodus of Venus, the recent release from Elizabeth Cook. The album is her first in six years, and the time between recordings gave Elizabeth plenty of pain and tragedy to stage her stories. A half dozen years of death and divorce, rehab and reconstruction build flesh and bone characters that walk the audio streets on Exodus of Venus. The tales use personal experience to expose their drama.  Elizabeth Cook gets dubbed a Country Outlaw. Given the title, it would seem that living without laws includes telling truths in real time in an effort to circumvent huge holes of hard times and work through life’s crippling challenges.

Listen and buy the music of Elizabeth Cook from AMAZON or iTunes

03 The Record Company (from the album Give It Back to You)    (2-12-16) - A snaking Blues riff is the pied piper drawing anyone within ear shot in to “Off the Ground”, the opening salvo from Give It Back to You, the Concord Records debut from The Record Company. The L.A.-based band are a three piece in the power trio style of Mountain, ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The Blues has been receiving attention in releases honoring the roots of the genre. The Record Company go a different route by bringing The Blues back into Rock’n’Roll. Having only three members does not limit the band as TRC double dip on the talent of its rhythm section.

Listen and buy the music of The Record Company from AMAZON or iTunes

04 Charles Bradley (from the album Changes)  (4-1-16) - Charles Bradley titles his recent third album release Changes. Charles’ life has seen Changes in the past five years, skyrocketing the Daptone Records artist from a bleak existence on the streets of NYC into two triumphant album releases and becoming the subject for the 2012 documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America. Changes is another step for Charles Bradley as he ascends that ladder of Soul, backing his songs with players from the Daptone Records talent pool, including members of Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, The Dap-Kings, and Charles’ touring band, The Extraordinaires.  

Listen and buy the music of Charles Bradley from AMAZON or iTunes

05 The Avett Brothers (from the album True Sadness)   (6-24-16) - As the career star of The Avett Brothers rises, providing hope and light for Roots and Americana peers, their musical output continues its path of comfort with thought-provoking rambles and easy rhythms. The Avett Brothers expand on their sound with True Sadness, bringing the production into the band’s catalog seamlessly, offering heavier studio touches on an equal footing with their natural take on acoustics.  The Avett Brothers have grown from the original core of two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, into a larger stage group, expanding on the players and sound, filling out the family and recorded output organically from their base in North Carolina.

Listen and buy the music of The Avett Brothers from AMAZON or iTunes

06 Margo Price (from the album Midwest Famer’s Daughter)  (3-25-16) - On the album opener for Midwest Farmers Daughter, Margo Price goes back to the origins of Country Hardships and heartaches line the walls of Midwest Farmers Daughter though the stories that are framed do not show worn or broken faces. Margo Price’s voice is a trumpet call shouting out trip-up’s and triumphs as her stories battle with bottles and with the men still found floating at the bottom of the glass.  Margo Price left her Nashville mailing address and headed a little further west to record Midwest Farmers Daughter at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

Listen and buy the music of Margo Price from AMAZON or iTunes

07 Hayes Carll (from the album Lovers and Leavers)  (4-8-16) - The voice is still the same. Hayes Carll grabs the notes going low to give edge, breaking a little as the moods bend. His latest album release, Lovers and Leavers, uses voice as an instrument to poke and jab, prying into corners where emotions hide as the pens that script Lovers and Leavers put humanity into their songs. The voices of the characters vary from past releases, however, as they speak their mind with straight-forward lines throughout Lovers and Leavers.

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08 The Jayhawks (from the album Paging Mr. Proust)   (4-29-16) - It has been over thirty years since The Jayhawks formed in 1985 Minneapolis, hitting a stride with their American Recordings debut in 1992 (Hollywood Town Hall). Musically, The Jayhawks stayed true to the Country Rock sound they represented with their initial releases. Band break-ups and re-formings occurred over the years, and the current Jayhawks line-up for their recent release, Paging Mr. Proust, contains members of the 1997 touring group.  Founding member Gary Louris still drives The Jayhawks train and he pulls off a sound shift with Paging Mr.Proust that allows the songs of the band to grow and expand, pushing the sonic boundaries  in ways that the soft Country Rock and Americana of previous release could only experience as hints and touches. Paging Mr. Proust honors a sound that The Jayhawks minted and offered as influence to a legion of bands that followed.

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09 Parker Millsap (from the album The Very Last Day)   (3-25-16) - With his songwriter status confirmed by NPR and Wall Street Journal acclaim, Parker Millsap uses The Very Last Day to stretch his musical potential, staying true to the Folk music that swept across the Oklahoma of his youth while giving his songs a contemporary feel through the modern observations of his characters. The backdrop for The Very Last Day became the landscape surrounding Parker Millsap as he crafted the stories. He told that he ‘was living in Guthrie (Oklahoma) when I wrote a lot of these songs. Oklahoma in the winter looks post-apocalyptic. We don’t have evergreen trees, and the grass turns brown to the point of colorlessness. Everything looks like skeletons and grayness’.

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10 Robert Ellis (from the album Robert Ellis) (6-3-16) - Robert Ellis asks ‘how can you call it art when you’re sticking to a dotted line’ in “Elephant”. The story speaks to confronting issues within a relationship, hinting at a touring musician on one side of the line. Robert’s question seems a little random within the discussion, though it does speak loudly to the self-titled Robert Ellis release on New West Records. As a singer/songwriter, Robert Ellis seemingly has the ability to not edit his songs to fit format, mainstream or backwoods.  The album is meeting place for the Folk, Jazz, Country, and Pop music common ground that Robert Ellis deems equal partners for his words, an extension ladder to reach his emotions.

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11 Daniel Romano (form the album Mosey)   (5-27-16) - Daniel Romano continues to remind Country music that it is a living, breathing art form. Daniel joins fellow artists (Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton) who plug in and play Country music as they hear it. Mosey is the sound track for dreamy reveries, spaghetti western strings, and Indie jangle (“Maybe Remember Me”). Daniel Romano is a prolific performer, his album releases perfectly capturing each mood and theme that he brings into the studio as muse. His work in other mediums requiring attention to details, such as his leather work and graphic design, is brought into his songwriting as each track builds with subtle infusions of emotion and swatches of sound.

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12 Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub (from the album Meridian Rising)  (2-26-16) - The steps taken between an idea and the results can vary. For some, one or two paces is about as far as they get from the kernel of an idea to jumping in and hoping for the best. Paul Burch had an idea form in his mind for a tale, an audio biography of Jimmie Rodgers, the singing superstar of the late 1920’s and one of the first American musician to successfully blend various styles into hybrids. To put flesh to the plan, Paul dug through rare archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame, discussed Rodgers’ life with his biographers, and backed the stories with the music of his lifetime; the sounds and rhythms that came through Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of Jimmie Rodgers. Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub take the lead in Meridian Rising, an imagined autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler, the Singing Breakman.

Listen and buy the music of Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub from AMAZON or iTunes

13 Eli Paperboy Reed (from the album My Way Home)   (6-10-16) - Eli Paperboy Reed was on a rocket ride career path when he made a name in the Boston Soul scene with flash fire live performances, recording with local powerhouse Q Division in 2007 before hopping through major label deals with Capital and Warner Brothers. His trajectory hovered when he lost his major label deal in 2014, turning the switch back on with his recent Yep Roc Records release, My Way Home. The album was tracked in four days, utilizing the analog gear of drummer Loren Humphrey (Guards, Cults), who assembled the collection of in his Brooklyn, New York loft‐turned‐recording studio.  My Way Home puts gospel into its vintage rock’n’roll, salvation into its stories. The songs are infused with spirit, Eli Reed not seeing the subject as for any particular religion or creed. Eli feels that ‘the idea of salvation doesn't have to mean salvation in terms of finding God. My goal is just to make good music that moves people and meets them wherever they are. So for me, salvation in this case is about getting out of a bad situation, about finding yourself in a tough spot and trying to find your way through it. It's about not letting yourself be pulled down by negative influences’.

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14 Lucinda Williams (from the album Ghosts of Highway 20)  (2-5-16) - Lucinda Williams first road crush was Highway 20, now Interstate 20, a stretch of road that runs for 1500 miles from South Carolina to Texas. The Ghost of Highway 20 joins the road with the spirits of venerated white lines such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway. The stories see no borders as they cross from the life of their author and into the lives that line the highway. On the personal side, Lucinda Williams passes by childhood homes, the final resting place of her mother, and the crossroads that became signposts on her further journeys. Lucinda Williams sees the road as ‘it is literally a map of my life in a lot of ways. We were driving between shows and between cities, and I kept seeing things that brought me back to times and places in my past. Like when we played Macon, Georgia, a place I lived when I was five or six years old. I got out of the bus and I was transported back to when I saw this street singer, Blind Pearly Brown. It was like nothing had changed. All these things started percolating in my brain, and the songs just came’.

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15 Carrie Rodriquez (from the album Lola)  (2-19-16) - Carrie Rodriguez is building an altar of song on her recent release, Lola. The candles she lights are in honor of Lola Beltran, held by Mexico as their most popular ranchera-style singer. Based in Mexico City, Lola Beltran became known as Lola La Grande (Lola the Great), playing for world leaders from the U.S., performing before presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon, as well as heads of government in Russia, Spain, France, Yugoslavia, and many more. Carrie Rodriguez performs Lola as a bilingual project, and welcomes guests Bill Frissell and Raul Malo in the spots on the album. For an English-only audience, Carrie translates her Spanish language vocals with emotion.

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16 The James Hunter Six (from the album Hold On!)  (2-5-16) - James Hunter has been building a career steadily for the past decade. The mission that James has taken on is Soul music, and over the course of four studio recordings, he has been fine-tuning the songs. The James Hunter Six serve up tracks minted in a Vintage sound for a Modern era, successfully presenting analog warmth for digital times on tunes that wear their cool as a badge of honor. The latest release from The James Hunter Six, Hold On!, is the band’s first on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. The band went to Daptone in-house producer, Gabriel Roth, to helm the recording which was done live to 8-track tape. It was the second time the band worked with Roth, giving James Hunter a comfort level in the studio, satisfied when he realized that ‘“The great thing about working with Gabe is that he can get our tunes on tape exactly the way I heard them in my head when I was writing them’.

Listen and buy the music of The James Hunter Six from AMAZON or iTunes

17 Penny and Sparrow (from the album Let A Lover Drown You)   (3-11-16) - Lush, gorgeous, luminescent….all words that fit for the vocals of Penny and Sparrow on the duo’s third album release, Let a Lover Drown You. Voices harmonize, blend, weave, and wander together in song as they try hard to fit or somehow line up naturally. Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter met as roommates at University of Texas and their vocals found a home in the deep thought Folk of artists such as Bon Iver, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Swell Season. Musically, the pair are surrounded by the sounds of music that blends as well as the harmonies on Let a Lover Drown You, the album produced by John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes). The album title Let a Lover Drown You is a big clue to the more poetic lean to the lyrics of Andy Baxter as Kyle Jahnke matches words to music. Penny and Sparrow offer a listening experience with Let a Lover Drown You, offering moods in its melodies and time for both trouble and triumph in its stories.

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18 Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way  (2-26-16) - Toronzo Cannon takes a cue from guerilla warfare with his guitar playing. His riffs are quick hits, snake bites of notes, snapping out and back before you can feel the sting. Toronzo’s riffs are like razors accenting his words on The Chicago Way, his recent debut with Alligator Records. His playing is based in the Chicago tradition where he has developed and grown over the past ten years. His stories mirror the lives around him, culled and crafted from working as a bus driver on the West Side where he had a traveling fishbowl view of the life around him. The Chicago Way showcases the force that is Toronzo Cannon. The album (co-produced by Toronzo and Alligator Record head Bruce Iglauer) stacks stories that slash and cut with the same efficiency as the guitar playing.

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19 Wild Ponies (from the album Radiant)   (5-13-16) - Some words are special, almost magical in the way they present as images in our minds. Radiant, the recent release from Wild Ponies, is one of those words. By definition, Radiant is ‘sending out light; shining or glowing brightly’. Pretty description, and the tunes of Wild Ponies can certainly be beautiful, like the way they let the title track drift on clouds on electric guitar notes before the beat arrives through open the window facing the night sky.  Digging a little deeper into Radiant defines the word as ‘a point or object from which light or heat radiates, especially a heating element in an electric or gas heater’. That nails it for Radiant as the Wild Ponies play the soundtrack coming directly from venues throughout their East Nashville neighborhood, as the album makes as little distinctions as the bands as to what is Rock’n’Roll, Country, Blues, Folk, Americana, Soul, and their hybrids.

Listen and buy the music of Wild Ponies from AMAZON or iTunes

20 Dave Cobb (from the album Southern Family)   (3-11-16) - Initially, the idea for a concept album left Dave Cobb pretty flat. The Nashville-based producer paid attention when the light bulb went off to give the album a wider scope. Southern Family is a collection of artists that Dave has worked with on production, offering songs they authored or cover for the project.  The album focuses on growing up in the South, times with friends and family.  As a producer, Dave Cobb is as much a part of whatever new sound fans here in the music of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. His work on albums such as Traveler (Chris Stapleton), Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Sturgill Simpson) and Something More Than Free (Jason Isbell) put Dave Cobb at ground zero for a shift in music. He has become family with the artists he works, and they return the favor on Southern Family.

Listen and buy the music of Dave Cobb from AMAZON or iTunes

21 Bonnie Bishop (from the album Ain’t Who I Was)   (5-27-16) - The career of Bonnie Bishop was stripped down to the skeleton as she left Nashville for her family home in Texas. Friends at Thirty Tigers suggested she get in touch with producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). Dave saw, or more precisely, heard the Soul that was left after Bonnie’s dreams of working in Country music had shut the door. Ain’t Who I Was is the most recent release from Bonnie Bishop, the result of the pairing with Dave Cobb sitting in the producer’s chair. Bonnie’s training in Gospel as the only white in a black choir and her natural ability to dig into the emotional heart of a song, make the Soul transition seamless as Ain’t Who I Was shows the change in words and music. The Country Soul of the title track is subtle with soft strings and warm organ chords as guitar notes weave and wind underneath a vocal with Bonnie Bishop standing tall, owning the past and embracing the future.

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22 Charlie Faye and the Fayettes (from the album Charlie Faye and the Fayettes)   (6-10-16) - The easiest way to explain Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, the self-title release from an Austin-based trio is to talk about the band. The three women of Charlie Faye and the Fayettes put harmony and heart into every song, using a Vintage 1960’s audio glow to warm the sound track. They are samples of a world culture with Jewish, Korean, and African-American heritage, sharing height, standing at 5’1” in pre-heels. Charlie Faye takes the lead, stepping in with more of a crooner role than her previous Roots releases. She is joined in girl-group harmony by two established solo artists and background vocalists, BettySoo and Akina Adderley. Charlie Faye and the Fayettes uses the Vintage sound of 1960’s Pop to seduce with a sonic sweet spot on the recent release. Charlie Faye was drawn to the harmonies in the music from the era, set against a moving rock’n’roll beat that welcomed touches of Soul, and Twang in the music of Darlene Love, Dusty Springfield, The Ronettes, and The Shirelles.

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23 Darrell Scott (from the album Couchville Sessions)   (5-13-16) - Darrell Scott has a peaceful presence that translates into audio waves on his most recent release, Couchville Sessions. Being in the middle of a constant music stream could cause less hands-on captains to allow the current to carry them. Darrell Scott steers his personal life with the same care he gives to placing notes and words in songs, building a sustainable lifestyle outside of Nashville on the Cumberland Plateau. Darrell cares for his family by heating with wood, utilizing solar energy, and growing their own food. The tracks on Couchville Sessionsreflect the way Darrell lives; they are a natural product of his unapologetic approach to making music and living life. 

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24 Yarn (from the album This is the Year)   (5-27-16) - This is the Year and this is the album for Yarn. Blake Christiana has stitched together comforters for kiss-off goodbyes, bad decisions, and rocky romance since Yarn’s 2007 self-titled debut. The band was Brooklyn-based through five album releases, carving out a name, a fan base with its own flag as Yarmy, and a spot on the Americana bandwagon since it was just a hayride. This is the Year reflects the pen of Blake Christiana, and his characters still have a smirk and a smile, happy to make a joke of where they land on the ladder to take out the sting of life. There is a change, however, to the mood in the tales that is a new breeze in the songs of Yarn. As they band sets up base in North Carolina, This is the Year reflects an optimism that strides through the title track on a confident beat as a snaggly guitar line waves a flag for new beginnings.

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25 Levi Parham (from the album These American Blues)  (6-24-16) - Levi Parham follows two successful E.P. releases (An Okie Opera, Avalon Drive) with his first full length, the Music Road Records release, These American Blues. Levi strides into the songs with confidence. These American Bluesstays true to Tulsa time with its groove as Levi Parham spreads Soul over the tracks with his vocals.While his voice has a natural Soul delivery, Levi Parham works magic with multiple touches of Folk, Country, and Blues on These American Blues.

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The selection of always the most difficult for our So Far list, and 2016 is no exception. The artists in the Roots community continually raise the bar for quality as they redefine the traditions in Country, Folk, Bluegrass. Americana, Blues, and Rock. The Top 50 So Far list is broken into two parts. Take a moment and go back to the music released in January, February, March, April, May, and June as we offer the music of 2016 with our Top 50 So Far lists of the best in American Roots music.

26 Tommy Womack (from the album Namaste)  (5-20-16) - Tommy Womack is a chameleon through his various musical projects, saving the heart of his stories for solo outings as he presents a life lived on Namaste, his recent album release. Tommy Womack says hello to the world with the ancient Sanskrit greeting, Namaste, as he addresses citizenship in his own world, chronicling life with a happy joy based in the realization that, against all odds, he has made it to 2016.

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27 Brad Armstrong (from the album Empire)   (1-15-16) - Brad Armstrong experiments with sounds on Empire, his latest solo release. The album experiments Roots music, melodically moving in the darker shades as the music rolls and tumble under the stories of Brad Armstrong. Empire strikes chords mostly played from the hand of Brad Armstrong, with Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, solo) backing on harmonies, and Jason Lucia (13Ghosts, Deadstring Brothers) on drums. Empire brings Jason back together with former bandmate  in 13Ghosts, Brad Armstrong.    

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28 The Monkees (from the album Good Times)   (5-27-16) - Not that long ago I would have said The Monkees were a guilty pleasure. The band’s recent release, Good Times, moves aside any guilt to proudly get in line as a fan. Good Times is the album that The Monkees have put together to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary as a band. The three surviving members, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, put playing and vocals into the album. The tracks that line Good Times are a mix of band originals added into the template that worked on The Monkees early albums of tunes written specifically for the group.

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29 The Lumineers (from the album Cleopatra)   (4-8-16) - The Lumineers became a Roots music success story with the mega-hit status of their tune “Ho Hey” and healthy chart presence for the following singles. Roots music was in the mainstream, giving The Lumineers a unique position in the Roots music community with a million selling album. Handling success is as much of a challenge as somehow finding the path that gets you there. Cleopatra, the latest release from The Lumineers, stays true to the Roots and Americana that the Denver- Colorado-based trio has honed. The songs were carefully grown and trimmed down to bare essentials, allowing the emotional beauty of the tracks to hold center stage in the words and music. The piano work of Jeremiah Fraites, how also holds down the role of drummer, has a strong presence on Cleopatra. Jeremiah is co-songwriter for The Lumineers, joining music to the words of lead vocalist/guitarist Wesley Schultz. The pair complete the band circle with cellist/vocalist Neyla Pekarek.

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30 Sarah Jarosz (from the album Undercurrent  (6-17-16) - An album should be a reflection of its artists life in the songs. Sarah Jarosz went into the studio to record Undercurrent with a blank canvas of future. The recording is her fourth release for Sugar Hill Records, and the first since her move to New York City after graduating from New England Conservatory of Music. The album is a time capsule, and like maky of our own lives, takes one step forward, one step back, one step forward in its dance of life. Sarah is satisfied with the flow of Undercurrent, seeing the album as ‘this is the first record I've made since being out on my own and experiencing a lot of changes, and I think that that's reflected in the songs. It's also the first record I've ever made that feels to me like a complete thought, with a beginning, a middle and an ending.  It's also the first time I've made an album that doesn't have any covers on it.  I wanted it to feel like the rollercoaster ride that is life, so I put a lot of thought into sequencing the songs.  It was important for me to start with light, and then go through darker times, and stubbornness and strength and weakness, and then end up on a hopeful note’.

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31 Carter Sampson (from the album Wilder Side)  (1-12-16) - The words of Carter Sampson are sharp, scenes clear and characters that seem very familiar to those walking between the devils and angels hanging out on your own shoulders. She delivers her tales on the soft roll of Tulsa rhythms on her recent release, Wilder Side.  Carter Sampson asks for “Holy Mother” to keep an eye out as ‘me and the girls are going out on the town’, asking for help from above to make sure they do not ‘go home with a guitar man, or anyone else in the band’.  Carter Sampson has a knack for penning her words as mirrors, allowing the truths of her life as support within the lives of listeners, particularly those for whom the road is not an option but a default.

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32 The Waco Brothers (from the album Going Down in History)   (2-26-16) - The Waco Brothers play Country music. The venues suitable for touring behind their most recent release, Going Down in History, offer a wider than net than more traditional Country outlets as The Wacos comfortably plug into clubs catering to fans from punks to posers. While their mix of Country and Punk Rock might not seem really revolutionary in 2016, The Waco Brothers have been knocking back shots of their own branded Alt Country for twenty years, and were among the first bands to proudly grab a stool at the bar between Cash and Clash. Going Down in History crackles with intensity, playing that lets you feel the heat from the amps and every drumbeat/bass thump deep inside your chest. The playing is primal, but never feral. The Waco Brothers are gentlemen gamblers as they deal rock’n’roll from the bottom of a Country deck, slapping smirks and guitar chords down as winning hand.

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33 Beth Lee and the Break-Ups (from the album Keep Your Mouth Shut)  (5-5-16) - Beth Lee bites bullets on Keep Your Mouth Shut, firing a tease with teeth into the album. Her pen is dipped in done-wrong ink as The Breakups back tales of treachery with rock’n’rolling Country. She manages to be both worldly and wide-eyed in her characters. Beth Lee is a seductress with a snarl as she draws love into her flame far enough to leave a mark as she steps on the hearts trailing her around.

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34 The Adam Ezra Group (from the album Songs for a Movie)   (5-22-16) - Rhythms rule on Songs for a Movie, the most recent release from The Adam Ezra Group. The album separates from the past for The Group with the use of beats as well as a depth to the story telling and a more intuitive playing from the band, born from touring travel and road performances. While the tracks do not run under any specific films, the tunes open curtains on individual vignettes within the production.

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35 Amelia White (from the album Home Sweet Hotel)   (2-5-16) - Amelia White unlocks the door and checks into Home Sweet Hotel for her most recent album release. Write what you know might be one of the lessons taught for songwriters taking courses on story content for their tunes. The results are songs about life, taking aim at its loves and losers with words of advice based in experience and observation. Like it sounds, those ideals are text book versions of the singer/songwriter lifestyle. The reality for the traveling troubadour is that lovers at home stay in your heart but the beds that wait for you after a show are empty. Amelia White writes what she lives on Home Sweet Hotel.  The tunes on Home Sweet Hotel do not take sides; they are extensions of the issues that roll around in the mind of Amelia White.

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36 Hard Working Americans (from the album Rest in Chaos)  (5-13-16) - Dedication to the art of a song plays a major role as Hard Working Americans are on-the-job in their second album release, Rest in Chaos. Hard Working Americans bring together musicians whose careers precede them as songwriter/author/ Todd Snider stands behind the microphone with Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, and behind the boards as producer. Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Band) is on guitar with additional work on electric and pedal steel guitars from Jess Aycock, Chris Stahley (Great American Taxi) handles keyboards, and Duane Trucks sits behind the drums.  

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37 Sultans of String (from the album Subcontinental Drift)   (2-5-16) - Sultans of String offer ragas, reels, and rhumbas in a joyful celebration of song as Subcontinental Drift. The Canadian-based band brings in sitar master Anwar Kurshid, creating a bridge for world rhythms to cross freely. The Sultans Chris McKhool (bandleader/violinist) felt that ‘there is something magical about joining the world music rhythms we play, but with pop sensibilities and forms and lengths, and blending that with the music of the East’.  When Chris heard the rumba rhythms in the guitar work of Kevin Laliberté, the Sultans of String were born. Traveling as a duo and band, the group has garnered Juno nominations and Canadian Folk awards with Chris McKhool receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in creating community through music.

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38 Rebekah Long (from the album Here I Am)    (5-20-16) - One listen to Here I Am, the recent release from Rebekah Long, gives a fast track understanding of her love of Bluegrass and the ability to put that passion into her playing. For any non-believers, she has credentials in the form of a BA in Bluegrass and Music Education garnered from her 2002 studies at the Glenville State College Bluegrass Certificate Program. The title track for Here I Am is authored by the album’s producer, Donna Ulisse, who joins husband/bandmate Rick Stanley and Rebekah as co-writer for many of the cuts included on the release. The LUK Records release keeps Rebekah Long’s co-writers with her at the microphone as Donna and Rick lend vocals, backed by an A-list cast of players, including IBMA banjo player of the year, Scott Vestal, five-time IBMA bass player of the year, Mike Bub, and two-time IBMA mandolin player of the year, Jesse Brock.

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39 The Cactus Blossoms (from the album You’re Dreaming)  (1-22-16) - The Vintage Sound of The Cactus Blossoms provides effects like those ideally presented by a cup of chamomile, a meditative journey inward or an Indica hit of Girl Scout Cookies. Sonically, You’re Dreaming, settles you on a massive audio cloud that tumbles and rolls as it covers the album, successfully capturing analog warmth in a digital world under its canopy. Produced by JD McPherson, You’re Dreaming, frames the harmonies of brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum against a sound that refers to another time in Country music without ever date stamping the tracks.

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40 The Relatives (from the album Goodbye World)  (4-29-16) - The Relatives offer Gospel Funk as a foundation for their music, and expand on the natural electric groove of the band with their recent release, Goodbye World. The Relatives are players and pioneers for the 1970’s Psychedelic Funk that is the bed for their message.  The Relatives lost their mentor and leader just before the recording of Goodbye World was completed. Reverend Gean West had produced two vocals for the album before he became too ill to record, becoming unconscious for twelve days. He rallied to lay down vocals for more tracks on the album.

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41 Kalyn Fay (from the album Bible Belt)   (6-10-16) - The Oklahoma Room was the hot ticket for Folk Alliance 2016. Kalyn Fay was one of Tulsa talents that played, and played, and played throughout the weekend.  The musicians mixed and mingled, backing one another and stepping to center stage as needed. The sound that Kalyn presents on her recent Horton Records release, Bible Belt, once again showcases the music of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its family of musicians. Kalyn Fay passes over her stories with an easy vocal, her voice landing on the music bed to tease the tales by stretching out the notes to the edge of the rhythms. Bible Belt whispers secrets in its title track as Kalyn sings of childhood, still calling home a place she has left behind long ago.

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42 Whitehorse (from the album The Northern South, Vol 1)   (5-6-16) - Whitehorse define their sound as Intergalactic Blues grooves meet the full force of guitar gravity. That is true, the music is other-worldy, a virtual graveyard sound given birth in a studio. Whitehorse successfully trace a line back in their Blues that honors its southern birth with the latest release from the Canadian husband and wife duo, The Northern South Vol 1. The album spits and snarls, the guitar is feral, biting as much as riffing.

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43 Quaker City Night Hawks (from the album El Astronauta)    (5-20-16) - Coming off tour runs with Chris Stapleton, Lucero, and Leon Bridges, Quaker City Night Hawks update Texas Boogie on their recent release, El Astronauta. Quaker City Night Hawks sparkle notes over the hard drive of “Liberty Bell 7” as they “Beat the Machine” on an assured rhythm, throw feedback across the gentle audio waves lapping against “The Last Great Audit” and funk the fire of “Something to Burn”. A darkness shakes the ground in “Duendes” as Quaker City Night Hawks sink the track in a rabbit hole of fractured sounds and hard hitting beats.

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44 Willie Sugarcapps (from the album Paradise Right Here)  (4-15-16) - Willie Sugarcapps deliver album number two with Paradise Right Here. The band is made up of Roots music players with credentials including Jimmy Buffet, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Winwood as well as their own careers. It was in lower Alabama at Blue Moon Farm that Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Sugarcane Jane (Anthony Crawford and Savanna Lee) and Corky Hughes played together at a musical gathering called The Frog Pond. Paradise Right Here was produced by Willie Sugarcapps with Trina Shoemaker (Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks) and recorded over three days at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The second outing for Willie Sugarcapps wears the confidence of touring as a band in its songs. The tracks are unified within the band’s sound brand while the pens of its members walk with more definition.

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45 Mark Erelli (from the album For a Song)   (4-8-16) - Mark Erelli gives the answer immediately on the album title for his recent release, For a Song. The questions spring from his touring schedule being a solo musician and recently backing Lori McKenna, playing Royal Albert Hall backing Josh Ritter, and working with Paul Cole. Why do this to the lives you love back home? Where does it end? The questions came from different points and all led to the same answer, For a Song. Mark Erelli remembered ‘that’s been the answer to almost every question I’ve asked myself for quite some time’. He sings out a life with that focus in the title track on a story littered with post cards to young lives back home, warning the ‘road is not your friend, just a means to an end’ as a way of explaining absence.

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46 Derek Hoke (from the album Southern Moon)  (4-22-16) - Derek Hoke took to the road to create the first takes of the songs on Southern Moon. The tunes took their form on late night drives with a voice recorder in the passenger seat.  To complete the pre-recording process, Derek used audience response from his weekly $2 Tuesday residency at East Nashville’s The 5 Spot to fine-tune the tracks. Southern Moon welcomes Elizabeth Cook into a duet with Derek on “Still Got Time”, featuring backing vocals on the album from Chuck Mead and Robyn Hitchcock as well as Mickey Raphael on harmonica.

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47 Willie Nile (from the album World War Willie)   (4-1-16) - Willie Nile pretty much just has to stand in one place with his standard uniform of black leather jacket, sunglasses, and revolutionary stance to let you know his politics. Just in case anyone missed the look or the four decades of Rock’n’Roll testimonials from his pen, Willie Nile paints his persona across the cover of his most recent release, World War Willie. The cover image is of Dresden after bombing in WWII. Willie stands in front the desolation with his guitar, stating that ‘for me rock’n’roll, at its best, helps to make some sense of the world. There can be a redemptive quality to it. I guess it’s me trying to make some sense of the world with rock’n’roll’.

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48 Grant-Lee Phillips (from the album The Narrows)  (3-18-16) - The sound of The Narrows is dusty and wide open. It is the one souvenir that Grant-Lee Phillips took when he left California in 2013, following the worldwide that leads back home to Tennessee. Born in the San Joaquin Valley, Grant-Lee spent time by The Bay in San Francisco and made his home in Los Angeles since the age of nineteen. While the music maintains Grant-Lee Phillips’ Western Roots, his parents claimed southern ties. Nashville felt like a missing piece for his music, and The Narrows goes wide and deep to sink in Roots.

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49 The Bo-Keys (from the album Heartaches by the Number) 4-29-16 - The Soul of The Bo-Keys is a pure one. The band naturally inhabits a sound that is a cottage industry for their base in Memphis, Tennessee. Their recent release, Heartaches by the Number, puts the band behind stories of love and loss as the tracks are surrounded by a Vintage warmth buried deep within the sound. The Bo-Keys recorded Heartaches by the Number onto analog tape at Electraphonic Recording in Memphis.  Produced by bandleader Scott Bomar (bass, percussion), the album is the third release from The Bo-Keys since forming in1998.

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50 Dori Freeman (from the album Dori Freeman)   (2-5-16) - The purity in the vocal of Dori Freeman is a combination of her heritage with a natural confidence in how her voice tells its tale. Dori is a daughter of Appalachia, and the mountains dig roots into her own growth as a singer. Dori Freeman makes use of geography, adding a slow drawl to her delivery that fits well with the natural bends and gentle twang in her voice as it reaches up to call out notes cradled in the arms of the mountains as they climb to their highest peaks.

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the alternate root top female blues artistsMa Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Helen Humes, Sippie Wallace, are names equally as famous in blues music history as Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf. Women were among the original innovators and performers of the blues. Women blues singers were among the first to be recorded. They hold as important a place in the history of traditional American blues as any men, and today, they are leading the way forward, creating a revival of blues music.

As we say goodbye to March and "Women's History Month," we're closing it out with a list of 30 women who are tearing it up on the blues circuit today and making some of the most electrifying and creative blues music out there. Some have been doing it for decades and some are newcomers that have gathered the souvenirs left on the path by the past and current masters. All of these women can sing with broad ranges of emotion and power. Some of these women are extraordinary guitar players as well, and all of them are consummate performers.

We've included a sampler for this list with the hope that many of you will discover new sounds and reconnect with some old ones you may have forgotten, and go out there and support independent music. It's not a history lesson of the genre. It's the opinion of our staff with help from some musicians we respect and some friends in radio and print media. It's more about today than yesterday. So here it is...The Alternate Root's 30 Women Burning Up the Blues! Enjoy!

rory block in the alternate rootRory Block - Many have been crowned "Queen of the Blues" including our number two on this list, but Rory Block is the true "Matriarch" of the family. Rory Block is the most authentic purveyor of the traditions that are the foundation of American Blues music, and she's a master of most of its forms. She ran away from home at age 15 and landed at the footsteps of the giants, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt whom she now pays tribute to with a series of albums dedicated to her mentors. A monster guitar player, Rory is in a class by herself as a living legend of the blues.

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shemekia copeland in the alternate rootShemekia Copeland - The daughter of guitar slinger and blues singer Johnny Copeland, Shemekia has the purest "blues" voice on the list, getting her start in her teens as the opening act for her then ailing father. She scored a choice gig for a debut album with Alligator Records in 1998 and has released a continuous flow of award winning and critically acclaimed albums since. Dubbed "Queen of the Blues" to succeed the late KoKo Taylor by Taylor's daughter Cookie, Shemekia's voice is guttural and powerful like the blues belters Koko Taylor, Etta James and Bessie Smith, but she can also reach down range for emotion in the vein of her idol Ruth Brown.  33 1/3 is her most recent release.

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deborah coleman in the alternate rootDeborah Coleman - The female incarnation of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Deborah Coleman is one of the most sought-after and highly respected blues performers in the world. Though not as commercially successful or instantly recognizable as Bonnie Raitt, Coleman is the premier female blues guitarist/singer combination. She can tackle Chicago, delta and Texas blues with fluidity and skill both vocally and instrumentally. An incendiary performer, she's a staple at major festivals around the globe.

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susan tedeschi in the alternate rootSusan Tedeschi - Susan Tedeschi started out in Boston playing the local blues circuit at age 13. After attending Berklee School of Music, she formed her first blues band and released her debut album, 'Just Won't Burn,' in 1998. Vocally she drifts between Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt with boosts of raw power and graceful, smooth soul. After a successful solo career, she teamed up with husband Derek Trucks to form Tedeschi Trucks, one of the top bands in the country. Though an amalgam of Southern Rock and Blues make up the Tedeschi Trucks sound, Susan Tedeschi can still 'bring it' at any given moment.

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tracy nelson in the alternate rootTracy Nelson - Tracy Nelson is still belting it out 49 years after her first release with the same soulful fury. She's shared the stage with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and broken bread with Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Irma Thomas. Through all of that and six albums with her band Mother Earth, Tracy Nelson has never received the full recognition she deserves as one of the great female contributors to the post-war era blues. Her collaboration with Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson called "Blues Broads" has received global critical acclaim. Victim of the Blues was the last Tracy Nelson studio album.

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bonnie raitt in the alternate rootBonnie Raitt - She's probably the most recognizable female blues artist in the world and well known as a guitar slinger to boot. Bonnie Raitt has been electrifying audiences and influencing young musicians for four decades, and she has the awards and accolades from numerous sources to prove it. Though her career skyrocketed early and ebbed for a period, she came back with a vengeance in 1989 and has been on a solid trajectory ever since. She's been recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 greatest singers and 100 greatest guitar players of all time -- the only woman to have that prestigous recognition.

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lou ann barton in the alternate rootLou Ann Barton - Lou Ann Barton was a founding member of Double Trouble along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and revitalized the Texas blues sound in the 1970's along with bands like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and the W.C. Clark Review. Not unlike many blues artists of her caliber, her solo work has always been well received critically while gaining only modest success commercially. Today, she tours as part of Jimmie Vaughan's band Tilt-A-Whirl and she's widely recognized as one of the best live blues singers.

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angela strehli in the alternate rootAngela Strehli - A historian of Texas blues, Angela Strehli is credited with being one of the keystones in the Austin blues scene of the 1980's along with Clifford Antone, the Vaughan Brothers and The Fabulous Thunderbirds founder, Kim Wilson. She's had only a modest recording career in spite of being mentioned in most conversations that include influential blues performers or contributors. Vocally, she glides from the range of Bette Midler to the soul of Tracy Nelson to the grace of Marcia Ball, often in the same song.

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ana popovic in the alternate rootAna Popovic - The heir apparent to Bonnie Raitt or Deborah Coleman as the top female blues guitarist/singer combo, Ana Popovic exploded out of the active European blues scene in the late 1990's and has been collecting awards globally ever since. Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Popovic learned the blues through and extensive collection of American blues recordings that her father owned and shared with her. She studied jazz guitar in the Netherlands and applied the elements to her style and tone, winning her instant recognition on the European circuit as one of the best new guitarists. She possesses a deadly combination of smooth, supple vocal delivery and extensive knowledge of traditional blues styles.

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marcia ball in the alternate rootMarcia Ball - Piano master Marcia Ball is one of the grand women of late century blues, enjoying her greatest moments of success in the 1980's and 90's although she continues to perform and record at the top of her game today. She was born in Texas but grew up in Louisiana and gets her greatest influences from the indigenous music of the Gulf Coast; zydeco, cajun, swamp blues and the boogie-woogie sounds that vibrate from Bourbon Street. Her silky smooth vocals are a delight with hints of Roberta Flack and Maria Muldaur.

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sue foley in the alternate rootSue Foley - Another of the major female talents to rise out of the vibrant Austin blues scene, Canadian-born Sue Foley may be best known for her recent work with soul mate Peter Karp, but she has a substantial solo career to look back on as well. She was one of the more successful blues singers on the first Antone's label recordings in the early 1990's. Sue Foley has received high praise as a terrific guitar player with a soulful, passionate voice.

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carolyn wonderland in the alternate rootCarolyn Wonderland - There are guitar "goddesses" and Carolyn Wonderland is one of them. She's also one the most soulful singers on the modern blues circuit, although her music is far from straight on blues. She can go rogue at any moment and often does, drifting into Cajun, country, rock and soul with uncanny ease. A multi-instrumentalist, Carolyn Wonderland is accomplished on accordion, trumpet and keyboards, in addition to her renowned guitar skills. She has credit on some 20 plus recordings, including six critically acclaimed solo albums.

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eden brent in the alternate rootEden Brent - Critics have placed her somewhere between Bessie Smith, Diana Krall and Janis Joplin which is a good place to be if you're Eden Brent. The virtuoso piano player studied under Mississippi delta blues pioneer "Boogaloo" Ames for over 15 years and is single handedly keeping the authentic boogie style blues of the delta alive. Ames would later dub her "Little Boogaloo." As a performer, she wanders through fields of jazz, blues, rock and soul, sometimes as a cool delta breeze and other times like a Tornado Alley twister. Brent's music is infectious and in terms of authenticity, nearly flawless.

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sarah mac in the alternate rootSarah Mac – Sarah Mac’s music is a combination of blues, jazz, and acoustic rock that has been classified as both Americana and Alternative. Sarah, and her backup, the Sarah Mac Band, describe the sound as ‘jazzy, bluesy, rock with a healthy dose of soul’. Sarah’s voice has a nice low end to it. Just when you think she has hit the bottom, she goes a little deeper. Sarah Mac Band’s most recent album release is Static & Signals.

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erin harpe in the alternate rootErin Harpe - Erin Harpe has been hailed as “an authentic blues chanteuse”, earning a reputation for her raw style and her abandonment to the song. Erin grew up around the Washington, D.C. area . She began playing the guitar in her teens, taught by her father, bluesman Neil Harpe. She began performing at folk festivals, coffee houses, bars, and parties where she developed her own style. Relocating to Boston to develop her music career, she met local blues talents such as Paul Rishell and Susan Tedeschi.  She was the 2013 winner of the Boston Music Award for Best Blues band with her mates The Delta Swingers. Erin has released two acoustic blues albums, her debut Blues Roots (2002) and 2008's Delta Blues Duets.

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ruthie foster in the alternate rootRuthie Foster – Ruthie Foster came from humble church choir beginnings in rural Texas, followed by a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy Band, and ended up in New York City with a major-label development deal that soon went sour. She moved back to Texas and resumed her music career in Austin, winning Best Folk Artist in 2004-05 and Best Female Vocalist in 2007-08. She broadened her sound by blending blues and soul aspects into her folk roots. Her most recent release, Let It Burn, features The Funky Meters rhythm section, Ike Stubblefield, William Bell and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

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beth hart in the alternate rootBeth Hart – Beth Hart has been recording since her 1996 Atlantic/Lava Records debut, Immortal. Over the past few years, her career has been in a state of change. A chance meeting with blues great Joe Bonamassa led to an introduction to producer Kevin Shirley.  He would later come on board to produce Beth’s release, Bang, Bang Boom, Boom. Beth was recently asked by Jeff Beck to sing at the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors as a tribute to bluesman Buddy Guy.  Hart admits she might actually be happy. “Often on old records, I wrote about pain and fear. I didn’t write so much about love. I always felt like I didn’t understand it or wasn’t worthy. This is the first album where I have, and it’s such a beautiful feeling. I feel like I’ve gotten to fit into a new pair of shoes, y’know, and I can walk a different walk. Every album is special to me. But with this one, there’s a real specialness about it, because I’m at a different age and in a new head-space.”

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christine santelli in the alternate rootChristine Santelli – The New York City music scene and Christine Santelli have been together for more than two decades. Her most recent release, Dragonfly, came as a result of a personal challenge Christine set out to fulfill. Christine wrote and video taped 100 original songs in 100 consecutive days and shared them on Facebook and You Tube. She chose fifteen of these originals and recorded them for this first solo acoustic album.

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natalia zuckerman in the alternaterootNatalia Zukerman - Natalia Zukerman grew up in New York City, studied art at Oberlin, worked in mural arts in San Francisco, began her songwriting career in Boston, and now resides, writes, plays and paints in Brooklyn, NY. She is the daughter of Classical musicians Eugenia and Pinchas Zukerman, but it was not her mama’s strings that Natalia wanted to get her hands on. Natalia found her muse was leading her in the direction of slide guitar, lap steel, and dobro. The earthiness and honesty of Folk, Bluegrass, Jazz and Blues music was the well from which she drew inspiration, adding in the natural seductiveness of her voice. Gas Station Roses is her most recent release.

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samantha fish in the alternate rootSamantha Fish – Twenty-two year old Samantha Fish got hooked by the blues and immediately started paying her dues in the local Kansas City, Mo. music scene. Her debut album, Runaway, showcases her playing, in her words, “all the sounds I grew up with, with my own spin”. On Runaway, Samantha Fish moves her guitar seamlessly through sharp-edged, riff-driven blues, breakneck boogies,  smokey, late-night jazz and 70’s arena Rock/Blues.

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gina sicilia in the alternate rootGina Sicilia – Philadelphia native, 25-year-old Gina Sicilia, was an out of the box hit with her 2007 debut album, Allow Me to Confess. The songs on her albums that do not have the GS writing credit, manage to fit in seamlessly as Gina gives new life to neglected tunes.  On her most recent release, It Wasn't Real, Gina broadens and stretches her styles, adding Soul and Americana to her keeper influences of Blues and R&B. This album features seven Gina Sicilia compositions, as well as three covers borrowed from Bobby Bland, Stevie Wonder, and Ike & Tina Turner.

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sunday wilde in the alternate rootSunday Wilde - Sunday Wilde is a blues woman. Her album, He Gave Me a Blue Nightgown, has the sound of an album similar to 1920’s/30’s Blues women such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Sunday Wilde made a decision to stay on home turf for the recording process, away from the sterile safety of previous times recording in Toronto studios. He Gave Me a Blue Nightgown was recorded in hunting lodge cabins near her Northern Ontario home-- the results again, harkening back to the scratchy quality that we hear today from the blues greats of the 20’s and 30’s.

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cassie taylor in the alternate rootCassie Taylor - Cassie Taylor comes from Boulder Colorado. Her personality combines a compelling mix of music, theater, fashion and modeling into her repertoire, making her a great candidate as an ambassador of blending the arts. Cassie is the daughter of renowned bluesman Otis Taylor and toured in his band for seven years as bassist and backup vocalist. Cassie serves on the board of directors of The Blues Foundation. Her songwriting is the kind of blues which explores the trials and tribulations of a twenty-something woman. Cassie uses pop vocals and deeply-rooted blues bass lines to deliver her music to the world. Cassie Taylor's most recent release is Out of My Mind..

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the top 20 of the second generationBeing the child of a celebrity can often be a daunting life. Scrutiny is high along with expectations. When the chosen profession is the same as the parent, the expectations are doubled. The obvious opportunities to bypass certain rungs on the ladder to success are both the spoils and the pitfalls. They must be used wisely to avoid the claims that one is just riding on the success that was merely a coincidence of birth. The demons of the parent can surface in the next generation, becoming easy prey for the critics who circle above waiting for that shoe to drop. History is littered with children of celebrities who couldn't  overcome the obstacles or meet unrealistic expectations. History is also full of those who met or exceeded expectations, carved their own paths, used the opportunities and inherent gifts to create their own legacy, and passed it to third or even fourth generations. The more grounded the top level, the better the chances that subsequent generations will be successful at whatever the chosen path.

We've seen many stories and lists like the one we've compiled here. We tip our hat to the grand successes of Jakob Dylan, Roseanne Cash, Norah Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Julian Lennon, Jason Bonham and many others, but frankly, do any of them need any more press than what they receive regularly? We focused here on the next generation that is rising from the Americana Roots music world. This is the music we celebrate and the children of the lesser known celebrities is where we've concentrated our efforts. They are making innovative, forward-thinking music much like their celebrity parents and this is our spotlight on them.

Here is the Alternate Root Top 20 of the Second Generation

justin townes earle in the alternate root1. Justin Townes Earle born in Nashville in 1982, is the son of Steve Earle and Carol-Ann Hunter. He was raised by his mother in East Nashville after his parents split when he was 2. Justin inherited many of the enormous skills of his father and also, many of the demons. Like his father, he has faced addiction and rehabilitation and emerged the better for it. Unlike his father, his writing, at least at this point in his career, leans less on the socio-political side and more on the personal, relational side of the music spectrum. He's a consummate artist, always reaching for something new, challenging himself musically and spiritually. His music bridges soul, blues, country, rock and folk and never stays static from one project to the next, which is what makes him so intriguing and unpredictable.

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shemekia copeland in the alternate root2. Shemekia Copeland  was born in Harlem, NYC in 1979, the daughter of Texas guitar slinger and blues singer Johnny Copeland. She got her start while in her teens as the opening act for her then ailing father. She scored a choice gig for a debut album with Alligator Records in 1998 and has released a continuous flow of award winning and critically acclaimed albums since. Dubbed "Queen of the Blues" to succeed the late KoKo Taylor by Taylor's daughter Cookie, Shemekia's voice is guttural and powerful like the blues belters Koko Taylor, Etta James and Bessie Smith, but she can also reach down range for emotion in the vein of her idol Ruth Brown.   33 1/3 is her most recent release.

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sarah lee guthrie in the alternate root3. Sarah Lee Guthrie is both second generation and third. The granddaughter of the great Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo Guthrie, Sarah was born in Massachusetts in 1979. She did not seriously pursue music until her late teens when she worked as a tour manager for her father. Her first solo album was released in 2002 although she had already been touring with future husband and musical partner Johnny Irion, and the grandson of Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger under the name RIG.Together Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion have released a string of critically acclaimed recordings, won numerous awards and have appeared at nearly every notable music festival and venue there is. The two are working with Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy on an album slated for release sometime in 2013.

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holly williams in the alternate root4. Holly Williams, like Sarah Lee Guthrie, is both second generation and third. She is the granddaughter of Hank Williams and the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and was born in Nashville in 1981. She did not instantly pursue a career in music despite her "royal" lineage, having a greater interest in modeling than music. Her parents separated when she was very young, but Hank Jr. began taking her to his shows when she was in her teens exposing her to the music business from a lofty plateau. Soon after, she began playing and writing her own music. Musically more attuned to Hank Sr. than her father, she released her finest recording The Highway earlier this year on her own label, Georgiana Records, to rave reviews.

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pieta brown in the alternate root5. Pieta Brown is the daughter of folk singer Greg Brown and like so many other offspring of a famous parent, she was raised by the one who wasn't famous. In this case, it was her mother, after her parents split when she was young. She was born in Iowa in 1973. She inherited Greg Brown's penchant for fine songwriting but tends to write from a more poetic, personal perspective than one of a story teller.  Vocally, she has a distinct style that blends a bluesy, jazzy timbre.  Unlike her father's folk style, her music is painted with strokes of blues, jazz and classic melodies.

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ben taylor in the alternate root6. Ben Taylor is the child of not one, but two, monumental musical parents, singer songwriters James Taylor and Carly Simon. Despite that flawless gene pool, Ben Taylor was a latecomer to the music business that would eventually become his profession. A shy and somewhat reserved young man, he spent time traveling the world, gathering spiritual souvenirs that would later become the foundation for strong, confident music. After a couple of nearly non-existent releases on Epic Records and their subsidiary Work Group, Taylor signed with WEA's Iris Records and released Famous Among the Barns in 2003, which essentially brought him to, what is now, international recognition.

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curtis mcmurtry in the alternate root7. Curtis McMurtry, the son of the brilliant singer songwriter James McMurtry, was born in 1991 in Austin, TX. His grandfather is the acclaimed screenwriter and novelist Larry McMurtry, and it takes just a few minutes into his songs to see that he inherited both his father's and grandfather's skill as a writer. Musically, he strays from the path of his father into territory more attuned to Tom Waits with heavy influences of Dixieland and New Orleans jazz and less focused on political posturing. He's a multi-instrumentalist who is currently studying music at Sarah Lawrence College in NYC but takes time to record and perform with his band Curtis McMurtry and the Chosen Ones.

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8. Dustin Welch is the son of the acclaimed singer/songwriter Kevin Welch. Born in Nashville in 1981, his beginnings saw him surrounded by musical treasures, songwriters, players, producers and the Nashville scene in general, and those riches would stimulate his musical upbringing and influence his music. Early in his life, he would team with musicians as diverse as Cary Ann Hearst, Justin Townes Earle, Travis Nicholson and Corey Younts in different bands, building a love for old country blues, folk and bluegrass. But it was his exposure to post punk and indie rock with San Diego-based band Scotch Greens that would put it all together. His music today infuses a lifetime of influences into a dizzying diversity of styles exemplified on his latest and best release, Tijuana Bible.

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devon allman in the alternate root9. Devon Allman, the son of Gregg Allman and Shelley Kay Jefts, was born in 1972. Devon grew up in St. Louis, raised by his Mom in a typical suburban household. He didn’t meet Dad Gregg until he was in his teens. The pair bonded, but rebellion kicked in and in his 20’s, Devon's musical path was as far  from his Dad’s as possible. He saw the light in his 30’s and embraced the Blues and Roots Rock…..(can I get an amen here?).  Devon Allman keeps busy as the band leader for Honeytribe and a member of Royal Southern Brotherhood. And he still found time to  release his first solo album, Turquoise. The album samples smooth blues jazz (“Time Machine”, “Into the Darkness”), Southern Roots Rock (“When I Left Home”,  “There’s No Time”) and a country fried cover of Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” in a killer duet with Samantha Fish.

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jen chapin in the alternate root10. Jen Chapin is the singer/songwriter daughter of Harry and Sandra Chapin. Her folk moves away from her Dad's coffee house beginnings and, in her own words, into "jazz tinged urban folk... incorporating the funk, soul and improvisation of the city". Jen Chapin is Brooklyn-based, where she lives with husband Stephen Crump (who tours as her bass player in the Jen Chapin Trio) and two kids. Jen has four studio albums bearing her name, Ready,Linger, Open Wide and Light of Mine, all on Hybrid Recordings, and the real-time effort, Jen Chapin Live at the Bitter End from 2000. Multi-taskers take note-- Jen raises the bar adding to her Mom and touring musicians duties, by serving as chairwoman for the organization her dad formed, World Hunger Year.

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shooter jennings in the alternate root11. Shooter Jennings is a child of the road. Born Walton Albright “Shooter” Jennings, the only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, he grew up on a tour bus surrounded by Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Shooter played drums at five, took piano lessons at eight and started playing guitar at fourteen, sometimes playing percussion in his Dad’s band. Shooter headed to Los Angeles from Nashville in 2001, forming Stargunn, a band with music modeled and molded from a hybrid of Skynyrd, Bowie, G’n'R and The Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. He was offered the lead vocalist chair for Velvet Revolver but chose Country, releasing “Put the “o” Back in Country”. He moved into Psychedelia in his music in 2009, deleting nothing but adding in the ability to grow his own in both sound and look. His latest release, The Other Life, is a homerun. It brings together all the notes and styles at his disposal for the business of making music. Rousing country ruckus (“The White Trash Song”), roots rock on an adrenalin rush (“Mama, It’s Just My Medicine”), back porch folk (“Wild & Lonesome”) and a condemnation of posers trying to share in the glory of those who changed country music (“Outlaw You”).

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amy helm in the alternate root12. Amy Helm was born in 1970 to dad Levon Helm and singer/songwriter mom Libby Titus, whom Levon had met while recording The Band’s second album.  Amy is a past and current member of the Levon Helm Band, the Dirt Farmer Band and the Midnight Ramble Band. She tours under her own banner, Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers, and also as a member of the group, Ollabelle. Amy was part of  Blues Tribute to the Greateful Dead in 2001. In the late 2000's, with Ollabelle, Amy Helm participated in another Dead tribute as a member of The American Beauty Project, coordinated and released by FestivaLink at the Fine Arts Center, UMass in Amherst Massachusetts.

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cassie taylor in the alternate root13. Cassie Taylor is the child of Blues-trance master Otis Taylor and Carol Ellen Bjork, a union that produced two daughters. Cassie is the eldest daughter and is featured on many of her Dad’s releases. At 26, Cassie has spent ten years on stage playing bass and singing with Otis. Having a modern day Blues innovator as a father grants a lot of flexibility in your own music, and Cassie makes use of the Blues in all its forms on Blue, her 2011 release. Cassie Taylor will release Out of My Mind in May, 2013, claiming her own ground as an artist. The album will host a tune for her parents with the love letter, “Lay Your Head On My Pillow”. The track was written for the couple's twenty-third anniversary. Cassie says that “It’s about their commitment to each other. Lasting couples go through so much. Also, when you’re broke and don’t know what to get your parents for a present, but you can write a song like this… It’s going to last a lot longer than a toaster.”

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big bill morganfield in the alternate root14. Big Bill Morganfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, a town that his dad, Muddy Waters, made as a mecca for the Blues. Born in 1956, son William had little contact with his Dad and was raised in south Florida by his grandmother. Big Bill had about as much contact with music as with his Dad, and he worked as a teacher after earning a bachelors degree in English from Tuskegee University and in Communications from Auburn U. He did not begin playing music seriously until after his father's death in 1983, and then spent six years studying guitar. The recent Big Bill Morganfield release is Blues With A Mood. The album stays true to the styles of the founding fathers of the Blues, and the diverse ways they expressed the genre. Big Bill says of the project, “I wanted to put together a set of tunes with heavy grooves and deep moods which stay close to the musical genre of Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Junior Parker, Robert Johnson and several of my other musical heroes.

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the chapin sisters in the alternate root15. The Chapin Sisters, Abigail and Lily, are the daughters of folk singer, Tom Chapin, and nieces of Harry Chapin. They formed a band that early on included half-sister Jessica Craven. Before they were really even a band, The Chapin Sisters released a slow, acoustic version of Britney Spears' “Toxic” which garnered attention and radio play. They put together songs for an album and released Lake Bottom in 2008. As a duo, The Chapin Sisters have performed residencies of Old Time Country songs and soon will release a collection tribute to the singing brothers with  A Date With The Everly Brothers, the title taken from brothers Phil and Don’s 1961 album release. The Chapin Sisters do a great job on the album covering the well-known (“Cathy’s Clown”, “Crying in the Rain”) and tracks that never crossed The Everly’s over to mainstream (“Sleepless Night”, “Down in the Winter Garden”). Advanced technology puts the Sisters slightly ahead of the Brothers' originals with the chill factor. Their version of “Dream” re-invents the song to fit into a David Lynch film.

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lucy wainwright roche in the alternate root16. Lucy Wainwright-Roche was born in 1981, the daughter of musicians, Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche. Lucy chose a non-music path for a while, teaching elementary school in New York City. She recorded  two E.P.s, 8 Songs and 8 More, before releasing her debut album, Lucy, in October 2010. Lucy’s Mom, Suzzy, along with her sisters Maggie and Terre, were part of a folk harmony group, The Roches, that had a major influence on artists such as the Indigo Girls. The Athens, Ga.-based group returned the favor when Lucy Wainwright-Roche toured the U.S., opening for the Indigo Girls, who also appear on the Lucy release.

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17. Savannah Welch is the daughter of singer/songwriter Kevin Welch. Her band, The Trishas, was brought together in tribute to her father when Jamie Wilson, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee and Savannah Welch first shared a stage in January 2009. Their plan was simply to perform a couple of songs as part of a musical nod to Savannah’s dad; a joint musical future was not where they were headed. They wound up calling themselves The Trishas on a whim-- the name popping into their heads because they were covering a  Kevin Welch-authored Trisha Yearwood hit. The Trishas' first full-length debut is High, Wide and Handsome. The band has made some good friends while touring outside of their Austin, Texas base, opening for Raul Malo and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Co-writes on High, Wide and Handsome include top-shelf names such as Bruce Robison, Jim Lauderdale, and Jason Eady and the guitar work on the album comes courtesy of Kenny Vaughan, Tammy Rogers, Harry Stinson and Viktor Krauss.

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ivan neville in the alternate root18. Ivan Neville’s career has put him close to the household name of his Neville Brothers Dad, Aaron Neville. Ivan Neville had a Billboard Top 40 hit with his first solo album, If My Ancestors Could See Me Now. In addition to playing and recording with the Neville Brothers, Ivan was a member of Bonnie Raitt’s band from 1985 to 1987, contributed keyboards to The Rolling Stones' Dirty Work and Voodoo Lounge albums, and was a member of both Keith Richards' non-Stones project with Ron Wood, the X-Pensive Winos and The Spin Doctors from 1999 to 2000. 2003 saw Ivan Neville forming his own band, Dumpstaphunk. In 2013, in celebration of the groups' tenth anniversary, they will release Dirty Word in June, showcasing some of the songs at the end of April during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

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liam finn in the alternate root19. Liam Finn is a New Zealand musician, the son of Split Enz/Crowded House front man, Neil Finn. Liam Finn came to fame as part of the New Zealand group, Betchadupa in 2007. His first solo effort, I’ll Be Lightning, broke Liam Finn into the Indie music world. The album is Liam bending and working sound into song. The album was recorded entirely on analog at his father's studio with the stories drawn from Liam’s time living in London. Live, Liam uses looping of his instruments in playback and performs with multi-instrumentalist Eliza-Jane Barnes.  He recorded a version of The Beatles' “Two of Us” with Dad Neil for the I Am Sam film soundtrack. He released his latest album, Fomo, in 2011.

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finley sexton in the alternate root20. Finley Sexton is the teenage daughter of singer and acclaimed songwriter Will Sexton. While not yet fully into a career as a professional musician, she's been raising ears and eyebrows around her hometown of Austin, TX of late at clubs as heralded as Threadgills, The Monkey's Nest, and Maria's. While following in her father's footsteps as a gifted writer and musician, her roots are  grounded in Indie rock, The Smiths, and Jimi Hendrix with a penchant for melody and keen lyrical expression. She may be the youngest performer on this list, but she's got a solid future ahead and a great foundation to build on.


the alternate root magazineThe decade of the 1980's can be looked at musically in a number of ways. On the surface it's easy to dismiss the decade as one of the worst in terms of popular music. What wasn't being dominated by the horror of Journey, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, Toto and Styx was being dominated by Duran Duran, Kenny Loggins, Culture Club and Michael Jackson. The rockers had their own mindless decade being fed a steady diet of Def Leppard, Van Halen, Molly Hatchet and Aerosmith.

We noticed that bands moved the Roots needle further than their album did. It was not a time when artists had the control over their music, or the ability to make music at home. If you were recording, you had someone attached to the project that saw things a different way. There were budgets and every album needed the 'hit single'. The artist development that had existed in the 1960's and 1970's was virtually gone. The major labels were simply showing up and collecting cash. The invention and proliferation of the compact disc started around 1982 when the discs became commercially available. Major labels were more interested in mining the catalogs and reselling hit records in a different format, so radio waves started championing the term 'classic.'

Soul music was either too Pop or too dance. Folk music was still riding high on the success of 1970's singer/songwriters, bluegrass was still traditional. Blues had some artists that were making noise and some were starting to expand with it and have some fun. Rock was the king and the genre took chances. Many of the artists on our list considered themselves to be rock bands but the groundwork laid would have a rippling effect. There were scenes rather than breakout artists. Los Angeles had cow punk and a roots scene that was very much part of punk rock with bands like X, Dwight Yoakam, Lone Justice, The Knitters, The Blasters, Rank and File, Cruzados, Blood on the Saddle and The Long Ryders all fighting for a small piece of ground. The lower east side of Manhattan was still taking pride in its birthing of punk but bands like The Del-Lords, Mike DeVille and Robert Gordon were playing their music and using their influences to create a more roots sound. Athens, GA had the rock of R.E.M., Pylon, The B-52's and Dumptruck. Nashville was set on taking country into modern times and away from the classic sound of Hank Williams. Lefty Frizell and others. The outlaw country was headed in the roots direction with a lot of steam but the music was still more Country than Roots.

As we set out to search for the albums of the 1980's that shaped the Roots Rock movement of today we found that the 80's thrived in terms of great music even though most of the albums we chose as our Top 40 Most Important by and large flew under the radar and we didn't even get into R.E.M., U2, The Alarm, The Clash, The Pretenders or The Psychedlic Furs. We left a ton of great albums off of our list that were in our stack to narrow down from a list of hundreds to a list of 40.

This is not a history lesson about Roots Music in it's purest forms. That music started in the early 1900's and we'll get to it in time. Everyone that followed was influenced by the great masters. These albums and these artists paved the way during the decade previous to our list of the last 25 Years but make no mistake, these albums and these artists were influenced by music from the previous decades and so on. We'll tackle the 70's, 60's and 50's in time and in order.

So here it is. The Alternate Root Top 40 Roots Rock Albums from 1980-89

1. Paul Simon - Graceland (1986) - Graceland brought the indigenous music of South Africa to the world stage and launched the International careers of  more than a few South African musicians. The album combined traditional American elements of pop, a capella, Tex-Mex and zydeco with traditional South African elements of isacathamiya and mbaqanga and the eclectic, critically acclaimed album changed the way the world looked at South Africa at a time when the world wasn't looking at South Africa very favorably. 27 years later this album still stands as a monumental achievement in music and continues to influence musicians around the world.

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2. The Blasters - The Blasters (1980) - The Blasters self titled album caught the music world by surprise...a mix of rock, country, rockabilly, mountain music and early rhythm and blues that burst onto the American music landscape in 1980, ripped your head off and screamed into your soul. It was sweaty, smokey, loud and so original that few people knew what to make of it. Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin along with John Bazz on bass and Bill Bateman on drums comprised the band that had more talent and energy than it should be legal to have in one band. Critics loved it and people associated with the industry shouted about it but the album never found it's way to the masses.

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3. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska (1982) - Nebraska is a bit of an enigma and marks a turning point in the illustrious career of one of America's greatest musical treasures. Springsteen recorded the tracks as demos for an album that was to be recorded by the E Street band. The entire album was actually recorded with the full band but those recording were never released. Springsteen instead released the demos, recorded at home on a four track with very sparse instrumentation. The album's dark subject matter, centered around everyday American blue-collar characters facing challenges without hope or salvation, is unlike any other in the Springsteen catalog.

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4. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985) - Rain Dogs was sandwiched between two other brilliant Tom Waits albums Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years forming a trilogy of sorts. Waits wrote the songs for Rain Dogs in a basement in Greenwich Village in 1984. The album documented the malaise and urban depression of New York City through sounds that included recordings of street noise and a wide range of instrumentation from Waits' dark piano to accordion, marimba, trombone, banjo and upright bass. The album was dark, drifting from old blues to New Orleans funeral dirge and a slew of points in between.
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5. Townes Van Zandt - At My Window (1987) - At My Window was the only release by Townes Van Zandt in the 1980's and was his first studio release in nearly a decade. By then his place on the pantheon of great American songwriters was already secure and the album re-affirmed that Townes still had the songwriting chops. At My Window was different in that it was richer musically than most of his previous material which can be attributed to the production of the legendary "Cowboy" Jack Clement. Clement brought in a host of notable session players including Mark O'Connor, Mickey Raphael and Roy Huskey Jr. and the result was a brilliantly crafted and performed album.

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6. Bonnie Raitt - Nick of Time (1989) - The appropriately titled Nick of Time came at a point in Bonnie Raitt's career where she needed a jolt both professionally and personally. She notes that Nick of Time was the first album she had done sober. Raitt's career was sliding backwards after a string of mediocre albums and  was being kept relevant by appearances on a series of political projects including MUSE, Amnesty International, Farm Aid and Sun City. Nick of Time took off after a sweep of the four Grammy's Raitt was nominated for in 1989 and her career has been on an upward trajectory since. The album was more soul than straight on blues and proved that Bonnie Raitt still had it all.

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7. Los Lobos - How Will the Wolf Survive (1984) - East L.A. has a long history of contribution to the American musical landscape with the influences of brown-eyed soul, R&B and Latino rhythms. Artists that rose up from the vibrant East L.A. scene including WAR, El Chicano and Malo combined Latino rhythms with funk, early R&B and blues. Los Lobos took it a step in another direction, combining traditional Mexican music, rock, folk and Latin rhythms together on their major label breakthrough album How Will the Wolf Survive. The album stands as a benchmark for Americana music and helped to usher in a new genre of music.

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8. k.d. lang - Angel With a Lariat (1987) - Though her albums Shadowland and Absolute Torch and Twang would spawn more 'hits' and radio success than Angel with a Lariat we chose it because it was Lang's coming out party for America and the rest of the world outside of her native Canada. Produced by Dave Edmunds, the album was seasoned with hints of rockabilly, country and British pop and mixed with Lang's unmistakable mezzo-soprano vocals to form a vintage that gets better with age. k.d.lang influenced millions of young women not only as singers but as social and cultural activists as well.

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9. Cowboy Junkies -  The Trinity Session (1988) - It was mostly a family affair for Cowboy Junkies with siblings Margo, Michael and Peter Timmins counted as band members. Their 1986 recording debut was blues inspired, but the sound culture clash of their 1988 release, The Trinity Session, brought a larger audience from a rock camp. The Trinity Session married classic country covers (“Walking After Midnight”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) with classic rock (“Sweet Jane”) all played out of a moody groove and airy arrangements.

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10. Steve Earle - Guitar Town (1986) - Steve Earle's breakthrough album Guitar Town topped the country charts and garnered two Grammy nominations in 1987 and it was the first and last time that "country radio" would recognize Steve Earle. It also marks the starting point for one of the most prolific, politically charged and culturally significant careers in American music history. Little of the subsequent Steve Earle catalog even closely resembles Guitar Town musically but the album sparked a new era of country based rock with intelligent lyrics that continues today.

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11. Blue Rodeo Diamond Mine (1989)- Formed in 1985 in Toronto, Canadians Blue Rodeo released their first album, Outskirts, in 1987, which would have excluded them from our 1988+ list. Luckily, their second album, Diamond Mine, is date friendly and keeps the same intentions of their debut. Blue Rodeo marry rock and country with a true Indie Rock feel and form, with organ swells sharing the sonic space with guitars and rhythm. Diamond Mine balances Indie Rock tunes (“God and Country”) with torchy twang (“How Long”) and a mix of both (“Love and Understanding” and the title track).

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12. The Subdudes - The Subdudes (1989) - The Subdudes debut release The Subdudes proved a couple of things. One is that a major label in 1989 couldn't find it's ass with two hands and a flashlight when it came to roots music. Second was that the "music business" wasn't really about music at all. It was about cash registers although that was pretty much agreed upon by most people already. Had a label like Rounder or Sugar Hill had the album, the effect The Subdudes had on the musical landscape might be much different. The Subdudes combined a plethora of innovative musical styles to their music including blues, swamp rock, cajun, funk, soul, R&B, folk, country and just about everything else and their influence resonates still today.

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13. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (1983) - Blues music post WWII has a tendency to ebb and flow with periods of great popularity followed by periods where it searches for a popular voice and becomes seen as a historical genre. Like Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and The Bluesbreakers before him, Stevie Ray Vaughan arrived on the scene when blues needed a shot in the arm and a popular voice. His debut album Texas Flood may not have been well received by critics or blues purists but it resonated with the public and changed the way a million kids felt when they picked up a guitar. Vaughan's influence on blues based rock will be felt for generations.

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14. Danny Gatton - Unfinished Business (1987) - Danny Gatton was a monster guitar player that fused together a variety of styles including jazz, country, rock and blues to create a sound that mesmerized both his followers and his peers. His fans included guitar greats from Les Paul to Roy Buchanan to Eric Clapton and just about everyone in between. His album Unfinished Business never garnered him the commercial success he deserved although it was met with a mass of critical acclaim. His later releases 88 Elmira Street and Cruisin' Dueces put him on the radar screen and captured a legion of fans but depression would overcome Gatton and his life ended with his suicide in 1994. Unfinished Business would prove to be a prophetic title that many before him from Buddy Holly to John Lennon could have used.

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15. The Del-Lords - Based on a True Story (1988) - The Del-Lords rose up from the post-punk, New York City scene of the 1980's and changed a lot of the status-quo at the time. Ex Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner and ex Joan Jett guitarist Eric "Roscoe" Ambel along with bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro created a sound that melded rock, country, blues and a gritty form of garage together and became one of the most important bands of the decade. The Del-Lords would become the main innovators of the roots rock sound that resonated throughout the following decades and on to today. After two stellar openers, their third album, Based on a True Story would prove to be the Del-Lords crowning acheivement although one more album, Lovers Who Wander would follow.

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16. KoKo Taylor - Queen of the Blues (1985) - One of the original female giants to come out of the Chicago blues scene in the 1960's, Koko Taylor learned from the master himself Willie Dixon who discovered her in 1962. Although her music was well received by critics Taylor pinnacled commercially in 1965 with her song 'Wang Dang Doodle.' Queen of the Blues took the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 1985 and put the name KoKo Taylor back on the map of innovative and electrifying blues performers. In the 1980's Blues was again regaining popularity on the heels of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Cray and KoKo Taylor.

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17. The BoDeans - Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (1986) - The BoDeans emerged from the vibrant Wisconsin music scene that erupted in the 1980's with the Violent Femmes. Their debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams was an instant success and pushed the band too fast into territory they had scarcely earned. Jangly guitars, Beatle-esque harmonies, synergy and simple, light hearted lyrics all wrapped in a masterful work of production by T-Bone Burnett made Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams the BoDeans finest moment. Although they would have a long run as a band and amass a solid body of work, the BoDeans never matched the magic of Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams.

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18 (tie). Semi-Twang - Salty Tears - (1988) - Another band that broke out of the  Milwaukee music scene of the 1980's, Semi-Twang released only one record until re-uniting in 2009 resulting in a subsequent album due in 2013. Salty-Tears united an all star cast of producers, (Mitch Froom, Chris Thomas and Jerry Harrison,) a group of outstanding musicians, a budget from Warner Bros. records and a brilliant collection of songs. The result ushered in the alt-country movement and while it was lauded by critics, there was no radio outlet for it and it floundered commercially.

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18. (tie) Georgia Satellites – Georgia Satellites (1986) - Hair metal was king. and radio rocked. Top 40 was synth dance and lots of hair spray. Into this environment came the simple phrase, “I gotta little change in my pocket going jing-aling-aling”. The Georgia Satellites looked and acted like rock stars on holiday. The sound liberally borrowed from the Faces and The Stones. They took “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, the Roots/Rock version of “if you like it, put a ring on it”, to Number 2 in Billboard and gave Rock’n’Roll another chance on the charts.

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19. The Neville Brothers - Fiyo on the Bayou (1981) - The follow up to the dbut album, The Neville Brothers, Fiyo on the Bayou incorporated more elements of funk, reggae and New Orleans, cajun flavored R&B than it's predecessor. The result resonated with critics and the public and The Neville Brothers have become synomymous with American R&B world wide as a result. It contains the monumental songs, 'Hey Pocky Way,' 'Sitting in Limbo,' and 'The Ten Commandments of Love' that have become 'standards' of the standards.

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20. The Stray Cats - The Stray Cats (1981) - Though the Stray Cats US debut Built for Speed was released in 1982, we chose the debut album and British release Stray Cats for this list. The Long Island band founded by guitar ace Brian Setzer along with upright bass player Lee Rocker and drummer Slim-Jim Phantom had a solid following in the New York City post-punk scene but hit their meteoric stride after re-locating to London in 1981. Stray Cats, both album and band, revitalized the rockabilly movement, created a sub-culture centered around vintage fashion and style and turned millions of American kids on to a forgotten form of American music. 'Rumble in Brighton,' 'Stray Cat Strut,' 'Rock This Town' and 'Runaway Boys,' could have made for a career alone.

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21. Richard and Linda Thompson - Shoot Out the Lights (1982) - After several critically acclaimed albums, Shoot Out the Lights ignited the careers of Richard and Linda Thompson just as the pair were falling apart as a couple. The album stuck with the folk with a strong rock side that Richard Thompson cultivated and shepherded since his first recordings with Fairport Convention. Darkness falls over the songs, like much of the material from Richard Thompson, with love songs taking on an edge in “Don’t Renege on our Love” and “Man in Need”. Richard Thompson can even bring danger to a day in the (amusement) park, with the high climbing tension of “Wall of Death”.

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22. Jason and the Scorchers - Fervor (1983) - Formed in Nashville in 1981, Jason and the Scorchers looked country, played hard rock and crafted songs with the attitude of a punk rocker. Their E.P., Fervor, raised and set the bar for Alt Country earsplitting volumes with six fire-breathing originals, including “Hot Nights in Georgia” and a blistering cover of Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie”.

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23. The Morells - Shake and Push (1982)The Morells released Shake And Push in 1982 with a sound that relied heavily on good old rock’n’roll riffs, the simplicity of rockabilly and story lines that dug deeper. Based in Springfield, Missouri, The Morells gave the world producer/player Lou Whitney. Shake and Push has become one of those legendary releases, with new copies of the disc selling online for close to $200.

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24. Melissa Ethridge - Melissa Ethridge (1988) - Time magazine announced that ‘She’s the Boss’ when Melissa Etheridge became a contender in the crown formerly worn by Bruce Springsteen. Her self-titled debut showed a woman with spit and snarl to her tales of love gone wrong. She balanced her audio attacks with a teasing emotion that lets you think you just might be able to tame her. Don’t count on it!

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25. The Rave-Ups – Town and Country (1985) - The Rave-Ups began life in Pittsburgh, PA but took hold in a second incarnation that set up roots in Los Angeles. The group successfully took Roots/Rock into Pop without getting any of the Pop smear on itself. All four members were at a major label before any deal was signed. Each member of the group had mailroom jobs at A&M Records, and they rehearsed in the basement at night when the offices were closed. Town and Country met with critical acclaim, The Rave-Up’s were an MTV buzz, and they made their movie debut with an appearance in John Hughes’ film “Pretty in Pink”.

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26. T-Bone Burnett - Trap Door (1982) -  In the days before becoming the man set on moving Americana into the mainstream, the Grammy winning producer (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) was a guitarist for Bob Dylan on Rolling Thunder Revue. Trap Door was an E.P. released on the Warner Brothers label that showed how T-Bone Burnett performed on his own. Trap Door contained an in-your-face version of “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend” and the memory of a chance meeting with The Faces/Pink Floyd go-go dancer, Kim English (Kim Boston in England).

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27. Rockpile - Seconds of Pleasure (1980) - As a band, Rockpile made several records before their name appeare on the cover. Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds brought name recognition to the four-piece which also included Billy Bremner (guitar) and Terry Williams (drums). Seconds of Pleasure was the only release from a band that got everything right in music, but could not get past the more human side of group management, ego. “Teacher, Teacher” used old Rock’n’Roll riffs, like many of the Rockpile songs, and let the rhythm tear. Rockpile created great music for a short space in time, but when the wind blows just right, you can still hear the sound hammering away.

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28. Lone Justice - Lone Justice (1985) - Maria McKee and Ryan Hedgecock were playing country covers on the tiny L.A. cow punk scene. Adding in veteran players like bassist/producer Marvin Etzioni helped the band to craft originals. A supporting hand by fan Linda Ronstadt helped them seal a Geffen Record deal, and U2 tapped the band as tour openers. Lone Justice self-titled debut is a roots/rock masterpiece with Maria McKee guiding the songs into Pop (“Sweet, Sweet Baby”), country rock (“After the Flood”) and lunch for the spirit (“Soap, Soup and Salvation”).

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29. Steve Forbert - Streets of this Town (1988) - Steve Forbert returned to recording after a legally imposed six year hiatus with his first release on Geffen Records, Streets of This Town. The album maintained and expanded on the smarts of his lyrics and laid a new found maturity over the story lines. Produced by E-Street bassist Garry Tallent, Streets of This Town further secured Steve Forbert’s  status as a singer/songwriter who would stick around rather than leaving the building when Pop had its fill of the genre.

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30. Joe Ely - Musta Notta Gotta Lotta (1981) - Joe Ely formed The Flatlanders with fellow Lubbock natives Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in 1970. Following some great album releases in the late 1970’s, the singer/songwriter caught a big break from British punk rock gods, The Clash. The band talked about and championed Joe’s music after meeting during a 1977 U.K visit and tour together. Musta Notta Gotta Lotta received lots of love from underground rock radio due to The Clash thumbs up and became his highest charting album with rock friendly tunes like “Hard Livin’” and the title track.

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31. Beausoliel- Bayou Cadillac (1989) - Beausoleil have become world ambassadors for Cajun music. The band hit a creative groove in the 1980’s, and Bayou Cadillac was album number seven for that decade. Bayou Cadillac kept the French language lyrics in place, and amped up the rock punch, adding in English lyrics for crossover appeal. The album’s title track fused Rock’n’Roll classics “Not Fade Away”, “Bo Diddley” and “Iko Iko” into a zydeco reel.

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32. Lyle Lovett - Lyle Lovett and His Big Band (1989) - On his third recording as Lyle Lovett and His Big Band, Mr. Lovett took home a Grammy for best Country Male Vocal performance for the 1989 release. Lyle Lovett’s slightly hesitant delivery never sounded better and his take on classics such as “The Glory of Love” and the gender-bending “Stand By Your Man” took him to a new audience.

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33. The Paladins - The Paladins (1987) - The Paladins formed in the early 1980’s and set the knobs on their amps for rockabilly and roots. Their first, self-titled album was produced by The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson and fanned the fires for roots and maintained a heart on for twang. The Paladins stands firm as a statement to the glory of Roots/Rock that the band maintained until Dave Gonsalez left in 2004 to focus on the Hacienda Brothers.

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34. The Del Fuegos - Boston, Mass (1985) - What was an in-house project for the kitchen workers at Boston’s Hoo-Doo BBQ took greater form when Chef Jimmy Ryan handed the microphone over to guitarist/songwriter Dan Zanes. Dan recruited his brother Warren (at Mom’s request) who took on lead guitar chores and the name OrkBoy. A Miller beer commercial gave them a national TV stage and hits from Boston, Mass such as “I Still Want You” and “Don’t Run Wild” from their second Slash Records release put them on the charts.

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35. Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Robert Cray - Showdown! (1985)  - “Three guitars, no waiting” could have been the sub-title for the 1985 Alligator Records recording of Showdown! by blues guitar men Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. Nine tracks and barely a moment of quiet throughout as Blues axes make quick work of everything in their path.

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36. Nanci Griffith - Once in a Very Blue Moon (1983) - Nanci Griffith brought in musical backing for her third album release, Once in a Very Blue Moon. The folk-fed sparseness of her earlier releases was replaced by a fuller sound that contained a little more Country. Guest musicians Bela Fleck (banjo) and Mark O’Connor (fiddle) bring in musical magic as support for the dream texture of “Year Down in New Orleans” and the nod to favorite venues “Spin Around the Red Brick Floor”.

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37. Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders (1981) -  Joan Armatrading came further into the full-on rock world with the Steve Lillywhite produced Walk Under Ladders. The mix of studio personnel was all over the map with new wave representation from Thomas Dolby and Andy Partridge (XTC), Elton John percussionist Ray Cooper, reggae rhythm man Robbie Shakespeare and Orleans’ Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates alumni, Jerry Marotta.

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38. John Mellencamp - Scarecrow (1985) - Pre-production for Rain on the Scarecrow was simple, and sounds like a lot of fun. John Mellencamp and his band spent a month playing about a hundred Rock’n’Roll songs from the 60’s before heading into the studio to record. The album took a stand in and for the heartland. Without changing the Roots/Rock sound, John Mellencamp brought lyrics that had meaning, talking about good lovin’ in Middle America (“Lonely Ole’ Night”) and touring ala Motown caravans (“R.OC.K. in the U.S.A.”). Rain on the Scarecrow would be the first volley heard for the plight of America’s farmers and for Farm Aid.

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39. Chris Isaak - Silvertone (1985) - Chris Isaak had the snarl and the chops to be the next in line for Elvis Presley comparisons. His band was equally stripped down but the resulting sound was more ethereal and dream like. The tone of the music was a good match for filmmaker David Lynch, whose work in films had the same dreamscape attached. The director’s use of the tune “Gone Ridin’” from Silvertone jettisoned the album to much deserved recognition.

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40. The Beat Farmers - Glad N' Greasy (1985) - The Beat Farmers traveled to England to record Glad N’ Greasy for U.K. label Demon Records. The album, produced by Graham Parker and Rumor keyboardist Bob Andrews continued to put cow punk, Roots/rock, twanging rockabilly and swampy Americana into a blender. Glad ‘N Greasy included a dance hall version of Neil Young’s tune “Powderfinger”, and fellow roots rockers Dave Alvin, Nick Lowe, Gene Taylor and Loudon Wainwright III joined in for the community chorus on “Beat Generation”.

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2013 was a great year for American Roots music and putting together a list of the Top 100 was a long and arduous task. We went around and around about who should be on it and then around again when putting them in the order you see them now. The Top 10, truthfully, could go any way you want it but we had to pick an order...and a number one and we couldn't get past that incredible Band of Heathens record. Then there was the Wood Brothers. Equally incredible. And Over The Rhine and well so on and so forth. When you finish one of these  lists and you think you're done...the ones you forgot start popping up. "Holy shit, we forgot Barrence Whitfield!" So it starts again. Where to put the one's we forgot and who gets bumped. We've undoubtedly missed some that you think should be here and you're probably right, but this isn't science it's only our list of the Top 100 Albums of 2013 and here it is.
band of heathens1. The Band of Heathens - Sunday Morning Record -  The Band of Heathens head back to a time when the depth of a Sunday morning was taken apart your favorite song. Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist were keeping a path forward amid personal and career hurdles. They found that space in their songwriting. The tracks are more personal; though quieter, there is sharp clarity to the album. There is no doubt, that this is music from The Band of Heathens brand. Heart and mind are both represented and appealed to in their songs, and Sunday Morning Record continues to deliver smart stories of real lives, with all the bumps, bruises, and smiles left in.

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the wood brothers2. The Wood Brothers - The Muse - Wood Brother Oliver has name recognition on a number of non-in-house albums, helming the production of projects such as Shemekia Copeland and co-writing the recent Tedeschi-Trucks Band album title track. For their recent release, The Muse, The Wood Brothers went outside of blood relations and chose a producer that uses all of his senses to capture the intricate diversity of the band. Buddy Miller turned the knobs behind the board for The Muse, and added baritone guitar work to the production. Buddy does a fine job in transferring the music to song in a way that nods to influence without needing to stamp the tracks with a particular sound style.

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over the rhine3. Over the Rhine - Meet Me At The Edge of the World - Meet Me at the Edge of the World uses the rural Ohio farmhouse of the husband and wife team of Over The Rhine, dubbed Nowhere Farm, as a backdrop for the stories and the music. The band’s previous works have showcased their art, and their ability to craft music that is full and vibrant. Over The Rhine, with producer Joe Henry,  dedicate themselves to making sure that every note and nuance surfaces in the songs for Meet Me at the Edge of the World. The album is the most song friendly effort from Over the Rhine and, luckily, it is a double disc.

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jason isbell4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern - The songs of Jason Isbell on Southeastern are handled with care, and the album announces Jason’s move to top tier songwriter and performer. His heart still beats Roots; he is after all, a son of Muscle Shoals. Jason Isbell comfortably wears the skin of an American songwriting force with Southeastern. He has equal command of his words and the ability to deliver them with all of their emotion intact. He turns heartbreak into the saving face of salvation in the story line of “Traveling Alone” and steers through a decade of memory glimpsed through the light of “Different Days”.

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5. Patty Griffin - American Kid – Patty Griffin has stated that much of her new release, American Kid, was written to honor her father. Musically. Patty uses her past recorded output as influence in creating something familiar emotionally that dwells in a musical future sound. “That Kind of Lonely” lanquishes in a lush sound collage that gathers strings and hard edge acoustic chords, using Patty’s voice as a beacon to lead the song across stark soundscapes. Patty Griffin has a voice that can whisper or soar with an equal presence. There is a subtle power in each note, a secret knowledge in every vocal tease.

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6. The Greencards - Sweetheart of the Sun - The Greencards have broken musical ground and established themselves as major players in the world of Roots music since they came into being in 2003 and on Sweetheart of the Sun, their musicality spreads out over the water-themed release. Their collective talents are not hidden nor kept to the background and kudos go to The Greencards for making Sweetheart of the Sun feel like one thought rather than individual tracks.

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7. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - Old Yellow Moon – Harmony between old friends is what drives Old Yellow Moon. Emmylou Harris had Rodney Crowell at her side for her own early solo work on seminal album such as Luxury Liner and Elite Hotel. The pair join their voices again with Old Yellow Moon.

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8. Trampled Under Foot – Badlands - Trampled Under Foot boast not one but two Soul force singers with sister/brother Danielle (bass) and Nick (guitar) Schnebelen. Their parents, Bob and Lisa, were fixtures on the Kansas City Blues scene. Nick describes what the father gave his children, “Our dad was in bar bands but he was also recognized as a great blues guitar player. He’d take us to blues jams where we’d meet some real old school artists and hear a cross section of roots music.” Early training shows through on Badlands. Danielle’s siren voice is a beacon light and a lamp in the window. Danielle fully inhabits her cover of James Brown’s “It's a Man's Man's Man's World” with a testifying claim on the crown that will make anyone within ear range a true believer. Badlands is smoldering Soul and Blues.

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9. Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark – Blind, Crippled and Crazy - Delbert McClinton and longtime friend Glen Clark made their last album together in 1973. Forty years on, and the guys decided it was enough fun to do it all over again. The time that has passed has not dulled their roots, and it has given them plenty of fodder for stories, though most of the tales are aimed right back at the two guys behind the microphones. Glen Clark says of the project that they are “a couple of guys who started playing together in ragtag bands around Fort Worth in the '60s,  so we like to poke some fun at ourselves for being older now."

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10. Steve Earle & The Dukes (and Duchesses) - The Low Highway - The Low Highway is the fifteenth Steve Earle studio album. The album style samples from a wide sound backing courtesy of The Dukes and Duchesses. The album showcases the songwriting abilities of Mr. Earle in a manner that cannot be heard in his more genre-specific albums. There is breathing room on The Low Highway, and Steve takes full advantage to stretch. “Pocket Full of Rain” dips its sound into Indie Rock; “21st Century Blues” wonders where all the promises went over a full forward rock rhythm; “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” catches a Cajun fiddle wind that rides into “After Mardi Gras”, where it dips into a more swamp edge. “Calico County” cuts a path with guitars that leave marks like a chem trail across the album and “That All You Got” marries Blues riffs with Zydeco rhythms.

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11. Edie Brickell and Steve Martin - Love Has Come for You – The Steve and Edie (for our times) have created beautiful moments of song on Love Has Come for You. Given history and talents, the album’s quality is not a shock. What is surprising is how well the pair get the banjo and voice to interact. The title track mixes banjos notes and chords to give fullness as Edie spins a mountain tale that builds up instrumentally to bloom like spring flowers within the song. The story follows love through a life showing the strength of the emotion and finding joy even when it reaches the end of its time on earth.

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12. Valerie June - Pushin' Against a Stone – Valerie June refers to her music as Organic Moonshine. She is a major star across that big piece of water east of the US coast; her UK ‘overnight success’ arriving right around the same time as her album debut, Pushin’ Against  A Stone. Vocally, Valerie June can simultaneously give impressions of hurt while assuring that you can climb over anything in your path. Pushin’ Against A Stone crosses sonic borders and comfortably wears folk blues, jazz, rock and soul in its songs without ever having to swear fidelity to any one sound style.

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13. North Mississippi All-Stars - World Boogie is Coming - Pedigree opened doors but once inside, North Mississippi All Stars needed to rely solely on their music. Luther and Cody Dickinson grew up in North Mississippi alongside bluesmen like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and the ghost of Mississippi Fred McDowell. The Dickinson Brothers got some advice from their buddy Seasick Steve, who told them they were the link to North Mississippi Blues for the next generation. Steve’s advice was to keep it primitive. The North Mississippi All Stars wanted to make a cultural statement, and to honor Seasick Steve’s request, and that is exactly what they have down with World Boogie Is Coming. Doing the right thing and giving it a beat.

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14. Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You - Guy Clark holds a photo up to the camera on the cover of My Favorite Picture of You. The image is Susanna Clark, who passed away in June 2012. Guy vivdly remembers the moment, "Me and Townes are in that house, just drunk on our asses, jerks. And she'd had enough, she walked out that front door. I think it was John Lomax who snapped that picture. I had it pinned on my wall, and Gordon [Sampson] came over. We were writing and he had a list of lines and titles and all that shit that most people carry around. I was going through it and I hit on this line that said, 'My favorite picture of you.' I turned in my chair and it was right there in front of me. The lyrics just poured out because all it boiled down to was describing the picture. We might written it in one day."

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15. Slaid Cleaves - Still Fighting The War - Slaid Cleaves is our inner voice and the guide that points us towards the light. His stories use the lives of others to help us make the way over the hurdles in day-to-day existence, and support decisions with the lives of those around us. Slaid starts off Still Fighting the War with its title track. The song follows memories back to Fallujah and addresses the central character in the tale with the observation that “you been home for a couple of years now, buddy, but you’re still fighting the war”.  The song zeroes in on the obvious and makes sure that the truth is present as it sings….”men go off to war for a hundred reasons but they all come home with the same demons”.

Listen and buy the music of Slaid Cleaves from AMAZON or iTunes

16. Anders Osborne – Peace - Anders Osborne is on a Peace mission. Given the subject matter, it might seem that the title is what the man is championing….that is not the case. Anders relates the various stages, transitions, awakenings and pitfalls he has experienced in achieving his own personal Peace. Anders Osborne’s observations are street smart and do not pull punches. To support the realness of his words, Anders fills songs with determined rhythms marinated in the musical stew pot of his New Orleans home.

Listen and buy the music of Anders Osborne from AMAZON or iTunes

17. Mavis Staples - One True Vine - Mavis Staples, and producer Jeff Tweedy, have created the gospel according to Americana with One True Vine. The pair received a Grammy nod and win with their first collaboration, and Ms. Staples wanted to create One True Vine in the same joyous spirit though with an evolution in the music.  The album completely embodies dark and light, both in words and music.

Listen and buy the music of Mavis Staples from AMAZON or iTunes

18. The Milk Carton Kids – The Ash and The Clay - The Ash and Clay lets the guitars have their say, with tones that complement the purity of The Milk Carton Kids vocals. Kenneth Passengale plays a 1954 Martin and Joey Ryan uses a 1951 Gibson, making the guitar sounds sparkle with age in the echo of a thousand notes. The Milk Carton Kids tend to deliver their songs with a quiet power. There is softness to the tunes gathered but they have a bite that safely keeps them out of reach from an easy listening status.

Listen and buy the music of The Milk Carton Kids from AMAZON or iTunes

19. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line – Carnival - The stories on Carnival have their backdrop go from antebellum south to an old man walking a mountain trail in the present day. Nora Jane Struthers is comfortable in the literary side of her tales. Prior to undertaking a full time career in music, she was an English teacher. Nora Jane Struthers and The Party Line take you on a ride in Carnival that captures a lot in the space of fourteen songs and creating an album that will take them from the sideshow to the big tent.

Listen and buy the music of Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line from AMAZON or iTunes

20. James Hunter Six – Minute By Minute - The James Hunter Six play hard though the rhythms of the band do not pound as much as penetrate. Double duty is a default for James Hunter in his songs. His voice guides and keeps the music on track with the happiness the narrator finds in getting it right shining through James’ vocals. James Hunter follows the path of great Soul singers like Al Green, Solomon Burke, and Otis Redding by selling the songs with an honest emotion that allows his vocal chameleon to inhabit his characters.

Listen and buy the music of James Hunter Six from AMAZON or iTunes

21. Yarn – Shine It On – Contrary to Yarn yarns, the stories on Shine the Light On see the band traveling towards the warm glow found in the promise of the album title as they voice humble request in an attempt to strive for, and appreciate, a better life. The words of Blake Christiana and the emotional telling of his vocal delivery have found themselves a good home in the music making of Yarn.

Listen and buy the music of Yarn from AMAZON or iTunes

22. The Defibulators – Debt’ll Get ‘Em - Debt’ll Get ‘Em hits the ground over the speed limit with album opener “Holy Roller”, a tongue-in-cheek gut-kick to organized religion. The Defibulators raise a toast to blue-collar brothers and sisters with “Working Class” a soon-to-be jukebox favorite from the coal mines to the farm fields, stopping at every watering hole from the east to west with truck parking.

Listen and buy the music of The Defibulators from AMAZON or iTunes

23. Steep Canyon Rangers – Tell the Ones I Love - The Rangers never toss a riff over for someone to catch; each note volley included in their songs are hand carried from one member to another on Tell the Ones I Love. The mandolin, fiddle, guitar and banjo leads move between instruments with no bumps though there are some serious jumps in the way the band delivers, and we can hear, bluegrass. Steep Canyon Rangers honor traditions but do not view the sounds that have come before as a sentence but musical arrows that point towards a sonic changes for string bands.

Listen and buy the music of Steep Canyon Rangers from AMAZON or iTunes

24. Jonny Fritz - Dad Country – Jonny Fritz went back to his origins, dropping Jonny Corndawg and reclaiming his real name for his ATO Records debut, Dad Country. Jonny paints himself as the outsider in his songs and backs the Southern literary story lines with classic country playing. He understands that his problems lie with the company he keeps (“Wrong Crowd”, “Social Climbers”), last night’s party (“Goodbye Summer”) and the welcome he gets after driving all night to help blow out the candles (“Ain’t It Your Birthday”).

Listen and buy the music of Jonny Fritz from AMAZON or iTunes

25. I See Hawks in L.A. – Mystery Drug – The gentlemen curators of California Country, I See Hawks in L.A. once again confine literary prose into the borders of a three minute song with Mystery Drug.  They are a giving group and help the songs stick with remember-me hooks in the chorus to take home with you. The Hawks turn the pages of real life in the tales and stitch the songs with Paul Laques psychedelic roots riffs.

Listen and buy the music of I See Hawks in L.A. from AMAZON or iTunes

There is still a lot of summertime and plenty of places to visit in an effort to cram as much into a day/week/life as possible.  We created a short list using Roots music and present the results in an A to Z of Roots Road Trip Songs. Not the tunes that you crank up once the car is running. These are the songs that get you packing. The lyrical bait that hooks you in and entices, whispers in your ear ‘you know you want to be here’ and sings a song to lure you in. Sit back and enjoy. We are not responsible if anyone succumbs to the spell of the songs, though we will take complete responsibility if you have a good time.

A – “Atlantic City” - The Band   (from the album Jericho) - The Jersey Shore has changed only in the obvious ways that it takes money from the masses. Your vacation can be out in the open, or at least your kids and in-laws can be outside on the beach or walking the boardwalk as you head into the casino when the time comes to ‘meet me tonight in Atlantic City’.

Listen and buy “Atlantic City” by The Band from AMAZON or iTunes

B – “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” - Old Crow Medicine Show   (from the album Remedy) - Two weeks away from an office job seems about right. Keeping that timeline perspective, and taking the cuts in travel time and accommodations, two hours in the “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” is just about the perfect getaway for the boys behind bars. This trailer is no tin can… the don’t-blink love nest is a double-wide!

Listen and buy “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” by Old Crow Medicine Show from AMAZON or iTunes

C – “Sweet Home Chicago” - Robert Johnson   (from the album The Complete Collection) - Robert Johnson voice is pleading to get out of town and his guitar chords accent his words, finger pointing chords just in case the message is missed. His home town has gotten too small and big city Chicago hangs like a fat carrot dangling at the end of the road while California beckons like a siren.

Listen and buy “Sweet Home Chicago” by Robert Johnson from AMAZON or iTunes

D – “Dallas” - Joe Ely   (from the album Musta Notta Gotta Lotta) - Joe Ely is smitten. He is flying in to DFW after dark and the lights outside the window look so fine. The beauty of the sight, and the expanse of the spreading city after miles of darkness below, makes the lack of funds in Joe’s pocket a non-issue….he is looking for light.

Listen and buy “Dallas” by Joe Ely from AMAZON or iTunes

E – “East Nashville Skyline” - Todd Snider   (from the album Live: The Storyteller) - East Nashville is very close to Nashville proper, and it could not be further away. Right over the Cumberland River is a magical land where musical styles frolic and the art of songwriting is king. If you are looking for music and a packed house when you go out, put East Nashville into the GPS and make some memories like the ones Todd Snider pastes into his song.

Listen and buy “East Nashville Skyline” by Todd Snider from AMAZON or iTunes

F – “Deep Down in Florida” - Muddy Waters    (from the album Hard Again) - Even bluesmen need a break. Muddy Waters is putting the Blues down for just a moment so he can head down to Florida ‘where the sun shines damn near ev’ry day.’ Once he hit the sand in Gainesville both Muddy and the Blues had some free time, so they sat on the beach and played.

Listen and buy “Deep Down in Florida” by Muddy Waters from AMAZON or iTunes

G –“Greyhound” - Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats    (from the album On This Very Evening) - Not a specific destination or a direct path between Point A and Point B, the “Greyhound” that carries Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats makes multiple stops once the guys are seated. California is out the front window, and as the guys sit by the side of the road waiting for their chariot to arrive, they plot possible exits from their new lives, deciding that a trail of bread crumbs is the best way to find home again, if needed…..they don’t get out a whole lot.

Listen and buy “Greyhound” by Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats from AMAZON or iTunes

H - Humboldt - I See Hawks in L.A.    (from the album Shoulda Been Gold 2001 - 2009) - The physical and spiritual center of the marijuana business in California is Humboldt County. When drivers joke that you can smell your weekend right around the corner, they are not really joking. The Hawks’ story is a little before growing became a cottage industry in California, and the excitement of the illegal drug trade can still be felt in the power chords and Paul Lacques psychedelic riffing.

Listen and buy “Humboldt” by I See Hawks in L.A. from AMAZON or iTunes

I – “Island Song” - Zac Brown Band    (from the album Uncaged) - The rhythms, the ice cold drinks and the sand between your toes tell you it is time to ‘party like a Jamaican’ with Zac Brown and the band. The road goes on forever, and in the case of “Island Song”, can tread water very well.

Listen and buy “Island Song” by Zac Brown Band from AMAZON or iTunes

J - "Jericho" - John Fullbright    (from the album From the Ground Up) - John Fullbright is spinning the compass dial and following wherever it lands. He tries to find himself, or at least comfort, out east before turning his sights to the west coast. His trip has no rest areas as he searches cities and deserts. There is no peace for John on his journey, and he deals with plans gone off track. It is really bad luck that the one week he picked was when the walls of the city decided to come down….good story for back home but the dust will block out any sun tan.

Listen and buy “Jericho” by John Fullbright from AMAZON or iTunes

K - "Funky Kingston" - Toots and the Maytals     (from the album Time Tough) - Toots Hibbert is the MC over a funky groove as he calls people to come into his song and ‘shake it, shake it’. The Maytals are a rhythm machine as funky guitar chords chop and slice over committed percussion and bass lines.

Listen and buy “Funky Kingston” by Toots and the Maytals from AMAZON or iTunes

L - "Ooh Las Vegas" - Gram Parsons (from the album G.P. / Grievous Angel) - Gram Parsons packed Emmylou Harris into his car back in Baltimore and they are barreling towards Las Vegas. The neon is calling and the cards are whispering your name. The pair know they are doomed going in, admitting that the Crystal City will leave them wrecks, but they cannot stop themselves.

Listen and buy “Ooh Las Vegas” by Gram Parsons from AMAZON or iTunes

M - "Mojave" - Hymn For Her    (from the album Lucy and Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames) - Hymn for Her tear up the road to “Mojave” with tar pealing power chords and pounding beats. The pair are driving their Airstream trailer through the ‘shifting sand of the desert’ as visions and images rise up from the desert floor like waves of heat.

Listen and buy “Mojave” by Hymn For Her from AMAZON or iTunes

N - "New York City Found" – Yarn     (from the album Come on In) - Blake Christiana and Yarn are hopping on the subway for a day trip away from Brooklyn and into Greenwich Village. The Yarn country in the tune is delivered as fast-paced sunshine with a beat.

Listen and buy “New York City Found” by Yarn from AMAZON or iTunes

O - "All Over Ohio" - Over the Rhine   (from the album Meet Me at the Edge of the World) - Over the Rhine can hear the trees whispering about the fall and feel the air getting a little chillier. The melody line floats over a single rhythmic thump as the male and female vocals trade center stage, and join together with the atmospheric melody line in flight with their harmonies.

Listen and buy “All Over Ohio” by Over the Rhine from AMAZON or iTunes

P - "Portland Oregon" - Loretta Lynn with Jack White    (from the album Van Lear Rose) - Loretta Lynn knows love, and for her it is “Portland, Oregon” and slow gin fizz. The story holds two characters, the roles fitted to Loretta and Van Lear Rose producer, Jack White.  The momentum of the track carries the pair far past the borders of the song. Lucky they got ‘a pitcher to go’.

Listen and buy “Portland, Oregon” by Loretta Lynn featuring Jack White from AMAZON

Q - "Quivira" - Moreland and Arbuckle     (from the album 7 Cities) - Name dropping “Quivira” around the water cooler could get some envy from fellow employees. There is a touch of romance with Spanish destinations though sending postcards from a mythical land may be slightly challenging. Moreland and Arbuckle are the dirty blues version of Lewis and Clark for the journey as they take you along the Coronado trail in search of the seven cities of gold, with a return address for modern day Kansas.

Listen and buy “Quivira” by Moreland and Arbuckle from AMAZON or iTunes

R - "Rio Grande" - Dave Alvin     (from the album Ashgrove) - Two people walked into the tale on the banks of the “Rio Grande” though is becomes a solo act quickly into the story. Dave Alvin is not on a road trip as he passes through the Texas towns that border Mexico, the scenery blurs in front of his eyes as he seeks only one image, or some words for direction.

Listen and buy “Rio Grande” by Dave Alvin from AMAZON or iTunes


S - "Stockholm" - Jason Isbell    (from the album Southeastern) - Jason Isbell is having a tough time separating a short getaway from a life choice. Once the vacation ceases to be time off, life comes roaring back in. The longer he is away, the quicker he fades from the memories of the folks back home. Love keeps him from moving and calls him home.

Listen and buy “Stockholm” by Jason Isbell from AMAZON or iTunes

T - "Texas" - The Band of Heathens      (from the album Sunday Morning Record) - The Band of Heathens spent many years in Austin, Texas, first as solo artists and then building the band career that has offered them options. The group admits that ‘Austin’s been a friend of mine and ”Texas” we had a time’.  Future visits to Austin will be road trips for the guys rather than coming home.

Listen and buy “Texas” by The Band of Heathens from AMAZON or iTunes

U - "Urge for Going" - Tom Rush    (from the album The Circle Game) - The heat of summer gets turned off a little quicker in the mountains, and the chill in the air has hit the Vermont. That fast, Tom Rush wakes to frost on the ground. Every year, the highway calls and warm weather acts as a tease as the northern sun ‘turns traitor cold’. For Tom, getting the “Urge for Going” is just another sure sign that the weather is turning.

Listen and buy “Urge for Going” by Tom Rush from AMAZON or iTunes

V - "Ventura" - Lucinda Williams     (from the album World Without Tears) - Lucinda Williams lets the rhythm on “Ventura” match the incoming surf in the scenic shot outside of her car window as she travels north. She hugs the coast and cranks up Neil Young, soaking up the therapy in the beauty of her surroundings and the volume of her car stereo.

Listen and buy “Ventura” by Lucinda Williams from AMAZON or iTunes

W - "That Western Skyline" – Dawes     (from the album Dawes) - Dawes are traveling but not enjoying the journey. Their dreams come apart in California, leaving the band the curse “That Western Skyline” yet they still look to it for finding the stars. The road trip is walked with a sluggish step, marching to a slow paced funeral dirge as the promises of hope continue to fade.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Listen and buy “That Western Skyline” by Dawes from AMAZON or iTunes

X - "X-roads (Crossroads)" - Jonell Mosser     (from the album Boys of the Side) - Jonell Mosser peals he paint off the walls with her version of X-Roads (“Crossroads”),  weighed down with how to move forward, and which direction to take, her desperation mingling with a fear that ‘believes I’m sinking down’.

No available

Y - Yosemite - Parker Milsap     (from the album Parker Milsap) - Parker Milsap is fantasizing a future exit, a vacation that can be enjoyed by two. A special trip that is right around the bend….’one of these days I’m gonna strike it rich’ and ‘waiting on a winning ticket, waiting on my train to come.’ Until then, he opens his front door to a parking lot, spending his last four dollars on lottery tickets.

Listen and buy “Yosemite” by Parker Milsap from AMAZON or iTunes

Z - At the Zoo - Simon and Garfunkel     (from the album Bookends) - Stay close to home, consider a day trip and listen to the buzz about the zoo. Simon and Garfunkel take a crosstown bus or just walk from the east side to the park. The inner-city trip is short but the world it opens hints at the danger and the mysteries that the world holds.

Listen and buy “At the Zoo” by Simon and Garfunkel from AMAZON or iTunes


the american conditionThere are those who will view this as "America Bashing" and nothing could be further from the truth. This is about bashing the things that are tearing this great country apart. America is shackled to racism, sexism, corporate greed, intolerance, corporate fed drug abuse, political gridlock, child abuse and a widening gap between those who "have" and those who "won't ever be privileged enough to get any." We started in 1980 and worked up to today.

These artists are exceptional without hiding behind a charade of false "exceptionalism." Save the No Apology bullshit for Mitt Romney and the Privileged Class. We have problems, lots of them and this list is about the artists who look at America as it really is not as the people in the mansion on the hill tell you it is. These songs aren't pretty and they don't sugar coat. There's country radio for that...perhaps Brad Paisley will need a new home like the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle and Johnny Cash did. We're here with open arms.

Here is The American Condition in 50 Songs or Less - The Top 50 Songs about the State of Our Union

james mcmurtry in the alternate root1. James McMurtry - We Can't Make it Here - (2007) From the album Just Us Kids. 'We Can't Make it Here' is about corporate greed and how it strangles every aspect of American society. The American 'dream' has been reserved for those who have privilege, power or the cash to purchase it. McMurtry could have half this list but the top spot is his until someone comes up with something better.
Key line:
"Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin,
or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in?
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today?
No I hate the men sent the jobs away.
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams.
All lily white and squeaky clean.
They've never known want, they'll never know need.
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed.
Their kids won't bleed in their damn little war,
And we can't make it here anymore

old crow medicine show in the alternate root2. Old Crow Medicine Show - Methamphetamine - (2008) - From the album Tennessee Pusher. The scourge of the heartland is methamphetamine or 'Crystal Meth' as it's known on the block. It's a killer from the moment you try it and unlike cocaine it's cheap and with a little ingenuity you can make it at home. Old Crow Medicine Show tackled a host of social issues but this one hits harder in the places where the band has it's biggest following.
Key line:
"It's gonna rock you like a hurricane.
It's gonna rock you 'til you lose sleep.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out of a job.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're out on the street.
It's gonna rock you 'til you're down on your knees.
It's gonna have you begging pretty please.
It's gonna rock you like a hurricane.

the white buffalo in the alternate root3. The White Buffalo – Wish It Was True - (2012) - From the album Once Upon A Time in the West. When all the things you thought were true turn out not to be, reality sets in and disillusionment takes it's piece of flesh. The White Buffalo, a.k.a. Jake Smith exposes the darker side of the shiny objects. The entire album is a microcosm of America but this one stands above the rest.
Key line:
"Country, I was a soldier to you.
I did what you asked me to.
It was wrong and you knew.
Country, now I'm just a stranger to you.
A number, a name; it's true.
Throw me away when you're through.
Home of the brave, the free; the red, white and blue.
I wish it was true."

chip taylor in the alternate root4. Chip Taylor - New Song of Freedom - (2008) - From the album - New Songs of Freedom. Chip Taylor writes almost solely about the 'human condition' and not always from a perspective of social or political commentary. The entire album New Songs of Freedom could grace this list but the title track sums up America circa 2008 more succinctly and touches on the right wing nuts, global warming, immigration, freedom, geo-politics and even the disposable way music is treated.
Key line:
"Don't worry 'bout the straddle of the right wing radical, or heed the speed of the vulture.
Don't cross the border for political order and upset the balance of culture.
Just keep your eyes on the ozone and the price of oil.
Don't worry about the stock market, let it fall.
The warming of the seas and the hybrid cars,

was there ever an ocean, up there on Mars?
Oh, a new song of freedom, just let it go, it'll get there on it's own."

UB40 in the alternate root5. UB40 - One in Ten (1980) - From the album Present Arms. UB40 wrote One in Ten about life in Britain in 1980 but the song transfers to any western country and holds true to form some 30 years later. One in Ten is about the forgotten, downtrodden, sick, poor and hungry that become statistical talking points for mindless television newscasters and bloviated politicians. It hit gun violence, suicide, disease, hunger and the plight of the world...sadly, not much has changed for the forgotten.
Key line:
"I'm the murderer and the victim, and I'm licensed with the gun.
I'm a sad and bruised old lady, in an alley in the slum.
I'm the middle aged businessman with chronic heart disease.
I'm another teenage suicide on a street that has no trees.
I am the one in ten, a number on a list.
I am the one in ten, even though I don't exist.

Nobody knows me, but I'm always there.
statistical reminder of a world that doesn't care."

american graveyard in the alternate root6. American Graveyard – Common Ones - (2010) - From the album Hallelujahland. Common Ones is about all of us normal, regular folks who are getting shafted by corporations, government, insane laws and greed. American Graveyard is a band that musically shoots from the hip, takes no prisoners and tells you what you ought to know from the perspective of young, intelligent, thinking musicians.
Key line:

"I'm tired of seeing men die for other men's rights,
to have a corporation come in and sweep ‘em all aside.
'Cause there's money to be made, money to be found,
and when the pockets are drilled empty it's on to the next town.
Meanwhile make criminals outta the people left behind,
pimpin' all the women while the men cheat and lie.
All the cameras rush in yes they wanna find out
why I ain't got no food for my baby's mouth."

ellis paul in the alternate root7. Ellis Paul - Nine Months to Fix the World (2008) - From the album The Dragonfly Races. Ellis Paul doesn't do angry. It's not his style. Ellis Paul does cerebral; making you think while you're enjoying yourself and that is a rare gift indeed. Nine Months to Fix the World is about finding out your wife is pregnant and realizing that your child is being born into a complete mess and you now have nine months to fix it. It touches all the bases from religion, to violence, to global warming with typical Ellis Paul brilliance.
Key line:
"I'm gonna whittle down the Scriptures, the Bible, the Koran.
Gonna whittle 'em down to one phrase any fool could understand.

Love your fellow man.
Then we'll fill up all the bombers
with corn, with apple seeds.
A million gallons of clean water,
We'll fill the sky with good deeds,
For the people who're in need."

band of heathens in the alternate root8. Band of Heathens – Golden Calf - (2009) – From the album One Foot in the Ether. Golden Calf symbolizes Wall Street. The song subtly hints around Wall St. greed and the dirty little secrets no one wants to talk about. Band of Heathens has set their own bar pretty high and rank as one of the best bands in the country, bar none. Much of One Foot in the Ether could rank here but Golden Calf is so haunting and filled with mystery we couldn't resist.
Key line:

"Shine my shoes with a dirty flag.
Hide my secrets in a body bag.
Say what you want on my epitaph,
Just give me eight more seconds on the golden calf."

bob dylan in the alternate root9. Bob Dylan - Union Sundown - (1983) From the album Infidels. Union Sundown took on corporate greed before it was chic. In typical Dylan fashion it pointed fingers at corporations that shipped jobs overseas but didn't stop until the finger pointed back at Americans who want cheaper products even if they come from sweat shops in poor countries. Infidels touched on just about everything but in terms of the American downward spiral, this one topped the heap.
Key line:

"Well, my shoes, they comes from Singapore.
My flashlight's from Taiwan.
My tablecloth's from Malaysia.
My belt buckle's from the Amazon.
You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines,
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet.
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy making thirty cents a day.
Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the USA
Sure was a good idea
'Til greed got in the way.

sarah lee guthrie and johnny irion in the alternate root10. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion - Gervais (2005) - From the album Exploration. Travel south of the Mason-Dixon line and you'll find a lot of people still fighting the Civil War. You'll hear some pretty compelling, albeit, misguided arguments that the Civil War was about states' rights. It wasn't. It was about human rights and the left over symbols from that struggle continue to be paraded under a guise of pride and heritage. Bollocks. Gervais is about the South Carolina State House flying the Confederate flag (Gervais is the street the capital sits on). It's a sore spot with many South Carolinians and most other reasonable people who see it as a symbol for racism.
Key line:
"Gone James Meredith and the the road to sweet Ole Miss.
Years filled with torment and harassment.
I can hear those freedom rides.
You know they were just like suicides but they had to move us down the line.
Still flying the flag upon Gervais?
It was a battle flag, now we can put it away."

steve earle in the alternate root11. Steve Earle - Amerika v 6.0 (The Best We Can Do) - (2002) – From the album Jerusalem. Steve Earle has never been shy about telling the truth regardless of pushback or political trouble. Jerusalem took it all on from war to health care, the American dream, conservatism and greed and Amerika v 6.0 was the icing on a shitty tasting cake. From dirty back room deals on Wall St. to saving the American Dream from the true dreamers, Earle delivered a body blow to the right wing that resonated with the common people and revitalized the liberal class.
Key line:

"Four score and a hundred and fifty years ago,
Our forefathers made us equal as long as we can pay.
Yeah, well maybe that wasn't exactly what they was thinkin'
Version six-point-oh of the American way.
But hey we can just build a great wall around the country club,
To keep the riff-raff out until the slump is through.
Yeah, I realize that ain't exactly democratic, but it's either them or us and
And it's the best we can do.
Yeah, passionately conservative
It's the best we can do."

lucinda williams in the alternate root12. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - (1998) – From the album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Child abuse is one of those rare crimes where the death penalty might actually be appropriate. It's been going on since the dawn of time but only recently is it getting the attention and outrage it deserves. Lucinda Williams took it on and so have others. It sucks and whether you're a Catholic priest or a big time football coach there's a special place in hell for those who perpetrate it.
Key line:
Broken down shacks engine parts.
Could tell a lie but my heart would know.
Listen to the dogs barkin' in the yard,
Car wheels on a gravel road.
Child in the backseat about four or five years,
Lookin out the window.
Little bit of dirt mixed with tears,
Car wheels on a gravel road

mad buffalo in the alternate root13. Mad Buffalo – Red and Blue (2012) – From the album Red and Blue. Randy Reveire can tell you there's a huge corporate interest in keeping Americans divided into red and blue states, red and blue political persuasions and at each others' throats on a daily basis. We're really not all that different and pretty much want the same things but corporate media, talk show hosts and 24 hour "news" stations wouldn't make nearly the jack they make if we all got together. You think any of them give a fuck about who wins elections? They make money when America is divided, period, and that's what Red and Blue is about.
Key line:

"And up on the boulevard,
We got our start with a union card.
And built our houses up with our hands,
Made the iron and filled metal cans.
We took our babies in our arms,
Got some horses and built our farms.
In mountain rain we grew our hay,
Through the floods and drought we stayed.
You can’t deny it,
You can’t deny we’re one."

rodney crowell in the alternate root14. Rodney Crowell - Sex and Gasoline - (2008) – From the album Sex and Gasoline. Sex and Gasoline is about selling the idea that beauty and worth is about what's on the outside. It hits the beauty product, lingerie and porn trade right between the eyes as only Rodney Crowell can do and takes the notion that women are merely sex objects to the task.
Key line:

"So much beauty, abs and tush
Swoop down on you like a burnin' bush.
Pop religion, bullwhip thin,
Says you ain't nothing but the shape you're in.
Come on now girl, genuflect nude magazine.
This mean old world runs on sex and gasoline."

johnny cash in the alternate root15. Johnny Cash - Hurt - (2002) –From the album The Man Comes Around. Hurt is as much about the personal pain of addiction as it is about the pain addiction inflicts upon others who have to witness it. Although a cover of Trent Reznor's song, it was something Johnny felt strongly about recording as it reflects on the lies and the destruction inflicted upon his family as a result of his lifelong struggle with alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. It's powerful, moving and painful to listen to...and a necessary evil for those who crawl on the same ground.
Key line:

"I wear this crown of thorns,
upon my liar's chair.
Full of broken thoughts,
I cannot repair.
Beneath the stains of time,
the feelings disappear.
You are someone else.

I am still right here.
What have I become?
My sweetest friend.
Everyone I know,
goes away in the end.
And you could have it all,
my empire of dirt.
I will let you down.
I will make you hurt."

kevin gordon in the alternate root16. Kevin Gordon - Gloryland - (2012) – From the album Gloryland. Beware of false prophets promising the gates of heaven. They don't hold the key even though they'll take your money, your vote or your life trying to prove to you that they do. Kevin Gordon is a brilliant song writer that tackles a lot of ground on the album Gloryland and in particular the album's title track which goes after politicians, TV preachers and zealot Mullahs and their victims.
Key line:

"You might be a preacher,
Broadcasting on a satellite.
Miss Mamie's looking for an answer,
Watches your program every night.
Diamonds shine from your praying hands,
She sends you all the money she has,
Just to feel a little closer;
A little closer to gloryland."

todd snider in the alternate root17. Todd Snider - Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Male - (2004) – From the album East Nashville Skyline. If you are one you're gonna hate this song but when you really think about it, Todd Snider covers just about every part of the Republican political platform in the first verse. It's a brilliant attack on intolerance, homophobia, climate change denial, racism, elitism, and too many other things to list here. We're liberal, we admit it.
Key line:

"Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American male.
Gay bashin', black fearin', poor fightin', tree killin', regional leaders of sales.
Frat housin', keg tappin', shirt tuckin', back slappin' haters of hippies like me.
Tree huggin', peace lovin', pot smokin', porn watchin' lazyass hippies like me.
Tree huggin', love makin', pro choicen, gay weddin', widespread diggin' hippies like me.
Skin color-blinded, conspiracy-minded, protestors of corporate greed,
We who have nothing and most likely will 'till we all wind up locked up in jails
By conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American males."

jon byrd in the alternate root18. Jon Byrd – Alabama Asphalt - (2011) – From the album Down at the Well of Wishes. Jon Byrd is a son of the south who isn't shy about pointing out the hypocricy and intolerance that permeate his Alabama roots. Alabama Asphalt was written about the reinstatement of the death penalty in Alabama. It's about the love of Alabama's natural beauty and avoiding it's nasty politics.
Key line:
"If your in Alabama, you better watch your ways.
'Cause laying burning tar is the least that you're gonna pay.
Yeah, they'll chain you to your brother and give a shotgun to the other.

There's that Alabama asphalt giving off heat."

patti griffin in the alternate root19. Patti Griffin - Tony - (1998) – From the album Flaming Red. Patti Griffin tackles bullying, and teen suicide as a result, with incredible grace and hard hitting reality in her song Tony. The story of the kid we all know and unfortunately some of us knew. The kid who is a little different. The kid the "beautiful people" pick on. A little overweight; not one of the crowd and the internal pain and torture that goes on inside these kids. It's a sad, sordid existence.
Key line:

"Hey Tony, what's so good about dying?
He said I think I might do a little dying today.
He looked in the mirror and saw
A little faggot starin back at him.
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away.
Hey Tony whats so good about dying, dying?
Hey Tony whats so good about dying, dying?"

mary gauthier in the alternate root20. Mary Gauthier - Drag Queens in Limousines - (1999) – From the album Drag Queens in Limousines. Drag Queens and Limousines is a true biographical piece written by the great Mary Gauthier. It covers runaways, and the turmoil of being gay in a straight world. Gauthier stole her mother's car and ran away at 15. She struggled with addiction and her sexuality and rose up to become one of the great songwriters and singers in the roots Americana world. Stick that!
Key line:

"My dad went to college, and he worked for the state.
He never quit nothing and he wanted me to graduate.
My brother and sister both play in the marching band.
They tell me they miss me, but I know they don't understand.
Sometimes you got do, what you gotta do,
And hope that the people you love, will catch up with you.
Yea Drag Queens in Limousines
Nuns in blue jeans
Dreamers with big dreams
Poets and AWOL marines
Actors and Bar Flys
Writers with Dark Eyes
Drunks that Philosophize."

willie nile in the alternate root21. Willie Nile - One Guitar (2011) – From the album The Innocent Ones. Willie Nile's One Guitar is an anthem to the power of music, the effectiveness of non-violent protest and the change that can come from getting up off your ass and getting involved! It's about rising up, no matter what put you down.
Key line:

"So if you get knocked down, you gotta take a stand.
For all the outcast, dead last who need a helping hand.
So get your tambourines and turn your arms up loud,
And raise your voices, voices up above this crowd.

I'm a soldier marchin' in an army
Got no gun to shoot
But what I got is one guitar
I got this one guitar."

chip taylor in the alternate root22. Chip Taylor - Black and Blue America - (2008) - From the album - New Songs of Freedom. Chip Taylor laments the days when we had heroes and goals that moved us forward as a nation. We rallied around the men who walked on the moon or marched in Selma. We cared about each other and lent a helping hand. America is bruised, black and blue but not out by any means. We're survivors.
Key line:
"It was a ray of light.
It was a wall of sound.
It was a fight for life, until the walls came down.
It was a dream to dream, in any damned old town.
It was a true America.

Red, white, balck and blue America."

uncle tupelo23. Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990) – From the album No Depression. An apocalyptic look at the end of days and the hope that something better is on the other side. Uncle Tupelo is largely regarded as the band that launched the Americana movement but that's debatable. They wrote great songs and split into two substantial bands; Wilco and Son Volt when the end of days struck them.
Key line:

"In this dark hour, midnight nearing
The tribulation time will come.
The storms will hurl the midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom.
I'm going where there's no depression
To a better land that's free from care.
I'll leave this world of toil and trouble.
My home's in heaven,
I'm going there

otis gibbs in the alternate root24. Otis Gibbs – Preacher Steve - (2008) – From the album Grandpa Walked A Picketline. Otis Gibbs plays down the political and often scathing nature of his songs in order to maintain a neutrality with his audience. It can't be easy when you write like he does and you choose his subject matter. Preacher Steve is a dead on assault of TV Evangelists and the snake oil they peddle. He also lays the blame at the people who feed this nonesense and continue to line up to by the magic elixir.
Key line:
"Preacher Steve or the people who believe in him
and I can't decide which is worse."

john mellencamp in the alternate root25. John Mellencamp – Rain on the Scarecrow - (1985) – From the album Scarecrow. The song that launched Farm Aid and brought the plight of the American farmer to the forefront and dinner tables from coast to coast. Rain on the Scarecrow is in itself about the death of American values in favor of corporate interests and it's one of the best songs on the subject ever written.
Key line:

"Scarecrow on a wooden cross, Blackbird in the barn.
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm.
I grew up like my daddy did My grandpa cleared this land.
When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand.
Rain on the scarecrow, Blood on the plow.
This land fed a nation. This land made me proud.
And Son I'm just sorry there's no legacy for you now.
Rain on the scarecrow Blood on the plow.
Rain on the scarecrow Blood on the plow."

26. Uncle Lucius – Keep the Wolves Away - (2012) – From the album And You Are Me. Lead singer Kevin Galloway says this is a true story of how a man, his father, raised his kids, doing whatever was needed to get done. He had a work related injury that affectecd the rest of his life, and the company turned its back. The next generation takes the torch and keeps it lit, to support the family and keep the wolves away.

Key Line:
"I was barely thirteen when the company man
Tried to dig my Daddy’s grave.
Happened on a French owned tanker ship
Spilling poison into Galveston Bay.
Where the liquid fire filled his lungs and his eyes,
Silenced any mortal cries.
Codeine the grit but death stang in pain,
He fought like hell to keep the wolves away"

27. Will Kimbourgh – Americanitis - (2006) – From the album Americanitis. Marketing is a disease that Americans from which Americans take more than a daily dose. Will Kimbrough's character is not selling out, he is buying in. The promises of advertising are beauty, youth and longevity. What you take for cures may become the disease.

"Assembling lines of hot dog vendors
My funny bone it ain’t so tender
I swear by God I will surrender
Just give me one more day"

28. Slaid Cleaves - I Was Born This Morning - (2008) – From the album Ribbon of Highway   - The song sees that people were born right the first time, no need to do it again. Slaid Cleaves finds the joy and righteous path offered by finding that any sort of god lives within each of us. The light shines from the inside back out, not the other way around

Key LIne:
"This morning I was born again and a light shine on my land
I no longer look for heaven in your deathly distant land
I do not want your pearly gates don’t want your streets of gold
And I do not want your mansion for my heart is never cold"

bruce springsteen in the alternate root29. Bruce Springsteen – Sinaloa Cowboys - (1995) – From the album The Ghost of Tom Joad - Two brothers head north for work and find the most lucrative jobs are the ones that carry danger and heartbreak. In order to win big, you have to gambleon a big lose.

Key Line:
"Word was out some men in from Sinaloa were looking for some hands
Well deep in Fresno county there was a deserted chicken ranch
There in a small tin shack on the edge of a ravine
Miguel and Louis stood cooking methamphetamine.
You could spend a year in the orchards
Or make half as much in one ten-hour shift
Working for the men from Sinaloa
But if you slipped the hydriodic acid
Could burn right through your skin
They'd leave you spittin' up blood in the desert
If you breathed those fumes in"

gretchen peters30. Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World  (2012) – From the album Hello Cruel World -Well laid plans do not always follow a straight path. There is inspiration in realizing our limitations. Gretchen Peters manages to see the glass half full and remind us that sometimes the best we can do is just show up

Key Line: 
"haven’t done as well as I thought I would
I’m not dead but I’m damaged goods
And it’s gettin’ late
I’m a rusty hinge, a squeaky wheel
at the bad end of a shaky deal
cursed by the hand of fate
and ooooooh – I’m a very lucky girl
yeah ooooooh – hello cruel world"

bruce cockburn31. Bruce Cockburn – Lovers in a Dangerous Time - (1984) – From the album Stealing Fire - The power of two is strong. Our choice of a partner is personal. We do not allow people to tell us how to dress, what to eat, listen to or watch. Why is it that we pay so much attention when the tell us how to love.

Key Line:
"When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime --
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
And we're lovers in a dangerous time"

lone justice32. Lone Justice - Soap, Soup and Salvation (1985) – From the album Lone Justice- Homelessness in America is rampant. The dispossessed at the rescue mission in the song seek, and find, comfort in the little things. Singing for your supper becomes a reality for those waiting for dinner.

Key Line:
"Lonely faces, empty glances
They surround me everywhere
But those sweet angelic voices
Are now rising through the air

"When the roll is called up yonder"
I'll be there with

Soap, soup and salvation
Tired hearts sing in jubilation
Restoration at the rescue mission
Soap, soup and salvation"

nanci griffith33. Nanci Griffith - The Loving Kind - (2010) – From the album The Loving Kind - The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored." The Supreme Court's unanimous decision held this prohibition was unconstitutional,

Key Line:
"They were the loving kind
She was black and he was white
In Virginia, 1958
They found love amongst the hate
Well, the law said they could not wed
They married anyway
The sheriff put them both in jail
Separated till they made their bail
They changed the heart of a nation
With their wedding vows
From the highest court in the land
Their union would lawfully stand"

grant peeples34. Grant Peeples – Nigger Lover - (2012) – From the album Prior Convictions - Grant Peeples sees a word that causes cringing and wovering as a badge of honor. The song points out that the word is not used in its original form, but other words have taken its place. The same meaning, but words that you can hide behind.

Key Line:
"Nigger Lover
Yeah, that’s what they used to call me in the playground at school
But it was a lot of years ago
Those kids have all grown up they’ve all grown up
And they don’t use that word any more….hardly
Nah, these days they use other words

They say things like…you’re a liberal, a socialist, a community activist
You’re gonna see in this next election
‘we gonna snatch this country back again for real Americans"

jim keaveney35. Jim Keaveney – Livin' in a Dream - (2009) - From the album Music Man - The song is about consumerism in America. The dream is that we will always have enoughm and that we can waste. Americans feel that everyone around the world lives like us. A chicken for every pot is not reality and Jim Keaveny reminds us to look outside our borders, and open our eyes.

Key Line:
"Most Americans they don’t get around just maybe over the next big town
Too far in debt, or afraid, or just not curious enough to cross that line into another world into another time
So I’m here to tell you there many peoples and colors out there and respecting the cultures a real good fare
But no matter how far you’re flying on a big jet plane fundamentally all the peoples the same"

paul sachs36. Paul Sachs - Dirty Trucks - (2011) – From the album Oil Town - The American dream. Work hard and build your own business by ownership. The man is the story is a small business owner. He needs to diversify I order to keep food on the table and a roof over his famliy’s head. The decision between right and wrong blurs when your kids are hungry.

Key Line:
"Dirty tucks out on the highway rolling through your state tonight
Dirty trucks out on the highway, rolling fast and never traveling light"

corb lund37. Corb Lund - Getting Down on the Mountain - (2012) - From the album Cabin Fever - Corb Lund speaks the mind of survivalist who see the approaching storm and take whatever measures are necessary to protect themselves, and their families. In an effort to survive, they take to higher ground.

Key Line:
There ain’t no heat and the power’s gone out, it’s kerosene lamps and candles
The roads are blocked, it’s all gridlocked, you got a shortwave handle?
Can you track the deer, can you dig the well?
I couldn’t quite hear your answer
I think I see a rip in the social fabric, Brother can you pass the ammo?
I think I see a rip in the social fabric, Brother can you spare some ammo?"

drive by truckers38. Drive-By Truckers - The Southern Thing - (2002) – From the album Southern Rock Opera - Drive-By Truckers speak about the duality of the south in this tune. The band turns the crews a little tighter on Neil Young’s belief that every southern man is the same. Patterson Hood sees that you cannot blanketly judge a people on the actions of a few.

Key Line:
Ain't about my pistol
Ain't about my boots
Ain't about no northern drives
Ain't about my southern roots
Ain't about my guitars, ain't about my big old amps
"It ain't rained in weeks, but the weather sure feels damp"
Ain't about excuses or alibis
Ain't about no cotton fields or cotton picking lies
Ain't about the races, the crying shame
To the fucking rich man all poor people look the same"

tracy chapman39. Tracy Chapman - Behind the Wall - (1988) – From the album Tracy Chapman - Domestic violence lives next door. As loud as the screams and yelling can be, the more powerful sound is silence. There is no one to turn to, until you can turn no more and the drama reaches its last and final scene.

Key Line:
"Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
Another sleepless night for me
It won't do no good to call
The police
Always come late
If they come at all"

jackson browne40. Jackson Browne - Lives in the Balance - (1986) – From the album Lives in the Balance - Jackson Browne has long stood as a voice for people. He talks about the fragile states we live in, and how our decision to question authority should be taught in schools.

Key Line:
"On the radio talk shows and the T.V.

You hear one thing again and again
How the U.S.A. stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends--
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can't take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire"

otis taylor41. My World Is Gone – Otis Taylor -  (2013) – From the album My World Is Gone - Otis Taylor describes the modern world of the American Indian. Over his trance blues music, Otis delivers one liners that paint the picture of a western landscape that only hangs in museums, and in the memory of a once proud people who cannot find a way back to the old ways.

Key Line:
"If you send me a golden razor……I’ll cut my hair and I’ll bury it where the buffalo used to roam
My World Is Gone"

the neville brothers42. The Neville Brothers – Rosa Parks - (1988) - From the album Yellow Moon - Rosa Parks was tired. She refused to walk one step further when seats were available in the front of the bus. Her decision changed history.

Key Line:
"Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark
That started our freedom movement, thank you Sister Rosa Parks"

blackie and the rodeo kings43. Blackie & The Rodeo Kings – Another Free Woman - (2011) – From the album Kings & Queens - Blackie & The Rodeo Kings invited women to guest vocal on their most recent release, Kings & Queens. Sara Watkins guests on this song about getting even by getting out. Not a victim, the heroine in the song knows that there is another path to heaven and she’s got a gun.

Key Line:

tom waits44. Tom Waits – In the Neighborhood - (1983) – From the album Swordfishtrombones - Life has changed in the old neighborhood. Tom Waits points out that the things we tolerate become routine. We need an awareness to walk out our front door. The familiar smell of cooking breakfast and the smell of spilled garbage mingle and become home.

Key Line:
"Well the eggs chase the bacon
round the fryin' pan
and the whinin' dog pidgeons
by the steeple bell rope
and the dogs tipped the garbage pails
over last night
and there's always construction work
bothering you
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood"

d l marble45. D.L. Marble – Sombrero Lullaby - (2012) – From the album Not the One… - The narrator in this song is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. While sitting at a bar, a song on the jukebox transports the soldier to where he really wants to be, on a beach in Mexico, trying to wash the blood off his hands.

Key Line:
One more tequila for my friends and me
And I’ll tell you a tale about a land so far away’
Somebody play me a melody
Solve the world’s problems some other day

These songs keep callin on the radio
And I see my name in the neon
I wanna run away to Mexico
So play me a sombrero lullaby"

dave alvin46. Dave Alvin – Out of Control - (2004) – From the album Ashgrove - Speed, prostitution, weapons….all part of the way to make your daily bread in this tale of characters living on the edge. The speed and whiskey burning brain of the man telling the story understands that wanting to do right is okay, but sometimes you just have a need to go a little further to get the same rush.

Key Line:
"I used to work a little construction
But I never got along with my boss
So I do a little import/export
Makin’ enough just to cover my costs
And I’m losin’ my hair and I’m losin’ my teeth
But I’m tryin’ to keep my grip
And live to see one more day
Without makin’ any stupid slips.

You know I could have played the game man
And just done what I was told
But I guess I was born just a little bit
Out of control"

christine ohlman and rebel montez47. Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez – The Cradle Did Rock - (2009) – From the album The Deep End - The aftermath of Katrina changed New Orleans forever. Christine Ohlman describes what followed the levee breaks in the Crescent City.

Key Line:
The cradle did rock, the cradle been broken
It all fell down in the terrible flood, then
Some people came home, some people gave up
The levee went crash and the cradle did rock"

steve earle48. Steve Earle – Jerusalem – (2002) – From the album Jerusalem - On an album made almost entirely of protest songs, this title track from Jerusalem questions who we can accept death and violence simply because it has happened before. It is one more excuse to tolerate oppression, and one more reason to look to the real lessons of love thy brother, rather than demanding some not only worship a god, but worship the god of their understanding.

Key Line:
"I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
death machines were rumblin' cross the ground where Jesus stood
and the man on the TV told me that is had always been that way
and there was nothin' anyone could do or say"

justin townes eARLE49. Justin Townes Earle – Workin’ for the MTA – (2010) – From the album Harlem River Blues - Getting up and going to work every day. Doing the same job, expecting the same conditions….every day. Dreams are what happens when you sleep. Waking hours are already carved in stone.

Key Line:
"So, it's cold in them tunnels today
Well, it's cold in them tunnels today
It's cold down in those tunnels today, mama, workin' for the MTA
Yeah, I'm workin' for the MTA"

peter himmelman50. Peter Himmelman - "Untitled" (The Cab Driver Song) - (1992) - From the album Flown This Acid World   - The narrator becomes trapped in a world of angry words that are intolerable and preach hate. It would seem that the tip for this cab driver would be “don’t be so stupid” but like all bullies, their words have more power than what their actions might be, or the actions might be more powerful….you just don’t know.

Key Line:
The driver of the cab he had a pock marked face
He didn't seem too unfriendly, he was just starin' off into space
And he told me that he used to drive a truck
And that right now he was down on his luck

We talked a bit about travelin', told him that I'd been to the USSR
He looked at me in the rear view mirror and said

"Ain't that where the Jews and commies are?"
And I knew I was in for a hell of a ride
My face was calm but I was burnin' up inside, oh yeah"

the best and worst tv dadsDads on television come in all shapes and sizes. The box options for dad's to check on resumes is vast. Many are the brunt end of the jokes for wives, kids, in-laws, neighbors, family and the world at large. As a tribute to Fathers Day we are celebrating the best and worst in dads. We never see the guys in a mundane world, there is always something happening. Pitfalls to get around and worlds to save. There are very few days when these guys can just be dads, but they do their best, or worst, week after week for as long as you find what they are doing interesting

TV dads represent a little bit of many people. They are pieces of the many, coming together to make the whole. They are champions and sometimes they are an embarrassment. They do right, they do wrong, They make mistakes and the come off like heroes. They are dads.

william h macyFrank Gallagher - (William H. Macy) - Shameless - Not only is Frank Gallagher the WORST TV dad ever, he may be the worst TV person, period. On the show Shameless he is a drunk, narcissist and overall despicable human being and those are his good traits. He games the system for a living and occasionally hangs with his pseudo girlfriend Shiela who also collects disability. Gallagher is the occasional "dad" to six children on the show who have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that they don't really have a "dad." On a particular show he hooks up with a barfly who is awaiting a heart transplant and has a large life insurance policy. He weasels his way into becoming the beneficiary and while she's in the shower a hospital calls with news of a possible heart for her. He tells the hospital she's dead already...'nuf said.

andy griffithAndy Taylor - (Andy Griffith) - The Andy Griffith Show - Hands down, no argument, the BEST television dad in history was Sheriff Andy Taylor. The show was part "To Kill a Mockingbird" part "Little Rascals" and 100% rural Americana. All the planets were aligned for The Andy Griffith Show and it brought together the genius of Griffith, Don Knotts, Frances Bavier and Ron Howard, who at the age of 6, already showed signs veteran chops as an actor. Opie grew up in front of America's eyes from age 6 to age 14 and America learned most every valuable lesson about life, love, sharing, giving and growing and laughed their asses off while doing it. Ernest T. Bass, Floyd the barber, Emmit's Fix-It-Shop, Gomer Pyle, Goober Pyle, The Darlings, Jubal Foster...we could go on and on.

guy williamsDr. John Robinson - (Guy Williams) - Lost in Space - A cheesy spin on the Swiss Family Robinson story by Johan Wyss, Lost in Space was a story of Dr. John Robinson, an astrophysicist, who took a round airstream trailer with less dashboard controls than a '62 Volkswagon into space with a family of 5, a fellow astrophysicist who is hot for his oldest daughter, a stowaway sociopath named Dr. Smith and a clunky robot, called, well...robot. The rest is television magic as Dr. Robinson guides the fam through adolescence, growing pains, love interests, giant alien monsters and Dr. Smith's repeated attempts to get them all killed...no wonder they call the 60's the golden age of television.

fred flintstoneFred Flintstone - (voice of Alan Reed) - The Flintstones - It would take decades and The Simpsons to unseat The Flintstones as the most successful animated series in history but The Flintstones was still the first "prime time" animated series in history. The show was a dead ringer take off of the successful Honeymooners series of Jackie Gleason. Fred didn't actually become a dad until late in the show's third season and parenthood did nothing to slow down his penchant for trouble, get rich schemes or other stone age mayhem. He does have some great friends including Anne Margrock, Mick Jadestone and the Rolling Boulders, The Beau Brummelstones which makes him a cool dad by any standard. Truth be told, The Flintstones 'jumped the shark' when Pebbles and Bamm Bamm entered the picture.

caroll o'connorArchie Bunker - (Carroll O'Connor) - All in the Family - The man who said the things that too many Americans were thinking and had the common sense, class and decency to keep it to themselves. Gloria, you're dad was a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, blue collar narcissist and one of the funniest bastards to ever grace the small screen. It was television. Yeah it bit a little close to home for most liberal thinkers but if you get past that aspect he was a decent guy who just existed as a victim of his times. Years later the character of Archie Bunker would re-appear as the entire Rebublican leadership in the country with white collars instead.

james gandolfiniTony Soprano - (James Gandolfini) - The Sopranos - He was the dad on the best television series in the history of television and a good chunk of his character development over the course of the six seasons that the show ran was his relationship to his wife and kids. He was a shit-bum for a husband but as a dad, well, he provided for his family by running the North Jersey mafia, hanging out in a strip club full of silicon implanted "Snookies," and killing people. That was cool until daughter Meadow and son Anthony Jr. found out...fatherhood was pretty much downhill from there. Despite their existential issues with the source, the kids never stopped taking and Tony never stopped "providing."

hugh beaumontWard Cleaver - (Hugh Beaumont) - Leave it to Beaver - Being father to Wally and "the Beav" was no easy task and took patience and several trips to the den each evening to drink it off. Looking back, Leave it to Beaver was simultaneously every parent's nightmare and every parent's dream circa. 1960's America. The Beaver was lily white America's version of juvenile delinquency with peanut butter and jelly stains and a milk mustache. He got into all kinds of trouble that kids got into for generations and Ward would teach the lessons while the boys sat in matching pajamas and shared the same fully stocked bedroom. Ahhh the visions of our youth!

john astinGomez Addams - (John Astin) - The Addams Family - Alright here's one of the 'cult classic' dads in television history. I've recently re-visited The Addams Family which, to my delight, has gotten better as I age. The hidden innuendo was far ahead of it's time and the macabre has had a resurgence of sorts. Gomez, father of Pugsley and Wednesday, is eccentric, wealthy, aloof and a damn lot of fun. Who hasn't wanted an exploding train set their entire life? As a dad, well, look at Wednesday who raised killer spiders and carried around a Marie Antoinette doll post guillotine and Pugsley who actually guillotined it! These are well adjusted children who would be at home in any household post "Glee," "Friday Night Lights," and "American Idol" America.

modern family ed o'neilJay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet)  - Modern Family- Four fathers make up the Modern Family Dads. Ed O’Neill saves his good dad rating as patriarch Jay Pritchett. He also tops the dad list for the hottest wife for his second marital choice. Jay’s son-in-law, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) wants to be one of the guys, even for his two teenage daughters. He is a big lovable lug that means well. Phil is passive and steps aside to let his wife bulldoze her way through the family affairs. Jay’s son, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet) have adopted a Chinese daughter. They make their way through fatherhood but as their daughter ages, you get the impression she will be running the household soon. We would have named them the first gay dad household but just could not buy the whole ‘live-in man’ scenario with Uncle Bill (Brian Keith) and Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot) on Family Affair.

steve buscemiNucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) - Boardwalk Empire - Nucky Thompson is an adopted father on Boardwalk Empire. Sure, he had the birth father killed and dumped in the Atlantic but he loves those kids. Nucky has multiple affairs on wife Margaret, who is no slouch in the extramarital rutting department. Nucky runs the Jersey shore for the purchase or procurement of anything illegal. Nucky Thompson is more comfortable with giving orders to feed more bodies to the fish then he is spending ten minutes as a dad. He can buy love and impress oldest boy, Teddy, and pay for any medical procedures needed by youngest daughter Emily. The parental side of Nucky stops there.

lorne greeneBen Cartwright (Lorne Greene) – Bonanza - A single father on the lone prairie, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) raised three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe.  The family ranch, The Ponderosa, was a 600,000 acre ranch along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. At 937 square miles, The Ponderosa was the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. The west was tough on the women in Ben's life and the Cartwright wives dropped after spawning a son each. Ben was dad to kids that went in all directions emotionally, personally and morally, with  English, Swedish and French Creole bloodlines running in their veins. Through the magic of television, Bonanza chronicled the American west between 1861 and 1867 in its fourteen year series run, from September, 1958 through January 1973.

john amosJames Evans, Sr. - (John Amos) - Good Times - James Evans, Sr. became a father quickly on Good Times. The show was one of the many spin off children of All in the Family. Good Times descended from Maude but when the producers decided to give Maude housekeeper Florida her own show they changed her firefighter husband Henry to struggling husband James, making no mention of Maude and moving the couple from Tuckahoe, New York to inner-city Chicago projects….other than that, not a lot of changes. James Evans was a black, working class dad in an inner-city project, a new concept on television. Mr. Evans Sr. was a pretty straightforward, no nonsense guy. Nothing to challenge or portray an angry black man. All black community politics were handled by eleven year old son Michael (the militant midget) and the carefree, loving living on welfare attitude that much of the audience expected was handled by older teen J.J. “Dy-no-mite” Evans. (James Jr.).

maurice evansMaurice - (Maurice Evans) – Bewitched - There were no last names for the witch/warlock contingent on Bewitched. Samantha’s dad was Maurice (Maurice Evans). Maurice treated every scene and set like an Elizabethan stage. Sweeping Shakespearean gestures and dialogue were taken for granted by daughter Samantha and Endora, who referred to Maurice as ‘my daughter’s father’ and thought of their marriage as ‘informal’. His relationship with son-in-law Darrin (Duncan? Durwood? Dustbin?) was strained. Maurice was a warlock, with hundreds of years under his cape, no need to tolerate fools or mortals.

buddy ebsenJed Clampett - (Buddy Ebsen) - Beverly Hillbillies - What a dad! He not only discovers oil (black gold, texas tea) in the backyard while huntin’ possum but decides to move the family from the hills they called home to the hills called Beverly….movie stars and cement ponds. Jed Clampett was the wise man for family matters and the practical voice of reason for the questionable banking practices Mr. Drysdale threw at him weekly. Jed threatened a lot of ‘tan your hide’ or ‘to get a whoopin’’ but never through with threats. His shock meter never registered more than a ‘well doggies’ as admonishments for daughter Ellie May and nephew Jethro. Jed tried to live with the cash but you can take the dad out of the backwoods but never take backwoods out of the dad. He wore the same clothes in every show proving clothes shopping is an unnecessary evil.

brian kellyPorter Ricks -  (Brian Kelly) – Flipper - Porter Ricks was a single dad with two sons to raise and a park/marine preserve somewhere in the Florida Keys to maintain. Given the heavy work load and family responsibilities, it is no surprise that Porter’s companion became the show’s star and namesake, Flipper. The aquatic Lassie took things space age for the 60’s. Whether the dog wagged the tail or the tail wagged the dog did not matter. Flipper could ride on his (her) tail….backward, and make a lot more noise, both above and below water. Take that pooch. Porter Ricks may have been a dream dad for a lot of youngsters….kids living on the water, riding dolphins and with not a lot of parental supervision... and it was always summer, Forget Neverland and Oz, take me to the Keys!

homer simpsonHomer Simpson - The Simpsons - Homer Jay Simpson lived a Hollywood dream. He went from a bit role on three episodes of the Tracy Ullman show to debuting as head of The Simpson household in December 1989. Homer's character seems mild compared to future toon dad Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. Homer was an everyman dad and factory worker. He was overweight, maybe a little clumsy and landed just this side of inappropriate but dude could hold a burp and get his lips to shake like jello on the fault line. Homer played support dad to son Bart for a few seasons, letting his skateboarding first born get all the attention and the great lines….”eat my shorts”, really, Bart, that coulda been your dad’s catch phrase? Homer played the quiet dad, letting his kid get the cred but started taking a stance for lazy, heavy drinking dads across the land. Homer got away with the stuff that was only a dream to many of us.

jon cryerAlan Harper - (Jon Cryer) - Two and 1/2 Men - You can point fingers and deride Alan Harper for personal choices and severe lack of parental guidance. Alan is the “because-I-said-so” kind of Dad. Alan has a lot of shortcomings but it was his couch surfing at the home of brother Charlie that landed he and his kid, Jake, a Malibu address. Alan does very little, as a house guest, as a contributing member of the household and as a dad. He is available if needed, I guess. Alan is probably the least involved dad on television. It is difficult to put him on the worst or best side, there are very few dad things Alan does that can be measured to decide on his role of a father. He is a dad just because, you know.

bryan cranstonWalter White - (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad - Walter White is there for his son if he can be. Walter's son, Walter, Jr., has cerebral palsy. Big medical issues seems to gallop at a full clip through the White household. Walter, Sr. was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Teaching science at his high school day gig took a backseat to the ‘second job” he took to pay the mounting bills. Walter White became a meth maker, then dealer, then major supplier, getting meaner and colder as each minute and deal passed. Walter does his best as a dad but each day his moral compass spins faster and faster, never pointing in any one direction. His job as a dad suffers the same fate as every other aspect of Walter’s life as he transitions from a sympathetic to an extremely unlikable character on Breaking Bad. Forget about judging him as a dad, you might want to take a look at who you are pulling for.

sherman helmsleyGeorge Jefferson - (Sherman Helmsley) - The Jeffersons - George Jefferson (Sherman Helmsley) successfully moved his family up to the East Side, way uptown. He spent two years en route as a Queens neighbor of Archie Bunker. I am sure a ‘deluxe apartment in the sky’ was more appealing but two years with Archie’s biting words nipping at you could probably bring a little nostalgia even for the ‘hood. George had opinions but he was a good dad. His bark was way louder than his bite, but dad George did have one bad ass strut. George Jefferson spent twelve years as a tv dad, ruling over the family and appearing in all 253 episodes of The Jeffersons. He was a self-made man and an American success story, a small business owner that started and managed a string of dry cleaning stores. George shared more than a street address with neighbor Archie Bunker. The two had the same way of dealing with the world, though George had more street smarts and his schemes for taking care of his family were at the heart of each episode.

ed o'neillAl Bundy - (Ed O'Neill) - Married With Children - Al Bundy got married because he got drunk and asked Peg to marry him. He had children because he got married, Married With Children is where Al was in life when we met him in 1987 and where he stayed for the show’s eleven year run. Things never got better for Al in his life. Wife Peg has a if-it-moves-mount-it attitude, as does daughter Kelly. Son Bud, who proud dad Al named after a beer, would love to be a slut to take care of his perpetual horniness, but can’t ‘cause he’s kind of a geek. The Bundy bunch were a laugh-a –minute, step-by-step guide on what not to do. As a family, they ways to yank the fun out of dysfunctional.

Emmylou Harris has defied the odds of location, location, location when she paired with Gram Parsons to develop cosmic American Music shortly after being a waitress in a Baltimore diner. She broke industry rules that rock and country could not and would not meet when her first albums were received by both communities, and where her presence still gets attention. Very few times can you mention Emmylou Harris without another chiming in, at least one, with an ‘I love Emmylou’. That is the reason she has spanned forty years since she shared microphone duties with Gram on his solo debut, GP.  She makes everyone feel like she is their artist; their find. Emmylou Harris has developed and groomed musicians and styles throughout her career, with highlights in her work often honored by the Grammy Awards as Best Contemporary Folk Album.  Whether it is folk, country, rock, gospel, classic country, Americana or Roots rock, Emmylou Harris is a confident guiding mother to every song, style and band smart enough to clue her into recording dates. Everyone has a reason for the love of Emmylou…here are Ten Reasons Why We Like Emmylou Harris.

1. “Love Hurts” – Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris (from the album Grievous Angel) - This track was slated for album number two, Grievous Angel. Gram Parsons passed away before the January 1974 release date. Contemporary critics of the time didn’t feel it held up to previous efforts but we are still talking about it in 2014….something must have worked. “Love Hurts” by Gram and Emmylou is intimate. The vocals will walk away with you, stake a spot in your heart and move in after the first date.

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2. Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double – Emmylou Harris (from the album Elite Hotel) - 1975 closed out the year with a second release in December for Reprise Records new signing Emmylou Harris. Elite Hotel planted one foot in rock’n’roll and one foot in country. “Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” carries the added punch of standing up for the girls having the same rights as the boys when it comes to making bad decisions fueled by alcohol, dim lights, thick smoke and loud music. The fuel for this song comes from Emmylou’s Hot Band, featuring recording and touring members of the Elvis Presley’s band (James Burton, Emory Gordy, Glen D. Hardin) and Rodney Crowell.

Listen and buy “Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes

3. The Ballad of Emmett Till   (from the album Hard Bargain) - No gaps or seams have ever appeared in the recorded output of Emmylou Harris. “The Ballad of Emmett Till” is from her 2011 release, Hard Bargain. The Emmylou Harris-penned tune allows its singer to become another soul, and write another’s pain, from beyond its earthly life. Emmett Till was a young black man from the north visiting southern relatives. His ballad reveals the horror of times past, the song reminding that those times can never be far enough away.

Listen and buy “The Ballad of Emmett Till” by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes

4. “Luxury Liner” – Emmylou Harris   (from the album Luxury Liner) - Her 1997 album with the Hot Band, Luxury Liner, has been Emmylou’s bestselling album. Her back-up band was living up to its name in a big way. “Luxury Liner” stretches out for a cruise over a train track beat. Emmylou is out searching for her baby on board ‘40 tons of steel’. She may think about giving the twang in the tune a go as it swears its allegiance throughout the track.

Listen and buy “Luxury Liner” by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes

5. “Boulder to Birmingham” – Emmylou Harris    (from the album Spyboy) - The album title is from the touring band that backed Emmylou Harris during this period. Spyboy is a live album and lets the band stretch each song musically. Emmylou duets with American treasure Buddy Miller on this version of her song. Emmylou gets a great deal with Buddy as the match for her vocal comes from both Buddy’s pipes and his guitar.

Listen and buy Spyboy by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON

6. “To Know Him Is to love Him” – Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt  (from the album Trio) - Three of the top vocalists in 1987 joined together to record “To Know Him Is to Love Him” and other tracks as Trio. The tune was originally recorded by The Teddy Bears, written by Phil Spector, and performed  by the only group that Phil ever played in as a member. Even with microphones shared with voices like Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, it is Emmylou Harris who owns this track.

Listen and buy “To Know Him is to Love Him” by Trio from AMAZON or iTunes

7. “Hanging Up My Heart” – Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell   (from the album Old Yellow Moon) - Emmylou joins up with former Hot Band member Rodney Crowell on a co-headlining gig in the pair’s 2013 release, Old Yellow Moon. Hot Band members James Burton and John Ware guest on HB alumni Hank Devito’s tune, “Hanging Up My Heart”.

Listen and buy “Hanging Up My Heart” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell from AMAZON or iTunes

8. “Deeper Well” – Emmylou Harris   (from the album Wrecking Ball) - Daniel Lanois produced and U2 drummer Larry Mullin, Jr. guested on Wrecking Ball. The album struck out into new territory for Emmylou Harris as she incorporated the use of sonic’s into her natural roots music without ever sacrificing herself or her songs. Emmylou received a 1996 Grammy (Best Contemporary Folk Recording) for her efforts in developing Americana as its own genre in “Deeper Well”, a co-write with Emmylou, album producer Daniel Lanois and David Olney.

Listen and buy “Deeper Well” by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes

9. “This Is Us” – Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris   (from the album All the Roadrunning) - It is not adding Emmylou Harris to a track’s vocals that make it a particular genre. She walks into styles and lets them do their own thing while she sings as Emmylou Harris. “This Is Us”, with Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, turns the pages on the scrap book pictures of a life together, sprawling out of a caffeinated roots rhythm.

Listen and buy “This Is Us” by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes

10. “Two More Bottles of Wine” – Emmylou Harris   (from the album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town) - The thread that has trailed through the music of Emmylou Harris is made of the joy she brings to the microphone. That is her style. She adds vocals to music that she feels is a part of her voice, comfortably digging Roots through grounds of Classic Country and Rock’n’Roll as she does on this 1978 release with of the Delbert McClinton tune “Two More Bottles of Wine”.

Listen and buy “Two More Bottles of Wine” by Emmylou Harris from AMAZON or iTunes