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'EP' THE EXTENDED PLAY SESSIONS

adam ezra on the extended play sessionsThe connection between Adam Ezra, his band and whatever audience he happens to be entertaining is matched by few performers on today's music scene. The consummate entertainer, songwriter and band leader has been at the top of the Boston music scene for over a decade and has steadily built a national following through a relentless touring schedule. His sidekick and percussionist, Turtle, has been with him since Adam Ezra first started  with keyboardist Josh Gold joining soon after. A series of successful, critically acclaimed albums under their belt the band continues to electrify their fans with each live performance. Recent additions, Corina Smith on fiddle and Francis Hickey on bass along with stalwart drummer Alex Martin round out the sextet. This is one of the most memorable performances for The Extended Play Sessions and one we're grateful to have had the opportunity to experience.


 

girls guns and glory on alternate root tvThis week's show features Boston alt-country rockers Girls Guns and Glory. The Alternate Root ranked Girls Guns and Glory as one of the Top 5 Bands in Boston and one of the Top 35 Bands in the U.S. Their rise has been meteoric since the arrival of guitar ace Chris Hersch to compliment the unmistakable voice of front man Ward Hayden. Girls Guns and Glory have been significant all along but the tandem of Hayden and Hersch along with the powerhouse rhythm section of Paul Dilley and Josh Kiggens have brought the band to a new level. Their latest album, 'Sweet Nothings' was one of the Top Albums of 2012 receiving a ton of critical acclaim. The band came into Alternate Root TV Studios to open for the Del-Lords.





 

the band of heathens on alternate root tvA lot has gone on in the lives of Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist over the past year. The co-founders of the Band of Heathens went through a near complete line-up change, fatherhood, moving from Austin and a host of other life shifting changes. During that span they wrote the most compelling and musically poignant album in the band's history, Sunday Morning Record. Touring with a new band and a brilliant new record has placed them right back at the top of the most important bands to carry the roots/Americana torch. Taking one of the best and most dynamic live shows and stripping it down to accommodate the small Alternate Root TV Studios was something the band, the audience and we, at Alternate Root TV, thoroughly enjoyed. "It's a great thing you have going on here," Gordy Quist mentioned, "taking this industrial space and turning it into a cool jazz club and inviting us in to play is pretty cool." We agree. The Band of Heathens performed the first side of the new album Sunday Morning Record for a small audience of fans and Alternate Root TV viewers in the very intimate setting of our Boston studio. "This was as close to a musical "religious" experience as I've had in some time." Bill Hurley, Producer, Alternate Root TV.

 

leftover salmon the extended play sessionsFor nearly three decades Leftover Salmon has been creating their own brand of music combining bluegrass, Cajun, country rock, blues and Rocky Mountain soul. There have been many changes in personnel along the way but the core of Vince Herman on guitar and Drew Emmitt on mandolin has remained solid and the addition of Andy Thorn on banjo has brought the Leftover Salmon sound to a new pinnacle. Back on the road after a host of successful side projects, Leftover Salmon has returned with a new-found vengeance and have reclaimed their spot at the top of the jam band circuit. The stopped into Alternate Root TV Studios on September 14 to tape the 'EP' Extended Play Sessions that will air on Monday September 23rd.



 

royal southern brotherhood on alternate root tvRoots, soul supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood graced the stage at the Alternate Root TV studio in Boston to film this week's edition of 'EP' The Extended Play Sessions in front of a packed room of fans on August 26, 2013. Devon Allman (guitar), Mike Zito (guitar), Cyril Neville (percussion), Charlie Wooton (bass) and Yonrico Scott (drums) are all musicians of distinguished pedigree that bring together elements of blues, jazz, funk, soul and Gulf Coast rhythms to create some of the most sophisticated and complex music on the roots / Americana circuit. This set was one of the best we've ever had the pleasure of filming. This rich, soul and funk infused collection of songs appear on the debut album Royal Southern Brotherhood and the band performed a stripped down, intimate version for Alternate Root TV with some great commentary about music today, songwriting and being in one of the best bands in the world today.



 

peter mulvey on alternate root tvFor over two decades Peter Mulvey has been creating and perfecting a progressive blend of folk and indie rock music. He combines elements of rock, jazz and intelligent pop melodies with profound stories that penetrate the depths of the human condition. His music transcends the "folk" tag assigned as part of the Boston folk revival of the 1990's, foregoing traditions in favor of a more incendiary, percussive style of guitar playing and ethereal song crafting. Peter Mulvey is a master songwriter and musician and a consummate professional. He stopped by Alternate Root TV studios to film this week's edition of 'EP'-The Extended Play Sessions and it's one of the best shows of the year so far.





 

marcia ball extended playFor four decades the Queen of the boogie-woogie piano, Marcia Ball, has been gracing the stage worldwide. She's one the top female blues performers in the world, bringing the New Orleans/Mississippi Delta style to her unique brand of music. "It's what I know," she says, "I've been playing most of my life and I've been very fortunate." Marcia is also an activist, advocating for health care for musicians through the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and a similar program in her adopted hometown of Austin, TX. She also lends her voice to projects to reclaim the Louisiana wetlands and restoring New Orleans. In this week's edition of Extended Play she talks about her music, Irma Thomas, the plight of the wetlands and gives us a fabulous set of New Orleans style blues.



 

shannon mcnally on alternate root tvShannon McNally and her band Hot Sauce stopped by the Alternate Root TV studio in Norwood, MA to perform a set from the recently released album "Small Town Talk" A Tribute to the Music of Bobby Charles. Charles was one of the most prolific purveyors of the New Orleans sound from the 1950's through the last decade and the album, produced by Dr. John and Shannon McNally, is a brilliant tribute to one of the great songwriters of our time. Shannon McNally is one of the top female vocalists on the Americana/Roots music landscape, a great writer and immensely talented performer with an equally powerful backing combo featuring Will Sexton (guitar), Matt Hubbard (keyboards, trombone), Jake Fussell (bass) and Wallace Lester (drums). This four song set and words from Shannon is some of the hottest music we've had on Alternate Root TV this year!

 

gracie curran and the high falutin' bandGracie Curran has been featured on the Alternate Root lists for Top Female American Roots Vocalist, Top Roots Soul Acts and Top Bands in Boston and for good reason...she's a dynamic singer with a powerhouse voice. A blend of soul, blues, gospel and rock, she and her band mates, the High Falutin' Band defy description except for being a band to watch in the future. The sound revolves around Gracie's soulful voice and the solid guitar chops of Tommy Carroll with the strong rhythm section of Geoff Murfitt ion bass and Derek Bergman on drums, round out the quartet. The band ripped through a set of music from their debut album "Proof of Love" for this week's edition of "EP" - Extended Play on Alternate Root TV.




 

luke winslow-king on alternate root tv Call it a New Orleans gumbo of delta blues, traditional jazz, gospel and soul if you need a definition. New Orleans based Luke Winslow-King is a traditionalist that finds his musical soul melding musical styles nearly a century old with a contemporary improvisational approach. A master bottleneck slide guitarist with a vintage voice, his music is fresh, fun and infectious. He's joined on Extended Play by Esther Rose on washboard and harmony vocals and Cassidy Holden on the upright bass. Esther Rose's voice is the perfect compliment to Luke Winslow-King's music with a tone reminiscent of Eilen Jewell. This is a fantastic show with great music and thoughts from Luke Winslow-King.

Listen and buy the music of Luke Winslow-King from AMAZON and iTunes





 

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UPCOMING STUDIO EVENTS

Walter Salas-Humara was raised bilingual Fort Lauderdale, FLA, a Cuban-American whose parents fled Castro’s Havana with him still in the womb. Walter heard the call, coming to NC just as the style was starting to leave the building. He formed The Silos in 1985.The band was voted Best New American Band in Rolling Stone Magazine's Critics' Poll of 1987 and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990. The year 2014 sees the release of a new Walter Salas-Humara solo album, Curve and Shake. The feeling is gentle, not quite scary, but with an element of unease. His words are presented as if they’re describing straightforward events and his guitar playing walks between stinging one moment to dreamy and droning the next.

The Alternate Root is pleased to host Walter Salas-Humara on Thursday, October 10, 2014. Doors are at 7PM and you can be included by contacting us via e-mail through studioconcertseries@gmail.com.

Located just 25 minutes from downtown Boston and minutes off of I-95 and Rt. 1, Alternate Root TV Studios is a unique place to see top nationally touring artists in an intimate setting. With cabaret style seating for just 44 people, no seat is more than 25 feet from the stage. Food and beverages are complimentary and there is ample free parking just steps from the studio. Seating is reserved for guests on an invitation only, first come first served basis. It is an opportunity to see artists up-close and personal and interact with them. They are here filming our television series and you can be part of it.

As you can tell in the picture, The Howlin’ Brothers are excited. The band has had two albums and an E.P, recorded at the legendary Sun Studios. The band has been trying to get into the studio as much as we have tried to match up schedules for the past few years. Both sides learned their lessons and we started early to make the proud announcement.

The Alternate Root is pleased to host a special night of filming featuring The Howlin’ Brothers on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Doors are at 6PM and you can be included by contacting us via e-mail through studioconcertseries@gmail.com.

Located just 25 minutes from downtown Boston and minutes off of I-95 and Rt. 1, Alternate Root TV Studios is a unique place to see top nationally touring artists in an intimate setting. With cabaret style seating for just 44 people, no seat is more than 25 feet from the stage. Food and beverages are complimentary and there is ample free parking a few steps from the studio entrance. Seating is reserved for guests on an invitation only, first come first served basis. It is an opportunity to see artists up-close and personal and interact with them. They are here filming our television series and you can be part of it.

Forrest O’Connor is a son of Nashville. His dad was industry, and Forrest was playing the mandolin by age 13. Harvard brought Forrest to New England in 2006. He stayed and has played solo and in bands throughout and after college. Forrest O’Connor has recently announced a new duo project formed with singer-songwriter/fiddler Kate Lee under the banner of Wisewater.

The Alternate Root is pleased to host a special night of filming featuring Americana/pop duo Wisewateron Friday, September 26, 2014. Doors are at 6PM and you can be included by contacting us via e-mail through studioconcertseries@gmail.com.

Located just 25 minutes from downtown Boston and minutes off of I-95 and Rt. 1, Alternate Root TV Studios is a unique place to see top nationally touring artists in an intimate setting. With cabaret style seating for just 44 people, no seat is more than 25 feet from the stage. Food and beverages are complimentary and there is ample free parking a few steps from the studio entrance. Seating is reserved for guests on an invitation only, first come first served basis. It is an opportunity to see artists up-close and personal and interact with them. They are here filming our television series and you can be part of it.

EXTENDED PLAY FROM ALTERNATE ROOT TVWe are launching a new show for Alternate Root TV called "EP" Extended Play. The show will debut on Boston Network WBIN on January 18th, 2014. The show will air on Saturday evenings at 1AM immediately following Saturday Night Live. It is available in 2.7 million homes throughout New England. 

Our goal is to share the incredible experience of working closely with the artists you love. To fully realize that effort in the future, we will film our 'EP'-Extended Play episodes in front of a live studio audience. Part house concert, part live music venue, but with much more surrounding the event. The shows will be invitation only and limited to 50 audience members. The suggested donations will be announced to cover production costs and artist fees. Audience members will get to see filming in an up close and personal setting. Taping will be no more than two hours and will include audience participation for the questions to the artists for each show. For the lucky 50 in attendance, each audience member will receive a limited edition show poster signed by the artist(s) and will be able to purchase a DVD copy of the event when the show is edited and released, as well as any merchandise the artists offer.

Our facility is located in Norwood, MA and has ample parking and space inside the building. The setting is warm. Every seat is a winner and very close to all the action. It is a fantastic way to see bands and artists you love in a private concert setting. You can bring your own food and refreshments that you can share it with the crowd or keep it all for yourself. Times will be announced as the shows are confirmed. If you wish to receive an email from us with upcoming shows as they are announced you can sign up by contacting us at the e-mail address below. Many of the artists will not be able to annouce shows in the area due to concert commitments so the line-up may be in the form of really good hints. You will receive a Constant Contact email with an image of the poster for every event and all the details including date, time and any other pertinent information. The first 50 responders get through the door and seating or standing space will be determined in the order the email response is received.

IF YOU WISH TO RECEIVE AN EMAIL ALERT TO BE CONSIDERED FOR OUR LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE EMAIL US OR CLICK ON THE EMAIL ADDRESS BELOW AND SEND US AN EMAIL WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS AND PHONE #.

studioconcertseries@gmail.com

 


 

THE NEW RELEASE RACK

There is a lot to like about Calico the band. As songwriters, they set the story and melody as the magnet on Rancho California, their most recent release.  The California Country trio (Kirsten Proffit, Manda Mosher and Aubrey Richmond) blend three-part harmony in their music, peeling away from the pack for each to take the lead.  Aside from the pipes and control to claim a spot in harmony heaven, Calico the band are three queens that make up their own full house of songwriters. Manda Mosher verifies that ‘when you have a band of songwriters, and everybody can lead on their own, and have that commanding lead voice, it is powerful. That is who we are’. The power of three extends from the songs and band right into jointly held beliefs. Calico the band are taking a stand, Kirsten Proffit drawing the line with their songs, ‘we’re here to tell people that Americana music is very much alive and California as a bountiful source for this style.’

Self-awareness is handed out as a greeting when Calico the band state ‘the high road is the only road I know’ on album opener, “High Road”. They head out of Rancho California singing a saga for the west, proudly flying under the flag of the Golden State bear and throwing down with the declaration ‘I am a son of the western sky’. Their cries echo through the canyons, along the Mormon Trail and the Overland Route, welcoming you to California Country (Cali-Co).  “Dead Reckoning” materializes in the glow of a California night, staring out a window at Port Augustine finding a middle ground for love in the line “well I took a hit from you, you took a hit from me.’ Calico the band pull their pans out of the Sacramento River holding “Fool’s Gold” and the trio share a saddle as “Lone Ranger”. There are hints in the Seattle rain and cheap tequila the give warning until you can feel the rumble of “San Andreas Shake”. Calico the band white-knuckle the prophesized big one as it barrels through the San Joaquin Delta. “Runaway Cowgirl” tells a truck stop story with a love so big that you better leave the pot of coffee for plenty of refills.   

Listen and buy the music of Calico the band from AMAZON or iTunes

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The subtle thump of Americana lays a foundation for John Hiatt to enter Terms of My Surrender. ”Long Time Comin’” opens the album, the rhythm becoming a heartbeat that triggers John’s memory and raises long gone images. The sounds on Terms of my Surrender drop bring John back musically to his days when he dug his roots from the blues. For the recording, John asked his guitarist, Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, Jack Ingram), to produce. On day one, John plugged in his electric guitar with Doug Lancio promptly unplugging, challenging him to play acoustic. The album was recorded (for the most part) off the floor as if in a live setting, which was fitting since the band in the studio was Hiatt’s exceptional touring band, Nathan Gehri, Kenneth Blevins, Brandon Young and Doug Lancio. The music goes back to the Blues yet the story lines maintain John Hiatt’s ability to get to the heart of an emotion and his bedside manner of softening the blow with quick wit and a knowing nod.

Terms of My Surrender looks into the “Face of God” as it drives down a long dark road, watches leaves fall like dominoes towards a busted heaters and cold weather on "Here to Stay” and admits that “Nothin’ I Love” counts for anything except his love. Foreboding rises like heat waves from the scratchy banjo and beats that herald dark angels in the trees and fire on the mountain. A knock on the door barely can hear the narrator beg that the “Wind Don’t Have to Hurry” to share its secrets. Blues gets name-dropped as John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf share a ride with john Hiatt, cruising with the knowledge that ‘“Baby’s Gonna Kick” me out some day’. Heavy hearts and mixed feelings balance the scales as they weigh the title track. John Hiatt knows the tipping points, pointing out that ‘love can be so wrong, like a fat man in a thong’. The humor shows as smoke and mirrors when the facts come to light that the ‘I love too much baby, go on and have your way with me’. 

Listen and buy the music of John Hiatt from AMAZON or iTunes

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The Roys (Elaine Roy and Lee Roy) hit the bluegrass highway in 2011. The band have not lost a bit of momentum and picked up speed through three releases with their Top 20 bluegrass chart debut Lonesome Whistle, the follow-up, New Day Dawning (2012), and Gypsy Runaway Train (2013). The band keep the pace up with a 2014 release, The View. Sibling status spells family themes as the pair gaze out the windows provided by The View. The topics shared on the album are from personal relationships, though they are conversations seldom talked about unless someone points out the elephant. Death (“Heaven Needed Her More”), pride (“These Boots”) and heritage (“Black Gold”) get the spotlight to challenge the track’s characters.

Elaine Roy has turned a corner in her life on the first cut. She sees the four walls clearly yet as she hits the chorus with brother Lee, the pair proudly proclaim that true love has moved in and now “No More Lonely” is the norm. The Roys continue to shout freedom on “No More Tears” and stretch the joy to include a vision of eternity with “Mended Wings”. The title track rests the tour guide hat on the head of Elaine Roy as she turns the pages on her past.  Doyle Lawson jumps in and joins The Roys as they close The View with “Mandolin Man”, setting the clock for Saturday night at the Ryman for the Grand Ole Opry. 

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

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Sam Morrow has a voice that shows scars. Like all that heals, the cuts and bruises Sam has tattooed on his soul over the course of life are wayward scout badges not visible on the surface. His vocals have heft; on the opening track for Ephemeral, his recent release, Sam Morrow whispers his declarations on “War” as he fills in the back story. He sees more to the tale as it unfolds and the realizations that are revealed amp up the volume for the message ‘we’re not done’. Sam Morrow has a hard time describing his songs due to varied bloodlines in the arrangements.  Even challenging were the addictions that Sam put in his way recalling that ‘as I fought through my addictions, music was an unshakable constant, it was there in the depths, it carried me in the chaos and when I sobered up, it offered redemption. I wanted to make a record full of contradictions, constants, and loss, to reflect the lives we all live.’

Ephemeral follows the spirit of its creator as it walks along the tracks of the album. Sam Morrow has the ability to feel and to translate the emotions to words and music. As the story spins its characters, the depth of his pain spreads out, tinting the audio waters with his blood. You can watch him sinking on “Old Soul” as facts spell out in screams of ‘I can’t go home without you’. Sam takes the accumulated hurt even lower, uttering the inevitable ‘but I have to’ as the breath of defeat leaves his body. Experience and advice are pared down to one-liners as Sam notes that ‘one wrong turn defines who we are but it is the journey that writes the song’ (“True North”), ‘I miss you when you’re gone, and I’m gone when you’re here’ (“December”). Sam pulls the curtain back on real life in “14”, introducing a teen who ‘took his first breath at 14’ confessing that that first shot of ‘whiskey and heroin’ let him wear a new skin. The flame that drew him in casts a shadow on Sam as the host offers to ‘sit down and meet my friend trouble and meet our friend pain' 

Listen and buy the music of Sam Morrow from AMAZON or iTunes

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Missy Andersen opens the doors to In the Moment to reveal folks having a good time as she welcomes you to “Rent Party”. Rent parties had simple ingredients; get a band, get some food, get some beer and open the doors. As the party started the hat was passed, a way smarter move than a door fee since the party starter had a chance to throw a mighty affair that would keep folks digging into their pockets for fear they would be kicked out. The rent party originated in Harlem in the 1920’s and it is that same uptown spirit of jazz, blues and R&B sounds that Missy Andersen offers In the Moment. She cam hold claim to NYC cred from time spent in Queens between her birth in Detroit and current residence in San Diego, California. The songs of In the Moment will receive no mail at Missy Andersen’s SoCal address, however, and any correspondence should be directed to Memphis, Tennessee, since that is where its music of the album lives.

Missy Andersen steers the varied song styles on In the Moment with phrasing, delivery and a whole lot of vocal tease. She admits to making mistakes mostly due to a lack of background info, ‘I wish somebody told me, you can live where you want until you know where you’re going, so I’m moving on’ with “No Regrets”. She is packing bags with a wedding dress to be freedom bound in the song, and that survival with sass moves with Missy throughout the album.  In her role of “Night Stalker”, Missy walks a misty darkness broken only by flashes of neon and various bumps. Missy Andersen sings Gospel Blues (“”Reach Out”), rock’n’soul (“Better or Worse”, goes shopping for way-down-low blues (“Ladies Shoes”) and  follows a second line bouncing ball of guitar and organ notes into “Whole Lotta Nuthin'”.   

Listen and buy the music of Missy Andersen from AMAZON or iTunes

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Demos Papadimas is a musician of the world, a portal for distinct sounds and styles to enter and be welcomed in the notes of his resonator guitar, harmonica and bouzouki.  Not only the gatekeeper but the gate, Demos recent debut, Wanderin’ through the Wilderness, seamlessly blends American Roots with Mediterranean influences. He dug into his Greek heritage to find a musical bloodline between traditional American sounds and Greek Rembetiko, the’ Greek Blues’. Wanderin’ through the Wilderness continues to stretch for extremes to decorate its common ground, blending tones and textures from ballads to gypsy tangos.  While Demos’ muse was planning future blends of notes and chords, his outside musical influences came through in the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, finding particular inspiration in the way Cohen blends American folk and Mediterranean-based world music.

Demos Papadimas’ ability to create one sound from many sources focuses attention on the music as well as the stories of Wanderin’ through the Wilderness; the instrumentation is a key for the music, yet the man whose fingers are flying also has something to say. Demos feels that ‘it is very music a songwriters album. The lyrics certainly take the spotlight, even though there are rich musical arrangements and diverse stylistic twists from track to track. This description best summarizes my style and approach to my music.’  The musical blend becomes the soundtrack for stories of leaving (“Weary Words”) and loss (“Barrier Door”), relationships ending (“Wasted Days”) and the echoes of dreams (“In All the Years”).  Traditional blues (“Poor Boy Blues”) and traditional Greek (“Minore tis Avois”) offer purist borders allowing the songs of Wanderin’ Through the Wilderness to sample and share to create a middle ground from the extremes. Demos Papadimas casts himself in the lead role for “If I Had Religion”, seeing his reflection in the musical mirror as ‘living like a scholar, living like a thief’.

Listen and buy the music of Demos Papadimas from AMAZON or iTunes

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The Palominos never imitate Classic Country on Come on In, the bands most recent Randm Records release. They are a country band, a California Country band, and that is the sound coming from the stage. The Palominos echo songs from an era when rock’n’roll bands were giving country long hair and a meatier backbeat; late 1960’s/early 1970’s releases from Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Merle Haggard were bringing a new sound into country music. The Palominos are asking you to Come on In and hear what a band doing the same thing sounds like in 2014.

The Palominos are a tight-knit band. The rhythm section likes its job and stays true with simple structures with the guitar supporting the beat under the vocals until it sees open road and lets the riffs ride fast and free. Thomas is the man behind the guitar, his leads weave in and out of the tracks with precision. He goes to tradition and uses a reverbed twang in addition to pure clean note patterns yet there are moments when he seems to tie the strings in knots and quickly untie them like a badge-laden boy scout who just discovered the electric guitar. Thomas’ brother James is on bass and shared heritage influences heard at home double the authenticity of The Palominos music. The pair joined Lance (vocals) and Craig (drums) due to a shared bloodline love of west coast honky tonk. The title track adds a light Tex-Mex spice in the guitar strums. Heartbreak in the story and good times in the playing is the template for the tracks on Come on In, and the titles are the ingredients for what can be found inside on “You Provide the Heartbreak (I'll Provide the Wine) and “Mr. Used to Be”. Love comes fast to the guy at the bar but he turned for a second to catch the game, turning back finding the redhead next to him gone as he asks “What's Her Name?”, and as the band’s heart dies and shatters in pieces they shrug it off with a “It Could Happen to Anyone”. The Palominos recorded at The Lost Ark Studios, a division of Randm Records, using the energy of the more-than-their-fair-share vintage gear the studios packs to the ceiling.

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

 

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/come-on-in/id780665996?uo=4&at=10ldmZ

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For me, there is a bridge that links Swimmin’ Time, the most recent Shovels and Rope album, from their Dualtone Records debut, O’ Be Joyful. Standing a as a combination night watchmen and information stand, Shovels and Rope create familiar music that challenges without alienating. The beauty in the songs is like a lung full of desert air as your eyes adjust to the amazing amount of life around you and can be found in the roar and rage of a runaway river out of control, threatening to, but not quite, overflowing its banks. The best way to get that is to listen to the music created by Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent aka Shovels and Rope. While their previous, breakthrough release was recorded where the duo on tour in hotel rooms and their van, Swimmin’ Timeis homegrown in the pair’s studio in Charleston, South Carolina.

The mist on the riverbank plays tricks, distorting the vocals and haunting the beats as “Fish Assassin” throws its line out into Swimmin’ Time. Without ever-giving up tightly wound instrumentation “Coping Mechanism” tints the stage with a slightly blue cabaret light courtesy of the piano tinkling bravely against electric guitar chord slashes. All songs, in their hearts, are coordinated chaos, at least if they are done correctly. Shovels and Rope do not bother trying to border the demands of their sound, so there is no need to herd or hone the sharp edges of the songs; they remain thorns that surround the colors unfolding like opening flowers. There is fullness to the sound of Swimmin’ Time and the it fills in the gaps between sparse voices, beats, harmonica and guitar on “After the Storm” and helps row to keep the balance of waves of words and music in “Stono River Blues”.  Swimmin’ Time never dries off as it uses the spit and sweat to give life to the songs. The pair offer advice as a calling card on album opener “The Devil is All Around”, blending experience with confessions and dark questions of “how far would you go to get right with God’. Folk wisdom guides the smoothness of the rhythms, the inspirational backslap, and the warm cup of coffee in “Save the World”, funereal drumbeats follow the story of “Thresher” down and a warning label is displayed as part promise and part threat on the title track. The guitar riff rumbles for the rise of “Evil”, introducing a ‘victim of the mortgage bubble pop waiting for the other shoe to stop’ in a tale that can take its place in the Southern Gothic work, or at least it is possibly southern culture as its dark tale that dips quickly into horror and never bothers to turn back.

Listen and buy the music of Shovels and Rope from AMAZON or iTunes

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John Cowan has been called The Voice of Newgrass but really, you could have stopped at The Voice. John was ground zero for a musical movement when he joined as bassist, and became vocalist, for New Grass Revival in 1974, along with bandmates Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, Curtis Burch and later Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn.  Their music was bluegrass with a bite, adding a rock heft to the tradition. When the group closed their doors in 1990, John released solo albums and became a go-studio bassman and vocalist for Steve Earle, John Prine and Alison Krauss. He joined Rusty Young (Poco), Pat Simmons (The Doobie Brothers) and Bill Lloyd (Foster and Lloyd) in The Sky Kings and followed bandmate Pat Simmons back to his day gig in The Doobie Brothers, with John playing bass and harmonizing from 1992 through 1995.

Sixty is the latest John Cowan release, an audio look back as a career retrospective of sorts. Remember where we talked about The Voice? John’s voice is clear, and rings like a bell on the string band rave up “Why Are You Crying”, stirs country mystery into the mood cast on “Fate Full of Shadow”, is the light that shines on “The Things I Haven't Done”, and shouts over the rock’n’roll of The Youngblood’s “Sugar Babe” as he calls out solos from Huey Lewis (harmonica), Sam Bush (mandolin), and an array of guitar solos both acoustic (Josh Williams) and electric (Jim Messina, Ray Benson, Hank Linderman, John Jorgenson). Sixty is produced   by fellow Doobie-brother John McFee and the album welcomes guests Rodney Crowell, Alison Krauss, Chris Hillman (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, solo), Bernie Leadon (The Eagles) and Bonnie Bramlett (Delaney and Bonnie). Sixty exits on a beautiful paring with Leon Russell on “Feel Like Going Home”, recorded in one take. Inspiration comes in various skins and on Sixty, John Cowan’s words are the perfect vehicle to head into a weekend or back into love to ride shotgun to shout to the wind over John MeFee’s multiple guitars playing jangly to raggedy reverbed riffs. John Cowan is guide as Dixieland drifts on a river memory on “Miss the Mississippi (and you)” and the victim, the perpetrator and the soon-to-be-accused (again) walks the beach as a sea breeze carries the scent of sulfur from a “Devil Woman”.     

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The amount of musical avenues that Mac Rebennack struts down would get an average guy lost in a matter of seconds, though you cannot call a man that dresses as fine on a consistent basis average. Dr. John began studio work as a producer and pianist in the mix of rock’n’roll and R&B that was New Orleans in the 1950’s. Moving to Los Angeles, he brought the world the first understanding, outside Life magazine photos, of Mardi Gras Indians and swamp shamans under the spell of a healthy dose of gris gris.  Dr. John the Nighttripper was a late night staple of early FM and when he put the cork back in the bottle of Nighttripper for 1970’s recording, he kept the Crescent City funk and party time beats. Dr. John found himself in the Top 40 in 1973 with “Right Place. Wrong Time”, and is backed by Allen Toussaint and The Meters on the self-titled release. Dr. John has worked his keyboards for blues, jazz, R&B, funk and rock’n’roll with influences somewhere between Professor Longhair and Coco Robichaux. Dr. John pays homage to another musician who he claims is “the most famous guy that ever came out of my neighborhood. He became a legend all over, for his trumpet playin’ and everything else, and he was United States ambassador to the world.’

The music of Louis Armstrong is in every note of the recent Dr. John release, Ske-Dat-De-Dat, The Spirit of Satch.   I have rarely run across a Dr. John album that wasn’t a party and Ske-Dat-De-Dat is not only right in the same line, but it is rattles the title across a second line beat on “Dippermouth Blues”. The Spirit of Satch was produced by Dr. John and longtime trombonist Sarah Morrow, who arranged the album. These may be songs that Dr. John has sung along to for years; the tell is in his vocals being a comfortable fit to the tunes. Joining in are friends from a long history in music logged by the man at the piano. The album opens to a street corner sound rising up and thorugh an open window, Dr. John picking up the groove, and welcoming the street corner choir, the Blind Boys of Alabama, in for “What a Wonderful World”. The track also features Nicholas Payton on trumpet, who returns for “Gut Bucket Blues”. Trumpeters rule on Ske-Dat-De-Dat, the Spirit of Satch, as it should be. Arturo Sandoval (“Tight Like That”, Memories of You”), Terence Blanchard (“Mack the Knife”, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”) and Wendell Brunious (“That’s My Home”)  stand behind the microphones, leaving all of the mics in place for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to blow the clouds away for “When You’re Smiling”. Duets for the album feature Bonnie Raitt on “I’ve Got the World on a String” and Shemekia Copeland on a reworking of “Big Hunk O’ Trash”. Anthony Hamilton delivers the sad admission that “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child” and the McCrary Sisters and Ledisi gather around the organ to shake a little gospel soul up to the rafters for “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen”. Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit Of Satch honors two men who are linked to the music of New Orleans, Louis Armstrong and Dr. John.

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Familiarity with the music and songs of Israel Nash will not prepare you for the majesty of Israel Nash’s Rain Plans, his most recent release. The album relies on sonic soundscapes to shift mood and light, color and shade over the songs and in that process, it is possible that Israel Nash has created a missing link. Musically, Rain Plans moves with the more atmospheric side of folk music from artists like Bon Iver and Devendra Banhart, and folks with a strong rock heart found in bands such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. The bridge that Israel Nash crosses has both music and time on its edges. The album sound goes back to earlier experimentations with sonics and chords from bands like Pink Floyd and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, who share a great deal with the songs on Rain Plans. The album does not mirror themes or directly link to a sound, though touches the textures on the initial two solo efforts, the self-titled Neil Young and the counter-culture FM staple, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.

There is a power to Israel Nash’s Rain Plans. It is such a contained form of energy that the band play the album in its entirety, and sequentially, on each tour date. Israel admits that his research for the discovery of new chords to input were a key to the resulting sonics of the album, though without the added ideas and musical directions from his fellow players, the sound would have never reached the heights it achieved. The stories on Rain Plans are cinematic in the telling of the tales, a form that links perfectly with the sonic rise and fall, ebb and flow of the album. Flashing guitar notes and soaring a pedal steel backdrop “Rexanimarum” with a sensuous sparkle. The songs on Rain Plans flow into one another with ease as they fall over the album, though each track stands alone within its moods and emotions. “Iron of the Mountain” never takes itself out of the shadows created by the melody build, the chorus choir or the sizzle of the lead guitar. “Woman at the Well” is open country for its dry rhythms as they ‘head east in the morning and westward at night’, “Rain Plains” lie under approaching clouds of gentle melodies backed with echoed distortion and “Mansions” serves extremes as it welcomes in both acoustic and electric guests. Israel Nash’s Rain Plans is a musical statement. The band’s goal was to create an album’s listen, a headphone experience. Take a moment to prepare, sit back, relax and plug in to share in Israel Nash’s Rain Plans.  

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Sugar Ray Norcia has a soul depth to his voice. There are moments on Living Tear to Tear, like the slow drag in “It's Never as Bad as It Looks”, where Ray’s vocal dips down to a perfectly rounded grumble that is reminiscent of soul men like Brook Benton. There is a lot of soul coming from the tune, though the Blues is where the band took their name, and they never travel far from their source, evident on lines from the song such as ‘it’s never as bad as it looks, it’s never as bad as it seems.’ Things were put in motion in 1977, when Sugar Ray and Neil Gouvin were in southern Rhode Island while Ronnie Earl was up in Boston, all three making inroads for their Blues. When Ronnie and Michael ‘Mudcat’ Ward recruited Neil as drummer he brought along his buddy Sugar Ray for vocals and harmonica. The four-piece worked but adding Anthony Geraci on keyboards as a fifth member locked the sound and the group was name Sugar Ray and the Bluetones.

The Bluetones current line-up includes ‘Monster’ Mike Welch on lead guitar on their most recent Severn Records release, Living Tear to Tear. Mike blues guitar leads weave through a band that has a natural intuitiveness due to their long-time playing as a unit. Living Tear to Tear rips a hole to climb into the album with Ray’s harmonica and the band roll right on through with opener “Rat Trap”. Sugar Ray and the Bluetones dive low knowing the only way to get a little bit right is to ‘go out and get drunk again’ in “Misery”, they raise their heads a little bit to share that “I Dreamed Last Night” that love once again came back in only to leave again each morning on waking, and the guys saunter in to warn that sleep could be bad news but “Things Could Be Worse” when dreams become nightmares. The piano intros “Hungry But Happy” as organ chords surround and guitar notes light the way before laying out an instrumental spread for “Ribs” that will stick to you with the sweet harmonica sauce that Sugar Ray’s slathers on the song. Living Tear to Tear is an album from a band who have made their group an integral part of their fans lives and artists intent on keeping tradition alive by keeping it live. 

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Even when he is kidding, like on “This is Real Goodbye”, I get a little on edge thinking of a world without the songs of Paul Thorn. Paul kinds of gives advice, and certainly relates what has happened for him and others around him, but his secret ingredient is the way his pen makes us feel. Musically, sure, the guy boogies. The stories though, make you stop a moment. He is not reading your letters, Paul Thorn is walking in your shoes and clearly showing to pay no mind to what you think you smell, you did not step in anything. The songs on Too Blessed to Be Stressed, the most recent Paul Thorn release, make you feel that you are not alone. The people in the stories are not perfect but that is the point. Paul highlights the little things, the day to day that we take for granted, the friends and family who surround us, and the way that the one thing we all seem have in common is our ability to get back up. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Paul Thorn is at the front of the class to teach that the definition of sanity is to do the same thing different and maybe next time we will get it right.

The McCrary Sisters announce the title track as Reverend Paul takes the stand to share observances he has made walking the damn funky path the track is on. Marches, peace signs, family reunions and a single mom who finds the love missing from the man who made her babies are all on the blessed bus that makes no stops at stress. The rhythm rumbles like the thunder and rain as Paul asks “What Kind of Roof Do You Live Under”, the groove floats on a quotes from his grandpa with “Don't Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy” and the beat is a persistent stride with the obvious to miss advice of “Everybody Needs Somebody”. Paul Thorn is a man of his words and can wear the skin of the heroic leader leading a charge with “Everything's Gonna Be Alright”. Paul’s status a hero is more in his ability to be human. As he pages through a weekday planner every entry remarks that “Mediocrity is King” and shows when he is good, he is very, very good, and when he is bad, well, he carefully works it out so “I Backslide On Friday”. There is inspiration between just about every line in Too Blessed to be Stressed, though Paul chooses neither that path of his preacher father or his pimp uncle, both of whom get credit for forming the man on the cover. The hand that Paul offers is not one that pulls you up or out. At the end of his arm, Paul’s fingers are pointing towards possibilities. Maybe this thing can work out, maybe I wasn’t wrong, maybe I can just get off at the next exit, turn around or keep going to a light shining somewhere.

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There is a lot to be said for not appearing desperate or needy when delivering something into the world. The rule of thumb is Indie reserve with music…..’You like my record….that’s cool’. Cory Branan takes nonchalance to a new level on the No-Hit Wonder. The front cover shows Cory relaxed, feet up, possibly asleep for his new album. That pose, along with the album title, would be a shot at the industry for an artist with good music on an album that may or not be heard; kind of a ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ model. The difference is that on an album titled the No-Hit Wonder, Cory Branan opens the envelope on a multitude of winners in a variety of different styles and categories. In a world where everything runs as it should, the songs could even be considered Pop hits, if Pop music didn’t have its head so far up its own ass.

The No-Hit Wonder samples Roots music, gathering sounds and styles, delivering the best Cory Branan songs for Americana, Folk, Classic Country and Roots music. Album opener “You Make Me” is Alt Country sunshine, jangly chords as heart on the sleeve ‘I-love-you’s’ thumbs their nose at the album title and kicks off the No-Hit Wonder with a sing-a-long keeper. “The Highway Home” leads down the same road with Alt Country jangles lighting the path and both tracks feature tour mate Jason Isbell. “C’mon Shadow” takes its first breath with echoed vocals against a ukulele rhythm, “Missing You Fierce” fast tracks a groove that propels the Indie Rock tune forward, rockabilly fires up “Sour Mash” with a heady beat and “All I Got is Gone” staggers out of a Left Bank basement café  from when Paris was the center of home-made jazz. The title track demands attention as it pounds and stomps onto the No-Hit Wonder. The song follows a song peddler pushing real life in his stories rather than chasing down dreams, presenting honesty in tough-to-hear in lines like ‘you wanna know what true love feels like…it’s the next best thing to death’. Country music runs free in “All the Rivers in Colorado”, Cajun music turns is eyes to the heavens to see that “Daddy Was a Skywriter” and “The Only You” aims for Pop radio with a full arrangement that relies on its subtleties to wrap real feelings in wry humor. Cory Branan gathers friends and peers for the recording of the No-Hit Wonder, welcoming Craig Finn and Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady), Caitlin Rose, Austin Lucas and Tim Easton along with top notch Nashville players from bands such as The Black Crowes, The 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle, Waylon Jennings and Drivin’ and Cryin’.

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It is the one hundredth birthday for Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfeld). You have heard the music of Muddy Waters in your life, and on For Pops, his son, Mud Morganfield is joined by Kim Wilson, singer and harmonica player for The Fabulous Thunderbirds bring tunes that have been fully stamped into our lives, and those that you can hear as snippet starters for hundreds of songs that followed. The album is a tribute to Muddy Waters and to keep the authenticity and environment of the original tunes, Mud and Kim give the album a late night jam session feel. For Pops was produced by Steve Gomes and David Earl. David describes the recording process as ‘we began with an old-fashioned ‘house party’ in our studio. Attendees would include family and friends from all over the mid-Atlantic region, who were treated to a wonderful performance by Mud and Kim, along with barbeque and spirits. The next day, the overall thought was to record the album ‘live’ in the studio and capture the feel we had at the party. All the instruments were recorded together in the same room in order to truly capture the interplay between the musicians.’ 

Muddy Waters songs are part of the fabric of our culture with tunes like “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I Love the Life I Live, I live the Life I Love”, both of which are included on the album. “Still a Fool” stomps the same electric blues that is just steps away from its field blues heritage and “Just to Be with You” sidles a tease down the street with a tune full of promises to try to get the lady to ‘go home with me’. Mud Morganfield and Kim Wilson stay true to the songs origins yet do not mimic as much as honor by allowing their own personal blues to color the tracks from within. Muddy Waters was a songwriter that took a stand with his words for sexual freedom, pushing the morays of the time by presenting the hunt, the conquest and the satisfaction of making love in a positive light. “I Want You to Love Me” speaks for itself, “I Want to Be Loved” is a seduction rather than a plea and the quiet instrumentation of“ My Dog Can’t Bark” lets the loud buzz of voices gossip before joining in with something to say of its own.  The pair “Trouble No More” ‘cause they know that love finds its way home if it is meant to, and watch the sun ride on a dark day crying “Blow Wind Blow”. For Pops shines like the promises that are on a shopping spree on “Gone to Main Street” and hurts like the woman that bound to break the boys heart if she leaves on “She’s Got It”.

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Melissa Ruth claims that the writing for Riding Mercury, her most recent release with The Likely Stories, took place ‘between hell and high water’. Melissa has been touring the success on her previous album, Ain’t No Whiskey, booking and promoting for her own career plus managing a full-time music teaching schedule and dealing with family issues. Melissa and husband, Johnny Leal , who plays lead, rhythm and slide guitar on Riding Mercury, are based in Eugene, Oregon, and used a ‘family band’ as The Likely Stories telling their musical tales on the album.

Johnny Leal guitar work stages Riding Mercury as Melissa Ruth adds touches of color and light to the tales. She whispers words on “Who’s Your Lover” as the guitar barely rises to spit out random notes that still crackle like periodic lightning, she jazzes up the melody over chopped rhythm guitar chords joined with a solid rhythm section as they script “The Letter” and confidently strides over a marching beat to question “Your Love”, confirming that ‘we come to love, love comes to us’. Melissa Ruth and the Likely Stories slow their roots down so that the songs have lots of breathing room between atmospherically spaced chords, notes and beats. The rhythm moves like molasses through the thick air of a Louisiana night as Melissa pays attention to the stories of others to build a mental image of “Summer Nights in New Orleans” and the beat bounces as it disses the woman who has ‘too much high in her heel and too much frim-fram in her meal’ as she sings the “High Brow Blues”.

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They are only two albums in to their Compass Records signing yet Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen are stretching the borders the band put in place on their debut for the label. Cold Spell, their recent release, sticks to the bluegrass that brought them in for the show and wraps the basic string band structure with country, jazz, blues and rock influences. Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen are a Washington, D.C.-based bluegrass band, with Frank on mandolin and vocals. Frank spoke of the natural progression of sound as “we have a backbone of bluegrass, but we’re building a body around the backbone that is just a little bit different. Things change. I think our music is a natural progression. We want to be able to progress and progress and progress. We just want to play good music’.

Cold Spell seems to reflect a little more musically for Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen. The title track glides along, the rhythm slowed as a chill sets in on the heart in the story like the light snow falling outside the stories window. A slower pace becomes the norm for Cold Spell. Stringband folk rock opens the album with “Say It Isn’t So’ as hearts break over a tough yet comforting melody that wanders like the list of memories and “Missing You” flows with a bluegrass determination that still lets the melody float as the narrator lays his heart out for his love interest, with Sam Bush (low) and John Cowan (high) joining in on harmony. An instrumental presence on the album is handled with the lush, group-penned project “Chief Taghkanic” and “Yeah Man”, written by Dirty Kitchen banjoman Mike Munford, an IBMA (Intl. Bluegrass Music Assoc) winner for banjo player of the year. Dirty Kitchen is rounded out with Rob Ickes on bass and Chris Luquette on guitar, an IBMA winner for the Momentum Award for young instrumentalists. Cold Spell expands on the song catalog of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen without compromising its intentions. The band have a knack for matching music to pain, desires and longing in Frank Solivan’s vocals with the sonic textures cradle and rock the stories with strong support to get them through troubled times of the heart.

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Ruthie Foster has given the world a great gift with her voice and her songs. Ever wonder what gives Ruthie a reason to get up in the morning? The answer opens Promise of a New Day, the latest release from Ruthie Foster. What lights the lady up is “Singing the Blues”. Diversity in her style is a constant for Ruthie Foster, and her rhythms are her children, with each one getting attention, and she tells of big love for reggae, soul and rock’n’roll in the tune. When she is ‘staring at the mirror” though, and the crowds are gone, the only option for getting high is more than likely Bobby Bland.

On the cover of Promise of a New Day, Ruthie Foster is standing with her guitar in a field of daisies with butterflies a-flying, rainbows planting gold and a smile to rival the sun over her shoulder. Use that as visual for the songs and stories on the album and you get a clear understanding of the sound track to track. The sound of the notes offers inspiration simply stated in “Believe”, and as a line in the sand with “It Might Not be Right” for the haters that have rules and regulations set out as high walls to get over. Promise of a New Day was produced by Meshell Ndgeocello, who creates a strong foundation behind the board and for the rhythm section behind her bass. It is the magic of Ruthie’s voice that is the center point for the songs yet the playing defines whether it softly holds the melody (“Learning to Fly”) or pounds the message (“Let Me Know”) alongside Ruthie and guitarist Darryl Bramhall II (Eric Clapton). Promise of a New Day hosts Ruthie Foster originals alongside a few covers. Eugene McDaniels version of his song “Outlaw” was a staple in the early days of FM radio. The track was a ‘turntable’ hit for the songwriter whose tunes topped the chart for others with “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (Roberta Flack), and the jazz-protest song “Compared to What”. Ruthie Foster picks up the torch for personal freedom, waving it high for women who still need to defend themselves for not wearing a bra and sleep with whom they please.    

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Elvin Bishop is celebrating fifty years of recording with the release Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, his return to Alligator Records. Elvin’s first studio steps were not meek touches to test the water. He was a member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of the three independent bands making a big underground noise in the U.S. during the first days of the British Invasion. In the 1970’s, Elvin Bishop enjoyed solo success with a rootsier rock, scoring a hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. The track featured future Jefferson Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas on vocals. He heads back into the studio with Elvin on Can’t Even Do Wrong Right to pick up the microphone for the bluesy ballad, “Let Your Woman Have Her Way”… a very good match for Mickey’s soulful vocals. Another good friend shows up on the recording with Grammy-winning harmonica man Charlie Musselwhite. The Blues was part of Elvin Bishop’s life at a young age with the music hanging out in local schoolyards luring in unsuspecting children. Elvin was hooked and began collecting music, using a 1959 National Merit Scholarship to get closer to his heroes by enrolling in the University of Chicago, its campus surrounded on three sides by the South Side black community. Elvin recalls that “the first thing I did when I got there was make friends with the guy that worked in the cafeteria. Within fifteen minutes I was in the Blues scene.’

You cannot turn your back on the success that Elvin Bishop has enjoyed over the years. It is Elvin Bishop himself that keeps butts in seats, however, finding a special niche with the average man that walks through many of his songs.  The character is appealing, and has become forever linked with Elvin Bishop the man. He has trademarked wink-and-a nod lyrics that flesh out a guy who tries his hardest; whether he wins or loses is not the point, he gives it his best. Age is in the story line though not as a condition, more a date to be dealt with as you see fit. The common theme with growing older on the album is that it always a surprise when you remember that date or origin. Elvin finger points on the title track, aiming squarely at the lovable loser dude who wins the race only to trip over the finish line, and he shares his secrets to longevity as “Dancin’” with a side of Tex-Mex accordion and guitars.  Another trademark for Elvin Bishop is an intelligent humor that hides itself in his story lines like the pictures in the Highlight magazines found in a dentist’s office.  His smarts show through in the age-proud claim to ‘don’t send me no e-mail, send me a female’ in “Old School”. This is no I-used-to-walk-ten-miles to school whine as Elvin Bishop grabs age by the balls. It sounds like in his seventy-one years that Elvin Bishop never once cleaned up the blues in “Everybody's in the Same Boat”. The riffs are dirty as Elvin speaks/sings truisms about his own life that are shared experiences of all humanity. It is the advice of a man who has never left a stage without smiles stamped in place from his set, and you can believe him when his says that now is the time cause ‘you ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on the top’

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Greg Cartwright has made Indie into an art form during the years he has led the characters who have wandered through his band, The Reigning Sound. I am not saying that Greg Cartwright is a music geek but like the rest of us, he will do until one comes along. Shattered, the recent Merge Records release from The Reigning Sound, was record at Daptone Studios in Brooklyn, New York. The band have been dubbed garage rock punk though I have felt being born in Memphis gave the group the spark of soul in their songs. Shattered presents The Reigning Sound on the same stage as the early 60’s British bands who played rock’n’roll, but grew up in range of German airwaves carrying American R&B 45’s that the soldiers carried with them around the world. Recording at Daptone Studios gives the group a rock and soul sound, albeit one that rehearses, and sounds real good, in the garage.

The Reigning Sound, and Greg Cartwright, moved from Memphis and now base in Asheville, North Carolina. The openness of the territory, both land and musical, in the Carolinas warms the tracks without muting the rock soul force of the tunes. Greg Cartwright spent time being the guy behind the counter at the local mom and pop record shop. His knowledge of sound never mimics but channels the lush sway of big band backed-era Buddy Holly on “Once More” and returns to Memphis if only to sing its soul on “I’m Trying (to be the Man You Need). Using song structure from other eras does not date The Reigning Sound, and they wear the crown of current times in their music. Shattered is a sturdy mode of transport for diverse songs with the singer/songwriter style of “Never Coming Home” rides in a four-piece rock’n’roll combo through fields of waving strings, the snaking psychedelic distortion riding shotgun with the “North Cakalacky Girl” while wobbly organ chords sound track the pulp fiction story of “You Did Wrong”; its mistakes echoing down dark alleys lit by the laser ray of the guitar lead. Shattered breaks expectations as it returns Soul and Rock to its Roots while The Reigning Sound build an altar to the glory of rock’n’roll bands.

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CORY BRANAN - THE NO-HIT-WONDER

CORY BRANAN - THE NO-HIT-WONDER

There is a lot to be said for not appearing desperate or needy when delivering something into the world. The rule of thumb is Indie reserve with music…..’You like my record….that’s cool’. Cory Branan takes nonchalance to a new level on the No-Hit Wonder . The front cover shows Cory relaxed, feet up, possibly asleep for his new album. That pose, along with the album title, would be a shot at the industry for an artist with good music on an album that may or not be heard; kind of a ‘you can’t fire m...

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UPCOMING STUDIO EVENTS

WALTER SALAS - HUMARA / THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2014

WALTER SALAS - HUMARA / THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2014

Walter Salas-Humara was raised bilingual Fort Lauderdale, FLA, a Cuban-American whose parents fled Castro’s Havana with him still in the womb. Walter heard the call, coming to NC just as the style was starting to leave the building. He formed The Silos in 1985.The band was voted Best New American Band in Rolling Stone Magazine's Critics' Poll of 1987 and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990. The year 2014 sees the release of a new Walter Salas-Humara solo album, Curve and Shake. T...

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THE HOWLIN' BROTHERS - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

THE HOWLIN' BROTHERS - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

As you can tell in the picture, The Howlin’ Brothers are excited. The band has had two albums and an E.P, recorded at the legendary Sun Studios. The band has been trying to get into the studio as much as we have tried to match up schedules for the past few years. Both sides learned their lessons and we started early to make the proud announcement.

The Alternate Root is pleased to host a special night of filming featuring The Howlin’ Brothers on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Doors are at 6PM and yo...

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WISEWATER feat. FORREST O' CONNOR AND KATE LEE

WISEWATER feat. FORREST O' CONNOR AND KATE LEE

Forrest O’Connor is a son of Nashville. His dad was industry, and Forrest was playing the mandolin by age 13. Harvard brought Forrest to New England in 2006. He stayed and has played solo and in bands throughout and after college. Forrest O’Connor has recently announced a new duo project formed with singer-songwriter/fiddler Kate Lee under the banner of Wisewater.

The Alternate Root is pleased to host a special night of filming featuring Americana/pop duo Wisewateron Friday, September 26, 2014. D...

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MAKING THE LIST

TOP 50 ALBUM OF 2014 ---- SO FAR

TOP 50 ALBUM OF 2014 ---- SO FAR

January 1 through June 31, 2014; just six short months with a staggering number of albums released in the American Roots format. The Top 50 albums released so far in 2014 got a running start with the Top 25 posted last week. This week, we are handing over number 26 through 50. It might seem strange to see Royal Southern Brotherhood and John Fullbright so far down on the list. It will not be like that at years end, we received the music late and thought that the release dates were after July 1….w...

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HOW SOUL SOUNDS IN 2014

HOW SOUL SOUNDS IN 2014

Soul music has long been the territory of cool cats; music, clothes, style…..smooth. Soul music shared more with our feline friends when it grabbed the extra-lifespan package and opted for a new life every time it seemed to be sputtering. In the 1960’s times of Soul Power, the music was a breeding ground for rhythm, rock and blues. Over the years, Soul has not lost its cool though it has not given as much cred to its sources the further it got away from home. In 2014, Soul music is still very mu...

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THE ALTERNATE ROOT TOP 100 ALBUMS FOR 2013

THE ALTERNATE ROOT TOP 100 ALBUMS FOR 2013

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 ...

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FROM THE VAULTS

JIMBO MATHUS FROM THE DEEP SOUTH

JIMBO MATHUS FROM THE DEEP SOUTH

On his January 2013 Fat Possum release, White Buffalo , Jimbo Mathus celebrates his life as a seeker and a son of the south. He reminisces on “Hatchie Bottoms” as he returns for a family funeral and his mind slips back to childhood memories. Jimbo travels to a high mountain desert across the Great Divide and the Carolinas on “Tennessee Walker Mare” and heads into Hollywood to find the real gems among the fake glitter in “Poor Lost Souls”. But the sounds of White Buffalo stamp his heritage of the cou...

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JOE LOUIS WALKER - THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAINS YEARS

JOE LOUIS WALKER - THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAINS YEARS

I have a question…..how is it seems that the A-list Blues artists cross over to mainstream fully formed? Musicians like Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo’ , Anna Popovic and Janiva Magness seems to materialize out of the ether. Please don’t send letters, but it really is the Roots version of virgin birth. How do these artists climb up in the Blues world? How do they separate themselves from the legions of others from the flash 12-bar blues players to raw, primitive (often two person) Blues? It all gets ackno...

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LONG JOHN BALDRY - THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAINS YEARS

LONG JOHN BALDRY - THE BEST OF THE STONY PLAINS YEARS

British Blues inked its name into the walls of rock’n’roll in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. Rock bands made Blues big business as an English export with Humble Pie and Led Zeppelin, the bands doing a bigger box office, and getting more cred,  in the States than the U.K. The exportation of British Blues Rock can trace a thin blue line back through the decades to when the Blues took hold in London. American Roots, in the form of the Blues, first dug into British soil in the late 1950’s, thro...

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UNDER THE RADAR

KELLEY MICKWEE - YOU USED TO LIVE HERE

KELLEY MICKWEE - YOU USED TO LIVE HERE

Necessity is the mother of invention….The Trishas had a song about it called “Mother of Invention”. That is a great first step to introduce former-Trisha Kelley Mickwee, and her new album release, You Used to Live Here . The Trishas decided to take an open-ended break after covering a lot of ground as new-artists-on-the-rise in their five year existence as a band. Kelley has options handed to her….not necessarily options you could see or imagine, simply the space to fill with options.  It was...

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PAUL SACHS - SURVIVAL IS THE NEW SUCCESS

PAUL SACHS - SURVIVAL IS THE NEW SUCCESS

Delancey Street, Williamsburg Bridge, Alphabet City…romantic landmarks of NYC…names that hold allure only on paper or screen. Any sense of romance, or any of the other emotions that form around and foil youth, were the lessons Paul Sachs received from the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side Though the area is gentrified today, for kids in the 60’s and 70’s, the streets were a playground pockmarked with landmines in the form of broken bottles and used needles. From a young age, Paul’s eyes wer...

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EASTON STAGGER PHILLIPS - RESOLUTION ROAD

EASTON STAGGER PHILLIPS - RESOLUTION ROAD

The album cover shows a grey and white landscape divided by a long stretch of highway going forward north/south, east /west with no end in sight. Though I have never been there that is the vision I have for much of Alaska. Towns tied together with a black ribbon.  That same tar and cement paves the songs on Resolution Road , the sophomore release from Easton Stagger Phillips. Duos are a quick sell in these music times yet there is something about the power of three, seen in groups ranging fro...

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MAKING THE LIST

January 1 through June 31, 2014; just six short months with a staggering number of albums released in the American Roots format. The Top 50 albums released so far in 2014 got a running start with the Top 25 posted last week. This week, we are handing over number 26 through 50. It might seem strange to see Royal Southern Brotherhood and John Fullbright so far down on the list. It will not be like that at years end, we received the music late and thought that the release dates were after July 1….we were wrong and righted it with number #26 and #27. Disclaimer in place, we present the remaining albums for Top 50 2014 So Far

To view Top 50 albums #1 through #25 click here

26 – Royal Southern Brotherhood – heartbloodsoul    (6-10-14) - Heartsoulblood is the sound of a band that intuitively understands its Royal Southern Brotherhood. That is not really a difficult task for these guys. Touring, and being in a band, is a relationship. Heartsoulblood subtly showcases writers who can not only hear their parts but have an intuitive knowledge of their fellow band members well enough to predict the future for their parts. The music, and the songs, of Royal Southern Brotherhood is Blues Rock. The guys are not here to gently lull you, steady your nerves or give release from a tough work week. Those things will occur, of course, but only if your exit from your day-to-day is very real, and very loudly pokes a sharp, well-tuned stick at the status quo.

Listen and buy the music of Royal Southern Brotherhood from AMAZON or iTunes

27 – John Fullbright – Songs      (5-27-14) - On his second album, John Fullbright is the singer and songwriter for Songs; he is also the director, the set designer, the story editor, always the guy with clear observations, and sometimes the lead character.  He is a one-man production company performing many roles to present a complete piece of art for each of his Songs. Tension and comfort are both accounted for with well-placed notes and gently plucked strings, coaxing texture and tone from ivory keys; John Fullbright is a master craftsmen constructing with notes, words, and heart.

Listen and buy the music of John Fullbright from AMAZON or iTunes

28 - Susan Cattaneo  - Haunted Heart   (1-21-14) - Susan Cattaneo uses a hushed voice to greet her characters in Haunted Heart. She handles love with care as she introduces spirits of love past, present, future, with no fear of the dark spots, drawing back the curtains to expose the spins, twirls and missteps that occur in the relationship dance. Susan Cattaneo uses words and sounds to create stories as snapshots, and places them out for full view as songs in Haunted Heart.

Listen and buy the music of Susan Cattaneo from AMAZON or iTunes

29 – John Nemeth – Memphis Grease   (3-25-14) - John Nemeth was planning a recording in Memphis for his next album. A couple of trips, meeting his backing band, The Bo-Keys and the overall vibe of Memphis had John heading back, family in tow. Since their inception, The Bo-Keys have been a band on the inside of a hot groove in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Skip Pitts  laid down the wah-wah guitar intro to ‘The Theme from Shaft” in the 1970’s and trumpeter Ben Cauley was with school-kid funk band The Bar-Keys, backing band for Otis Redding and putting them on board for the plane crash that took his life, leaving Ben as the only survivor of the disaster. Drummer Howard Grimes’ can be heard keeping the beat for recordings by Rufus and Carla Thomas, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles. Memphis Grease is the album the John Németh put together with the help of The Bo-Keys.

Listen and buy the music of John Nemeth  from AMAZON or iTunes

30 – Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis –  Our Year    (5-27-14) - Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison have been a part of each other’s music for many years, Bruce stating that ‘Kelly has been singing (with me) since the first recording I made and she was the first person who ever recorded one of my songs. We’ve never stopped.’ The Robison family call Austin home, recording their most recent release, Our Year, in Nashville with producer Brad Jones. There is an excitement about Our Year that immediately comes through in the music. Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison share a life and intimacy born of years reaching mutual decisions, plugging up relationship leaks and sharing parenthood has a positive effect on the songs. Our Year reflects ‘a sound’ unique to the pair.

Listen and buy the music of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison from AMAZON or iTunes

31 - Amelia White – Old Postcard   (3-4-14) - Amelia White and her music established an early relationship that soon became at odds with parental guidelines. When she left home at eighteen years old, she packed her songs with her. She found a sense of family in her East Nashville digs; friends, outcasts, lovers who share the same musical drive, and sensitivity to heartache. The ghosts that take shape on Old Postcard all know Amelia by name, though some of the tunes share the thoughts of others. “Hollow Heart” is wisps of smoke that clear to show the longing of a motherless child, and “Big Blue Sun” rises over an ever-growing tide of incoming normalcy.

Listen and buy the music of Amelia White from AMAZON or iTunes

32 - Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’   (4-15-14) - Decisionscelebrates the sound of The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit, as dubbed by Rolling Stone for his 50+ year career. Bobby and Blinddog Smokin’ do a playful tease on “Skinny Little Woman”, strut a steamy slide through “If That’s the Way You Like It” as the story shows belief in asking for what you want. A career of fifty years and Bobby has got the whole tour thing down. He spends time talking about road life in the third person on “Bobby Rush’s Blues”, throws out a challenge to all comers as he proudly wears “Funky Old Man” and puts out his shingle over the bass-boom street beat of “Dr. Rush”. Decisions is an excellent party album and gets you ready for the morning after with “Too Much Weekend” and the laundry lists of alibis it provides, all boiling down to ‘I cannot come to work today’.  

Listen and buy the music of Bobby Rush from AMAZON or iTunes

33 - Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else   (1-18-14) - Lydia Loveless confidently offers songs that balance the love of classic country and the frank honesty of formative years spent in the ‘punk rules’ environs of Columbus, Ohio. Lydia Loveless could have easily taken the Sunset Strip of the late 80’s Cowpunk days that flew a Black Flag while saluting Hank Williams. Somewhere Else, however, does not need cubbyholes or categories to define it. The tracks lock arms with the same DIY punk attitude found in their stories; twanged flavor, distorted effect, three-chords-and-the-truth on Somewhere Else.

Listen and buy the music of Lydia Loveless from AMAZON or iTunes

34 - Jarekus Singleton – Refuse to Lose   (5-6-14) - You can hear the Blues in music of Jarekus Singleton and, like all players worth a listen, he makes his own Blues rules. Roots is in his music, and as an influence, one that has the same effect on cultural hotspots as the gospel and hip-hop that add touches to the songs of the twenty-something year-old. Jarekus Singleton may get some ‘young, Robert Cary’ descriptions and if using age and abilities are the qualifiers, sure. What the two more obviously share is an ability to take a heritage strain of music, like the Blues, and not only make it contemporary but also competitive with any other style claiming chart space in 2014.

Listen and buy the music of Jarekus Singleton from AMAZON or iTunes

35 - Zoe Muth – World of Strangers   (5-27-14) - Zoe Muth has gotten attention for the details she uses to describe her characters as much as for the natural combination of Soul and Country that sound track the stories. The songs on World of Strangers, her recent release, continue to introduce gentle souls trying to hold on against stiff wind and weather of life.  The twang touch that Zoe Muth has loaded into past recordings is present on World of Strangers with songs like “Too Shiny”. “Make Me Change My Mind” has a percolating twanged groove set on automatic as a fuzz forms over the drumbeat sliding in and out of the arrangement with little fanfare but making for a big difference in the sound. Zoe Muth has a talent for giving her characters an inner glow from the spirits of her delivery. She is a welcoming host and makes sure that she is ready for visitors to stay a while by capably providing a full album listen.

Listen and buy the music of Zoe Muth from AMAZON or iTunes

36 -Blackie & the Rodeo Kings   South   (1-14-14) - Blackie and the Rodeo Kings recent release, South, showcases all the possibilities the American Root format can hold by crafting an album with familiar twangs, string twists and rhythms that are take a rotating musical merry-go-round. South opens with dueling compass points. The direction is set in track number one by the song title, the Tom Wilson folk blues “North”, and its number two track in line taps the title track, a Colin Linden tune. A bass line thrust becomes an undertow as the seasons change in “Summertime’s Over”; Colin’s guitar throwing riffs as an entry for Stephen Fearing’s voice to float on the misty organ and slide guitar bends in “I'd Have To Be a Stone”, and an island breeze rhythm sways the curtain aside to two long-time partners who are trying to re-invigorate a relationship by “Reinventing the Wheel of Love”.  Blackie and the Rodeo Kings must light the studio up when they return from their tours and projects. There is a joy in the songs on South that is an obvious extension of the men in BARK.

Listen and buy the music of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings from AMAZON or iTunes

37 -Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt – For Keeps    (5-13-14) - For Keeps, the debut album from Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt as a recoding duo, stands as a present reflection of its songwriters lives as it reaches back to times when the pair were tangled up together on tour, unraveling enough of the world to become entwined romantically, then artistically. For Keeps spends a lot of time observing the love passing it by. Given the theme, it seems only right that “Kiss Me Now” makes the track listing. The song was Danny’s marriage proposal to Carrie during the 2013 SXSW festival. For Keeps, and the relationship of Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt, are linked; they share history, and listening is way better than home movies.  

Listen and buy the music of Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt from AMAZON or iTunes

38 - Amy Black – This Is Home    (2-4-14) - Home is where the heart is, and the place where you are with those you love, family of blood or family of choice. Amy Black sings the many facets of life in bloodline base camp on This Is Home. The album is Amy’s second solo release, recording in Nashville with roots music lynchpins, Will Kimbrough and Oliver Wood, stopping by to plug in and play. The songs paint a picture on This Is Home, something to frame and hang over the fireplace in the family room….the sweet, the bitter and everything in between.

Listen and buy the music of Amy Black from AMAZON or iTunes

39 -Robert Cray Band – In My Soul   (4-1-14) - Quality is to be expected when Robert Cray puts his name on an album cover. Robert is a 15x nominee, 5x Grammy winner and one of the youngest musicians, at 57 years old, to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In My Soul, the latest release by the Robert Cray Band, is delivered with the same attention to detail, relaxed playing, and smooth vocals found in the man’s previous sixteen studio albums and twelve million records sold.  In My Soul focuses on one influence in the music of Robert Cray and Soul powers the album. As In My Soul watches its needles edge towards the end of the album, the Robert Cray Band go down a little bit further into the blue mood that colors the Soul dance floor on the record. “Deep in My Soul” tingles like a chill up your spine and a cool breeze against your skin.

Listen and buy the music of Robert Cray Band from AMAZON or iTunes

40 -Moot Davis – Goin’ in Hot   (4-15-14) - Goin’ in Hot sends its title out as a signal that the latest Moot Davis release is looking for love. The tunes on the album find some heart as Moot shares that he has got one mighty ‘“Love Hangover” and it won’t stop ‘until they turn out the stars’. He warns “better hide your love ‘cause this town was “Made for Blood”’ over a non-stop groove rumble,  goes cantina quiet as the Mexican-tinged chords lay a supportive hand on his shoulder in “Hurtin’ for Real” and sifts through memories for a relationship that “Used to Call It Love”. After three albums of classic country, Moot Davis smartly chose Nashville’s front-of-line clean picking guitar man, Kenny Vaughan, as producer. Kenny tears down the honky tonk walls that surrounded Moot’s material and lets the music rock.

Listen and buy the music of Moot Davis from AMAZON or iTunes

41 - Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne   (4-1-14) - The semi-self-titled debut, Jackson Browne (Saturate Before Using) gets a diverse tribute with American Roots inspiration from Paul Thorn (“Doctor My Eyes”), eclectic blues-folk-reggae-rock guy Ben Harper (“Jamaica Say You Will”), modern day bluesman Keb’ Mo’ (“Rock Me on the Water”) and another friend from the L.A. country rock days, J.D. Souther (“My Opening Farewell”).  Looking Into You (A Tribute to Jackson Browne) samples the work of Jackson Browne and is a great start to thanking him for years of music. The artists offering their own memories by covering the work of a personal inspiration span the same years that the songs claim. It is in the tender care that the performers take in the recording that softens the blow for the slimmed down gathering of great songs from JB’s catalog. Giving back is good and it is testament to Jackson Browne that the passion he put into his words is just as meaningful, and just as needed, in a 2014 tribute.

Listen and buy the music of Looking Into You (A Tribute to Jackson Browne) from AMAZON or iTunes

42  - Eliza Gilkyson – The Nocturne Diaries (3-18-14) - The Nocturne Diariesis a meeting ground for Eliza Gilkyson. It is a place where her highest hopes and darkest fears face off. A line from Eliza sums up the stage where her songs to act out their tales, “for me, the challenge today is to remain human when everything around us compels us to shut down”. The strength in Eliza Gilkyson’s voice that makes these songs all feel like first person narratives. She stands beside the definition of the Folk Musician, the traveling troubadour who takes the times from town to town in her stories, lovingly passing on news through her music.

Listen and buy the music of Eliza Gilkyson from AMAZON or iTunes

43 - Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans   (3-3-14) - Core writers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley created wrote songs individually for their new release, yet they naturally matched one another’s tuneson the Drive-By Truckers twelfth album, English Oceans. Patterson Hood was surprised by his bandmate’s involvement in the songs, and happy with the tracks and the beautiful imagery they brought to the album. Mike’s songs have a dual effect. Their tone is an obvious match for the music of Drive-By Truckers and they offer a new way to look at the band’s songs, while creating an unused road for The Truckers without having to re-invent wheels.  Patterson Hood certainly deserves the term songwriter yet the man does not seem to ‘write’ as much as chronicle, point out, compress and stretch his views of the world around him. The Drive-By Truckers sound is the canvas crunch that holds the slash and sweep of Patterson’s words.  The Drive-By Truckers are the songs they play and that is the parting gift they include for listeners on English Oceans.

Listen and buy the music of Drive-By Truckers from AMAZON or iTunes

 

44 -Jim Mize – Jim Mize   (6-23-14) - Jim Mize has seen these people at their most resilient and vulnerable. He has spent thirty of his fifty-seven years as insurance adjuster traveling the south and the west, and as a native of Arkansas. His characters are eccentric and they walk a path of hypnotic Rock’n’Roll rhythms, as on the road that leads to “Emience Kentucky” and follows the rails back to Baltimore, MD, its pastoral views of dirt roads reflected as surreal images through a kaleidoscope of emotions. What Jim sees with his eyes plays on the big screen in his stories. He writes it as he sees it, so there is no favoritism in the extremes of its characters whether they are boozehounds or car parks, love-drunk couples or ever-present bar tenders. On his self-titled release, Jim Mize remains the romantic, seeing the heart in every story, cherishing every beat as much as he holds on to ‘This Moment with You” or suggests simply to find him you can ‘follow the blood trail to my heart’ as he swears “I Won't Come Back Again”.

Listen and buy the music of Jim Mize from AMAZON or iTunes

45 - Sad Bastards of Brooklyn  - Volume 1    (1-21-14) - Sad Bastards of Brooklyn is an acoustic side project for Charlotte McPherson and Mo Goldner. Volume One showcases tunes collected by the thread of sadness that weaves through the songs of Bob Dylan (“Ring Them Bells”), The Replacements (“Here Comes A Regular”), Jackson Browne (“These Days”)  and Patsy Cline (“Walkin’ After Midnight”). Gentle notes and whispered vocals join the haunting “Ghost in This House” (Shenandoah) while bright chords light the bad news that “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” (Johnny Thunders). Sad Bastards of Brooklyn chose tracks for Volume One, recording in one night with producer Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel getting the emotion in the songs like he is snapping pictures rather than grabbing the notes out of the air. 

Listen and buy the music of Sad Bastards of Brooklyn from AMAZON or iTunes

46 - Matt Andersen - Weightless   (1-4-14) - Matt Andersen’s home is Perth-Andover, a blue-collar community in New Brunswick, Canada, a town of close to 2,000 residents. From the village resting on the banks of the St, John River, Matt Andersen and his music have logged over two million YouTube views, with close to one million for his version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” alone. Matt received a 2013 European Blues award and the Best Solo Performer award at the Memphis Blues Challenge. Weightless was produced by Los Lobos saxman/producer Steve Berlin and features Neko Case’s right hand man and guitarist Paul Rigby.

Listen and buy the music of Matt Andersen from AMAZON or iTunes

47 -NRBQ – Brass Tacks   (6-17-14) - If NRBQ were part of a kindergarten class, and Brass Tacks was Arts and Crafts time, the band would be those kids that use of every square inch of available space on blank paper, and then color outside of the lines. The albumlets it percussion claim ownership with opener, “Waitin' on My Sweetie Pie”. Hit the dance floor or shake it where you stand to a country rhythm on “Fightin' Back”, chow down on a Doug Sahm TexMex groove in “I'm Not Here” and spin in the glow of sunshine Pop with “Can't Wait to Kiss You”. Originality is a default with NRBQ, and when the band decides to cover a track, the song will completely be absorbed.  The King and I tune, “Getting to Know You”, proved to be a good import for Brass Tacks.

Listen and buy the music of NRBQ from Amazon or iTunes

48 - Peter Mulvey – Silver Ladder    (4-1-14) - Peter Mulvey had some good things happen in a recent tough luck stretch. Peter’s latest release, Silver Ladders, is the show and tell used to hear how the bright spots sounded in the turbulent time. It would be limiting to dub his backing for the albumas folk-rock for a sound border. Peter Mulvey, folk singer, delivers Silver Ladder with fullness to the arrangements, and an added emotional layer to his characters, with the added players. Peter Mulvey committed to writing one song a week for the process of recording Silver Ladder. His stories use relationships as window dressing as they sell ways to cope and hint of harbors that welcome those who believe in love enough to let it go.  Silver Ladder samples and sprinkles the music with echoed Americana guitars and constructs “You Shoot at a King You Must Kill Him” to play out on a screen of cinematic sound scratches.

Listen and buy the music of Peter Mulvey from AMAZON or iTunes

49 - Steve Dawson – Rattlesnake Cage    (2-18-14) - Rattlesnake Cage , the most recent release from Steve Dawson, was recorded on a single (vintage) tube microphone recently rescued from decades of hanging in the dusty rafters of an old Detroit, MI theatre. Rattlesnake Cage opens with “Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene”, the name nodding to an alter-ego name tag that John Fahey used in his early years.  The tune shows Steve’s love and understanding of the music and confidently sets the bar for the album’s tracks. Canadian-based Steve Dawson is a top end producer and player. Rattlesnake Cage lets its focus fall on Steve’s playing and the album shows track after track what a good choice that was to make.

Listen and buy the music of Steve Dawson from AMAZON or iTunes

50 -Tommy Malone – Poor Boy    (4-29-14) - Tommy Malone stamps quality on all of his songs on his most recent release,Poor Boy. What raises his personal bar on Poor Boy is the confident comfort that is a part of each track, and the album as a whole.  Tommy Malone is a cool chameleon on Poor Boy, wearing a wardrobe full of distinct styles, making each one fit like custom-made. The diversity of Tommy’s own tunes makes for little need to cover the tunes of others yet the exception is in album closer, “Big Brother”. The Stevie Wonder track pumps a linear groove as Tommy Malone takes the 1972 commentary and forms it into a soulful outlook for today without changing its original wording.

Listen and buy the music of Tommy Malone from AMAZON or iTunes

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Soul music has long been the territory of cool cats; music, clothes, style…..smooth. Soul music shared more with our feline friends when it grabbed the extra-lifespan package and opted for a new life every time it seemed to be sputtering. In the 1960’s times of Soul Power, the music was a breeding ground for rhythm, rock and blues. Over the years, Soul has not lost its cool though it has not given as much cred to its sources the further it got away from home. In 2014, Soul music is still very much a part of the musical landscape. Nu and neo Soul pop up to help define studio sounds that move away from Soul’s more organic forms. The real Soul comes from inside the multiple musicians packed onto a stage with drums, bass, guitar, horns, keyboards, background singers and a front person who will use every square inch of space not accounted for by other band members. Labels like Alligator Records, Bloodshot Records, Anti- and other Indies are embracing Soul and bands are looking for bigger stages. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are (once again) the bar for Soul in 2014. They have, and continue, to carve the way and make the world a safer place for Soul. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound (Chicago, IL), St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Birmingham, AL), and Greyhounds (Austin, TX) are three of the younger bands keeping the flame lit for Soul music in an Indie universe. Justin Townes Earle digs deeper into his Country Soul with each album while Peter Karp and Sue Foley come at their Soul stew from the Blues.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – I Learned the Hard Way - Brooklyn’s Daptone label is a home to its artists who, in turn, manage the business of Daptone Records. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are the band that built a home for the musicians. The title track from the band’s 2010 release, I Learned the Hard Way, stars Ms. Jones in the mini-film, and on the stage, where she is always the star.

Seth Walker - "Lay Dpwn (River of Faith)" - Seth Walker is a blues crooner. His voice can claim dual citizenship in the blues and jazz. Where Seth’s vocals tend to jazz up the blues notes, his playing comes from a different direction and all the ends meet in his Soul. From the filming of his Extended Play sessions, a video from Seth Walker at Alternate Root TV studios.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones – "Call Me" - Like many others, Paul Janeway heard the call for glory later in life. Paul’s plan was to become a minister, a goal until he was 18 years old. He was seduced by an open mic night in Birmingham, AL, expanded his musical experiences beyond The Mighty Clouds of Joy and into Tom Waits and Nick Cave, and answered the call. It is Soul that crowned St. Paul, and The Broken Bones became the chariot that carried him and the Birmingham, Alabama sextet into the studio to release their debut of rock’n’soul, Half the City.

JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound – "Rouse Yourself" - On their second album release,Howl, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound still lead with Soul, and take the sound further, showing all that it can be in a world primed for Indie Soul.  The confidence and bravado of Soul fuels the way the songs are put together and “Rouse Yourself” pulls love in with some shiny lines and heartbeat drumming.

Justin Townes Earle – "Am I That Lonely Tonight" - Justin Townes Earle has always brought an Indie feel and form to his music. On earlier albums, Justin let that Indie rearrange and remake itself amid songs that landed on the Americana side of Roots Rock. On his most recent Bloodshot album, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, he trades open Country for Memphis Soul stew.

Greyhounds – “What’s on Your Mind” - As Greyhounds, guitarist Andrew Trube and keyboardist Anthony Farrell have been making music and touring for 15 years, refining and developing a sound Trube calls “Hall and Oates meet ZZ Top.” The band also has long ties to Memphis, home of the soul that inspires them. What’s on Your Mind” is from Greyhounds 2014 release, Accumulator.

Peter Karp and Sue Foley – More than I Bargained For - Peter Karp and Sue Foley’s recent release, Beyond the Crossroads is a loud celebration of triumph over tragedy, optimism over despair and faith over hopelessness. It delivers on the promise of their critically acclaimed 2010 song-cycle, "He Said - She Said"; an inspired and compelling anthology of original songs, adapted from long distance letters and e-mails the two shared over a particularly difficult and dark period in their lives.

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.

Listen and buy the music of The Band of Heathens from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

 

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.

Listen and buy the music of Over the Rhine from AMAZON or iTunes

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”.

Listen and buy the music of Jason Isbell from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Patty Griffin from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell from AMAZON or iTunes

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."

Listen and buy the music of Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Steve Earle and The Dukes (and Duchesses)  from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of North Mississippi All Stars from AMAZON or iTunes

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."

Listen and buy the music of Guy Clark from AMAZON or iTunes

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”.

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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.

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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”).

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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

MUSIC FROM ALBUM 1 THROUGH 25

 

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26. Willie Nile - American Ride - The title track for American Ride, co-written with The Alarm’s Mike Peters, finds the song in a New York City morning but this day holds an adventure. As the cities of America fly by across the easy rhythm of Willie’s guitar, his voice is a conductor calling out points of interest across the United States. “American Ride” stretches like the country it sings about; you can hear the slap of motorcycle tires and see the shadow of Willie Nile and his guitar moving across the prairies, crossing the mountains and deserts and hitting the shores of the coasts. Willie Nile presents a travelogue, and an album, penned with pride.

Listen and buy the music of Willie Nile from AMAZON or iTunes

27. Tim Easton - Not Cool – Tim Easton left the high desert near Joshua Tree to set up camp on the Cumberland River. After leaving a Ryman show in Nashville, Tim wandered into Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway and left with a direction for his Not Cool album and the backing players for the vintage roots rockabilly temperament of the songs, all recorded in five days.

Listen and buy the music of Tim Easton from AMAZON or iTunes

28. Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Lickety Split – Robert Randolph took a break from a grueling 280-date-a-year touring with the Family Band to record and release Lickety Split, his first studio recording in three years. Playing every night diffused the group’s spontaneity and the rule for the new album was no rules. Robert Randolph fires notes from his sacred steel guitar that will leave skid marks on sound waves.

Listen and buy the music of Robert Randolph and the Family Band from AMAZON or iTunes

29. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul - The Savages do not back Barrence Whitfield as much as surround the man with a chaotic maelstrom of sound, true surround sound. Mr. Whitfield’s stands his ground with class and sass against the sonic force of The Savages. Barrence not only keeps his spot but he also owns the spotlight when he leads the band. Ferocious rock’n’roll and street tough R&B are the default sounds for Dig Thy Savage Soul.

Listen and buy the music of Barrence Whitfield and the Savages from AMAZON or iTunes

 

30. Carrie Rodriguez – Give Me All You’ve Got – On Give Me All You Got, Carrie Rodriguez wears the skin of an artist who is stretching beyond what is expected of her without completely shedding the sound that brought her to the party. The grace and poise that freely roam throughout Give Me All You Got grant the album a sonic texture that comfortably fits it into the roots world with subtly obvious influences of country, rock, soul and folk. The songs form a soundtrack for Carrie’s Texas years and the ten years she has spent in Brooklyn. The emotions in Give Me All You Got are as equally separate as her states of residence. Carrie describes the songs, “These new original tune run the gamut of intense emotions, from heartache to budding new love, from betrayal to resigned acceptance, and finally to the sheer joy of being alive.”

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31. Nikki Hill - Here's Nikki Hill – A few years ago Nikki Hill made a decision to add her voice to husband Matt’s guitar work and take to the stage with the force of Roots Rock’n’Soul raging from the amplifiers. Here’s Nikki Hill stamps North Carolina as the spot where raw, visceral roots soul has taken to ground. Nikki Hill holds the stage with a voice channeled from Little Richard and a poise that Mr. Penniman will envy.

Listen and buy the music of Nikki Hill from Nikki Hill

32. Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors - Good Light – Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors make Roots Pop that is lyrically sophisticated, contemporary and powerful. Musically, Drew’s wife and songwriting partner Ellie holds the harmonies as The Neighbors glide over a sonic landscape of Hammond organ, pedal steel, mandolin and guitars.

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33. The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find A Way – Gospel and Indie Rock set up camp for the recording of I’ll Find a Way with The Blind Boys of Alabama going with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) to produce the release. Devotional music with an edge set on eleven for the sonic level and the messages.

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34. Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition – White Buffalo – Former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman Jimbo Mathus left North Carolina returning to his home state of Mississippi.  Jimbo, the Tri-State Coalition and producer Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel recorded White Buffalo in the studio that Mathus had set up using antique ribbon microphones and tube pre-amps. White Buffalo marries folk wisdom, southern roots rock and smart stories.

Listen and buy the music of Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition from AMAZON or iTunes

35. Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – Memories & Moments – What began as two friends/players getting together on their debut album has moved into a full-on project for Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott with Memories & Moments. It is a testament to the men behind the strings that sparks from the strings fly from the speakers still warm. The pair move into comfort zone the project that weaves their talent together in sonic quilt.

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36. Otis Taylor - My World is Gone – The man responsible for trance blues crafts an album that uses the American Indian experience as a back drop theme. With the use of repetitive words and guitar patterns Otis Taylor creates a meditative state that allows the stories of the past to come through as an echo. The blues weaves along a path constructed of winding grooves as Otis Taylor takes on the role of Soul Shaman.

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37. Noam Pikelny – Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – Noam Pikelny presents the first complete banjo adaptation of Kenny Baker’s 1976 seminal recording of Bill Monroe’s instrumentals. As with all Noam Pikelny album offerings, and with his work as a Punch Brother, his banjo playing combines bluegrass with elements of rock, jazz and classical music, expanding a genre that cut its teeth on Mr. Monroe’s paring of blues and hillbilly music.

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38. The Del-Lords - Elvis Club – In the late 80’s, NYC rock veterans Scott Kempner (The Dictators) and Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) formed The Del-Lords on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A couple decades worth of calendar pages gathered on the recording studio floor for us but The Del-Lords have not missed a foot stomp in the 23 years since their last recordings. The boys do not make Elvis Club a comeback but a reminder of the glory found in Roots Rock’n’Roll.

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39. Jacob Jones – Good Timin’ in Waynetown – Jacob Jones knows how to construct, record and deliver Soul music. Add in bottles of wine, margaritas on the porch, greens cooking on the stove and chicken fried on the counter and you can see that the man also knows how to throw down. Good Timin’ in Waynestown is a party album, a reminder of how good it feels to have fun with music.

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40. Patty Larkin – Still Green – Still Green chronicles a personal journey in the life of Patty Larkin, a time of hurdles raised by the death of loved ones. For solace, Patty carved out a small spot of sand on the Outer Banks of the Cape Cod National Seashore, writing many of the songs in a primitive beach shack. Patty described her creative process as “from darkness to light, from a frozen winter where ice hampered every step, where halls were shadowed in sadness, to the sandscape of the seashore of Cape Cod.”

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41. Beth Hart - Big Bang Boom Boom - Beth Hart does not sing as much as she circles a song. Her voice is a force that warns her characters of dangerous passion plays or pulls them under to drown in their own tears.  Big Bang Boom Boom is a fire breather, with a wall of playing and production that are big but Beth Hart slaps the table to make sure that you know that her voice is bigger.

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42. Amanda Shires - Down Fell the Doves – Down Fell the Doves opens its jewel box of song casting gems that sparkle over sweeping beats and rumbly wobbles, rising up on assured power chords and hair-raising fiddle rolls. Amanda Shires is a presence the combines the magic of grabbing the right fiddle notes from the air and the story songs to give them a place to live and thrive.

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43. The Black Lillies - Runaway Freeway Blues - The Black Lillies can be softly seductive, hook you with a beat and spin tales scripted from family history. Runaway Freeway Blues takes a big step forward for The Black Lillies and further brings Roots music into its own spot in the world of Indie and Alternative sounds.

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44. Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck – Eden – Eden was written almost entirely on Bow Thayer’s electric banjo. Perfect Trainwreck is an accomplished group of musicians and their talent made the transition from guitar to electric banjo for Bow choice of instruments a smooth one. The isolation of his Vermont home-base makes Bow feel like an outsider and that helped back story the songs on Eden. Bow cited the rural environment as “a part of my perspective on this record. It also feels like we are in a bubble trapped in time in many ways. It’s beautiful and weird.”

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45. Willie Sugarcapps - Willie Sugarcapps – Willie Sugarcapps combine seasoned musicians with sweet chops that blending with one another like honey in a potent cup of tea on their self-titled debut. Anthony Crawford and Savanna Lee of Sugarcane Jane, Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes make up the group and the sound is just as good as seeing those names all together on the credits. There is an easy flow to Willie Sugarcapps with acoustic rhythms moving through each track with a fluid motion.

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46. Houndmouth - From the Hills Below the City - Houndmouth take the male/female duo sound that is filling the air and back it with the meaty rhythm section that adds bulk to the co-vocals. The band got attention with their self-titled E.P. release that featured calling card tunes such as “Penitentiary” and the heroin nod ride of “Houston Train”. Both tracks are included on their debut, From the Hills Below the City. The promise Houndmouth made with the four song tease from the E.P. is realized on the full length.

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47. The Steel Wheels – No More Rain  - The Steel Wheels formed around four friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and their music is rock solid soul for the masses. The Steel Wheels stitch good feelings and the truth of their delivery into the songs on No More Rain. The Steel Wheels are a touring machine and the songs come to you fully road tested from years of use.

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48. Shannon McNally - Small Town Talk – Small Town Talkis a tribute that Shannon McNally gives to New Orleans songwriter Bobby Charles. His music had a place at the birth of rock’n’roll, and though Bobby Charles had hits songs through the 50’s/60’s, his musical career extended beyond two decades. Shannon McNally, assisted by producer Dr. John, extends their shelf life.

Listen and buy the music of Shannon McNally and Hot Sauce from AMAZON or iTunes


49. Mark Robinson – Have Axe Will Groove – OKay, so the release date was December 2012 but we didn't get the official release date until January so that explains it! Mark Robinson has long life line as a roots guitarist and blues artists, rounding out his resume with his well-deserved gig as educator for the past thirty years. He currently teaches classes in audio production, music theory and World Music at the Art Institute of Tennessee. Mark’s debut was autobiographical, Have Axe Will Groove is personal and the Nashville bluesman lays out the tales over some seriously dirty, funky, gritty grooves.

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50. Marshall Chapman – Blaze of Glory – Life lessons via personal experiences are parceled out in Blaze of Glory. The album takes a stand for the legion of Marshall’s forty-, fifty- and older year-olds that Marshall tags in her stories.  Sure, sixty is the new forty, but sixty still feels like sixty (and looks) when you are brushing your teeth and at least halfway through your first coffee. Marshall Chapman faces maturity with the heat of her barely-concealed inner rock’n’roll firebrand.

Listen and buy the music of Marshall Chapman from AMAZON or iTunes

 

MUSIC FROM ALBUM 26 THROUGH 50

 

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51. Sara Petite –Circus Comes to Town – Sara Petite constructed the songs for Circus Comes to Town in the high desert near Joshua Tree, California, using the songs, and her recording, as a way to not get stuck in the moment. The sudden death of her best friend and partner hit Sara hard. The songs on Circus Comes to Town reflect her sorrows, her memories and her desire to incorporate tragedy into her life and not hide it away or ignore its existence. Circus Comes to Town never gets bogged down in the drama and its stories have pain and pleasure, bumps and bounces, moments when you need to be still and times when you race for the finish line.

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52. Hymn for Her – Present Lucy and Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames - For their new album Hymn For Her, Hymn For Her Present Lucy & Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames, Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing wanted to take it up a notch. Hymn For Her have been touring highways, backroads and barely roads for the past few years injecting juiced-up backwoods country blues with a full dose of desert-rock psychedelia. The pair have been described as Hell’s Angels Meet the Amish.

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53. Rosie Flores – Working Girls Guitar – The album title perfectly sums up its star. Rosie Flores has stood behind her guitar, using it to cut a swath through a rockabilly landscape heavy on the testosterone. Beginning with LA cow punk and The Screamin’ Sirens, Rosie Flores signed a solo deal for a 1987 major label release, becoming the first Latina to enter the Billboard Country charts. Working Girls Guitar has an autobiographical lean with the title track, “I’m Little But I’m Loud” and “Love Has Passed Me By” as Rosie softens the blows of life by turning up the volume.

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54. Patrick Sweany – Close to the Floor - Patrick Sweany opens his mouth and soul just pours out. His voice has the fever, notes falling like drops of sweat. Patrick maintains a leadership in his delivery that gives an importance to every note, sung or played. It is the fire of a true believer. Though Soul is obvious in his singing, his songs do not always follow the path traveled by his voice. Patrick Sweany gathers a diversity of styles and sounds together on Close to the Floor

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55. Mandolin Orange - This Side of Jordan –  Mandolin Orange lead with passionate beliefs and are not afraid to frame tales about uncomfortable topics or to protest through the quiet revolution of their songs. The songs on This Side of Jordan lay themselves out over arrangements that are calming and supportive. Mandolin Orange put into play the adage that you get more bees with honey than vinegar and they liberally dip their songs into the sweet nectar.

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56. Cassie Taylor - Out of My Mind – Cassie Taylor has a past resume that lists bass playing for dad Otis Taylor as a teenager. Cassie wrote, arranged, produced, and performed on the songs for Out of My Mind. She moves the blues dial ahead on the album, but she really gives the needle for Roots music a shove with songs that hint at influence as they stake out new territories for a true blend of American Roots sounds.

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57. Moreland and Arbuckle - 7 Cities - 7 Cities has as its theme the world of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. The songs revolve around the search for the fabled seven cities of gold, a journey that ended on the Kansas prairie, the area native to the band. Moreland and Arbuckle have given the world a history lesson with 7 Cities, and fortified their look at the past with modern day trumpets by way of guitars to triumph the hidden treasures.

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58. Tommy Malone - Natural Born Days - The former front man and co-founder of the legendary New Orleans roots band The Subdudes ended a twelve year hiatus and released Natural Born Days. Tommy taps his trademark blue-eyed-soul vocals that are on full frontal display with this collection of carefully crafted, introspective and soul searching songs with topics touch on mortality, faith, love, loss and his beloved New Orleans.

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59. Eric Brace and Peter Cooper - The Comeback Album – Eric Brace and Peter Cooper add sly wit and carefully crafted asides to their tunes, giving the impressions that the songs are conversations with a beat, a sway and a toe tap. The tracks presenting themselves as The Comeback Album will have universal appeal, though the tales give a voice to men of an age where you are neither young nor old. They are not the voice of a generation, but Eric Brace and Peter Cooper do speak loudly for the ways of the men.

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60. Todd Thibaud – Waterfall - Todd Thibaud vocals have a good rock hold in the songs as the music moves over roots, folk, blues, soul, country and rock. There is a dedication to the songwriting that Todd adheres to with Waterfall. The art of the song is given free rein, and the tracks shed any style skin. The songs on Waterfall flow without coming to shore on any one particular category, much like the writers that Todd uses for inspiration-- Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and John Hiatt.

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61. Chip Taylor - Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World - Chip Taylor is one of a few humans who is his own style. He is the voice and the pen that steers his song paint brush. Chip layers pain, humor, empathy and accusing fingers over his stories. On Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World, Chip Taylor sculpts dark clouds from his songs; both the ink and weather doling out moodiness to the album, with the shadow of a silver lining peering beneath the story lines. Norway is a back drop for the tales results of the 2011 massacre, and its effect on Chip move through the album. He was in the country at the time and wrote and performed a new song, “This Darkest Day”, at a benefit honoring the victims of the killing.

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62. Mike Zito and The Wheel - Gone to Texas - Gone to Texas has Blues influences throughout its songs and its moods. That does not make it a collection that only lets Blues-based tunes through the door, however. The album offers folk blues, Bourbon Street Blues, breezy slides and slow jam love songs. Mike Zito lets influence guide his songs but does not feel the need to make it obvious. The Blues lives inside the man, it translates into the tunes on Gone to Texas as an ideology rather than a structure.

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63. Amy Speace - How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat - How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat was a risk that fan-based support for album production has helped make less stressful. Amy Speace gives her gratitude by the way she lets her muse drive the album. It is a beautiful rendering and traces a path to Amy’s pre-music life as a stage performer. Her stage directions are lines from William Shakespeare and her story songs act out their lives letting experiences give us a helping hand to suggest directions in our day to day lives.

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64. The White Buffalo – Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways – On Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways, The White Buffalo has an open casting call for characters though the songs still hold a spot for the big man taking center stage in his songs. The use of outside influences rather than personal experiences gives the tracks on the album a more cinematic feel with The White Buffalo clear relating of character study.

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65. Gedeon Luke – Perfection Perfect - At 23 years old, Gedeon Luke writes with a maturity that exceeds his time on earth. Boundless in its energy and message of peace, love and hope, it is music that only an 'old soul' with an un-tempered spirit could create. Like Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Gedeon Luke breaks strict barriers of classic music to set himself free and takes listeners with him on that freedom ride. You don't need a ticket, just climb on board.

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66. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind - Tedeschi Trucks Band are having a good time on their second studio album, Made Up Mind. They come in with a bounce in their step on the title track, a song was written by Susan Tedeschi and husband Derek Trucks with the help of Wood Brothers sibling, Oliver Wood. Derek felt that the song mirrored the band. The group believes that if you feel something strong enough then go for it and that sentiment is evident Made Up Mind. The album is not another album for Tedeschi and Trucks, it is the next step for a group that is evolving and growing.

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67. Buddy Guy – Rhythm and Blues - Buddy Guy lets the music do his talking and defines distinct tastes on the double-disc set, Rhythm & Blues, offering one side for each style. Buddy Guy collaborates with Aerosmith members Joe Perry, Brad Whitford and Steven Tyler and welcomes first-time studio partners such Gary Clark, Jr and Keith Urban on the album. Rhythm & Blues is the follow-up to Buddy’s 2010 Grammy winning Living Proof, and rides the tails of his 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. 

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68. Devon Allman – Turquoise - Devon Allman taps fellow Royal Southern Brotherhood bandmate, Yonrico Scott (drums and percussion), Samantha Fish (vocals) and Luther Dickinson (guitar) among others for the recording of his solo debut, Turquiose, There is an autobiographical feel to the tunes which Devon sees as representing “the last couple of decades forging my musical path. The last ten years I’ve spent in hotels, airplanes, taxis, truck stops, etc.”  The son of Gregg Allman, Devon Allman now calls St. Louis home.  

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69. The Roys – Gypsy Runaway Train - The Roys have easy vocals that remain calm as they fingers find strings and ride the wake of Gypsy Runaway Train. The album hosts six originals by The Roys and a bunch of bluegrass and country favorites. Elaine Roy has a sit down on her porch as night falls, picking a tune out of some guitar chords and singing a hello to the night time with a piece of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. It is a beautiful setting and Elaine’s voice matches the peace……for exactly forty seconds. Brother Lee hops in and The Roys kick off a hi-test bluegrass version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” that would make author Bill Monroe proud.

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70. Rory Block – Avalon - Rory Block retells the songs of Mississippi John Hurt on Avalon, the fourth release in her tribute Mentor Series which honors the great bluesmen at the heart of the genre. Mississippi John Hurt, born John Smith Hurt in either 1892 or 1893, began his recording career on the Okeh Records label in 1928. Rory Block lovingly performs songs from one of the major musical impacts on her career in music and her love of the genre. The songs on Avalon are tracks associated with the Mississippi John Hurt repertoire, and a love letter from a student to her teacher.

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71. Guthrie Kennard - Cross Your Heart  - Guthrie Kennard collaborates with the string soceror Marian Brackney on Cross Your Heart. Marian adds full, assured violin parts and hushed, whispered vocals to Guthrie’s fourth album effort. The album winds across a dozen tracks like bursts of a breeze through an open window. The tunes surround and support feelings as much as offer listening pleasure.

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72. Waiting for Henry - Ghosts and Compromise - The spirits that haunt Waiting for Henry’s Ghosts and Compromise make an early appearance in opening track, “Buy American”.  They rise up and materialize in the music, with faint wisps of Uncle Tupelo in the sound and the Middle American pride of one of Alt Country’s cornerstones. Waiting for Henry do not copy, mimic or outright steal the sound of the men of Uncle Tupelo. They use the stretched out notes from instruments and lyrics that inhabited the Roots forefathers No Depression days, and take steps to move Alt Country forward with songs unique to Waiting For Henry; honoring without feeling the need to re-invent any wheels to plow the genre’s fields.

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73. Luke Winslow-King - The Coming Tide - Luke Winslow-King is a guitarist, singer, composer, and lyricist known for his slide guitar work, and interest in pre-war blues and traditional jazz. Luke’s music focuses on an eclectic mix, taking in delta-folk music, classical composition, ragtime, and rock and roll; juxtaposing original songs with those from a bygone era. His has an original sound that is both rustic and elegant.

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74. Pete Anderson - Birds Over Guitarland - Pete Anderson glides in with a swooping twang of guitar notes on Birds Above Guitarland soaring on the airwaves of jazzy tones and textures. Clean playing and Pete Anderson are inseparable and Birds Above Guitarland continues the match of six strings and ten fingers that began in the Blues bars of Detroit while Pete was still working the blue collar factories of his hometown.

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75. Shannon Whitworth – Bring It  - Shannon Whitworth is an island on High Tide and she surrounds the ebb and flow of her swooning vocals with rhythms that lap gently, as on the title track. Motion is a key ingredient for Shannon Whitworth; there is a fluid curve to her vocal delivery with no sharp edges, notes are rounded and embrace the words carefully. Shannon Whitworth’s voice is an instrument that binds the songs of High Tide together as they drift like mist above sound waves.  

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 51 THROUGH 75

 

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76. Anna Popovic  - Can You Stand the Heat – To celebrate the release of Can You Stand the Heat, the heir apparent to Bonnie Raitt or Deborah Coleman as the top female blues guitarist/singer combo, Ana Popovic, played the New Orleans Jazz Blues and Jazz Fest. She used the set to introduce her new project, a nine-piece power blues and funk machine under the name Ana Popovic & Mo' Better Love. With AP & Mo' Better Love, Ana fronts a musical collaboration with Tony Coleman (drummer BB King) and John Williams on bass (Al Green). Can You Stand The Heat is Ana's ninth full-length album.

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77. Hot Club of Cowtown – Rendezvous in Rhythm - Hot Club of Cowtown take an album-long look at the Gypsy Jazz and French Swing of 1930’s Paris. Rendezvous in Rhythm was recorded in the hot jazz style of master violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt. Hot Club of Cowtown are an Austin, TX band and the album was recorded on home turf with production by Lloyd Maines at the Zone Recording Studio in Dripping Springs, Texas. There is a purity in the playing; the notes are crisp, each tone individual. The production work certainly helps separate and then join the instruments, but the secret weapon is the artistry of Hot Club of Cowtown.

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78. Bex Marshall – The House of Mercy - Bex Marshall was eleven years old when she received a 1963 Gibson Hummingbird. She tried on classical, then a little flamenco before the blues came to town and won her heart. She traveled the world dealing illegal poker games in Amsterdam, hitchhiking through Europe and finding a spare corner to busk for her supper. The House of Mercy showcases the big voice that the lady with the guitar wields. Bex Marshall’s voice demands attention, but don’t let the singing take away from her playing. Notes fly throughout The House of Mercy like sparks going from tree to tree fueling flames.

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79. The SteelDrivers – Hammer Down - If bluegrass was a BBQ buffet, then The SteelDrivers would be ribs with plenty of meat on the bone. On Hammer Down, The SteelDrivers show their musical muscle, grounding the bluegrass-based structure of their songs with a powerful bottom. The sound production lets the inherent darkness of The SteelDrivers words trigger an edge of tension throughout Hammer Down. At their heart, The SteelDrivers are a string band though their music offers a lot more than simply followers of bluegrass traditions. Soul and Country show more than just influence on the album, the band morphing and accessing varied forms of music and channeling it into a sound all their own.

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80. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound – Howl - JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound combine JC Brooks’ starkly personal lyrics with the band’s ability to not second guess their role in the Soul sound evolution. The grooves fall onto the album from the willingness of The Uptown Sound to bare all their influences. Howl is the sound of Rock ‘n’ Soul expanding.

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81. The Howlin’ Brothers – The Howlin’ Brothers – Howl - The Howlin’ Brothers are a three-piece string band that marries tradition with a DIY Indie Rock attitude.  Howl puts a big sound to the band’s upright bass, banjo and fiddle courtesy of Raconteur Brendan Benson on production.

 

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82. Peter Cooper – Opening Day – Peter Cooper has a way with words. His stories look at the human condition through the eyes of a humorist, Opening Day starts with a team of heavy hitter songs that open doors to Peter’s past and peak though the windows of daily lives.

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83. Los Colognes – Working Together – Los Colognes are the backing band for East Nashville soul man Jacob Jones. Working Togetherhas the same love of classic soul and funk that hits sound waves circa 2013 as new music, not retro flashbacks. Los Colognes never let you stop moving with grooves that cradle, nurture and push you back out into the world all the better for the experience.

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84. Audrey Auld – Tonk – Tonk takes pride in its classic sound and serves as an answer to haters that claim Nashville no longer can produce good old country music. Audrey Auld proves that statement false on a release that backs her breathy whispers and salvation shouts with Nashville studio A-listers like Kenny Vaughan. Audrey Auld takes on tough topics with humor and turns heartache into happy with the tough love heart healing of her vocals.

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85. The Sojourners – Sing and Never Get Tired – The Sojourners turn our attention to the answers for contemporary problems, using faith to mend a broken heart or transform despair into hope. The choir The Sojourners lead wear is a Roots Gospel wings that will carry you high above your troubles and grant you a birds-eye view of the inspiration you are seeking. Though The Sojourners have the pipes to check into the Pop Gospel hotel, Sing and Never Get Tired uses dirty chords and gritty rhythms to establish its own street cred.

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86. JJ Grey and Mofro - This River - Love and the various territories it inhabits float by as This River flows through ten tracks, most of which were captured live in the studio. JJ Grey gives life into his well-defined characters with soulful vocals. The Mofro members add to the depth of the songs with crisp horn arrangements and committed rhythms.

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87. Dana Fuchs - Bliss Avenue  - The rawness of the songs comes from the natural blue tone of Dana’s delivery scrapping against her need to defy the Blues. Country twang and soul leapfrog for a shotgun seat as the songs on the album glide down Bliss Avenue. Dana Fuchs is a solid force amid the funky chunks of guitar chords and rock’n’roll preening as she shakes out her tail feathers.

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88. The Mallett Brothers – Land – The Mallett Brothers deliver a brand of Alt Country better defined as Northwoods Country Rock’n’Roll. The Portland, Maine-based band combine the folk influences of brothers Luke and Will from their dad, folk singer/songwriter David Mallett, with rock, punk and psychedelic roots.

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89. Blue Rodeo – In Our Nature - In Our Nature offers a moody musical backdrop in the title track, a rainy day film noir that moves through foggy reveries such as “it’s in our nature to fly”. High flying is what Blue Rodeo has achieved in their three decade career, selling four million albums and never seeing studio album release in their recording history go below Gold status. The band has designed In Our Nature as an album to be heard on vinyl.

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90. Garrett LeBeau – Rise to the Grind – Garrett Lebeau’s intuitive guitar playing draws circles around, accents, and walks alongside his voice on stories gathered on Rise to the Grind. Both deliveries are gentle, almost hushed. There is never any hesitation, his art is just careful about choices and the album benefits in being a listening experience that transports to a dream state decorated by words and music.

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91. Truth & Salvage Co. – Pick Me Up – The songs of Truth and Salvage Co. swoop and soar in a team effort. Four voices trade microphone duties and come together to underscore the stories while gluing the chorus to your brain. Living a good life and having a good time are timeless and that is the secret ingredient of Truth and Salvage, Co tunes.

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92. The Tillers – Hand on the Plow - The Tillers started making a roots music racket in Cincinnati in 2007. They were recovering punk rockers whose music had some Woody Guthrie, some southern blues and a bunch of anonymous tunes found in the Appalachian woods, churches, riverboats, and coal mines. The Tillers use string instruments as vehicles to mine music styles and trends, and translate the tunes to something born in the hills and in the roots of rock’n’roll.

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93. Wild Ponies - Things That Used to Shine - Wild Ponies expands on the power of two, husband and wife duo Doug and Telisha Williams. The band cultivates traditional sounds and instrumentation, use classic country as a guideline and craft a sound unique yet familiar, friendly and edgy.

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94. Gracie Curran and the High-Falutin Band - Proof of Love - Gracie Curran possesses an amazing voice that can easily smoke the competition. It is to the credit of the High Falutin’ Band that they can not only be seen but heard above the sunspot blast of Gracie on Proof of Love, the band’s debut album. Sharp-edges leads and funky chord chops are the perfect foil for Gracie Curran’s heat-seeking vocals.

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95. Spencer Livingston – Grow - Los Angeles native Spencer Livingston grew up on a steady diet of rock Americana with an early love of Neil Young, Tom Petty and Wilco. GROW serves up Alt sides of rock, folk and Americana using the backwoods of Los Angeles as a playground. Born and raised on the hem of Hollywood, Spencer Livingston has been nourished by a down-to-earth, artistic community supportive of his naturally rootsy inclination.

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96. Eric Bibb – Jericho Road  - Eric Bibb uses Jericho Road to deliver a message pointing out that, “the title refers to the road between Jerusalem and Jericho where the Good Samaritan stopped to help a stranger in need after better-off religious leaders had passed by and done nothing. On April 3, 1968, the night before his death, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King urged us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, saying:  ‘Ultimately, you cannot save yourself without saving others.’  If this record has a theme, that’s it in a nutshell: have a heart.”

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97. Xenia Dunford – His and Hers – Xenia Dunford dosed her debut liberally with jazz, piano ballads and pop, using the release as an experiment to test drive her teaching at Berklee School of Music. Her second album stretched into rock and acoustic sensibilities and with His & Hers, Xenia Dunford’s evolution adds musical hints of folk rock, country and Americana. She looks back on then from now realizing, “What drove me to play the piano in general was that I was a singer with no means of expression. My first EP was kind of like an experiment. I had a bunch of material, but I didn’t really look at the bigger picture of what my songs could be.”

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98. Fierce Bad Rabbit – The Maestro & The Elephant - Fierce Bad Rabbit circle a Roots sound; they are a rock band that dapples country riffs and twang throughout the songs. Chris Anderson’s vocals have the power for rock yet there are moments when the emotion weighs and the frail notes flutter without ever fully being extinguished. The songs on The Maestro and the Elephant are grounded with solid rhythms, bright jangly guitar leads and sweeping orchestral swooshes.

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99. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County – Various Artists – Co-conspirators Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett have spent thirteen years putting the finishing touches on their southern gothic, supernatural musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The musical features blues ‘n roots music performed by guest artists such as Elvis Costello, Phil and Dave Alvin, Neko Case, Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash and more. The haunting tale involves fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.

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100. Semi-Twang – The Why and The What For – In 2009, Semi-Twang celebrated their 20th anniversary as a band. Their 2013 release,The Why and the What For, puts together an album that Semi- Twang see as something that “ups the stakes as it traverses through the musical geography of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans with passion and conviction. It's topical and personal with a bit more soul influence.”

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 76 THROUGH 100

 

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We consider these to be the most important roots music recordings of the last 25 years. They are not the "best" albums or biggest selling albums. Some won prestigious awards and many did not. In fact many may have flown under the radar of even the most astute roots music fans.

Roots music has been around since Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie in many of the forms you see and hear today. Alt-Country didn't start with Uncle Tupelo it started in Bakersfield in the late 50's and was continued with artists like Poco, Pure Prarie League in the 70's and on to The Del Lords, The Beat Farmers and Jason and the Scorchers in the 80's. We narrowed it to the last 25 years and maybe some time we'll open up to all-time.

One of the struggles we had will no doubt be a point of contention from the onset. What about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss "Raising Sand?" Oh, what T-Bone Burnett can do with an aging rock legend and a bluegrass singer who happens to also be the most decorated artist in Grammy history. We have a tough time including this roots music but the fact is it made great strides in bringing Americana Music, a genre that was misunderstood, mislabelled and mishandled to the popular concience. It sold gazillions of copies, won a Grammy for Album of the Year and to this day is no more Americana music than Led Zeppelin IV. Many will disagree.

Without further ado, her's our list of the 35 Most Important Roots Albums of the Last 25 Years.


top 35 roots albums in the alternate root1. OMP Soundtrack - Oh Brother, Where Art Thou - (2000) - “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” One of the most if not the most influential roots music albums of the past 25 years, the soundtrack to the film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” took the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2001 and almost single-handedly placed Americana Music on the map, at least for the general public. Produced by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett, the album featured Allison Krauss, Colin Linden, Gillian Welch, The Fairfield Four and John Hartford among others.
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top 35 roots albums in the alternate root2. Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball - (1995) - Wrecking Ball- Flying Burrito Brothers member and Byrds alumni, Chris Hillman, referred Emmylou Harris to Gram Parsons, who had been looking for a female vocalist to back him on his first solo record. History was made and a career was born. Multiple Grammys and a stellar recording career have made Emmylou Harris ground zero for country rock, Americana and roots music of every shape and form. Wrecking Ball was released well into her career and the experimental album was lauded as one of the most important releases of the decade. Country radio ignored her but alternative audiences found what country lost.

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3. Johnny Cash - American Recordings - (1994) - American Recordings - Johnny Cash is one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century and could have staked a claim on a number of the spots on this list. We reserved his for American Recordings, a stripped down album performed by Cash with a guitar in his living room. The wild card in the equation was producer Rick Rubin who pulled out emotion, inflection and powerful performances by Cash with the end result being the best Johnny Cash album since the late 1960's.

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4. Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind - (1997) -  Time Out of Mind- We're not much on the significance of Grammy Awards, but Time Out of Mind won 3 of them including Album of the Year in 1998 which almost redeemed the institution for us. Time Out of Mind could easily be at the top of this or any list of influential albums in terms of writing, production and performance. Producer Daniel Lanois along with session players Jim Keltner, Augie Meyers and Duke Robillard created atmospherics not heard before or since in the Dylan collection.

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5. Uncle Tupelo - No Depression - (1990) - No Depression - Uncle Tupelo 'sNo Depressionlaunched a thousand ships, influencing damn near every roots rock, alt-country band that followed, not the least of which are the two spinoff bands Son Volt and Wilco from band members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy respectively. While Uncle Tupelo is credited by many as being the founder of the "alt-country" genre, we dispute that along with Jay Farrar. Alt-Country music existed before Uncle Tupelo but No Depression is a part of the history that is not in dispute.

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6. The Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig - (2010) - Genuine Negro Jig- Three young black virtuoso musicians have the entire world ahead of them musically, but they chose to go back a century and a half to find the lost art of black string band music. Add their breakout album Genuine Negro Jig to the mix along with a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album and you have one of the most important roots bands of the decade. Genuine Negro Jig inspired a host of albums honoring the old-time American music that has long been forgotten.

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7. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - (1998) - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - Though Lucinda Williams had been recording music since the late 1970's, it wasn't until her monumental breakthrough album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road that she garnered the acclaim globally that she so rightly deserved. Known prior as a country artist, Williams infused blues, rock, country and roots together on Car Wheels... and found her signature groove. Time Magazine dubbed her America's Best Songwriter in 2002 based on the album's intense lyrics. She's become an influence to millions of women (and men) since.

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8. James McMurtry - Childish Things - (2005) - Childish Things- His novelist Dad, Larry McMurtry, gave son James a guitar at age seven and his English professor Mom taught him how to play. James McMurtry claims, "My mother taught me three chords and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people." Childish Things in 2005 was a breakout for James McMurtry in a recording career that began in 1989. The album generated the song “We Can’t Make It Here” and a timeless anthem was born.

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9. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session - (1988) - The Trinity Sessions- 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 - The Revolution Starts Now - (2004) - The Revolution Starts Now - We tossed and turned over The Revolution Starts Now or Jerusalem being the most influential of these two monumental Steve Earle recordings, and the truth is, both could be here. We picked The Revolution Starts Now because of its subsequent influence on popular counter-culture. The album took a hard stand against the war in Iraq, the death penalty, the policies of George W. Bush and became a megaphone for the left, inspiring Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

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11. Band of Heathens - One Foot in the Ether - (2009) - One Foot in the Ether- A shared bill brought the three core songwriters for Band of Heathens together at Momo’s in their hometown of Austin, TX in the mid-2000’s. After several live albums and a Ray Wylie Hubbard produced self-titled debut, Band of Heathens released One Foot in the Ether in 2009. The album continued to hone a sound that referenced rock, roots, soul and gospel in songs like “Shine a Light”, “L.A. County Blues”, “Somebody Tell the Truth” and “Golden Calf”.

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12. The Jayhawks – Hollywood Town Hall - (1992) - Formed in Minneapolis, MN in 1985, The Jayhawks released albums in their home base until their major label debut, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1992. The Alt Country group it produced had a softer tone than many of their feedback distorted brethren, and stuck to the California Country sound of Poco and the Burrito Brothers -- sounds that added a lot of folk to the twang. Hollywood Town Hall gathered the dual vocals and finely crafted songs of band members Gary Louris and Mark Olson.

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13. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights - (2007) - Former Rikers Island correction officer Sharon Jones was called in for session work as a backup vocalist. Sharon was the only one of the call outs to show up and impressed the production team by performing all three parts herself.  Daptone Records, the Brooklyn label owned by its musicians/producers, released their first recording, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings in 2002. The grass roots popularity of the band expanded, and their song mix of funk, soul and roots music lined up perfectly with the 2007 release, 100 days, 100 Nights lighting a torch for a Soul revival.

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14. Old Crow Medicine Show – O.C.M.S. - (2004) - Old Crow Medicine Show busked across upper New York State and through Canada before finding themselves on a street corner in Boone, North Carolinapassingthe hat to Doc Watson. The musical statesmen helped Old Crow Medicine Show along and the band moved to Nashville, again finding luck with a Grand Ole’ Opry residency playing between shows. Produced by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, O.C.M.S. was the band’s first studio recording, containing the song that has become the Old Crow Medicine Show worldwide greeting card, “Wagon Wheel”.

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15. Ryan Adams – Gold - (2001) - GoldRyan Adams moved from punk rock to Alt Country with the formation of Whiskeytown. The band made great music and drew critical acclaim before folding. Musically, Ryan Adams’ first release, Heartbreaker, seemed to follow in Whiskeytown’s critically favored footsteps. With his 2001 release, Gold, Ryan Adams hit mainstream love with songs like “When the Stars Go Blue”, “La Cienega Just Smiled”, “Harder Now That It’s Over” and “New York, New York”, in a video filmed with the NYC skyline in the background, captured four days before 9/11.

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16. The Bottle Rockets - Brooklyn Side - (1994) - The Brooklyn Side- Formed in 1992 with Uncle Tupelo guitar tech, Brian Henneman, leading the charge, The Bottle Rockets hit a good altitude with the Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel produced album, The Brooklyn Side, their second release. The Bottle Rockets music chronicles Middle America-- Brian Henneman referring to the band as ‘reporters from the heartland’. “Radar Gun”, from The Brooklyn Side, put The Bottle Rockets on radio charts.

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17. Todd Snider - East Nashville Skyline - (2004) - East Nashville Skyline - Todd Snider has released a continuous string of critically acclaimed albums; perhaps none more well-received than the introspective East Nashville Skyline. The album confronts a trail of poor decisions, addiction, rehab, controversy and a political shot across the bow of "conservatism" for good measure. Picking a "most" anything out of Snider's catalog is tough, but this one stands out for us as his best.

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18. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More - (2010) - Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons emerged from what is dubbed the "West London Folk Scene" in 2007 and landed on the shores of America after receiving two Grammy nominations in 2010. Their performance at the Grammy's put "roots music" onto the lips of a generation that only thought of roots in the context of different colored hair or possibly cracks in the driveway. Their debut album Sigh No More is influential in that it opened the minds of a lot more people to acoustic based traditional music.

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19. Will Kimbrough - Americanitis - (2006) - Americanitis - Will Kimbrough is probably better known for his guitar skills and, more recently, as a top shelf producer than for his solo work, but that's reserved for those who have yet to discover Americanitis. In darker days, it could have landed him on the McCarthy Un-American List with other artists and musicians who dared to confront the issues America swept under the rug. This is what "patriotism" is all about, and it also places Kimbrough among the craftier lyricists in roots music where he justly belongs.

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20. Rodney Crowell - Fates Right Hand - (2003) - Fate’s Right Hand - Rodney Crowell has been one of Nashville's most prolific writers for over four decades. Considered a staple of country radio for much of his career, Crowell turned to a more roots-driven sound when country radio went down the toilet in the 1990's. He confronted a lifetime of demons on Fate's Right Hand and drove it home with a roots rock onslaught both musically and vocally. Lyrically, it's Crowell's finest hour in a career filled with many fine hours.

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21. Son Volt – Straightaways - (1997) - Straightaways- Formed in 1994, Son Volt was the group relationship that helped frontman Jay Farrar get over his time with Uncle Tupelo. The band caught instantly with their debut, Trace, and the momentum continued to build and percolate on album number two, Straightaways. Jay Farrar’s deep voice resonates and strains at its borders as the band bangs out Alt Country guitar riffs over a solid beat on “Picking up a Signal” and “Caryatid Easy”. 

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22. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera - (2001) - Southern Rock Opera- Drive-By Truckers released their third studio album in 1991. Southern Rock Opera proudly stood for the duality of the south with the album’s cut, “The Southern Thing”, explaining “ain’t about excuses, or alibis, it ain’t about no cotton fields or cotton picking lies”. Southern Rock Opera took a look at topics from growing up in the south amid 70’s arena rock, race politics and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as Drive-By Truckers use the southern rock powerhouse as a cornerstone from which to build the album.

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23. Dave Alvin - King of California - (1994) - Dave Alvin has had a steady release of albums where the musical mood changes with the album art. Fans come to expect, and enjoy, the path of Dave’s muse in recording. When King of California came out in 1994, the album was the first to change up the pure, unadulterated, unapologetic, rock’n’roll force of his work with The Blasters and his first three solo efforts. King of California showcased acoustic instruments, but it was in no way an acoustic album. Dave Alvin showed that unplugging did not lessen the intensity of his playing. The album may turn down the volume, but it raises the flame on the old (“Border Radio”, “Little Honey”, “4th of July”), the new (“Blue Wing”, “Every Night about This Time”), and offers a classic country style romp with Syd Straw (“What Am I Worth?”).

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24. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow - (2011) - Barton Hollow- The Civil Wars won both Best Country Duo/Group and Best Folk Album in 2012 with Barton Hollow. They moved the needle for Roots music the week after the Grammy’s with Barton Hollow selling 35,000 units and helping to take the duo to #10 on the Billboard album charts. The album continues to blur musical lines in the Roots genre, as musicians like The Civil Wars play what they hear in their heads, not what the industry decrees. The Civil Wars, comprised of singer/songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, met in a songwriters group in Nashville, TN.

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25. Mary Gauthier - Mercy Now - (2005) - Her early life provided Mary Gauthier with experiences for her true tales, fueled by the alienation that life handed her in the form of birth mother abandonment and dealing with her sexuality. Her late teens were spent in drug rehabs and jail followed by schooling and opening a Cajun restaurant in Boston, all before writing her fist song at age 35. Mercy Now (2005) is the fourth in a series of recordings that began in 1997. The album wraps the emotive passion of Mary Gauthier’s songs in the title track’s pleas, the world of non-stop alcohol consumption (“I Drink”), the perspective of a road weary traveler (“Falling out of Love”) and Mardi Gras in New Orleans (“Wheel Inside the Wheel”).

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26. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies - (2009) -Midnight at the Movies- Justin Townes Earle hit his stride and album #3 nicely straddles the more roots feel of his earlier releases and the Indie Soul of the current. Midnight at the Movies visits extremes with folk blues (“What I Mean to You”), gospel Soul (“Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This”), bluegrass (“Dirty Rag”) and Roots Rock (“Mama’s Eyes”).

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27. Blue Rodeo – Diamond Mine - (1989) - Diamond Mine- Formed in 1985 in Toronto, Canadians Blue Rodeo released their first album, Outskirts, in 1987, which would exclude them from our 1988+ list. Luckily, their second album, Diamond Mine (1989), 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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 28. The Old 97’s – Too Far to Care - (1997) - Too Far to Care- The Old 97’s started their engines in Dallas, Texas before taking it on the road as a hard touring band. Too Far to Care was The Old 97’s third album release, the group’s first album for a major label (Elektra). Too Far to Care offered rock and twang together in Alt Country glory with frontman Rhett Miller’s wry humor and smart lyrics. It offered immediate classic status to the world with “Timebomb”, “Barrier Reef”, “Just Like California” and a duet with X/The Knitters vocalist, Exene Cervenka, on “Four Leaf Clover”.

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29. Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind - (2008) - Trouble in Mind moved well-deserved recognition for Hayes Carll beyond his native Texas fan base. The album registered Hayes Carll as a member of a Texan singer/songwriter club that included artists such as Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Trouble in Mind gave the real life experiences in his songs a touch of wit and wisdom as evidenced in tracks such as “Bad Liver and A Broken Heart”, “She Left Me for Jesus” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream”.

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30. BR549 - BR5-49 - (1996) - Gary Bennett and Chuck Mead formed BR-549 and became the house band at Robert’s Western Wear in Nashville, TN. The Roots feel of their music and the humorous subject matter did not warm them to country radio, but it did give them an instant fan base. Their debut album, BR-549, gave the world covers of the Moon Mullican song, “Cherokee Boogie” and The Byrds/Gram Parsons “Hickory Wind”, the tunes bookending the band’s sound and influences. 

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31. Various Artists - Things About Coming My Way - A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks - (2009) - Things About Coming My Way- A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks - (2009) - The brainchild of producer and guitar virtuoso Steve Dawson, the Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks not only brought the music of America's first "popular band" to the fore, but  it also was a music history lesson and civics lesson rolled into one. The Mississippi Sheiks were the first black musicians to play in the White House and were the first popular band to record and tour. The album was a who's who of Canadian and American roots musicians including John Hammond, Colin Linden, Bruce Cockburn, The North Mississippi All-Stars, Madeleine Peyroux, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Jim Byrnes.
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32. Roseanne Cash - The List - (2009) - The List- When your dad is Johnny Cash and he hands you a list of 100 songs you should learn if you want to be a country singer...well, you stash that list away until the right moment. After her father's death, Roseanne Cash took out the list, picked twelve of those songs, and recorded them with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, Rufus Wainright and Neko Case. An album of covers might not be influential, but when the songs are hand-picked by Johnny Cash as "must knows", it deserves attention.

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33. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - Kings and Queens - (2011) - Kings and Queens- The power of three caused a ripple in the solo careers of Colin Linden, Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing when the trio came together to record a tribute album to Canadian singer/songwriter Willie P. Bennett. Taking their name from one of Bennett’s albums, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings continued after the success of the one-off recording project and released Kings and Queens in 2011. The album paired with Roots singing females such as Rosanne Cash, Exene Cervenka, Janiva Magness, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Lucinda Williams and Patti Scialfa. 

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34. Eilen Jewell - Boundary County - (2005) - Boundary County- Eilen Jewell busked on the street while attending college in Santa Fe, NM and then on Venice Beach when she made the move to California. Massachusetts club work in Cambridge, Boston and Somerville brought her attention and Boundary County let the rest of the world hear Eilen Jewell’s jazzy delivery over Roots and Americana arrangements. Eilen Jewell has a relaxed timbre to her singing that makes her voice memorable and immediately addictive.

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35. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - (2002) -Yankee Hotel Foxtrot- Frontman Jeff Tweedy continues to move Wilco further from the Alt Country of the band’s debut, 3AM (and even farther from his former band, Uncle Tupelo), with each Wilco release. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot remained true to roots with songs like “I AM Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Pot Kettle Black”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and stretched the genre on “Ashes of American Flags” and “Kamera”. Wilco became Indie banner wavers when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was rejected by their Warner Bros. label heads for not having a commercial single. The band took the album from WB and took it on the charts with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot being their biggest selling album to date.

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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.Her most recent release tributed Rev. Gary Davis, I Belong to the Band.

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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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cindy cashdollar in the alternate rootCindy Cashdollar - It would be easier to list the legendary performers that Cindy Cashdollar has not performed with as a guitar player than those performers who have retained her services and immense talent. She can play any style of music with incredible precision and historical accuracy bouncing between Texas swing, bluegrass and gut-wrenching blues. She is the only non-singing performer on this list, preferring to let steel guitar and dobro wizardry serve as her calling card.

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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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cee cee james in the alternate rootCee Cee James - Cee Cee James is one of those performers who comes across with more fire and fever when experienced live than is able to be captured on a recording. Stevie Ray Vaughan was often described the same way. She has a blistering voice that reaches for every ounce of emotion, sweat and raw power that she can muster. Cee Cee James is old-school blues...a steamy, sexy delivery of smokey back room stories spread over a bed of greasy slide guitar and pumping rhythms. She oozes blues.

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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 recent 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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joanne shaw taylor in the alternate rootJoanne Shaw Taylor – Joanne Shaw Taylor grew up in England, a country schoolgirl, bored with the music she heard on late-’90s pop radio. Going through her Dad’s record collection, she developed musical crushes listening to albums by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix. She took advantage of the acoustic guitars that were just lying around the family house, and by age 13, she was playing electric guitars. Just one year later, she would defy her teachers by playing London venues like The Marquee and Ronnie Scott’s. Recorded in Austin, her third album, Almost Always Never, raises a personal Blues bar for Joanne, who is still in her twenties.

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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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bex marshall in the alternate rootBex Marshall - Bex Marshall is the proud owner of one great big voice. Bex hosted many late night jams in her North London home that would come to be the track listing for The House of Mercy, her most recent release. Bex Marshall was eleven years old when she received a 1963 Gibson Hummingbird. She tried on classical, then a little flamenco before the blues came to town and won her heart. Fodder for her tales came from time she spent at 18, traveling the world, dealing illegal poker games in Amsterdam, hitchhiking through Europe and finding a spare corner to busk for her supper.

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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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patty reese in the alternate rootPatty Reese – Patty Reese is a consistent WAMMIE winner in the Washington, D.C. yearly award show. Patty has a voice that reaches up to the rafters and digs deep into your heart simultaneously. Her most recent release, Strong Medicine, lets her roots take hold in Blue and Roots flavored music. Her powerhouse sound gets tagged with Blues/Rock due to the force of her delivery, but the more applicable term would be Blues that Rocks. Patty Reese is currently in the studio recording a follow-up to Strong Medicine.

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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, Can't Control Myself, 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 latest 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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lydia warren in the alternate rootLydia Warren – NBC’s Today Show claimed that Lydia Warren is “changing the face of the blues”. Her music takes her around the world performing, and she receives a lot of home town love with Boston Music Award nominations. The Lydia Warren Band places the raw emotion of blues in a modern context, creating a new sound dubbed “alt- blues.” Lydia draws on her influences of West Side Chicago blues and classic rock to create songs and learns by watching as she opens for Blues artists such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ruthie Foster, Ronnie Earl, Shemekia Copeland, Keb Mo and John Németh. Lydia Warren's most recent release was the E.P., Turn It Up.

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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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CLICK TO DOWNLOAD A SELECTION OF SONGS FROM TOP BLUES WOMEN LIST

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We consider these to be the most important roots music recordings of the last 25 years. They are not the "best" albums or biggest selling albums. Some won prestigious awards and many did not. In fact many may have flown under the radar of even the most astute roots music fans.

Roots music has been around since Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie in many of the forms you see and hear today. Alt-Country didn't start with Uncle Tupelo it started in Bakersfield in the late 50's and was continued with artists like Poco, Pure Prarie League in the 70's and on to The Del Lords, The Beat Farmers and Jason and the Scorchers in the 80's. We narrowed it to the last 25 years and maybe some time we'll open up to all-time.

One of the struggles we had will no doubt be a point of contention from the onset. What about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss "Raising Sand?" Oh, what T-Bone Burnett can do with an aging rock legend and a bluegrass singer who happens to also be the most decorated artist in Grammy history. We have a tough time including this roots music but the fact is it made great strides in bringing Americana Music, a genre that was misunderstood, mislabelled and mishandled to the popular concience. It sold gazillions of copies, won a Grammy for Album of the Year and to this day is no more Americana music than Led Zeppelin IV. Many will disagree.

Without further ado, her's our list of the 35 Most Important Roots Albums of the Last 25 Years.


top 35 roots albums in the alternate root1. OMP Soundtrack - Oh Brother, Where Art Thou - (2000) - “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” One of the most if not the most influential roots music albums of the past 25 years, the soundtrack to the film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” took the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2001 and almost single-handedly placed Americana Music on the map, at least for the general public. Produced by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett, the album featured Allison Krauss, Colin Linden, Gillian Welch, The Fairfield Four and John Hartford among others.
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top 35 roots albums in the alternate root2. Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball - (1995) - Wrecking Ball- Flying Burrito Brothers member and Byrds alumni, Chris Hillman, referred Emmylou Harris to Gram Parsons, who had been looking for a female vocalist to back him on his first solo record. History was made and a career was born. Multiple Grammys and a stellar recording career have made Emmylou Harris ground zero for country rock, Americana and roots music of every shape and form. Wrecking Ball was released well into her career and the experimental album was lauded as one of the most important releases of the decade. Country radio ignored her but alternative audiences found what country lost.

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3. Johnny Cash - American Recordings - (1994) - American Recordings - Johnny Cash is one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century and could have staked a claim on a number of the spots on this list. We reserved his for American Recordings, a stripped down album performed by Cash with a guitar in his living room. The wild card in the equation was producer Rick Rubin who pulled out emotion, inflection and powerful performances by Cash with the end result being the best Johnny Cash album since the late 1960's.

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4. Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind - (1997) -  Time Out of Mind- We're not much on the significance of Grammy Awards, but Time Out of Mind won 3 of them including Album of the Year in 1998 which almost redeemed the institution for us. Time Out of Mind could easily be at the top of this or any list of influential albums in terms of writing, production and performance. Producer Daniel Lanois along with session players Jim Keltner, Augie Meyers and Duke Robillard created atmospherics not heard before or since in the Dylan collection.

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5. Uncle Tupelo - No Depression - (1990) - No Depression - Uncle Tupelo 'sNo Depressionlaunched a thousand ships, influencing damn near every roots rock, alt-country band that followed, not the least of which are the two spinoff bands Son Volt and Wilco from band members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy respectively. While Uncle Tupelo is credited by many as being the founder of the "alt-country" genre, we dispute that along with Jay Farrar. Alt-Country music existed before Uncle Tupelo but No Depression is a part of the history that is not in dispute.

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6. The Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig - (2010) - Genuine Negro Jig- Three young black virtuoso musicians have the entire world ahead of them musically, but they chose to go back a century and a half to find the lost art of black string band music. Add their breakout album Genuine Negro Jig to the mix along with a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album and you have one of the most important roots bands of the decade. Genuine Negro Jig inspired a host of albums honoring the old-time American music that has long been forgotten.

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7. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - (1998) - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - Though Lucinda Williams had been recording music since the late 1970's, it wasn't until her monumental breakthrough album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road that she garnered the acclaim globally that she so rightly deserved. Known prior as a country artist, Williams infused blues, rock, country and roots together on Car Wheels... and found her signature groove. Time Magazine dubbed her America's Best Songwriter in 2002 based on the album's intense lyrics. She's become an influence to millions of women (and men) since.

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8. James McMurtry - Childish Things - (2005) - Childish Things- His novelist Dad, Larry McMurtry, gave son James a guitar at age seven and his English professor Mom taught him how to play. James McMurtry claims, "My mother taught me three chords and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people." Childish Things in 2005 was a breakout for James McMurtry in a recording career that began in 1989. The album generated the song “We Can’t Make It Here” and a timeless anthem was born.

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9. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session - (1988) - The Trinity Sessions- 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 - The Revolution Starts Now - (2004) - The Revolution Starts Now - We tossed and turned over The Revolution Starts Now or Jerusalem being the most influential of these two monumental Steve Earle recordings, and the truth is, both could be here. We picked The Revolution Starts Now because of its subsequent influence on popular counter-culture. The album took a hard stand against the war in Iraq, the death penalty, the policies of George W. Bush and became a megaphone for the left, inspiring Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

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11. Band of Heathens - One Foot in the Ether - (2009) - One Foot in the Ether- A shared bill brought the three core songwriters for Band of Heathens together at Momo’s in their hometown of Austin, TX in the mid-2000’s. After several live albums and a Ray Wylie Hubbard produced self-titled debut, Band of Heathens released One Foot in the Ether in 2009. The album continued to hone a sound that referenced rock, roots, soul and gospel in songs like “Shine a Light”, “L.A. County Blues”, “Somebody Tell the Truth” and “Golden Calf”.

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12. The Jayhawks – Hollywood Town Hall - (1992) - Formed in Minneapolis, MN in 1985, The Jayhawks released albums in their home base until their major label debut, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1992. The Alt Country group it produced had a softer tone than many of their feedback distorted brethren, and stuck to the California Country sound of Poco and the Burrito Brothers -- sounds that added a lot of folk to the twang. Hollywood Town Hall gathered the dual vocals and finely crafted songs of band members Gary Louris and Mark Olson.

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13. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights - (2007) - Former Rikers Island correction officer Sharon Jones was called in for session work as a backup vocalist. Sharon was the only one of the call outs to show up and impressed the production team by performing all three parts herself.  Daptone Records, the Brooklyn label owned by its musicians/producers, released their first recording, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings in 2002. The grass roots popularity of the band expanded, and their song mix of funk, soul and roots music lined up perfectly with the 2007 release, 100 days, 100 Nights lighting a torch for a Soul revival.

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14. Old Crow Medicine Show – O.C.M.S. - (2004) - Old Crow Medicine Show busked across upper New York State and through Canada before finding themselves on a street corner in Boone, North Carolinapassingthe hat to Doc Watson. The musical statesmen helped Old Crow Medicine Show along and the band moved to Nashville, again finding luck with a Grand Ole’ Opry residency playing between shows. Produced by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, O.C.M.S. was the band’s first studio recording, containing the song that has become the Old Crow Medicine Show worldwide greeting card, “Wagon Wheel”.

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15. Ryan Adams – Gold - (2001) - GoldRyan Adams moved from punk rock to Alt Country with the formation of Whiskeytown. The band made great music and drew critical acclaim before folding. Musically, Ryan Adams’ first release, Heartbreaker, seemed to follow in Whiskeytown’s critically favored footsteps. With his 2001 release, Gold, Ryan Adams hit mainstream love with songs like “When the Stars Go Blue”, “La Cienega Just Smiled”, “Harder Now That It’s Over” and “New York, New York”, in a video filmed with the NYC skyline in the background, captured four days before 9/11.

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16. The Bottle Rockets - Brooklyn Side - (1994) - The Brooklyn Side- Formed in 1992 with Uncle Tupelo guitar tech, Brian Henneman, leading the charge, The Bottle Rockets hit a good altitude with the Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel produced album, The Brooklyn Side, their second release. The Bottle Rockets music chronicles Middle America-- Brian Henneman referring to the band as ‘reporters from the heartland’. “Radar Gun”, from The Brooklyn Side, put The Bottle Rockets on radio charts.

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17. Todd Snider - East Nashville Skyline - (2004) - East Nashville Skyline - Todd Snider has released a continuous string of critically acclaimed albums; perhaps none more well-received than the introspective East Nashville Skyline. The album confronts a trail of poor decisions, addiction, rehab, controversy and a political shot across the bow of "conservatism" for good measure. Picking a "most" anything out of Snider's catalog is tough, but this one stands out for us as his best.

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18. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More - (2010) - Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons emerged from what is dubbed the "West London Folk Scene" in 2007 and landed on the shores of America after receiving two Grammy nominations in 2010. Their performance at the Grammy's put "roots music" onto the lips of a generation that only thought of roots in the context of different colored hair or possibly cracks in the driveway. Their debut album Sigh No More is influential in that it opened the minds of a lot more people to acoustic based traditional music.

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19. Will Kimbrough - Americanitis - (2006) - Americanitis - Will Kimbrough is probably better known for his guitar skills and, more recently, as a top shelf producer than for his solo work, but that's reserved for those who have yet to discover Americanitis. In darker days, it could have landed him on the McCarthy Un-American List with other artists and musicians who dared to confront the issues America swept under the rug. This is what "patriotism" is all about, and it also places Kimbrough among the craftier lyricists in roots music where he justly belongs.

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20. Rodney Crowell - Fates Right Hand - (2003) - Fate’s Right Hand - Rodney Crowell has been one of Nashville's most prolific writers for over four decades. Considered a staple of country radio for much of his career, Crowell turned to a more roots-driven sound when country radio went down the toilet in the 1990's. He confronted a lifetime of demons on Fate's Right Hand and drove it home with a roots rock onslaught both musically and vocally. Lyrically, it's Crowell's finest hour in a career filled with many fine hours.

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21. Son Volt – Straightaways - (1997) - Straightaways- Formed in 1994, Son Volt was the group relationship that helped frontman Jay Farrar get over his time with Uncle Tupelo. The band caught instantly with their debut, Trace, and the momentum continued to build and percolate on album number two, Straightaways. Jay Farrar’s deep voice resonates and strains at its borders as the band bangs out Alt Country guitar riffs over a solid beat on “Picking up a Signal” and “Caryatid Easy”. 

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22. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera - (2001) - Southern Rock Opera- Drive-By Truckers released their third studio album in 1991. Southern Rock Opera proudly stood for the duality of the south with the album’s cut, “The Southern Thing”, explaining “ain’t about excuses, or alibis, it ain’t about no cotton fields or cotton picking lies”. Southern Rock Opera took a look at topics from growing up in the south amid 70’s arena rock, race politics and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as Drive-By Truckers use the southern rock powerhouse as a cornerstone from which to build the album.

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23. Dave Alvin - King of California - (1994) - Dave Alvin has had a steady release of albums where the musical mood changes with the album art. Fans come to expect, and enjoy, the path of Dave’s muse in recording. When King of California came out in 1994, the album was the first to change up the pure, unadulterated, unapologetic, rock’n’roll force of his work with The Blasters and his first three solo efforts. King of California showcased acoustic instruments, but it was in no way an acoustic album. Dave Alvin showed that unplugging did not lessen the intensity of his playing. The album may turn down the volume, but it raises the flame on the old (“Border Radio”, “Little Honey”, “4th of July”), the new (“Blue Wing”, “Every Night about This Time”), and offers a classic country style romp with Syd Straw (“What Am I Worth?”).

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24. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow - (2011) - Barton Hollow- The Civil Wars won both Best Country Duo/Group and Best Folk Album in 2012 with Barton Hollow. They moved the needle for Roots music the week after the Grammy’s with Barton Hollow selling 35,000 units and helping to take the duo to #10 on the Billboard album charts. The album continues to blur musical lines in the Roots genre, as musicians like The Civil Wars play what they hear in their heads, not what the industry decrees. The Civil Wars, comprised of singer/songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, met in a songwriters group in Nashville, TN.

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25. Mary Gauthier - Mercy Now - (2005) - Her early life provided Mary Gauthier with experiences for her true tales, fueled by the alienation that life handed her in the form of birth mother abandonment and dealing with her sexuality. Her late teens were spent in drug rehabs and jail followed by schooling and opening a Cajun restaurant in Boston, all before writing her fist song at age 35. Mercy Now (2005) is the fourth in a series of recordings that began in 1997. The album wraps the emotive passion of Mary Gauthier’s songs in the title track’s pleas, the world of non-stop alcohol consumption (“I Drink”), the perspective of a road weary traveler (“Falling out of Love”) and Mardi Gras in New Orleans (“Wheel Inside the Wheel”).

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26. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies - (2009) -Midnight at the Movies- Justin Townes Earle hit his stride and album #3 nicely straddles the more roots feel of his earlier releases and the Indie Soul of the current. Midnight at the Movies visits extremes with folk blues (“What I Mean to You”), gospel Soul (“Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This”), bluegrass (“Dirty Rag”) and Roots Rock (“Mama’s Eyes”).

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27. Blue Rodeo – Diamond Mine - (1989) - Diamond Mine- Formed in 1985 in Toronto, Canadians Blue Rodeo released their first album, Outskirts, in 1987, which would exclude them from our 1988+ list. Luckily, their second album, Diamond Mine (1989), 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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 28. The Old 97’s – Too Far to Care - (1997) - Too Far to Care- The Old 97’s started their engines in Dallas, Texas before taking it on the road as a hard touring band. Too Far to Care was The Old 97’s third album release, the group’s first album for a major label (Elektra). Too Far to Care offered rock and twang together in Alt Country glory with frontman Rhett Miller’s wry humor and smart lyrics. It offered immediate classic status to the world with “Timebomb”, “Barrier Reef”, “Just Like California” and a duet with X/The Knitters vocalist, Exene Cervenka, on “Four Leaf Clover”.

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29. Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind - (2008) - Trouble in Mind moved well-deserved recognition for Hayes Carll beyond his native Texas fan base. The album registered Hayes Carll as a member of a Texan singer/songwriter club that included artists such as Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Trouble in Mind gave the real life experiences in his songs a touch of wit and wisdom as evidenced in tracks such as “Bad Liver and A Broken Heart”, “She Left Me for Jesus” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream”.

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30. BR549 - BR5-49 - (1996) - Gary Bennett and Chuck Mead formed BR-549 and became the house band at Robert’s Western Wear in Nashville, TN. The Roots feel of their music and the humorous subject matter did not warm them to country radio, but it did give them an instant fan base. Their debut album, BR-549, gave the world covers of the Moon Mullican song, “Cherokee Boogie” and The Byrds/Gram Parsons “Hickory Wind”, the tunes bookending the band’s sound and influences. 

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31. Various Artists - Things About Coming My Way - A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks - (2009) - Things About Coming My Way- A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks - (2009) - The brainchild of producer and guitar virtuoso Steve Dawson, the Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks not only brought the music of America's first "popular band" to the fore, but  it also was a music history lesson and civics lesson rolled into one. The Mississippi Sheiks were the first black musicians to play in the White House and were the first popular band to record and tour. The album was a who's who of Canadian and American roots musicians including John Hammond, Colin Linden, Bruce Cockburn, The North Mississippi All-Stars, Madeleine Peyroux, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Jim Byrnes.
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32. Roseanne Cash - The List - (2009) - The List- When your dad is Johnny Cash and he hands you a list of 100 songs you should learn if you want to be a country singer...well, you stash that list away until the right moment. After her father's death, Roseanne Cash took out the list, picked twelve of those songs, and recorded them with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, Rufus Wainright and Neko Case. An album of covers might not be influential, but when the songs are hand-picked by Johnny Cash as "must knows", it deserves attention.

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33. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - Kings and Queens - (2011) - Kings and Queens- The power of three caused a ripple in the solo careers of Colin Linden, Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing when the trio came together to record a tribute album to Canadian singer/songwriter Willie P. Bennett. Taking their name from one of Bennett’s albums, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings continued after the success of the one-off recording project and released Kings and Queens in 2011. The album paired with Roots singing females such as Rosanne Cash, Exene Cervenka, Janiva Magness, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Lucinda Williams and Patti Scialfa. 

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34. Eilen Jewell - Boundary County - (2005) - Boundary County- Eilen Jewell busked on the street while attending college in Santa Fe, NM and then on Venice Beach when she made the move to California. Massachusetts club work in Cambridge, Boston and Somerville brought her attention and Boundary County let the rest of the world hear Eilen Jewell’s jazzy delivery over Roots and Americana arrangements. Eilen Jewell has a relaxed timbre to her singing that makes her voice memorable and immediately addictive.

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35. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - (2002) -Yankee Hotel Foxtrot- Frontman Jeff Tweedy continues to move Wilco further from the Alt Country of the band’s debut, 3AM (and even farther from his former band, Uncle Tupelo), with each Wilco release. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot remained true to roots with songs like “I AM Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Pot Kettle Black”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and stretched the genre on “Ashes of American Flags” and “Kamera”. Wilco became Indie banner wavers when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was rejected by their Warner Bros. label heads for not having a commercial single. The band took the album from WB and took it on the charts with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot being their biggest selling album to date.

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Bob Dylan has been releasing albums for 50 years now. Between studio albums, live albums, compilations and greatest hits and the much coveted bootlegs there are 72 albums in all. His place in the most select pantheon of popular music is rock solid along with the The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and no one else. The amount of space Dylan takes up on my shelf is larger than Sinatra's and that's saying a lot. For the sake of this discussion I'm going to leave the live albums, compilations and bootlegs out. This is just about the studio albums from 1962-2012. 35 albums in all.

There have been long periods where Dylan could do no wrong, releasing one monumental document after another, interrupted by the occasional klunker and there have been some real klunkers. Even with that, the worst Bob Dylan albums always had something on them I found to be a diamond in the rough. The much chastized 1973 album Dylan had some good outtakes and a cool song called "Lily of the West" which I put on almost every Dylan mix tape for years. Even Self Portrait, considered by Dylanologists-in-the-know to be the low point of a stellar career had a countrified version of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" which I still find tolerable. Those two albums were separated by New Morning and the soundtrack to Pat Garret and Billy the Kid which are both full of memorable moments. Enough of that. Let's move on to ranking Bob Dylan's catalog and feel free to comment, chide or mumble under your breath.

1. Blood on the Tracks (1975) - I often debate whether or not Blood on the Tracks ranks higher than Desire and it really depends on the mood. Today, I rank it higher. Check with me next week. Song for song it's the best album in a career full of noteworthy material.

2. Desire (1976) - Desire was released one year and one day after Blood on the Tracks representing perhaps the greatest two year period in Dylan's illustrious career. The nine songs on Desire are absolutely flawless! If it had had "Tangled Up in Blue" on it it would surely rank as his greatest moment. It didn't, Blood on the Tracks did, hence, number two.

3. Highway 61 Revisited (1965) - "Like A Rolling Stone" was Dylan's highest charting single of his career, reaching Number 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1965. Rolling Stone magazine called it the greatest rock and roll song of all time. That album also contained "Desolation Row" and "Ballad of a Thin Man." Nothing more need be said.

4. Infidels (1983) - After the "born-again" nonesense of Shot of Love and Saved, Infidels was a breath of fresh air for those of us who thought Dylan had lost it. The production on Infidels, courtesy of Mark Knopfler, was flawless. Having Mick Taylor, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespear in the band didn't hurt either. Songs about geo-politics, the environment and overall social commentary had returned to the guy who invented it.

5. Time Out of Mind (1997) - I'm not much on the significance of Grammy Awards but Time Out of Mind won 3 of them including Album of the Year in 1998 which almost redeemed the institution for me. Time Out of Mind could easily be at the top of this list. Producer Daniel Lanois along with session players Jim Keltner, Augie Meyers and Duke Robillard created atmospherics not heard before or since in the Dylan collection.

6. Blonde on Blonde (1966) - Songs "Just Like a Woman", "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35", "I Want You", and "Visions of Johanna" aren't enough? Try having Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm in the band. Add the entire fourth side of one of rock and roll's first double albums, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" and you've made music history.

7. The Freewheelin Bob Dylan (1963) - You want a folk movement? You want social change? You want somebody to stand up and say the things everyone is thinking but can't find the words or a platform? This is it. "Masters of War", "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall", "Blowin in the Wind", all timeless anthems that still taste great today. Not to mention "Girl From the North Country" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright."

8. Oh Mercy (1989) - It's been said that Dylan wandered aimlessly in the 1980's. The three albums between Infidels in 1983 and Oh Mercy in 1989 might support such a theory but if you can bookend a decade on those two albums it's a stretch to call the decade lost. Oh Mercy contained some of Dylan's best work including "Political World", "Ring Them Bells", "Everything is Broken" and "What Was it You Wanted." Most writers would take that and call it a career.

9. Modern Times (2006) - Part of a trilogy of albums that returned Dylan to prominence along with Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft, Modern Times was Dylan's first number one album since Desire and the album actually entered the Billboard 200 Chart at number one. The album continued Dylan's journey into American Roots music traditions both in style and substance. Those three albums together would stand alone as a brilliant career if they were someone else's.

10. Tempest (2012) - His voice is getting on and his live performances are just a shell of what they once were but this is as strong as Dylan has been in a while. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard chart, no small feat 50 years into a career. It also had conspiracy critics claiming it was his last album based on a theory that Shakespear's last play was called The Tempest but Tempest has some of darkest most poignent lyrics we've heard from Dylan in a decade. It also followed a dreadful Christmas album which may explain the critical sigh of relief that Dylan still has gas in the tank.

11. Love and Theft (2001) - Love and Theft sort of picks up where Time Out of Mind left off (at least sonically) and while it was propbably received more enthusiastically by the critics it was surrounded by  some controversy including allegations of plagiarism. Bollocks. The album ranks as one of the best Roots albums of the last half century and made Rolling Stone's list of the 500 best albums of all time. Some of the criticism sparked some of Bob Dylan's harshest critique of journalists and "Dylan experts" ever.

12. World Gone Wrong (1993) - Although it's an album of cover songs, the selection makes the collection stand alone. Like it's predecessor Good As I Been to You, it was a return to Dylan's folk roots and it was good enough to win the Grammy for Traditional Folk Album 1n 1994. Bob Dylan paying tribute to The Mississippi Shieks, Blind Willie McTell, Willie Brown and Doc Watson is pretty fucking cool.

13. The Times They Are a-Changin (1964) - While Beatlemania and the British Invasion were soaking up the limited airspace in 1964, Bob Dylan released his third album The Times They Are a-Changin to little fanfare. It was panned by critics and struggled commercially. Looking back however, it contained some pretty important music aside from the title track. "The Ballad of Hollis Brown", "With God on Our Side", "One Too Many Mornings" and "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" are significant songs that stand the test of the times we live in today. "Seven people dead on a South Dakota farm..." can you say gun-control?

14. Bringin It All Back Home (1965) - One side acoustic, one side rock may have confused a lot of people and pissed off the folk-nazi's but the acoustic side contained "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Gates of Eden" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and the rock side contained "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Maggies Farm" and "Love Minus Zero, No Limit." That would place it in the top three on just about everyone else's catalog.

15. Together Through Life (2009) - The second successive Bob Dylan album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200, Together Through Life was a departure from the previous, Modern Times relying on dark, mischievous lyrics and bluesy overtones. It's one of a handful of co-written Dylan albums most of the songs written by Dylan and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. "Beyond Here Lies Nothin" is the albums highlight.

16. Nashville Skyline (1969) - A duet with Johnny Cash on "Girl From the North Country" and "Lay Lady Lay" made Nashville Skyline a commercial success. It also concluded Bob Dylan's dip in the country music pool he started with John Wesley Harding in 1967. The outtakes of Dylan and Cash doing "Ring of Fire" and "I Walk the Line" should have been included however.

17. Slow Train Coming (1979) - While it signified the onset of the "born-again" Christian period, Slow Train Coming wasn't nearly as horrific as the follow ups Saved and Shot of Love. "Gotta Serve Somebody" was a pseudo hit and actually garnered Dylan a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance in 1980 and Slow Train Coming is listed among the 100 Greatest Christian Albums according to the Contemporary Christian Music book. They would know. I, surely, would not. Dylan converted back to his Jewish roots before the release of Infidels in 1989.

18. The Basement Tapes (1975) - This album would certainly rank much higher on the list but for the circumstances surrounding the release and production of the album. It was taken from a collection of songs recorded by Dylan and The Band following Dylan's motorcycle accident and subsequent convalesence. Dylan's vocals were recorded in 1967, eight years prior to the album's release and the overdubs that were added along with tracks by The Band, while monumental in style and influence, make it suspect when calling it an album by Dylan and The Band.

19. Under The Red Sky (1990) - This album wasn't really all that bad but it contained "Wiggle, Wiggle" which ruined the rest of it and caused me to always stop listening at that point. Suffice to say I am a fan of Don Was as a producer, just not that much as Bob Dylan's producer. Was assembled a who's who of contemporary music at the time including Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elton John, George Harrison, Bruce Hornsby, Waddy Wacthel and Paulinho DaCosta and you would hope they could have done more lasting material. The title track stands out but not much else is memorable.

20. Planet Waves (1974) - During a brief stint on Asylum Records Dylan released two albums, Planet Waves and a live album Before the Flood. This is actually the better studio recording with Dylan and The Band although it rarely gets mentioned as the "true" collaboration it was. "Forever Young", "Tough Mama", Going, Going Gone" and "You Angel You" all rank high on my list of notable achievements during the Dylan/Band era.

21. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) - For those who preferred the finger pointing, in your face Bob Dylan that appeared on his previous albums, this wasn't it. Shy of "Chimes of Freedom" it was an album of somewhat candy coated love songs. A lot of the best songs appeared in later years, especially live, with a bit more bite to them. "It Ain't Me Babe" and"I Don't Believe You, She Acts Like We Never Have Met" are among them.

22. Good As I Been To You (1992) - The predecessor to World Gone Wrong, Good As I Been To You was the first all acoustic record Dylan had recorded since Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964. Like World Gone Wrong it was comprised entirely of folk/blues covers and included outstanding renditions of "Sittin On Top of the World", "Froggy Went a-Courtin", and "Hard Times."

23. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) - The first soundtrack and the acting debut for Dylan as the knife-throwing Alias in the Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, the album was mostly instrumental but debuted the classic "Knockin on Heaven's Door". The musicians included Booker T. and Roger McGuinn. It's a good album for a rainy Sunday morning.

24. Bob Dylan (1962) - Only a career this monumental would put your debut album at number 24 on the list but compared to the body of work it just stands up as a good album. "Song to Woody", and "Talkin New York" are the only originals surrounded by folk standards. "Pretty Peggy-O" is pretty hip though.

25. New Morning (1970) - New Morning followed the release of the dreaded Self Portrait so it stands to reason it got some much needed critical relief. The album is solid and contains some Dylan standards including "If Not for You" and "Went to See the Gypsy" but all in all it's a good album for most and an OK album for Bob Dylan.

26. Empire Burlesque (1985) - In spite of the stellar cast of musicians assembled at different periods during the recording of the songs for Empire Burlesque the album is largely uninspired. The best songs on the album "Tight Connection to My Heart", "Clean Cut Kid", were originally set for the album Infidels. Even Roy Bittan, Steve Van Zandt, Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, Howie Epstein and Lone Justice couldn't make the album any more than over produced 80's schmaltz.

27. Street Legal (1978) - While I actually like this album it ranks as the point where the catalog begins to slide downward. It also marks as the turning point that started Dylan on the Christianity slide. Religion had appeared throughout Dylan's writing but the apocalyptic overtones on Street Legal were different and certainly less subtle than previous inclusions. "Changing of the Guard", "Where Are You Tonight" and "Is Your Love in Vain" are the highlights for me and I can still listen to them fairly loud.

28. John Wesley Harding (1967) - The beginning of a brief and somewhat commercially fruitful foray into country music at least in terms of singing and playing but Bob Dylan isn't a country music writer now and wasn't then either. The music on both John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, with some exceptions, sound contrived. "All Along the Watchtower", "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"  and "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" are the highlights.

29. Christmas in the Heart (2009) - As Christmas albums go this will never get any airplay during my holiday season.

30. Dylan (1973) - "Lily of the West" and not much else.

31. Saved (1980) - Awful

32. Shot of Love (1981) - Even more awful than Saved but at least it was the last of the born again albums...forever.

33. Self Portrait (1970) - Best summed up by Greil Marcus, the great Rolling Stone writer, in the opening sentence of his review, "What is this shit?"

34. Knocked Out Loaded (1986) - Dylan must have been either knocked out, loaded or both.

35. Down in the Groove (1988) - Most of us pleaded for Dylan to "make it stop" after three pretty horrific efforts in the 1980's...a year later Oh Mercy came out. It stopped, Bob listened and he's been back ever since.

BILL HURLEY

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.

Listen and buy the music of The Morells from AMAZON

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.

Listen and buy the music of Lye Lovett and His Large Band  from AMAZON or iTunes

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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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.
Methamphetamine."

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.
A
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:
"NOW EVERY BAD MARRIAGE... ENDS IT'S TRUE
WHEN THE MAN'S A DRUNK AND HE'S BEATIN' ON YOU
EVERY MORNING THE SUN COMES UP TO STAY
AND ANOTHER FREE WOMAN GETS TO WALK AWAY...
ANOTHER FREE WOMAN GETS TO WALK AWAY...."

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"

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the alternate root top 20 guitar playersHere's our list of The Alternate Root Magazine's Top American Roots Guitar Players. There's probably 100 guitar players that could have been on this list that appear on every "Best Guitar Player List." These are our favorites. The one's we write about; one's we've worked with on Alternate Root TV or we've interviewed here. They're our guys and gals and all of them can play. Chances are we've forgotten a few and we're counting on our readers to remind us of who's supposed to be here.










 
kenny vaughan in the alternate root1. Kenny Vaughan - Marty Stuart Band, solo - One of the most, if not 'the' most in demand session players in Nashville, Kenny Vaughan is an absolute monster player that is in a league with just a few others on this list. Combining the most eclectic, fringe elements of jazz, punk, rock, country and whatever else into his unique style and combining it with near flawless technique is what sets Vaughan apart from most. 

Listen and buy the music of Kenny Vaughan from AMAZON or iTunes

  will kimbrough in the alternate root2. Will Kimbrough - Emmylou Harris Band, solo - Kimbrough's work with Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris is well documented. His solo work is equally compelling and as one of the top producers in the American Roots music world you can find him on a slew of other really good records. He can play any style from blues to country, rock to soul and everything in between.

Listen and buy the music of Will Kimbrough from AMAZON or iTunes


richard thompson in the alternate root3. Richard Thompson - Fairport Convention, solo - One of the founding members of Fairport Convention, Thompson has spent most of his career in relative public obscurity save guitar heads and critics. Guitar people have known about Richard Thompson for decades and critics have been heaping praise on Richard Thompson for both his playing and his writing for nearly as long. His mark is on more music than most anyone on this list. Probably the best folk guitarist in history.

Listen and buy the music of Buddy Miller from AMAZON or iTunes

buddy miller in the alternate root4. Buddy Miller - Band of Joy, solo - Like Will Kimbrough, Buddy Miller appears on more recordings than can be listed here. He's worked as a guitar player for Steve Earle, Robert Plant, John Fogerty, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Linda Rostadt. His solo work is at times breathtaking and at other time a bit puzzling but never typical. Miller is just downright brilliant.

Listen and buy the music of Colin Linden from AMAZON or iTunes

colin linden in the alternate root5. Colin Linden - Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, solo - One of the true virtuoso players on our list. A scholar of the roots of the guitar, from earliest recordings of blues and jazz to folk and country, Colin Linden was called upon by T-Bone Burnett to help produce the soundtrack for "Oh Brother Where Art Thou." He's one of the top American Roots producers in Canada and the U.S. and has a guitar playing resume that would take up more space than we have here.

Listen and buy the music of Bill Kirchen from AMAZON or iTunes

bill kirchen in the alternate root6. Bill Kirchen -solo - One of the most respected and acclaimed players of the last few decades Kirchen may be best known for work with Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen but his work over the past 30+ years is more impressive. His version of "Hot Rod Lincoln" where he rips into a solo for every guitar god hero is amazing.

Listen and buy the music of Pete Anderson from AMAZON or iTunes

pete anderson in the alternate root7. Pete Anderson - solo - He's a bad-ass player. He's a bad-ass producer who created the sound for Dwight Yoakam, k.d. Lang, Michelle Shocked and even the latter-day Roy Orbison. If you don't know him as a player you don't know the half of it.

Listen and buy the music of Derek Trucks from AMAZON or iTunes

derek trucks in the alternate root8. Derek Trucks - Tedeschi Trucks Band, Allman Brothers Band - The nephew of Allman Brothers great Butch Trucks, Derek Trucks first appeared on stage with Buddy Guy and The Allman Brothers at age 12. One of the best slide players out there right now, Trucks is heavily influenced by Buddy Guy, Elmore James and the like but his style incorporates blues, rock, soul and classic jazz elements.

Listen and buy the music of Derek Trucks from AMAZON or iTunes

traul malo in the alternate root9. Raul Malo - Mavericks, Los Super Seven, solo - Raul Malo may be more well known for his incredible voice than his guitar playing but he should never be overlooked as one of the top American Roots guitar players. His work with the Mavericks, Los Super Seven and as a solo artist contains some incredibly good guitar playing by any standards. See him live playing jazz, blues, country, Tejano, rockabilly and you'll get the picture.

Listen and buy the music of Raul Malo from AMAZON or iTunes

junior brown in the alternate root10. Junior Brown - Junior Brown Band - Junior Brown is so good he needed to have a guitar invented just for him and the "guit-steel" was born. He's incendiary style blends Western Swing, honky-tonk, Bakersfield country and Texas blues often in the same solo.

Listen and buy the music of Junior Brown from AMAZON or iTunes

patterson hood in the alternate  root11.  Patterson Hood - Drive By Truckers - The power behind one of the powerhouse American Roots bands Patterson Hood is actually more Clash than Cash. The Drive By Truckers are one of the few roots bands that when it's all said and done, will have done pretty well.

Listen and buy the music of Patterson Hood from AMAZON or iTunes

eric ambel in the alternate root12. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel - The Del-Lords, Steve Earle Band, solo - He's more into producing and engineering now than when he was barnstorming for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The Del-Lords or Steve Earle but "Roscoe" shows up in rare form on a lot of really cool recordings from bands like the New Heathens, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition and DL Marble. Ambel is a great guitar player...period.

Listen and buy the music of Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel from AMAZON or iTunes

rosie flores in the alternate root13. Rosie Flores - Rosie Flores Band - The "Rockabilly Filly" broke the glass ceiling for female guitar players right along with Bonnie Raitt and Patti Smith, just to a different crowd. She's the "Queen of Twang" and one of the pre-eminent figures in the Austin Alt-Country music scene. She's fun, she's good and she looks great at 63. Her work with Pete Anderson on her debut album drew major critical acclaim.

Listen and buy the music of Rosie Flores from AMAZON or iTunes

mark robinson in the alternate root14. Mark Robinson - Mark Robinson Band - He can shred, pick, bend and slide with the best of them. Robinson has a resonant tone that would fall somewhere between Albert King and Ronnie Earl but has developed into pure Mark Robinson. Only two solo efforts to date but both have garnered high praise for Robinson's guitar work.

Listen and buy the music of Mark Robinson from AMAZON or iTunes

devon allman in the alternate root15. Devon Allman -Royal Southern Brotherhood, Devon Allman's Honeytribe - The son of Gregg Allman and another example of the fruit not falling far from the tree, Devon Allman has the chops of his father and the soul of his uncle. In his case the soul is what makes him great. His blues are hard edged and spacious; making each note count rather than counting how many notes there were. An awful lot of Allman Brothers Band offspring are making great music. Makes you wonder about the effects of sex and srugs.

Listen and buy the music of Devon Allman from AMAZON or iTunes


sergio webb in the alternate root16. Sergio Webb - David Olney, solo - Sergio Webb can be seen on a stage in Nashville making someone sound good most any night. He's a great picker of just about anything that has strings on it. Webb is a throwback to the old-style country guitar player like Chet Atkins or Les Paul.

Listen and buy the music of Sergio Webb from AMAZON or iTunes

seth walker in the alternate root17. Seth Walker - solo - Seth Walker started as a cellist at the age of three growing up with classicly trained musicians as parents. His clean soul-jazz-pop sound has garnered some high praise critically both as a skillful player and soulful singer. He's paved the way for a host of blues/soul performers in the Americana Roots movement. His cool west-coast tone is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery.

Listen and buy the music of Seth Walker from AMAZON or iTunes

martin sexton in the alternate root18. Martin Sexton - solo - His playing is a lot studio tricks and loops but since he's playing all of it and putting it together in some sort of predetermined sequences we'll have to call that innovative and highly skilled playing. Not your dad's "folkie," Martin Sexton is a gifted player that experiments outside the lines.

Listen and buy the music of Martin Sexton from AMAZON or iTunes

chris hersch in the alternate root19. Chris Hersch - Girls, Guns and Glory - The lead guitar slot in Girls, Guns and Glory has been a bit of a revolving door and the predecessors to Chris Hersch have all been pretty solid. That said, none of them can stand with the current "lead chair." Hersch's work on "Sweet Nothings," the latest effort from GGG is astounding.

Listen and buy the music of Chris Hersch from AMAZON or iTunes

garrett lebeau in the alternate root20. Garrett Lebeau - solo - He's a young guy from rural Wyoming that resides in Austin every now and again. An enigma of sorts, Lebeau posesses an almost majestic tone and incendiary improvisational skill. His playing is a combination of bluesey soul and jazz in a gospel wash. Infectious is a good way to describe Garrett Lebeau's music.

Listen and buy the music of Garrett Lebeau from AMAZON or iTunes

colin thompson in the alternate root21. Colin Thompson - Randy Thompson Band - Who? From where? At 15 he had chops it should have taken 40 years to develop. Randy Thompson is a known entity in many Americana/Alt-Country circles especially in Europe but his son Colin might end up as the one who scores it big. Now 19, He's a sponge for style and technique and by the time he hits middle age he could be the best player on this list.

Listen and buy the music of Colin Thompson from his website