Au Pai (from the album One Armed Candy Bear) - Au Pair is the lovechild of Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) and Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony). The Pair met in Chicago, IL. at a celebration for the music of Big Star, recording the recently released One Armed Candy Bear in Durham, North Carolina. Au Pair create a fractured Folk music, using loops and bleeps as part of a junkyard accumulation of instruments, describing themselves at Everly Brothers meets Pink Floyd on their Facebook website. Gary Louris has received reviews for his other band, The Jayhawks, that suggest the Roots of the band is dipped in hints of psychedelia. As a duo in partnering with Django in Au Pair, nobody is hinting anymore. One Armed Candy Bear is a psychedelic pastiche of sound that hears its Folk in the same way Wilco hears its version of Roots. Words and music are offered in snippets, snatches of phrases holding the story in place with revolving images and characters.

Like its mystical namesake, there is a fantasy tone to the stories on One Armed Candy Bear that is backed by dreamlike landscapes moving below (“King of the Valley”), dark clouds of eerie sonics (“Night Falls Early”), sounds that rise and fade (“One-Eyed Crier”), and percussive stomps and strums (“New Deal”). The glue that forms two musicians in one on One Armed Candy Bear is the harmony; forceful when combined, a solo voice quiets to speak to the unborn baby about to “Make An Entrance” as Au Pair hang on to a rush strings and strums with a frenzied anxiety that puts “Baby on Trial”, and step carefully across the rhythmic starts and stops that ground the historical ramble in “Sullivan’s Ghost”. One Armed Candy Bear puts its two voices forefront on the album, whether the instrumentation is acoustically man-made or twisted and pulled from studio knobs. When Au Pair let the music stay between just two, the guitars and voices merging and teasing one another, it creates a raw beauty, as experienced on the album track “Waiting for the First Time”.

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The Blackberry Bushes String Band (from the album Thee Red Feathers) - The Blackberry Bushes String Band stick true to tradition as they present their natural affinity for bluegrass with an eye cast to the lives passing by in 2015 for their storylines. The mountain music of the group springs from musical wells dug in the Pacific Northwest, setting up tent in Seattle, Washington. Three Red Feathers, their recently released album, opens with different coloring for the star of the lead track, “Brown Bird”, as the story flutters and flies for a city girl hanging onto the song of a feathered friend. The Blackberry Bushes String Band is a five piece backing the vocals of Jes Raymond (guitar), with violin (Jakob Breitbach), mandolin (David Ullom), banjo (Alex Genova), and upright bass (Forrest Marowitz), with the players all backing in harmony vocals.

Three Red Feathers cuts through thick northwest fog with playing that magically creates mountain spring meadows (“Gold Rush - Kissimee Kid”) as it rushes the rhythm to try and get ahead of poor decisions (“Same Mistakes”), and hunts for the ghosts of the Lone Ranger and Jesse James (“Out on the Western Plains”). The Blackberry Bushes String Band can pride themselves on clean picking as they weave notes, beat bumps, and harmonies with a bluegrass sound that forces smiles and asks to dance. The Blackberry Bushes feel trapped by life, using the title track to shoot an arrow into accepting circumstances as it points the way towards a better tomorrow through our own actions. Three Red Feathers slightly switches the playing to utter a percolating whisper as it counts one more “Little White Sin”, quietly accepts “Paper Roses”, and slowly spins around the floor to let lovesick hearts catch a break for “The Fool Hearted Tries Harder”.

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Stevie Agnew and Hurricane Road (from the album Bad Blood and Whiskey Road) - Stevie Agnew sings with a blue-collar heart. His stories and characters stay true to roots where day-to-day life is not a smooth path. People who have little cash to throw around though have there are spare emotions to spend (“I Don't know How to Leave Her”, plenty of pathos to pull from pockets (“Whiskey”), and a little extra to cover the costs of hope (“Take Me Home with You”).  Backed by Hurricane Road, Stevie Agnew offers universal snippets of life on Bad Blood and Whiskey Road, their latest release. The songs are the soundtrack of dusty beach roads, mountain bonfires, and honky tonks, holding out audio hands to link the lives of men and women with honest tellings of their tales. Stevie Agnew and Hurricane Road offer influences of Folk, Country, Blues, and Americana, adding Celtic aires to the American Roots sound of the band with an accent born in the native Scotland.

Chugging rhythms are the vehicle for the “Ghost of Yesteryear” as the banjo keeps the beat true, and fiddles and woodwinds tease as the backing music quiets to expose the lonely soul lurking “In the Shadows”. Stevie Agnew’s voice has the tones of an understanding confidant, a reassuring friend, and a brother in the battle of life. Bad Blood and Whiskey Road chronicles “The Fall of Man” as sonic clouds appear over the arrangement threatening to cast darkness over its character while an after-hours piano plays to one lonely patron tossing back the last of the liquid for “Drunk on You Again”. Stevie Agnew and Hurricane Road hush to a hollow growl to let “Bad Blood” flow, spin a Celtic reel to open “The Eyes of Andrey Tatou”, toast “Moonshine” over a rumble of rhythm tumbling over crystal clear harmonies that set its stage, and tenderly exit the album with a gentle “Fare Thee Well”.  

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The Turnpike Troubadours  (from the album The Turnpike Troubadours) - The Turnpike Troubadours stuck to highways in the native Oklahoma and neighboring Texas to carve out a spot on the musical landscape. The Turnpike Troubadours pulled crowds of 5,000 plus in Fort Worth, and perform multiple nights in Austin and other Texas cities. They can claim the same in Chicago, St. Louis, NYC and Los Angeles through touring, Playboy picked the band as top three to watch in 2015, and they have landed a performance at Stagecoach 2016. Live shows is what has built them a touring base, and The Turnpike Troubadours balance legendary performances with intimacy in their recent self-titled release.

The Turnpike Troubadours have a knack for clearly seeing the humanity that passes them by. The band tells a tale of stopping in for a Nashville night at “The Mercy” when the character suddenly finds himself on the other side of the river winding up in East Nashville’s The 5 Spot, and wondering just what it is that happened. The musical backing for the Roots of Turnpike Troubadours is a non-stop motion machine. Bobbing and weaving under the stories are teasing fiddles, guitar crunches and a determined rhythm section that give the tunes on The Turnpike Troubadours solid footing. The foundation the band creates make it possible for the stories to ramble, walking to the edge of emotion or reason to find the love left lying on the corner of “Easton and Main” as they provide the only safe spot for the man sinking fast below the poverty line in “The Bird Hunters” while they follow the boy heading down to “Bossier City” to drink and gamble his cares away.  The Turnpike Troubadours carry the stories of life’s exits that we try to avoid, giving the men and women walking the tales empathy as they ignore warning signs (“Doreen”), wonder where it all fell apart (“Fall Out of Love”), try to make some sense out of relationships (“Long Drive Home”), and share a little bit of nothing (“Down Here”)  

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The Chapin Sisters (from the album Today’s Not Yesterday) - Five years have gone by since The Chapin Sisters last recording of original songs. Their last release, A Date with the Everly Brothers, was an audio indicator of what the sisters had been up to musically. The stories of the day-to-day in their lives, and the songs chronicling their time, are the backdrop for much of Today’s Not Yesterday, their most recent release. The album bookends eight years of living in Los Angeles and brings the story into the present times in East Coast homes. The move east still shows musical influence from the west coast in the music of the Chapins. Today’s Not Yesterday sonically travels to times when there was little difference , and a lot of crossover, between the California Sound of artist like Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, and the Country Rock of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Eagles, and The Byrds.

Ocean breezes can be felt in the pedal steel guitar swells and sway of “Love Come Back”, as rubbery rhythms bounce through “Chasing the Rain” while “World Is All” and “There Will Be a Time for Us” hold the inspirational tone of Folk Rock. Abigail and Lily Chapin are the bridge between the style and sound on Today’s Not Yesterday. Their voices are powerful solo, and a force when combined. Their harmony mirrors the darkness of winter with the sadness of album opener “Autumn”. The Chapin Sisters give a California Country nod to “Angelino” as they pen a goodbye note to the Golden State, roll gracefully over the tumbling beat and chords in “Child”, and exit Today’s Not Yesterday by bringing Folk music back to the revolution with “We Will Not Stop”.

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Cody Jinks (from the album Adobe Sessions) - True Country found its ground by knowing how other genres like Blues, Soul, and Rock’n’Roll could comfortably fit in the music for its people. Cody Jinks falls in line with those traditions as the he pours his Country into soulful deliveries and Bluesy twang on his most recent release, Adobe Sessions. Cody is a Fort Worth, Texas native and the roll of the Great Plains hills of his north Texas home find their way into the rhythms of “Ready for the Times to Get Better” as much as the traditions of the Lone Star State singer-songwriter lives in his music.

Each note seems to come out as a full breath from Cody Jinks as he dwells on his deeds in “Cast No Stones”, letting the air coming out of his lungs draw lines in the sand to keep finger-pointers and tongue-waggers on their own damn side of the fence. Adobe Sessions plays like an old friend as Cody Jinks offers a sound that manages to slam itself right into the spot that the sweet sounds of Country first found in your soul. It is a slow stroll the spins “We’re Gonna Dance” around the floor as “David” calls out an electric reel for the harsh changes in life, “Folks” acoustically give Country some Talking Blues advice, and “Doin’ OK” sends a to mama, letting her know that good love at home shortens the grocery list to a six-pack of Old Milwaukee and a half a bag of weed.

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Alice Wallace (from the album Memories, Music and Pride) - Alice Wallace songs are a dart that hits s specific spot in the catalog of Country music, with the power in her voice mirroring the siren crooners of 1960’s Country, artists like Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold.  Memories, Music and Pride is the third release from Alice Wallace, the first on California Country Records. The album is a product of Southern California following the Roots of Alice Wallace, as well as producers Kirsten Proffit (Calico the band) and Steve Berns. The sadness of “Leave” plays on a mournful cantina wind as “Grateful” falls as softly as a Sierra snow.

Alice Wallace namechecks another desert icon when “Poor Cleopatra” burns from the sulfur left in former cooper mining hub Jerome, Arizona, “Luck, Texas” is a souvenir from a road trip for Alice and her band, and “A Traveling Song” balances the lives of touring musicians against the inspiration found in those making a difference in the world by their own hands. Memories, Music and Pride showcases the voice of Alice Wallace as a force, rolling in as slowly and seeming peaceful as storm clouds, letting go yet holding strong as the musical elements swirl around her. The album scratches out a beat with album opener “I Just Don’t Care Anymore” while Alice Wallace re-visits Patsy Montana’s1935 hit “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”.

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Steve Forbert   (from the album Compromised) - Steve Forbert has made a career of standing tall beside his songs, never moving far from the street corners and subway stations in NYC where he started, backing the tracks with his Roots Rock musical approach. He has never needed to ‘fit in’, and the Compromised title of his recent album release, is no indication that Steve is about to travel a different path. He recounts that ‘If people ask me why it’s called Compromised, well, that’s the first song on the record, and it’s pretty true to my style. But to put it simply, I’ve been dealing with the changes we’ve all been going through and what we live with in life today. Clearly, we’re going through something new because of the digital revolution. We have so much intensity in the air now — that cliché of too much information’. Steve Forbert disseminates that information in the best way he knows how….words and music.

Compromisedis album number sixteen for Steve Forbert. He has spent time touring in the past few years re-creating his break-through releases, Alive on Arrival (1978) and Jackrabbit Slim (1979). He brings some of the key ingredients of those recordings into Compromised with Robbie Kondor, who was back-up for Alive on Arrival, returning on keyboards, and John Simon, producer of Jackrabbit Slim, also welcoming Joey Spampinato (NRBQ) as guest on the recording. The title track opens the album, riding in on a swell of organ notes, as Steve takes to the stage with the band to offer a middle ground. Compromised sets off with a smile for a free concert, keeping the song story to pre-show as “Welcome the Rolling Stones” tells the tale of hitch-hiking out to Altamont Speedway while “Drink Red Wine” scratches out chords to keep peace for the couple whose night got high-jacked by flirting and Steve Forbert snags a show tune, taking “Send in the Clowns” from Broadway to a Singer-Songwriter Folk Rock.

Steve Forbert music has steadfastly maintained ownership in the Roots music community since his early recordings. It is surprising to see him separate of the albums tracks, putting up a wall between Roots and Americana by giving a special ‘version’ for three songs. The production sucked the life out of the ‘Americana versions’ though luckily, the three cuts are just fine in their original incarnation as organ notes bubble up to welcome Steve Forbert’s road trip ramble making its way west in “When I Get to California.” On a determined stride, “Whatever, Man” confidently struts into Compromised doling out rock’n’roll wisdom, and “Devil (Here She Comes Now)” takes its blue dress back out of the closet to dance to the song’s Country four and six-strings. 

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Sugar Lime Blue   (from the album Move That Earth) - As a genre, Classic Rock doesn’t really mean much more than a campground for music that once existed on the AOR format. In its day, the radio stations playing album rock chose from an array of sounds that had strong ties to the Rock’n’Roll, Blues, Country, Jazz, and Folk communities. Sugar Lime Blue take the power and excitement of early rock without dating their songs, though the band samples liberally from the various styles that go into the melting pot of Classic Rock. Move That Earth is the latest release from Sugar Lime Blue. Vocalist Ashley Beth comfortably tells the stories with an unhurried delivery, confident enough in the band that she can take her time to hit the notes, drawing them out for full impact. As Sugar Lime Blue percolate, she slowly hunts for a way to unlock her rollerskate’s with Melanie’s “Brand New Key”, rattles an exit on a chugging groove “When Bullets Fail”, and digs down into swamp Blues Roots to stomp out the title track.

Sugar Lime Blue stretch the music in their songs, rolling the instruments around to create a stew of sounds rather than a jam, letting the natural rhythms of the tracks echo as a trance in their playing. Dave Beth’s Dirty Blues guitar introduces a marching beat as Move That Earth solemnly searches for lost glory in “Jessamine Blues” as the band blows bubbles of notes to keep “Flying High” aloft, and provides a hard edge to “Carve My Name”. Sugar Lime Blue mix Bluesy vocals with the Country rock sound that builds up in “Dollhouse” as the song borrows from the multi-level arrangements in the Rock of classic artists, creating a Southern Rock bridge to carry the song out.  

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Lindi Ortega (from the album Faded Gloryville) - Lindi Ortega scatters “Ashes” to open her most recent release, Faded Gloryville. The track starts the album’s path for Lindi’s vocals, a tough tease just about to break apart as it pulls itself up and over hurdles as she lets on that excuses are no excuse. Lindi Ortega is the benevolent higher power shining through the clouds on Faded Gloryville. The Canadian singer/songwriters tell tales as she sketches a ghost town landscape, the characters walking around in her songs still flesh, blood, very vulnerable, and never admitting defeat.

Lindi Ortega doesn’t bother looking up, there are no stars above the title track, though a lack of light does not take the fire from her refusal to give back any of the dues paid in “Faded Gloryville”. Street beats back Lindi Ortega as she rhymes a Bee Gees tunes on an Amy Winehouse influenced promise with “To Love Somebody” as waves curl around the ukulele rhythm basking in the light of “Half Moon” while a cruel beat demands attention to “Tell It Like It Is”. Lindi Ortega holds a chameleon microphone for Faded Gloryville as she spits out a salty goodbye on “I Ain’t the Girl”, confesses on a heart storm stomp in “When You Ain’t Home”, raises the devil on “Run Amuck” with a rockabilly rhythm, and tenderly whispers her dreams on “Someday Soon”.  

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Eric Tingstad  (from the album Mississippi) - Eric Tingstad uses notes and chords to create textures on his recent release, Mississippi, as he continues his musical study of the American culture. Landscapes appear in the audio mist as Eric Tingstad stages Mississippi with structures that build, solidify, and fade within the tracks. Beginning with the percussive patter lapping against “Long Boats”, the album opener, Eric Tingstad moves down the mighty river in song as lazy rhythms bob and dip on tight currents of guitar riffs. He travels down “Highway One” on a groove that holds its head high, prancing over pedal steel swaths and sparkly notes as he slowly steps between the fat guitar pattern chugging under the lead in “Tennessee Rain”.

Eric Tingstad has never moved too far physically from the Northwest where he was born, still residing in Seattle, Washington. His movement was in how he viewed his role as a musician. Playing lead and bass in rock bands in the mid-1970’s, Eric began to study master techniques developed pioneered by Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia. Like Segovia, Eric Tingstad balanced lessons with the natural innovations found in his own playing, using personal influences ranging widely through the music of King Crimson, Martin Denny, Flatt and Scruggs, and Ravi Shankar. Mississippi flows majestically, fluid like the body of water whose name it bears. “Trail of Tears” quietly keeps pace as twin guitar leads delicately light and determinedly confident duet on the track. Eric Tingstad percolates a beat as bubbles of notes rise up from “Shakin’ in the Cradle”, rolls along “Skamania” on a soft organ hum simmer, slowly unravels a Country and Western take for the Celtic classic “Danny Boy”, and lets out the title track in a steady stream that courses true with a committed pace like the Mississippi heading down to the gulf.  

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Ron Short and the Possum Playboys (from the album Hillbilly Highway) - Ron Short and the Possum Playboys are not content to get a few listeners. The band is happy with any crowd and certainly encourages dancing though they are looking to make a difference on the worldwide roads they traveled in its thirty years of performing. There is, however, a mission they have taken on, and they throw down the glove on their recent release Hillbilly Highway, laying claim to goals on the title track as they swear on a stack of bad intentions to create a ‘hillbilly nation’. Ron Short smoothly steers along Hillbilly Highway tossing off “One More Last Kiss”, making sure it is a long one on a sweet molasses slow groove as the story rolls through memories of New Orleans. The Possums lay down a mighty rock’n’roll rhythm that puts its pedal down to “Dixie Time” as they barrel down “Hwy. 61” hugging a black top slick with guitar slides.

Ron Short and the Possum Playboys play an Americana landscape that lays down a heavy thump to give the Appalachian fiddles and Cajun accordions of Hillbilly Highway a place to play, creating a jam that stirs the songs from swamp to swing. It is sashay that ushers in Lisa Davis to join The Possums as “Blinded by the Moon” sways and shudders as Ron Short shares that being a “Fool for Love” is not a new situation in his life as he goes back to stupid moves in younger years to try to pull a smile out of the object of his affections. Hillbilly Highway borrows some friends from Mark Twain as he casts out on the river from “Big Branch Side”, bares its Soul asking “Do You Remember Memphis?” and marches to a second line beat “Down in New Orleans”,  

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Drive-By Truckers  (from the album It’s Great to Be Alive! on ATO Records) - To themselves, and to their audience, Drive-By Truckers are first and foremost a songwriting band. Musically, they have a southern ferocity to their rock, a guitar band that uses six-strings to weave stories of small town choices (“Marry Me”), promises (“Mercy Buckets”), family farms (“Sink Hole”), and hopes (“First Air of Autumn”).  The song-as-stories of Drive-By Truckers are spread out over numerous album releases, eight since their break-through double-disc Southern Rock Opera. The band recently set up for a three-night stand in San Francisco, performing at their favorite venue in the world, The Fillmore Auditorium. Taken from the triple nights, It’s Great to Be Alive! Is the new, live release, from Drive-By Truckers.

The band felt the collection of tracks should be career spanning. It’s Great to Be Alive! kicks off with DBT gazing down from “Lookout Mountain” on the cut from The Dirty South, add horns for “When The Pin Hits The Shell” from Decoration Day, introduce “Uncle Frank” from his spot on Pizza Deliverance, and walk “The Righteous Path” that first took steps on Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Drive-By Truckers gather tunes from nearly twenty years of recording, presenting road-tested results on It’s Great to Be Alive. Dark tales from southern backwoods (“Where The Devil Don't Stay”), lessons learned (“Women and Whiskey”), and love lost (“Sounds Better In The Song”); multiple tales on themed album releases offer characters acting in one spot as Drive-By Truckers use the stage at The Fillmore Auditorium to bring fully play out the lives in song. 

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Cold and Bitter Tears (from various artists performing the songs of Ted Hawkins on Eight 30 Records) - Ted Hawkins life as a Folk singer was more typical of his peers than the careers of the few who continued on to success. He spent time in jail during his younger years for petty theft. Unknown did not relate to being under the radar, particularly given his Venice Bach, CA buskers address, and record companies poked and prodded. Ted Hawkins found success in Europe with a second release, moving to the UK in 1986, and took advantage of what seemed to be an amicable deportation back to the United States in 1990, when his restlessness returned him in Venice Beach. Ted Hawkins recorded a major label debut for Geffen Records, passing away at the young at fifty-eight years of age from a stroke nine months before his album release. His songs remain alive, and are offered as a tribute with Cold and Bitter Tears. The album gathers famous fans of the songs to celebrate the music of Ted Hawkins.

Kasey Chambers gives the title track a lonesome Country Folk backing, Mary Gauthier sings a skid row greeting card with “Sorry You're Sick”, Gurf Morlix second guesses decisions on percussive rattles with “I Gave Up All I Had”, and The Damnations hustle on a slinky groove asking to “Bring It on Home Daddy”. Cold and Bitter Tears gives the words and music of Ted Hawkins another moment in the world. The musicians offer the tracks with obvious respect as Shinyribs percolates on horn-driven boogie asking “Who Got My Natural Comb”, James McMurtry plans for the future as the guitar hurries along with “Big Things” on his do-to list, beach breezes find the sway as Jon Dee Graham has a “Strange Conversation”, and Tim Easton sees “One Hundred Miles” as he stands on lonely ground built of one chord.

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The Dappled Grays  (from the album Last Night, Tomorrow ) - The Dappled Grays brew new notions of Bluegrass out of Atlanta, Georgia. The band has been together for sixteen years, growing a base, opening for major tours, and counting two tracks included in the Clint Eastwood film, Trouble with the Curves. Bluegrass is in constant motion as its players push and tug at its borders to bring the style into the future. The Dappled Grays do their part by crafting more formal songwriting within timeworn structures, putting a crispness to the notes in their vocal delivery, and making music beds that lay touches of Jazz, Blues, and Folk over tradition. Last Night, Tomorrow is the latest release from The Dappled Grays, showcasing the band with tunes that float and drift in Bluegrass with Pop sensibilities.

Scratches, scuffles, and strums open Last Night, Tomorrow as “Wild Things” takes off at a fast clip that barely raises waves as its pushes forward with a smooth hush. The title track travels the road with the band as memories of home feel more real as each mile passes under the wheels. “Where Do My Bluebird Fly?” slides on a bass line that quickly becomes the foundation for beat, and “Stand In” takes to the road looking for a heartbreak on softly rounded rhythms. The Dappled Grays have an easy flow to their sound that subtly hides the precision and clean playing that can be found for every note. “Gone But Not Forgotten” keeps the memory fresh by not letting the beat stop long enough for loneliness to creep in while “My Sundial” slowly turns the tune as it showers rays of light down on love.

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50 Sticks of Dynamite (from the album Carry Me Down to My Grave) - The musical idea fuse that 50 Sticks of Dynamite lit on their first album releases has reached its end and explodes ten tracks by the band on the new release, Carry Me Down to My Grave. The music is a four-piece staging a sound with banjo (Ian McFayden), guitar, and harmonica (Whitey Wingland), and kept in line with the Soul perfect beats of rhythm section Michael Dominguez on bass and Chris Jensen on drums. Carry Me Down to My Grave takes the banjo through tough territory with electric Blues (“Better Man”), as the beat skitters over the album (“Madeline”) and strolls out on funky Soul (“I’m in Love with You”).

It is Ian McFayden’s banjo that is the secret sound weapon for 50 Sticks of Dynamite. Its ability to morph as needed for sound switches matches each tracks mood with chameleon ease. Carry Me Down to My Grave opens with the band calling out to “Carry Me Down” on snaking rock rumble as they tease with West Coast Blues and Soul in the boasts of “Just Lookin' to be Your Man”, warm with Country Rock in “Virginia”, and hold on to a runaway track barreling them ahead for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”.   

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Peter Cooper (from the album Depot Light, Songs of Eric Taylor on Red Beet Records) - Folk singers carry more than a message with guitar, they further the traditions of their forerunners by lending a hand, and showing praise where it is due. Peter Cooper is an East Nashville-based singer, songwriter, touring artist, sideman, producer, college professor, and award-winning journalist with solo release as duo work with Eric Brace; the pairnominated for a Grammy award for their tribute I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow. In his resume, the connecting dots between all his work is Peter Cooper the fan. That is where his recent release, Depot Light, Songs of Eric Taylor, finds him, Peter sharing that ‘these songs are absolute narrative masterpieces. It’s not that I wanted to somehow raise the profile of these songs, or pay tribute to Eric. This is a selfish project. I just wanted to sing these songs, and hope that maybe someone will mistake them for my own’.

Depot Light, Songs of Eric Taylor, casts a sad beam for its title track that fade like the life with departing trains. Eric Taylor writes a song that leaves room to breath for its inhabitants, the flesh and blood of his characters almost physical even when the reel runs out on “Prison Movie”. Peter Cooper fans his version with an easy rhythm with uses a fiddle to raise the flames on “Two Fires” as he walks a swaying bridge held tight with bongo beats between two lives crossing “The Great Divide”.  Depot Lights: The Songs of Eric Taylor lets a lonesome banjo walk alongside “Louis Armstrong's Broken Heart”, lets guitar notes fall like the raindrops hiding “Charlie Ray McWhite”, slowly shuffles the deck for the beauties in ”Dollar Bill Hines”, and stages the midway with a dark pulse of rhythm for the story of “Carnival Jim and Jean”.    

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Mike Zito and the Wheel   (from the album Keep Coming Back on Ruf Records) - Mike Zito returns with his longtime back-up band, The Wheel on Keep Coming Back (Ruf Records). Musically, the album stays close to the Gulf Coast, bridging Texas boogie and Blues from Mike’s Beaumont, Texas home base, with New Orleans Roots music. Mike Zito and the Wheel keep the groove low and fast for “Bootleg” as a saxophone propels the fat rhythm, give Roots some Soul with horns and harmonies in “Nothin’ but the Truth”, move down a southern Rock road on “Get Busy Living”, and sparkle like dawn with “Early in the Morning”.

Mike Zito keeps busy with solo releases and formerly as part of Roots supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville and Devon Allman. Keep Coming Back puts Mike in a comfortable fit as frontman. His guitar work is fluid with vocals that kick like each opening note is a starting gun. The band fuses Blues, Roots, Rock, and twang together for the foundation of Keep Coming Back, offering inspiration (“Chin Up”) as the Blues backs the story of a relationship spiraling through “What’s on Your Mind” while “Cross the Border” barrels by on road boogie, Mike Zito and the Wheel rocket the title track as a mantra for the future happiness in ‘give your burdens to the Blues’.

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Ted Z and the Wranglers (from the album Ghost Train on Rip Cat Records) -Ted Z and the Wranglers stir up California Country from Costa Mesa, California. The Wranglers put some dirty Blues licks into their twang on Ghost Train, their most recent release. They ride hard after a slow pace leads into opening track, “Hold On”, as the band hops a freight track rhythm that clicks under “Bitter Hands” as thick guitar notes wave goodbye. Ted Z and the Wranglers Outlaw Country finds a soft spot for the Folk seasons passing in “Go Find Your Heaven” as they quiet the guitars to hush welcoming 

“Broken” home. Slide guitar is the trumpet call bringing in “Joseph Ratcliff” as sharp-edged guitar chords carve out a highway to put the pedal down on “Sam Whitaker”, and Ghost Train pulls into “Kansas” for a prancing cowboy spin. Spirits do not haunt the title track, the cars are full of old friends, playing the music that got them through the gates as “Ghost Train” sways, rolls, and dances through the night. 

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The Black Lillies (from the album Hard to Please on Thirty Tigers) - The Black Lillies open Hard to Please with the title track. It is a tough call whether the song is to a lover, or a higher calling, and it is certainly possible that the band were aiming the title phrase at the music industry that are constantly looking for labels to attach to their artists, or asking them to define themselves in one or two words. The Black Lillies took on the challenge with their recent release with Hard to Please. Musically, there is no definition needed  then they are a band making a record, letting the way they hear each song tell the tale of how the music will back the story. On “Hard to Please”, the title track chugs and stomps as a playful twang lightly tags the persistent rhythms that set the pace for its song followers on the recording. “Fade” quietly aids the exit with a love request, bordering album opener with heartfelt pleas.

Two vocals, male and female, carry the songs of The Black Lillies, songwriter Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady. Out of chaos comes calm, and when the band was ready to roll into the studio to record, the fact they only had three tunes ready took a backseat to losing two longtime members. A bitter winter storm put the hammer down, kicking Cruz’s muse down to the basement to write songs for the album. Cruz laid out the process citing that ‘in the past, I might write a song once a month when I felt inspired, and at a much more leisurely pace, but this time around, I realized I would have to write an entire record in two weeks before we hit the studio. I felt confident I could do it, but I also had no proof. We got snowed in, so I just set up shop in the basement. Usually we tour so much that the instruments don’t get out of their cases when we’re home, but I had time there to set everything up in a circle around me and get to work’.

The basement songs were fine- tuned in the studio with the band. Luckily, some of songs were snippets that had followed the group for years. Trisha’s vocals on “The First Time” give a hint of a growl though the smooth delivery is felt as more of a forceful purr. An acoustic guitar backs Cruz Contreras as his voice stokes the fire burning with “Desire” as “Mercy” rises up on soft bubbles of electric piano for its Southern Soul. The Black Lillies count down to the boogie woogie of “40 Days and 40 Nights” as they fly from roadhouse to roadhouse, spin the memories of love out onto floor for “Dancin”, and put pride in the rear view as the highway calls on “That's the Way It Goes Down”.

Listen and buy the music of The Black Lillies from AMAZON or iTunes




Shawn Mullins follows the thump of “My Stupid Heart” trailing the source through its mistakes and pitfalls. The tune is the title track from his recently released album

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Bad hair days aside, waking up in the morning is always a challenge for looks. Tim O’Brien had such an unusual occurrence, he titled his recent release after the incident, and relates waking up with a “Pompadour”, in song and video

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Lindi Ortega stares out into a grey day as she tries to stop the dreams of other times from her mind. She mentally burns the colors of better days until they become “Ashes”, from her most recent release, Faded Gloryville.

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Glen Hansard (from the album Didn’t He Ramble on Anti- Records ) - Glen Hansard was a member of the duo starring in the movie Once , taking home a statue for Best Original Song from his Academy Award presence, and he has had a history in The Commitments, again as an actor. He was part of Dublin, Ireland rock’n’roll history with his twenty-five years as a member of The Frames, and half of The Swell Season. He erected a career that climbed, building brick by brick. He has recently released the album Didn...

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Eric Bibb and JJ Milteau   (from the album Lead Belly’s Gold on Stony Plains Records ) - Eric Bibb got his musical beginnings overseas, releasing numerous albums for growing European fans years before crossing over to American audiences. Eric goes back to Europe to record with French harmonica man JJ Milteau with a live performance honoring the songs of Lead Belly at a Paris Jazz club. The album, Lead Belly’s Gold , gathers the songs of the man behind the moniker, Huddie Ledbetter, with Eric Bibb r...

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Paul Benjaman Band   (from the album Sneaker on Horton Records ) - Paul Benjaman decorates with fall color patterns on Sneaker with the line ‘auburn as the hills that reach the skies that match the eyes’. The song, “Auburn Paid”, is from the album, the most recent release from Paul Benjaman Band. Paul dips his audio pen in the landscape of Oklahoma on the Horton Records release. The label is based in Tulsa, OK, as is Paul Benjaman, who never forgets the Tulsa Sound of JJ Cale on the album as he g...

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The Top 100 takes a full year to become a proper list. The number one spot changed hands several times in the past twelve months. Our mid-year list took a listen to albums released between January and June. The list seemed like it was running strong yet the releases in the tail end of the year came on strong. For me, Old Crow Medicine Show was number one when I received their July release, Remedy . Nothing against the other players on the 2014 chart, but band for band, Old Crow will always be in t...

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Six months into 2015. Musically, the sound has been coming in with quantity and quality neck and neck in the submission process. We have curated our picks for the Top 50 album of the year….so far. As always, the toughest part of the task was the decision. This list could have easily been 75 artists, and a hundred would not have been a stretch. Images and music are on two pages, breaking the list into Numbers one through twenty-five for Part 1, with number 26 through 50 found in Part 2. Half of 2...

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Six months into 2015. Musically, the sound has been coming in with quantity and quality neck and neck in the submission process. We have curated our picks for the Top 50 album of the year….so far. As always, the toughest part of the task was the decision. This list could have easily been 75 artists, and a hundred would not have been a stretch. Images and music are on two pages, breaking the list into Numbers one through twenty-five for Part 1, with number twenty-six through 50 found in Part 2. H...

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After a short introduction, Eric Brace steps up to the microphone with the statement, “Throw my ticket out the window, throw my suitcase out there too. Throw my troubles out the door, I don’t need them anymore, ‘cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.” The words are borrowed from Bob Dylan but like everything that Last Train Home touched, they make it their own. Recorded on April 13and 14, 2007, Last Train Home captured sets at IOTA in Arlington, Virginia. The shows celebrated both the venu...

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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”). Texan songman Kevin Deal handles the title track duties, the song also from Jackson’s debut. Jackson Browne albums receive fair...

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We’re very lucky. Blake Christiana is a prolific man. Leftovers Volume Two takes care of the album doldrums experienced between releases by offering Yarn music ‘left off’ earlier releases. On the heels of the success of their last album release, Almost Home , Yarn present Leftovers V2 as the second in a series of releases that focuses on tracks that did not make the final selection for Yarn albums.

Leftovers Volume One mined gems from the band’s self-titled debut. Leftovers Volume Two takes a listen to ...

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Cicada Rhythm   (from the album Cicada Rhythm on Normaltown Records ) - Folk music is inclusive and never bars the door to outside style touches and new ways of hearing the songs from its musicians. Cicada Rhythm equally leave limitations at home as the Athens, Georgia based duo release their self-titled album on Normaltown Records. Andrea DeMarcus and Dave Kirslis are the two that make up one band in Cicada Rhythm. The mix of acoustic guitar and strum of a bowed bass creates a dreamy backgroun...

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Ironing Board Sam     (from the album Super Spirit) - Ironing Board Sam has been in the center of a career that has never really had a high point. What Sam has proved to be is dedicated to his calling, relying on the Super Spirit that he takes as an album title for his latest release. Beginning at age fifteen, Sam was playing keyboards in his native South Carolina. He relocated to Miami, FLA and came to Memphis, Tennessee in 1959, acquiring the nickname for his use of an ironing board...

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Sam Morrow   (from the album There is No Map on Forty Below Records ) - Sam Morrow is like a new born foal…he spent a lot of time running to stand still, and at some point stopped, finding his musical footing quickly after a re-birth. Since that moment, he has been busy. Two album releases in a little over a year, in-studio videos, and a tour including opening slots for John Mayall. It is not that Sam has learned to run faster, more that he watches where he puts his step, and he sees the presen...

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The Top 100 takes a full year to become a proper list. The number one spot changed hands several times in the past twelve months. Our mid-year list took a listen to albums released between January and June. The list seemed like it was running strong yet the releases in the tail end of the year came on strong. For me, Old Crow Medicine Show was number one when I received their July release, Remedy. Nothing against the other players on the 2014 chart, but band for band, Old Crow will always be in the top spot for their musicianship. Shovels and Rope moved into number one when they released Swimmin’ Time, and stayed there until just about the last minute. Sonically, S’n’R certainly delivered the year’s top album for blending the far edges of sound into songs that easily slip into familiarity. At the last moment, Lucinda Williams grabbed #1. Lucinda delivered an album well into a top shelf career that raised the bar for her own back catalog. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is an album that shows dedication by its maker to not be satisfied until the final mixes match her version of rock’n’roll….and then she doubled down with a two disc set.  

Songwriting, stretching limits and honoring tradition in American Roots music was the theme for 2015. Many of the artists on the chart such as Mary Gauthier, Paul Thorn, Rodney Crowell, Janiva Magness and Justin Townes Earle take a seat on the list with each release. The artists take a stand for their own sound as well as firmly planting feet into what they view as their own brand. St. Paul and the Broken Bones gave us a new look at old school Soul, Israel Nash snagged sound textures from early Neil Young solo releases and gave them a wider screen to play on, Steelism were instrumental in displaying music that went for emotions and Chris Smither gave his own songs new sonic life. Nell Robinson collected family correspondence from generations of war, including letters home within her own family, and laid them out in a full album form.

The American Roots community continues to grow in direct relationship to the quality and diversity that its artists are handing over new music for a format where the only requirements are authenticity and  honesty behind the words and music. On the strength of the 2014 releases, life goes on and walks prouder for Classic Country (The Hello Strangers, Moot Davis), Blues Rock (Bob Seger), Funky Soul (Mingo Fishtrap). Rock’n’Soul (The Reigning Sound) and Indie Roots (The Felice Brothers). Pretty much by the magic of music, Hard Working Americans became a band we have known our whole lives. The big names on the chart are here because of the music they released, not because of their name. John Mellencamp, Keb' Mo', Lee Ann Womack and Robert Cray put out albums that threw a curve for what you might expect, which is really what each album release should reflect.

In 2014, artists showed hometown pride while making music that had worldwide appeal; expanding on the community without ever giving up the ghosts sitting in the back row. The Earls of Leicester re-visited the songs of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, The Far West and Calico the band planted flags for California Country while Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin bonded over the music of Big Bill Bronzy. Though not first releases, Parker Milsap, Sturgill Simpson and Shakey Graves put out album that raised their presence. The Evangenitals re-worked the tale of Moby Dick and JP Harris and the Tough Choices took back Country music. Music Road Records gathered together artists such as Shawn Colvin, Paul Thorn, Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper and Keb’ Mo’ to tribute the songs of Jackson Browne.

The American Roots releases of 2014 listed here could easily be listed as the first one hundred for an pretty amazing year for music. Coming up in 2015, new music is already beginning to appear with defining albums from Jorma Kaukonen and Anne McCue. I really like my job, and I hope you like the numerical list for 2014. This list the artists and albums in numerical order, with links to the Top 100 broken into four parts with images, music and  words for artists.        - Danny McCloskey

1 - Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone 

2 -John Fullbright – Songs

3 - Shovels and Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

4 - Girls, Guns & Glory – from the album Good Luck

5 - Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant  

6 - Hard Working Americans  -  Hard Working Americans

7 -Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes

8- Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love   

9 - Mike Farris – Shine on All the People

10 - Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest  

11 - Paul Thorn – Too Blessed to Be Stressed 

12 - Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers  

13 - Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy 

14 -The Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble

15- Seth Walker – Sky Still Blue

16 – The Earls of Leicester- The Earls of Leicester

17 - JP Harris and the Tough Choices – Home is Where the Hurt Is

18 – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin – Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the                                              Songs of Big Bill Bronzy

19 – Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country

20 - Rodney Crowell    - Tarpaper Sky 

21 - Parker Milsap  - Parker Milsap

22 - Janiva Magness – Original

23 – Calico the band – Rancho California

24 -Rosanne Cash   - The River and The Thread

25 -Candi Staton – Life Happens

click for images, music and words on artists # 1 thru #25 of 2014

26 – Steelism – 615 to Fame

27- St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City

28 – John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken

29 – Chuck Mead - Free State Serenade

30 – Israel Nash – Israel Nash’s Rain Plans

31 – Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes 

32 – Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen – Cold Spell

33 -Brent Johnson – Set the World on Fire

34 -Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition - Dark Night of the Soul

35 -Keb’ Mo’ – Bluesamericana

36 -Leftover Salmon – High Country

37 - Carlene Carter – Carter Girl

38- Will Kimbrough – Sideshow Love

39 - Queen Esther – The Other Side

40 -Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

41 – John Hiatt – The Terms of My Surrender

42 – Dom Flemons – The American Songster Dom Flemons, Prospect Hill

43 – Nell Robinson – The Rose of No-Man’s Land

44 – The Hello Strangers - The Hello Strangers

45- The Holmes Brothers – Brotherhood 

46- Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons   - Hey Kid

47 – Eric Brace & Karl Straub – Hangtown Dancehall

48 – Adam Carroll – Let It Choose You

49 – Bob Seger – Ride Out

50 - Eden Brent – Jigsaw Heart

click for images, music and words on artists # 26 thru #50 of 2014

51 – Doug Seegers – Going Down to the River

52 – The Psycho Sisters – Up on the Chair, Beatrice

53 - The Mastersons -  Good Luck Charm

54 – The Far West – Any Day Now

55 – John Nemeth – Memphis Grease

56 - Amelia White – Old Postcard

57  - Eliza Gilkyson – The Nocturne Diaries

58 - Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ - Decisions

59 - Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

60 – Chris Smither – Still on the Levee

61 – Ruthie Foster – Promise of a Brand New Day

62 – Royal Southern Brotherhood – heartsoulblood 

63 – David Olney – When the Deal Goes Down

64 – Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’ 

65 – Ronnie Fauss – Built to Break 

66 – Ellis Paul – Chasing Beauty

67 – The Reigning Sound – Shattered

68 - Jarekus Singleton – Refuse to Lose

69 - Zoe Muth – World of Strangers

70 -Blackie & the Rodeo Kings   South

71 -Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt – For Keeps

72– Billy Joe Shaver – Long in the Tooth 

73 - The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River

74 –Malcolm Holcombe – Pitiful Blues

75 -Robert Cray – In My Soul

click for images, music and words on artists # 51 thru #75 of 2014

76 – The Apache Relay – The Apache Relay

77 - Shakey Graves – And the War Came

78 – Trampled by Turtles – Wild Animals

79 -Moot Davis – Goin’ in Hot

80 - Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

81 - Susan Cattaneo  - Haunted Heart

82 - Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

83- Jamestown Revival – Utah

84 –The Evangenitals – Moby Dick

85 - Amy Black – This Is Home

86 -Mingo Fishtrap – On Time 

87 – Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues

88 – Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder

89 – The Felice Brothers - Favorite Waitress

90 -Matt Andersen  - Weightless

91 - Peter Mulvey – Silver Ladder

92 – Sarah Borges – Radio Sweetheart

93 –  Patrolled by Radar – Cool Your Jets

94 – Nathan Bell – Blood Like a River

95 – Whiskey Shivers – Whiskey Shivers

96 - Devon Allman – Ragged and Dirty 

97 – Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis –  Our Year

98 – Joe Fletcher – Songs for the Working Man

99 – Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw

100 - Chip Taylor – The Little Prayers Trilogy

click for images, music and words on artists # 76 thru #100 of 2014

Six months into 2015. Musically, the sound has been coming in with quantity and quality neck and neck in the submission process. We have curated our picks for the Top 50 album of the year….so far. As always, the toughest part of the task was the decision. This list could have easily been 75 artists, and a hundred would not have been a stretch. Images and music are on two pages, breaking the list into Numbers one through twenty-five for Part 1, with number 26 through 50 found in Part 2. Half of 2015 is in the rear view mirror but the soundtrack soundtrack is still playing out the car window as we roll down the highway.

01  The Punch Brothers   (from the album The Phosphorescent Blues   1-27-15 on Nonesuch Records) - That style that The Punch Brothers have nurtured is silhouetted against the soft glow of their recent T-Bone Burnett-produced release, The Phosphorescent Blues. The overall sound of the album brings is orchestrated Bluegrass. The magic of The Punch Brothers music is that they can appeal to diverse audiences from mainstream to deep Indie, Bluegrass purists and Americana torch-bearers. They are traditionalist innovators that encompass classical orchestral sweeps the blends with their mountain music on The Phosphorescent Blues.

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

02  Steve Earle and the Dukes (from the album Terraplane  2-17-05 on New West Records) - Terraplane offers album space to a variety of Blues- based rambles as it shuffles on a front porch rhythm about a New York City woman in “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now”, corrals a Chuck Berry groove for a raga romp in “Acquainted with the Wind” and uses a rock’n’roll blade made of riffs to carve out a return to fashion for “Go Go Boots are Back”. Steve Earle and the Dukes never line up for one style stamp though they manage to infuse every track with the roots grit falling from their collective boots. Soul pumps the harmonica and the rhythm of its Blues on album opener “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)”, stripping any shred of humility away as it heralds the birth of “King of the Blues”.      

Listen and buy the music of Steve Earle and the Dukes from AMAZON or iTunes

03  The Milk Carton Kids  (from the album Monterey  5-19-15 on Anti- Records) - The Milk Carton Kids maintain a huge amount of warmth and believability as they gently pick and pluck notes from the air, digging through pockets of Folk to find the quiet nestled just a stone’s throw from silence. The hushed delivery compliments the humor of The Milk Carton Kids banter as well as the microscope they use to script emotion in their songs. The Milk Carton Kids seal songs in amber waves of notes and sepia-toned stories under “Asheville Skies” as the trees spread color into the November fall, mournfully asking in a whisper to “Sing, Sparrow, Sing”, and sway with soft ocean breezes lapping against land as the road calls in the title track.

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04  Leon Bridges  (from the album Coming Home 6-23-15 on Columbia Records) - Leon Bridges uses Coming Home to masterfully move Soul back to mainstream, guiding Coming Home with one hand on the wheel and two feet planted firmly on a groove. Local (Austin, Texas) Indie Rock musicians backed Leon's voice. Two demos were released in 2014, with "Lisa Sawyer", receiving over 800,000 listens on SoundCloud. Leon Bridges signed to Columbia Records in 2014.

Listen and buy the music of Leon Bridges from AMAZON or iTunes

05  Uncle Lucius  (from the album The Light  6-9-15) - Uncle Lucius have always had salvation in their songs, sitting comfortably as a sideman for the electric chords and beats. Uncle Lucius turn on The Light and watch its songs go into dark corners, shadowy hallways, and  travel one lane roads as they search, seek and provide answers for how to walk a little prouder. The hint is that you can feel a little better about yourself by taking control of your own life.

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06 Anne McCue  (from the album Blue Sky Thinkin’  2-3-15) - Blue Sky Thinkin’, Anne McCue’s 2015 album release, and the seventh in her catalog, is a satisfying sheaf of twelve new original tunes that speak to her love of music from the 20s, 30s and 40s while demonstrating her sizable skills as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. (Michael Verity)

Listen and buy the music of Anne McCue from AMAZON or iTunes

07  Ray Wylie Hubbard   (from the album The Ruffians Misfortune   4-7-15) - Ray Wylie wanted to have a Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood-type of two guitar backing, bringing in Gabe Rhodes and his son, Lucas Hubbard, for The Ruffian’s Misfortune. The twin guitars share space as they propel across a fast-train ride rhythm “Down by the River”, snake underneath “Chicksinger Badass Rockin’”, snap at the white lines trailing below “Bad on Fords”, and drift like six-string ghosts as they tumble with a fiery fiddle calling out “Jessie Mae”. The Ruffian’s Misfortune opens to righteous Blues preaching on “All Loose Things”, as it hums a Kevin Welch tune.

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08  John Moreland   (from the album High on Tulsa Heat   4-21-15) - John Moreland songs began to form when a ten years old John and his family moved from Kentucky to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He heard his songs against a punk rock back beat throughout high school, ut and pasted on his dad’s Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Steve Earle records.  John recalls that ‘I think what appealed to me about it was lyrics. In hardcore, there might be great lyrics in a song but you have to read them off a piece of paper to know it. I was 19 in 2004, and Steve Earle had put out ‘The Revolution Starts Now,’ and I remember hearing the song ‘Rich Man’s War’ and totally feeling like somebody just punched me in the chest.’

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09  Lilly Hiatt    (from the album Royal Blue    3-3-15 on New West Records) - Royal Bluemoves with a pulse pumping a heart aware that things work out in equal measure, sometimes going belly up. Lilly Hiatt doesn’t drown in the ocean she is swimming as she claims the skin of “Somebody’s Daughter”. She is taking the reins, unsure of the hows and whys yet very clear on the end results working out, knowing ‘I’m gonna be fine’.  Royal Blue keeps a Modern Beat with a 60’s sci-fi rumble as it reads a broken heart note signed “Too Bad”, “Heart Attack” runs on a David Lynch sound track with its dream-induced beat zig zagging on a ghostly groove, bounces off a rock’n’roll jangle trying to “Get This Right”, and uses tight drum beats to corral the wobbly guitars running “Off Track”.

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10  The Grahams  (from the album Glory Bound  5-18-15) - If you are looking for a song on Glory Bound to make you feel worse about your day…move along. The Grahams are never far away from waving the banner of the road though they change the mood of their songs like the scenery flying by outside a southbound boxcar. Glory Boundis a light burning bright for taking chances and listening to the voices in your head.

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11  Nikki Lane  (from the album All or Nothin’  5-6-15 on New West Records) - Nikki Lane caught the ear of her producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys  enough to get his studio for free. All or Nothin’ is a sweeping soundscape filled with varied styles and takes on Roots music presented from the perspective of kaleidoscope Country singer, Nikki Lane

Listen and buy the music of Nikki Lane from AMAZON or iTunes

12   Della Mae  (from the album Della Mae  5-12-15 on Rounder Records) - Della Mae fires its opening salvo with a pro-union and pro-women’s rights song that demands ‘pass me a match and we’ll strike it on the ground, and we’ll head back down to Boston town’. The women of Della Mae stand tall and proud as they challenge workers to take control of their lives and hold on to their dignity.

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13  Shelby Lynne  (from the album I Can’t Imagine   5-4-15 on Concord Records) - Shelby Lynne songs sink into your senses with familiarity by the end of the track. “Son of a Gun” slows its pace to save its energy as it ‘walks through the noonday sun’, “Back Door Front Porch” swings with the decisions of its story, and “Better” drifts on clouds of amplifier rings, rising and falling with a delicate grace.    

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14  Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell  (from the album The Traveling Kind   5-12-15 on Nonesuch Records) - Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are no strangers to being a part of one another’s story line. The add accent and emotion, Continuing that model on The Traveling Kind. There is a beauty to the intimate moments that feels like a new page for the Harris-Crowell songbook. Rodney joins Emmylou as they offer a toast to fellow troubadours in the title track before circling back to just two folks looking for a dance floor as they exit The Traveling Kind on a ‘le bon temps roulé’ with “Le Danse de la Joie”.

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15  JD McPherson  (from the album Let the Good Times Roll 2-10-15 on Rounder Records) - Reverbed chords rotate over Let the Good Times Roll like the blades of an oscillating fan. JD McPherson is not claiming purist or avant garde status….he is just playing it as it lays. Let the Good Times Roll sets the guitar sound in line with the upright bass and rattles with layered reverb in “Precious”, double times a rubbery chord strum to tumble “Head Over Heels” and blows breath beats out on a groove primed by a low riding saxophone pumps. Let the Good Times Roll lays Rhythm over its Blues for R&B circa 2015.

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16  Barnstar! (from the album Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!! 2-3-15 on Signature Sounds) - The idea started in the brain of Zachariah Hickman, musical director for Ray Lamontagne and bass player for Josh Ritter. Snagging A-list New England musicians (Mark Erelli on guitar, Charlie Rose on banjo, Jake Armerding on fiddle and Taylor Armerding on mandolin), Zachariah found some songs, plugged in his bass and took his idea through concept and into fruition with Barnstar! A mix of band originals and covers merge seamlessly within Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!

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17  Christian Lopez Band  (from the album Onward 5-18-15) - Nineteen year old singer and songwriter Christian Lopez scribes his debut, Onward, with a narratives wise beyond his years. Christian’s  bold emotional vocals steer the album confidently as they cruise through singer/songwriter Country.

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18 Amy Black (from the album The Muscle Shoals Sessions 6-9-15) - The Muscle Shoals Sessions changes the way Amy Black hears herself on record as well as her musical directions. Amy knows that ‘making this music has changed me as an artist. It’s altered my musical course and I’m so glad’. Amy Black showcases her new path on The Muscle Shoals Sessions as a good fit as she delivers a blend of Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, and Rock’n’Soul. She reheats Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me” as a Soul stew with the McCrary Sisters helping stir.

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19 Asleep at the Wheel   (Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys  3-3-15 on Bismeaux Records) - Still the King gathers together artists that span the same four decades in the music world that covers the time of Asleep at the Wheel. Wheel hub Ray Benson passed over the original intent of the album, ‘the idea was to get people who were contemporary artists to play the Bob Wills music the way that we play it, which is close to the original. We don’t resurrect it, we play close to it, with our own inspiration’.  Still the King offers a whopping twenty-two tracks on the album, with the list mirroring the sets of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

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20  Gretchen Peters (from the album Blackbirds  2-10-15) - Blackbirds gathers stories, backing the tales with honest Roots that tip their arrows into a Country touched Folk when a question is shared with Jimmy LaFave on “When You Coming Home” while Folk sticks to its pure singer/songwriter Roots to scribe the plight on “Pretty Things”. Gretchen Peters feathers Blackbirds with emotions that run strong for a desert homecoming as they realize that when ‘“All you Got is a Hammer” everything seems like a nail’ while she damns the realizations that extend beyond today and into forever acknowledging that ‘The Cure for the Pain” is the pain’. 

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21  The Hillbenders  (from the album Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry 6-2-15 on Compass Records) - The Hillbenders bring a new term to musical jargon with their take on ‘whograss’ as they revisit Tommy, A Rock Opera, the 1969 rock opus from The Who that spawned albums, Broadway shows, movies, and albums of covers. The Hillbenders’ Tommy is completely familiar yet different as the band strip Tommy of his ability to hide behind rock bombasts, crescendos and anthemic chords. Tommy, a Bluegrass Opry creates a powerful foundation with its string base, making the story part of the music much like, ya know, bluegrass songs.

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

22   Eilen Jewell   (from the album Sundown Over Ghost Town  5-26-15 on Signature Sounds) - ‘Been around this world, just to come back to you," sings Eilen Jewell on "Worried Mind," the first song on the eighth long player of her career, Sundown over Ghost Town. It's an apt opening line for an album about returning home which, for Eilen, means a trip back to Boise, Idaho, the dusty cowboy town of her birth.

Listen and buy the music of Eilen Jewell from AMAZON or iTunes

23  Chuck Hawthorne  (from the album Silver Line  4-28-15) - Chuck Hawthorne has way of translating hours and minutes in a day, offering life in real time, showing troubles in a song. Silver Line is a goal, and a title, for the most recent Chuck Hawthorne release. Silver Line introduces characters that their creator inhabits in a way that makes it difficult to suss out which are the tales and how much of the history fits the steps of Chuck Hawthorne as a solider and a troubadour as the pain of the solider that traces back to his time at “Post 2 Gate” while “The Gospel Hammer” joins the corporate workforce as Chuck follows the trail of smoke from addiction climbing higher, fanned by wings with “Dragon Flies”.

Listen and buy the music of Chuck Hawthorne from AMAZON or iTunes

24  Sugarcane Jane   (from the album Dirt Road’s End   4-28-15) - Dirt Road’s End is a duo with friends as the songs catch a ride on a bass bump that navigates down “Heartbreak Road”,  adds guitar jangle sweetness to the already honey-dripping vocals wrapped in “Sugar”, and sees the beauty of the “San Andreas”, sharing the gossip that ‘if god had a home, she’d be living there’. Sugarcane Jane sonically mirror their environment. The songs are not autobiographical though their ties to home and family dig the tracks roots directly into the earth we share under our feet.

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25  Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers  (from the album Loved Wild Lost   4-21-15) - Loved Wild Lost claims territory in the 70’s Pop sound on “Waiting on Love”, moves into classic Country reverbed riff of “Only Always”, carves a strut in the rock of “Heart Gets Tough”, and swirls a lasso as they rope in “Queen of the Rodeo”. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are a road band, and every note on Loved Wild Lost benefits from the fan response from constant touring. The album is a group effort, and as guitar strings tangle, Nick Bluhm sings for the boys in the band as much for herself as the highway rolls “Me and Slim” into the next Holiday Inn.

Listen and buy the music of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers from AMAZON or iTunes


Six months into 2015. Musically, the sound has been coming in with quantity and quality neck and neck in the submission process. We have curated our picks for the Top 50 album of the year….so far. As always, the toughest part of the task was the decision. This list could have easily been 75 artists, and a hundred would not have been a stretch. Images and music are on two pages, breaking the list into Numbers one through twenty-five for Part 1, with number twenty-six through 50 found in Part 2. Half of 2015 is in the rear view mirror but the soundtrack is still playing out the car windows as we roll down the highway.

26 Allison Moorer  (from the album Down to Believing  3-17-15) - Allison Moorer released her ninth album, Down to Believing, in 2015. For the story line, Allison looks to her own life. As the rhythm rattles for “Mama, Let the Wolf In” she stages the reaction experience when she received her son’s autism diagnosis.

Listen and buy the music of Allison Moorer from AMAZON or iTunes

27  Indigo Girls  (from the album One Lost Day  6-2-15) - The production on the Indigo Girls 2015 release, One Lost Day, watched a new hand behind the mixing board with Indigo Girls developing a working relationship with a younger, female perspective when the welcomed multi-instrumentalist Jordan Brooke Hamlin as producer. Darkness gives the album a subtle tone that lets the power of two voices have center stage. Great big balls of rhythm tumble from “Learned It on Me” as the story line suggests that the perfect relationships are the ones that have matching baggage, and “Fishtails” shows red lights trumpeting a warning in the wake of a life where we ‘hug the corners, take the straights, from the cradle to the grave….we all give what we got’.

Listen and buy the music of Indigo Girls from AMAZON or iTunes

28  Otis Taylor  (from the album Hey Joe Red Meat Opus 4-30-15) - Otis Taylor talks about the background muse for his writing of Hey Joe Opus Red Meat, explaining that filter was‘about decisions and their consequences. It’s about how decisions and the actions that result can change our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of people we don’t even know. Sometimes you win in life; sometimes you lose. You want the outcome of your decisions to be good, but sometimes its bad. And that’s when you don’t eat the meat. The meat eats you.’

Listen and buy the music of Otis Taylor from AMAZON or iTunes

29  Dwight Yoakam  (from the album Second Hand Heart 4-14-15) - Rushed guitar strums, proud beats and pops of twang surround Dwight Yoakam as he steps into Second Hand Heart over one ongoing, percolating riff with “In Another World”. Dwight Yoakam writes and records with a honky tonk heart that is always on display. It is impossible to separate the man from the sound he owns. “Man of Constant Sorrow” uses the rhythm and Dwight’s own roots to come together as a bio.

Listen and buy the music of Dwight Yoakam from AMAZON or iTunes

30  The Westies  (from the album West Side Stories   1-20-15) - West Side Stories circles Roots music with a rock’n’roll band behind the wheel as they follow rhythms through the neighborhoods and lives in NYC.  “Hell’s Kitchen” opens West Side Stories on an New York City street as characters change names and share dreams in the ghosts of the past as they work on decisions….’”Hell’s Kitchen” or heaven’s door’.   

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

31  The Lonesome Trio  (from the album The Lonesome Trio  6-16-15) - A knack for song structure separates the Bluegrass of The Lonesome Trio from tradition while the mutual love of craft intuitively adhers an old timey touch and texture to the tunes. The band, Ed Helms (banjo), Ian Riggs (bass), and Jacob Tilove (mandolin), was born twenty-two years ago, with the Trio sticking together through various NYC careers of comedy, architectural history, and continued studies on jazz bass. The Lonesome Trio has benefitted from years of playing together, the songs gaining crucial inner-structure as personal lives allow the musicians to apply humor, tradition, and added musical tones and textures to their self-titled debut.

Listen and buy the music of The Lonesome Trio from AMAZON or iTunes

32 Beth Hart  (from the album Better Than Home  4-15-15) - Beth Hart found a way to use her music as catharsis for her past with Better Than Home, her most recent release, and in the process has created inspiration in her stories through the salvation beacon in her voice. Beth grabs the collar of “Tell ‘Em to Hold On” with piano notes and typewriter keys as a foundation to build on the power of its arrangement to make sense of our search for saviors

Listen and buy the music of Beth Hart from AMAZON or iTunes

33  Leo Bud Welch  (from the album I Don’t Prefer No Blues  3-23-15) - Leo Bud Welch established himself as a player with Sabougla Voices, his debut, the album divining Blues riffs that wiggled and sizzled under the tones of Gospel Blues.  I Don’t Prefer No Blues offers up some of its space to the same devotional songs found on his first album with “Pray On”, though the presentation of the track differs due to the way the Blues hits its tracks. Leo Bud Welch offers another side to his Blues on I Don’t Prefer No Blues.

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34  Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard  (from the album Django and Jimmie  6-2-15) - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are voices that speak softly but carry a big stick of smart when they discuss the life around us. A gentle twang stirs a breeze for the rhythm in “Live This Long” as the beat catches fire for the poor boy preachin’ of “It’s Only Money”. Django and Jimmie is not handed down as testament on how to live, it is presented as valued opinions on the familiar (“Unfair Weathered Friends”), the wishes (“Somewhere Between”), and the troubadours (“Driving the Herd”).

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35  Whitey Morgan and the 78’s  (from the album Sonic Ranch  5-19-15) - Whitey Morgana and the 78’s are the saints of quick decisions in local watering holes and behind steering wheels looking for a party. Sonic Ranch lets the wind blow down alleys (“Low Down on the Backstreets”) and draws a line of alcohol on the bar, swearing ‘if I go down tonight, I’m going down drinking’ (“Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore”). Whitey Morgan and the 78’s have no apologies for their brand of rock rock’n’roll in “Goin’ Down Rocking”.

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36  The Mulligan Brothers   (from the album Via Portland  1-20-15) - Via Portland takes lessons from The Mulligan Brothers self-titled debut and continues to blend imagery in their stories the band easily offers sound as one fluid motion. Ross Newell curls his voice around the words that build his tales, as he gently lets go (“Run on Ahead”), basks in the glow of an evening sky as the Christmas lights sparkle at journeys end (“Road That Leads Me Home”) and sharpens his pen when talking about how the same blood can take different paths (“Not Always What It Seems”).

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37  Rhiannon Giddens  (from the album Tomorrow is My Turn  2-10-15) - Rhiannon Giddens offers cover versions on Tomorrow is My Turn, her 2015 solo release. Rhiannon bends the Blues around the notes Patsy Cline offered in “She’s Got You”, and shares that “Black is the Color” over a skittery garage beat that trip hops on a natural high as the percussion plows along.

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38  Justin Townes Earle  (from the album Absent Fathers   1-13-15) - The characters that register on Absent Fathers talk about their humanity without defending their decisions, using the voices of all those affected by the results. The album is the 2015 companion to Justin Townes Earle Single Mothers release. Absent Fathers is a puzzle piece that fits into Single Mothers, a companion that fills out the story to create a bigger picture.

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39  Ryan Bingham   (from the album Fear and Saturday Night   1-20-15) - Ryan Bingham is a singer/songwriter….a Southwest singer/songwriter…and has a knack for walking a line in song that never points a finger back at the man behind the guitar. The story version of a wink and a smile have been as much of a character for Ryan’s tales, and many of those souls can be found walking the tracks of Fear and Saturday Night, his 2015 release. There is a more personal tone to some of the songs, maybe it is the Blues coloring that Ryan Bingham gives the album’s tunes, his first on his indie imprint, Axster Bingham Records.

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40  The Lone Bellow  (from the album Then Came the Morning   1-27-15) - There is majesty to the music of The Lone Bellow as it surrounds itself with anthemic swells in the sound: horn bursts, soaring strings, and a choir of harmony surrounding a Soul lead vocal that is breaking free of earthly ties. The group has a trio at its heart, Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin, who use The Lone Bellow as a vehicle to fulfill the glory of their voices together. The Lone Bellow choose a solid bass bump as the heartbeat that feeds “Fake Roses”.

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41  Dawes  (from the album All Your Favorite Bands 6-2-15) - Dawes recordeded their California-based debut, North Hills, heading over to Nashville,landing at East Nashville’s Woodland Hills Studios for the current, fourth, album release, All Your Favorite Bands. The recording of All Your Favorite Bands keeps their vintage Laurel Canyon sound of west coast folk country that the band always heard in their music, giving it added expansion with Americana  echoes and southern sways. All Your Favorite Bands was produced by Dave Rawlings, who adds guitars, and brings in added power with the vocals of the mighty McCrary Sisters and Gillian Welch.

Listen and buy the music of Dawes from AMAZON or iTunes

42  Robert Earl Keen  (from the album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions 2-10-15) - Robert Earl Keen gets to check another item off his musical “bucket list” and bluegrass fans get to hear 15 classics, reinterpreted in Keen’s own inimitable style. Taking his cue from Del McCoury, Keen offers an enthusiastic, energetic reading of the Richard Thompson ‘s classic “52 Vincent Black Lightning” then continues the ruckus with a rousing reading of Bill Monroe’s “Footprints In The Snow” (one of the first songs Keen remembers hearing when he turned-on to bluegrass as a kid). (Michael Verity)

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43  The Mavericks  (from the album Mono   2-17-15) - Mono was recorded with few overdubs, Raul Malo’s parts often coming from the tracking vocal recording with no need to go back and re-record.  “The Only Question” enters with confidence, each step taken on solid beats.  Mono gathers tunes under the musical banner that The Mavericks hold aloft, with Raul Malo’s vocal power carefully steering on tracks over light cha-cha rhythms dancing to the sounds of “Summertime (When I’m with You”), skimming over Country Blues with “What am I Supposed to Do”, putting a quarter into the jukebox for the rock’n’roll of “Stories We Could Tell”, and slowly trudge home on hard road miles for “Pardon”.

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44 Gurf Morlix (from the album Eatin’ at Me   2-3-15) - Gurf Morlix sets a story stage best when he is behind the songs, heading up his own album as producer and player, with Eatin’ At Me ,his 2015 release, being the perfect example. While his voice is the center point in the tunes, Gurf still maintains a distance in the narrator role throughout the stories, sending his characters in search of lost love, or at least a good internet connection (“Grab the Wheel”), walks with giant steps off the grid (“Elephant’s Graveyard”) and slowly switches on the light to find the path between past stumbles and future tripping (“Last Call”).

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45  William Elliot Whitmore   (from the album Radium Death   3-31-15) - There are the rare singers and songwriters like William Elliott Whitmore, a poet who has the maturity and self-assuredness to speak of his life and his world with credibility, gusto and veracity. ‘Civilizations,’ is a stomping Folk blues where William Elliot Whitmore becomes a universal citizen, voicing the words who cannot be heard.

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46  Murder by Death  (from the album Big Dark Love   2-3-15) - The conditions of the heart find themselves as a theme in Big Dark Love. Murder by Death tackle topics on the subject that skew outside of Hallmark greeting cards. The combination of strings and synths create colors of black and grey, deep swirling clouds that obscure light without ever dimming to the point of nothingness… thick gauze draped over the shining light of hope.

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47  Girls Guns Glory  (from the album A Tribute to Hank Williams    2-24-15) - It is only fitting that Girls, Guns and Glory chose a New Year’s Eve live setting to tribute Hank Williams. Ward Hayden, lead singer for GGG, recalls that ‘around when I turned 20 and the lyrics started making a whole lot of sense is when it hit me.  If you've never had your heart broken then country music can sound like a bunch of twangy gibberish’, Ward got Hank and with Girls Guns and Glory Presents: A Tribute to Hank Williams, he and the boys get it on with Hank.

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48  The McCrary Sisters   (from the album Let’s Go     3-10-15) - The McCrary Sisters do not lightly share the Let’s Go that they use as an album title and a challenge on their 2015 Buddy Miller-produced album release. The touch that Buddy put on Let’s Go is as subtle as the man himself, yet the results make him an official McSister.  There are moments on Let’s Go that reinvent the way you hear gospel music, and other times when the songs remind of days you missed.

Listen and buy the music of The McCrary Sisters from AMAZON or iTunes

49  Bettye Lavette   (from the album Worthy  1-27-15) - Bettye Lavette reunites with producer Joe Henry after his work on her 20004 album release, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise. The title track on Worthy re-visits a tune from Mary Gauthier andBeth Neilsen-Chapman, spreading Soul out on the track over echoed piano chords, finely tuned guitar chops and heartbeat pound of drums that make sure the song, and the message, make the light of one more day.

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50  Sonny Landreth   (from the album Bound by the Blues  6-9-15) - Guitar superstar Sonny Landreth slides back to his roots with this ten-spot of dirty blues, an equally apportioned mix of his own originals matched with some catalog classics. Sonny Landreth channels two of the greats -- Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix -- through the slow grind of ‘Firebird Blues’ (not so coincidentally dedicated to Winter) and the funky shuffle of Elmore’s ‘Dust My Broom.’ (Michael Verity)

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Welcome to the first installment of what will be a regular feature here at The Alternate Root. It’s an old fashioned Top 10 list.My name is Scott Kempner, and for most of my forty years here in the business of Show, I have also answered to the nickname, Top 10. Top 10’s Top 10 Countdown is the name. The subjects will vary - sometimes wildly. They may or may not even all be music related, or at least not necessarily be about music per se. I just don’t know. As if this needs to be said, there is nothing scientific, Etched In Stone, didactic, going on here. This will be only marginally objective. It will be opinions (uh, mine), subjective as they come, out the yin-yang. We can discuss, argue a bit, have some fun with it, and maybe have some MORE fun with it. Please folks, no wagering. So, have fun, please check out some of these records.

TOP 10’S TOP 10 GARAGE ROCK RECORDS - (this one goes to eleven!)




1. PSYCHOTIC REACTION - THE COUNT FIVE - Numero uno. My very favorite Garage Rock classic. Here is the Yardbirds side of the YBirds/Stones Garage Rock mid-60’s scene) paradigm in full glory. First, the lead guitar & kick drum enter, then the harmonica, then the rhythm guitar, then the bass, & THEN THE DRUMS, the Godhead moment when Garage Rock Heaven cracks open and reveals itself to us mortals back on Earth. From San Jose to the Top 10. And yes, to the top of Top 10’s personal Top 10, too!!

Listen and buy “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five from AMAZON or iTunes

2. WHO DO YOU LOVE - THE PREACHERS - I dig this maniacal version of Bo Diddley’s oft-covered classic even more than Bo’s original. (Fairly) Crazed, (pretty much) out of control, and (positively) meant to freak out the neighbors. Play loud, although be warned – it could get you kicked out of your apartment!  Everybody scream along!


Listen and buy “Who Do You Love” by The Preachers from AMAZON or iTunes




3. THIRTEEN WOMEN - THE UK RENEGADES - A super-charged, freakbeat cover of what was actually the A-side to the B-side of Bill Haley and the Comets’ Rock Around the Clock. From Sweden, no less. Yes, The UK Renegades were from Sweden?!!?

4. I CAN ONLY GIVE YOU EVERYTHING- THEM - Van Morrison rides a three-note fuzz guitar lick into Garage Rock nirvana in what remains my favorite track he has ever recorded. My pal Little Steven’s fave Garage record of all time.


Listen and buy “I Can Only Give You Everything” by Them from AMAZON

5. RUMBLE - LINK WRAY - A little early in the game, as it was released back in 1958. Link Wray worked his voodoo guitar violence despite being one lung short of a set. He became a fixture on the CBGB scene in the 70’s, when he played with Robert Gordon. Rumble remains the only instrumental ever banned for obscenity. Howzabout THAT??!!


Listen and buy “Rumble” by Link Wray from AMAZON or iTunes

6. LEANING ON YOU -  THE SWINGIN’ YO-YOS - Not a Yardbirds/Stones paradigm here, but a rare Stones/Beatles collision. Could only have come from Memphis. British Invasion meets Memphis Soul. I never knew of this minor masterpiece until it came with the sampler cd from a special Southern Music issue of American Oxford magazine back in the late 90s.

7. 96 TEARS - ? AND THE MYSTERIANS - From the great year of 1966, this is the ultimate in Monotony-as-Godhead. Top to bottom genius, no, make that GENIUS!! Question Mark (Earth name: Rudy Martinez) was from Mars, you know, or was it Jupiter? I forget. The band, however, was from Michigan.

Listen and buy “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians from AMAZON or iTunes

8. PSYCHO - THE SONICS - A typical, ferocious, throat ripping, corrosive Jerry Roslie vocal and a song whose title says it all. An everythinglouder-than-everything-else mix that will knock your speakers right off the wall. Something hard to digest was obviously in the water in the Pacific Northwest in 1965. This went from being the B-side to The Witch to being an A-side later that year.

Listen and buy “Psycho” by The Sonics from AMAZON or iTunes

9. TALK TALK - THE MUSIC MACHINE - I love their look – the one-gloved hand on each member of this great and underrated West Coast band, fronted by Sean Bonniwell. The Yardbirds/Stones Garage Rock paradigm in full effect.

Listen and buy “Talk Talk” by Music Machine from AMAZON or iTunes

10. 7 & 7 IS - LOVE - Before the classic Forever Changes, and after their assault on Burt Bachrach & Hal David’s My Little Red Book, Arthur Lee and Love let rip with this firestorm of a minor hit single about, well, who the hell knows what it’s about??!!. It’s the only hit single I can think of that features the recording of a major explosion.  Let’s take a poll as to what it is at the end that combusts.

Listen and buy “7 and 7 is” by Love from AMAZON or iTunes

11. ARE YOU A BOY OR ARE YOU A GIRL? - THE BARBARIANS - From the Boston area, these guys asked the musical question that was still on everybody’s mind in 1965 after the double whammy of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones first appearances on American TV back in 1964. Their drummer, Moulty, had a hook for a hand, too. He tells us all the tale on their follow-up called, yes, MOULTY (which they perform in the great Rock movie of all time, The T.A.M.I. Show).

Listen and buy “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?” by The Barbarians from AMAZON or iTunes


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.

Listen and buy music from Rory Block from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Shemekia Copeland from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Deborah Coleman from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Cindy Cashdollar from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Tracy Nelson  from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Bonnie Raitt from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of  Cee Cee James from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Lou Ann Barton from AMAZON or iTunes

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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1 - Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone  (9-29-14) - Lucinda Williams secured the top spot by delivering an album that raises the bar for her own career. She upped the ante on her trademark vocals on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, dipping, diving and growling in a wider range, comfortably wearing the skin of her characters for both the joys and defeats. The deeper emotion in the vocal leaves no scar closed or dark corners unlit.

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2 -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.

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3 - Shovels and Rope – Swimmin’ Time   (8-25-14) - Shovels and Rope are audio magicians, baring the sharp teeth of Alternative Rock guitar chords that rip back the curtains to show lives on stage that maneuver around some major potholes in the world we live in.

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4 - Girls, Guns & Glory – from the album Good Luck   (1-28-14) - Girls, Guns and Glory have steadily built their music on four solid album releases, each showing a band growing by marking what they were got right to stretch more ‘right’ out with each note. Vocalist Ward Hayden is a smooth crooner who maintains a cool innocence in both his persona and delivery. Guitarist Chris Hersch is no guitar god but he is the guy that those gods secretly watch to knick his riffs. Chris’ guitar, and banjo, work are subtle yet all-consuming.

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5 - Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant   (2-11-14) - Robert Ellis slithers in and proclaims that wrong makes right when you have “Good Intentions”. His personal relationships can work out the truth in his words as much as listeners appreciated the goals he set and achieved on his 2014 release. Robert Ellis blends roots, rock, folk and jazz that shine brilliantly in the songs basking in the glow of The Lights from the Chemical Plant.

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6 - Hard Working Americans  -  Hard Working Americans (1-21-14) - Hard Working Americans is Todd Snider, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson guitarist Neal Casal, Great American Taxi keyboardist Chad Staehly and King Lincoln drummer Duane Trucks (brother of guitarist Derek Trucks and nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks). Hard Working Americans takes on all comers with their smoking version of Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler”, the Salvation Army pound of Randy Newman’s “Mr. President”, and their honest recollection of the Kevn Kinney tune from his band Drivin’ n Cryin’, “Straight to Hell”.

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7 -Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes   (1-11-14) - Alynda Lee Segarra, as Hurray for the Riff Raff, delivers the band’s most recent release, Small Town Heroes. The New Orleans music community gets a high five for creating an environment that allows Alynda’s natural talents to nurture her own musical paths. She uses familiar sounds and presents them as an Indie rock’n’roll stew of folk, blues, Americana music foundations for stories that use sharp edged electric blues to chronicle street life up close (“St. Roch Blues”) and barnstorm the river front (“End of the Line”). 

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8- Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love    (6-10-14) - Night and day, leather and lace, big and small; all extremes brought together by on little word…and. The same extremities are reached in love. The meeting and the leaving, tied together with another little word…over. It may seem a linear path that goes from beginning to end yet on her latest album release, Trouble and Love, Mary Gauthier offers a completed circle. The album is a personal record, from first kiss to the closing door. It might seem like a second person accounting as the story of Mary Gauthier the human is related by Mary Gauthier the songwriter, yet the emotions stay raw, the lessons so fresh that an outer edge of red can still faintly catch the light. The questions that storm our heads looking for answers when love exits the building all find themselves in the songs on Trouble and Love.

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9 - Mike Farris – Shine on All the People    (9-16-14) - Mike Farris brought the sound of his mission to more ears in 2014. Mike feels it is his calling to expose the music of turn-of-the-century black spirituals into today’s mainstream market. Shine on All the People raises the roof with Gospel Roots, blending spirituals with contemporary sounds of the spirit from Mike Farris and Mary Gauthier.

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10 - Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest   (1-25-14) - Hornet’s Nestis his latest release for Alligator Records, following his blast of a debut for the label, Hellfire, and joining the ranks of over twenty career albums. Hornet’s Nest carries Blues wisdom, Soul seduction and Rock assaults throughout its dozen tracks. “Ramblin’ Soul” is a good example of the mix, though do not believe the title of the track. This soul never rambles, it is on a mission and as it exits its time on the album, the boys in the band tear a hole in the known universe with one kickass boogie blues jam.

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11 - Paul Thorn – Too Blessed to Be Stressed   (8-19-14) - Paul Thorn has talked about his history as the son of a preacher and the nephew of a pimp. The angel and devil settle on his broad shoulders to take a breather as they follow the album rules on Too Blessed to be Stressed. Joy and inspiration take to the dance floor as the Paul Thorn Band raise a mighty ruckus of Rock ‘n’ Soul.

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12 - Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers   (9-9-14) - Justin Townes Earle released a Part One for his double album release with Single Mothers, choosing to let the album settle before starting the second act, to be released as Absent Fathers in early 2015. JTE sings form the side of the one being left behind without ever becoming a love lost victim.

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13 - Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy   (7-1-14) - Old Crow Medicine Show received another partially-written track from Bob Dylan. It must be good for Bob to know he always has alternatives to finishing a tune once his muse has left the building. The album, like the band’s live show, are created for maximum entertainment, brought to you by multiple flashing fingers and one mind for music.

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14 -The Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble   (1-13-14) - The Howlin’ Brothers need no intro for the advanced state of bluegrass that the band serves up. Their recent release, Trouble, follows full studio effort Howl and E.P., the Muscle Shoals Sessions, in a little over twelve months’ time. Trouble opens with the sound of salvation. The Howlin’ Brothers are glory bound, though it is not religion or fear of heaven that fuels “Pour I Down” but a different sort of spirit. The song is the firing gun that opens the gate for thirteen tracks to gallop into Trouble. The album is released on Readymade Records, the imprint of Brendan Benson (solo, The Raconteurs) who handles both production and engineering for The Howlin’ Brothers. Remember when all label heads were completely behind each project.

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15- Seth Walker – Sky Still Blues   (6-10-14) - Seth Walker is a seeker. Like most musicians, he strives to be better and dig deeper into his music. His songs have that fully formed feel though the borders are never structured.  That ease to the playing, the grooves, the interactions of the musicians continues on the recent release, Sky Still Blue.  The recording took place at The Wood Brothers’ Nashville-based Southern Ground Studios. Producer Oliver Wood was joined as a musician on Sky Still Blue by fellow Wood Brothers Jano Rix and Chris Wood (also of Medeski, Martin and Wood). Seth’s longtime bandmates fill out the credits with bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Derek Phillips. Sky Still Blue brought Seth Walker back to Nashville, one of the major music meccas that have been as much a part of his music as personal influences and a natural calling.

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16 – The Earls of Leicester- The Earls of Leicester    (9-16-14) - Jerry Douglas has finally gotten a long lasting with to be a fan and honor the music of Bluegrass heroes (who did not consider themselves a bluegrass band), Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The Earls of Leicester stay true to songs origins as the open the windows to let fresh air re-energize Opry standards.

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17 - JP Harris and the Tough Choices – Home is Where the Hurt Is   (9-23-14) - JP Harris and the Tough Choices created a sweet spot to nurture Country music back to health with Home is Where the Hurt Is. The band proudly play Country music, as it should be played with a rock’n’roll attitude and straight to the heart Soul.

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18 – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin – Common Ground  (6-3-14) - Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin - Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (6-3-14) - It has been close to thirty years since Dave Alvin and brother, Phil Alvin, recorded an album together. One-off songs here and there and the occasional live shows of their shared history with The Blasters have put the brothers together in studio and stage. It was inspiration that took them back in to record for their recent Yep Roc Records release, Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. Friends don’t stay friends in bands, and in shared blood and you have one volatile working environment in studio or stage. Addressing the unspoken question about how the recording process proceeded, brother Dave said it simply, ‘we argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,’

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19 – Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country Music   (5-13-14) - Sturgill Simpson grabs a guitar and storms the walls of Country radio with tunes about turtles and Buddha. One more album of authentic Country music for the future and today’s Country stars better start looking for half-empty bottles and checking the ashtray for roaches ‘cause the party will be over.

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20 - Rodney Crowell    - Tarpaper Sky   (4-15-14) - Tarpaper Skyis a reunion as much as recording experience. The recent release from Rodney Crowell gathers most of the players on hand for Rodney’s break-through 1998 album, Diamonds and Dirt. His first recorded in Nashville, the album is often cited as where Rodney Crowell went country…a defensive term for ‘okay, now we get it’ from reviewers. The release never gives up on the best of the songwriting and performances from the man on the cover; this is Rodney Crowell Country and the music comes with classic arrangements and a Rock’n’Roll heart. That theme follows the musicians back into the studio for the recording of Tarpaper Sky. The players brought their old school training and the tracks were recorded live-to-tape. Ideas were traded and the arrangements of the songs developed as a group effort.

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21 - Parker Milsap  - Parker Milsap   (1-4-14) - Parker Millsap spent his formative years as part of a Pentecostal congregation in his native Oklahoma. He no longer follows a religious life but religion follows Parker in his tales. The church, and its teaching, showed him a people that firmly believed in what they were trying to accomplish. The lesson was to look down a little further into what makes people tick, the motivations that push them to suggest a little too strongly, or condemn too quickly, ways of life that do not fit their own. It is a teaching that allows the characters on Parker Millsap to offer themselves without any edit.

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22 - Janiva Magness – Original   (6-24-14) - Janiva Magness does a great job of showing the many layers of desire and despair set in motion by a single word or action. You feel the love that has gone as something physical while at the same time you can watch spit drip down that unfortunate face that Janiva is in as she asks the last sentence be repeated ‘a little less bitchy please’ in “Who Am I”. The Blues rolls on dark clouds in “With Love” as organ and guitar notes pelt the tune like big fat rain drops and the beat hits the street in “I Need A Man” as Janiva throws off political pressure for pressures of a more personal nature. Janiva Magness has strength and conviction in her delivery, a big part of the appeal of Original.

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23 – Calico the band – Rancho California    (9-2-14) - Calico the band not only waved the flag for California Country, the planted the pole deep enough to not be moved and flying high enough the state’s Golden Bear to be heard roaring Roots around the globe.

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24 -Rosanne Cash   - The River and The Thread    (1-14-14) - “It’s a big wide world with a million shades of modern blue”. Rosanne Cash sings the line, snagging the Modern Blue for the title to her release. Rosanne, and album producer/arranger John Leventhal, wrote songs as memories of a trip through the Southern U.S.  Rosanne Cash still gets an excitement in her voice when speaking about the times she “started going to the south a lot. Re-connecting with people I knew, places I had been, but I started seeing it for the first time, in a strange way; the connection to the soil and the Delta and the music. The veils were taken off something that I thought I knew. It was powerfully inspiring.“ Modern Blue lets musical heritage ride shotgun with Rosanne Cash behind the wheel calling out the sites that pass by the car window.

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25 -Candi Staton – Life Happens   (5-13-14) - Candi Staton has been a cooking in the soul kitchen for nearly fifty years. Candi was recently featured in the documentary film Muscle Shoals, a must-see movie that lets music tell the history of the city of Muscle Shoals, Fame Recording Studio, and the man that put both on the map, Rick Hall. Personal relations with Candi Staton and Rick Hall date back to the early 1970’s when Rick was in the production chair for Candi’s Grammy nominated hits “Stand By Your Man” and “In the Ghetto”. The tune “I Ain’t Easy to Love” is the lead track from Life Happens, the most recent Candi Staton release, and is featured in Muscle Shoals (the movie). The cut features album guests Jason Isbell and John Paul White (The Civil Wars) on background vocals. The Southern Soul of the song and Candi’s delivery set the bar for quality and begin the saga of love that is that unfolds as Life Happens.

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51 – Doug Seegers – Going Down to the River    (10-7-14) - Not a typical Nashville success story but primed for a mini-series plot is the tale of Doug Seegers. Doug was frequently homeless in Music City when he got a gig at a local food pantry. A Swedish country music star stopped in for a bite and ordered superstardom-to-go, trading the streets of Nashville for the top of the charts in a country best known for producing Abba. Doug Seegers wondered ‘who is Abba?’, understandable for a guy who grew up on the hard-country heart of Hank Williams and Cosmic California Country in the heart-first music of Gram Parsons. Doug lived in abandoned buildings in Manhattan where he ‘made a ton of money playing out in the streets’ and ‘ate and breathed everything John Lennon’.  He met Buddy Miller on a move to Austin and his old friend guests on Going Down to the River, the most recent release for Doug Seegers. Marrying his past listening with the current recording, he welcomes Emmylou Harris to duet on Gram Parsons “She”, a track she made famous duetting with the song’s author.

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52 – The Psycho Sisters – Up on the Chair, Beatrice   (8-5-14) - Vicki Peterson (The Bangles) was friends and bandmates with Susan Cowsill before Vicki formally became a Cowsill, marrying brother John in 2003, but the pair were already sisters of sound. They met and teamed up in 1989, touring Europe in the early 1990’s as The Psycho Sisters opening for Giant Sand and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate).  The pair instantly became gotta-get background singers working with Jules Shear, Belinda Carlisle and Hootie and the Blowfish and they joined an all-star cast for the Roots/Americana band, The Continental Drifters. The Psycho Sisters had talked about an album over the years and in 1991 Susan points out that the pair were ‘not doing anything for a minute’ and entered Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana to record their debut, Up on This Chair, Beatrice.

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53 - The Mastersons -  Good Luck Charm   (7-8-14) - The Mastersons, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, are together a lot as they share wedding rings and a marital bed as well as stages for a band career and as working members of the Steve Earle backing band.  Good Luck Charm is The Masterson’s second release for New West Records. Eleanor views Good Luck Charm as ‘this is a more purpose-driven album. The first record was kind of his hers, but this one is entirely ours.’ Chris harmonized on that overview seeing time on the road “playing a few hundred shows a year has really solidified us as a band and focused our vision for the new record. Every song is crafted for the two of us.’

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54 – The Far West – Any Day Now   (2-25-14) - Any Day Nowscribbles its songs on an Alt Country canvas. “The Bright Side” hits the gate at a quick clip, as Aaron Bakker’s guitar licks bring light into the dark corners hidden from the tunes rust-colored glasses while “These Arms Will Be Empty” sets a slow pace for The Far West as they move towards the exit door of love.

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55 – John Nemeth – Memphis Grease   (3-25-14) - Since their inception, The Bo-Keys have been a band on the inside of a hot groove in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. In the early parts of their careers, members of The Bo-Keys performed in B.B. King’s orchestra and anchored the Hi Rhythm Section. The first referral John Németh for Memphis Grease wasScott Bomar, who had worked with Willie Mitchel and Al Green. Skip Pitts started The Bo-Keys with Scott and laid down the wah-wah guitar intro to ‘The Theme from Shaft” in the 1970’s.  Trumpeter Ben Cauley was with school-kid funk band The Bar-Keys. The group’s hit “Soul Finger” got them a gig as backing band for Otis Redding and put 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 Greaseis the album the John Németh put together with the help of The Bo-Keys.

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56 - Amelia White – Old Postcard   (3-4-14) - When Amelia White left home at eighteen years old, she packed her songs with her. Amelia and her music established an early relationship that soon became at odds with parental guidelines; ‘I knew what I wanted at an early age and their disapproval lit a fire. I listened over and over to my brother's records: Neil Young, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, and I wanted to know them all, I wanted to be them.’ Amelia White 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.

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57  - 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.

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58 - Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’   (4-15-14) - Decisions celebrates 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’.  

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59 - 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.

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60 – Chris Smither – Still on the Levee    (7-22-14) - Chris Smither brand of folk has always has the echo of Country Blues in its vocals and riffs.  It is like visiting old friends and family when you hear cover versions of favorite songs. Hearing those tunes recorded by the man that imprinted those songs on your brain raises the ante on audio memory. Cuts from Chris’ first recordings are on board on the double disc as well as more recent tunes,

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61 – Ruthie Foster – Promise of a Brand New Day      (8-19-14) - 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.

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62 – Royal Southern Brotherhood – heartsoulblood   (6-10-14) - Heartsoulbloodis 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.

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63 – David Olney – When the Deal Goes Down    (7-8-14) - David Olney has released more than 20 albums over four decades, including six live recordings. His music is featured on television (Nashville) and his songs have been recorded by artists including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Del McCoury. When the Deal Goes Down shuffles its Blues rambling through variations in of Country, Texas Shuffle, and Lounge styles.

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64 – Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’    (9-23-14) - Lee Ann Womack seasons her traditional take on country music with a Americana, Folk and Bluegrass samples on her most recent release, The Way I’m Livin’. On tunes penned with passion, Lee Ann drifts and drives her voice over the tracks on the album with the emotion needed to flesh out stories of love and loss.

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65 – Ronnie Fauss – Built to Break   (11-4-14) - Most singer have a song. What separates Singer/Songwriters from the singers and songs is the way they come up to a song. Women and men who believe in the song telling the story, that is the kind of album the Ronnie Fauss made with Built to Break. He sticks to a country backing whether he runs it through its Alt rock relatives, front porch folk, blue twang or full frontal rock’n’roll with Rhett Miller singing the glories of long haul trucking.

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66 – Ellis Paul – Chasing Beauty - Ellis Paul is Chasing Beauty, using the personal influences of inspiration from his own heroes. The album, produced by Kristian Bush of Sugarland and Brandon Bush of Train, captures tracks a year and half in the making. Among the varied stories of accomplishment, Ellis Paul weaves in a little bit of himself with views on the current state of life in America. He feels Chasing Beauty is an adult-themed record, describing it as ‘a story teller’s record.

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67 – The Reigning Sound – Shattered   (7-15-14) - Shatteredpresents 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.

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68 - Jarekus Singleton – Refuse to Lose   (5-6-14) - 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

69 - 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.

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70 -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.

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71 -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 Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkins from Amazon or iTunes

72– Billy Joe Shaver –  Long in the Tooth    (8-5-14) - Getting there was not easy, and took a while. Given that, the title of Billy Joe Shaver’s most recent release, Long in the Tooth, makes perfect sense. Billy Joe claims it is his best album to date. The album comes out through Lightning Rod Records and takes a stand, presenting the man with his name on the cover as an unrepentant outlaw singer/songwriter. Raw riff clear a path to the microphone in the title track for Billy Joe to spit rhymes over a street beat. The songs on Long in the Tooth are branded BJS though the sound heritage varies from track to track.

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73 - The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River    (11-10-14) - It is a late night, and you are sitting around a kitchen table sharing and talking about projects. Hey, what about doing the lost tapes that Dylan probably wrote in the period between his motorcycle accident (July 29, 1966) and the first recordings in the spring of 1967 in the "Red Room" in Dylan's house, where the first recordings of The Basement Tapes took place with The Band. Certainly good subject matter…add in you are sitting at the table with T-Bone Burnett (producer), Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons).

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74 –Malcolm Holcombe -  Pitiful Blues  (1-21-14) - Malcolm Holcombe’s voice is captured with all of its nuances up front letting his sighs, groans and shudders accent the words. The rawness that was heard on the early days of the album’s songs is evident on “The Music Plays On” with its feel of a late night jam after the paying customers have gone home with still lots of night left on Lower Broadway.

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75 -Robert Cray – 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.

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In her recent Grammy winning album, The River and The Thread, Rosanne Cash points out that ‘there’s a million shades of Modern Blue’. We agree. The Blues is a genre that is in constant motion. Blues artists are creating a future for Blues that takes cues from the past in both playing and production of music. Artists are making their own instruments, blending Blues with Country, Folk, and Soul, taking the sound of albums back to analog recording days, mixing Rhythm with their Blues. In 2015, there is no common factor for Blues musicians. They are young and old, male and female, and the only color visible is Blue.

We have gathered together 40 artists who have (mostly) released albums in the past year; artists that go beyond what has come to be expected of the Blues. These artists do not go to traditional timing, chord patterns, rhythms, or structure. Blues and Rock have had a long, very public, history together and they gave birth to a 12-Bar Blues standard in song. For our Top 40 Modern Blues list, we have put artists that are challenging themselves by relying on the music they hear in their heads. For musicians, there is no ‘final frontier’, the sound will go on forever, though that will not stop players from playing, and finding a new way to express. Here is a sampling of artists that are creating a future for The Blues.


1 - North Mississippi Allstars  (from the album World Boogie is Coming) - North Mississippi Allstars formed in 1996 during a special time for modern Mississippi country blues. Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson absorbed the North Mississippi legacy while playing and shaking it down in the juke joints with their blues ancestors. R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner. Luther (guitar, vocals) and Cody (drums, vocals) formed the North Mississippi Allstars and pioneered their own brand of blues-infused rock and roll.

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2 - Joe Louis Walker   (from the album Hornet’s Nest) - Joe Louis Walker has a worldwide reputation as a Blues innovator and trailblazer. His guitar playing sizzles: sometimes feral, sometimes sweet. Joe Louis’ playing has a unique ability to both follow and lead in his songs, particularly his most recent album, Hornet’s Nest, recorded in Nashville with Tom Hambridge.

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3 – Greyhounds  (from the album Accumulator) - There is Blues in the Greyhounds rock solid bass line and metronome perfect drumming. Blues floats up from the soulful vocals and guides the guitar riffs and organ swirls yet Greyhounds manage to deliver a time-worn tradition that is wearing a new set of clothes. This Blues transforms itself within the music the band creates without the need to mimic or cut chops from what has gone before. Accumulator never follows the path to bygone Blues with anything other than as an influence. Their muse stands firm, pointing to the future and demanding of Greyhounds to make their own damn Blues.

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4 - HowellDevine   (from the album Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju) - Joshua Howell started playing harmonica at fourteen and by seventeen he was sitting in with local San Francisco Bay Blues bands. Pete Devine began playing drums in his native Maine when he was six years old and bassman Joe Kyle, Jr. is a survivor of the great San Francisco Swing Wars of the early 1990’s. The trio came together in the SF Bay Blues scene, and set up shop as HowellDevine, matching the sound and the cool monikers of early electric Blues players. Modern Sound of Ancient Juju wraps up eleven tracks with Jazz-flecked Blues riffs and rhythms. HowellDevine have magic moments in the songs when the music suddenly takes over. Yeah, three guys are playing instruments, yet the sound seduces as one force of nature.

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5 - Danielle Nicole (from the E.P. Danielle Nicole) - Danielle Nicole grew up the daughter of Kansas City musicians, becoming a founding member as a bass-wielding singer of her songs in Trampled Under Foot. Danielle Nicole (Schnebelen) was the winner of the 2014 Blues Music Award for Instrumentalist (Bassist), and nominee for female artist in the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards. She recorded her self-titled E.P.in New Orleans with Grammy winning producer Anders Osborne. Danielle delivers music heavy on the groove, with the tracks skillfully guided by the vocals. The four studio tracks present Danielle Nicole in a new light, keeping the Blues glow she has taken around the world as her muse,

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6 - Steve Earle and the Dukes  (from the album Terraplane) - A sonic milestone is crossed on Terraplane, the most recent release from Steve Earle and the Dukes. To truly feel the album simply give in to the distortion-based accents of raw Blues and Velvet Underground drone as it finds its kinship with a contemporary feral Blues underground that is crawling from the wreckage to once again walk the earth….hallelujah. As a host, Steve Earle never throws the same party for each album release. Terraplane is not exclusive in its use of sharp edges on its tracks, yet the overall feel, from and function is down, dirty, oh-so-sweet Blues of the yeah, that’s it, right there variety.

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7 - John Moreland (from the album In the Throes) - The raw power of his voice helps you immediately understand the man in the story. In "3:59AM”, you can almost identify the shadow sitting in the fractured nighttime light. What wakes us up in the dead of night comes through in the story, his confusion can be heard in a voice used to explain himself. He is a man seeking salvation, his path is of the spirit, a man who believes in what he can see and touch; “got my ear to the ground, you got Easter Sunday in your eyes”. John Moreland releases his new album, High on Tulsa Heat, in April 21, 2015.

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8 - Seth Walker  (from the album Sky Still Blue) - Seth Walker is a seeker. Like most musicians, he strives to be better and dig deeper into his music. His songs have that fully formed feel though the borders are never structured.  That ease to the playing, the grooves, the interactions of the musicians, continues on the recent release, Sky Still Blue.  The recording took place at The Wood Brothers’ Nashville-based Southern Ground Studios. Producer Oliver Wood was joined as a musician on Sky Still Blue by fellow Wood Brothers Jano Rix and Chris Wood (also of Medeski, Martin and Wood).

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9 – Anne McCue (from the album Blue Sky Thinkin’) - Anne McCue is a musical chameleon. With her most recent release, Blue Sky Thinkin’, she sets the sound machine to Vintage as she taps into a time when Jazz and Blues spent quality moments together. 

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10 - Jorma Kaukonen  (from the album Ain’t in No Hurry) - Ain’t in No Hurry, the most recent release from Jorma Kaukonen,  fingerpicks Blues through self-penned tracks by the Hot Tuna, and former Jefferson Airplane, guitarist. Jorma revisits an economic relative that never travels far from home with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”.

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11 - Janiva Magness  (from the album Original) - Janiva Magness is beaten down in the songs story but not out. The glass is half full and Janiva faces fear head on “Standing” on a slow Country Blues dream.

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12 - Ray Bonneville  (from the album Easy Gone) - Ray Bonneville played guitar but his life was working behind another wheel, running the gamut between bush pilot and cab driver. Ray was busy and never got around to songwriting until he was in his 40’s when using a lifetime of hard-won tales and self-taught guitar chops, Ray Bonneville entered the life of musician. Ray might get some comparison with J.J. Cale though the music on Easy Gone, the new release on Red House Records, has Blues in its heritage, and a New Orleans way of gathering diverse styles up as offerings on the altar of the groove

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13 - Devon Allman  (from the album Ragged and Dirty) - Devon Allman does not take the mission of bringing the Blues into the future lightly. He has played as a solo artist, as well as a member of high profile projects, such as Royal Southern Brotherhood. On his latest release, Ragged and Dirty, he tears into the Blues, ripping a riff from his guitar for the message that “Half A Truth is still a lie.

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14 – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin (from the album Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Sing the Songs of Big Bill Bronzy) - It has been close to thirty years since Dave Alvin and brother, Phil Alvin, recorded an album together. One-off songs here and there and the occasional live shows of their shared history with The Blasters have put the brothers together in studio and stage. It was inspiration that took them back in to record for their recent Yep Roc Records release, Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. Friends don’t stay friends in bands, and in shared blood and you have one volatile working environment in studio or stage. Addressing the unspoken question about how the recording process proceeded, brother Dave said it simply, ‘we argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,’

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15 – The Soul of John Black (from the album Sunshine State of Mind) - The Soul of John Black is a non-stop Blues riff as he plows through “Johnny Bear (Give It to Me)”. John Black is making house calls as Doctor Love.

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16 - Carolyn Wonderland    (from the album Peace Meal) - Carolyn Wonderland’s live album debut will arrive on April 21, 2015. The success of studio albums in 2008 (Miss Understood) and again in 2011 (Peace Meal), has allowed Carolyn to record where she shines brightest…. live performance. The Carolyn Wonder Trio offer recordings from Texas’ most famous packed houses, Antone’s in Austin, Kessler Theatre in Dallas and Last Concert Café in Houston.

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17 - John Mayall   (from the album A Special Life) - A Special Lifeis the title of the new John Mayall album, his first in five years. On first glance, you could take the title as John describing his own luck, living times as the godfather of British Blues. John Mayall put together the first version of The Bluesbreakers in 1963 and over the course of the last fifty years, the group has been a resume builder for young British Blues artists seeking to make a name for themselves.

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18 - Eden Brent  (from the album Jigsaw Heart) - It is the lady and her piano that take center stage on any Eden Brent recording or performance. As a solo artist or as a bandleader, Eden is the single cell that gives the music life as much as her Mississippi Delta heritage hardwires the Blues into her own playing. Eden Brent and her Blues made the trip north from Mississippi to record her latest release,Jigsaw Heart, in Nashville with guitarist, solo performer, and member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (and Bob Dylan’s band), Colin Linden, sitting in the producer’s chair. 

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19 - Mike Zito and the Wheel (from the album Live from the Road) - Mike Zito adds up Blues chairs as a solo artist and recently with Royal Southern Brotherhood. He steers his band, The Wheel, into a live album and does the math in “Subtraction Blues”.

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20 - Damon Fowler  (from the album Sounds of Home) - Damon Fowler has had a long, ongoing relationship with roots music, crafting a personal guitar style as a teenager that was equal part roots rock, blues and sacred steel. Sounds of Home is Damon’s third solo release for Blind Pig Records, the label also releasing Damon’s band Southern Hospitality, a joint effort with JP Soars and Victor Wainwright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In her most recent Grammy winning album, The River and The Thread, Rosanne Cash points out that ‘there’s a million shades of Modern Blue’. We agree. The Blues is a genre that is in motion. Blues artists are creating a future for Blues that takes cues from the past in both playing and production of music. Artists are making their own instruments, blending Blues with Country, Folk, and Soul, taking the sound off albums to analog recording days, mixing Rhythm with their Blues. In 2015, there is no common factor for Blues musicians. They are young and old, male and female, and the only color visible is Blue.

We have gathered together 40 artists who have (mostly) released albums in the past year that go beyond what has come to be expected of the Blues. These artists do not go to traditional timing, chord patterns, rhythms, or structure. Blues and Rock have had a long, very public, history together and they gave birth to a 12-Bar Blues standard in song. For out Top 40 Modern Blues list, we have put artists that are challenging themselves by relying on the music they hear in their heads. For musicians, there is not ‘final frontier’, the sound will go on forever, though that will not stop players from playing, and finding new way to express. Here is a sampling of artists that are creating a future for The Blues


21 - Markus James  (form the album Head for the Hills) - Markus James is originally from Virginia and the DC area, where his first musical memory, from the age of four, is of an old, blind blues singer he saw many times playing on a sidewalk. He encountered West African stringed music at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Markus James settled in Northern California, recording Blues influenced album with African musicians. On his recent release, Head for the Hills, he sets his guitar on Mississippi Hill Country blues, recording “Just Say Yes with a son of the Mississippi Hill Country, Kinney Kimbrough (son of Junior Kimbrough)

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22 - Jarekus Singleton  (from the album Refuse to Lose) - Refuse to Loseis the album title for the Jarekus Singleton’s debut on Alligator Records. As a song, the title track introduces Jarekus as a songwriter and one major player in a guitar world. “Refuse to Lose” is historical; telling the story of a man who will win, whatever it takes. He admits to suffering and tears over the years, being the victim of betrayals and gossip and taken on hard jobs with no regret. Surrender was not an option and the man in the story, and Jarekus Singleton, separated from the pack with will power, discipline and desire.

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23 - Keb’ Mo’   (from the album BLUESAmericana) - Rhythm is a physical thing to Keb Mo’ though the inspiration for BLUESAmericana came way before the wisdom of the tracks. A cover of a tune Keb’ first heard sung by Mississippi Sheiks Sam Chatmon, “That’s Alright”, began the recording process. Keb’ Mo’ knows himself, and that “I only make albums when I’m inspired to, and these ten songs come from a very honest place”

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24 - Cassie Taylor  (from the album Out of My Mind) - At age 26, Cassie Taylor was already a veteran musician. She's spent a decade playing bass and singing with her dad, Otis Taylor’s, band. She plays, writes, and produces Out of My Mind, her most recent release. Cassie introduces Ol’Mama Dean over a swamp Blues crawl that will make the old lady feel right at home.

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25 - Garrett Lebeau  (from the album Rise to the Grind)  - Garrett Lebeau was born and raised on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Lander, Wyoming, and is an enrolled member of the Shoshone tribe. Garrett recalls, "Growing up we listened to very little music. The Blues spoke to me… the raw unadorned honesty is what still motivates me musically. It spans all styles. When I say soul, I mean "SOUL" you know when music has it. I am not speaking of some narrow definition for a style of music. I speak of music with spirit about life... the trials and tribulations of the working man. Folk music is kin in spirit as is most music that I love. My goal is to connect with other like-minded human beings to keep the tradition of soul music alive. Where you write, play and sing from your own self - Just like the early Blues musicians.. Feeling has no genre".

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26 – Marcia Ball (from the album the Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man) - Over the course of four decades, Marcia Ball has etched her name into the skin of Gulf Coast boogie Blues.  On her recent release, it is her own flesh that is receiving fine lines and tasty textures of color as The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man.  The sound of the album knicks multiple Gulf Coast rhythms  from the songs Marcia Ball heard growing up on the Louisiana-Texas border, and on her relocation to Austin, Texas in the 1970’s, adding to her branded mix of Southern Soul, Zydeco, the syncopated New Orleans style of Professor Longhair, and two-fisted Texas Blues.

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27 - Leo Bud Welch  (from the album I Don’t Prefer No Blues) - Leo Bud Welch introduced himself to a wider musical world with his debut album at age 81in 2013. Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Leo has lived his entire life in that area. Raised with four brothers and seven sisters, his musical ability was first noticed by his family when he and his cousin Alandus Welch took to an older cousin’s guitar quicker than the owner. Soon, Leo was picking out tunes heard on the radio and playing them for family and friends, also picking up the harmonica and fiddle along the way. His second album, I Don’t Prefer No Blues, comes out this spring 2015. He is 83 years old now, and a much wiser man….watch out!

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28 – JeConte  (from the album Down by the Bayou) - JeConte sets the direction for the Blues to Down by the Bayou. JeConte partners with producer Anders Osborne on vocals for the title track and as the song heads home on a back water current, it cruises channels of guitar notes that fly across the surface as sweet fiddle notes steer the groove “Down by the Bayou”.

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29 - Elvin Bishop   (from the album Can’t Even Do Wrong Right) - It sounds like in his seventy-one years that Elvin Bishop never once cleaned up his 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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30 - Matt Andersen  (from the album Weightless) - 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.

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31 - Pops Staples   (from the album Don’t Lose This) - At eighty-four years old, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was experiencing poor health. Pops voice was still his strength, so daughters Yvonne, Cleotha and Mavis decided that dad needed to get into a studio and record a final album.  They entered Hinge Recording Studios in Chicago in 1998 and managed to gather ten tracks with considerations for Pops dwindling health. Pops passed and the raw, rough recordings sat for ten years. Daughter Mavis Staples worked with her producer, Jeff Tweedy, to put a final production on the work with Mavis recalling that ‘“I just couldn’t help but cry, you know, because it sounded like Pops was right there in the room with us. Just to hear him singing, and to think back, the memories that each song brought me—how sick he was and how he struggled.”  

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32 - Royal Southern Brotherhood  (from the album Heartsoulblood) - Heartsoulboodsuccessfully recreates and presents the blues, rock, Cajun, soul and swamp grooves that brought the band together as one sound. Yep, it is the sound of Royal Southern Brotherhood yet if you need a name….don’t strain. The music, and the songs, of Royal Southern Brotherhood is labeled Blues Rock. Sure, it is futuristic Blues Rock in its ability to blend R&B, rock’n’roll, Blues and other older backgrounds into its music.

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33 The Mike Henderson Band    (from the album If You Think It’s Hot Here) - The Mike Henderson Band barnstorms the Blues on If You Think It’s Hot Here. They pack “Matchbox” full-to-stuffing of gut bucket rock’n’roll that blurs Blues, Rock and Country in its pedal to the floor forward motion. If You Think It’s Hot in Here doesn’t really have to ask….it knows how ‘hot’ it is, the band is just being polite.

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34 - Smokin’ Joe Kubrik and Bnois King  (from the album Fat Man’s Shine Parlor) - Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King usher a fine guitar riff ramble into the grooves of Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, their most recent release. The album marks the duo’s return to Blind Pig Records, with whom they recorded until the mid-2000’s. The interplay between Smokin’ Joe and Bnois is of one collective mind.

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35 - Liz Mandeville  (from the album Heart ‘o’Chicago) - Liz Mandeville is sassy, slick and sings her Blues Old Style Chicago. Ms. Mandeville brings the tunes up-to-date with the story line crying the Blues about technology.

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36 - Cary Morin  (from the album Tiny Town) - The Americana Blues from the finger-picking styles of Native American, Cary Morin, shines on his third album release, Tiny Town. Cary is a member of the Crow nation, and the son of an Air Force officer dad. He grew up in Billings, Montana before relocating and fine-tuning in guitar skills in northern Colorado.

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37 - Stacy Mitchhart  (from the album Live My Life) - Stacy Mitchhart delivers a how-to guide on Live My Life, with a Blues shifting shapes that fast track Funk with Soul as it boasts on a uptown groove. Stacy Mitchhart reinvents The Beatles’ “Come Together” as dirty electric blues.

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38 - Steve Dawson   (from the album Rattlesnake Cage) - Canadian-based Steve Dawson is a top end producer, player, curator and frontrunner of West Coast Canadian Blues. 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.

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39 - Jeffrey Halford  (from the album Rainmaker) - Rainmakeris the seventh album for Jeffrey Halford. Emotion has always been a central part of Jeffrey’s guitar playing, and it bleeds over into the cinematic textures of the songs on the album. The Healers take the Farfisa out of deep freeze as they draw a line in the sand, put a quarter on the needle, and set the groove to “Play Some Vinyl”.

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40 - Selwyn Birchwood  (from the album Don’t Call No Ambulance) - On the title track “Don’t Call No Ambulance”, from his recent release, Selwyn Birchwood tells a tale of joy with six strings and lines like “don’t you call no ambulance, I’ll find my own ride home’. Selwyn Birchwood (guitar, lap steel, vocals) is a younger bluesman, yet there is a smoothness to his playing, and a slate of summer festival spots, that will have Selwyn become a major player in the Blues.

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