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'EP' THE EXTENDED PLAY SESSIONS

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


 

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





 

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

 

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



 

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



 

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





 

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



 

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

 

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




 

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

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





 

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UPCOMING STUDIO EVENTS

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

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

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

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

studioconcertseries@gmail.com

 


 

THE NEW RELEASE RACK

Justin Townes Earle strides into Single Mothers on a slow roll that matches the rounded notes of his vocal delivery. Voice and rhythm swoop and sway as one as JTE shares his fears; the personal worries that are bouncing with force inside his head with personal whether’s and what if’s moving on gentle drifting in the outside world of “Worried Bout the Weather”. Justin Townes Earle long ago accepted the role of the last one standing in relationships. He is the one of the lonely souls waiting for the show to begin (Midnight at the Movies-2009), the tall fellow strutting up the FDR with a choir of angels in tow looking to drown his sorrows (Harlem River Blues - 2010) and a man settling in for fate (Nothings Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now – 2012) . The character walking the halls with Single Mothers still has trouble making his heart decisions match the grace and precision that he uses to relate his sad story in the tunes.

Single Mothers introduces you to the women in Justin Townes Earle’s life in the past tense. Late night hours strike the chimes of “Time Shows Fools”, announcing a woman and trying to outrun a suburban upbringing while holding tight to a family keepsake that gives her the same lack of love her mother showed her dad. Empty rooms grab whatever warmth they can in the echo of a raised voice and hard picked electric guitars in “It’s Cold in This House”, and the lack of friends on the road ahead looks a lot better than staying around familiar folks in “Wanna Be a Stranger”. No one can make a breaking heart sound sweeter than Justin Townes Earle. In the fading glow of singed photos a guy who can’t catch a relationship break still wants to make another attempt at dancing to the beat of love in “Burning Pictures”. The scent of flowers glides in from the wake of the missing woman wearing a “White Gardenia”, life flies by outside the passenger seat window in “My Baby Drives’ and even being six weeks in to staying up late there is warmth in the dark skies of “Today and a Lonely Night”.  Justin Townes Earle offers an open letter of support to the women of the world taking on the role of both parents in the title track of Single Mothers.    

Listen and buy music by Justin Townes Earle from AMAZON or iTunes

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They may not be made of the correct material to become the fabric of your lives however Steelsim do provide the perfect sound track for life. The band formed around Jeremy Fetzer (guitar) and Spencer Cullum (pedal steel), longtime Nashville sidemen who met while touring behind Caitlin Rose in the UK. They discovered a mutual love of movie soundtracks and shared inspiration from the music of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Pete Drake and The Ventures. Dialing in their home area code, 615 to Fame is the debut from Steelism, adding in other Nashville sidemen Michael Rinne (bass) and John Radford (drums). Their songs are instrumental in form yet they all tell a tale. The music of Steelism is moods as emotions and feelings that weave their way around the ever moving waves of rhythm that crest and ebb in 615 to Fame.

Ennio Morricone and the work of Spaghetti Western arrangers ride free in “Cat’s Eye Ring”. “China Plate” and “Marfa Lights” have sweeping vistas made for the big screen though it is the American Roots hints of Soul bass lines and surf guitar rides that give the tunes their appeal. The sugar-sweet touch of 60’s ragtime Pop seduces in “Greenwich Mean Time” and hard rhythms keep the force of strings pushing through a pipeline that make “The Landlocked Surfer” look for the next big one coming in. Sweet sadness plays the pedal steel (“Tears of Isabella”), a slinky strut creeps in single footfalls of notes (“The Blind Beggar”) and Latin island rhythms dance to impending doom (“Cuban Missle”). Steelism make stories from sound on615 to Fame.

Listen and buy music by Steelism from AMAZON or iTunes

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John Mellencamp releases Plain Spoken, his twenty-second album. While John’s rock resume spans decades, in the past few years other areas of his art have emerged. He wrapped a ten-year-in-the-making project with Stephen King, launching the stage production Ghost Brothers of Darkland County and on canvas, The Paintings of John Mellencamp is touring galleries. Plain Spoken keeps John in his day gig as a musician and songwriter. If there are changes in the way the album sounds, it can be traced to the more literary touch to the stories on Plain Spoken. Dusty Americana sweeps across thunder clouds of rhythm set against the dark background of electric guitar snake lightning (“Tears in Vain”), piano and guitar notes ride a carousel circling “The Brass Ring” and heartbeat drum pounds follow a fiddle to an inevitable end (“Blue Charlotte”).

John Mellencamp sings as the lead character in his songs and that potential for personal has the songs as stories told by a friend. He has spent years in our lives, so in many ways John Mellencamp is audio family, and the songs on Plain Spoken cement his ties to the lives he passes. Religion has given various higher powers a bad name, and “Sometimes There's God” looks for the spirit out the window or in the eyes of a friend, pointing out sometimes there is an invisible hand touching what we see while sometimes there is not. Jon Mellencamp borders Plain Spoken with observations. In album opener, “Troubled Man” he walks in with past mistakes on display, not as a request for forgiveness, just facts. The album exits on dirty guitar chords talking about an even dirtier world on “Lawless Times”.

Listen and buy music by John Mellencamp from AMAZON or iTunes

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The songs of Kenny Butterill gather sounds and styles together as a late afternoon watering hole for Americana, Folk, Rock’n’Roll, Alt Country and all the various children created in late night jams. Kenny Butterill is a singer/songwriter who follows the lead of peers such as Gordon Lightfoot , John Prine and J.J. Cale. Easy story telling vocals that glide like volcano honey over the rumble and sway in the rhythm of the tracks. Kenny Butterill has released “Troubadour Tales” from a personal collection of stories-as-poetry from the past ten years, the songs show Kenny’s past, present and future observations. Troubadour Tales was mastered by David Teegarden, taken from seven different recording locales. The album is the third for Kenny Butterill and brings in guest performances from Donovan, Cindy Cashdollar, the late Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, John Lee Sanders, Ray Bonneville, Rob Ickes, David Grier, John Reishman, Washboard Hank and Linda McRae among others.

Kenny Butterill rides a Tulsa train track groove into the album with “Good Thing That Couldn't Happen Here”, delivers “Greatest Love Story Never Told” as a western tale baked with rock meat, moves the tone of temple bells aside for some country boogie in “Flying with Buddha”, blurs the breathy beat of “Hocus Pocus” with folk psychedelics and abides the spirits of Texas singer/songwriters with “Gaia Blues” Kenny Butterill  is a serious student of the universe with his research and allegiance to Eastern mysticism, mythology, social justice, politics and red wine.  He lives in the backwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California, spending part of the year in his homeland at his Balsam cottage north of his Toronto, Canada.

Listen and buy music by Kenny Butterill from AMAZON or iTunes

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Frank Patrouch, and his musical partner and cohort, Bill Anania, play a backing sound track for the Jersey Shore characters that wander the songs. The most recent Frank Patrouch release, Whiskey and Revenge, cruises beach roads and hang out in the seaside bars that were the backdrop for Bruce Springsteen in the 1970’s. There is no real need for anyone to act different than the previous generation(s). The life cycle is set on the season. Summer is work and a constant parade of people passing by; winter is a cold breeze off the ocean that chills the town, leaving drifts on lonely roads and up against the barricaded shop doors waiting for the sun. The link between the two distinct environments is the people, the kids of all ages who are the subjects on Whiskey and Revenge.

Frank Patrouch doesn’t hesitate introducing neighbors at “Jersey Pines” with lives way too real for reality tv. The scenery changes but the main character traveling a “Texas Road” maintains the good guy doing what he needs to in order for his family to survive. A country boogie beat pounds out of the jukebox to let an “Easy Man’ take the floor, and a barroom piano tickles the hard drinking saloon rhythm of “Way Too Low”.  Frank Patrouch, and writing partner Alissa Pecora, flesh out the souls that pass through Whiskey and Revenge, particularly friends, family and the folks in the other cars passing on the Garden State Parkway. The guy from a local bar band shares memories (“Mary’s Atlantic City Sun”), one of the many car jockeys hands over  street wisdom with grease in its fingernails (“Nowhere Road”) and an aging Boardwalk Johnny still sees The Boss looking back at him in the mirror’s reflection (“Used to Look Like Springsteen’). 

Listen and buy music by Frank Patouch from AMAZON or iTunes

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Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto have been performing as a duo for over ten years. Under the name Mars Arizona, the band morphed into New American Farmers in 2012. The Farmacology Sessions is the second album for New American Farmers, following the debut Brand New Day. The songs for The Farmacology Sessions wanted to be heard, Paul recalling ‘we hadn’t really planned on doing another record in 2014, but the songs started flowing. We had the opportunity for some time in Opus Sound, so we started recording with Kevin T. White (Chuck Prophet’s Mission Express) and Tony Sales. This led to a couple of sessions with Chuck Prophet joining in on guitar. We recorded one of the tracks live and he hinted that he wouldn’t mind coming back in for another session. We are fortunate to have his embellishment on the new record.’

The Farmacology Sessions  pick sound from a time when folk rock starting to dropping a little psychedelic Roots in its songs. “The Garden” doubles up on lead guitar to fan the flames turning the Eden in its story to brown. Tapping another band’s spin into country psychedelia, New American Farmers cover The Monkees “The Door into Summer”. The duo sound track their version of Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with an Americana space jam, and walk into The Alarm’s “Rain in the Summertime” with a confident rock strut. New American Farmers point a finger at greed in “Down at the Pharmacy”, preach to the power of keeping a pure vision against those looking to take away your musical mojo (“Breathe In, Breathe Out”) and cruise a dirty blues riff, staying on track, trying not to get lost in yesterday (“Aiming for the Daylight”).

Listen and buy music by New American Farmer from AMAZON or iTunes

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The Earls of Leicester tell you right off…..’they had the blues, but now they’re gone’ as the boys board the “Big Black Train” album opener for their tribute to the songs of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The self-titled The Earls of Leicester matches the tunes of Flatt and Scruggs with fan players who have carved their own musical niche. A-list dobro man Jerry Douglas feels that ‘this record is something I have been waiting my whole life to do’, assembling a team to fulfill his dream that includes Shawn Camp (vocals and guitar), Charlie Cushman (banjo, guitar), Tim O-Brien (vocals, mandolin), Johnny Warren (fiddle) and Jerry’s longtime Alison Krauss and Union Station bandmate Barry Bales (bass, vocals). The group extends the reach of the bluegrass pioneers of the 1950’s and 1960’s with their close-to-original takes on the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys.

The songs are old friends and welcoming them back for a visit brightens any day. “'Til the End of the World Rolls 'Round” promises The Earls of Leicester’s collective hearts as does the beautiful sentiment of “On My Mind”.  Flatt and Scruggs were savvy entertainers, considered to be the forerunners in pioneering bluegrass with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Songs of love were pleasant yet the songs needed to be staged to remain appealing to ears tuning in to the Grand Old Opry. The Earls tell stories of wandering lovers (“Dim Lights, Thick Smoke”), watching for trouble on the road (“Don't Let Your Deal Go Down”) and pride (“You're Not a Drop in the Bucket”). Threats set the drama for dark storms of being wronged with promises of social revenge on “ I'll Go Stepping Too” and “I Won't Be Hanging Around”.  The Earls of Leicester re-work the intricate music and re-advice the simple wisdoms of Flatt and Scruggs.  

Listen and buy the music of The Earls of Leicester from AMAZON or iTunes

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The happiest people are those doing what they love. Suppose you love not one but two paths? That is what happened to Ben Glover in a sleepy little town, Glenarm, in the north of Ireland. He wasn’t greedy, he had just one ‘type’, just two very distinct personalities. Music was the lady and Ben would perform Irish ballads as well as songs of Christy Moore and The Pogues in Boston bars to secure passage across Atlantic and while on native Irish soil, Ben’s sets in local pass-the-hat pubs included the songs of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The ocean between his homes is once again the bridge for music as Ben Glover delivers Atlantic.

The whistle calls out for the dark clouds over the ominous beat of “Too Long Gone” as “Prisoner” travels down Highway 61, knowing that fate is cast, screaming he was caught long before he hits the crossroads…‘oh my lord forgive me, I’m a prisoner’. Ben Glover plays sad country music as a folksinger catching his breath to wonder  “How Much Longer Can We Bend?”, shakes his roots over a rock’n’roll rattle on “Take and Pay” and renders “Sing a Song Boys” as late night bar closer for the last stragglers head out the door. Nashville offers two of its bright light songwriters as Gretchen Peters co-writes, and duets, on the eerie story of murder that creeps through “Blackbirds” and Ben revisits Mary Gauthier’s “Oh Soul” to again delve in personal conflicts and choices.  

Listen and buy the music of Ben Glover from AMAZON or iTunes

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With a voice and guitar, Queen Esther helps you enter The Other Side. Simple intentions and promises gently take your hand as Queen Esther smiles the knowledge that ‘sweet dirt can’t hold me’ before she hops aboard Ronny Drayton’s jet fueled guitar lead to arrive in “Sunnyland”. “Love is a Wrecking Ball” counts the many facets of the heart reflecting spots that need some polish. Queen Esther is a beneficent ruler of The Other Side, expressing her advice, experience and personal hopes over a sound track of Black Americana, stirring a roux of Blues, Country, Soul, Jazz and Rock to spice her songs. She forms the varied genres into a sound all her own as her voice becomes the sound of a breaking country heart in “Sadness Everlasting”, talks tough love dressed in dirty blues in “Somebody Else's Baby” and crawls inch by inch over echoey piano notes, acknowledging “I Feel Like Going Home”.

Queen Esther has the base of her sounds comes from her childhood south that created a foundation for her musical origins through Hee Haw, Soul Train, the Lawrence Welk Show and the sanctified black church experience. The music was packed in a bag bound for New York City where Queen Esther received a degree in screenwriting and worked her stories in the city’s alternative theatre and music scenes. The two-sided faces of the theatre mask is found in a comedy sketch staged by emotional conflict (“My Big Iron Skillet”), the melancholy in (“Oh Sun”) and the drama of a breaking heart (“I’ve Come Undone Again”).   Two versions of Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner” have seats bound for The Other Side. The album was recorded on tape at the Maid’s Room in NYC, mixed and mastered in Bremen, Germany entirely by Queen Esther.

Listen and buy the music of Queen Esther from AMAZON or iTunes

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The Belle Sounds is part of the musical journey for Noelle Hampton and Andre Moran. The couple met seventeen years ago in San Francisco and fell in love. Moving to Austin brought more Roots into the duo’s music though the song hearts still pumped to an Indie Rock beat. Black Stone, the recent E.P. release from The Belle Sounds, was recorded in East Nashville at Mr. Lemons Studio by Neilson Hubbard. The tone of the Black Stone flows with Roots nods ranging from the California Folk-rock sound of Fleetwood Mac to the Cambridge, Mass. Indie American-Folk of The Weepies. There is fullness to the album that mimics the sun coming over the mountain, slowly moving dawn light across the valley floor, and awareness in the album’s reflections and worries.

“The Siren” hears the call of something other than the constant dull hum of overstimulation in the form of media and entertainment. The morning light shines bright, revealing a ‘wild side’ in the “Golden Boy” lying on the pillow. The Belle Sounds weave keyboard swells and guitar rambles together to splash audio color on each track. Noelle Hampton calls follow the “Ghosts of Mykonos” as they ‘float over expanses of sea, riding on a sun dappled world of notes. A quiet arrangement perks up a little as it moves through’.

Listen and buy the music of The Belle Sounds from AMAZON or iTunes

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Sena Ehrhardt does not offer Live My Life, her most recent release, as a DIY guide to a fulfilling existence. There are suggestions on self-help though all answers come from the same question, as your future unfolds do you have a clear idea of what to do when you been done?  Live My Life counts to eleven, liberally handing out exits when the deal for love for down. The table piles high on track number one as Sena Ehrhardt recites the her past and introduces the new game in town in “Stakes Have Gone Up”. There are stages leading up to the main event of taking back her power as Sena moves through denial over nut busting chords and a siren scream of guitars wondering “Did He Ever Love Me at All”.

Sena Ehrhardt was a child of the blues, born and raised in a household where her folks believed in family gathering such as all-ages concerts in her native Minneapolis for artists such as B.B. King, Koko Taylor and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The Blues became a mission when Sena attended one of Luther Allison’s final concerts remembering ‘as the sun went down and the lights came up, the emotion of his voice washed over the crowd like a wave, leaving me with tears in my eyes. His ability to connect through music with every member of that audience, each with their own stories, struggles and victories, was stunning to witness. In that moment the idea of being a singer ceased to be a choice for me and instead became a calling’. In case you doubt the claims, the title track re-enforces the message as Sena informs the world that ‘nothing is gonna break my stride, I’m gonna live my life”. Speaking to the folks assembled in the ‘what just happened’ line of tables for one, Live My Life provides “Things You Shouldn't Need to Know”, waggling a funky finger in a universal face, sharing its secret that “Everybody Is You”, and shows tough playing tender on “Help Me Make It Through the Day”. 

Listen and buy the music of Sena Ehrhardt from AMAZON or iTunes

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Mike Farris is a man with a mission. His voice changes any song and with the tunes on his recent Compass Music releases, Shine for All the People, Mike Farris changes the way that gospel music is perceived and heard. Gospel music is music of the spirit, music presented to make you feel good, to feel the joy and get right with whatever beliefs you have to make you feel less alone. Much like governments with our freedoms, churches have a way of keeping gospel close to exist solely as a form of religious worship.  Shine for All the People gives gospel back to anyone looking to share their load. Mike Farris has triumphed over adversity through his music, and his joy at achieving a freedom can be heard in each note of Shine for All the People.

The groove of “Power of Love” is infectious. The surface of the song a rippling rhythm, like a snake cruising gracefully just below the surface of the water, as the force of its subject spills over the sides on a Mike Farris original promise of ‘something from nothing, comes from above, let it rock and rock’n’roll you on the power of love’. Community songs of faith created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries see a light of day as soul organs and bass lines mix with soul saving deliveries that help you rise up and feel the healing in the music. “Jonah and the Whale”, “River Jordan” “Sparrow” and “This Little Light” take a seat on the glory train alongside newer arrivals penned by Mike Farris that celebrate a “Real Fine Day” and shout louder than the storms to affirm that “Something Keeps Telling Me”. Shine for All the People showcases the mighty voice of Mike Farris as it crosses the sweet saviour tones of Al Green with the sly devil tease of Bon Scott. Mike Farris honors the spirit of Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” opening the track with the whisper of warm Hammond B3 bubbles and gentle electric guitar notes, letting the arrangement cradle the song’s plea for redemption on a global level as it builds and pulls all mankind into its wake 

Listen and buy the music of Mike Farris from AMAZON or iTunes

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A lot of inspiration can be found in the songs South Holston, the most recent release from Jerry Castle. There are moments where he is sinking with the weight of being alone (“Drown”) while pain and heartache teach a lesson that as things change, our actions remain “More of the Same”. Pitfalls are all part of life and even with the hurdles, South Holston is the address for hope. “Open Up Your Eyes” takes aim at a life that replaces daily doubts and long hours of work with the ‘chance to make a difference’ through grim determination and the awareness of the world it brings. The optimism that Jerry Castle puts in his words has a past. South Holston is reaching for change and Jerry Castle is putting it in your reach in the tunes. He takes a left for the “Road Less Traveled”, passing exits to the past in an effort to forgive and he lets the pen and paper talk as he has his own needs to attend, knowing a good way to fill them would be to ‘grow my hair like a hippie, sing country songs and “Write My Own Ending’.

Jerry Castle reasons that ‘we spend so much of our lives being controlled by fear and the societal expectations of our peers. Having the courage to do what’s in your heart and the wherewithal to allow things to just be seems to be the real key as well the real struggle for most of us. That’s what this record is about…it was important to me that this record covers as wide a spectrum of country music while still maintaining some sense of continuity and I feel we accomplished that.’ Change is what “Best in Me” suggests as a trigger to spark a fading life back to life. South Holston rattles and rumbles under funk chord chops, weaving guitar leads through distorted vocals as it claims the need to “Take What I Can Get” and tosses note flurries into the wind as battle lines are once again drawn as both sides are us and both sides in “For What’s It’s Worth”.

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When Glade City Rounders let the instruments have their say, like on “Glade City Rag”, it sounds like the fiddle, banjo and bass hit the starting gate at the same time then chose different paths to cross the finish line.  It is a testament to the players and their intuitive trust on their bandmates. The banjo holds down the rhythm while staying playful. The bass notes fly and pop around the fiddle creating a helluva joyful noise. The track includes a nice touch for string band, the mountain man human beatbox. The use is brief though the boys unleash the use of breath as beats fully on “Tickle Brothers” as the tune sees the Glade City Rounders hang out in the shade sipping on some lemonade.  Letting air pumps keep the rhythm sets the instruments free. The guys have plenty lung power left over to add in a kazoo for “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”.

They’re After Us is the title of the most recent Glade City Rounders album. The title track fills in a little of the mystery of just who is chasing the boys over a runaway train rhythm as GCR tell how college is an option, but the smart guys are picking on the banjo. Though the who is never really clear, the why is obvious, the boys are the ‘object of everyone’s desire’. There is a hustle in the opening guitar notes that usher in “Leaving Home” as it brings back old friends, Frankie and Johnny, to star in another tale. The groove levels to a steady roll as the guys suggest that hiding is an option to explaining the last deal dealt on “I Can Beat Plenty” and try as they might Glade City Rounders cannot count the amount of pretty girls on “Sourwood Mountain”. There is plenty of value on They’re After Us though if prizes are handed out as the amount of notes used on an album, the Glade City Rounders have the trophy locked.

Listen and buy the music of Glade City Rounders from AMAZON or ITunes

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The use of words and the way shape stories was a life experience for Nathan Bell, never a lesson to be learned. His dad, Marvin Bell, was a renowned poet and professor for the Iowa Writer’s Workshops; his home life was causal encounters with Kurt Vonnegut and Studs Terkel. Nathan Bell was a songwriter by birth, walking into national notoriety with the folk-country duo, Bell and Stone, and tapped as a staff songwriter in Nashville. Fifteen years ago, Nathan Bell walked away from it all and disappeared into the hills of Tennessee to raise a family and build a home.  Blood Like a River hoists the Nathan Bell sail for a new album release. He’s back!

Written, recorded and mixed, the album took thirty days to complete in Nathan’s Tennessee mountain home. Saying it is all Nathan Bell is technically correct. Though this is a technological world, the tunes that flow through Blood Like a River are human, not numbers, dots and dashes. The tracks walked by the characters in the tunes are responsible for the outcome of the song as much as their creator. A testament to the instruments and the victims of war calls out “Names” on the album opener to honor fallen heroes. Hushed chord strums are quiet as a winters night as they face truths in “The Snowman”, an innocent caught in an armed robbery sees time slow towards a mystery ending hinging on a “Trigger”, and a fathers turns back the pages of a memory as his child grows up and leaves in the blink of an eye on “Blue Kentucky Gone (She Sang Blue Kentucky Girl)”. There are certain facts of life that cannot be moved.  Nathan Bell balances age in “Fade Out” and uses three couples (Mary and Jimmy, Jenny and Jill, Jack and Jerry) to show that saying “I do” means little to the world at large, certainly not as much as it does to the couple exchanging vows as “Really, Truly” points out the marriages “didn’t change much of anything…the sun kept comin’ up and goin’ down’.  

Listen and buy the music of Nathan Bell from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Israel Nash from AMAZON or iTunes

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NEW VIDEO FROM THE ETHER

STACEY MITCHHART - LIVE MY LIFE

Roots ‘n’ Blues master, Stacey Mitchhart proves that his Nashville home is Music City. Stacey plays his homemade cigar box guitar in a video to promote his late October album release with the title track. Stacey Mitchhart rips a hole in traditional Blues and gets up in your face to tell ya he is here to “Live My Life”

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STEELISM - MARFA LIGHTS

Not only musical, Steelism are also extremely educational. The video for "Marfa Lights" presents the instrumental Nashville band in the roles of teachers and music supervisors. Steelsim get an A+ for a Science lesson that gives a grade you can groove to….

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JERRY CASTLE - "ROAD LESS TRAVELED"

For his path on the “Road Less Traveled”, Jerry Castle goes back to a black and white world, a guy, a guitar a heart to woo. On the song, Jerry Castle felt that “Having the courage to do what’s in your heart and the wherewithal to allow things to ‘just be’ seems to be the real key as well the real struggle for most of us.’

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NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

CORB LUND - COUNTERFEIT BLUES

CORB LUND - COUNTERFEIT BLUES

It has been said that giving ourselves verbal carrots can help with our goals. If Corb Lund was planning on spending all four season away from the homestead of a fourth generation rancher he eased his road jones with the title-tease release of Cabin Fever (New West Records – 2012). It worked…Corb Lund and band have been on the road since the album release, recently wrapping their second quarter Spring Thaw tour on a Stagecoach Festival stage. With his last release, Corb Lund sent out a message tha...

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PUSS N BOOTS - NO FOOLS, NO FUN

PUSS N BOOTS - NO FOOLS, NO FUN

It is no surprise that the many projects, combining multiple-genre solo recordings, Everly Brothers harmonizing with Billy Joe Armstrong as The Little Willies with some Brooklyn buddies; Norah Jones is a major talent and her art is flying free. You do have to wonder, does she have any free time or is a day just going from studio to studio. Two friends, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper, are on-board in Puss N Boots with Norah Jones. The album, recorded in Brooklyn at Studio G, keeps hometown loy...

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CHRIS SMITHER - STILL ON THE LEVEE

CHRIS SMITHER - STILL ON THE LEVEE

Musicians live only to the time they spend with us. Their songs play a big part in our lives yet the musicians behind the songs, they live in those three minutes. Not that we put artists on pedestals, at least the right artists, their lives beyond the song just don’t exist, they are labeled. Chris Smither carved a name in the guitar case shared by all traveling troubadours many years ago. After making that climb with successes such as the Bonnie Raitt hit with Chris’ “Love Me Like A Man” and “I ...

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UPCOMING STUDIO EVENTS

BE PART OF THE LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE FOR ALTERNATE ROOT TV

BE PART OF THE LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE FOR ALTERNATE ROOT TV

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

Our goal is to share the incredible experience of working closely with the artists you love. To fully realize that effort in the future, we will film our 'EP'-Extended Play episodes in front of a live s...

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MAKING THE LIST

THE TOP 20 OF THE SECOND GENERATION - MUSICIANS BORN OF MUSICIANS

THE TOP 20 OF THE SECOND GENERATION - MUSICIANS BORN OF MUSICIANS

Being the child of a celebrity can often be a daunting life. Scrutiny is high along with expectations. When the chosen profession is the same as the parent, the expectations are doubled. The obvious opportunities to bypass certain rungs on the ladder to success are both the spoils and the pitfalls. They must be used wisely to avoid the claims that one is just riding on the success that was merely a coincidence of birth. The demons of the parent can surface in the next generation, becoming easy p...

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THE ALTERNATE ROOT TOP 40 ROOTS ROCK ALBUMS 1980-89

THE ALTERNATE ROOT TOP 40 ROOTS ROCK ALBUMS 1980-89

The 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 ...

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ALTERNATE ROOT TOP ALBUMS OF 2012

ALTERNATE ROOT TOP ALBUMS OF 2012

2012 was a splendid year for music, especially American Roots Music. After careful thought, consideration and some date checking we came up with a list of our favorite 25 Albums of 2012. They are based on our own personal opinions, not who landed highest on fabricated charts or were media darlings. Some may be a surprise and some, of course, are not surprising at all. It was tough to narrow the list to 25 and even harder to list them in order...but, according to us, The Best Albums of 2012 are:

&...

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FROM THE VAULTS

ALBERTA HUNTER - DOWNHEARTED BLUES

ALBERTA HUNTER - DOWNHEARTED BLUES

  “Now ladies and gentlemen especially you youngsters, the next generation, listen to what I got to say, this is the voice of experience children. This is a tough road, and every second you lose is lost, you never get it back, listen the words of this song, children…time”. That is Alberta Hunter speaking from the stage of The Cookery in the fall of 1977 when she made re-entry into the music world with a six week run at the venue. The song that Alberta intros is “Time Waits For No One”. Well,...

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HOT TUNA - ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRIC BLUES

HOT TUNA - ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRIC BLUES

Hot Tuna was not as much of a departure for the pair that made the music as it would seem. Jack Casady  and Jorma Kaukonen were flying high as founding members and lead guitar (Jorma) and bass (Jack) for San Francisco psychedelic top dogs Jefferson Airplane. The duo formed Hot Tuna in 1970 and set to the business of releasing records.  

Two albums came out quickly, a live show, on album one (recorded at the New Orleans House in Berkeley, California) and the jam style of album two, ...

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CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - ULTIMATE CLASSICS (2)

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - ULTIMATE CLASSICS (2)

Right now, with the words below, you could be reading about a band called Muddy Rabbit, Gossamer Wump, and Creedence Nuball and the Ruby. The Golliwogs never really liked the name that Fantasy Records had given them when they inked a record deal in 1964. When the label changed hands in 1967 the new owner Saul Zaentz wanted a full length album but needed a name change. The band agreed and though the possible monikers listed above were contenders, the name that landed on the album cover was Creede...

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UNDER THE RADAR

REGINA CARTER - SOUTHERN COMFORT

REGINA CARTER - SOUTHERN COMFORT

Regina Carter is your guide as her fingers map out a musical territory in Alabama where her paternal grandfather worked as a coalminer. On Southern Comfort , Regina explores music her granddad might have heard and expands the project to include other regional folk music fare. The album connects to earlier efforts which featured her mother’s favorite early jazz standards ( I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey ) and a celebration of the tradition of African music re-imagined for violin, accordion...

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THE DEVIL MAKES THREE - I'M A STRANGER HERE

THE DEVIL MAKES THREE - I'M A STRANGER HERE

The Devil Makes Three began life in Brattleboro, Vermont. The trio have traveled and stayed on the road, a role they take on as an easy decision. As The Devil Makes Three singer/guitar, Pete Bernhard points out, “There’s a road that goes out of every town. All you’ve got to do is get on it.”  Enjoy the sound of The Devil Makes Three, and other bands that make old sound new and genre free. The day is coming when a stamp will brand bands that can pack their gear into the van and still have pl...

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HOLLY GOLIGHTLY AND THE BROKEOFFS - ALL HER FAULT

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY AND THE BROKEOFFS - ALL HER FAULT

It took a while for Holly Golightly to complete her most recent album release, All Her Fault . Holly has released over twenty albums and on this project, she spent six months in the studio, recalling “it has never taken me that long to get through 12 tracks. I don’t have the patience for endlessly going over things. I want things done quickly and this was like pulling a Dave-shaped log along at times.” The weight she talked of pulling on All Her Fault is Lawyer Dave, her partner as The Brokeoffs and...

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MAKING THE LIST

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

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

Here is the Alternate Root Top 20 of the Second Generation

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

Listen and buy the music of Justin Townes Earle from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion from AMAZON or iTunes

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

Listen and buy the music of Holly Williams from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2012 was a splendid year for music, especially American Roots Music. After careful thought, consideration and some date checking we came up with a list of our favorite 25 Albums of 2012. They are based on our own personal opinions, not who landed highest on fabricated charts or were media darlings. Some may be a surprise and some, of course, are not surprising at all. It was tough to narrow the list to 25 and even harder to list them in order...but, according to us, The Best Albums of 2012 are:

 

 

1. Peter Karp and Sue Foley - Beyond the Crossroads
Peter Karp & Sue Foley put music to their letter writing correspondence for 2010’s He Said, She Said. For the second recording as a duo, the pair brought solid songwriting to the studio and deliver Beyond the Crossroads, The Alternate Root favorite album of the year. Beyond the Crossroads breathes is about surviving with a smile and triumphing over what life throws your way.

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2. Paul Thorn - What the Hell is Going On? - Paul Thorn was in a line of one when he got tired of hearing his own voice for What the Hell Is Going On?.  Listening to the words of the man called the Mark Twain of Americana is never an issue on any Paul Thorn album. What the Hell Is Going On puts Paul behind the wheel of the other songwriters material ‘cause he felt” "I wanted to take a break from myself, do something different, and just have fun." Paul Thorn stomps a gritty rock over songs by Buddy Miller, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Foy Vance, Wild Bill Emerson, Buckingham/Nicks and Paul Rodgers/Free.

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3. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now - Justin Townes Earle headed to the mountains of North Carolina to record Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now. “I think it’s the job of the artist to be in transition and constantly learning more,” he said of the record “The new record is completely different than my last one. This time I’ve gone in a Memphis-soul direction.” He was absolutely right in the description change up and right to move in a direction that gave his soul time to shine.

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4. Mad Buffalo - Red and Blue

Red and Blue is an angry album because Randy Riviere is angry. He, like many of us, is disheartened by the discourse that permeates throughout the country and threatens the very process of democracy. Riviere, the wildlife biologist, is semi-retired now to focus more on his music but keeps a keen eye on the events that are re-shaping America. Riviere the musician, who records under the soubriquet Mad Buffalo, has just released the follow up to the critically acclaimed ‘Wilderness’ (2008) with the brilliant Red and Blue.

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5. Corb Lund - Cabin Fever
Alberta-born Canadian Corb Lund went to a Rocky Mountain refuge to craft the songs for his sixth album, Cabin Fever. The words evolved from a combination of introspection and hard traveling. The music comes from as many different directions as the music. Rockabilly, western swing, cowboy ballads and country rock wrap around tales of vampire goths, gravediggers and traveling troubadours depending on the Lord to protect them from southern lawmen. Cabin Fever has Corb Lund backed by his longtime band, The Hurtin’ Albertans. Corb is the recipient of the JUNO Award recipient in his native land and the Canadian Country Music Association has named him Roots Artist of the Year seven consecutive years from 2004 – 2010.

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6. Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden
Leaving Eden is the Carolina Chocolate Drops third full length CD, the follow-up to the group’s 2010 Grammy-winning Genuine Negro Jig which climbed to # 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart. The group brought in Roots music guru Buddy Miller for Leaving Eden. The Drop’s Rhiannon Giddens says of the experience, “We already had a lot of pressure, and it was a lot of change at once and trying to do a record under that. We’ve never traditionally been a band that hooks up together in the studio so that was kind of a new thing, and that was I think where Buddy Miller really shined in suggesting this or that. He didn’t want to push us any way or the other. He didn’t want to put us in this narrow category. He just kinda let the music do it”.

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7. Kevin Gordon - Gloryland
Guitars gather like clouds on the horizon of Gloryland. Kevin Gordon forms chords that rise in black, white, and gray bursts and it is his use of sonics that makes Gloryland so seductive. Distortion weaves through the songs and coils around vocals that acts as a beacon to guide you through varied gusts and swells on his six-strings. There is calm to his voice, more conversational and personal rather than shouting a message or trying to be heard over the rolling headers of sound. Hallelujah, Gloryland!

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8. Ruthie Foster - Let it Burn
Ruthie Foster blends soul, blues, rock, folk and gospel in her music. Grammy Award-winning producer John Chelew suggested she record an album in New Orleans , handpicking Crescent City' talent  for Let It Burn. The album features special guests The Blind Boys of Alabama, Soul legend William Bell, and the rhythm section of The Funky Meters. Let It Burn was a 2012 GRAMMY Nominee for Best Blues Album.

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9. Shemekia Copeland - 33 1/3
Shemekia Copeland named her album for the vinyl that brought her tunes on 33 1/3. The album features guest appearances by Buddy Guy and J. J. Grey. Shemekia covers “One More Time” by her dad, Johnny Copeland, along with Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News,” Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and J. J. Gray’s “A Woman.” “Lemon Pie” is an indictment of politicians who wave from the window of their trains at the rest of us who are eating bitter lemon pie for the poor and “Somebody Else’s Jesus” concerns a preacher full of hate who waves a Bible like a shotgun in the air.

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10. Lucy Kaplansky - Reunion
Lucy Kaplansky saves us the long road trip needed to get together with family and friends with her recent release, Reunion. Reunion acts as a diary for a traveling musician. The Woody Guthrie-worded and Slaid Cleaves-arranged “This Morning I Am Born Again”, gets a rebirth in Lucy’s arrangement and delivery. There is a softness to Lucy’s vocals, though the delivery never comes across as quiet. She has a mastery of words in her singing that allows the punch to be present without you ever seeing an arm drawn back to take the swing.

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11. Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back
Old Crow Medicine Show deliver Carry Me Back and follow their own advice back in time to the War Between the States for the semi-title track “Carry Me Back to Virginia”. OCMS songs go back decades but their personal history goes back a mere fifteen years. The band started life busking on street corners in New York state and up through Canada, eventually finding themselves in Boone, North Carolina where they caught the attention of folk icon Doc Watson while playing in front of a pharmacy. He immediately invited the band to play at his MerleFest and helped to launch their career. Old Crow Medicine Show relocated to Nashville for a residency at the Grand Ole Opry.

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12. Royal Southern Brotherhood - Royal Southern Brotherhood
Royal Southern Brotherhood counts top players among its members to create a supergroup for Roots with Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott. the name,and album title,  Royal Southern Brotherhood obviously is a reference to Cyril Neville and Devon Allman’s pedigree but there’s more Allman Brothers in this band than there is The Meters or Neville Brothers. That is if The Allmans sounded like The Rolling Stones. Devon Allman sees an opportunity with the name Royal Southern Brotherhood, “Maybe it’s time we took the connotation of “royal” away from the ruling elite and gave it to the musicians that help the masses get through the day with music.”  

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13. Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World
Gretchen Peters took photos and laid them out as songs in her latest album, Hello Cruel World. She captures moments in time with her pens eye, snapshots that have a lot more below the surface than what can be seen in the image. Gretchen’s words are the thoughts that go through in a flash but still manage to stuff a whole lot into a small space in time. They are the moments in life that stretch out when on the inside of a daydream, living what could have happened, the better way an answer or question could have been stated. The images take a lot of time playing in your mind but are no more than a wink in real time.

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14. Fred Eaglesmith - 6 Volts
Fred Eaglesmith makes sure that on 6 Volts, that the music and the words are one. The instrumentation has the stories back; both are ragged but not torn. The production on 6 Volts matches the way Fred Eaglesmith stays with a story like a hungry dog going after a bone with a chunk of meat still hanging on. The characters in his tales wear their pain for the world to see and take in. If songs can take spiritual form, Fred’s tales are Buddhist, incorporating the basic principles of Buddhism by transforming spiritual hardship into joy.

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15. Don Gallardo and How Far West - The Art of Troublesome Times
On The Art of Troublesome Times Don Gallardo delivers songs that are visions from a time machine whose odometer is broken. We’re never quite sure where we are in his time line, but wherever it is, Gallardo is able to reduce the clutter of contemporary voices in our head into a quieter, simpler vision. His music references the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Uncle Tupelo, and Tom Petty. His Americana-styled arrangements are contemporary in their mingling of electric and acoustic blends. The songs are fluid, fully realized and as relaxingly luxuriant as a recliner with a built-in massage unit.

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16. The White Buffalo - Once Upon a Time in the West
Titled Once Upon A Time In The West, the album features songs that remain in the same vein as The White Buffalo's previous works, but perhaps not quite as dark. "Although the songs mostly remain on a darker side, I suppose, I think the themes are a little rounder, broader, and a little more topical, perhaps”. Smith said. "And we're now working with some different time signature stuff as well." The thirteen tracks on Once Upon A Time In The West depict a theme of growing up in suburban California, which can relate to no matter where you land in geography by translating the stories into their own childhood experiences. The songs convey a skewed truthfulness, leaving one to their own devices in deciphering the lyrics and imagery.

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17. The Coal Porters - Find the One
The Coal Portersclaim Alternative Bluegrass for their music and Find The One takes its sound outside to sip Mint Juleps and lose your blues by losing your shoes and dancing “Barefoot on the Courthouse Lawn”. The Alternative side of their music is painted over the bluegrass traditions that The Coal Porter’s hold close to their hearts. As fiddles and banjos pepper the air with notes, Sid Griffin’s lead vocal is joined with harmonies that offer a near ballad on “Ask Me Again”. “Farmer’s Hands” weighs family heritage against the decision of a life in music; “Red Eyed & Blue” sees Country in its delivery; “You Only Miss Her When She's Gone” hits the gas pedal for a fast-paced mountain reel, and “Brand New Home” keeps the speed going and follows road signs down to Tennessee for its story line.

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18. Otis Gibbs - Harder Than Hammered Hell
Harder Than Hammered Hell pushes and pulls. Otis Gibbs’ voice is carved from its surrounding but never polished to soften or curve the edges. His words are sharp, and the well they are drawn from is deep. You can hear the booming resonance coming up from the depths in the full power of Mr. Gibbs vocals. No rants, no bellows, just one big damn voice that uses passion to fuel words and phrases. The truth is given center stage in Harder Than Hammered Hell

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19. The Cash Box Kings - Holler and Stomp
Holler & Stomp does exactly what The Cash Box Kings promise in the album title. There is no hidden agenda, cryptic sub-plots or false advertising. The men of CBK are here to holler and stomp all over Chicago and country blues. The Cash Box Kings have spent ten years honoring the Chicago blues tradition as it could be heard during the 1940 and 1950’s stronghold that the music had on the city. On Holler & Stomp, the band follows the sound back a little further. The Cash Box Kings found country blues by tracing the trail from Chicago back down south to the Mississippi delta to noodle a little country blues into their recording output.

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20. Tommy Womack - Now What?
Tommy Womack sees his life ‘as is’ and offers observations as an opening line on Now What!, his most recent release. Breaking down where we are in the present is an art, one that is aided by Mr. Womack’s natural talent, and confidence in, seeing things as a realist. Tommy Womack is in the drivers seat onNow What!. “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play” is a laundry list of a day in the life, the good and the bad riding on the same roller coaster; “a hundred bucks to play three sets, this is as good as it’s gonna get”. The songs and the man offer a yin/yang look at life. The ups and downs are played as they lay, and that is the reason that Tommy Womack presses buttons on his listener’s lives as much as his own. Tommy has the knack of clearly stating the obvious and delivering the message with humor and pathos.

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21. Mr. Nick and The Dirty Tricks - Oh Wow!
Better pull up the rug ‘cause it will get trashed. Mr. Nick and The Dirty Tricks are having a party on Oh Wow and your name is on the list. A big fat sax and rollicking piano steer the course on the self-titled album opener. The constant on Oh Wow is change and Mr. Nick wears Italian shoes through any of the style stops as The Dirty Crew nod to big bands, rockabilly, and turn on the spotlight for a slow dance. Mr. Nick and The Dirty Tricks play blues of the stomping and swinging version in the vein of Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Wynonie Harris, shaking it with original rhumbas, jump blues, and boogies

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22. Girls Guns and Glory - Sweet Nothings
Girls, Guns and Glory offer an full frontal album experience on Sweet Nothings. The sweetest thing on the album is the way the songs slide from one to another. The dead air between the songs is never a jagged edge, the pauses seeming more like a breath being taken before the next words are spoken. Girls, Guns and Glory bring a lot of class to Alt Country.

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23. Steve Forbert - Over With You
Over with You is as much about experiencing loss as it is about overcoming it. In typical Forbert fashion the songs are sometimes sad and oft times the sadness is dashed with humor. Forbert's ability to scathe is at times so understated that the scathing goes unnoticed. Over with You is another solid effort from one of music's most reliable and solid performers...it's about heartache without being lovesick.

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24. Ray Wylie Hubbard - The Grifter's Hymnal
The Grifter’s Hymnal, like A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment before it, was co-produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard and George Reiff, with tracks recorded at both Reiff’s home studio in Austin and at The Edythe Bates Old Chapel, located on the scenic grounds of the Round Top Festival Institute halfway between Austin and Houston. Ray Wylie Hubbard says of The Grifters Hymnal “The album really does have a lot of attitude. We made it to play loud, and I think the sonic quality of it is just beautiful. Even if you don’t like the singer or the songs, you’ll like the way it sounds.”

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25. DL Marble - Not the One
The collections of tracks on Not The One have the feel and form of a greatest hits package. The stories do not connect as a theme and the music never quite lands on a consistent style. This leaves an opportunity for each story to stands on its own, and that might just be the plan hatched between D.L. and Roscoe when putting the album together.  The songs on Not The One are a marriage of music that defined by a path the notes follow  set up against D.L.’s vocals, his voice containing the perfection of Pop and the knack of putting emotion into each word, dipping the message into joy and spite and delivering the story with a wink and a sly smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of NRBQ from Amazon or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 1 THROUGH 25

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Nikki Hill from Nikki Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 26 THROUGH 50

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 51 THROUGH 75

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 76 THROUGH 100

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 28. The Old 97’s – Too Far to Care - (1997) - Too Far to Care- The Old 97’s started their engines in Dallas, Texas before taking it on the road as a hard touring band. Too Far to Care was The Old 97’s third album release, the group’s first album for a major label (Elektra). Too Far to Care offered rock and twang together in Alt Country glory with frontman Rhett Miller’s wry humor and smart lyrics. It offered immediate classic status to the world with “Timebomb”, “Barrier Reef”, “Just Like California” and a duet with X/The Knitters vocalist, Exene Cervenka, on “Four Leaf Clover”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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lydia warren in the alternate rootLydia Warren – NBC’s Today Show claimed that Lydia Warren is “changing the face of the blues”. Her music takes her around the world performing, and she receives a lot of home town love with Boston Music Award nominations. The Lydia Warren Band places the raw emotion of blues in a modern context, creating a new sound dubbed “alt- blues.” Lydia draws on her influences of West Side Chicago blues and classic rock to create songs and learns by watching as she opens for Blues artists such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ruthie Foster, Ronnie Earl, Shemekia Copeland, Keb Mo and John Németh. Lydia Warren's most recent release was the E.P., Turn It Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 28. The Old 97’s – Too Far to Care - (1997) - Too Far to Care- The Old 97’s started their engines in Dallas, Texas before taking it on the road as a hard touring band. Too Far to Care was The Old 97’s third album release, the group’s first album for a major label (Elektra). Too Far to Care offered rock and twang together in Alt Country glory with frontman Rhett Miller’s wry humor and smart lyrics. It offered immediate classic status to the world with “Timebomb”, “Barrier Reef”, “Just Like California” and a duet with X/The Knitters vocalist, Exene Cervenka, on “Four Leaf Clover”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. Saved (1980) - Awful

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

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

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

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

BILL HURLEY