Originally from Oregon, Curtis Salgado was twenty-five years old, playing in a lounge band gig close by the filming of the movie Animal House near Eugene, Oregon. A bored John Belushi wandered in and by the end of the night had attached himself to the Blues through Curtis and his musical knowledge. Joliet Jake Blues as a character is credited to Curtis Salgado, and John Belushi cited Curtis as a source for his Blues Brothers skit, live show, and film. The Beautiful Lowdown for the album is that Curtis Salgado has matured into a musician that naturally inserts the Blues into his music without the need to be fenced in by a 12-bar border. Curtis Salgado takes his music for a Caribbean reggae romp as he toasts over Blue(s) Mountain bop for “Simple Enough”. The riffs that snake through “I Know a Good Thing” are determined, rigid while maintaining a rubbery rhythm as Curtis Salgado shakes, rattles, and rolls out on a Kansas City Big Joe Turner beat on “Ring Telephone Ring”, and draws an X through economic expectations when it leads out of integrity with “I'm Not Made That Way”. The Beautiful Lowdown lists reasons for the Blues as it warns that any criticisms need to “Walk a Mile in My Blues”.
The joy of a tune from The Hackensaw Boys is in the barely contained juggernaut rhythms they concoct. The force of the live show that has built their career is present on Charismo, as producer Larry Campbell captures the spark, channeling the flame and polishing the sound to give shine without studio sheen. The Hackensaw Boys finger point a love that gets its way in “Content Not Seeking Thrills (Ain't You)” as “You Want Me to Change” wonders just how far it will go to seal a heart deal. The rattle of Charismo percolates underneath the melody of “Flora” as “Limousin Lady” skitters on humility, “Worlds Upside Down” taps out its news, and “Happy for Us in the Down” stutters a beat to kick start a memory. The Hackensaw Boys are a non-stop machine in rhythms that turn like pistons for “By and By” as they walk a Country Folk road watching hard times surface in “The Sweet” while “Don't Bet Against Me” shuffles shyly around a proposal.
Dual themes of flight and loneliness course through In the Magic Hour as the stories take their inspiration from the life of their author as she tours to support her art and take her songs on the road. Aoife O’Donovan used family background for the tales, the death of her grandfather and her childhood summers visiting family in the small Irish coastal town of Clonakilty. Her voice rings out as she breaks free of twenty-nine years in “Hornets” as huge clouds of rolling rhythms break over “Not the Leaving” like the waves in its seaside story line. Sonically, In the Magic Hour drifts on Folk textures touched by soft percussive wing flaps in “Stanley Park”, gets pinned by random notes and rhythms to “Jupiter”, hitches a ride on bicycle handlebars silhouetted by the fast pulse beats of “Porch Light”, and flashes and pops out a snaking melody that snaps at “Magic Hour”. Fascinated by its ability to fly as a flock or solo, Aoife O’Donovan honors the “Magpie” in song, finding inspiration in feathered friends as she states ‘and I really like that they’re these creatures that have the whole sky at their disposal. You can be a loner, or you can be at the front of the V’.
Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue musically drives like a fine-tuned engine. The rhythms purr on “Here’s My Picture”, as the album travels with the windows rolled down for a cool breeze on Mose Allison’s “Stop This World”, steps out on a uptown Saturday night groove in “Prove It to Me”, and walks proud to back the advice of “Check Yourself”. Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue opens the album by kicking the loneliness out of the night with Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s “Midnight Hour” as they stroll through a version of Lee Allen’s “Walking with Mr. Lee” and rockabilly the Blues dancing to Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop”. Mark Hummel leads with a smooth vocal, steering the songs of Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue on his originals as he trades dignity for love in “Cool to be Your Fool”, gets the prize on the pounding beats of “Lucky Kewpie Doll”, and closes the band’s self-titled debut in a noir fog groove of city sounds and cool Blues with “End of the World”.
Laura Gibson walks up to the barricades on a foot stomp beat in album opener “The Cause” as Empire Builder softly cradles vocals with strings that whisper and soar in “The Search for Dark Lake”, takes a look at changing seasons left behind in “Caldera, Oregon”, seduces on a wiggling percussion swearing “Not Harmless”, and walks its story amid dappled beats and sound swells as “Five and Thirty” marks its age. Laura Gibson moved to NYC for graduate schooling, spending breaks from her fiction studies to record and discovering a life in her songs that she thought she had lost in the fire that took her written past away. Simple acoustic guitar plucks, a bass thump, and errant twang walk arm and arm with Laura Gibson as she proudly declares “Damn Sure”, moves on a shuddering beat with “Two Kids”, and slowly unravels “The Last One” on lush strings and thick notes from an electric guitar.
The second outing for Willie Sugarcapps wears the confidence of touring as a band in its songs. The tracks are unified within the band’s sound brand while the pens of its members walk with more definition. Savanna Lee leads Willie Sugarcapps through a tour of a “Faded Neighborhood” that was once home as Grayson Capps sings a song for back home with “Rosemary and Thyme”. Savanna Lee described the background for the tunes, stating that ‘Willie Sugarcapps is a breath of fresh air in a world that could use a little more positive energy. We sing about our own personal experiences of the life on the road, love, and family…things we care about and want to share with others. It’s not just about the songs but leaving the world with something meaningful’. Paradise Right Here introduces “Mancil Travis” on a dark tale that twists and turns Southern Gothic myths over snaking guitar riffs. The album opens on the bright fiddle and mandolin strums of “Dreamer’s Sky” as “Magnolia Springs” cake walks on a Willie Sugarcapps groove while “The Highway Breaks My Heart” rides a road song for ramblers.
The E.P. has a powerful current of water theme-ing its tracks. The album starts on a hop as the opening track takes Muddy Water down “Rabbit Hole Blues”. A John Lee Hooker-inspired riff is what shuffles under “The Mighty Flood” on a tune that Ray Ganucheau cites as impressions of the impact, aftermath, recovery, and rebirth of New Orleans post-Katrina. He points to “Deep Water Horizon” for a tale about the BP Gulf Oil Spill and hears history in the title track as Tommy Malone’s vocals channel his youth growing up in the small Louisiana town of Edgard on the Mississippe River Road. The Batture Boys offer “You Had a Problem”, the last tune Tommy wrote with former Subdudes bandmate and Edgard High School friend Johnny Ray Allen.
Formed in 1998, The Steepwater Band went to history career building tactics… they toured, then toured some more, playing live to fine-tune a rock that roars. Shake Your Faith cruises in on a Crazy Horse distortion hum as the album opens with the title track. The Steepwater Band slow the rhythm to a forceful heart thump as they demand change with “Bring on the Love”, use a rattle of chord strums to welcome ”Be As It May” in on a bounce, bend twang into a psychedelic guitar echoes in “I Will Never Know”, and fire electric Blues out like lazar shots with “Ain’t Got Love”.
The Cleopatra title track found its beginnings in a meeting with a cab driver in the Republic of Georgia who told his dramatic story to Wes without falling into self-pity. Coming out of the success of the previous album, The Lunineers have a birds-eye view of career success, and they talk of how fame corrupts in “Ophelia” while “Sleep on the Floor” looks at success from a pre-fame position that sees bright lights as a way out of a dull life. Cleopatra was recorded at a rural studio in Woodstock, New York with Felice Brother behind the boards as producer. The stark noodling of electric guitar is the foundation for the memories and observations in “Long Way from Home” as “The Gale Song” drifts lazily on plucked notes over heavy piano and drumbeats. Soft Folk Rock reads an open letter to “Angela” while “Gun Song” fires its stance on personal choices and “In the Light” is buoyed by airy guitar notes and heart thumps as the melody rises up.
World War Willieopens on Rock bombast as a toy piano riff gets teeth in a hurry with electric guitar chord backing claims of “Forever Wild” as Willie Nile adds his own bite over the rush-the-barricades rockabilly riffs of “Hell Yeah”, the unifying marching beat of “Let's All Come Together”, and in the rumble of the title track. Willie Nile honors a fellow fighter and survivor in the New York music scene with fervent take on Lou reed’s “Sweet Jane”.
The album opens with quiet acoustic notes under the tale of a ‘Yankee boy, born and bred in Boston’ as a new moon rises on a Country radio station soundtrack in “Oklahoma”. Mark Erelli introduces ‘a haunted man, lost in the “Netherlands” on a confident bass thump and an “Analog Hero” aka ‘the fix-it man’ while he softly sings a summer night sway in “Moonlit Lullaby”. For a Song was a different recording from previous nine albums, Mark hearing distinction as ‘I worked harder on these songs than on any previous batch of material. I kept going back over them, revising and rewriting. I took whole verses out of my songs – verses that I loved – and lo and behold, the songs improved. The message was distilled and amplified’. An island rhythm wiggles over declarations of love on “Wayside” as “French King” is crowned with a river song on a lazy Americana flow, and “Magic” sparkles on bright guitar strums that takes a ride down Main Street USA then and now.
Town Mountain take a moment to whisper with their playing as they let the melody cradle the lonely tale of “House with No Windows”. The track gives a spot for tenderness from the band, and they make good use of the peace as an island in the higher energy musical muscle of Southern Crescent. Town Mountain provide a smooth, determined rhythm as a base for “Leroy’s Reel” though the band finds its comfort zone in lightning fast playing as they spin their Bluegrass like a top through “Long Time Comin’” and “Arkansas Gambler”.
Piano runs lead the way through the cha-cha beat of “As We Were”, plucked acoustic guitar notes snap around “You Took My Future”, reverbed electric guitar notes march across “Better at Lying” as the rhythms of “Wondering” rise and fall, coursing under harmonies that stay consistent on their path. Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones are a fit for the Vintage warmth of organ swells, dancing piano, metronome perfect drumming against electric and acoustic rock’n’roll guitars of Little Windows. The songs were captured live, giving the recording a freshness and vulnerability with vocals and playing captured on a 16-track analog machine at the Carriage House in Los Angeles. CA. The vocals were cut live with the band to get back to the origins of what is now Vintage recording as well as the start of the rock’n’roll sound. Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones sway with sass as they cruise along “Only Fooling” while the pair pound the beat down for “Make a Wish on Me”, and toss in some twang as Country love makes demands on “You Can't Call Me Baby” as the track drifts into Little Windows.
The touches of jazz that Lizanne Knott ties to Excellent Day are loose rhythms and strums. She lays the sound across the Folk and Americana she has honed since emerging from the Philadelphia Folk scene. Excellent Day opens on the edge of a rhythm rumble as drums pound to meet the demands, requests, and seductions of Lizanne Knott as she draws wayward moths into the flames of “Come in for the Kill”. She is in love and alone at a corner bar wondering “Why You Wanna Break My Heart” amid thoughts of ‘Coldplay in a strangers bed, wishing it was me instead’ while “Rainbow Crow” flies on a thick wintery beat and “Someday Love” bounces on bubbles of optimism coming up from the story line. Lizanne Knott collects tales of love, loss, and redemption, tacking them with pins of Americana, Delta Blues, New Orleans Soul, and Vintage Nashville on to Excellent Day. She smolders on a cover of George and Ira Gershwin’s “It Ain't Necessarily So” as she travels on the worn thump of tires in Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car”. Lizanne Knott blends torch and twang with subtle whispers in the confessions of “Tennessee”.
Luke Pruitt: I wrote the record in my hometown after moving back from Nashville. Being in the town I grew up in sort of reconnected me to that kid in the song “County Fair” in “Songs of Home, pt 1”, and I knew I wanted to develop that character in Part 2. He is sort of an archetype for the suburbia raised millennial kid. He’s the kid that reads Walden in high school and gets a liberal arts degree because it’s what he is passionate about. It’s the youthful version of him: innocent, ignorant to his privilege, curious about the world beyond his hometown and anxious to leave it. In part 2 he leaves home after 9/11, and so his story becomes one where he’s seeking answers to all the big questions that we ask in our youth while the world is in chaos.
Part Two features tales that move from the guitar of a singer/songwriter and into sweeping stories that follow its character back into a tough barrio childhood (“Coyotaje”), hear ire raise up with the beat heading out of town “Born in the Wrong Time as the album echoes twang for tex-mex noir on “Stranger”, lets love take the driving wheel with “Bless the Winds”, and puts world politics into manageable numbers with “Two Kinds of People”. Luke filled in the story on Songs of Home, Part Two.
Luke Pruitt: The idea was to juxtapose that character with the immigrant characters and challenge the idea of what “home” is. “Eric and Lily” is the song in Songs of Home, Pt. 1 that really got me onto that idea. In part 2, I interviewed some friends who are immigrants from Mexico and they were proud to share their story. It sort of became a duty and responsibility to do their story justice. It’s a view of “home” as this place that you’re forced to abandon and then rebuild from scratch, where this millennial kid has a fairly grounded “home” but is sort of seeking a more abstract version of it. After 9/11, the immigrant is in a world where people are more paranoid and afraid of people who look different than they do, and the millennial kid is wondering why we’re sending troops into Iraq and is starting to question the system.
A soft tire thump opens Lover and Leavers as “Drive” steers the story into a traveler’s tale of the road. Hayes Carll brings out “The Magic Kid” out on dramatic percussion with a tale that hints at Hayes’ son Elijah’s own history to deal out its story. Lovers and Leavers marches on a rumbling shuffle as it passes the torch between styles for the “Sake of the Song” while “My Friends” has a smile for each Southern town and friendly face that Hayes has seen from a street corner or stage. “The Love That We Need” gauges the distance between ‘the life that we wanted and the love that we need’ and Hayes Carll bids goodbye to Lovers and Leavers with a sad song shining on the album’s exit under “Jealous Moon”.
As a producer, Dave Cobb is as much a part of whatever new sound fans here in the music of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. His work on albums such as Traveler (Chris Stapleton), Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Sturgill Simpson) and Something More Than Free (Jason Isbell) put Dave Cobb at ground zero for a shift in music. He has become family with the artists he works, and they return the favor on Southern Family. Jason Isbell sings for the workers with “God is a Working Man”, and Anderson East puts Soul into his Country over smooth organ trills with even smoother vocals with “Learning”. Black Crowe brother Rich Robinson uses his electric guitar to back The Settles Connection for a gospel close to Southern Family with “The Way Home”.
The songs of Robbie Fulks have a literary form, his stories staged on sparse banjo in “America is a Hard Religion”, a track that joins “Alabama at Night” and “A Miracle” as a trio of tunes inspired by James Agee’s view of American poverty on a trip through 1936 Alabama. Drawn to the words of other authors, the songs of Upland Stories are mirrored as influence from Anton Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, Mary Lavin, Javier Marias, and Frank O’Connor. As time changes the big picture Robbie Fulks points to consistencies in life with “South Bend Soldiers On” while he introduces “Aunt Peg's New Old Man” as an old time fiddler, shares younger days with the old folks at home in “Baby Rocked Her Dolly”, and exits Upland Stories on a leaving song that bids goodbye to multiple loves in “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Girls”.
Josh Williams history with Bluegrass goes back to five years old when his grandmother gave him a ukulele. Josh attended IBMA before his tenth birthday and started playing in Chicago’s Special Consensus in high school. Modern Day Man is the first release from Josh Williams in six years. The tracks include tunes from Tom T. Hall, Chris Stapleton, and Jerry Douglas with A-list player backing from musicians such as Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, and pedal steel legend Doug Jernigan. Producer J.D. Crowe credits Josh for blending his Bluegrass with a good country singing voice. Modern Day Man sees life as a revolving circle as Josh Williams tells a lonely tale in “Always Have, Always Will” while he slows the melody to highlight the tender hopes of “Let It Go”, picks up the step for a mountain climb with “Mordecai”, and opens a heart to close the door in “The Great Divide”.
Elephant Revival play with a grace, confident in their abilities as a shared musical vehicle. The band challenged their past musical accomplishments for the new recording. Daniel Rodriguez feels that ‘this album has a lot of space and grit – an honoring of silence juxtaposed with some really intense moments. Recording Petals was all about breaking musical patterns and sonic recipes that we have been using for our previous records’. The band credits producer Sam Kassirer (Lake Street Dive, Langhorne Slim, Josh Ritter) with helping them find new ways to hear sound and arrangements. Elephant Revival pull back the curtain and open Petals with a pedal steel rising up like dawn to greet the vocals of Bonnie Paine in “Hello You Who” as “Raindrops” flows with gentle streams of melody, “On and On” spins its wheel with rotating rhythms, and “Furthest Shore” stages a dramatic tale with Old English Folk phrasing against free-form notes dancing in whirling patterns.
01 – Kasey Chambers (from the album Bittersweet on Sugar Hill Records 7-24-16) - Kasey Chambers and producer, Nick DiDia (Bruce Springsteen, The Wallflowers, Pearl Jam), crafted an album that tags heritage with the teasing bite of her characters that brands Kasey Chambers and the Roots instrumentation that surrounds her stories. The album, recorded in seven days, stamps a freshness to the tunes that is present on each listen. Kasey relates that for her, she ‘wanted to have an experience making a record that I have never had before. I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to be excited’.
02 Chris Stapleton (from the album Traveller on Mercury Nashville 5-4-15) - The songs on Traveller crawl up on you like a low slung guitar, bobbing and weaving with footwork that steps to match the moods the stories conjure. A bottle and a wedding ring sit on the table as Chris attaches weight to both, gauging the differences between “Whiskey and You”. Traveller makes its case the perfect pack for a long road trip as Chris steers the songs swaying to the string strums on “More of You” in harmony with wife Morgane Stapleton, shrugs and lights up “Might As Well Get Stoned” with electric guitar chords that strut into the room like a smoking caterpillar pied piper.
03 Glen Hansard (from the album Didn’t He Ramble on Anti- Records 9-18-15) - Didn’t He Ramble enters on a determined whisper as confession becomes commitment as “Grace Beneath the Pines” sets the bar for hurdles that have been jumped. Audio vignettes scroll by on the album as a backdoor Romeo asks the morning birds to grant him one more ‘two step around your front room’ from “Her Mercy”, a scratchy beat tumbles along a get-away path with the “Lowly Deserter”, and quiet to hear the memories rising up , over, and back under “McCormack’s Wall”. Glen Hansard began busking at the age of thirteen on the street of Dublin, Ireland after he quit high school. Didn’t He Ramble still plays to the passersby, drawing them in with words, melody, and magic of hearing exactly what you needed while waiting for the light to change.
04 Punch Brothers (from the album The Phosphorescent Blues on Nonesuch Records 1-27-15) - That style that The Punch Brothers have nurtured is silhouetted against the soft glow of their recent T-Bone Burnett-produced release, The Phosphorescent Blues. The overall sound of the album brings is orchestrated Bluegrass. The magic of The Punch Brothers music is that they can appeal to diverse audiences from mainstream to deep Indie, Bluegrass purists and Americana torch-bearers. They are traditionalist innovators that encompass classical orchestral sweeps the blends with their mountain music on The Phosphorescent Blues.
05 Jason Isbell (from the album Something More Than Free 7-17-15) by Michael Verity - Jason Isbell offers ten strong narratives of the common man’s experience of faith, family and the temporal matters of life with which every grownup must contend on Something More Than Free. The middle half dozen songs on this recording -- from the haunting solo piece of time and travel called “Flagship” to the epic song of a family’s history (“Children of Children”) to the closing chapter of another family’s history (“Speed Trap Town”) -- are among the finest six songs to have been recorded this year. By Michael Verity
06 Steve Earle and the Dukes (from the album Terraplane on New West Records 2-17-05) - Terraplane offers album space to a variety of Blues- based rambles as it shuffles on a front porch rhythm about a New York City woman in “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now”, corrals a Chuck Berry groove for a raga romp in “Acquainted with the Wind” and uses a rock’n’roll blade made of riffs to carve out a return to fashion for “Go Go Boots are Back”. Steve Earle and the Dukes never line up for one style stamp though they manage to infuse every track with the roots grit falling from their collective boots. Soul pumps the harmonica and the rhythm of its Blues on album opener “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)”, stripping any shred of humility away as it heralds the birth of “King of the Blues”.
07 Kacey Musgraves (from the album Pageant Material on Mercury Nashville) 6-23-15 - Kacey Musgraves has a knowing for how songs should sound; delivered with a wry sense of humor and a big beating heart gives Kacey the crown of Cool Country. Pageant Materialchews a hole back fence gossip making “Biscuits” burn with ‘mend your own fences, and own your own crazy, mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy’. Smart stories stand by the lives they live, and Kacey Musgraves teases the tales with vocals that profess views without preaching positions.
08 The Milk Carton Kids (from the album Monterey on Anti- Records 5-19-15) - The Milk Carton Kids maintain a huge amount of warmth and believability as they gently pick and pluck notes from the air, digging through pockets of Folk to find the quiet nestled just a stone’s throw from silence. The hushed delivery compliments the humor of The Milk Carton Kids banter as well as the microscope they use to script emotion in their songs. The Milk Carton Kids seal songs in amber waves of notes and sepia-toned stories under “Asheville Skies” as the trees spread color into the November fall, mournfully asking in a whisper to “Sing, Sparrow, Sing”, and sway with soft ocean breezes lapping against land as the road calls in the title track.
09 Leon Bridges (from the album Coming Home on Columbia Records 6-23-15) - Leon Bridges uses Coming Home to masterfully moves Soul back to mainstream, guiding Coming Home with one hand on the wheel and two feet planted firmly on a groove.
10 The Turnpike Troubadours (from the album The Turnpike Troubadours 9-18-15) - The musical backing for the Roots of Turnpike Troubadours is a non-stop motion machine. Bobbing and weaving under the stories are teasing fiddles, guitar crunches and a determined rhythm section that give the tunes on The Turnpike Troubadours solid footing. The foundation the band creates make it possible for the stories to ramble, walking to the edge of emotion or reason to find the love left lying on the corner of “Easton and Main” as they provide the only safe spot for the man sinking fast below the poverty line in “The Bird Hunters” while they follow the boy heading down to “Bossier City” to drink and gamble his cares away.
11 Nikki Lane (from the album All or Nothin’ on New West Records 5-6-15) - Nikki Lane caught the ear of her producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys enough to get his studio for free. All or Nothin’ is a sweeping soundscape filled with varied styles and takes on Roots music presented from the perspective of kaleidoscope Country singer, Nikki Lane
12 The Black Lillies (from the album Hard to Please10-2-15) - The Black Lillies open Hard to Please with the title track. It is a tough call whether the song is to a lover, or a higher calling, and it is certainly possible that the band were aiming the title phrase at the music industry that are constantly looking for labels to attach to their artists, or asking them to define themselves in one or two words. Musically, there is no other definition needed than that they are a band making a record, letting the way they hear each song tell the tale of how the music will back the story. On “Hard to Please”, the title track chugs and stomps as a playful twang lightly tags the persistent rhythms that set the pace for its song followers on the recording. “Fade” quietly aids the exit with a love request, bordering album opener with heartfelt pleas.
13 Dave Rawlings’ Machine (from the album Nashville Obsolete on Acony Records 9-18-15) - Dave Rawlings’ Machine is the driving wheel as they guide Nashville Obsolete gracefully through its stories, introducing characters and wearing a skin that remembers, relates, and exposes their tales. “The Last Pharaoh” is a seeker, possibly tracking down a royal line, or maybe looking a Faro card game, the most popular pastime on an American frontier in the 1800’s that stretched Deadwood to Tijuana, Reno to Natchez, New Orleans to St. Louis. Faro tables were familiar sights and sounds in every saloon and become the stage set for the tale.
14 Barrence Whitfield and the Savages (from the album Under the Savage Sky on Bloodshot Records 8-21-15) - Barrence Whitfield and the Savages give their latest Bloodshot Records release, Under the Savage Sky, the identical treatment they have offered with their music since 1984…one hundred and ten percent commitment. Under the Savage Sky is Rock’n’Soul on steroids; Barrence Whitfiled and the Savages a chainsaw to cut through the wall of sound full of the crass representations passing for rock in 2015.
15 Anne McCue (from the album Blue Sky Thinkin’ 2-3-15) - Blue Sky Thinkin’, Anne McCue’s 2015 album release, and the seventh in her catalog, is a satisfying sheaf of twelve new original tunes that speak to her love of music from the 20s, 30s and 40s while demonstrating her sizable skills as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. (Michael Verity)
16 Ray Wylie Hubbard (from the album The Ruffians Misfortune 4-7-15) - Ray Wylie wanted to have a Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood-type of two guitar backing, bringing in Gabe Rhodes and his son, Lucas Hubbard, for The Ruffian’s Misfortune. The twin guitars share space as they propel across a fast-train ride rhythm “Down by the River”, snake underneath “Chicksinger Badass Rockin’”, snap at the white lines trailing below “Bad on Fords”, and drift like six-string ghosts as they tumble with a fiery fiddle calling out “Jessie Mae”. The Ruffian’s Misfortune opens to righteous Blues preaching on “All Loose Things”, as it hums a Kevin Welch tune.
17 Uncle Lucius (from the album The Light 6-9-15) - Uncle Lucius have always had salvation in their songs, sitting comfortably as a sideman for the electric chords and beats. Uncle Lucius turn on The Light and watch its songs go into dark corners, shadowy hallways, and travel one lane roads as they search, seek and provide answers for how to walk a little prouder. The hint is that you can feel a little better about yourself by taking control of your own life.
18 John Moreland (from the album High on Tulsa Heat 4-21-15) - John Moreland songs began to form when a ten years old John and his family moved from Kentucky to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He heard his songs against a punk rock back beat throughout high school, ut and pasted on his dad’s Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Steve Earle records. John recalls that ‘I think what appealed to me about it was lyrics. In hardcore, there might be great lyrics in a song but you have to read them off a piece of paper to know it. I was 19 in 2004, and Steve Earle had put out ‘The Revolution Starts Now,’ and I remember hearing the song ‘Rich Man’s War’ and totally feeling like somebody just punched me in the chest.’
19 Lilly Hiatt (from the album Royal Blue on New West Records 3-3-15) - Royal Blue moves with a pulse pumping a heart aware that things work out in equal measure, sometimes going belly up. Lilly Hiatt doesn’t drown in the ocean she is swimming as she claims the skin of “Somebody’s Daughter”. She is taking the reins, unsure of the hows and whys yet very clear on the end results working out, knowing ‘I’m gonna be fine’. Royal Blue keeps a Modern Beat with a 60’s sci-fi rumble as it reads a broken heart note signed “Too Bad”, “Heart Attack” runs on a David Lynch sound track with its dream-induced beat zig zagging on a ghostly groove, bounces off a rock’n’roll jangle trying to “Get This Right”, and uses tight drum beats to corral the wobbly guitars running “Off Track”.
20 The Grahams (from the album Glory Bound 5-18-15) - If you are looking for a song on Glory Bound to make you feel worse about your day…move along. The Grahams are never far away from waving the banner of the road though they change the mood of their songs like the scenery flying by outside a southbound boxcar. Glory Boundis a light burning bright for taking chances and listening to the voices in your head.
21 The Wood Brothers (from the album Paradise 10-2-15) - Chris Wood uses an electric bass for the first time in Wood Bros. studio recordings on Paradise. The heavier thump grounds tracks like “American Heartache” giving a rock heft to the natural power of The Wood Brothers. Oliver Wood’s voice cries for salvation with the soul-searching of a zealot, as the songs offer inspiration within reach. The ways to plow through the middle of issues is covered in the challenging advice of “Singin’ for Strangers” with additional experiential advice on how to swim upstream on a“River of Gin” to get some kind of ‘amen’ as The Wood Brothers quiet to a hush to sing a “Heartbreak Lullaby” for love sick boys.
22 Della Mae (from the album Della Mae on New Rounder Records 5-12-15) - Della Mae fires its opening salvo with a pro-union and pro-women’s rights song that demands ‘pass me a match and we’ll strike it on the ground, and we’ll head back down to Boston town’. The women of Della Mae stand tall and proud as they challenge workers to take control of their lives and hold on to their dignity.
23 Shelby Lynne (from the album I Can’t Imagine on New Rounder Records 5-4-15) - Shelby Lynne songs sink into your senses with familiarity by the end of the track. “Son of a Gun” slows its pace to save its energy as it ‘walks through the noonday sun’, “Back Door Front Porch” swings with the decisions of its story, and “Better” drifts on clouds of amplifier rings, rising and falling with a delicate grace.
24 Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (from the album The Traveling Kind on Nonesuch Records 5-12-15) - Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are no strangers to being a part of one another’s story line. The add accent and emotion, Continuing that model on The Traveling Kind. There is a beauty to the intimate moments that feels like a new page for the Harris-Crowell songbook. Rodney joins Emmylou as they offer a toast to fellow troubadours in the title track before circling back to just two folks looking for a dance floor as they exit The Traveling Kind on a ‘le bon temps roulé’ with “Le Danse de la Joie”.
25 JD McPherson (from the album Let the Good Times Roll on New Rounder Records 2-10-15) - Reverbed chords rotate over Let the Good Times Roll like the blades of an oscillating fan. JD McPherson is not claiming purist or avant garde status….he is just playing it as it lays. Let the Good Times Roll sets the guitar sound in line with the upright bass and rattles with layered reverb in “Precious”, double times a rubbery chord strum to tumble “Head Over Heels” and blows breath beats out on a groove primed by a low riding saxophone pumps. Let the Good Times Roll lays Rhythm over its Blues for R&B circa 2015.
26 Pilgrim (from the album Easy People on Horton Records 11-6-15) - Motion is a key ingredient on Easy People, the recent release from Pilgrim. It comes from the full album play being a great match for long car trips; its songs possessing the magic that makes outside images part of a soundtrack unique to the journey. Easy People glides with the hum of rubber underneath you, the flow of the songs a road rhythm, speeding up when the exit turns into highway on “Get Me Outta This City”, going to a steady roll that tracks a hundred miles in the space of a song on “Can’t Let Go”, and slowing to feel its own heartbeat quicken on a returns home (“My Heart is Mine”).
27 Ashley Monroe (from the album The Blade on Warner Music Nashville) 7-24-15- The Blade spends time in baring souls (“Has Somebody Ever Told You”), inspiring (“Weight of the World”), walking away slowly but proud (“I Buried Your Love Alive”), and betting on losing being a sure thing (“Winning Streak”). Ashley Monroe plays songs that are proud to call themselves Country, as they should be. The Blade cuts across through posing and cuts into real emotions, real life that unfolds again and again.
28 Joe Louis Walker (from the album Everybody Wants a Piece on Provogue Records 10-9-16) - There is fluidity to guitar playing of Joe Louis Walker. The notes glide, merging and fading into one another seamlessly. Joe Louis spins a spell with “Witchcraft” over funky chops of guitar chords, softly plays the Blues to his equally lonely four walls as he admits to being “Black and Blue”, matches voice and notes to walk into the light of “One Sunny Day”, and puts a “Buzz on You” as he staggers and struts the tune over a Rock’n’Roll rhythm. Everybody Wants a Piece preaches without saying a word on the instrumental “Gospel Blues”, surfs choppy waves of guitar chords to “Wade in the Water”, takes “Young Girl Blues” for a date on a Kansas City street circa 1950-something to hear Blues give birth to rock’n’roll, and stands center stage 2015 for the amped-up, lowdown Blues in the title track.
29 Patty Griffin (from the album Servant of Love 9-25-15) - Patty Griffin casts a spell with the piano that begins “Servant of Love”, the title track from her most recent album release. The notes become an intricate trance, mingling at some point with a wandering jazz horn and the deep breaths of cello notes. Patty’s poetic lyrics weave as the instruments blend and separate in a loop throughout the track. Servant of Love beds in musical styles ranging through Folk, Jazz, Americana, and Blues. Patty Griffin has an easy vocal approach that she comfortably fits into all the musical styles lucky enough to have her drop by. It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees though if you have to bend, Patty Griffin shows that music is the kind of loving master where commitment pays off with Servant of Love
30 Rhiannon Giddens (from the album Tomorrow is My Turn on Nonesuch Records 2-10-15) - Rhiannon Giddens offers cover versions on Tomorrow is My Turn, her 2015 solo release. Rhiannon bends the Blues around the notes Patsy Cline offered in “She’s Got You”, and shares that “Black is the Color” over a skittery garage beat that trip hops on a natural high as the percussion plows along.
31 Buddy Guy (from the album Born to Play Guitar 7-31-15) - Buddy Guy carved out his own spot on the marquee with his unique playing, becoming the man often credited for being the bridge between Blues and Rock’n’Roll with his electric guitar tuning to tradition as much as innovation. Born to Play Guitar puts Buddy’s sweet vocals alongside the feral tease of his guitar playing. His fingers sound let loose from a starting gate rather than placed between the guitar frets.
32 Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin (from the album Lost Time on Yep Roc Records 9-18-15) - Phil Alvin cries “Please Please Please”, laying gospel Blues on the James Brown/Johnny Terry tune while the brothers hop up some Blues boogie for Leroy Carr’s “Papas on the House Top” and strut into Oscar Brown, Jr’s “Mister Kicks” with the scent of brimstone rising up from the blistering guitar notes of brother Dave. The guitar swoons and slashes throughout Lost Time, a true duet between the Alvin’s as the album answers the guitar call as trumpet into the rhythm rattle of “World’s in a Bad Condition”, wrestles a wayward riff into line with a solid beat on Willie Dixon’s “Sit Down Baby”, lightly touches Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey’s “If You See My Savior”, and carries the heavy burden of a life gone wrong with “In New Orleans (Rising Sun Blues)”.
33 Barnstar! (from the album Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!! On Signature Sounds 2-3-15) - The idea started in the brain of Zachariah Hickman, musical director for Ray Lamontagne and bass player for Josh Ritter. Snagging A-list New England musicians (Mark Erelli on guitar, Charlie Rose on banjo, Jake Armerding on fiddle and Taylor Armerding on mandolin), Zachariah found some songs, plugged in his bass and took his idea through concept and into fruition with Barnstar! A mix of band originals and covers merge seamlessly within Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!
34 Chessboxer (from the E.P. Apollo 9-25-15) - Listening to the music of Chessboxer is like falling through the looking glass, gazing at an ocean for the first time, or, I would guess, space travel. Chessboxer are a three piece bluegrass-looking outfit. Looks can be deceiving, as we know, and certainly as can be heard on the trio’s E.P., Apollo. The music of Chessboxer cultivates the way that banjo, fiddle, and upright bass interact. The band seems to accomplish this by pretty much ripping apart any how-to manuals, and creating their own craft sound, a small brewery of Bluegrass.
35 Christian Lopez Band (from the album Onward 5-18-15) - Nineteen year old singer and songwriter Christian Lopez scribes his debut, Onward, with a narratives wise beyond his years. Christian’s bold emotional vocals steer the album confidently as they cruise through singer/songwriter Country.
36 Amy Black (from the album The Muscle Shoals Sessions 6-9-15) - The Muscle Shoals Sessions changes the way Amy Black hears herself on record as well as her musical directions. Amy knows that ‘making this music has changed me as an artist. It’s altered my musical course and I’m so glad’. Amy Black showcases her new path on The Muscle Shoals Sessions as a good fit as she delivers a blend of Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, and Rock’n’Soul. She reheats Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me” as a Soul stew with the McCrary Sisters helping stir.
37 James McMurtry (from the album Complicated Game) 2-24-15 by Michael Verity - Sometimes life can be a complicated game and few tell the story as clearly as James McMurtry. His sharp-eyed lyricism and simple delivery are a pleasure to behold, the work of an artist completely at home with his muse. There are three central themes on this record of stories about the human condition, arduous though it may be. First, there’s love or, perhaps more accurately, the ever oscillating energy of love that includes falling in it, wondering where it’s gone and hitting the road to find it. Second, there’s travel, the need of a restless man to see the far corners of the world or, at least, cross the roads and rivers of his own country. In “Ain’t Got A Place,” the skies are taller in Louisiana and wider in New Mexico (and rivers run East out of West Virginia). “Forgotten Coast” is pure escapism but, sometimes, travel includes family, as it does on “Long Island Sound. Finally, there’s man’s complicated relationship with the ever-idiosyncratic Mother Nature, another woman who exerts a powerful force in his life. Delivered in a voice unvarnished and a style simplistic, these are tunes that capture the intricacies of human existence in all their fine and flawed form, a bit like a Steinbeck on a CD. By Michael Verity
38 Gretchen Peters (from the album Blackbirds 2-10-15) - Blackbirds gathers stories, backing the tales with honest Roots that tip their arrows into a Country touched Folk when a question is shared with Jimmy LaFave on “When You Coming Home” while Folk sticks to its pure singer/songwriter Roots to scribe the plight on “Pretty Things”. Gretchen Peters feathers Blackbirds with emotions that run strong for a desert homecoming as they realize that when ‘“All you Got is a Hammer” everything seems like a nail’ while she damns the realizations that extend beyond today and into forever acknowledging that ‘The Cure for the Pain” is the pain’.
39 The White Buffalo (from the album Love and the Death of Damnation 8-21-16) - The White Buffalo uses the microphone as a pulpit, the growl of his roar guiding Love and the Death of Damnation from the entry rush of Folk Rock (“Dark Days”) to the gospel salvation on the exit track, “Come on Love, Come on In”. He records as a mission, his songs presented by statements on good and evil as choices (“Last Call to Heaven”), topping off his tank with love (“Home in Your Arms”), and telling tales of bad decisions mixed with revenge (“Chico”).
40 Israel Nash (from the album Israel Nash’s Silver Season 10-9-15) - Israel Nash is the court bard of medieval times, commemorating a story to song by building long sweeping musical beds to allow the scenes and characters to act against audio movie screens. The ethereal movement of the music on Israel Nash’s Silver Season never gets too close to the ground due to the musical force behind the songs. Falsetto screams and Country Rock harmonies are held in place by the pounding beat in “Lavendula” as “Mariner’s Ode” falls into a dream staring at the painting of an old school seaman. Israel Nash creates isolated moments in his songs that are best appreciated as full album listens.
41 Jim Lauderdale (from the Soul Searching; Memphis, Volume 1, Nashville, Volume 2 9-25-15) - Jim Lauderdale is a natural born singer, managing to put his heart in Soul, and Country with the natural Blues fueled Rock’n’Roll bite in his delivery. Soul Searching, Memphis Volume One is Soul with a Country love as Jim Lauderdale opens the album on thick organ swells, sliced guitar chords, and horn blasts to get the rhythm shaking across a soundscape of Soul with “There's no End to the Sky”. Soul Searching, Nashville Volume Two is Country that loves its Soul with Jim Lauderdale voicing hope (“Plan B”), slinky rhythm danger (“Black Widow Spider”), slow dance confessions (“What Do I Know About Anything”), and sharp-edged history notes trying to not make the same mistakes (“Timing is Everything”).
42 Los Lobos (from the album Gates of Gold on 429 Records 9-25-15) - Los Lobos delivered their first studio recording in the past five years with the recently released, Gates of Gold. The (former) little band from East L.A., has long ago joined the ranks of American bands that play, curate, and advance American Roots music, as Los Lobos put their names alongside the Grateful Dead, The Band, Little Feat, and others as melting pot music. Los Lobos muse is influenced by the breeding ground where Folk, Tex-Mex, Blues, Rock’n’Roll, Country, and all things Roots all hook up. Los Lobos pack a lot of tones and textures into the album as they set up behind the walls of Gates of Gold, letting the title track roll along on notes, beats, chords, and voices tumble over one another with the grace of Olympians while “Mis-Treater Boogie Blues” pulls back, revs up, and fires off a blast of Texas Boogie.
43 Au Pair (from the album One Armed Candy Bear 11-13-15) - Au Pair is the lovechild of Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) and Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony). The Pair met in Chicago, IL. As part of a celebration for the music of Big Star. They recorded One Armed Candy Bear in Durham, North Carolina. Au Pair create a fractured Folk music, using loops and bleeps as part of a junkyard accumulation of instruments, describing themselves at Everly Brothers meets Pink Floyd on their Facebook website. Like its mystical namesake, there is a fantasy tone to the stories on One Armed Candy Bear that is backed by dreamlike landscapes moving below (“King of the Valley”), dark clouds of eerie sonics (“Night Falls Early”), sounds that rise and fade (“One-Eyed Crier”), and percussive stomps and strums (“New Deal”).
44 Eilen Jewell (from the album Sundown Over Ghost Town 5-26-15) - ‘Been around this world, just to come back to you," sings Eilen Jewell on "Worried Mind," the first song on the eighth long player of her career, Sundown over Ghost Town. It's an apt opening line for an album about returning home which, for Eilen, means a trip back to Boise, Idaho, the dusty cowboy town of her birth.
45 Chuck Hawthorne (from the album Silver Line 4-28-15) - Chuck Hawthorne has way of translating hours and minutes in a day, offering life in real time, showing troubles in a song. Silver Line is a goal, and a title, for the most recent Chuck Hawthorne release. Silver Line introduces characters that their creator inhabits in a way that makes it difficult to suss out which are the tales and how much of the history fits the steps of Chuck Hawthorne as a solider and a troubadour as the pain of the solider that traces back to his time at “Post 2 Gate” while “The Gospel Hammer” joins the corporate workforce as Chuck follows the trail of smoke from addiction climbing higher, fanned by wings with “Dragon Flies”.
46 Paul Benjaman Band (from the album Sneaker on Horton Records 10-30-15) - A sly, slinky, back forty bonfire beat casts a spell with the trance groove of “Black Country Magic”. Sneaker shares the stage with Willie and his Hand Jive as it pounds out a mighty message promising to “Shake Your Tree”. If you are naming names for Sneaker, you can check off guitar riffs, soulful vocal glue, and a beat you can dance to on the album. Sneaker” creeps infectiously up and attaches with something primally familiar.
47 The Yawpers (from the album American Man on Bloodshot Records 10-30-16) - The Yawpers are a Denver, Colorado based band that is wound tightly around lead vocals and lead guitar. Jesse Parmet’s guitar has a feral attack matched well with the punk political spit of frontman Nate Cook. The Yawpers link arms with a worldwide community that ‘walk the line between what I want and what’s rightfully mine ’in “Faith and Good Judgment” as they find themselves stranded in Van Nuys (CA) and walking out in the cool Country air while “Burdens” finds a small town exit for a seventeen year old who knows he had better ‘get out while I’m young enough to run’.
48 Sugarcane Jane (from the album Dirt Road’s End 4-28-15) - Dirt Road’s End is a duo with friends as the songs catch a ride on a bass bump that navigates down “Heartbreak Road”, adds guitar jangle sweetness to the already honey-dripping vocals wrapped in “Sugar”, and sees the beauty of the “San Andreas”, sharing the gossip that ‘if god had a home, she’d be living there’. Sugarcane Jane sonically mirror their environment. The songs are not autobiographical though their ties to home and family dig the tracks roots directly into the earth we share under our feet.
49 Whitney Rose (from the album Heartbreaker of the Year 8-21-15) - Whitney Rose recorded her second album, the recently released Heartbreaker of the Year, in four days. Whitney had a ringer in her earphones with veterans, The Mavericks, on board for the album, and the band’s frontman, Raul Malo, producing as well as performing on Heartbreaker of the Year. Raul‘s mighty voice is subtle, supporting Whitney Rose as a BFF as she tries to snag a “Little Piece of You” on a 1950’s rhythm bounce while his vocals are an echo on the Roy Orbison-flavored “Only Just a Dream”, and become an equal partner for the co-leads on the pledge of love in The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”.
50 Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers (from the album Loved Wild Lost 4-21-15) - Loved Wild Lost claims territory in the 70’s Pop sound on “Waiting on Love”, moves into classic Country reverbed riff of “Only Always”, carves a strut in the rock of “Heart Gets Tough”, and swirls a lasso as they rope in “Queen of the Rodeo”. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are a road band, and every note on Loved Wild Lost benefits from the fan response from constant touring. The album is a group effort, and as guitar strings tangle, Nick Bluhm sings for the boys in the band as much for herself as the highway rolls “Me and Slim” into the next Holiday Inn.
51 Allison Moorer (from the album Down to Believing 3-17-15) - Allison Moorer released her ninth album, Down to Believing, in 2015. For the story line, Allison looks to her own life. As the rhythm rattles for “Mama, Let the Wolf In” she stages the reaction experience when she received her son’s autism diagnosis.
52 Danielle Nicole (from the album Wolf Den on Concord Records 9-25-15) - The title track opens Wolf Den with a Vintage groove bending and shaping organ bursts and rubbery distortion as Danielle Nicole struts into the album. Danielle Nicole attacks the tracks on Wolf Den with confidence as she cruises down a city sidewalk with the street lights coming up on “Easin' Into The Night” and covers “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home” with thick funk as Luther Dickinson joins album producer Anders Osborne on guitar work.
53 Indigo Girls (from the album One Lost Day on Red House Records 6-2-15) - The production on the Indigo Girls 2015 release, One Lost Day, watched a new hand behind the mixing board with Indigo Girls developing a working relationship with a younger, female perspective when the welcomed multi-instrumentalist Jordan Brooke Hamlin as producer. Darkness gives the album a subtle tone that lets the power of two voices have center stage. Great big balls of rhythm tumble from “Learned It on Me” as the story line suggests that the perfect relationships are the ones that have matching baggage, and “Fishtails” shows red lights trumpeting a warning in the wake of a life where we ‘hug the corners, take the straights, from the cradle to the grave….we all give what we got’.
54 Otis Taylor (from the album Hey Joe Red Meat Opus 4-30-15) - Otis Taylor talks about the background muse for his writing of Hey Joe Opus Red Meat, explaining that filter was‘about decisions and their consequences. It’s about how decisions and the actions that result can change our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of people we don’t even know. Sometimes you win in life; sometimes you lose. You want the outcome of your decisions to be good, but sometimes its bad. And that’s when you don’t eat the meat. The meat eats you.’
55 Dwight Yoakam (from the album Second Hand Heart 4-14-15) - Rushed guitar strums, proud beats and pops of twang surround Dwight Yoakam as he steps into Second Hand Heart over one ongoing, percolating riff with “In Another World”. Dwight Yoakam writes and records with a honky tonk heart that is always on display. It is impossible to separate the man from the sound he owns. “Man of Constant Sorrow” uses the rhythm and Dwight’s own roots to come together as a bio.
56 Corb Lund (from the album Things That Can’t Be Undone on New West Records 10-9-15) - Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton) was behind the board as producer at his Nashville-based Low Country Sound studios to record Corb Lund for Things That Can’t Be Undone. The life of a farmer becomes the quickly turned pages of the story branded “S Lazy H” while memories spin the wheels down Main Street in “Left This Town”, guitar jangle mixes with border string bends to sound track the war story in “Sadr City”, and the spotlight shines on former glory in “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues”. Corb Lund subtly puts flesh and blood into his characters as a Country boy heads home to his northern home in “Goodbye Colorado”.
57 T. Hardy Morris (from the album Drowin’ on a Mountaintop 6-23-15) - Drownin’ on a Mountaintop is the latest project from T. Hardy Morris. T. The album opens with tender pedal steel dueting with snarly electric guitar distortion on “Young Assumptions”. T. Hardy Morris plays garage rock with four walls facing south on Drownin’ on a Mountaintop. Indie Pop gets caught in album’s Country, southern Soul, and electric Blues, clinging like vines to the songs as it does in the music of Big Star, The Replacements, and R.E.M.
58 The Bottle Rockets (from the album South Broadway Athletic Club on Bloodshot Records 10-2-15) - The Bottle Rockets have become buddies for Alt Country and Roots fans that hear themselves in the stories. South Broadway Athletic Club sifts through relationships that weather the storm with “Big Lotsa Love”, those that ‘fade like the flowers’ on “Big Fat Nuthin’, while the kind of love that never wavers, never fails, and gives back more than it takes out is captured lovingly on “Dog”.
59 The Westies (from the album West Side Stories 1-20-15) - West Side Stories circles Roots music with a rock’n’roll band behind the wheel as they follow rhythms through the neighborhoods and lives in NYC. “Hell’s Kitchen” opens West Side Stories on an New York City street as characters change names and share dreams in the ghosts of the past as they work on decisions….’”Hell’s Kitchen” or heaven’s door’.
60 The Lonesome Trio (from the album The Lonesome Trio on Sugar Hill Records 6-16-15) - A knack for song structure separates the Bluegrass of The Lonesome Trio from tradition while the mutual love of craft intuitively adhers an old timey touch and texture to the tunes. The band, Ed Helms (banjo), Ian Riggs (bass), and Jacob Tilove (mandolin), was born twenty-two years ago, with the Trio sticking together through various NYC careers of comedy, architectural history, and continued studies on jazz bass. The Lonesome Trio has benefitted from years of playing together, the songs gaining crucial inner-structure as personal lives allow the musicians to apply humor, tradition, and added musical tones and textures to their self-titled debut.
61 Los Colognes (from the album Dos 9-4-15) - The songs on Dos come from the pens of drummer Aaron “Mort” Mortenson and guitarist, vocalist Jay Rutherford as the pair seek to make jam music for fans of songwriters, using the song structure of classic rock. Recorded in hometown Nashville at Bombshelter Studios, Dos is the creation of a six-piece band. “All That You Know” percolates on a caffeine beat showing its expresso love as it tributes Dire Straits lead guitar work as “Hard to Remember” jumps formats for a track that would have been happy riding with AM Country Gold. A dark alley leads a path to “Golden Dragon Hut” on a story line that reads bad news on a rhythmic drive that puts its foot to the floor, never letting up for curves or turns with the engine humming a constant purr.
62 Don Henley (from the album Cass County on Capital Records 9-25-15) - Don Henley worked with former Heartbreaker, Stan Lynch, as co-producer, and co-author of eleven tracks on Cass County, recorded primarily in Nashville and Dallas. There is star power on Cass County with Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger picking “Bramble Rose” to join Don in verse and harmony on the Tift Merritt tune. Dolly Parton is on board in for the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming” with other guests include Merle Haggard, , Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, and Vince Gill.
63 Beth Hart (from the album Better Than Home 4-15-15) - Beth Hart found a way to use her music as catharsis for her past with Better Than Home, her most recent release, and in the process has created inspiration in her stories through the salvation beacon in her voice. Beth grabs the collar of “Tell ‘Em to Hold On” with piano notes and typewriter keys as a foundation to build on the power of its arrangement to make sense of our search for saviors
64 Bow Thayer (from the album Sundowser 7-24-15) - On Sundowser, Bow plays the Airline Bojotar that combines a resonator guitar and banjo, adding Humbucker and Piezo pickups that blend together tonally. Sundowser opens as the rubber hits the road for Bow Thayer, starting up the album with “Burning Miles”. Chords and notes roll like the highway as the story travels from concrete to clay. Sundowser bubbles with warm organ swells (“The Funeral Crasher”), confident Indie Roots fairy tales (“Snow Goose”), self-truth’s (“Drug Lust”), and the sparkle of strings introducing sweeping rock roots theatrics (“Downtrodder”).
65 Patrick Sweany (from the album Daytime Turned to Nighttime 9-18-15) - East Nashville Soulman, Patrick Sweany, delivers his sixth album with Daytime Turned to Nighttime. Patrick crafts a style based on the sounds he listens to…Vintage Rock and Soul rhythms from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and his younger, first blush influences such as Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Doug Sahm, Joe Tex, Bobbie Gentry, and Bill Withers. Daytime Turned to Nighttime cuts through the dark with the Blues, Rock, Folk, and Soul lights in its songs.
66 Leo Bud Welch (from the album I Don’t Prefer No Blues 3-23-15) - Leo Bud Welch established himself as a player with Sabougla Voices, his debut, the album divining Blues riffs that wiggled and sizzled under the tones of Gospel Blues. I Don’t Prefer No Blues offers up some of its space to the same devotional songs found on his first album with “Pray On”, though the presentation of the track differs due to the way the Blues hits its tracks. Leo Bud Welch offers another side to his Blues on I Don’t Prefer No Blues.
67 Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (from the album Django and Jimmie 6-2-15) - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are voices that speak softly but carry a big stick of smart when they discuss the life around us. A gentle twang stirs a breeze for the rhythm in “Live This Long” as the beat catches fire for the poor boy preachin’ of “It’s Only Money”. Django and Jimmie is not handed down as testament on how to live, it is presented as valued opinions on the familiar (“Unfair Weathered Friends”), the wishes (“Somewhere Between”), and the troubadours (“Driving the Herd”).
68 Jeffrey Foucault (from the album Salt as Wolves 10-16-15) - Separating the characters from the singer is at times tough and nearly impossible with Jeffrey Foucault on Salt as Wolves. Guitar pickings are as soft the glow of love in “Hurricane Lamp” as dark clouds of chords roll and rumble through “Slow Talker”, and “Paradise” gently sends out a thank you on slowly unfolding sonics. The slap of tire wheels defines the rhythm as the band sets up in “Des Monies” as Salt as Wolves provides shimmies (“Blues for Jessie Mae”), salvation (“Jesus Will Fix It for You”), strange happenings (“Rico”), and shudders (“Take Your Time”).
69 Daniel Romano (from the album If I've Only One Time Askin' on New West Records 7-31-15) - If I’ve only Time for Askin’ sequeways song –to-song, never losing the links of notes that tie the tracks together. The tone is Vintage Country Modern, carefully created soundscapes that flow over the album, peeling back layers of the heart, Daniel admitting, ‘I’ve been known to take some liberties in the sadness department’. Washes of strings lay a path for “I'm Gonna Teach You” to open the album as Daniel Romano becomes the crooner, setting his role for If I’ve Only One Time Askin’.
70 Joe Ely (from the album Panhandle Rambler 9-18-15) - Joe has been a west Texas songwriter for those nearly forty years of studio work. Panhandle Rambler carries dirt and grit yet there is a more personal tone to the tales, the tracks polished to a sheen rather than covering in a layer of soot. Joe Ely is coming back to the land that he has carried to around the world in song. The lives walking through the stories are not noted as passing glances, Joe Ely is pulling up a chair at a local diner, riding down a backroad that has nothing on the landscape but the trail of dust behind his truck, and sitting down with friends new and old to take a moment and talk.
71 Whitey Morgan and the 78’s (from the album Sonic Ranch 5-19-15) - Whitey Morgana and the 78’s are the saints of quick decisions in local watering holes and behind steering wheels looking for a party. Sonic Ranch lets the wind blow down alleys (“Low Down on the Backstreets”) and draws a line of alcohol on the bar, swearing ‘if I go down tonight, I’m going down drinking’ (“Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore”). Whitey Morgan and the 78’s have no apologies for their brand of rock rock’n’roll in “Goin’ Down Rocking”.
72 Justin Townes Earle (from the album Absent Fathers 1-13-15) - The characters that register on Absent Fathers talk about their humanity without defending their decisions, using the voices of all those affected by the results. The album is the 2015 companion to Justin Townes Earle Single Mothers release. Absent Fathers is a puzzle piece that fits into Single Mothers, a companion that fills out the story to create a bigger picture.
73 The Mulligan Brothers (from the album Via Portland 1-20-15) - Via Portland takes lessons from The Mulligan Brothers self-titled debut and continues to blend imagery in their stories the band easily offers sound as one fluid motion. Ross Newell curls his voice around the words that build his tales, as he gently lets go (“Run on Ahead”), basks in the glow of an evening sky as the Christmas lights sparkle at journeys end (“Road That Leads Me Home”) and sharpens his pen when talking about how the same blood can take different paths (“Not Always What It Seems”).
74 Kevin Gordon (from the album Long Gone Time 9-9-15) - Kevin Gordon forms a song rather than piecing it together with words and music. There are well-defined characters in the poetry that puts flesh and blood into the stories of Long Time Gone. The songs are portraits, landscapes of an America that replaces the Southern charm of a Sunday mint julip with the stale beer smell of a small town Sunday morning hangover (“Cajun with a K”). Guitar and voice exist as one on Long Time Gone. They are partners in the songs of Kevin Gordon, his playing linked as support, accent, leader and follower to a lyrical, storyteller vocal.
75 The Dustbowl Revival (from the album With A Lampshade On on Signature Sound 7-24-15)by Michael Verity - Aptly titled with the quaintly antiquated expression for “getting your party on,” this collection of fourteen live tunes from their extensive repertoire nicely documents what it’s like to spend a night with The Dustbowl band. Though they read from many chapters in the book of old time music -- bluegrass, R&B, New Orleans jazz -- they never sound peripatetic or in genuine. Is it time to party? Bring this record along for the ride. by Michael Verity
76 Ryan Bingham (from the album Fear and Saturday Night 1-20-15) - Ryan Bingham is a singer/songwriter….a Southwest singer/songwriter…and has a knack for walking a line in song that never points a finger back at the man behind the guitar. The story version of a wink and a smile have been as much of a character for Ryan’s tales, and many of those souls can be found walking the tracks of Fear and Saturday Night, his 2015 release. There is a more personal tone to some of the songs, maybe it is the Blues coloring that Ryan Bingham gives the album’s tunes, his first on his indie imprint, Axster Bingham Records.
77 The Lone Bellow (from the album Then Came the Morning 1-27-15) - There is majesty to the music of The Lone Bellow as it surrounds itself with anthemic swells in the sound: horn bursts, soaring strings, and a choir of harmony surrounding a Soul lead vocal that is breaking free of earthly ties. The group has a trio at its heart, Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin, who use The Lone Bellow as a vehicle to fulfill the glory of their voices together. The Lone Bellow choose a solid bass bump as the heartbeat that feeds “Fake Roses”.
78 Wilco (from the Album Star Wars on Anti- Records 7-17-15) - Star Wars, the latest Wilco album release, gives one home to the traditions and extremes that have always a part of the band’s music. Wilco have been held up as torch bearers of Alt Country and champions of Post Rock. Both ends of the sound spectrum can be heard on the band’s album output. Star Wars is a family picnic for the song styles that Wilco has created through eight studio album releases, and two Woody Guthrie tributes co-hosted with Billy Bragg.
79 Dawes (from the album All Your Favorite Bands 6-2-15) - Dawes bordered the hills of their California-based debut, North Hills, to Nashville to record at East Nashville’s Woodland Hills Studios for the current, fourth, album release, All Your Favorite Bands. The recording of All Your Favorite Bands keeps their vintage Laurel Canyon sound of west coast folk country that the band always heard in their music, giving it added expansion with Americana echoes and southern sways. All Your Favorite Bands was produced by Dave Rawlings, who adds guitars, and brings in added power with the vocals of the mighty McCrary Sisters and Gillian Welch.
80 Robert Earl Keen (from the album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions 2-10-15) - Robert Earl Keen gets to check another item off his musical “bucket list” and bluegrass fans get to hear 15 classics, reinterpreted in Keen’s own inimitable style. Taking his cue from Del McCoury, Keen offers an enthusiastic, energetic reading of the Richard Thompson ‘s classic “52 Vincent Black Lightning” then continues the ruckus with a rousing reading of Bill Monroe’s “Footprints In The Snow” (one of the first songs Keen remembers hearing when he turned-on to bluegrass as a kid). (Michael Verity)
81 The Mavericks (from the album Mono 2-17-15) - Mono was recorded with few overdubs, Raul Malo’s parts often coming from the tracking vocal recording with no need to go back and re-record. “The Only Question” enters with confidence, each step taken on solid beats. Mono gathers tunes under the musical banner that The Mavericks hold aloft, with Raul Malo’s vocal power carefully steering on tracks over light cha-cha rhythms dancing to the sounds of “Summertime (When I’m with You”), skimming over Country Blues with “What am I Supposed to Do”, putting a quarter into the jukebox for the rock’n’roll of “Stories We Could Tell”, and slowly trudge home on road miles for “Pardon”.
82 Gurf Morlix (from the album Eatin’ at Me 2-3-15) - Gurf Morlix sets a story stage best when he is behind the songs, heading up his own album as producer and player, with Eatin’ At Me ,his 2015 release, being the perfect example. While his voice is the center point in the tunes, Gurf still maintains a distance in the narrator role throughout the stories, sending his characters in search of lost love, or at least a good internet connection (“Grab the Wheel”), walks with giant steps off the grid (“Elephant’s Graveyard”) and slowly switches on the light to find the path between past stumbles and future tripping (“Last Call”).
83 Homesick Hank (from the album Beautiful Life 11-6-15) - The songs of Homesick Hank unfold like morning flowers, opening to greet the world with sad melodies and lyric poetry. Homesick Hank find a peace in the quiet of a song, making that presence a goal for their tracks. Beautiful Life welcomes Mary Gauthier into the studio to join the band on the album track, “Believe”, where delicately layered instrumentation moves through the arrangement like summer clouds making their way across the sky with barely perceptible motion.
84 The Supersuckers (from the album Holdin’ the Bag on Bloodshot Records 10-16-15) - Holdin’ the Bagis the sound track of Punk Country, from the Manhattan’s lower East Side to Nashville’s lower Broadway. The Supersuckers present themselves with decided intentions (“Man on a Mission”), ponder growing old (“All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down”), and let the campfire glow hit the harmonica, busking into a trail saga that sweeps desert winds into the title track. They share a microphone, as well as body fluids issues, with Lydia Loveless on the duet of “I Can’t Cry”. Holdin’ the Bag sways the front porch swings “High and Outside”, backs mountain wisdom with mountain music on “That's How It Gets Done”, and takes a seat beside the history of Billy Joe Shaver on his tune “Georgia on a Fast Train”.
85 Shemekia Copeland (from the album Outskirts of Love on Alligator Records 9-11-15) - Shemekia Copeland uses the stage as a pulpit, demanding attention like a preacher standing in front of those already converted and ravenous for the message. Her methods shake foundations and rattle the righteous into action. Outskirts of Love testifies to the ability of Shemekia Copeland to reach right down inside to touch spirits needing a little more saving than platitudes and promises can offer. Her motives are not religious in the traditional sense as Shemekia soul shouts salvation, and wrings a hallelujah from the gospel fuel she pours into Country, Rhythm, and Blues. Outskirts of Love presents Shemekia Copeland wearing audio coats of many colors, guiding each tune with a sound force that rises up from deep inside, pushing limits and coloring outside of the lines as she buries the needle in the red zone.
86 William Elliot Whitmore (from the album Radium Death on Anti- Records 3-31-15) - There are the rare singers and songwriters like William Elliott Whitmore, a poet who has the maturity and self-assuredness to speak of his life and his world with credibility, gusto and veracity. ‘Civilizations,’ is a stomping Folk blues where William Elliot Whitmore becomes a universal citizen, voicing the words who cannot be heard.
87 Darlingside (from the album Birds Say 9-18-15) - When Darlingside merge in harmony, it is the anthemic mix of voices that uses Folk music to champion causes, lead protests, and sing inspiration. Birds Say embraces the breadth of sounds available in Indie Folk with banjo strums intersecting on ethereal chords (“Good for You”), to deliver delicate folk tales on echoey strums and freckled notes (“Clay and Cast Iron”) as Darlingside saddle “White Horses” for a choral trail ride bound for Chicago.
88 Murder by Death (from the album Big Dark Love 2-3-15 on New West Records) - The conditions of the heart find themselves as a theme in Big Dark Love. Murder by Death tackle topics on the subject that skew outside of Hallmark greeting cards. The combination of strings and synths create colors of black and grey, deep swirling clouds that obscure light without ever dimming to the point of nothingness… thick gauze draped over the shining light of hope.
89 Girls Guns Glory (from the album A Tribute to Hank Williams 2-24-15) - It is only fitting that Girls, Guns and Glory chose a New Year’s Eve live setting to tribute Hank Williams. Ward Hayden, lead singer for GGG, recalls that ‘around when I turned 20 and the lyrics started making a whole lot of sense is when it hit me. If you've never had your heart broken then country music can sound like a bunch of twangy gibberish’, Ward got Hank and with Girls Guns and Glory Presents: A Tribute to Hank Williams, he and the boys get it on with Hank.
90 The McCrary Sisters (from the album Let’s Go 3-10-15) - The McCrary Sisters do not lightly share the Let’s Go that they use as an album title and a challenge on their 2015 Buddy Miller-produced album release. The touch that Buddy put on Let’s Go is as subtle as the man himself, yet the results make him an official McSister. There are moments on Let’s Go that reinvent the way you hear gospel music, and other times when the songs remind of days you missed.
91 D.L. Marble (from the album Hard to Quit 9-18-15) - In a history that reads like a hard luck song, D.L. Marble was raised by a single mom while dad spent decades in a Texas prison. He picked up a guitar in high school and life suddenly took on meaning. Hard to Quit faces angels and demons with a background of Indie from multiple sources in Rock, Country, and Folk. “Here’s to You” raises an audio glass full of wishes and memories that will never be fulfilled while “Gringo” regrets every toast from the night before as much as its new tattoo. “Drag Me Back” puts its thumb out for a ride back home for a man and guitar while the title track grabs keys, passport and one last cigarette as D.L. tries once more to exit a messy love affair. Hard to Quit revisits “Sombrero Lullaby” from D.L. Marble’s Not the One debut album, giving the story of an overseas soldier more heft as he sinks into the glow of a jukebox and heads to Mexico on an audio memory.
92 Cicada Rhythm (from the album Cicada Rhythm on Normaltown Records 10-30-15) - Cicada Rhythm left limitations at home when the Athens, Georgia based duo recorded their self-titled album for Normaltown Records. The mix of acoustic guitar and strum of a bowed bass creates a dreamy background with Folk and Jazz melodies as it floats across the soundscape of “Static in My Dreams”, dodges the “Shadows Before You”, and carries a “Round Yellow Suitcase” on fragile piano and chord defined beats.
93 Jackie Greene (from the album Back to Birth on Yep Roc Records on Yep Roc Records 8-21-15) - Rock’n’roll rings out in the Roots on Back to Birth. It is in the rattle rhythm that announces “The King is Dead” with anthemic chords putting a flag in the hand of a ‘struggle of existence’, spinning the wheels on “Motorhome” with slow turns as it heads down a swaying blacktop, and clears the clouds away on a determined groove in “Now I Can See for Miles”. The album is produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), and marks the Yep Roc Records debut for Jackie Greene on his seventh album release.
94 Randall Bramblett (from the album Devil Music on New West Records 9-18-15) - Randall Bramblett creates Devil Music to channel influences and create melodic soundscapes that drift and dive (“Whiskey-Headed Woman”), and put sharp-angled guitar notes in line with all-consuming percussion and horn lines (“Bottom of the Ocean”). Musically, Devil Music pounds heavy-handed rock into “Strong Love” as the album surfs audio waves of the sticky spiderweb beats backing Derek Trucks’ falsetto in “Angel Child”, lets “Ride” fall like a gentle rain, and carefully picks its way through erratic snatches of sound that fly like the mind weighing ‘you’re a bad girl baby, but you look so fine’ in “Thing for You”.
95 Nikki Hill (from the album Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists 10-16-15) - Heavy Heart, Hard Fists is never timid, unassuming, or quietly discrete about its love for old school rock’n’roll. The religious calling that took Little Richard from music in his prime circles back to earth as a spiritual infusion needed for the times in the vocals of Nikki Hill. While there is a lot of advice in the stories, Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists is not here to lay a loving hand on your shoulder. The love that Nikki Hill and her band offer is a tough one, with a prescription for their brand of high energy Rock’n’Soul show.
96 Stacie Collins (from the album Roll the Dice 10-9-15) - Stacie Collins delivers album number five as she shakes, rattles, and roars on her Roll the Dice release. The album features tracks written with husband, bandmate Al Collins (Jason and the Scorchers). Musically, Roll the Dice crackles with electricity. You can feel the heat of the amplifiers hitting Stacie’s back as she grabs the microphone, reaching, and hitting, the back row with her voice and harmonica. Country teases the rock’n’roll hard drive with Stacie blowing harp, bringing a touch of hard-edged Chicago Blues in the styles of James Cotton and Little Walter, and singing with a honky tonk holler.
96 Lindi Ortega (from the album Faded Gloryville 8-7-15) - Lindi Ortega is the benevolent higher power shining through the clouds on Faded Gloryville. The Canadian singer/songwriters tell tales as she sketches a ghost town landscape, the characters walking around in her songs still flesh, blood, very vulnerable, and never admitting defeat. Lindi Ortega holds a chameleon microphone for Faded Gloryville as she spits out a salty goodbye on “I Ain’t the Girl”, confesses on a heart storm stomp in “When You Ain’t Home”, raises the devil on “Run Amuck” with a rockabilly rhythm, and tenderly whispers her dreams on “Someday Soon”.
98 The Damn Quails (from the album Out of the Birdcage 9-4-15) - Out of the Birdcage opens on a one, two punch from its title track as an album opener followed in sequence with the pedal to the floor of “Tough Luck and Cryin' Shame”. Country Rock frames the story of the bands home state on “Oklahoma Blue”, striking the color against a monochrome frozen Detroit street. The Damn Quails offer more Oklahoma pride with one of the state’s heroes in “Woody Guthrie (from the dust)” and hear the echoes in the OK hills that join the harmonies in “Song of Home”.
99 Have Gun, Will Travel (from the album Science from an Easy Chair 07-31-15) - Have Gun, Will Travel give Alt Country plenty of breathing room on Science from an Easy Chair. Granting the music liberty to use a more expansive range to roam yet still dig deep with their Roots. The songs on Science from an Easy Chair offer a lot of salvation in verse and chorus, incorporating anthemic guitar leads and trippy soundscapes that roll across the album. The “Spirit of Discovery” takes jangles Alt Country that never stops its shake, “A Call to Arms” sings instrumentally like a seductive siren, and locks into glory on a desert riff that blows Have Gun, Will Travel with a rock’n’roll wind that barely takes a moment to breathe “True Believers”.
100 The Surreal McCoys (from the album The Howl and The Growl 9-11-15) - The Surreal McCoys are the guy sitting next to you at a last-call diner who turn and answer questions you never asked (“Blondesided”). They are the snakes crawling through “Turn and Run” on wicked riffs of rules, the pound and scratch beat balancing “God and the Devil”, and the reality show script that uses the local dive bar rock’n’roll scene as the marquee star of “Lust Vigilante”. The Surreal McCoys successfully put Hank Williams into the garage, and stick The Replacements on stage at a honky tonk. The Howl and The Growl goes one step further then their Johnny Clash blend of prison blues and no limit rock as The Surreal McCoys bring Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”) onto the same stage as Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love”) with their mash-up of “Whole Lotta Folsom”.