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.

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A sonic milestone is crossed on Terraplane, the most recent release from Steve Earle and the Dukes. To truly feel the album simply give in to the distortion-based accents of raw Blues and Velvet Underground drone as it finds its kinship with a contemporary feral Blues underground that is crawling from the wreckage to once again walk the earth….hallelujah. As a host, Steve Earle never throws the same party for each album release. Terraplane is not exclusive in its use of sharp edges on its tracks, yet the overall feel, from and function is down, dirty, oh-so-sweet Blues of the yeah, that’s it, right there variety. Steve Earle and the Dukes bend but never break as they twist with a Country twang (“The Usual Time”) or ride a rumbling riff all the way through to the end (“You’re the Best lover That I Ever Had”).

Terraplane shares its space with 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 trumpet a fashion return with “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 fromtheir boots. A Texas Swing serenades the guy locked out on “Baby's Just as Mean as Me” in a Steve duet with Eleanor Whitman, trance Blues seduces the tale of “The Tennessee Kid” into life, Soul pumps the harmonica and the rhythm of its Blues on album opener “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” and strips any shred of humility away as it heralds the birth of “King of the Blues”.       

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Gretchen Peters walks among us. How else could she so carefully recreate our actions as we move our feet, reach out with our hands or live within what we felt were pretty private thoughts? If we were to turn completely away from conspiracy theories, we could hear Gretchen Peters as a bridge between where we are and the prayers we send out to get there. Blackbirds is the album currently in flight for Gretchen Peters. “Jubilee” seeks air as it swears that ‘I have nothing to hold me here’, threatening that ‘it won’t be long now until I fly’. The speech is one of spirit, standing secure in the knowledge that wants are fulfilled as steps are taken towards an unknown future against the note patterned breath that bids goodbye once again to ‘Danny Boy’, if only in melody memory. Gretchen Peters paints words and music to create stage vignettes where lives structured with flesh that show the workings of heart and the ticking of minds.

Dark clouds of chords roll over the story playing on the ground of the title track as Gretchen Peters narrates a tale that holds no other ending, as much as it shows no way out of hard decision. She lets songs drift down to the Gulf, heading into back bayous to build a life that has trouble seeing future from a livelihood cut by “Black Ribbons” spreading the ‘devils burning flows’ on the water. Blackbirds gathers stories, backing the tales with honest Roots that tip their arrows into a Country touched Folk when a question is shared with Jimmy LaFave on “When You Coming Home” while Folk sticks to its pure singer/songwriter Roots to scribe the plight on “Pretty Things”. Gretchen Peters feathers Blackbirds with emotions that run strong for a desert homecoming as they realize that when ‘“All you Got is a Hammer” everything seems like a nail’ while she damns the realizations that extend beyond today and into forever acknowledging that ‘The Cure for the Pain” is the pain’.  

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Changes in life curved Audrey Auld back to the support found in the northern California community of Stinson Beach. Before leaving Nashville to cycle her life with the west coast, Audrey needed to complete a project she was involved in with prison inmates. Hey Warden is the recorded result of a project that goes back eight years, when Audrey Auld played a show in San Quentin Prison in California. The performance led to Audrey hosting writing workshops which continued after her relocation to Nashville in 2007. Her group ranged between those who had never written creatively or shared their writing with anyone to experienced musicians who wrote and played in bands within prison walls. Audrey would initiate the writing session with a song swap, and then propose an idea or a title to explore in writing and after each session she would gather the papers. She would edit the inmate’s words at home, crafting the stories and feelings into a song. Audrey Auld added the melody, staying as true as possible to the words on their pages. An inmate dubbed the session as ‘our words, your voice”. Hey Warden is a collection of songs that opens prison doors for those on the inside to free words and thoughts.

Hey Warden enters on Country Blues footsteps as Audrey Auld walks up to the guy behind the album title and is joined with a chorus of added voices to push the message across to the powers that be. The tune was the first track that materialized out of the writing sessions, Audrey recalling that ‘I hadn’t hosted a songwriting workshop before so I decided to give them the first line of each verse over a simple blues structure and see what happened’. There is inspiration in the undertaking of Hey Warden, and redemption in the words of humans whose entire lives have become judged (often) by one moment in time. One day in a life defining the future; the fact becoming clear within the story that unfolds on “I Am Not What I Have Done”. Kenny Vaughan’s guitar introduces the powerful line ‘if these walls could talk’ that tears down “Walls”. The songs on Hey Warden are all results of the time Audrey Auld spent offering her experience and expertise with the inmates of San Quentin. “Poor Joe” ambles across a jail door rattle beat while “Bread and Roses” honors the organization that set up the writing session, and speaks to the rules that Audrey was given prior to entering the prison…..a long list of ‘no’s’ attached to what she could take when walking behind the walls of San Quentin.

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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. McMurtry opens the record with this line: “Honey, don’t be yelling at me while I’m cleaning my gun.” The magnitude of those words -- powerful and perturbing -- are irresistible, an invitation to find out exactly what happened at the “Copper Canteen.” That she’ll “spend a dollar quick as a dime,” goes “commando most all of the time” and writes prose that’s “better than mine” are the mysteries he’s uncovered on “These Things I’ve Come To Know.” Somewhere between a limousine party and a weekend away, she captured his fancy on “You Got To Me.” And then “She Loves Me,” he says, though with that comes the expectation that she’ll be remembered, “as a pretty woman will.”

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. Among the tunes that speak of that complicated game, the fisherman’s story of “Carlisle’s Haul” stands out and the legend of a veteran making his way on the rancher’s homestead is told achingly well in “South Dakota.” 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.

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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. The record opens with a rough and tumble version of the Flatt and Scruggs classic, “Hot Corn, Cold Corn,” delivered in a raucous house-party fashion, complete with hootin’, hollerin’ and no small amount of bullwhippin’ in the background. 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).

Keen and company make joyous noise of Hot Rize’s tongue-in-cheek prison tune, “99 Years For One Dark Day,” return to the Monroe songbook for “This World Is Not My Home” and dig deep into the bluegrass canon for a beautiful version of the Red Clay Ramblers’ 1976 piece, “Twisted Laurel.” Bassist Bill Whitbeck helps Robert Earl deliver “Long Black Veil” as a Tex-Mex duet and longtime pal Lyle Lovett drops in to twist up “T For Texas” bluegrass style. His simple approach to “East Virginia Blues” sounds like classic Keen a la Gringo Honeymoon and the brief 90-second introduction Peter Rowan offers to “Walls Of Time” is a nice touch.   by Michael Verity

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Arguably one of the coolest rock and roll records of the year so far, Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll is the product of four days of lightning-quick recording sessions, tracked live to 2” tape at the Fidelitorium outside Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It marks the return of one of alt.country’s pioneering bands, a group that knocked out two highly influential albums during the 90s and then disappeared for 20 years. With this record, they’re back and they seem to be having a blast.

Richie meets Fonzie at the drive-in on “OOOEEOOOEEOOO,” a classic mashup of Little Richard-style pianos, funky baritone sax lines and Lee Dorsey rhythms. “Give Up The Night” is a simply gorgeous love song, built around the “Spanish Harlem” style of The Drifters with the heart and soul of 60’s-era Freddie Fender. “Kingdom Of Getting It Wrong” infuses the 80s observations of XTC with a classic four chord groove. The band don’t hesitate to get a little dirty from time to time, as on the sneaky blues of “Choppin’ Block,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces-infused “Sylvia” or the creepy Cuckoo’s Nest meets Harry Nilsson vibe of “Me and My Disease.” by Michael Verity

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JD McPherson uses the guitar match the bass thrum and drum shakes on Let the Good Times Roll, his most recent release. Reverbed chords wander across the album lke 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.

JD McPherson built a bridge between modern and vintage on his debut, Signs and Signifiers. The production and playing on Let the Good Times Roll keeps that border in place though the lines blur. Influences flash by on one note piano beats (“Bridges Builder”), follow sci-fi surf organ feedback into an R&B rave- up (“Mother of Lies”) and rushes a rock’n’roll rhythm like Little Richard in his prime (“Everybody's Talking 'Bout the All American”).  Let the Good Time Roll listens a muse forgot that rock’n’roll and R&B ever broke up, putting them back together early on in the album with its entry through the title track. JD McPherson plucks out a country rattle that shouts out “Bossy” to the night as he bomps out a heartbeat stomp to intro his “Shy Boy”. He uses a wall-of-sound rumble to ask about ‘little Caroline’, yelling to be heard above “It’s All Over But the Shouting”.  

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Hybrids have become the common ground in a circa 2015 world. Styles, flavors and sound are a melting pot where purity drinks from a well that leaves an aftertaste of multiple sources. Shaun Murphy blends styles and bend sounds, molding music through her voice on Loretta, her most recent release. Rather than a patchwork quilt stitched together with notes and chords, Shaun leads a charge for a big rock that shows influences of Blues, Soul, Funk and Rock’n’Roll. She roars a big rock, digs deep into the human experience to portray the Blues and sweetly lights a fire for Soul to shine. Loretta is the result of a lifetime where Shaun Murphy has seen a microphone at the end of her wrist and been backed by a Roots R&B soundtrack.

Over the course of the rock era, Shaun Murphy has been on stages beginning in Detroit, where she moved as a teen, signing to Motown Records in 1971 as the duo Stoney (Shaun) and Meatloaf (Meat Loaf). She joined up with Bob Seger in 1971, beginning tenure as a vocalist for his band, joined Eric Clapton for the recording and tour for his Behind the Sun album (1985), and became lead vocalist for Los Angeles-based Roots rockers Little Feat in 1993. Shaun has recorded and toured with diverse artists ranging through The Moody Blues, Herbie Hancock, Maria Muldaur, J.J. Cale, and Alice Cooper. Loretta draws from her work with other artists as well as her education as a solo artist which began in 2009.

Shaun Murphy sets rules in place with the opening track on Loretta, “Don’t Lie to Me”. Over a dozen tunes, she digs into roots with a Blue light shining on “I Pity the Fool”, hops on board a southbound freight train with a satchel full of Detroit Rock on her way to New Orleans on “Big Train Stops at Memphis”, counts the seconds in Tulsa Time as she requests an offending lover to “Go Away” and swings a powerful rhythm section to dig a hole in Country dirt on the title track. Shaun Murphy is a natural as she easily reaches the notes and coaxes them into your spirit. Her vocals are the stuff of salvation as she describes “How Strong is a Woman”, seduces to “Kiss Me Like Whiskey” and clicks off heartbeats ticking down to “24 Hours from Memphis”.

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

Don’t Lose This opens on reverbed notes and a drum pound as Pops Staples tells the tale of having a lifelong spiritual presence by his side in “Somebody Was Watching”. Mortality was sitting in the studio with Pops and his mind was beginning to take him to his future glory as he dreamed of how long the journey would be in “Sweet Home”, coming to realize his path was on track in “Better Home”, and finally stitching the full picture together in “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. Pops Staples closes out the album by bringing Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” to church. Don’t Lose This stands as the last studio album in the sixty-five year run of The Staples Singers; sister Cleotha followed Pops in 2013.

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A lot of attention is given to an artists’ ability to ‘cross-over’. Over the span of forty albums, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver have appealed to diverse nominating committees to find themselves on award’s short lists for the Grammy’s, Dove, ICM, IBMA and SPBGMA Award programs, and are seven-time winners of IBMA’s Vocal Group of the Year. Doyle Lawson is a son of Tennessee and received state honors in 2012 for his contributions to the state, and to America, for his music. The band have accomplished this by staying true to their music. Any crossover was from the other side as a diversity of music fans cross the river of Quicksilver to drift, dream and dance to the bluegrass of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

In Session is the most recent release, and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver take competition back to school for formal lessons in harmony (“I Told the World About You”), touching the spirit through playing together (“Evening Prayer Blues”) and the hurt in heart tugs (“I’d Just Be Fool Enough”). Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver move gracefully along a dozen tracks that dance and sway through bluegrass rambles. In Session travels across the U.S. on its backroads (“Americana”) and its roads home (“Big Eight Wheeler”). Lots of love is shown in thanks for the Southern smarts that have welcomed the music of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver into lives for decades, and the band return the welcome by playing sweet sounds of the south that are “Calling All Her Children Home”.   

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“Columbian Cocaine” falls into lines with the soft sturdy vocals of John Neilson as the fragile folk guitar tones flicker in the dark of night. The sparkle of notes helps John as he falls into the unknown with love over reverbed riffs and an assured beat. Tomorrow Comes the Spring, the latest release from John Neilson, rolls rhythms (“Starlight Eyes”), textures African patters (“Shape I’m In”) and sets a pace as footfalls come closer to the “End of the Road”. John gathers air into his powerful lungs as he pushes out barely audible confessions that get relocated to the sidelines by the power of personal resurrection.

John was writing, and seeing the “Lights of Los Angeles” from the inside. While John did not see his name on the marquee, he found his work on credits on movie and film, and had his songs recorded by Sophie B. Hawkins and LA Guns. John Neilson has a way of making stories personal. You can smell the cherry blossoms and see the quick glance in “One Week”, feel the bite of cheap liquor in the glow of Christmas lights in “Coming Home” and raise your head with pride as you “Walk Away” looking for your smile on a rock’n’roll beat.

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Folk and Country weave themselves in a pattern for the songs of The Western Shore. The husband and wife duo, Kalee and Charlie Smyth, fold sounds into the music of Thunderstorm, the group’s most recent release. The tracks move with a lazy grace as The Western Shore visit “California”, walking mountains and beaches on soft guitar strums and dreamy piano notes, trotting out a steady gait of rhythm on “Palomino” and raising “Lazarus” up with lightly plucked tones and Kalee’s emotive pleas. 

The Western Shore call Nashville home, Charlie heading to Tennessee from Chicago, Illinois, where he released a solo album in 2010 (Leaves). Kalee came east/south from Seattle, Washington, growing up the daughter of a bluegrass and western swing musician father, singing country music at a young age before formal training in New York, Chicago and Nashville. Thunderstorm rolls clouds of chords across the title track as The Western Shore look for watery relief, lays determined steps down as they ‘put on walking shoes’ for “Wooden Cane” and softens the loneliness of “You Can’t Make Old Friends”.

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The Vagaband never stray too far from the image of gypsy songsters and highway troubadours that they tag on the recent release Medicine for the Soul. The album gently sways on soft acoustics, joins hands for folk rock anthems and staggers down a midway with Danny Elfman behind the pipe organ. The title track takes a moment for a public service announcement, citing views of Country Music circa 2015, before leaning into the Country Music that talks of Folk Blues and shimmers like sunlight reflecting off a summer-slow back woods stream. The Vagaband are not just here to set Country Music back on a path of redemption, they are curators of ancient sounds and moderns moods that create a balm for the spirit, as well as Medicine for the Soul.

The Vagaband tune up their eight-piece band in Norfolk, U.K., using a theremin-like siren call that seduces you into Medicine for the Soul as it wishes you “Top of the Morning”. The tune leads you quickly into cut #2, and slaps you around with “Lifted” as it echoes the words in your head of ‘these dancing days don’t last for long……I don’t know where I’m bound but I know where I belong’. The Vagaband offer Medicine for the Soul as a simple elixir that is sweet to the tongue (“Roll the Thunder”), shakes you awake to ward off fever grip (“Gabrielle”) and lets you sink into a soundtracked fever dream while it works it magic (“Ten Bells Waltz”). The Vagaband are the traveling show for the internet age…..sneaking across the ether seducing you ‘to steal away for the night’ with the virtual taste of “Cisco Wine” as the scent of dust from the sepia-toned style settles. As a group, they admit to being happy with the status quo in “Black Sheep”, content to accept known devils over a tangled rattle as they make use of the night sky to send out echoey signals, leaving Medicine for the Soul with notes plucked, scratched and placidly smoothed out on the rhythms of “Different Drum” as The Vagaband fold their hand and exit on a soft shuffle.

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Over a Basie bounce and Gypsy harmonies, Anne McCue opens Blue Sky Thinkin’ with the slyly tongue-in-cheek “Dig Two Graves.” She’s “on the road to revenge,” she says, imploring that we dig two graves for her and her “so-called friend.” Though McCue purrs her way through the bemused blues of “Things You Left Out In The Rain,” there’s a strength to her words that says it’s her admirer gone astray who’ll have the blues once the sun shines again. “Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime” inclines toward the folk singer side of McCue’s musical personality but the inclusion of a subtle accordion accompaniment gives it a fitting country blues texture. The tune also highlights McCue’s considerable skills as a fingerstyle guitar player.

As with “Little White Cat,” the woozy blues of “Devil In The Middle” veers a little too close to Cab Calloway for its own good but, on the latter, Dave Alvin’s vocal contribution gives it a life-saving touch of necessary sarcasm. The whimsical Django Reinhardt-meets-Edith-Piaf cut, “It Wasn’t Even Fun While It Lasted,” is worth the price of admission for the title alone. One of the best cuts on the record, “Save A LIfe,” is an unvarnished spin off of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” that treats us to the brilliant opening line: “The pedal steel has been drinkin’...”. You’ll have to buy the record to hear the rest. Those who shy away from this record because of its retrospective nature will surely be making a mistake. This is a strong album with the moxie to fit in with some of the more “modern” Americana records being made these days.

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If Murder by Death dubbed themselves a rock band, then the sweeping majesty, dark beauty and use of any instrument available in the studio on their recent release, Big Dark Love, would be put on a pedestal with groups like Arcade Fire, Radiohead and U2. Rock music is defined by borders, though its time in the studio is expected to contain wizardry in the form of technological breakthroughs while Roots music tends to honor the organic use of sound. Murder by Death let the music be created by the sound needed for the songs on Big Dark Love. The overall tone of the album moves closer to a symphony that includes everything at its disposal to translate the visceral cinematic swashes that the band has used as a brand since its 2001 beginnings in Indianapolis, IN. Some of the keyboard work is based in beats and loops, the tones integrating perfectly with guitars, cello, banjo, trumpet, flugelhorn, mandolin, bass, drums and percussion and gathering as the storm of sonic textures included on Big Dark Love.

The conditions of the heart find themselves as a theme in Big Dark Love. Murder by Death tackle topics on the subject that skew a little outside of Hallmark, watching passion flow into art rather than flesh and blood (“Solitary One”) and baring skin to show the feelings of a parent for a child (“Natural Pearl”). The combination of strings and synths creates 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. Big Dark Love opens without a hammering heart of beats with “I Shot an Arrow” and Murder by Death breath the slightest hint of sound into “Dream in Red” to let the natural dark in the words of the narrator to define the mood as they slowly build up the audio walls around the wish to “Send Me Home” and follow a rattly strum and twang as they exit Big Dark Love with heavy steps in “Hunted”.

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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! The band set out to give song-based tracks a new life in the traditional make-up of bluegrass instrumentation. A mix of band originals and covers merge seamlessly within Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out! The album title comes from a phrase that Rod Stewart used to shout his way out of The Faces hit, “Stay with Me”, the same tune making its way onto the Barnstar! release. Rock gets re-worked with two other tracks on the album, “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Flaming Red”. Barnstar! lay down banjo notes for the entry into the title track from the 1998 Patty Griffin album , Flaming Red, keeping Charlie Rose’s fingers busy as a foundation as the bass pounds out a beat that demands the hard rock of the original track get in line with bluegrass tradition. The Indie Rock origins of The Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis’ move the headline story of a bad business trip from hot intrigue to the hot lights of a police interview on a fast track.

Fellow-Boston artists fuel the album with tracks from Chris Moore and John McGann (“Six Foot Pine Box”) sitting alongside tunes from Josh Ritter (“Darlin’”) with a Cat Stevens original featured in the film, Harold and Maude (“Trouble”), joining the song list. Mark Erelli uses his pen to tribute local Boston/Cambridge musician John Lincoln Wright with “Country John” and Barnstar! puts wings under the determination of the lady in “She Loves the Bands” (Neil Cleary) as they deliver a Roots anthem, and a great way to explain exactly what it is you do to non-music family around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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Howlin’ Rain follows an accapella entry into Mansion Songs as it staggers along, veering from side to side and never missing a groove. The light of “Big Red Moon” slowly creeps into the nooks and crannies lining the cracks in the vocal Howlin’ Rain uses to intro Mansion Songs. Rock’n’Roll guitars channel the low-slung apathy that Johnny Thunders used to strum his power chords in the New York Dolls while a ragged plea wails and bellows to get that light to ‘shine on down’. Mansion Songs is a feral, guttural production that envelopes Howlin’ Rain as they testify against the neon glow of a dive bar light. At the center of Howlin’ Rain is Ethan Miller, who wanted to create better than a previous questionable major label relationship. Howlin’ Rain is at the curve of a new arc…Mansion Songs is the beginning of a musical trilogy.

A raw recording captures Mansion Songs, yet no rough cloth can harsh the shine of the tracks. A community of ghost harmony and a dirty tambourine welcome the title track into being before it breaks away to cause a spirited but righteous ruckus. Fiddles and bass bump chests to form the deep breaths of “The New Age”, piano pounds knock the dust off the basement 88’s with sharpened, angular rhythms that introduce “Lucy Fairchild”, hushed notes and whispered voices haunt “Coliseum”, and after a few stumbles, “Ceiling Fan” starts to spin a tale film noir tale that gets ‘lost in a dream’.

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There is a quiet to the songs of Vincent Colbert that merges gracefully with the hushed guitar and softly crafted sentiments of Stranger in My House. Hesitant guitar strums and confirmed claps lock hands to create a foundation for Vincent Colbert as he breathes the story into E.P. opener “Baseline”. The stop and start of the rhythm finds its step to become footfalls that edge across the melody as if they were walking on ice. Street beats and an assured sense of self never overshadow the brave heart in the songs of Vincent Colbert as it casts light in a darkened bar lit by “Rose Yellow Moon” and sends a prayer up into the echoed high ceiling of “Closing Hymn”. 

After making a life-step that was needed, Vincent Colbert found himself alone in a new environment prior to the creation of Stranger in My House. He had written song beginning at age fifteen with friends and family as an audience. A solo career and a move to Michigan were both steps down an unknown street for Vincent Colbert. Stranger in My House might just be the man in the mirror for Vincent as he finds himself uncomfortable in his own skin in a new environment. Vincent Colbert let his muse light the dark days and help in the creation of Stranger in my House. The tile track walks empty halls that rattle the guitar chord rhythm while “As You Are” slowly opens its heart to unconditional love.

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Gurf Morlix sets a story stage best when he is behind the songs of his own album as producer and player, Eatin’ At Me 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”).

Gurf Morlix was born in Lackawanna, New York, name-checking and etching the past into the track “Dirty Old Buffalo” on Eatin’ at Me. His career after northern New York state is a part of the American Roots landscape in Los Angeles, where he worked as guitarist and band leader for Lucinda Williams, producing early genre-carving albums Sweet Old World and Lucinda Williams. Gurf returned to the Austin-stomping grounds where he had befriended Blaze Foley before moving to the west coast, and became known as much for production in his Texas home as for the smart smirk of his stories. Guitar notes and fiddle swoons throw Gurf Morlix into a time machine to talk out earlier times in “50 Years” shouting wishes over the ‘sound of wind rushing by my ears”. Gurf rolls out beats that tumble like the lost chances in “Orphan Tears” and puts a dime in the jukebox for a rockabilly love song to “Dinah”. Gurf Morlix offers more personal history on Eatin’ At Me with the tale “Born in Lakawanna" as he walks the streets of his youth.

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

Accumulator ranges from a Soul crying out over confident rhythms (“I Remember”) to a slow squall of instrumental distortion that hits the beaches of South Carolina (“Yours to Steal”). Greyhounds rely on determined percussion to keeps its presence in every song, subtle yet as constant as city traffic. A Folk shuffle clicks time for “Lone Rider”, Soul beats carve a path into “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, and a Rock rumble shakes the needle on “Soul Navigator”. Greyhounds bend strings and beats like they were rubber as they exit Accumulator with “Trouble Days”.

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Pokey LaFarge has many, many reasons to leave his lady love. What keeps him pinned to the board of his Hoosier girl? His guess in the video is that there is “Something in the Water”.

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Robert Earl Keen open The Bluegrass Sessions on his Happy Prsioner album (Dualtone Records) with a rough and tumble version of the Flatt and Scruggs classic, “Hot Corn, Cold Corn,” creating the video in the same raucous house-party fashion, complete with hootin’, hollerin’ and no small amount of bullwhippin’ in the background.

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Australian Darren Hanlon spanned two continents for an exploratory adventure of the American South, for the story of Where Did You Come From?, his first album in five years. A battered guitar, one Amtrak pass, five recording studios, and 15 random musicians.

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The New Basement Tapes   (from the album Lost on the River) - The facts best explain Lost on the River . The New Basement Tapes are a band formed out a creative collaboration by Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons). T-Bone Burnett produced Lost on the River , the result of the gathering of musical minds. The group gathered in Capitol Studios during March 2014 to write and ...

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Butch Walker  (from the album Afraid of Ghosts) - Butch Walker uses a vocal and instrumentation that haunts the halls of songs filling his most recent release, Afraid of Ghosts . “How are Things, Love” slowly asks its question of lost love in a dreamy reverie while Afraid of Ghosts floats through “The Dark” on wisps of keyboards and vocal echoes over a sturdy guitar strum, quietly making a wish for “Chrissie Hynde” to be singing about Ohio through a blown-out speaker.

Butch Walker is a master-cra...

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The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band  (from the album So Delicious) - Reverend Peyton has always held on to authenticity as a principle for The Big Damn Band. It was still surprising to the man behind the words and guitar in The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band when he gets a nod of approval from Yazoo Records, a label renowned for the historic reissues of blues and other old time American music. The Reverend recalls that ‘“Yazoo was my favorite record label growing up,” he explains. “For fans...

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TOP 100 ALBUM OF 2014 (51 THRU 75)

TOP 100 ALBUM OF 2014 (51 THRU 75)

51 – Doug Seegers – Going Down to the River    (10-7-14) - Not a typical Nashville success story but primed for a mini-series plot is the tale of Doug Seegers. Doug was frequently homeless in Music City when he got a gig at a local food pantry. A Swedish country music star stopped in for a bite and ordered superstardom-to-go, trading the streets of Nashville for the top of the charts in a country best known for producing Abba. Doug Seegers wondered ‘who is Abba?’, understandable fo...

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From a list that seemed endless came the tough task of narrowing it down to our Top 30. There is the obvious choices, the new and rising stars, the unexpected and the "who?" You'll have choices that we missed, as always. Ther will be some you've never heard of that you may be inclined to check out on your own and discover something new and exciting. At any rate, here's The Alternate Root Top 30 Female Vocalists...right now!

1. Emmylou Harris - Emmylou Harris probably tops most of the list of top f...

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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:


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It is easy to follow the idea by simply paying attention to the title of Noam Pikelny’s latest release. Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe …. pretty easy to understand right. Though the title is not deep, Noam more than makes up in the depth department with the intuitive flash and fervor of his playing. The album is 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...

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On Superstring Theory , Andy Statman proves that even virtuosos can have fun. Andy is a 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellow and Grammy nominee. Over his fifty year career, he has become legendary in the world of avant-garde bluegrass and string music. By nature, bluegrass is a very structured form of playing. Andy Statman follows the paths of American Roots music, the form that has been a cornerstone of his own half century of playing. He musically stretches the moods to take listeners back to the s...

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There are moments that occur while listening to Moody Bluegrass, A Nashville Tribute to the Moody Blues when you have drifted into other thoughts and when you return, the initial reaction is “wow, that song sounds familiar”. The A-list band of Nashville players transform the songs of The Moody Blues and give the songs a Bluegrass, Country and Roots backdrop that fits their characters with different moods. The stories remain the same that the British group being honored brought to rock fans from th...

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Ronnie Fauss  (from the album Built to Break) - Ronnie Fauss (from the album Built to Break) - Bending, rattly guitar notes and chords puts the accent on Country on the Alt Country of Built to Break , the recent Normaltown/New West Records release from Ronnie Fauss. The album is ragged and oh-so-right with Ronnie’s songs taking the same route of smirk and a smile as fellow singer/songwriter Rhett Miller (The Old 97’s), who guests on the raucous road song “Eighteen Wheels”.  

Ronnie Fauss e...

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Bobtown   (from the album A History of Ghosts) - In the quiet opening of A History of Ghosts , Bobtown join their voices in clear harmonies to welcome you into their most recent release. As lightly dappled notes start to appear, the strength of the combined voices keep their power and presence. The instrumentation on A History of Ghosts surrounds Bobtown vocals in the same manner through each track. They travel in “Rumble Seat” along a small town reverie, pay homage to the dark doorway alta...

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Maggie Bjorklund    (from the album Shaken) - Maggie Bjorklund is a pedal steel guitarist from Copenhagen, Denmark . Maggie made a name as a stylistically unique musician that intuitively combined country, indie rock, film scores and psychedelia as her own brand of Roots music. On Shaken , her second release for Bloodshot Records, Maggie gives her branded musical paths full range throughout the songs….cruising, sliding, bellowing and rampaging to create a wall of power with her sound. ...

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

Listen and buy music from Doug Seegers from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of The Far West from AMAZON or iTunes

55 – John Nemeth – Memphis Grease   (3-25-14) - Since their inception, The Bo-Keys have been a band on the inside of a hot groove in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. In the early parts of their careers, members of The Bo-Keys performed in B.B. King’s orchestra and anchored the Hi Rhythm Section. The first referral John Németh for Memphis Grease wasScott Bomar, who had worked with Willie Mitchel and Al Green. Skip Pitts started The Bo-Keys with Scott and laid down the wah-wah guitar intro to ‘The Theme from Shaft” in the 1970’s.  Trumpeter Ben Cauley was with school-kid funk band The Bar-Keys. The group’s hit “Soul Finger” got them a gig as backing band for Otis Redding and put them on board for the plane crash that took his life, leaving Ben as the only survivor of the disaster. Drummer Howard Grimes’ can be heard keeping the beat for recordings by Rufus and Carla Thomas, O.V. Wright and Ann Peebles. Memphis Greaseis the album the John Németh put together with the help of The Bo-Keys.

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56 - Amelia White – Old Postcard   (3-4-14) - When Amelia White left home at eighteen years old, she packed her songs with her. Amelia and her music established an early relationship that soon became at odds with parental guidelines; ‘I knew what I wanted at an early age and their disapproval lit a fire. I listened over and over to my brother's records: Neil Young, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, and I wanted to know them all, I wanted to be them.’ Amelia White found a sense of family in her East Nashville digs; friends, outcasts, lovers who share the same musical drive, and sensitivity to heartache. The ghosts that take shape on Old Postcard all know Amelia by name, though some of the tunes share the thoughts of others. “Hollow Heart” is wisps of smoke that clear to show the longing of a motherless child, and “Big Blue Sun” rises over an ever-growing tide of incoming normalcy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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61 – Ruthie Foster – Promise of a Brand New Day      (8-19-14) - Ruthie Foster has given the world a great gift with her voice and her songs. Ever wonder what gives Ruthie a reason to get up in the morning? The answer opens Promise of a New Day, the latest release from Ruthie Foster. What lights the lady up is “Singing the Blues”. Diversity in her style is a constant for Ruthie Foster, and her rhythms are her children, with each one getting attention, and she tells of big love for reggae, soul and rock’n’roll in the tune. When she is ‘staring at the mirror” though, and the crowds are gone, the only option for getting high is more than likely Bobby Bland.

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

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

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

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

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

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67 – The Reigning Sound – Shattered   (7-15-14) - Shatteredpresents The Reigning Sound on the same stage as the early 60’s British bands who played rock’n’roll, but grew up in range of German airwaves carrying American R&B 45’s that the soldiers carried with them around the world. Recording at Daptone Studios gives the group a rock and soul sound, albeit one that rehearses, and sounds real good, in the garage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkins from Amazon or iTunes

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

Listen and buy the music of Billy Joe Shaver from Amazon or iTunes

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

Listen and buy the music of The New Basement Tapes from Amazon or iTunes

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

Listen and buy the music of Malcolm Holcombe from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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


the alternate root top 30 female vocalistsFrom a list that seemed endless came the tough task of narrowing it down to our Top 30. There is the obvious choices, the new and rising stars, the unexpected and the "who?" You'll have choices that we missed, as always. Ther will be some you've never heard of that you may be inclined to check out on your own and discover something new and exciting. At any rate, here's The Alternate Root Top 30 Female Vocalists...right now!

emmylou harris in the alternate root1. Emmylou Harris - Emmylou Harris probably tops most of the list of top female vocalists, at least in the roots music world. We thought about that. We also tried to think of who would be above her. We couldn't think of anyone either. Her angelic pipes have graced the country and alt-country world for over 40 years and still sounds great.

norah jones in the alternate root2. Norah Jones - A successful solo career as one of the great voices of the last couple of decades, Norah Jones made our list because of her work with The Little Willies and her ability to meld pop, jazz and country elements to create her unique roots sound. The daughter of the late great Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones has used her pedigree well.

carrie rodriguez in the alternate root3. Carrie Rodriguez - She burst onto the scene as sidekick to legendary songwriter Chip Taylor and then launched into an equally compelling and successful solo career. Rodriguez is master on the fiddle as well as having the beautiful voice that places her among the very best singers right now.

alison krauss in the alternate root4. Alison Krauss - Alison Krauss is the most decorated singer and most awarded female artist in Grammy history. Normally Grammy awards don't mean much here but in this case they actually represent something substantial. her work with Robert Plant on the album 'Raising Sand' is fodder for debate but her work with longtime mates Union Station places her near the top of the heap.

5. Bonnie Raitt - A few years ago Bonnie Raitt may have been at or near the top of this list. She still has one of the best and most distinctive voices out there and she hasn't lost much through the years. She's had an effect musically on damn near everyone that's come after her as a singer, writer and guitar player.

patty griffin in the alternate root6. Patty Griffin - Patty Griffin is one of the key players in the Boston folk revival of the 1990's but her career has revealed a singer with a variety of styles and the accompanying accolades for many of them. She can sing rock, gospel, country, folk with amazing range. She's performed with a who's who of the roots music world including Buddy Miller, Robert Plant, Shawn Colvin, Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch and many others.

christine ohlman in the alternate root7. Christine Ohlman - "The Beehive Queen" could easily be at the top of this list just based on her performance on her latest release 'The Deep End.'. She has spent 20 plus years as the front woman for the Saturday Night Live band, performed with Big Brother and The Holding Company in Central Park, performed at Bob Dylan's 40th Anniversary show and seemingly turns up wherever an amazing blue-eyed soul singer is needed. With her band Rebel Montez she has established herself as one of the great voices in American roots/soul music.

shemekia copeland in the alternate root8. Shemekia Copeland - Daughter of the late Johnny Copeland, Shemekia Copeland is now the defacto "Queen of the Blues." Like Koko Taylor, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Helen Humes and a host of women who have worn that crown, someone will have to unseat Shemekia. Figure on her being at the top for some time to come. Her voice is the best pure blues voice of the last 30 years.

rebecca loebe in the alternate root9. Rebecca Loebe - If there is a "reality show" with some substance out there it's probably The Voice. Rebecca Loebe  first surfaced to a National audience as a contestant on that show but was already known in and around Boston since 2004. After receiving a degree in recording engineering from Berklee, Loebe concentrated on a music solely as a performer in 2005. Her latest effort, 'Circus Heart,' stands as proof she made the right decision.

eilen jewell in the alternate root10. Eilen Jewell - Eilen Jewell's jazzy, country tinged voice is the most uniquely recognizeable voice on this list. Ever the experimentalist, Jewell's catalog represents her broad range of style and immense ability. Her albums range from gospel, lounge, country, folk and pop with solid performances on each. Eilen Jewell will find more things to play around with out there and you can be sure she'll nail those too.

grace potter in the alternate root11. Grace Potter - Grace Potter has it all. The looks, the voice, the chops and the attitude. The gifted singer and front woman for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals has been compared to everyone from Koko Taylor to Janis Joplin to Aretha Franklin and may actually have long lost genes from all three packed into her powerhouse voice. She's the best thing to come out of Vermont since maple syrup and cheddar cheese, Phish included.

shawn colvin in the alternate root12. Shawn Colvin - Shawn Colvin has been around since the 1970's in a variety of forms from folk to western swing to off-broadway and has been one of the more influential voices in the singer / songwriter movement. She brings a sophistication and grace to her music that has changed the way thousands of singers and songwriters that followed her approach their craft. Her voice has carried her to heights that include Grammy's for Album and Song of the Year in 1998 and Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991.

sarah maclachlan in the alternate root13. Sarah McLachlan - Canadian singer / songwriter Sarah MacLachlan has kept a low profile over the past few years making her a bit lower on this list than she could be but with a new album due this year she'll be right back at the top before long. The founder of Lilith Fair, a travelling festival that showcases women artists, she's done a lot for female singers both from an influential as well as philanthropical perspective. Her mezzo soprano voice is among the most recognizable in the world.

sarah mac in the alternate root14. Sarah Mac - For a complete unknown (outside of her Florida fanbase) to make this list at number 14, Sarah Mac had to have something really special. She turned up for a taping of Alternate Root TV in East Nashville and we've never looked at female vocalists the same. In the same vein as Adele, Aretha or the late Amy Winehouse, Sarah Mac has a booming voice that feeds on elements of jazz, soul and blues and refreshes like a cool breeze blowing through a hot smokey nightclub.

gretchen peters in the alternate root15. Gretchen Peters - Gretchen Peters has received more critical acclaim as a songwriter than a singer which says something substantial about her songwriting ability. That injustice should be rectified with the release of 'Hello Cruel World,' her latest effort. Peters has a moody, dark tone to her voice which bodes well for her sophisticated lyrics and complex music. She's been a staple in and around the Nashville scene but finds a much more rabid fanbase in London and throughout Europe.

shannon mcnally in the alternate root16. Shannon McNally - Shannon McNally's blues tinted, soulful country vocal style has landed her along side some pretty impressive company including Ryan Adams, John Mellencamp and Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women. She cut her musical teeth busking in Paris in the 1990's and now fronts the successful band Hot Sauce.

rhiannon giddens in the alternate root17. Rhiannon Giddens - The co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens has incredible range and flexibility in her voice. Prowling through libraries for old sheet music and century old recordings to find material to perform might not be the way most of the singers on this list find their groove but Giddens is a special case in more ways than that. She can sing most anything, keeping it traditional with a modern flair.

nanci griffith in the alternate root18. Nanci Griffith - Long considered one of the most beautiful singers on the country / folk music scene or, just about any scene, Nanci Griffith still sounds great even after nearly forty years of recording and performing. There are more than a few people on this list that walked down paths paved by Nanci Griffith. She's probably influenced a million singer / songwriters that have found her music through the years.

sharon jones in the alternate root19. Sharon Jones - Like many great souls singers, Sharon Jones got her start as a singer in church singing gospel. Unlike many great soul singers, however, her path to prominence took a strange twist. While working as a prison guard on Rikers Island in NYC and keeping on foot in the door as a part time backing vocalist, Jones got her career break in 1996 at a session backing Lee Fields. From those sessions the band the Soul Providers were born, later to become Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings.
tift merritt in the alternate root20. Tift Merritt - Tift Merritt has always been an interesting study both as a writer and singer. Her writing reflects a vast, real world experience and knowledge of music resulting in a substantial body of work. Vocally she has become more mature with each critically acclaimed album. Her voice leans more into the traditions of country music than just about anything seeping out of Music Row these days.

gillian welch in the alternate root21. Gillian Welch - Gillian Welch, like Patty Griffin, was part of the Boston folk revival of the 1990's. While attending Berklee School of Music she started performing with fellow student and future partner Dave Rawlings. Preferring the old time sounds of traditional country and bluegrass they took their music on the road and were inadvertantly discovered by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett. The rest, at least for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, is history. her voice is stark, beautiful and beyond it's years.
aoife o'donovan in the alternate root22. Aoife O'Donovan - Often understated, the voice of Crooked Still lead singer Aoife O'Donovan is what roots music is all about. She has great range in a broad variety of styles. Often jazz tinted, sometimes a sparse folk sound, other times an alt-country, pop feel but always delivered with immaculate tone.
ruthie foster in the alternate root23. Ruthie Foster - Ruthie Foster is a central character on the contemporary blues scene along with Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi but her smart, sophisticated writing and ability to push the boundaries enables her to create her own folk / blues / soul niche. Her voice, like her art, is powerful, soulful and covers great depth.

jamie wilson in the alternate root24. Jamie Wilson - An original member of the influential Austin based alt-country band The Gougers, Jamie Wilson now spends her time as one of the four outstanding vocalists in The Trishas. A muti-instrumentalist with a great voice in a band with three other multi-instrumentalists with great voices, Jamie Wilson has the most distinctive roots sound but truthfully, any of the other three members of The Trishas could be here.

lucy kaplansky in the alternate root25. Lucy Kaplansky - One of the central figures in the New York / Greenwich Village folk revival of the late 1970's and early 1980's, Lucy Kaplansky might have had a much deeper history had she not left the music world for a time to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist. She spent much of her early career with folk stand-outs John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne vega and Richard Shindell. Once a highly sought after backing vocalist, Lucy Kaplansky has developed into one of the top folk singers on the folk circuit.
susan tedeschi in the alternate root26. Susan 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.

bonnie biship in the alternate root27. Bonnie Bishop - Known predominantly as a songwriter, Bonnie Bishop has garnered some high praise for her singing and performing over four solid solo albums. Her voice is raspy and soulful but matches her performance and writing style perfectly. She sings and writes from the heart and while there are imperfections there is no lack of authenticity to anything Bonnie Bishop does.
sarah petite in the alternate root28. Sara Petite - Sarah Petite hails from the bluegrass, country hotbed of San Diege, CA...OK we're kidding, it's not a hotbed of country or bluegrass but it is the home of one of the rising stars of the alt-country, bluegrass world. Sarah Petite has infused the influences of her youth, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and local San Diego heroes, The Beat Farmers, into her own unique vocal style. She's a strong songwriter and dynamic performer.
amy black in the alternate root29. Amy Black - A newcomer and a late bloomer on the alt-country, roots scene Amy Black is developing a solid following around the country and in her hometown of Boston. her debut album, 'One Time' garnered a huge amount of critical acclaim for it's songwriting and vocal performance and landed Amy Black on opening slots for Rodney Crowell and Chris Isaak.  She is a fabulous performer with a booming voice and a drive that will move her past many of her contemporaries in short order.
sarah lee guthrie in the alternate root30. Sarah Lee Guthrie - The granddaughter of Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee is part of a duo with husband Johnny Irion. Her voice stays true to the folk and country traditions she was raised to understand and her writing stays tru to the familty tradition of challenging social injustice.

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.

Listen and buy the music of Peter Karp and Sue Foley from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Paul Thorn from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Mad Buffalo from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Corb Lund from AMAZON or iTunes

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”.

Listen and buy the music of Carolina Chocolate Drops from AMAZON or iTunes

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!

Listen and buy the music of Kevin Gordon from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Ruthie Foster from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Lucy Kaplansky from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Old Crow Medicine Show from AMAZON or iTunes

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.”  

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

Listen and buy the music of Gretchen Peters from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Fred Eaglesmith from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Don Gallardo and How Far West from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of The White Buffalo from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of The Coal Porters from AMAZON

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Mr. Nick and The Dirty Trick from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Girls, Guns and Glory from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of D.L. Marble from AMAZON or iTunes

The Top 10 of the Top 10 Songs of the Week for 2015 features only tracks that landed in the Number One spot….and a year of such great releases it is a feat alone to make the #1. It is hard to choose between 48 weeks of #1 so I leveled the field by picking my number one favorites. Many of these artists, like Mike Farris and Rosanne Cash, have garnered Grammy nods for their work. That is a good start for the work of American Roots artists as they make modern in-roads into folk, country, rock, bluegrass and blues. Mike Farris joined the gospel choir looking to rock the house and up the higher ante. Rosanne Cash took a family vacation with husband producer John Leventhal and showed audio home movies that Grammy voters loved enough to nominate in three categories. Sisters in song and through marriage, Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson polished roots into 60’s AM gold for their release as The Psycho Sisters, Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers formed a line from Cambridge to Memphis as they trace the step to “The Delta Swing” and Alynda Lee Segarra featured abridged lyrics and simple acoustics for the Hurray for the Riff Raff take on “San Francisco Bay Blues”. East Nashville (Jon Byrd), Austin (Paul Thorn) and Boston, Mass (Ward Hayden of Girls, Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges) all take a spot on the Top 10. Zoe Muth pops in her headphones to relax as she rounds out the Top 10 with “Mama Needs a Maragarita” on The Alternate Root Top 10 of The Alternate Root Top 10 Songs of the Week for 2014. In the review, today’s thoughts start the review and the words of the past are italicized.

01 – “Mercy Now” – Mike Farris   (from the album Shine for All the People( (from September 9, 2014)  -  Mike Farris raised his voice for Roots Gospel in 2014 with Shine for All the People. The tracks reimagined marry Black Spirituals from the early nineteenth century with songs that share sentiments for a modern time, such as Mike’s taking control of Mary Gauthier “Mercy Now with electric guitar wrapped in soft organ chords and grounding bass lines balanced with a heavenly whispers.  Congratulations to Mike Farris for garnering a Grammy nod in the Roots Gospel category.

I wonder how songwriters feel when their tunes grow up? Mike Farris has been performing Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” for several years, branding his version. The style that called to Mike was turn-of-the-century (last century) black spiritual music that he has taken as a mission to give to the world on a larger platform. “Mercy Now” fits perfectly among the traditional songs of spirit on his recent release, Shine for All the People.

Listen and buy “Mercy Now” by Mike Farris from AMAZON or iTunes

02 Etta’s Tune – Rosanne Cash   (from the album The River and The Thread)  (from February 5, 2014) - Rosanne Cash carved a singer/songwriter curve into County music, crossing borders with her Seven Year Itch album release (1981) with 3 Top 10 singles and finishing a three album run with Rhythm and Romance grabbing the top spot with four singles including the Rodney Crowell co-write, “Baby Better Start Turning Them Down” (a Grammy 1985 winner for Country single).  We congratulate Rosanne Cash for three Grammy nominations in the Best Americana album, Best American Roots performance (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”) and Best American Roots song (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”) categories.

Marshall Grant was the upright and electric bassist for Johnny Cash’s back-up band, the Tennessee Two. On the road trip that became an album, Rosanne Cash and husband John Leventhal spent time with Etta Grant, Marshall’s wife. Rosanne shared the story of the song and the relationship; “Etta told me that every morning of their lives, they got up and he (Marshall Grant) said to her, ‘What’s the temperature, darling?’ I thought, that is such a practical, sweet way to start the day. And John said, ‘That’s the first line of a song.’ When Marshall died in 2011 (he was 83) we wrote ‘Etta’s Tune.’ That’s the first one we wrote for the album (The River and The Thread).”

Listen and buy “Etta’s Tune” by Rosanne Cash from AMAZON or iTunes

03 “Timberline” - The Psycho Sisters (from the album Up on the Chair, Beatrice)   (from July 16, 2014) - Susan Cowsill and sister-in-law Vicki Peterson bring The Continental Drifters back in the guitar echoes of The Psycho Sisters. Scratchy rock’n’roll slithers along as the ladies join the voices to rise up the tree levelin “Timberline” as they border Roots with 60’s Pop Rock’n’Roll.

Our formative years follow us.  Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson (Cowsill) have been roots women ground zero as Continental Divide and The Psycho Sisters, lending backing vocals for Giant Sand. They have been Indie banner bearers and yet the early time spent shows through. Susan didn’t have a chance to sidestep a natural lean towards Pop in her songs as a member of The Cowsills, and Vicki Peterson was a founding member of The Bangles (nee’ The Bangs), whose Indie Rock cool took on a quick Pop gloss. The overall history of both bands shows artists staying true to rock’n’roll yet crossing over into the Pop supermarket. On a co-write for the upcoming release from The Psycho Sisters, they talk high country but the sweet sound of Pop still manages to rise up the “Timberline”.

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

04 The Delta Swing – Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers   (from the album Love Whip Blues) (from November 1, 2014) - Erin Harpe lays down a formation bass line as she slithers along the Emerald Necklace, swinging the blues of the Delta Swingers from home ground in Cambridge and down to JP (Jamaica Plains). She hops a freight car to Memphis without losing a beat as she steps to “The Delta Swing”.

Erin Harpe struts onto Live Whip Blue, her most recent release backed by The Delta Swingers. The tune rolls rhythm as a new dance craze taking over Cambridge, Jamaica Plains and down in Memphis as Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers show you how to do “The Delta Swing”.

Listen and buy “Song in Your Head” by Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers from AMAZON or iTunes

05 “Smile and a Little Skin” – Kelly Willis  (from the album Hangtown Dancehall)  (from April 16, 2014) - A gentle sway takes Kelly Willis’ song onto the floor for a spin.Hangtown Dancehall continues to grab stages nationwide for the Eric Brace and Karl Straub’s string band musical that Tim Rice has called ‘muscular and tuneful,…wordy and gritty’.

The company of the new Eric Brace and Karl Straub musical, Hangtown Dancehall, give up the stage for one of their own as Kelly Willis finds the center spot to tell her tale of life as a dancehall gal. Her routine has become routine….get dressed up pretty, dance around, show “Smile and a Little Skin”, get up early to find another town and repeat.

Listen and buy “Smile and A Little Skin” by Kelly Willis from AMAZON or iTunes

06 “The New SF Bay Blues” – Hurray for the Riff Raff   (from the album Small Town Heroes) (from April 2, 2014) - Hurray for the Riff Raff have traded street corners for major stages worldwide without ever forgetting those patrons that kept their music alive when they were busking New Orleans and selling cassette tapes of the Roots Folk. Alynda Lee Segarra adds lines and heft to a folk tune written by Jesse Fuller in 1954.

Alynda Lee Segarra adds to a classic folk blues track set in the fog rolling in from the mighty Pacific Ocean. As clouds of mist barrel under the Golden Gate Bridge they will find Hurray for the Riff Raff down to woman, guitar and the sadness that comes with great love.

Listen and buy “The New SF Bay Blues” by Hurray for the Riff Raff from AMAZON or iTunes

07 Would You Like to Dance - Jon Byrd  ) (from the album Route 41) (from October 11, 2014) - The vocals of Jon Byrd on his take for “Would You Like to Dance” float over the country sway on the track. Route 41 puts Jon Byrd in the back seat picking as the tracks of other singer/songwriter dive.

Jon Byrd put his pen down for a new release, Route 41. The songs gathered are ones Jon has met across his road and performing years. Jon Byrd sings a smooth country gentleman whose charm might get him a partner on Adam Wright’s “Would You Like to Dance”.

Listen and buy “Would You Like to Dance” by Jon Byrd from Jon’s website

08 Too Blessed to be Stressed - Paul Thorn  (from the album Too Blessed to Be Stressed) (from July 20, 2014) - Paul Thorn spent four weeks on the Top 10 in the #1 spot with different tracks leading up to his album release, and rightfully so. If you feel the spirit in this song think about the tune taking steroids and check out the effect of a Paul Thorn Band live show.

There are many visual aids that pass our eyes during the course of a day. Paul Thorn give three examples to look for; the little things they just might make your smile iron out the speed bumps and fill in the potholes that sometimes litter our path. Please feel free to join Paul and the McCrary Sisters with the chorus of “Too Blessed to be Stressed”.

Listen and buy “Too Blessed to be Stressed” by Paul Thorn from AMAZON or iTunes

09 Get as Gone as Gone Can Get – Girls, Guns and Glory with featuring Sarah Borges (7’ vinyl single) (from July 02, 2014) - A two-sided single featuring “Baby Don’t Go” and “Get as Gone as Gone Can Get” came through last summer. This side grabbed the #1 spot with wobbly rockabilly guitar crunch powered by Roots sirens of the male (Ward Hayden) and female (Sarah Borges) variety.

What do you get when two of Boston's hottest rock and roll singers join forces? You get this song! "Get As Gone Can Get" is a new duet from Sarah Borges and Ward Hayden of Girls Guns And Glory, with the GGG boys backing them. With a kind of 50's feel, like you're at a modern day sock hop, this song just brings the goods! The two Boston based rockers trade vocals around a driving guitar sound that defines HIGH ENERGY! Rock and Roll is NOT dead!!  (JM)  Girls, Guns and Glory teamed up with one of their favorites Ms. Sarah Borges to record a two-sided vinyl 7″ record.

10 “Mama needs A Margaita”  – Zoe Muth   (from the album World of Strangers)  (from May 14, 2014) - Closing out the Top 10 of the Top 10 is a track that took #1 on Mother’s Day week. It takes us home as Mama puts the kids to bed, knocks back a Margarita and plays a tune from her dream jukebox.

A special week for Mom, Moms, Mama’s and Mother’s worldwide as the Top Ten starts off with a tune for Mother’s Day 2014. Zoe Muth takes on the role of American Mother on a track going out to two-steppers and two-timers, as seven sins and one-liners tip glasses back and call out for one more. No need to hunt for a belated Mothers Day gift …”Mama Needs a Margarita”, a slow song and some strong arms to lead her, a pretty red dress and a new pair of shoes, a long straight highway with no cops to get in my way, a Texas road house and a band to play the Blues’....somebody get the lady a drink!

Listen and buy “Mama Needs a Margarita” by Zoe Muth from AMAZON or iTunes


26- St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City   (2-18-14) - Paul Janeway grew up in a devout household with little non-religious music being heard at home. 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. It is Soul that crowned St. Paul, and The Broken Bones became the chariot that carried him and the Birmingham, Alabama sextet to finally release their debut of rock’n’soul, Half the City.

Listen and buy the music of St. Paul and the Broken Bones from AMAZON or iTunes

26 – Steelism – 615 to Fame   (9-16-14) - Steelism play smart instrumentals that are happier making a melody than grandstanding flash and fury in the playing. The band creates a Roots Modern sound that touches on Mod and Spaghetti Western style.

Listen and buy music by Steelism from AMAZON or iTunes


28 – John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken   (9-22-14) - The is a literary tone to the songs on Plain Spoken. John Mellencamp stages his heartland stories, giving them a wider range of emotion and heft than living inside the borders of a Pop song.

Listen and buy music by John Mellencamp from AMAZON or iTunes

29 – Chuck Mead - Free State Serenade    (3-4-14) - Chuck Mead opened the Broadway show Million Dollar Quarter as musical director for the performances. On Free State Serenade, Chuck and the boys in the band present an album that could have been an extension of the Sun Records jam session that gave over its story if the players had gotten along and made an album.

Listen and buy music by Chuck Mead from AMAZON or iTunes

30 – Israel Nash – Israel Nash’s Rain Plans   (8-19-14) - Israel Nash perfectly captured the tone and texture of classic album from Neil Young and Van Morrison with his 2014 release, Israel Nash’s Rain Plans. Live, the band present the album in its entirety and sequentially.

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

31 – Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes   (1-14-14) - Bruce Springsteen enlisted E Street Band members, including contributions from departed members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici as well as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for High Hopes. The album is a collection of unfinished tracks and re-worked tunes from his catalog, such as the raw meat version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.

Listen and buy the music of Bruce Springsteen from AMAZON or iTunes

32 – Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen – Cold Spell     (8-12-14) Cold Spell expands on the song catalog of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen without compromising its intentions. The band have a knack for matching music to pain, desires and longing in Frank Solivan’s vocals with the sonic textures cradle and rock the stories with strong support to get them through troubled times of the heart.

Listen and buy the music of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen from AMAZON or iTunes

33 -Brent Johnson – Set the World on Fire   (4-8-14) -  “My sound is rooted in the blues, though I don’t pretend to be a purist, and I don’t want to be. I write music based on my experiences and the sounds I grew up with; I never want to pretend that I had the same experiences as the old bluesmen did, so I’m not going around trying to sound like them. What I do is put the emphasis on the feeling of the music, the passion, the urgency, the directness –that’s the goal.” Brent Johnson introduces himself with short bursts, but it is not the words of the New Orleans-based Blues/Rock guitarist that has you showing up early for the party; it is his playing. Set the World on Fire is kinda the perfect title for his release on Canadian imprint, Justin Time Records….bravado that will immediately get the hackles of true believers raised, and guitar work that will have them saying they saw Brent in some little hole in the wall rock club way before anybody heard of him.

Listen and buy the music of Brent Johnson from AMAZON or iTunes

34 -Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition   - Dark Night of the Soul    (1-18-14) - The songs of Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coliation have a presence; they invade each arrangement making Dark Night of the Soul a majestic album on full listen. The band jumps into each song with a beautiful display of coordinated chaos. Luckily, the folks that roam the tunes halls fit perfectly with music that wears Jimbo’s rock and roll heart on its sleeve. The title track starts life on a scratchy church basement piano, pulling the curtain back slowly behind Jimbo’s stage soul pleas as the boys in the band plug in to back their brother behind the microphone.

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

35 -Keb’ Mo’ – Bluesamericana   (4-22-14) - Keb’ Mo’ uses the strength of  a solid groove to suggest that there are times in life when limits are reached and you got to “Move”, a track from his most recent release, BLUESAmericana. The rhythm is a physical thing on the song as Keb Mo’ finger points with his guitar licks, laying down the rule of the house…. ‘you ain’t got to go home but you can’t stay here’. He took his own advice and headed back into the studio to record, though the inspiration for BLUESAmericana came way before the wisdom of the tracks. The album’s nine originals and a cover of a tune Keb’ first heard sung by Mississippi Sheiks Sam Chatmon, “That’s Alright”, began the recording process. Keb’ Mo’ knows himself, and that “I only make albums when I’m inspired to, and these ten songs come from a very honest place”. Since his last album, Keb’ had gone through life challenges as he and his wife persevered tough turns on the marriage road. He touches on the need, and is thankful for the ability to talk things out in “For Better or Worse”. He felt that patch in his marriage forced him to take a look, realizing “I had to learn more about myself and in doing that I felt a personal shift’

Listen and buy the music of Keb’ Mo’ from AMAZON or iTunes

36 – Leftover Salmon – High Country   (12-30-14) - New members and a renewed passion can be heard in the musical continuity of High Country. High Country features LoS playing from a stronger bluegrass center point. The lines thread through folk rock, country rambles, rock, and reggae.   The subtle banjo playing of Andy Thorn runs as an undercurrent as it wraps around the tracks on High Country, like his playing does in the title track, kicking the tune off with a classic banjo opener and maintaining a presence within the constant rhythm machine stoked by his bandmates.

Listen and buy the music of Leftover Salmon from AMAZON or iTunes

37 - Carlene Carter – Carter Girl   (4-8-14) - Carlene Carter boards a “Little Black Train” to start off her most recent release, Carter Girl. The locomotive tune is running a full route, making station stops at songs made popular by the forebears of her musical legacy, The Carter Family. Carlene Carter is the daughter of June Carter Cash and country music superstar Carl Smith, and the granddaughter of Maybelle Carter aka Mother Maybelle, original member of The Carter Family formed in 1927 in the Virginia town of Maces Springs. The group was ground zero for Country music, recording several of the genres standards such as “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and “Keep on the Sunny Side”. The Carter Family influenced generations by developing but also integrating Country music with Folk, Bluegrass, Gospel, Rock….and how those styles translated to Pop.

Listen and buy the music of Carlene Carter from AMAZON or iTunes

38- Will Kimbrough – Sideshow Love     (2-18-14) - Will Kimbrough uses his latest release title, Sideshow Love, to focus on matters of the heart. The Love in Will’s Sideshow walks a carnival midway filled with bright lights and dark shadows, strong men and bearded women, exotic beauties and transient roundabouts. Will Kimbrough is the barker standing outside his album’s tent to draw you in with quality songwriting and styles that offer three-ring diversity. The album’s mix of music and moods fits the man behind the song, Will Kimbrough. Songwriter, performer and producer is a good resume, one that gets a hand up the ladder with work as sideman guitarist with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Kim Richey, musical rambles with longtime friends Todd Snider and Tommy Womack and a quarter owner of the Willie Sugarcapps sound.

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

39 - Queen Esther – The Other Side  (5-25-14) - 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 brands the varied genres as her own as her voice, becoming the sound of a breaking country heart, tough love dressed in dirty blues, and crawling inch by inch over echoey piano notes.

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

40 -Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits   (2-18-14) - Lake Street Dive have moved forward and have kept their musical focus pure. They have traveled from up sidewalks, keeping their musical focus leveled on the sparkle of 60’s Pop. The songs on Bad Self Portrait, the band’s recent release, siphon sound from the heydays of 1960’s genre-blending Pop that mattered with nods to Brill Building girl-groups, British invasion bands, R&B, horn-fueled Stax soul and Motown. The bright musical bed softens the blows of the heartbreak and headaches of love in the tales on Bad Self Portrait

Listen and buy the music of Lake Street Dive from AMAZON or iTunes

41 – John Hiatt – The Terms of My Surrender   (7-15-14) - John Hiatt recorded (for the most part) ‘off the floor’ as he would in a live setting, which was fitting since the band in the studio was Hiatt’s exceptional touring band, Nathan Gehri, Kenneth Blevins, Brandon Young and Doug Lancio. The music goes back to the Blues yet the story lines maintain John Hiatt’s ability to get to the heart of an emotion and his bedside manner of softening the blow with quick wit and a knowing nod.

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

42 – Dom Flemons – The American Songster Dom Flemons, Prospect Hill  (7-28-14) - Dom Flemons is a modern musician, a tour guide for a busload of sound. He hits the Southwest desert at dusk right when the photographer’s ‘magic hour’ is ripe (“Sonorian Church Two-Step”) and walks in muddy water with fast-paced words to make it through Mississippi muck as he revisits a tune from Memphis songster Frank Stokes. Dom Flemons not only plays the music of the past as it was originally presented, he does it with pride for every note, happy to present authentic representations for tunes he penned and the work of others. The American Songster Dom Flemons puts history and tradition, styles and sounds all into a song on Prospect Hill.

Listen and buy the music of Dom Flemons from AMAZON or iTunes

43 – Nell Robinson – The Rose of No-Man’s Land   (11-4-14) - Nell Robinson chooses the vehicle of song to stitch a quilt of lives onThe Rose of No-Man’s Land,integrating the heritage of her own Alabama family during 250 years of war. For the most part, the stories captured in the songs are from archived letters, documents, mementos and generational lore, all centered on war and service. Beginning with Revolutionary War to the present, Nell Robinson weaves national and family history along withproducer Joe Henry and a cast of musical friends lending a hand, including Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and John Doe, performing songs by Nell Robinson, Rodney Crowell (“Scots Irish”, Guy Clark (“Heroes”), Johnny Cash and Bill Monroe.

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

44 – The Hello Strangers - The Hello Strangers   (5-23-14) - The Hello Strangers had a slew of tunes written in a cottage off South Congress Street in Austin, Texas that they squeezed into the backseat of a rural Pennsylvania-bound car along with lives, dogs and Larissa’s husband (not necessarily in that order). The result is a self-titled release for The Hello Strangers.

Listen and buy music from The Hello Strangers from AMAZON or iTunes

45- The Holmes Brothers – Brotherhood   (4-1-14) - Family of choice holds men and women closer than blood, and that sentiment has proven true for The Holmes Brothers. Two of the members, Wendell and Sherman Holmes, are attached by ancestry. The third man, Popsy Dixon, is a Holmes Brother because there is just no other place that he could, or should, be. The Holmes Brothers celebrate and define the band, and music, on their recent release, Brotherhood. The album is their fifth album for Alligator Records. Wendell Holmes (guitar, piano, vocals) shares the recipe that has kept The Holmes Brothers cooking for three decades; “Great songs, whether we write them or not, bring great things. And we are all striving to write, find and perform great songs.

Listen and buy the music of the Holmes Brothers from AMAZON or iTunes

46- Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons   -  Hey Kid   (1-21-14) - Hey Kid might just be the gold standard for roots rock’n’roll as Angela’s voice curls around the power of the playing. She teases in her delivery, waiting a beat, to drop bombs by the way of one-liners, winks and promises. Hey Kid is the first full length album from Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons following four EP’s since forming in 2009. The Howlin’ Moons explode out of the speakers with a barely contained ferocity tamed by Angela Perley’s smoother seduction.

Listen and buy the music of Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons from AMAZON or iTunes

47 – Eric Brace & Karl Straub – Hangtown Dancehall   (1-21-14) - Hangtown Dancehall features a stunning array of musicians featuring players such as Tim O’Brien, Pat McInherney, Jen Gunderman, Fats Kaplin, Buddy Spicher and Mike Auldrige. Lead vocals come in the form of the musical’s characters as played by Kelly Willis, Eric Brace, Karl Straub, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Wesley Stace, Jason Ringenberg and Andrea Zohn. A-list players are surrounded by warm melodies and tempos that never get too far from the dancehall.

Listen and buy the music of Eric Brace and Karl Straub in Hangtown Dancehall from AMAZON or iTunes

48 – Adam Carroll – Let It Choose You   (5-19-14) - There is an art to songwriting that makes its characters so real, so strong, that the singer and the song are in the backseat on the three minute ride that puts the men and women stars of the tale behind the wheel. Adam Carroll is one of those songwriters on his recent release Let It Choose You, a student of the school of Jerry Jeff Walker, Jo-El Sonnier, Todd Snider, John Prine, and Guy Clark (“Wrote It for You”). Adam is a born and raised Texas songwriter  and Let It Choose You picks a Gulf Coast sound that blends folk, Cajun, country and rock’n’roll.

Listen and buy music from Adam Carroll from AMAZON or iTunes

49 – Bob Seger – Ride Out   (10-14-14) - In a time when rockers are looking to roots music for a career shift and Roots musicains are citing classic rock as inspiration, the most impressive thing about the Bob Seger album, Ride Out, is that he made a Bob Seger album, leaning only on personal influence with a heavy hand and history. Ride Out smokes the competition with ease, and Bob Seger muscles up the Roots Rock that made his name as Detroit-famous as the assembly line heroes that fueled his tunes.

Listen and buy music from Bob Seger from AMAZON or iTunes

50 - Eden Brent – Jigsaw Heart   (5-6-14) - It is the lady and her piano that take center stage on any Eden Brent recording or performance. As a solo artist or as a bandleader, Eden is the single cell that gives the music life as much as her Mississippi Delta heritage hardwires the blues into her own playing. Eden Brent and her Blues made the trip north from Mississippi to record her latest release, Jigsaw Heart, in Nashville with guitarist/solo performer and member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Bob Dylan’s band, Colin Linden, sitting in the producer’s chair.   Blues blood of broken and bubbling love courses through Jigsaw Heart, the album forming a circle of the lost and found love within the tracks puzzle pieces.  Blues boogie, and Eden’s personal history of learning the 88’s, has garnered the nickname Lil’ Boogaloo. The boogie is present on Jigsaw Heart though its songs stretch out, laying out the album’s tunes out as a musical songbook of Southern styles such as Gospel, Soul, Country and R&B to exist alongside Eden’s natural Blues.

Listen and buy the music of Eden Brent from AMAZON or iTunes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 -John Fullbright – Songs

3 - Shovels and Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

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

5 - Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant  

6 - Hard Working Americans  -  Hard Working Americans

7 -Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes

8- Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love   

9 - Mike Farris – Shine on All the People

10 - Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest  

11 - Paul Thorn – Too Blessed to Be Stressed 

12 - Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers  

13 - Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy 

14 -The Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble

15- Seth Walker – Sky Still Blue

16 – The Earls of Leicester- The Earls of Leicester

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

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

19 – Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country

20 - Rodney Crowell    - Tarpaper Sky 

21 - Parker Milsap  - Parker Milsap

22 - Janiva Magness – Original

23 – Calico the band – Rancho California

24 -Rosanne Cash   - The River and The Thread

25 -Candi Staton – Life Happens

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

26 – Steelism – 615 to Fame

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

28 – John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken

29 – Chuck Mead - Free State Serenade

30 – Israel Nash – Israel Nash’s Rain Plans

31 – Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes 

32 – Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen – Cold Spell

33 -Brent Johnson – Set the World on Fire

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

35 -Keb’ Mo’ – Bluesamericana

36 -Leftover Salmon – High Country

37 - Carlene Carter – Carter Girl

38- Will Kimbrough – Sideshow Love

39 - Queen Esther – The Other Side

40 -Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

41 – John Hiatt – The Terms of My Surrender

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

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

44 – The Hello Strangers - The Hello Strangers

45- The Holmes Brothers – Brotherhood 

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

47 – Eric Brace & Karl Straub – Hangtown Dancehall

48 – Adam Carroll – Let It Choose You

49 – Bob Seger – Ride Out

50 - Eden Brent – Jigsaw Heart

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

51 – Doug Seegers – Going Down to the River

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

53 - The Mastersons -  Good Luck Charm

54 – The Far West – Any Day Now

55 – John Nemeth – Memphis Grease

56 - Amelia White – Old Postcard

57  - Eliza Gilkyson – The Nocturne Diaries

58 - Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ - Decisions

59 - Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

60 – Chris Smither – Still on the Levee

61 – Ruthie Foster – Promise of a Brand New Day

62 – Royal Southern Brotherhood – heartsoulblood 

63 – David Olney – When the Deal Goes Down

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

65 – Ronnie Fauss – Built to Break 

66 – Ellis Paul – Chasing Beauty

67 – The Reigning Sound – Shattered

68 - Jarekus Singleton – Refuse to Lose

69 - Zoe Muth – World of Strangers

70 -Blackie & the Rodeo Kings   South

71 -Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt – For Keeps

72– Billy Joe Shaver – Long in the Tooth 

73 - The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River

74 –Malcolm Holcombe – Pitiful Blues

75 -Robert Cray – In My Soul

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

76 – The Apache Relay – The Apache Relay

77 - Shakey Graves – And the War Came

78 – Trampled by Turtles – Wild Animals

79 -Moot Davis – Goin’ in Hot

80 - Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

81 - Susan Cattaneo  - Haunted Heart

82 - Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

83- Jamestown Revival – Utah

84 –The Evangenitals – Moby Dick

85 - Amy Black – This Is Home

86 -Mingo Fishtrap – On Time 

87 – Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues

88 – Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder

89 – The Felice Brothers - Favorite Waitress

90 -Matt Andersen  - Weightless

91 - Peter Mulvey – Silver Ladder

92 – Sarah Borges – Radio Sweetheart

93 –  Patrolled by Radar – Cool Your Jets

94 – Nathan Bell – Blood Like a River

95 – Whiskey Shivers – Whiskey Shivers

96 - Devon Allman – Ragged and Dirty 

97 – Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis –  Our Year

98 – Joe Fletcher – Songs for the Working Man

99 – Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw

100 - Chip Taylor – The Little Prayers Trilogy

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

Roots musicians are as much fans as they are performers. We have had some friends call, write and text from the road with their own lists of songs. These lists will feature musician and friends sharing the must-hears, desert island favorites and songs they have loved since they woke up this morning. This week's special guest is East Nashville bluesman Mark Robinson with his Blues Records You Need to Listen to.....

1. Robert Johnson—“Traveling Riverside Blues” (from the album The Complete Recordings) - Everyone knows the legend of Robert Johnson and his deal with the Devil. This legend was credible in rural Mississippi in the 1920’s because Robert Johnson was an amazing player and singer—with power and subtlety. His playing is more complex and beautiful and his lyrics are more sophisticated than his contemporaries. There is a reason he is called the “King of the Delta Blues Singers”.

Listen and buy “Traveling Riverside Blues” by Robert Johnson from AMAZON or iTunes

2. Willie Dixon – “29 Ways” (from the album The Legend of Willie Dixon) - Willie Dixon was the most prolific blues songwriter in the original group of Chicago Blues artists. Willie wrote a lot of the songs that we know by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf . He also played bass on, and produced a lot of records at Chess Records in the 50’s and 60’s.  He was not as well known as a singer or artist. “29 Ways” is a prime example of his fine blues songwriting. Willie is one of the great blues poets—using the language of the blues to tell great stories and to paint vivid pictures of the blues lifestyle.  This is an unusual recording- the cool jungle drumbeat and the doo-wop vocal backups are really different than most of what was coming out of Chess Studios at the time.

Listen and buy “29 Ways” by Willie Dixon from AMAZON or iTunes

3. Muddy Waters — “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (from the album Muddy Waters) -This Chicago recording pairs Muddy Waters with Willie Dixon on upright bass. It is a reworking of an acoustic song Muddy recorded for Alan Lomax called “I Be Bound To Write To You”. This song sits right in the middle—between Muddy as a Delta Bluesman and Muddy as the pioneer of electric Chicago Blues. And it rocks hard with just guitar and bass. Thisis the beginning of the electric Chicago blues sound.

Listen and buy “I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters from AMAZON or iTunes

4. Etta James — “I’d Rather Go Blind”   (from the album Tell Mama) - Etta James was one of the great singers of her time, or of any time. She was able to communicate emotion so completely that everyone hearing her sing could relate to her songs. Her singing on “I’d Rather Go Blind” is understated, but full of pain and emotion.  And it’s beautiful to hear her pain. We love to hear someone really let out their feelings in a song.

Listen and buy “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James from AMAZON or iTunes

5. Howlin’ Wolf — “Howlin’ For My Darlin’” (from the album The Definitive Collection)  - I could pick any Howlin’ Wolf recording, and it would contain his power, his mystery and a sense that something sinister lurks just below the surface of the lyrics and the voice in every song. The recordings capture the Wolf’s primitive energy—70 years later his voice reaches through the speakers and grabs the listener.  Even on commercials for Viagra…

Listen and buy “Howlin’ for My Baby” by Howlin’ Wolf from AMAZON or iTunes

6. Tracy Nelson—Down So Low  (from the album Living With The Animals) - In the late 60’s Tracy Nelson was part of a rock band called Mother Earth. Their first album “Living With the Animals” had several members taking turns singing lead on their own songs. The song “Down So Low” by a young Tracy Nelson, was so deep and drenched in emotion that classic blues records paled in comparison. This was raw pain radiating from this young woman. It still stands as one of the most beautiful moments in popular music.  I know Tracy, and I have played music with her, and listening to this recording still stops me in my tracks.  Listen to some deep blues by a young white girl from Wisconsin. Transcendent!

Listen and buy “Down So Low” by Mother Earth from AMAZON

7. BB King — “Everyday I Have The Blues”  (from the album Live at The Regal) - BB King took the Delta blues uptown. And he took his arrangements, his vocal style, his horn section, and his sharp looking suit with him. He was swinging hard and playing with fire and finesse. He could deliver that fire to a high class white audience and they loved it. He escaped the chittlin’ circuit by classing up his act. But it didn’t diminish the power of his music, his singing or his playing. How many guitar players can be identified by their first note? That’s BB—unique. BB had a number one hit with “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1970 and everybody in America and Europe knew what the blues was about because of him.

Listen and buy “Everyday I Have the Blues” by B.B. King from AMAZON or iTunes

8. Sonny Boy Williamson — “Don’t Start Me Talkin’”   (from the album The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson) - Sonny Boy II (he was the second singer to take the name Sonny Boy Williamson) was a great singer and harp player, and an eccentric storyteller. “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” is a favorite of mine. I can’t follow the entire story, but I get the idea. A fine example of what I call Blues Poetry. Great lyric writing in a very different form than other popular song lyrics.

Listen and buy “Don’t Start me Talkin’” by Sonny Boy Williamson from AMAZON or iTunes

9. Blind Willie Johnson – “Dark Was the Night”   (from the album Dark Was the Night (Mojo Workin' - Blues for the Next Generation)) - This is an early recording of Blind Willie Johnson. It is an eerie melody, the beautiful slide guitar echoing and doubling the wordless vocal. One of my favorite early recordings of a bluesman. I think of this as “pre-blues”, almost more of a field holler than a true blues song. Maybe it’s not really a blues song, but I hear the blues in there.

Listen and buy “Dark Was the Night” by Blind Willie Johnson from AMAZON or iTunes

10. Freddy King  – “I’m Tore Down”   (from the album Blues - 20 Hits) - Freddy King was younger than the other Kings—BB and Albert. He was hipper—wearing bell-bottoms and playing surf rock instrumentals. This caused some blues people to think of him as a rock guitarist. But Freddy was deep and not to be taken lightly. One of the most formidable blues guitar players, ever. His piercing tone and swinging phrasing incorporated rock and jazz licks. His powerful, high voice took the blues to a new, cool place. Freddy lived hard and died fairly young. I often wonder what he would have done if he had lived longer. His ability to incorporate more modern ideas into his music might have taken him to some fantastic places. But we can still enjoy his instrumentals, slow blues moaning and rocking up-tempo shuffles.

Listen and buy “I’m Tore Down” by Freddy King from AMAZON or iTunes


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

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




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

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

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


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




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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


the 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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Curtis McMurtry & The Chosen Ones from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Dustin Welch from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Jen Chapin from AMAZON or iTunes

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”).

Listen and buy the music of Shooter Jennings from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Big Bill Morganfield from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of The Chapin Sisters from AMAZON

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.

Listen and buy the music of Lucy Wainwright-Roche from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

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

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.

Listen and buy the music of Dumpstaphunk from AMAZON or iTunes

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.

Listen and buy the music of Liam Finn from AMAZON or iTunes

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.