2013 was a great year for American Roots music and putting together a list of the Top 100 was a long and arduous task. We went around and around about who should be on it and then around again when putting them in the order you see them now. The Top 10, truthfully, could go any way you want it but we had to pick an order...and a number one and we couldn't get past that incredible Band of Heathens record. Then there was the Wood Brothers. Equally incredible. And Over The Rhine and well so on and so forth. When you finish one of these lists and you think you're done...the ones you forgot start popping up. "Holy shit, we forgot Barrence Whitfield!" So it starts again. Where to put the one's we forgot and who gets bumped. We've undoubtedly missed some that you think should be here and you're probably right, but this isn't science it's only our list of the Top 100 Albums of 2013 and here it is.
1. The Band of Heathens - Sunday Morning Record - The Band of Heathens head back to a time when the depth of a Sunday morning was taken apart your favorite song. Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist were keeping a path forward amid personal and career hurdles. They found that space in their songwriting. The tracks are more personal; though quieter, there is sharp clarity to the album. There is no doubt, that this is music from The Band of Heathens brand. Heart and mind are both represented and appealed to in their songs, and Sunday Morning Record continues to deliver smart stories of real lives, with all the bumps, bruises, and smiles left in.
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2. The Wood Brothers - The Muse - Wood Brother Oliver has name recognition on a number of non-in-house albums, helming the production of projects such as Shemekia Copeland and co-writing the recent Tedeschi-Trucks Band album title track. For their recent release, The Muse, The Wood Brothers went outside of blood relations and chose a producer that uses all of his senses to capture the intricate diversity of the band. Buddy Miller turned the knobs behind the board for The Muse, and added baritone guitar work to the production. Buddy does a fine job in transferring the music to song in a way that nods to influence without needing to stamp the tracks with a particular sound style.
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3. Over the Rhine - Meet Me At The Edge of the World - Meet Me at the Edge of the World uses the rural Ohio farmhouse of the husband and wife team of Over The Rhine, dubbed Nowhere Farm, as a backdrop for the stories and the music. The band’s previous works have showcased their art, and their ability to craft music that is full and vibrant. Over The Rhine, with producer Joe Henry, dedicate themselves to making sure that every note and nuance surfaces in the songs for Meet Me at the Edge of the World. The album is the most song friendly effort from Over the Rhine and, luckily, it is a double disc.
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4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern - The songs of Jason Isbell on Southeastern are handled with care, and the album announces Jason’s move to top tier songwriter and performer. His heart still beats Roots; he is after all, a son of Muscle Shoals. Jason Isbell comfortably wears the skin of an American songwriting force with Southeastern. He has equal command of his words and the ability to deliver them with all of their emotion intact. He turns heartbreak into the saving face of salvation in the story line of “Traveling Alone” and steers through a decade of memory glimpsed through the light of “Different Days”.
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5. Patty Griffin - American Kid – Patty Griffin has stated that much of her new release, American Kid, was written to honor her father. Musically. Patty uses her past recorded output as influence in creating something familiar emotionally that dwells in a musical future sound. “That Kind of Lonely” lanquishes in a lush sound collage that gathers strings and hard edge acoustic chords, using Patty’s voice as a beacon to lead the song across stark soundscapes. Patty Griffin has a voice that can whisper or soar with an equal presence. There is a subtle power in each note, a secret knowledge in every vocal tease.
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6. The Greencards - Sweetheart of the Sun - The Greencards have broken musical ground and established themselves as major players in the world of Roots music since they came into being in 2003 and on Sweetheart of the Sun, their musicality spreads out over the water-themed release. Their collective talents are not hidden nor kept to the background and kudos go to The Greencards for making Sweetheart of the Sun feel like one thought rather than individual tracks.
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7. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - Old Yellow Moon – Harmony between old friends is what drives Old Yellow Moon. Emmylou Harris had Rodney Crowell at her side for her own early solo work on seminal album such as Luxury Liner and Elite Hotel. The pair join their voices again with Old Yellow Moon.
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8. Trampled Under Foot – Badlands - Trampled Under Foot boast not one but two Soul force singers with sister/brother Danielle (bass) and Nick (guitar) Schnebelen. Their parents, Bob and Lisa, were fixtures on the Kansas City Blues scene. Nick describes what the father gave his children, “Our dad was in bar bands but he was also recognized as a great blues guitar player. He’d take us to blues jams where we’d meet some real old school artists and hear a cross section of roots music.” Early training shows through on Badlands. Danielle’s siren voice is a beacon light and a lamp in the window. Danielle fully inhabits her cover of James Brown’s “It's a Man's Man's Man's World” with a testifying claim on the crown that will make anyone within ear range a true believer. Badlands is smoldering Soul and Blues.
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9. Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark – Blind, Crippled and Crazy - Delbert McClinton and longtime friend Glen Clark made their last album together in 1973. Forty years on, and the guys decided it was enough fun to do it all over again. The time that has passed has not dulled their roots, and it has given them plenty of fodder for stories, though most of the tales are aimed right back at the two guys behind the microphones. Glen Clark says of the project that they are “a couple of guys who started playing together in ragtag bands around Fort Worth in the '60s, so we like to poke some fun at ourselves for being older now."
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10. Steve Earle & The Dukes (and Duchesses) - The Low Highway - The Low Highway is the fifteenth Steve Earle studio album. The album style samples from a wide sound backing courtesy of The Dukes and Duchesses. The album showcases the songwriting abilities of Mr. Earle in a manner that cannot be heard in his more genre-specific albums. There is breathing room on The Low Highway, and Steve takes full advantage to stretch. “Pocket Full of Rain” dips its sound into Indie Rock; “21st Century Blues” wonders where all the promises went over a full forward rock rhythm; “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” catches a Cajun fiddle wind that rides into “After Mardi Gras”, where it dips into a more swamp edge. “Calico County” cuts a path with guitars that leave marks like a chem trail across the album and “That All You Got” marries Blues riffs with Zydeco rhythms.
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11. Edie Brickell and Steve Martin - Love Has Come for You – The Steve and Edie (for our times) have created beautiful moments of song on Love Has Come for You. Given history and talents, the album’s quality is not a shock. What is surprising is how well the pair get the banjo and voice to interact. The title track mixes banjos notes and chords to give fullness as Edie spins a mountain tale that builds up instrumentally to bloom like spring flowers within the song. The story follows love through a life showing the strength of the emotion and finding joy even when it reaches the end of its time on earth.
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12. Valerie June - Pushin' Against a Stone – Valerie June refers to her music as Organic Moonshine. She is a major star across that big piece of water east of the US coast; her UK ‘overnight success’ arriving right around the same time as her album debut, Pushin’ Against A Stone. Vocally, Valerie June can simultaneously give impressions of hurt while assuring that you can climb over anything in your path. Pushin’ Against A Stone crosses sonic borders and comfortably wears folk blues, jazz, rock and soul in its songs without ever having to swear fidelity to any one sound style.
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13. North Mississippi All-Stars - World Boogie is Coming - Pedigree opened doors but once inside, North Mississippi All Stars needed to rely solely on their music. Luther and Cody Dickinson grew up in North Mississippi alongside bluesmen like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and the ghost of Mississippi Fred McDowell. The Dickinson Brothers got some advice from their buddy Seasick Steve, who told them they were the link to North Mississippi Blues for the next generation. Steve’s advice was to keep it primitive. The North Mississippi All Stars wanted to make a cultural statement, and to honor Seasick Steve’s request, and that is exactly what they have down with World Boogie Is Coming. Doing the right thing and giving it a beat.
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14. Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You - Guy Clark holds a photo up to the camera on the cover of My Favorite Picture of You. The image is Susanna Clark, who passed away in June 2012. Guy vivdly remembers the moment, "Me and Townes are in that house, just drunk on our asses, jerks. And she'd had enough, she walked out that front door. I think it was John Lomax who snapped that picture. I had it pinned on my wall, and Gordon [Sampson] came over. We were writing and he had a list of lines and titles and all that shit that most people carry around. I was going through it and I hit on this line that said, 'My favorite picture of you.' I turned in my chair and it was right there in front of me. The lyrics just poured out because all it boiled down to was describing the picture. We might written it in one day."
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15. Slaid Cleaves - Still Fighting The War - Slaid Cleaves is our inner voice and the guide that points us towards the light. His stories use the lives of others to help us make the way over the hurdles in day-to-day existence, and support decisions with the lives of those around us. Slaid starts off Still Fighting the War with its title track. The song follows memories back to Fallujah and addresses the central character in the tale with the observation that “you been home for a couple of years now, buddy, but you’re still fighting the war”. The song zeroes in on the obvious and makes sure that the truth is present as it sings….”men go off to war for a hundred reasons but they all come home with the same demons”.
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16. Anders Osborne – Peace - Anders Osborne is on a Peace mission. Given the subject matter, it might seem that the title is what the man is championing….that is not the case. Anders relates the various stages, transitions, awakenings and pitfalls he has experienced in achieving his own personal Peace. Anders Osborne’s observations are street smart and do not pull punches. To support the realness of his words, Anders fills songs with determined rhythms marinated in the musical stew pot of his New Orleans home.
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17. Mavis Staples - One True Vine - Mavis Staples, and producer Jeff Tweedy, have created the gospel according to Americana with One True Vine. The pair received a Grammy nod and win with their first collaboration, and Ms. Staples wanted to create One True Vine in the same joyous spirit though with an evolution in the music. The album completely embodies dark and light, both in words and music.
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18. The Milk Carton Kids – The Ash and The Clay - The Ash and Clay lets the guitars have their say, with tones that complement the purity of The Milk Carton Kids vocals. Kenneth Passengale plays a 1954 Martin and Joey Ryan uses a 1951 Gibson, making the guitar sounds sparkle with age in the echo of a thousand notes. The Milk Carton Kids tend to deliver their songs with a quiet power. There is softness to the tunes gathered but they have a bite that safely keeps them out of reach from an easy listening status.
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19. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line – Carnival - The stories on Carnival have their backdrop go from antebellum south to an old man walking a mountain trail in the present day. Nora Jane Struthers is comfortable in the literary side of her tales. Prior to undertaking a full time career in music, she was an English teacher. Nora Jane Struthers and The Party Line take you on a ride in Carnival that captures a lot in the space of fourteen songs and creating an album that will take them from the sideshow to the big tent.
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20. James Hunter Six – Minute By Minute - The James Hunter Six play hard though the rhythms of the band do not pound as much as penetrate. Double duty is a default for James Hunter in his songs. His voice guides and keeps the music on track with the happiness the narrator finds in getting it right shining through James’ vocals. James Hunter follows the path of great Soul singers like Al Green, Solomon Burke, and Otis Redding by selling the songs with an honest emotion that allows his vocal chameleon to inhabit his characters.
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21. Yarn – Shine It On – Contrary to Yarn yarns, the stories on Shine the Light On see the band traveling towards the warm glow found in the promise of the album title as they voice humble request in an attempt to strive for, and appreciate, a better life. The words of Blake Christiana and the emotional telling of his vocal delivery have found themselves a good home in the music making of Yarn.
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22. The Defibulators – Debt’ll Get ‘Em - Debt’ll Get ‘Em hits the ground over the speed limit with album opener “Holy Roller”, a tongue-in-cheek gut-kick to organized religion. The Defibulators raise a toast to blue-collar brothers and sisters with “Working Class” a soon-to-be jukebox favorite from the coal mines to the farm fields, stopping at every watering hole from the east to west with truck parking.
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23. Steep Canyon Rangers – Tell the Ones I Love - The Rangers never toss a riff over for someone to catch; each note volley included in their songs are hand carried from one member to another on Tell the Ones I Love. The mandolin, fiddle, guitar and banjo leads move between instruments with no bumps though there are some serious jumps in the way the band delivers, and we can hear, bluegrass. Steep Canyon Rangers honor traditions but do not view the sounds that have come before as a sentence but musical arrows that point towards a sonic changes for string bands.
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24. Jonny Fritz - Dad Country – Jonny Fritz went back to his origins, dropping Jonny Corndawg and reclaiming his real name for his ATO Records debut, Dad Country. Jonny paints himself as the outsider in his songs and backs the Southern literary story lines with classic country playing. He understands that his problems lie with the company he keeps (“Wrong Crowd”, “Social Climbers”), last night’s party (“Goodbye Summer”) and the welcome he gets after driving all night to help blow out the candles (“Ain’t It Your Birthday”).
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25. I See Hawks in L.A. – Mystery Drug – The gentlemen curators of California Country, I See Hawks in L.A. once again confine literary prose into the borders of a three minute song with Mystery Drug. They are a giving group and help the songs stick with remember-me hooks in the chorus to take home with you. The Hawks turn the pages of real life in the tales and stitch the songs with Paul Laques psychedelic roots riffs.
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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 1 THROUGH 25
26. Willie Nile - American Ride - The title track for American Ride, co-written with The Alarm’s Mike Peters, finds the song in a New York City morning but this day holds an adventure. As the cities of America fly by across the easy rhythm of Willie’s guitar, his voice is a conductor calling out points of interest across the United States. “American Ride” stretches like the country it sings about; you can hear the slap of motorcycle tires and see the shadow of Willie Nile and his guitar moving across the prairies, crossing the mountains and deserts and hitting the shores of the coasts. Willie Nile presents a travelogue, and an album, penned with pride.
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27. Tim Easton - Not Cool – Tim Easton left the high desert near Joshua Tree to set up camp on the Cumberland River. After leaving a Ryman show in Nashville, Tim wandered into Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway and left with a direction for his Not Cool album and the backing players for the vintage roots rockabilly temperament of the songs, all recorded in five days.
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28. Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Lickety Split – Robert Randolph took a break from a grueling 280-date-a-year touring with the Family Band to record and release Lickety Split, his first studio recording in three years. Playing every night diffused the group’s spontaneity and the rule for the new album was no rules. Robert Randolph fires notes from his sacred steel guitar that will leave skid marks on sound waves.
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29. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul - The Savages do not back Barrence Whitfield as much as surround the man with a chaotic maelstrom of sound, true surround sound. Mr. Whitfield’s stands his ground with class and sass against the sonic force of The Savages. Barrence not only keeps his spot but he also owns the spotlight when he leads the band. Ferocious rock’n’roll and street tough R&B are the default sounds for Dig Thy Savage Soul.
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30. Carrie Rodriguez – Give Me All You’ve Got – On Give Me All You Got, Carrie Rodriguez wears the skin of an artist who is stretching beyond what is expected of her without completely shedding the sound that brought her to the party. The grace and poise that freely roam throughout Give Me All You Got grant the album a sonic texture that comfortably fits it into the roots world with subtly obvious influences of country, rock, soul and folk. The songs form a soundtrack for Carrie’s Texas years and the ten years she has spent in Brooklyn. The emotions in Give Me All You Got are as equally separate as her states of residence. Carrie describes the songs, “These new original tune run the gamut of intense emotions, from heartache to budding new love, from betrayal to resigned acceptance, and finally to the sheer joy of being alive.”
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31. Nikki Hill - Here's Nikki Hill – A few years ago Nikki Hill made a decision to add her voice to husband Matt’s guitar work and take to the stage with the force of Roots Rock’n’Soul raging from the amplifiers. Here’s Nikki Hill stamps North Carolina as the spot where raw, visceral roots soul has taken to ground. Nikki Hill holds the stage with a voice channeled from Little Richard and a poise that Mr. Penniman will envy.
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32. Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors - Good Light – Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors make Roots Pop that is lyrically sophisticated, contemporary and powerful. Musically, Drew’s wife and songwriting partner Ellie holds the harmonies as The Neighbors glide over a sonic landscape of Hammond organ, pedal steel, mandolin and guitars.
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33. The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find A Way – Gospel and Indie Rock set up camp for the recording of I’ll Find a Way with The Blind Boys of Alabama going with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) to produce the release. Devotional music with an edge set on eleven for the sonic level and the messages.
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34. Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition – White Buffalo – Former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman Jimbo Mathus left North Carolina returning to his home state of Mississippi. Jimbo, the Tri-State Coalition and producer Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel recorded White Buffalo in the studio that Mathus had set up using antique ribbon microphones and tube pre-amps. White Buffalo marries folk wisdom, southern roots rock and smart stories.
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35. Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – Memories & Moments – What began as two friends/players getting together on their debut album has moved into a full-on project for Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott with Memories & Moments. It is a testament to the men behind the strings that sparks from the strings fly from the speakers still warm. The pair move into comfort zone the project that weaves their talent together in sonic quilt.
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36. Otis Taylor - My World is Gone – The man responsible for trance blues crafts an album that uses the American Indian experience as a back drop theme. With the use of repetitive words and guitar patterns Otis Taylor creates a meditative state that allows the stories of the past to come through as an echo. The blues weaves along a path constructed of winding grooves as Otis Taylor takes on the role of Soul Shaman.
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37. Noam Pikelny – Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe – Noam Pikelny presents the first complete banjo adaptation of Kenny Baker’s 1976 seminal recording of Bill Monroe’s instrumentals. As with all Noam Pikelny album offerings, and with his work as a Punch Brother, his banjo playing combines bluegrass with elements of rock, jazz and classical music, expanding a genre that cut its teeth on Mr. Monroe’s paring of blues and hillbilly music.
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38. The Del-Lords - Elvis Club – In the late 80’s, NYC rock veterans Scott Kempner (The Dictators) and Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) formed The Del-Lords on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A couple decades worth of calendar pages gathered on the recording studio floor for us but The Del-Lords have not missed a foot stomp in the 23 years since their last recordings. The boys do not make Elvis Club a comeback but a reminder of the glory found in Roots Rock’n’Roll.
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39. Jacob Jones – Good Timin’ in Waynetown – Jacob Jones knows how to construct, record and deliver Soul music. Add in bottles of wine, margaritas on the porch, greens cooking on the stove and chicken fried on the counter and you can see that the man also knows how to throw down. Good Timin’ in Waynestown is a party album, a reminder of how good it feels to have fun with music.
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40. Patty Larkin – Still Green – Still Green chronicles a personal journey in the life of Patty Larkin, a time of hurdles raised by the death of loved ones. For solace, Patty carved out a small spot of sand on the Outer Banks of the Cape Cod National Seashore, writing many of the songs in a primitive beach shack. Patty described her creative process as “from darkness to light, from a frozen winter where ice hampered every step, where halls were shadowed in sadness, to the sandscape of the seashore of Cape Cod.”
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41. Beth Hart - Big Bang Boom Boom - Beth Hart does not sing as much as she circles a song. Her voice is a force that warns her characters of dangerous passion plays or pulls them under to drown in their own tears. Big Bang Boom Boom is a fire breather, with a wall of playing and production that are big but Beth Hart slaps the table to make sure that you know that her voice is bigger.
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42. Amanda Shires - Down Fell the Doves – Down Fell the Doves opens its jewel box of song casting gems that sparkle over sweeping beats and rumbly wobbles, rising up on assured power chords and hair-raising fiddle rolls. Amanda Shires is a presence the combines the magic of grabbing the right fiddle notes from the air and the story songs to give them a place to live and thrive.
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43. The Black Lillies - Runaway Freeway Blues - The Black Lillies can be softly seductive, hook you with a beat and spin tales scripted from family history. Runaway Freeway Blues takes a big step forward for The Black Lillies and further brings Roots music into its own spot in the world of Indie and Alternative sounds.
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44. Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck – Eden – Eden was written almost entirely on Bow Thayer’s electric banjo. Perfect Trainwreck is an accomplished group of musicians and their talent made the transition from guitar to electric banjo for Bow choice of instruments a smooth one. The isolation of his Vermont home-base makes Bow feel like an outsider and that helped back story the songs on Eden. Bow cited the rural environment as “a part of my perspective on this record. It also feels like we are in a bubble trapped in time in many ways. It’s beautiful and weird.”
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45. Willie Sugarcapps - Willie Sugarcapps – Willie Sugarcapps combine seasoned musicians with sweet chops that blending with one another like honey in a potent cup of tea on their self-titled debut. Anthony Crawford and Savanna Lee of Sugarcane Jane, Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes make up the group and the sound is just as good as seeing those names all together on the credits. There is an easy flow to Willie Sugarcapps with acoustic rhythms moving through each track with a fluid motion.
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46. Houndmouth - From the Hills Below the City - Houndmouth take the male/female duo sound that is filling the air and back it with the meaty rhythm section that adds bulk to the co-vocals. The band got attention with their self-titled E.P. release that featured calling card tunes such as “Penitentiary” and the heroin nod ride of “Houston Train”. Both tracks are included on their debut, From the Hills Below the City. The promise Houndmouth made with the four song tease from the E.P. is realized on the full length.
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47. The Steel Wheels – No More Rain - The Steel Wheels formed around four friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and their music is rock solid soul for the masses. The Steel Wheels stitch good feelings and the truth of their delivery into the songs on No More Rain. The Steel Wheels are a touring machine and the songs come to you fully road tested from years of use.
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48. Shannon McNally - Small Town Talk – Small Town Talkis a tribute that Shannon McNally gives to New Orleans songwriter Bobby Charles. His music had a place at the birth of rock’n’roll, and though Bobby Charles had hits songs through the 50’s/60’s, his musical career extended beyond two decades. Shannon McNally, assisted by producer Dr. John, extends their shelf life.
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49. Mark Robinson – Have Axe Will Groove – OKay, so the release date was December 2012 but we didn't get the official release date until January so that explains it! Mark Robinson has long life line as a roots guitarist and blues artists, rounding out his resume with his well-deserved gig as educator for the past thirty years. He currently teaches classes in audio production, music theory and World Music at the Art Institute of Tennessee. Mark’s debut was autobiographical, Have Axe Will Groove is personal and the Nashville bluesman lays out the tales over some seriously dirty, funky, gritty grooves.
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50. Marshall Chapman – Blaze of Glory – Life lessons via personal experiences are parceled out in Blaze of Glory. The album takes a stand for the legion of Marshall’s forty-, fifty- and older year-olds that Marshall tags in her stories. Sure, sixty is the new forty, but sixty still feels like sixty (and looks) when you are brushing your teeth and at least halfway through your first coffee. Marshall Chapman faces maturity with the heat of her barely-concealed inner rock’n’roll firebrand.
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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 26 THROUGH 50
51. Sara Petite –Circus Comes to Town – Sara Petite constructed the songs for Circus Comes to Town in the high desert near Joshua Tree, California, using the songs, and her recording, as a way to not get stuck in the moment. The sudden death of her best friend and partner hit Sara hard. The songs on Circus Comes to Town reflect her sorrows, her memories and her desire to incorporate tragedy into her life and not hide it away or ignore its existence. Circus Comes to Town never gets bogged down in the drama and its stories have pain and pleasure, bumps and bounces, moments when you need to be still and times when you race for the finish line.
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52. Hymn for Her – Present Lucy and Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames - For their new album Hymn For Her, Hymn For Her Present Lucy & Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames, Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing wanted to take it up a notch. Hymn For Her have been touring highways, backroads and barely roads for the past few years injecting juiced-up backwoods country blues with a full dose of desert-rock psychedelia. The pair have been described as Hell’s Angels Meet the Amish.
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53. Rosie Flores – Working Girls Guitar – The album title perfectly sums up its star. Rosie Flores has stood behind her guitar, using it to cut a swath through a rockabilly landscape heavy on the testosterone. Beginning with LA cow punk and The Screamin’ Sirens, Rosie Flores signed a solo deal for a 1987 major label release, becoming the first Latina to enter the Billboard Country charts. Working Girls Guitar has an autobiographical lean with the title track, “I’m Little But I’m Loud” and “Love Has Passed Me By” as Rosie softens the blows of life by turning up the volume.
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54. Patrick Sweany – Close to the Floor - Patrick Sweany opens his mouth and soul just pours out. His voice has the fever, notes falling like drops of sweat. Patrick maintains a leadership in his delivery that gives an importance to every note, sung or played. It is the fire of a true believer. Though Soul is obvious in his singing, his songs do not always follow the path traveled by his voice. Patrick Sweany gathers a diversity of styles and sounds together on Close to the Floor
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55. Mandolin Orange - This Side of Jordan – Mandolin Orange lead with passionate beliefs and are not afraid to frame tales about uncomfortable topics or to protest through the quiet revolution of their songs. The songs on This Side of Jordan lay themselves out over arrangements that are calming and supportive. Mandolin Orange put into play the adage that you get more bees with honey than vinegar and they liberally dip their songs into the sweet nectar.
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56. Cassie Taylor - Out of My Mind – Cassie Taylor has a past resume that lists bass playing for dad Otis Taylor as a teenager. Cassie wrote, arranged, produced, and performed on the songs for Out of My Mind. She moves the blues dial ahead on the album, but she really gives the needle for Roots music a shove with songs that hint at influence as they stake out new territories for a true blend of American Roots sounds.
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57. Moreland and Arbuckle - 7 Cities - 7 Cities has as its theme the world of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. The songs revolve around the search for the fabled seven cities of gold, a journey that ended on the Kansas prairie, the area native to the band. Moreland and Arbuckle have given the world a history lesson with 7 Cities, and fortified their look at the past with modern day trumpets by way of guitars to triumph the hidden treasures.
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58. Tommy Malone - Natural Born Days - The former front man and co-founder of the legendary New Orleans roots band The Subdudes ended a twelve year hiatus and released Natural Born Days. Tommy taps his trademark blue-eyed-soul vocals that are on full frontal display with this collection of carefully crafted, introspective and soul searching songs with topics touch on mortality, faith, love, loss and his beloved New Orleans.
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59. Eric Brace and Peter Cooper - The Comeback Album – Eric Brace and Peter Cooper add sly wit and carefully crafted asides to their tunes, giving the impressions that the songs are conversations with a beat, a sway and a toe tap. The tracks presenting themselves as The Comeback Album will have universal appeal, though the tales give a voice to men of an age where you are neither young nor old. They are not the voice of a generation, but Eric Brace and Peter Cooper do speak loudly for the ways of the men.
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60. Todd Thibaud – Waterfall - Todd Thibaud vocals have a good rock hold in the songs as the music moves over roots, folk, blues, soul, country and rock. There is a dedication to the songwriting that Todd adheres to with Waterfall. The art of the song is given free rein, and the tracks shed any style skin. The songs on Waterfall flow without coming to shore on any one particular category, much like the writers that Todd uses for inspiration-- Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and John Hiatt.
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61. Chip Taylor - Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World - Chip Taylor is one of a few humans who is his own style. He is the voice and the pen that steers his song paint brush. Chip layers pain, humor, empathy and accusing fingers over his stories. On Block Out the Sirens of This Lonely World, Chip Taylor sculpts dark clouds from his songs; both the ink and weather doling out moodiness to the album, with the shadow of a silver lining peering beneath the story lines. Norway is a back drop for the tales results of the 2011 massacre, and its effect on Chip move through the album. He was in the country at the time and wrote and performed a new song, “This Darkest Day”, at a benefit honoring the victims of the killing.
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62. Mike Zito and The Wheel - Gone to Texas - Gone to Texas has Blues influences throughout its songs and its moods. That does not make it a collection that only lets Blues-based tunes through the door, however. The album offers folk blues, Bourbon Street Blues, breezy slides and slow jam love songs. Mike Zito lets influence guide his songs but does not feel the need to make it obvious. The Blues lives inside the man, it translates into the tunes on Gone to Texas as an ideology rather than a structure.
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63. Amy Speace - How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat - How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat was a risk that fan-based support for album production has helped make less stressful. Amy Speace gives her gratitude by the way she lets her muse drive the album. It is a beautiful rendering and traces a path to Amy’s pre-music life as a stage performer. Her stage directions are lines from William Shakespeare and her story songs act out their lives letting experiences give us a helping hand to suggest directions in our day to day lives.
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64. The White Buffalo – Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways – On Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways, The White Buffalo has an open casting call for characters though the songs still hold a spot for the big man taking center stage in his songs. The use of outside influences rather than personal experiences gives the tracks on the album a more cinematic feel with The White Buffalo clear relating of character study.
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65. Gedeon Luke – Perfection Perfect - At 23 years old, Gedeon Luke writes with a maturity that exceeds his time on earth. Boundless in its energy and message of peace, love and hope, it is music that only an 'old soul' with an un-tempered spirit could create. Like Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Gedeon Luke breaks strict barriers of classic music to set himself free and takes listeners with him on that freedom ride. You don't need a ticket, just climb on board.
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66. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind - Tedeschi Trucks Band are having a good time on their second studio album, Made Up Mind. They come in with a bounce in their step on the title track, a song was written by Susan Tedeschi and husband Derek Trucks with the help of Wood Brothers sibling, Oliver Wood. Derek felt that the song mirrored the band. The group believes that if you feel something strong enough then go for it and that sentiment is evident Made Up Mind. The album is not another album for Tedeschi and Trucks, it is the next step for a group that is evolving and growing.
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67. Buddy Guy – Rhythm and Blues - Buddy Guy lets the music do his talking and defines distinct tastes on the double-disc set, Rhythm & Blues, offering one side for each style. Buddy Guy collaborates with Aerosmith members Joe Perry, Brad Whitford and Steven Tyler and welcomes first-time studio partners such Gary Clark, Jr and Keith Urban on the album. Rhythm & Blues is the follow-up to Buddy’s 2010 Grammy winning Living Proof, and rides the tails of his 2012 Kennedy Center Honors.
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68. Devon Allman – Turquoise - Devon Allman taps fellow Royal Southern Brotherhood bandmate, Yonrico Scott (drums and percussion), Samantha Fish (vocals) and Luther Dickinson (guitar) among others for the recording of his solo debut, Turquiose, There is an autobiographical feel to the tunes which Devon sees as representing “the last couple of decades forging my musical path. The last ten years I’ve spent in hotels, airplanes, taxis, truck stops, etc.” The son of Gregg Allman, Devon Allman now calls St. Louis home.
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69. The Roys – Gypsy Runaway Train - The Roys have easy vocals that remain calm as they fingers find strings and ride the wake of Gypsy Runaway Train. The album hosts six originals by The Roys and a bunch of bluegrass and country favorites. Elaine Roy has a sit down on her porch as night falls, picking a tune out of some guitar chords and singing a hello to the night time with a piece of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. It is a beautiful setting and Elaine’s voice matches the peace……for exactly forty seconds. Brother Lee hops in and The Roys kick off a hi-test bluegrass version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” that would make author Bill Monroe proud.
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70. Rory Block – Avalon - Rory Block retells the songs of Mississippi John Hurt on Avalon, the fourth release in her tribute Mentor Series which honors the great bluesmen at the heart of the genre. Mississippi John Hurt, born John Smith Hurt in either 1892 or 1893, began his recording career on the Okeh Records label in 1928. Rory Block lovingly performs songs from one of the major musical impacts on her career in music and her love of the genre. The songs on Avalon are tracks associated with the Mississippi John Hurt repertoire, and a love letter from a student to her teacher.
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71. Guthrie Kennard - Cross Your Heart - Guthrie Kennard collaborates with the string soceror Marian Brackney on Cross Your Heart. Marian adds full, assured violin parts and hushed, whispered vocals to Guthrie’s fourth album effort. The album winds across a dozen tracks like bursts of a breeze through an open window. The tunes surround and support feelings as much as offer listening pleasure.
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72. Waiting for Henry - Ghosts and Compromise - The spirits that haunt Waiting for Henry’s Ghosts and Compromise make an early appearance in opening track, “Buy American”. They rise up and materialize in the music, with faint wisps of Uncle Tupelo in the sound and the Middle American pride of one of Alt Country’s cornerstones. Waiting for Henry do not copy, mimic or outright steal the sound of the men of Uncle Tupelo. They use the stretched out notes from instruments and lyrics that inhabited the Roots forefathers No Depression days, and take steps to move Alt Country forward with songs unique to Waiting For Henry; honoring without feeling the need to re-invent any wheels to plow the genre’s fields.
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73. Luke Winslow-King - The Coming Tide - Luke Winslow-King is a guitarist, singer, composer, and lyricist known for his slide guitar work, and interest in pre-war blues and traditional jazz. Luke’s music focuses on an eclectic mix, taking in delta-folk music, classical composition, ragtime, and rock and roll; juxtaposing original songs with those from a bygone era. His has an original sound that is both rustic and elegant.
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74. Pete Anderson - Birds Over Guitarland - Pete Anderson glides in with a swooping twang of guitar notes on Birds Above Guitarland soaring on the airwaves of jazzy tones and textures. Clean playing and Pete Anderson are inseparable and Birds Above Guitarland continues the match of six strings and ten fingers that began in the Blues bars of Detroit while Pete was still working the blue collar factories of his hometown.
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75. Shannon Whitworth – Bring It - Shannon Whitworth is an island on High Tide and she surrounds the ebb and flow of her swooning vocals with rhythms that lap gently, as on the title track. Motion is a key ingredient for Shannon Whitworth; there is a fluid curve to her vocal delivery with no sharp edges, notes are rounded and embrace the words carefully. Shannon Whitworth’s voice is an instrument that binds the songs of High Tide together as they drift like mist above sound waves.
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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 51 THROUGH 75
76. Anna Popovic - Can You Stand the Heat – To celebrate the release of Can You Stand the Heat, the heir apparent to Bonnie Raitt or Deborah Coleman as the top female blues guitarist/singer combo, Ana Popovic, played the New Orleans Jazz Blues and Jazz Fest. She used the set to introduce her new project, a nine-piece power blues and funk machine under the name Ana Popovic & Mo' Better Love. With AP & Mo' Better Love, Ana fronts a musical collaboration with Tony Coleman (drummer BB King) and John Williams on bass (Al Green). Can You Stand The Heat is Ana's ninth full-length album.
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77. Hot Club of Cowtown – Rendezvous in Rhythm - Hot Club of Cowtown take an album-long look at the Gypsy Jazz and French Swing of 1930’s Paris. Rendezvous in Rhythm was recorded in the hot jazz style of master violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt. Hot Club of Cowtown are an Austin, TX band and the album was recorded on home turf with production by Lloyd Maines at the Zone Recording Studio in Dripping Springs, Texas. There is a purity in the playing; the notes are crisp, each tone individual. The production work certainly helps separate and then join the instruments, but the secret weapon is the artistry of Hot Club of Cowtown.
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78. Bex Marshall – The House of Mercy - Bex Marshall was eleven years old when she received a 1963 Gibson Hummingbird. She tried on classical, then a little flamenco before the blues came to town and won her heart. She traveled the world dealing illegal poker games in Amsterdam, hitchhiking through Europe and finding a spare corner to busk for her supper. The House of Mercy showcases the big voice that the lady with the guitar wields. Bex Marshall’s voice demands attention, but don’t let the singing take away from her playing. Notes fly throughout The House of Mercy like sparks going from tree to tree fueling flames.
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79. The SteelDrivers – Hammer Down - If bluegrass was a BBQ buffet, then The SteelDrivers would be ribs with plenty of meat on the bone. On Hammer Down, The SteelDrivers show their musical muscle, grounding the bluegrass-based structure of their songs with a powerful bottom. The sound production lets the inherent darkness of The SteelDrivers words trigger an edge of tension throughout Hammer Down. At their heart, The SteelDrivers are a string band though their music offers a lot more than simply followers of bluegrass traditions. Soul and Country show more than just influence on the album, the band morphing and accessing varied forms of music and channeling it into a sound all their own.
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80. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound – Howl - JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound combine JC Brooks’ starkly personal lyrics with the band’s ability to not second guess their role in the Soul sound evolution. The grooves fall onto the album from the willingness of The Uptown Sound to bare all their influences. Howl is the sound of Rock ‘n’ Soul expanding.
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81. The Howlin’ Brothers – The Howlin’ Brothers – Howl - The Howlin’ Brothers are a three-piece string band that marries tradition with a DIY Indie Rock attitude. Howl puts a big sound to the band’s upright bass, banjo and fiddle courtesy of Raconteur Brendan Benson on production.
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82. Peter Cooper – Opening Day – Peter Cooper has a way with words. His stories look at the human condition through the eyes of a humorist, Opening Day starts with a team of heavy hitter songs that open doors to Peter’s past and peak though the windows of daily lives.
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83. Los Colognes – Working Together – Los Colognes are the backing band for East Nashville soul man Jacob Jones. Working Togetherhas the same love of classic soul and funk that hits sound waves circa 2013 as new music, not retro flashbacks. Los Colognes never let you stop moving with grooves that cradle, nurture and push you back out into the world all the better for the experience.
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84. Audrey Auld – Tonk – Tonk takes pride in its classic sound and serves as an answer to haters that claim Nashville no longer can produce good old country music. Audrey Auld proves that statement false on a release that backs her breathy whispers and salvation shouts with Nashville studio A-listers like Kenny Vaughan. Audrey Auld takes on tough topics with humor and turns heartache into happy with the tough love heart healing of her vocals.
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85. The Sojourners – Sing and Never Get Tired – The Sojourners turn our attention to the answers for contemporary problems, using faith to mend a broken heart or transform despair into hope. The choir The Sojourners lead wear is a Roots Gospel wings that will carry you high above your troubles and grant you a birds-eye view of the inspiration you are seeking. Though The Sojourners have the pipes to check into the Pop Gospel hotel, Sing and Never Get Tired uses dirty chords and gritty rhythms to establish its own street cred.
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86. JJ Grey and Mofro - This River - Love and the various territories it inhabits float by as This River flows through ten tracks, most of which were captured live in the studio. JJ Grey gives life into his well-defined characters with soulful vocals. The Mofro members add to the depth of the songs with crisp horn arrangements and committed rhythms.
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87. Dana Fuchs - Bliss Avenue - The rawness of the songs comes from the natural blue tone of Dana’s delivery scrapping against her need to defy the Blues. Country twang and soul leapfrog for a shotgun seat as the songs on the album glide down Bliss Avenue. Dana Fuchs is a solid force amid the funky chunks of guitar chords and rock’n’roll preening as she shakes out her tail feathers.
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88. The Mallett Brothers – Land – The Mallett Brothers deliver a brand of Alt Country better defined as Northwoods Country Rock’n’Roll. The Portland, Maine-based band combine the folk influences of brothers Luke and Will from their dad, folk singer/songwriter David Mallett, with rock, punk and psychedelic roots.
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89. Blue Rodeo – In Our Nature - In Our Nature offers a moody musical backdrop in the title track, a rainy day film noir that moves through foggy reveries such as “it’s in our nature to fly”. High flying is what Blue Rodeo has achieved in their three decade career, selling four million albums and never seeing studio album release in their recording history go below Gold status. The band has designed In Our Nature as an album to be heard on vinyl.
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90. Garrett LeBeau – Rise to the Grind – Garrett Lebeau’s intuitive guitar playing draws circles around, accents, and walks alongside his voice on stories gathered on Rise to the Grind. Both deliveries are gentle, almost hushed. There is never any hesitation, his art is just careful about choices and the album benefits in being a listening experience that transports to a dream state decorated by words and music.
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91. Truth & Salvage Co. – Pick Me Up – The songs of Truth and Salvage Co. swoop and soar in a team effort. Four voices trade microphone duties and come together to underscore the stories while gluing the chorus to your brain. Living a good life and having a good time are timeless and that is the secret ingredient of Truth and Salvage, Co tunes.
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92. The Tillers – Hand on the Plow - The Tillers started making a roots music racket in Cincinnati in 2007. They were recovering punk rockers whose music had some Woody Guthrie, some southern blues and a bunch of anonymous tunes found in the Appalachian woods, churches, riverboats, and coal mines. The Tillers use string instruments as vehicles to mine music styles and trends, and translate the tunes to something born in the hills and in the roots of rock’n’roll.
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93. Wild Ponies - Things That Used to Shine - Wild Ponies expands on the power of two, husband and wife duo Doug and Telisha Williams. The band cultivates traditional sounds and instrumentation, use classic country as a guideline and craft a sound unique yet familiar, friendly and edgy.
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94. Gracie Curran and the High-Falutin Band - Proof of Love - Gracie Curran possesses an amazing voice that can easily smoke the competition. It is to the credit of the High Falutin’ Band that they can not only be seen but heard above the sunspot blast of Gracie on Proof of Love, the band’s debut album. Sharp-edges leads and funky chord chops are the perfect foil for Gracie Curran’s heat-seeking vocals.
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95. Spencer Livingston – Grow - Los Angeles native Spencer Livingston grew up on a steady diet of rock Americana with an early love of Neil Young, Tom Petty and Wilco. GROW serves up Alt sides of rock, folk and Americana using the backwoods of Los Angeles as a playground. Born and raised on the hem of Hollywood, Spencer Livingston has been nourished by a down-to-earth, artistic community supportive of his naturally rootsy inclination.
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96. Eric Bibb – Jericho Road - Eric Bibb uses Jericho Road to deliver a message pointing out that, “the title refers to the road between Jerusalem and Jericho where the Good Samaritan stopped to help a stranger in need after better-off religious leaders had passed by and done nothing. On April 3, 1968, the night before his death, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King urged us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, saying: ‘Ultimately, you cannot save yourself without saving others.’ If this record has a theme, that’s it in a nutshell: have a heart.”
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97. Xenia Dunford – His and Hers – Xenia Dunford dosed her debut liberally with jazz, piano ballads and pop, using the release as an experiment to test drive her teaching at Berklee School of Music. Her second album stretched into rock and acoustic sensibilities and with His & Hers, Xenia Dunford’s evolution adds musical hints of folk rock, country and Americana. She looks back on then from now realizing, “What drove me to play the piano in general was that I was a singer with no means of expression. My first EP was kind of like an experiment. I had a bunch of material, but I didn’t really look at the bigger picture of what my songs could be.”
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98. Fierce Bad Rabbit – The Maestro & The Elephant - Fierce Bad Rabbit circle a Roots sound; they are a rock band that dapples country riffs and twang throughout the songs. Chris Anderson’s vocals have the power for rock yet there are moments when the emotion weighs and the frail notes flutter without ever fully being extinguished. The songs on The Maestro and the Elephant are grounded with solid rhythms, bright jangly guitar leads and sweeping orchestral swooshes.
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99. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County – Various Artists – Co-conspirators Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett have spent thirteen years putting the finishing touches on their southern gothic, supernatural musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The musical features blues ‘n roots music performed by guest artists such as Elvis Costello, Phil and Dave Alvin, Neko Case, Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash and more. The haunting tale involves fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.
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100. Semi-Twang – The Why and The What For – In 2009, Semi-Twang celebrated their 20th anniversary as a band. Their 2013 release,The Why and the What For, puts together an album that Semi- Twang see as something that “ups the stakes as it traverses through the musical geography of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans with passion and conviction. It's topical and personal with a bit more soul influence.”
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MUSIC FROM ALBUM 76 THROUGH 100