Amelia White (from the album Home Sweet Hotel) - Amelia White unlocks the door and checks into Home Sweet Hotel for her most recent album release. Write what you know might be one of the lessons taught for songwriters taking courses on story content for their tunes. The results are songs about life, taking aim at its loves and losers with words of advice based in experience and observation. Like it sounds, those ideals are text book versions of the singer/songwriter lifestyle. The reality for the traveling troubadour is that lovers at home stay in your heart but the beds that wait for you after a show are empty. Amelia White writes what she lives on Home Sweet Hotel. She is the driver behind the wheel on the stories as they sit in the passenger seat, relating the scenes out the car windows as Amelia sees “Melissa” in every headlight while the road underneath her reminds that she has “Leaving in Her Blood”.

The tunes on Home Sweet Hotel do not take sides; they are extensions of the issues that roll around in the mind of Amelia White. While her words serve to build the framework for her tales, Amelia counts the worth of loose lips, understanding that teeth leave a mark but words can make you bleed in “Dogs Bark” as she offers a spoonful of sugar with “Love Cures”, and uses jittery rhythms to fit the emotions getting under her skin in “Dangerous Angel”. Set among the heart beats and glimpses of how her mind works, Amelia White gives the highway a co-write credit on Home Sweet Hotel. She sits back to pop a top in a lonely motel room on the title track and watches the calendar pages turn on the decisions of “Road Not Taken”.  For all warriors, time spent away is a solitary existence to provide for family. Amelia White feels her heartbeat match the tire treads as they bring her closer to her East Nashville home in “Rainbow on the East Side”. The story brings together those at home with her extended family of sisters and brothers traveling on a career path that has no road signs or maps as Amelia sings ‘I’ll never grow up or get smarter’ for all those who listen to their muse above all other voices.   

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Dan Stuart with Twin Tones (from the album Marlow’s Revenge on Fluff and Gravy Records) - At some point since 2010, Dan Stuart (Green on Red), penned a false memoir and a record album that shared the title The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Looking back on the times of Dan Stuart, his own life would have been really good for the story content. Dan unraveled in 2010 and fled the U.S. for Mexico. He settled in Oaxaca, and the novel and recording were meant to chronicle the moments when the cells burning in his own brain move the limps of his alter-ego, Marlowe Billings. Marlowe’s Revenge is the songwriting, storytelling, and musicianship of Dan Stuart, backed by musical partners on the album with Twin Tones. Dan Stuart wanted to make an album like he recorded in his legendary Green on Red times as part of LA’s Paisley Underground in the late 1980’s. Marlowe’s Revenge has an element of violence in the guitar chords, an edgy crackle of danger in its rhythm.

Dan Stuart is the narrator, speaking from just outside the tales with vocals that haunt the songs as they tell their story. His words stage the ragged-edged dream sliding down “The Knife”, ride the new wave jangle of “Last Blue Day”, melts melodies “Over Your Shoulder”  on a persistent beat, sprinkles Pixie dust on “Elena”, and opens an umbrella of psychedelic haze under “The Whore’s Above”.

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Dori Freeman (from the album Dori Freeman on Free Dirt Records) - The purity in the vocal of Dori Freeman is a combination of her heritage with a natural confidence in how her voice tells its tale. Dori is a daughter of Appalachia, and the mountains dig roots into her own growth as a singer. She is fragile as she blames herself for mistakes asking ‘how am I supposed to go on lovin’ when you left me feeling like I don’t know how?’ (“Go on Lovin”) and she is strong as tree trunks taking on the burdens of a young widowed mother on finger-snap beats (“Ain’t Nobody”). Dori Freeman makes use of geography, adding a slow drawl to her delivery that fits well with the natural bends and gentle twang in her voice as it reaches up to call out notes cradled in the arms of the mountains as they climb to their highest peaks.

Beyond finding muses in the mountain air, Dori Freeman can cite audio influences ranging from Doc Watson and the Louvin Brothers to the moody melodies of Rufus Wainwright. Vocally, Dori’s presence behind a microphone envisions her as Peggy Lee center stage fronting a mountain music band. Her self-titled album captures snapshots of life as she sees below the surface of the seemingly adult male in front of her as “Still a Child”, lets her thoughts bounce like the beat in “Any Wonder”, channels threats into the heart thump groove of “Fine Fine Fine”, and tenderly sends out a heart full note to a half-hearted love in “You Say”.

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Tommy Z (from the album Blizzard of Blues) - Tommy Z knows winter weather conditions. The Buffalo, New York-based Bluesman tours the northeast region, playing shows for all seasons. A particularly dicey trip on the 219 Expressway in New York led to the title track, Tommy remembering over a crosstown-traffic riff that ‘having never written a song about Buffalo winter, after getting home and having a bite to eat, I put pen to paper’. Blizzard of Blues barrel storms the Blues into each track, with Tommy Z providing warmth from the chill with crooner heat in his vocals, and the laser fire of his guitar work. The album strikes a huge power chord for big rock in its Blues, though the style merges with cool jazz, and post-WWII electric Blues.

Tommy Z carves his name with razor-sharp guitar lines to refresh the “Memory of Love”, shoots of funky chords as arrows directly from the heart to “Lovergirl”, boogies with “Bags of Cool”, and plays tags with high and low Blues notes slow rolling on “Blues for KP”. Playing is more than a profession for Tommy Z, and he takes his touring to the next level, playing overseas for U.S. military forces since 2003. He yearly plugs in and peals the paint in venues found in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Bahrain, Qatar, Europe, Guam, and Kuwait in conjunction with the USO. Blizzard of Blues chills as Tommy Z swaggers through “Al’s Groove” and rages on the Muddy Waters hit “My Eyes (Keep me in Trouble”.

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Reed Turner (from the E.P. Native Tongue) - Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter Reed Turner will tell you that ‘I never seem to stay in the same place for too long, it doesn’t suit me’.  For a musician, Austin is a good spot, and Reed may have been thinking more in terms of music than location as he shows chameleon colors, upping the ante on audio expectations with his recent E.P., Native Tongue. Returning to recording, Reed Turner creates the five tunes on a river of reverb, giving a thick darkness to the sound. He edges the mystery with heavy-footed rhythms that slowly drop a beat on studied steps of coarse distortion in “Quiet Evening” as he whispers the options as life heads towards deep water on “Swim or Drown (Let the Lord Decide)”.

On his last release, Ghosts in the Attic, Reed Turner let pensive moods haunt the album. Establishing himself on an Indie Folk music stage, Reed Turner still stitches the songs with heartfelt personal observations and experiences. On Native Tongue, his Folk music picks the all-of-the-above option for sounds to line the tracks. Percussion echoes off the walls of the E.P., rattling within the reverb to lock the beat with an organic loop that starts popping on opening cut, “I Got Love”, as Reed Turner likens his love to a jukebox song. The rubber in the rhythm is ever-present on Native Tongue, bending around each story as it encircles the clock with the same flexibility on “Elastic Time”. The reverie in “The Idea's Crossed My Mind” rolls out on billowing clouds as the drumbeat clicks slowly as the E.P. heads towards its exit, using the memories to shut the door on Native Tongue.

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Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats (from the album Bless My Soul) - Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats chew up styles like their namesake on their recent release, Bless My Soul. The Boise, Idaho-based trio features vocals from all three members, Jonathan Warren (guitar, upright bass), Dave Sather-Smith (cello, guitar), and Austin Clark (violin, guitar). Bless My Soul is scratchy with songs that keep you in place for shows playing from street, stage, or speaker. Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats break out “Cold Sweat” as guitar notes layer precise frost around organ bursts and fiddle teases. The instrumentation of Bless My Soul is a junkpile mined by the band to produce treasures from trash. The album performs banjo and fiddle gymnastics as a upright saloon piano pounds (“Concrete”), uses the power of voices on a lullaby for a sleepless night of woe (“Quite Like a Lady”), and paces the steps on its title track with stuttered rhythms laid out for hushed confessions.

Wielding their instruments to stir audio potions, Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats are master magicians. They form diverse instruments, fractured melodies, and broken beats into anthems of the heart with rhythms that course like a runaway river threatening to flow over the banks of “Be There for Me”, and slowly strum a toast for a long list of excuses as “Down the Lion” drains a bottle of gin.  

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The James Hunter Six (from the Hold On! on Daptone Records) - James Hunter has been building a career steadily for the past decade. The mission that James has taken on is Soul music, and over the course of four studio recordings, he has been fine-tuning the songs. The James Hunter Six serve up tracks minted in a Vintage sound for a Modern era, successfully presenting analog warmth for digital times on tunes that wear their cool as a badge of honor. The latest release from The James Hunter Six, Hold On!, is the band’s first on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. The band went to Daptone in-house producer, Gabriel Roth, to helm the recording which was done live to 8-track tape. It was the second time the band worked with Roth, giving James Hunter a comfort level in the studio, satisfied when he realized that ‘“The great thing about working with Gabe is that he can get our tunes on tape exactly the way I heard them in my head when I was writing them’.

The James Hunter Six offer trademark hard R&B grit on Hold On! on the bounce of “If That Don't Tell You”, with the handclap beat in “Stranded”, and as the demand of the album title becomes a lovers request with “(Baby) Hold On” on a persistent saxophone and a wiggly guitar line. Rather than change what works, The James Hunter Six stay the course on Hold On!, adding to a Soulful set with some smooth bossanova, bolero, and rumba numbers seeing an exit appear in love with “This is Where We Came In”, the snaking swirl of the instrumental “Satchel Foot”, and shining a light with big band Soul with “In the Dark”.  The Soul of The James Hunter Six is a perfect match for America’s Soul fortress, Daptone Records as doo-wop harmonies and horn bursts listen in “Something’s Calling”, send out an early Valentine with “Light My Life”, and give “Free Your Mind (While You Still Got Time)” a triple espresso beat to the clock.

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Freakwater (from the album Scheherazade on Bloodshot Records) - Like many of the initial recordings of Country music captured on tape with artists such as the Carter Family and Louvin Brothers, it was a cassette that got Freakwater some deserved attention. A cassette of the first recording from Freakwater dual leads, Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin, landed in the hands of an Amoeba Records owner. He was a huge fan of the Carter Family, and had released the first album from Eleventh Dream Day with Janet as drummer. He agreed to pay for recording, and the pair headed into a Chicago recording studio, meeting keeper bass player, David Wayne Gay for the recording (Freakwater, 1989).

Freakwater counts on the raw melodic blend found in the vocals of Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin on their recent Bloodshot Records release, Scheherazade. The full throttle delivery of “The Asp and the Albatross” become twin-harmonies joined in the question ‘who’s baby are you anyway’, coming together and playing tag across a strict banjo riff, teased and poked by a devilish fiddle and wayward flute in “What the People Want”. Scheherazade starts the counter at one thousand and two as its adds stories the those of the legendary queen. Freakwater wrench anguish from a ballad under the light of a falling czar in “Bolshevik and Bollweevil”, slowly turn the wheel for the slapped beat of “Velveteen Matador”, swing on a front porch harmony asking “Take Me With You”, tumble along in rhythm and verse in “Down Will Come Baby”, and count on AM Country Gold with “Number One with a Bullet”.

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Matt Flinner Trio (from the album Traveling Roots on Compass Records) - For those living under a rock, please take note…. there is a lot of experimentation moving bluegrass and string bands into their future. Innovation and tradition have made peace, and mandolins, banjos, upright bass, and acoustic guitars are taking advantage by fusions of Folk, Bluegrass, and Jazz, merging on a crest and ebb within the space of a song. Matt Flinner Trio are no strangers to the changes. The three piece with Matt on mandolin, Ross Martin on guitar and Eric Thorin on bass have been composing improvisational music for the past decade. The band’s latest release, Traveling Roots, continues the journey with fine playing that weaves and tumbles, churning with determination like kittens rolling around with abandon.

That freedom in the sound makes Traveling Roots an ever-changing and evolving work-of-art. A bass run is the starting pistol for “150 Banjos” to head out of the gate to lead string-driven riffs as they leapfrog through the arrangement. Mandolin notes flicker on the surface of “Shiny Blue” as the bass and plucked guitar notes place footsteps of rhythm to follow while “Blueberry Blue” reverses roles as the mandolin keeps time while the guitar and bass take a lead. The playing on Traveling Roots sparks a note of joy like an audio pheromone. Matt Flinner explained that ‘I feel that our goal as musicians should be to add some bit of beauty to the world’. Traveling Roots does a fine job of making melody into art as Matt Flinner Trio weave notes into form for “The Basketmakers”, slowly heat the notes, letting them rise to the surface of “Pioneer Coffey” with light touches, and set the playing on stun as fingers fly through “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump”.

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Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons (from the album North Wind and the Sun) - Some days you get got before you get in. That is what happened to Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. The duo sit down to breakfast with “Mr. Haney” finding the ‘Blues was in my bread’ as the day spirals on down from there. The pair come out of the Northwest like the original hobo’s, with music that could be heard in the migratory camps of the rail travelers. The songs on North Wind and the Sun, the pair’s latest release are scratchy, played on well-worn strings and backed by combined vocals that wander from harmonies to a community sing-a-long style. The two vocals fortify front porch shouts (”Molly Put the Kettle On”), put more heat on answers by strengthening the question (“Do You Call That Religion?”), and head for a homecoming on a plucked string duet (“Old Shady”).

Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons were honored by Dom Flemons (solo, Carolina Chocolate Drops) when the music master asked the pair to back him as a band on tour, and behind him for his most recent album release, Prospect Hill. The opportunity gave Ben and Joe an even deeper understanding of acoustic Blues which they added to their own five-year experiences performing as a duo. North Wind and the Sun travels with its song selections as it strums up a “Kansas City Moan” on slowly rolling chords and harmonic hums, follows hoarse notes as they cough out a rhythm for a “Beale St. Mess Around”, and uses the slight tinge of gypsy jazz to row on “River of Jordan”.

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The Pines (from the album Above the Prairie on Red House Records) - The land that gave birth to The Pines can be heard in their songs as they float Above the Prairie, the band’s latest release. Iowa is the home to The Pines and the flat, endless stretches of earth that surround them from any point they are standing expands up and beyond on the album. A breath of sound opens Above the Prairie as “Acrial Ocean” slowly hits the recordings shore with whispered vocals that speak of the world landscapes that form in the story line. Above the Prairie was completed in three days. The Pines returned to Iowa to enter the studio, the band’s David Huckfelt recalling that ‘almost all the songs on the album are somewhere between first and third takes. It was a matter of capturing raw performances and preserving that spirit, of not losing the energy of the songs in the recording of them’.

Above the Prairie lets the music rise up from the album unobstructed by height limitations. Taking a cue from the album title, The Pines play with celestial overtones in both songs and performance. The peace within the sound of the album gives the narrator a role of benevolent teacher, a wise elder. That feel and form is given a spotlight as The Pines back Native American Indian activist, John Trudell, whose poetry is center stage in “Time Dreams”.  More Iowa friends and family join The Pines on “Here” with Greg Brown and daughter, Pieta Brown lending vocals alongside Iris Dement. Above the Prairie picks up its step, following a military march heartbeat as The Pines walk on confident pace searching for “Where Something Wild Still Grows” as “Hanging from the Earth” wonders if its airborne story is a dream or reality, and “There in Spirit” looks inward for personal understanding.

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No Fuss and Feathers (from the album Traveling Circus) - Folk music royalty convenes as No Fuss and Feathers, riding into being as the wheels spin Traveling Circus, the band’s most recent release. Literate Folk music stories are the ammunition that The YaYa’s (Catherine Mills, Jay Mafale) use to knock down the walls of Pop. They are joined in No Fuss and Feathers with Karyn Oliver and Carolann Solebello. As the quartet entered the studio to self-produce Traveling Circus, they were ready-to-record as they unpacked the suitcase that had been on the road with them for their two years of shared touring. No Fuss and Feathers can be found disguised as Macbeth’s triple threat of witches as they fast-phrase an incantation on “Rose”, as harmonic hums drift through “Dream”, and move the ship of Traveling Circus center stream to glide over the surface of “Drift Away”.  

The professional pairings of the group is a perfect fit for the friendship and mutual respect of No Fuss and Feathers that shines as clear as their harmonies on the album. Musically, the midway of Traveling Circus offers sideshow diversity, ringing in the stories under a big top with seasonal dreams of holiday cheer (“Quiet Christmas”) as the rattle of percussion draws attention to fallen heroes (“Superman”), and nurturing by bright notes and confident strums surrounds the friends and family gathered to make special an “Ordinary August Day”. No Fuss and Feathers are part of the pride that Folk music takes in its performers as their simple singer and guitar shadows rise larger-than-life to challenge the world with words and music. The quartet set up Traveling Circus as a storyteller’s show, the album opening with “How Much Time” and finding moments to gauges distance from home with a rattle of rhythm that measure miles as a “Motherless Child” while “Union Pacific” leaves town, tracking a journey west.

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Jason Vivone and the Billybats (from the album The Avenue) - Jason Vivone spells it out in album opener of his recent release backed by The Billy Bats, The Avenue. On track number one, “The Vivone Song”, the schooling comes with the proper pronunciation of his name as Jason gives the correct way on carefully clear bursts of ‘Viv O Nee’. The Kansas City bluesman strolls the album with streetwise tunes, sassy and snappy as they head uptown for a Saturday night. The Avenue puts on a show as it rides the album tracks. From stage to studio, Jason and the Billy Bats cannot stop being performers, serving a slow burn funeral march of memories for the title track, pumping up the beat for “My Heart is in the Right Place”, and sliding off the pages of passing time in “Calendar” with long, drawn-out guitar notes and chords.

In the Blues tradition, Jason Vivone’s first lady is his cigar-box guitar, who goes by the name Nicotina. The Avenue claims multiple love in its heart, laying out its favorite folks and places on the album as they say “Hello Mrs. Radzinsky” from a payphone along the street cement path, feel the rumble under the east side rail bridge on “Train Musta Jumped the Track”, and break it down with the true story of sister cities, KCK and KC MO, in “Kansas City Blues”.    

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Ian McFeron (from the album Radio) - There is a familiarity to the songs of Ian McFeron on Radio, his latest release. Ian’s vocal tone pokes an audio memory for the work of Nils Lofgren when he was standing on the corner between Grin and E Street. That heyday era of singer-songwriters as Pop chart contenders is the period that Ian McFeron dials in on Radio. The title track rides in on a pedal steel that picks tunes to complement the sunny, top-down day with music from Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles. Radio waits for the sunset fire to dim to quietly offer a “Song to the Night”, reminisces on good times and current losses in “You Were the One”, and puts a determined drumbeat into the water to rowl the moving currents on “River of Time”.

Ian McFeron puts heart and soul into his words, giving the emotional confessions, tender moments, and walks in the sunshine found on Radio the flesh and blood to walk into the world. An audio wind gives the needed push of a breeze to bring “Uninvited” into its humble requests for love as the story of “Moses” looks toward a promised land, and “Feelin’ Good” slides in on a Folk Funk ray of sunshine.

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Cécile Doo-Kingué  (from the album Anybody Listening, Part 2) - One of the myriad facets to Cécile Doo-Kingué is her role as a singer-songwriter. Her latest release, Anybody Listening, Part 2, equally shows the Montreal, Canada-based artist as educator and curator for music as she explores Blues and Roots, seeing the music in kaleidoscopic soundscapes that present views of life taking a moment for gratitude (“Thankful”), social commentary (“Six Letters Fit”) as the album takes a stool at the local watering hole (“Animal Kingdom”). The spirit of Jimi Hendrix is ever-present as he haunts Anybody Listening on the opening track (“Riot and Revolution”) with a guitar ghost from his Woodstock morning call as Cécile samples his “Star Spangled Banner”, and exits the album on a blistering caffeine shot of riffs with Jimi’s “Manic Depression”.

The Blues can be found in each and every note on Anyone Listening, Part 2 as it walks stuttered steps in the title track, shrugs and shuffles as “Pure Entertainment”, slowly sips “Bloodstained Vodka”, and tickles “Sweet Talkin’ Devil” with a little temptation.

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The Westies  (from the album Six on the Out) - The songs of The Westies are rolling stories, tales caught up in the bustle of a big city, characters sucked into the undertow of their own decisions. Six on the Out continues to present the words of Michael McDermott, his growl fermented in the bars of New York City neighborhoods, stretched thin and exercised on trying to be heard over the chaotic roar over a local bar. Musically, The Westies underscore the stories with churning rhythms that seem to have no end. The beat quietly keeps order as guitar and fiddle notes invade and tease “If I Had a Gun” into action as the rhythm relies on zealous acoustic guitar chord to hold on until the story gets tractions in “Once Upon a Time”, and takes in and out breaths to keep time under Heather Horton’s desperately whispering for a last chance in “Like You Used To”.

The story of The Westies plays out like the lives on the edge of a chance or tumble in their songs. Main conspirators for the band, Michael McDermott and wife Heather Horton, met in a bar, putting the wheel in motion that would take them into The Westies debut, West Side Stories. For Michael McDermott, it was another step towards a calling that he sums up as ‘all I ever wanted to do was write songs and tell stories, like my grandparents and parents did from a long Irish lineage. With that lineage came a proclivity for drink, for mayhem, and a wee bit of crime. I write what I know and what I know is, much of the time, ugly’.

The characters in the songs of The Westies are not barflies standing on the last rung of a downward climb. The men and women that walk the halls of Six on the Out live hard lives with no interest in changing what they hear, see, and experience on city streets. The “Sirens” heard signal a life that slowly erodes, institutionally taking away pieces from a man with nothing left to lose. Grim reality rides the waves of rhythm as The Westies ground the songs with foundations sturdy enough to hold on tight to the freight train rhythms riding under “Pauper’s Sky”, counts time on percolating notes claiming “This I Know”, and raises a glass to the security of old friends singing along to “The Gang’s All Here”.

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Zak Trojano (from the album Yesterday’s Sun) - The light that shines from Yesterday’s Sun shows Zak Trojano in the role of Folk musician. He sits at the center of the album, pulling the strings on many levels. There is a subtle sophistication to the recording that reflects the role of its creator as his musical history grows from a base in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, the fertile musical community of Northampton. Zak Trojano is a multi-instrumentalist. The stories for Yesterday’s Sun have an equal measure, the tales expanding as the characters gain more emotional ties to break (“Come on Up”), find freedom  on an open road and meaning in a sole flower (“”Long Black Vine”), and make choices to move feet stuck in the cement of the past (“ Weight of Moon”).

If each album presents a new magic trick from its artist, on Yesterday’s Sun, the sleight of hand from Zak Trojano is how he deals heavy songs with such a light touch. His guitar strums dark memories of heroes in “Sun Don’t Set”, slides on the rubbery rhythms in “Overcome”, and gently delivers intricate finger-style picking set amid other string players swooping and slicing “Another Morning Rose”. Zak Trojano offers a performance on Yesterday’s Sun showcases all the hooks in a singer-songwriter’s tackle box. Zak is a New Hampshire-born fly fisherman and casts out the tunes, his fingers flying over the strings to match the passion in his request to “Get Me Right” and cradling the heartfelt promises on “Away”.

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Buddy Miller and Friends (from the album Cayamo Sessions at Sea on New West Records) - Roots music takes to the high seas for one week each year through the courtesy of Cayamo Cruise. In its ninth year, Cayamo offers a vacation for music fans. A trip where you do not have to curate your desert island discs to travel along with you. A journey that does not begin with a week of late nights making song lists, jamming tracks in multiple devices. Cayamo lets the music go with voyagers, the island stops are secondary to having the music you love as easy to reach as the tanning lotion. This year’s cruise sets sail on January 31, 2016, and we celebrate the departure with sounds gathered from previous trips. New West Records has released Cayamo Sessions at Sea, an album guided under the musical leadership of Buddy Miller and his friends gathered on the ocean crossing.

Kris Kristofferson brought his own tune on board, and joins Buddy with a slowly rumbling “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. The album re-visits classic Country pairings as Buddy Miller shares the microphone with Nikki Lane (“Just Someone I Used to Know”), Kacey Musgraves (“Love’s Gonna Live Here Again”), and Elizabeth Cook (“If Teardrops Were Pennies”). The spirit of Gram Parsons puts the air in the sails as Lucinda Williams duets on his Byrds autobiography with “Hickory Wind”, and with Shawn Colvin legacy as myth mystery with The Rolling Stones “Wild Horses”. Buddy Miller exits this installment of Cayamo Sessions at Sea with Brandi Carlile and The Lone Bellow as they join together on John Prine’s  “Angel From Montgomery”.

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Eric Brace and Peter Cooper (from the album C & O Canal on Red Beet Records) - The musical starting point for Eric Brace and Peter Cooper was a shared geography. Long before the duo came together in East Nashville, they were based a little further north, separately, in the Washington D.C. music scene. The plan for their latest release, the Thomm Jutz-produced C & O Canal, was to offer a tribute to the Folk and Bluegrass songs, people, and places that were a part of the D.C. vibrant musical breeding ground.  For Eric Brace, he recalled that ‘the road to here began for me in the '70s, when a Wilson High School friend took me to the Birchmere to see the Seldom Scene. Their Thursday night residency became a regular destination, opening a hundred musical doors. They were gods, but they had day jobs. They were just folks, but they flew above the rest of us’. Peter Cooper remembers the rules he learned to get in, ‘I’d get to the Birchmere by five p.m. No reserved seating. Doors opened at six. Show at eight-thirty. First one in got his pick of tables. My first time at the Birch was on my fifteenth birthday. We got there at seven and sat in the back. After that, I always got my pick of tables. I’d sit there on Thursdays, staring up at the crease in Mike Auldridge’s jeans. He played dobro for the Seldom Scene, the band that opened me up to a world of acoustic roots music: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, the Stanley Brothers, Paul Craft, Tony Rice, John Prine, and all the others.

Beyond the theme of C&O Canal, the album signals a sturdier foundation Eric Brace and Peter Cooper as a duo. Their last effort, The Comeback Album, showcased songwriting talents offering thought-provoking humor and well-placed asides. On C&O Canalthe performance is one of graceful country love songs; sadness born with heads held high, deeds seen a badge of pride, and desires as rooted as firmly as the end of love laid out on the tracks. John Starling of the Seldom Scene sees two credits on the album, lending a track for the title and on the beautiful border sway of “He Rode All the Way to Texas”. History repeats with a version of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth” and trades a long trek in return for one more minute in Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham”. Eric Brace starts off the weather forecast as the clouds gather on Karl Straub’s “Rainy Night in Texas” while “Blue Ridge” rises up on mandolin strings as Peter Cooper becomes the tour guide introduction over a banjo beat. 

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The Boxcar Boys (from the album Cicada Ball) - The Boxcar Boys are the house band for Cicada Ball. For the selection of entertainment, the group gives their playing over to traditions in music rather than offering their own renditions of music from the past. Cicada Ball is decorated with distinctive elements of Dixieland Jazz, Gypsy campfire rhythms, and Klezmer performed with the precision of chamber music caught in the abandon of a New Orleans street parade. The Boxcar Boys magically transform instruments pre-determined as serious (clarinet, tuba, and trombone) by letting them mix it up with the street corner savvy of a fiddle attending a front porch party with an accordion and washboard.

Cicada Ball greets revelers by inviting them out on the floor for its first dance on track number one with “Hindustan” as the band tunes up on a mission that meets in a march to lead the way onto the album. The Boxcar Boys stroll along a ragtime avenue, strutting for “Shakin’ Off the Cobwebs”, squeeze out a melody on accordion pumps that beats with “Old Fashioned Love”, strums under a crooners request of “Baby Don’t Tear My Clothes”, and syncopate a rhythm that bears the musical message “Take Your Fingers Off It”. The Canadian sextet recorded Cicada Ball (their third release) in Ken Whiteley’s studio in Toronto. The Boxcar Boys borrow “That’s a Plenty” from The New Orleans Rhythm Kings while Cicada Ball rolls and scurries on a chaotic tumble of notes instrumentally shouting out “Wah Dat Dah”.

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To celebrate the release of their album, Subcontinental Drift, the Sultans of String, debut a video for “Rakes of Mallow/Rouge River Valley”. Like the band’s music, which samples Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban and South Asian rhythms, the video is playful as it uses Krishna mischief as a signal to have a good time.

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Grant Peeples becomes the narrator for his tune, “Basement of Her Heart” as he opens the door and heads down the stairs to sing about what he finds. The track is from his upcoming album release, Congress of Treason.

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Cody Canada and the Departed have a new single. They join with the Braun family, filming at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas. Willy and Cody Braun (Reckless Kelly), Micky and Gary Braun (Micky and the Motorcars), and patriarch Muzzie Braun support Cody by taking verses for “All Nighter”.

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Diamond Rugs  (from the album Cosmetics) - By definition, Indie music is not something that grows supergroups. In the world of Indie, if you can think it you can play it. Multiple musicians from multiple bands are not put together for marketing purposes by labels or a press carrots. The sound springs from late night, post show hangs, bonding over record collections, and the need of artists to create.  Members of Deer Tick (John McCauley, Robbie Crowell), Los Lobos (Steve Berlin), Dead C...

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Uncle Lucius    (from the album The Light) - Uncle Lucius have always had salvation in their songs… right in there with electric chords and beats. The way their songs unfolded gave the feeling that you were in the presence of guides you could trust, even if the reason why remained misty. Uncle Lucius turn on The Light and watch its songs go into dark corners, shadowy hallways, and  one lane roads as they search, seek and provide answers for how to walk a little prouder. The message is...

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Dale Watson    (from the album Call Me Insane) - If you think there is nothing sweeter than hearing Country music in its classic form then you can use Dale Watson album request Call Me Insane as a reason to make a dentist appointment.  Dale Watson sets up in Austin, Texas to play his brand of honky tonk country and Call Me Insane was guided under the production hand of Lloyd Maines (Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker). Dale Watson has been serving up his own flavor of honky tonk music ...

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

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

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

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Papa Charlie Jackson (from the album Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song on Document Records ) - Very little is known about Papa Charlie Jackson. He was born in 1897 and a draft card marked his birthplace as New Orleans, Louisiana. Luckily, his musical history is noted in recordings and credits. Document Records has released Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song to celebrate his music, and give it a digital stamp in 2016. The album is a double disc which offers a unique presentation of music. The U.K.-based l...

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Irma Thomas (from the album In Between Tears) - In 1941, Ponchatoula, Louisiana saw the birth of Irma Thomas. Taking The Big Easy as her home base, Irma Thomas came to be dubbed The Soul Queen of New Orleans. She was making records for the same chart positions as Aretha Franklin and Etta James but never claimed the top spots like her contemporaries. After fifty years in the music business, Irma Thomas received a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues album ( After the Rain ).

With conditions like Hurrica...

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The Mekons – Fear and Whiskey - The Mekons became a band while University of Leeds students in 1977, in the same scene that gave birth to Gang of Four. They released their noise punk on album before going on hiatus in 1982. The Mekons came back together in 1984. Punk still informed the band’s storytelling, and the 1984 Miners Strike gave The Mekons political fodder. The big difference in The Mekons sound was the addition of Country twang and mountain instrumentation.

Fear and Whiskey was released in ...

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The Cactus Blossoms (from the album You’re Dreaming) - The Vintage Sound of The Cactus Blossoms provides effects like those ideally presented by a cup of chamomile, a meditative journey inward or an Indica hit of Girl Scout Cookies....mellow. Sonically, You’re Dreaming settles you on a massive audio cloud that tumbles and rolls as it covers the album, successfully capturing analog warmth in a digital world under its canopy. Produced by JD McPherson, You’re Dreaming , frames the harmonies of brothers Ja...

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Mike and the Moonpies (from the album Mockingbird) - Mike and the Moonpies are the Mockingbird on their latest release. The title track talks of hand-me-down songs, one more round for friends, and how family shows in the little things. The album sticks to the same honesty as the call of Mockingbird sings the sweet sounds of honky tonk music. Mike and the Moonpies are a country band based in Austin, Texas offering tradition in their tunes as they spin around the dance floor asking to “Sat It Simply”, s...

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JD and the Straight Shot  (from the album Ballyhoo!) - JD and the Straight Shot pare down their sound, firing off Ballyhoo! , their most recent release, against a instrumentation that stages the album with rustic trappings. JD (Jim Dolan) leads the vocals, with harmonies coming from his four-piece, acoustic Straight Shot backing on guitar from Aidan Dolan and Marc Copley (Rosanne Cash, McCrary Sisters), Byron House (Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant) on bass and the violin of Erin Shaver (Rod Stewar...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen and buy the music of Uncle Lucius from AMAZON or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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76 - Shakey Graves – And the War Came   (10-7-14) - And the War Cameis a feral album. It can be called scratchy, raw and stripped-down, but the obvious adjectives cover up the intentions. For his music, Shakey Graves, the alter-ego of Alejandro Rose-Garcia, challenges the way we listen with his chord strums as much as keep the beat. While in Los Angeles pursuing acting work, Alejandro Rose-Garcia saw a performance by a one-man band that clued him to how he could keep audience’s attention by throwing curveballs and changing up delivery.

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77 – The Apache Relay – The Apache Relay   (4-22-14) - The Apache Relay float sounds across the songs on their self-titled 2014 release. The music comes up from out a dream, mixing Indie Rock and Roots, Folk strums with an Americana sheen coating the guitar patterns.

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78 – Trampled by Turtles – Wild Animals   (7-15-14) - On Wild Animals, Trampled By Turtles expand on their song catalog by being more inclusive in their rhythms and in their ability to still infuse the tracks with the raggedy roots that makes the music of Trampled by Turtles so damn authentic. These guys are not casting off the music that put them on the bill as they drove to more high-profile gigs since their 2003 birth in Duluth, Minnesota. Wild Animals is Research & Development for a band that has become its own small business and brand. Trampled by Turtles are not changing, they are just investigating all of the corners where they can set up and play.

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

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

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

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

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83- Jamestown Revival – Utah   (9-23-14) - Jamestown Revival became a band as a natural extension of its member’s lives. Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance grew up together in the small Texas town of Magnolia, finding a haven about an hour north in an abandoned ranch house on some family land. The pair discovered the outdoors in daylight and music through the records that played through old speakers at night. The songs of fellow Texans like Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan struck a chord as much as Creedence Clearwater Revival. The harmonies of Jamestown Revival can show lineage back to the Everly Brothers records playing at the old ranch house.

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84 –The Evangenitals – Moby Dick (3-18-14) - Moby Dick; or, The Albumopens over a cold dark landscape with two voices blending over pounding drums as airborne sounds float by. The beat and the voices stir up instruments and The Evangenitals slowly begin to add flashes, textures and touches of notes. The community of voices that centers the tune puts you in a stage production, rolling on the deck of a whaling ship with the crew magically breaking out into song. The Evangenitals set the mood and course for the story with mighty sweeps and sways of voice, rhythm and instruments. The drama of the tale of Ahab and his men sees the ill-fated crew set sail to hunt the white whale. The story has been dug into and gone over with a microscope for hidden meanings and mysterious messages since its first printing. On Moby Dick; or, The Album the goal is to let the tale unfold through the feelings of the crew. Not to judge, coax into understanding or further explain motivation. The Evangenitals tell the story, stage the characters and set sail.

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

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86 -Mingo Fishtrap – On Time   (6-3-14) - If you have never seen Mingo Fishtrap live then please consider On Time for a resume describing what they can offer. Desperate pleas want answers while warm harmonies support (“Where Did You Come From”), dangerous grooves rumble under pulpit pounding hopes (“Silver Linings”) and realization shakes like a caffeine buzz (“Things Ain’t What They Was”). Mingo Fishtrap cook up a new story about an upcoming revelation in “Movin’” as they chop (chords), dice (harmonies) and puree (percussion) one feast of a tune. On Time has a little something for the worlds ills as Mingo Fishtrap open their magic “Mason Jar” for the warmth of some love shine and they put a cool on “Fireproof” to keep the flames from spreading once the “walls come down”.

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87 – Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues   (7-1-14) - On the new release, Counterfeit Blues, Corb Lund plays to the diverse crowd attracted by the album, folks going beyond the song subject target markets. Counterfeit Blues fully brands the music of Corb Lund. All of his releases showcase an artist that seems to only be satisfied by improving on his own art, while still honoring what has gone before. There is a career point where the way you do what you do has the ability to be presented as what people expect. It is a plateau where everybody knows your name and nobody pays your bills, but that is another story, one that Corb subtly tells on Counterfeit Blues.

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88 – Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder    (8-19-14) - The No-Hit Wondersamples Roots music, gathering sounds and styles, delivering the best Cory Branan songs for Americana, Folk, Classic Country and Roots music. Album opener “You Make Me” is Alt Country sunshine, jangly chords as heart on the sleeve ‘I-love-you’s’ thumbs their nose at the album title and kicks off the No-Hit Wonder with a sing-a-long keeper.

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89 – The Felice Brothers - Favorite Waitress   (6-17-14) - Kudos to The Felice Brothers for staying true to intentions; their recent release, Favorite Waitress, keeps the same instrument choices they had passing the hat while busking, and what they lose in volume to the acoustics, they make up for the rock’n’roll raucous in the ragged tales on the album. The Felice Brothers define Indie.

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

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

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92 – Sarah Borges – Radio Sweetheart  (6-24-14) - Sarah Borges separated from her long time backing band, The Broken Singles, for her 2014 release, Radio Sweetheart. Roots and Americana drive the music with Sarah’s belter vocals hitting the back rows in each song.

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93 –  Patrolled by Radar – Cool Your Jets    (5-1-14) - Patrolled by Radar fly under an Alt Country flag that rattles and rambles as it flies over Cool Your Jets, their most recent album release.  Lead vocalist, Jay Souza, rolls the words in the songs, tossing out lines like throwing dice as he wears the skin of hard luck characters and hometown heroes.

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94 – Nathan Bell – Blood Like a River   (1-1-14) - Written, recorded and mixed, the album took thirty days to complete in Nathan’s Tennessee mountain home. Saying it is all Nathan Bell is technically correct. Though this is a technological world, the tunes that flow through Blood Like a River are human, not numbers, dots and dashes. The tracks walked by the characters in the tunes are responsible for the outcome of the song as much as their creator.

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95 – Whiskey Shivers – Whiskey Shivers   (9-23-14) - As the fall signals an approaching winter, Whiskey Shivers are wondering whether to stay or go as they watch perfection on the next pillow balance their own dreams of death and destruction, seeing their love manifest as an “Angel in the Snow”.  The issue is common…one partner is bound for glory while the other is hitting a wall. Struggle continues to interests the songs of Whiskey Shivers on their self-titled release. Work, pain, sin, regret and death are the themes that throw pointed darts of words for topic on Whiskey Shivers, produced by Robert Ellis.

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96 - Devon Allman – Ragged and Dirty    (10-14-14) - Devon Allman wants to represent the future of the Blues with Ragged and Dirty, seeing his approach to the album as ‘respecting the framework, respecting the desire. This album is kind of next logical step for me. I had made bluesy albums but I had never made a blues record. The traditional blues thing is an amazing model and that is why I do that blueprint. I think it is our duty to keep it growing, to take the equation and shuffle the deck.

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

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98 – Joe Fletcher – Songs for the Working Man    (10-7-14) - Joe eats road maps for breakfast on You Got the Wrong Man as he shares that he has ‘lived a selfish life and I feel your evil lie” (“The Promise”) and chronicles the red tape in the police investigation as “The Wilsons” come unglued in the face of tragedy. Electric Folk Blues works as a bed for Joe Fletcher to he ‘tries to interact with that town that ain’t here no more’ as he plays the “Blamegame Blues”. Joe Fletcher sits at the bar and tells the local tavern denizens a Roots music version of alien sightings as he talks about a night meeting with Hank Williams in “Haint Blue Cadillac”.

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99 – Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw   (9-30-14) - There is an emotional dust that covers the songs of Pieta Brown on Paradise Outlaw. It is not a sign of age, however. The trails the songs travel from now to the past lead to a time when love and foreplay were more conversational; an intelligent explanation of feelings. Pieta Brown writes and sings with the same pen on the album as she takes on the role of a Paradise Outlaw, letting the soft grace of her vocal balances the raw hearts on display throughout the release.

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100 - Chip Taylor – The Little Prayers Trilogy   (11-7-14) - By no means the last album that makes the list, Chip Taylor sends the Top 100 list off with gentle thoughts and hummed hopes and aspirations. The Little Prayer Trilogy whispers in your ear, calming as Chip’s heart hits your ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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