Mar 14, 2022
Jan 3, 2022
11. Brandi Carlile—In These Silent Days
10. Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall—The Marfa Tapes
Perhaps it is only because of these songwriters’ stellar reputations that we are compelled to pay attention to a release like The Marfa Tapes. But the other side of this is that only special artists like these three could actually write and perform an entire album acoustically, with sounds of wind and fire and cows and planes echoing in the background, and manage to hold our attention simply because of the strength of the songs and the raw emotion and boundless charisma present in the delivery. It’s fair to say that anyone else who tried this would likely be ignored, but not many others could accomplish this with the same beauty and grace that Ingram, Lambert, and Randall have, keeping us listening long after the novelty of the approach has worn off and only the songs and performances remain.
9. Cole Chaney—Mercy
8. Carly Pearce—29: Written in Stone
What a joy to see an album like this emerging from Music Row and to watch Carly Pearce’s deserved success. To call Pearce’s divorce record the best mainstream country album of 2021 would be true but would also be selling the project short; it is simply one of the best country records of the year, no qualifiers. The fact that it came to us from mainstream Nashville only serves to prove that hope still lingers on Sixteenth Avenue.
7. James McMurtry—The Horses and the Hounds
James McMurtry’s songwriting is like that of no other. His prose is vividly rich in detail but composed in such a plainspoken manner that it remains accessible and relatable to us all. There is something uniquely charming about his frankness, something inherently poetic and refreshing in reflecting on all of the world’s hardships and then expressing a problem so mundane as constantly losing one’s glasses. These ruminations constitute some of the best songs of the year, and McMurtry remains one of the most interesting songwriters of his generation.
6. Shane Smith & the Saints—Live from the Desert
5. Margo Cilker—Pohorylle
Margo Cilker’s debut album is a classic case of the sum being better than its parts. There are no lyrical masterpieces and nothing to reinvent the wheel from a musical standpoint. Nevertheless, the simple yet lush arrangements, the production which carefully and thoughtfully enhances each song, Cilker’s excellent capacity for writing melodies and hooks, and the sense of place and general mood surrounding this whole record all come together to make one of the year’s standout albums.
4. Amythyst Kiah—Wary + Strange
3. The Steel Woods—All of Your Stones
2. Charles Wesley Godwin—How the Mighty Fall
Charles Wesley Godwin, through the poetry of his songs and the haunting qualities of his voice, has managed to set Appalachia to music. If Seneca was a perfect encapsulation of the place, then How the Mighty Fall can be called a perfect encapsulation of the region’s people. More than that, it is a commentary on desperation itself, both the circumstances which lead to it and the various lengths to which one will go when faced with it. Artists are often plagued by the idea of the sophomore slump, but Godwin second album is just as exceptional as his first.
Album of the Year: Jason Boland & the Stragglers—The Light Saw Me
The very audacity of the idea, the concept of making a country record about alien abduction and time travel, is proof enough of the innovation of Jason Boland & the Stragglers and should be applauded. But to pull it off so expertly and to somehow craft a story so universal and compelling is another thing entirely. Somehow, this eccentric album is one of the most accessible, engaging records of Boland’s career and demonstrates that country music can still cover new ground in 2021. Boland & the Stragglers prove that even within the confines of traditional country music, artists can still be creative, original, introspective, and forward-thinking.
Dec 29, 2021
By Kevin Broughton
1. Jesse Daniel – Beyond These Walls
If FTM had a “follow-up album of the year” category, this one would win it unanimously. Stretching his legs from the Bakersfield love fest that was Rollin’ On, Daniel – by focusing on the simple things in life – has broadened his focus, showing a grateful audience just how great country music can be. He’s made a great leap forward with his vocals and songwriting, and those were already high bars. There’s not a weak cut on this album.
2. James McMurtry – The Horses And The Hounds
He’s just the Godfather.
I picture a room full of accomplished singer-songwriters trading shop talk when McMurtry walks in, and all of a sudden you can hear a pin drop. It’s been six years since his last album, and just like last time, there’s an effortless feel to this magnificent work of art. McMurtry combines imagery, geography and unrequited love better than Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett or Townes. I literally listened to “Canola Fields” seven times before moving on to the second cut. It’s on par with “Tangled Up In Blue.”
3. Mike & The Moonpies – One To Grow On
I’ll be shocked if this one doesn’t win the FTM overall prize. It’s merely flawless.
4. Charles Wesley Godwin – How The Mighty Fall
Speaking of great follow-ups, Geez. Seneca, Godwin’s stellar breakout record from 2019, was just a warmup, it seems, for his 2021 offering. There’s an intensity to his writing this time around that solidifies a rightful claim to be mentioned in the same breath as his Appalachian brethren: Simpson and Childers.
5. Jeremy Pinnell – Goodbye L.A.
One of the best pure country albums of the year. Ties of Blood and Affection in 2017 was a phenomenal record, but with a solid assist from quirky producer Jonathan Tyler, Pinnell has written his masterpiece. We should all give thanks that there’s a longer road in front of him than there is behind. And, who wants a monthly FTM Q & A with this jiu-jitsu practitioner on the intersection of mixed martial arts & country music?
6. Zach Schmidt – Raise A Banner
This was a record a long time in the making, but the Pittsburgh-born artist made the most of his time. Is it nice to walk into a studio with The 400 Unit for a backing band and Sadler Vaden producing? Sure. But this writing stands on its own, and even if You Don’t Know Zach Schmidt…you know the deal.
7. Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
Twenty years strong. Only a small handful of artists* can begin to make Southern rock like these guys. They’ve added some personnel to fill out the sound and become one of the darlings of the elite Yellowstone set-list crowd, but what you hear is what you get. “Hey Delilah,” one of many gems, is a love letter to Lowell George.
8. *Rob Leines – Blood, Sweat & Beers
This legit blue-collar rocker fronts a power trio turned up to ELEVEN, reminding the world and his Los Angeles environs of his proud Georgia roots. Skynyrd and CBD fans, step on up.
9. Tennessee Jet – South Dakota
A toned down follow-up to (my #1 in 2020) The Country gives the listener an even more intimate setting to sample this man of letters’ writing. “William Faulkner,” just like the author, indeed.
10. The High Hawks – The High Hawks
What started as a fun thing for a collection of jam/string band guys became a passion project – with tours to boot. Open, free and joyous, smart money says this ain’t a one-off.
11. Mac Leaphart – Music City Joke
Just outstanding writing that leaves folks wanting more.
Dec 20, 2021
Nov 8, 2021
Nov 6, 2021
Nov 5, 2021
By Matthew Martin
Once you've heard Charles Wesley Godwin's voice, it's hard to forget. It's immediately recognizable and it carries a weight unlike many of his contemporaries. When I first heard CWG's debut album, Seneca, I was immediately hooked. The album was rich with Appalachian music and storytelling. Godwin's voice singing about coal and mining mishaps felt intimate to him and his background as a West Virginian. I saw him numerous times over the years when he would come to DC. I would tell as many friends as I could about him. These friends were usually also hooked at first listen. Needless to say, I needed more and more and it felt like the new album was going to never come soon enough.
Now, 2 years after his debut, we are getting that follow up, How The Mighty Fall. And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. On CWG's sophomore effort, we get everything we loved about that debut but amped up. We get an album that only CWG could make for the times. Songs filled with death, love, and hope but with that Appalachian spin.
The album opens up with a soft, mountain tune about traveling and constantly being on the move. When the fiddle begins, you know this is not the same style of country music you may get out of OK or TX, or TN for that matter. This is Mountain music. This is real Appalachian music. The scratch of the fiddle is an incredible sound that evokes so much emotion. I really appreciate the touch of that fiddle throughout the album. We then get a strong set of songs that includes the lost-love masterpiece, “Jesse.” CWG can make a mountain out of a mole hill. And this song is proof of such. Taking a graffiti covered bridge and turning that on its head to lament lost love and thusly turning a blind eye to that lost love. This is my favorite song on the album.
The album never lets up from there. The two most surprising songs I found on the album were "Needle Fall Down" and "Cranes of Potter" showing off CWG's ability to craft a beautiful song around tragic topics. "Needle Fall Down" depicts a man at the end of his rope reflecting on the song playing before taking his life. Then we get "Cranes of Potter" about a mad man killing the woman he loved. They are stunningly beautiful songs only made more painful and striking by CWG's powerful voice. It's possible someone with a lesser voice would not be able to pull off "Needle Fall Down" but CWG does so deftly and with grace.
But, don't be fooled into thinking this is a low-key affair. CWG also has a crackerjack band on this release and they let loose for a few songs that absolutely make me pine to see these songs live (when I'm going back to shows since I have a dang 2 month old now y'all!). "Gas Well,” "Blood Feud,” and "Strong" are blood pumpers. Also, bonus points if you knew who Prefontaine was (I did not...). Again with "Strong" we get that scratched fiddle that sounds like it was made for CWG songs. The lead guitar licks on this one are compelling as well.
This is the album I was waiting for from CWG. I don't know that he could have followed up his debut with a stronger album. I know this dude is going to be huge. He's got the songwriting chops, the voice, and the backing band to really make a name for himself and he's well on the way to doing so. If you aren't on the bandwagon, hurry up and hop on. Go ahead and buy this album and everything CWG touches. It's all proving to be gold.
How The Mighty Fall is available today everywhere you purchase or stream music.