Apr 4, 2022
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 16, 2021
Staff vote included me (Trailer), Kevin Broughton, Megan Bledsoe, Robert Dean, Scott Colvin, Travis Erwin, Jeremy Harris, and Matthew Martin.
20. Cole Chaney - Mercy
19. Langhorne Slim - Strawberry Mansion
18. TK & the Holy Know-Nothings - The Incredible Heat Machine
17. John R. Miller - Depreciated
I had never heard of JRM, but this album changed that and for good reason. The lyrics are reminiscent of John Prine. The voice is reminiscent of Jay Farrar. What more could you ask for? ~Matthew Martin
16. Mastodon - Hushed and Grim
Mastodon has been one of my favorite bands for over a decade…even before I learned drummer/singer Brann Dailor went to my high school…or that he grew up less than a mile from my house. How I didn’t know him back then still baffles me. Anyway, I thought this was an OK Mastodon release when it came out, but after hearing these songs live…WOW…it’s one of their best. ~Scott Colvin
15. Mac Leaphart - Music City
Music City Joke is an album that is sneaky good with simple intelligence and honest observation at the heart of the writing and a traditional sound to the music. ~Travis Erwin
14. Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
This album is so good it hurts. The first time I heard it all I could think was it reminded me of Billie Eilish’s groundbreaking “When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?” That special…unique. Trust me, in 10 years people are going to treat this release like Taylor Swift’s “Red” album…now. This record has legit bangers like “Brutal” “Jealousy, Jealousy” and “Good 4 U” to thoughtful heartbreakers like “Déjà vu,” “Driver’s License” and “Traitor.” ~Scott
13. Jason Boland & The Stragglers - The Light Saw Me
12. The Steel Woods - All of Your Stones
11. 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. ~Megan
10. Emily Scott Robinson - American Siren
Simple honest writing that speaks with a genuineness. ~Travis
For me, the most intoxicating voice in roots music, and she backs it up with knife-edge honesty and conversational poetry that reaches into your soul. ~Trailer
9. Sturgill Simpson - The Ballad of Dood & Juanita
When Sturgill goes country, Sturgill is at his very best. When Sturgill creates an album using Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger as a template, you know you’re in for something seriously good. And, Sturgill doesn’t disappoint. The album explores all different aspects of mountain music while telling a compelling story throughout the album. If this is, in fact, Sturgill’s final album, it’s a hell of note to go out on. ~Matthew
8. 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. ~Kevin
7. Billy Strings - Renewal
With a voice that makes old men listen, a look that makes old women run, and lyrics that make anyone think, Billy Strings hits it out of the park with Renewal. From start to finish a bluegrass legend is being built. This is the sound and the man that will define and carry the genre for years to come. ~Jeremy
6. Brandi Carlile - In These Silent Days
With vocals that are unmatched and songs written with real heart, In These Silent Days is the album and song we all need after coming out of quarantine. Brandi continues to define herself and her songwriting which are featured on “Right on Time,” “Broken Horses,” and the title track. A masterpiece from start to finish as well as the perfect way to continue to add impressive accomplishments to Grammy-winning producer Shooter Jennings’ resume that began with once making Trailer’s worst vocalist in country music list. ~Jeremy Harris
Not a single miss for me here and Carlile had the best performance on SNL in a long while. this album is just one that rises above its competitors in ways I haven’t found an album since Isbell’s Southeastern stood out from other albums that year. ~Travis
5. Mike & The Moonpies - One to Grow On
...merely flawless. ~Kevin
An album that sounds like the world’s best bar band captured their true sound and appeal. I haven’t heard them live yet, so I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it sure feels that way. A record that’s consistently inspired and inspiring. ~Trailer
4. Sierra Ferrell - Long Time Coming
Without fail there seems to be one album every year that sneaks up on me, transfixes and ultimately knocks me on my ass. I had never heard of this artist before Trailer hyped her upon the album’s release. I can’t even wrap my head around this record. This is probably a horrible comparison, but take the best parts of Camper Van Beethoven, Kat Edmonson and Lindi Ortega and multiply it by 100. ~Scott
3. 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. ~Megan
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.” ~Kevin
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. ~Megan
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. ~Kevin
1. Morgan Wade - Reckless
There’s not much to say about this album that hasn’t been screamed from the rooftops already. Morgan Wade is an exceptional talent writing catchy songs. The production on this album is top notch and the band matches the energy on each song. The future is bright for Morgan Wade and if you aren’t on the bandwagon, hurry up and hop on. Top Song: Wilder Days ~Matthew
There are notes of Lucinda and Elizabeth Cook – and Garbage and Matchbox 20 oddly enough – in Morgan Wade’s presentation, and I can’t get enough of it. There’s a knowing tone of confidence mixed with a questioning undercurrent of sadness all through the album. She’s enough of the way through the journey of finding herself to have an air of comfort taming the tension. The balance of those two feelings makes Reckless a real winner. ~Trailer
(Others receiving multiple votes: Flatland Cavalry, Drayton Farley, Red Shahan, Vincent Neil Emerson, Yola, Carly Pearce, Ashley Monroe, Tennessee Jet)
Sep 17, 2021
Sep 1, 2021
The usual disclaimer: Our year-end list will be staff-voted; this is just Trailer’s list.
8. The Steel Woods - All of Your Stones
11. James McMurtry - The Horses & The Hounds
12. Carly Pearce - 29
13. Vincent Neil Emerson - s/t
14. Austin Meade - Black Sheep
15. Sturgill Simpson - Ballad of Dood & Juanita
16. The Killers - Pressure Machine
17. Paul Thorn - Never Too Late to Call
18. Blackberry Smoke - You Hear Georgia
19. The Marfa Tapes
20. Melissa Carper - Daddy’s Country Gold
Jul 30, 2021
By Kevin Broughton
If tomorrow brings me pain and strife,
At least I’ll always have those little simple things in life.
-- Jesse Daniel, “Simple Things”
Nearly eight months into what still feels for some reason like a new year, the pandemic looms. In a good way, though. Have you noticed how many quality movies (no, not the comic book shit) have stacked up – even to stream? It’s almost like nothing got produced in 2020 or something.
Happily, musical artists have stormed back, recording with purpose and vigor what was only written during the Lost Year, and re-emerging on the road with something to prove. Jesse Daniel’s Rollin’ On was critically hailed as one of country’s greatest albums in the early days of Year Covid. Cheated of a year’s worth of touring, Daniel rolled up his sleeves, though in a different way than he once did. Aided by partner/manager/harmony singer Jodi Lyford, he doubled down on the good habits that got him where he was.
And reunited with Grammy-nominated producer (and pedal steel ubermensch) Tommy Detamore, Daniel upped the ante with Beyond These Walls, a brilliant follow-up that shows there’s more than Bakersfield to this square-jawed caballero. Flexing the songwriting muscles he’d had a year to work in earnest, it’s fair to say Daniel has his feet firmly planted in the upper echelons of country music.
Each one of these dozen songs is a sample of not just what country should be, but the best of what it is right now: Simple, joyful, sometimes sad, but almost always content. And most of all, real.
If this guy’s not on Austin City Limits inside 12 months, something’s wrong. Let’s get to it.
We last crossed paths in February of 2020… in “The Before Time.” You’ve been far from idle since then, though. Let folks in on what you’ve been up to besides losing your razor, brushing up on your Spanish, and hanging out with Raul Malo.
Ha ha. You know, I was just thinking yesterday about the last time we talked, and yeah, it was right before everything went down. Since then, yep, those things are all true. Got myself some facial hair, and I’ve done some stuff with Raul, but mainly I just spent the last year focused on turning inward. Jodi and I both decided to use that time as fruitfully as possible and line things up for the next year. We didn’t know how long it was gonna last, or when things would get back to normal; only that eventually it would.
I’m glad we did that, because things seem like they’re getting back to normal. Other than that, just some outdoor stuff. A lot of fishing.
Rollin’ On was a heavy dose of the Bakersfield Sound. Beyond These Walls strikes me as more of a Valentine to all of country music. Sonically, the dobro and mandolin – to say nothing of the accordion -- stand out in spots, for example. How determined were you to make a markedly different record this time?
I’d say pretty determined. I feel like people have come to know me – a California guy originally – as trying to carry the torch for Bakersfield; it’s what people have come to expect. I didn’t want to make something completely unrecognizable, but at the same time I didn’t want to make the same record twice. I love the Bakersfield sound, and all the other types of music that borrow from it.
And I wanted to make a record – well, like you said, a Valentine – that captured more. There are so many great things about country music, with all the sub-genres and artists that I truly love. And I wanted Beyond These Walls to reflect that this time around.
Your songwriting seems to have matured – and I want to get into specifics in a minute. But can you point to particular vision or sensibility that guided your approach to writing this time around?
I appreciate that, man. I think one thing was definitely having that year-long gap allowed for more introspection, to really focus on the writing. A lot of polishing songs. That was a silver lining to this past year: really having the time to devote to each song.
Another benefit of this last year to me -- as a music fan -- was being able to really listen to a lot of stuff. I’ve always been really into folk music, and now having lived in Texas for a couple years, you know, I’m nearby all these great Texas songwriters and the traditions that surround them. Listening to all that made me want to hone my own craft and really get better at it.
So many of these songs are celebrations of the simple joys in life. They’re beautifully and efficiently done, but the glass-half-empty guy in me compels me to ask about a couple others first. Your overcoming a heroin addiction isn’t a secret, but it’s a subject you avoided on the last record. This time you lay it all out there with “Gray,” and I guess the first part of this rambling question is about the narrator’s point of view. Were these some of the words that a friend said to you, or more of a third-person perspective?
Definitely both. When I was writing it, I kinda went back and forth. Those were all things that family members and friends had told me. I had one particular friend who passed away and I went to his funeral last year…and there are just so many people who I grew up with…[pauses.] I don’t know if it’s something about that place in particular or if it’s everywhere, but the epidemic of drugs has just permeated into the culture there. I was thinking about that person when I was writing it, wishing I’d said some of those things to him like others had said to me before.
I wanted to write a song about how serious addiction is, because a lot of people glamorize that stuff. And I can’t help but cringe when I hear it, as somebody who’s been there. I’ve been a drug addict, literally living on the street. I was a person who a lot of people who come to my shows would have looked down on back then: “Look at this disgusting drug addict,” you know? That was my story; I was that guy. So, I wanted to write a no-frills song that got it all out there.
The darkness really gets emphasized with that final, loud minor chord. Were you putting a period on discussing this in song for the future?
Well, it definitely put a period on that song, right? That minor chord drives it all home.
It took me a couple listens to figure out that “I’ll Be Back Around” is from the point of view of a prisoner. And, for that matter, that the title for the album is taken the chorus. But damn, dude, it’s a happy song! Has there ever been an uplifting prison ballad in the history of country music? How do you do this?
Ha! Something else I did during the gap was re-read Merle Haggard’s autobiography. And among the things he talked about was his time in prison, and I’ve sort of identified with Merle over that: Always being in trouble and being attracted to that sort of lifestyle. But then, he found his way out of that. I’ve spent time in jail and other institutions, and I have friends of mine doing time in legitimate prison, some who’ve been locked up since they were 18. So, I’ve always wanted to write a song that highlighted some of those things. And…I dunno, that bluegrass run just kind of came to me, and I’ve always wanted to do a bluegrass song, too.
“Living in the Great Divide” is the only topical – or temporal – song I can pick out from the last two records. 2020 was certainly a tough year on everybody, and one that highlighted our great divides. Halfway through 2021, are you any more hopeful?
I am in a way, yeah. It’s been nice to see the world coming back a little bit. There was a layer of despair…and just fear that everybody had that contributed to it. People were in fear of losing their livelihoods, their lives, their family members. Nobody knew which way was up, and I think that mass-hysteria type of thing took its toll on people and relationships. That’s where I was at when I wrote that song.
You know, people getting their news from Instagram or Facebook or word of mouth…and for lack of a better term it’s just a shit storm, you know? I’ve lived a lot of different lives, and I have many friends with all kinds of points of view. And I’ve always been able to have discussions and come away – if not agreeing – certainly understanding the reasons why they have those opinions. That’s what I was trying to express in that song: We should try to understand each other better. If we’d use basic humanity a little more, we’d be a lot farther along.
As a frustrated addict of bass-fishing, I have to ask if “Drop A Line” comes from a deep and personal place within you. It certainly seems a tad autobiographical.
Oh, yeah, that one’s definitely personal. I spent a lot of time fishing this past year after not having done much of it in quite a long time, and basically fell back in love with it. The funny thing about that song is that I woke up one morning and the chorus was just in my head. It was kind of like a nursery rhyme…
…so I grabbed my guitar and started singing it, and Jodi said, “Write that down!” But for sure, I’ve spent a lot of time on the water when I should’ve been doing something else.
How much Spanish did you take in high school, and what’s your connection to the Mavericks’ front man?
I took a couple years of Spanish in high school, but for whatever reason, I was never really good at school. But my stepdad – he was married to my mom, and he’s the father of my youngest brother – was from Mexico. He spoke English but with a heavy accent. And we worked the flea markets; that’s what my mom and Luis did, making and selling metal art. So, we helped them. And the majority of the vendors and people at these things were Spanish-speaking, so we heard a lot of Mexican music – those great polkas. These guys would come out with perfectly starched Wranglers and tall hats. I just thought those Mexican cowboys were so cool when I was growing up.
So yeah, it was my stepdad who really got me into that stuff. I’d attribute what little bit of Spanish I know to that.
And Raul Malo?
Yeah, Michael Guerra who played on this album, too, was part of that group [producer] Tommy Detamore put together for Rollin’ On…he plays for the Mavericks.
We ended up becoming friends after that. And I think Michael sent a copy of Rollin’ On to Raul, saying, “I played on this kid’s record.” Raul ended up liking it. We got in touch with him, and ended up doing a couple shows with him here in Texas. So, it was all on a real “friend” basis. So that song, “El trajabador,” which means “the worker…”
Yeah, I know a few Spanish words myself. More than Peggy Hill…
…Ha! Yeah, so I wanted to send it to him and see if he’d be interested in singing on it. In my mind, I heard him singing on it, and singing harmonies. Long story short, he said he’d like to do it. He recorded his part at his home studio.
2020 has been called “The Great Pause,” at least by a couple artists I’ve interviewed recently. Assuming we don’t have another one of these for a while, what’s next for Jesse Daniel, best-case scenario?
Best-case scenario, our plan is to put out this album on July 30, and just tour the hell out of it like we’re making up for lost time. And we’re gonna be on the road the rest of this year and most of next: West coast, Midwest…and the goal by late 2022 is to hit Europe.
One selfishly hopes that Brother Daniel can squeeze in the American South between the Midwest and Europe.
Buy Beyond These Walls today, wherever you purchase fine music.