Dec 20, 2022
Dec 15, 2022
Achingly real, passionately delivered, What Else Can She Do is short in length, but long on heart. From the broken relationship of “It Won’t Always Be This Way” to the familial sorrows of “Blood,” Kaitlin’s voice is a warm hand holding ours as we walk through a bleak landscape of addiction, bad jobs, and lost dreams. Despite that dour description, it’s somehow an uplifting journey.
2. 49 Winchester - Fortune Favors the Bold
The future is now as 49 Winchester delivers on all the buzz with this boozy, honky tonk banger. There are party tunes that don’t make you feel pandered to and tearjerkers that aren’t paint by number. I started to list the standouts, but realized that most of Fortune Favors the Bold's 10 songs fit the bill.
3. The Vandoliers - s/t
Mixing Red Dirt, pop punk, and other influences, Vandoliers have quickly become one of my favorite bands. Their ear-pleasing, danceable music sounds like nothing and everything you’ve heard before. A well oiled live act, they bring that vibrant sound to their records better than most, and this album’s no exception. More than most bands in the “scene,” Vandoliers sound like they ought to have big hits… somewhere, somehow.
4. Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Sprawling, weird, messy, endearing. From the title to the run time to the occasional vocal idiosyncrasies, Dragon can be a beast to get into for the musically unadventurous, but it’s well worth your time. Equal parts folk, country, and indie rock, the album is an epic listen that somehow leaves you wanting more. The melodies are the heart, and the lyrics are the soul - sometimes abstract, sometimes hilariously to the point.
5. Ben Chapman - Make the Night Better
This is an album you could put on at a party and not a soul would complain, despite nobody having any idea who’s singing. There’s the fun Brad Paisley-esque humor of “10 Feet of Regret,” the soulful barroom sadness of “Strangers,” the welcoming mid-tempo swagger of “Kentucky Deluxe,” and everything in between you could ask for. It’s a songwriter’s record, in the Nashville sense of that description, but it’s as big in message as it is in wordplay.
6. Ian Noe - River Fools & Mountain Saints
Sounding as mystical and eternal as the Appalachian mountains, Ian has another winner with River Fools. It’s timeless stuff, digging into your soul with Noe’s Dylan-with-vocal-lessons delivery and setting the hook with the lived-in stories. There’s an undeniable magnetism in this music that’s both hospitable and intimidating at once. Ian’s a force of nature.
7. Aaron Raitiere - Single Wide Dreamer
Another songwriter’s record, Single Wide Dreamer isn’t afraid to get silly and grimy, like the seedier side of Kacey Musgraves’ trailer park. Drawing from influences like Prine and Roger Miller, and backed by some of Nashville’s finest, Raitiere sings with a conversational tone, a knowing wink, and a hinted at darkness. Hilarious and comfortably cynical, Single Wide Dreamer is a nimble look into the mind of one of Nashville’s best ‘unknown’ writers.
8. The Wilder Blue - s/t
Those harmonies. That’s all you need really, but then there’s the expert musicianship and resonant songs to go along with those spine chilling vocals, and The Wilder Blue have a true gem of an album. The bouncy 70s vibe laden “Feelin’ the Miles” is the standout for me, but there’s not a clunker in the bunch. These guys deserve a shot in the upper pantheon of Americana, and one of these days they’ll get it.
9. Miko Marks & The Resurrectors - Feel Like Going Home
Bursting with country soul, Feel Like Going Home will take you from church to the blues dive with a stop at the country store along the way. Feel Like Going Home sounds like the best parts of 70s AM radio (when they played all genres on the same stations) put together on one record. Miko sings wonderfully, the band kicks ass, and the songs are thrillingly moving. Memphis, the Delta, Nashville, New Orleans, Muscle Shoals - Feel Like Going Home finds its heart at the midpoint of these legendary music towns.
10. Michaela Anne - Oh to Be That Free
To these ears, the prettiest album released this year, Oh to Be That Free sounds blissful and even wistful, but there’s plenty of depth to be had here. “Chasing Days” documents Anne’s move toward settled independence after a chaotic childhood. “Mountains and Mesas” seeks solace in a darkening world. Michaela’s writing reveals complex emotion with simple words, often bringing to mind Robert Frost’s conversational tone that hides meaning in plain sight. It’s a beautiful album with so much more to offer in repeated listens.
16. Kelsey Waldon - No Regular Dog
17. Amanda Shires - Take it Like a Man
18. Tami Neilson - Kingmaker
19. Band of Horses - Things Are Great
20. Plains - I Walked With You a Ways
21. John Fullbright - The Liar
22. Willi Carlisle - Peculiar, Missouri
23. Bri Bagwell - Corazon y Cabeza
24. Randall King - Shot Glass
25. Courtney Patton - Electrostatic
Honorable Mentions: Zach Bryan - American Heartbreak, The Sheepdogs - Outta Sight, Jason Scott & The High Heat - Castle Rock, Pusha T - It’s Almost Dry, Hailey Whitters - Raised, Drew Kennedy - Marathon, American Aquarium - Chicamacomico, Whiskey Myers - Tornillo, The Cactus Blossoms - One Day, Sunny Sweeney - Married Alone, Randy Rogers Band - Homecoming, Emily Nenni - On the Ranch, Charley Crockett - The Man From Waco, Kendell Marvel - Come on Sunshine, Red Clay Strays - Moment of Truth, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway - Crooked Tree, John Calvin Abney - Tourist.
Feb 15, 2015
Jan 9, 2015
by Kelcy Salisbury
2014 was a momentous year for me in a lot of ways, personally & professionally. These are the best things that I experienced, discovered, or rediscovered in the past year, in no particular order.
Jason Boland & The Stragglers with Chris Knight live at Joe's on Weed Street.
Joe's has a lot of history in "TX/Red Dirt" music, especially for a venue in Chicago. This past summer I checked 2 firsts off my list: I saw a show at Joe's & I saw Chris Knight. It was everything I'd hoped for & then some. I met Chris Knight - he killed a bunch of people in song - but I'm still here for now.
Ray Wylie Hubbard live was everything I'd hoped for & then some. Ray put on a great show in a really cool room, was gracious enough to put me on his guest list though we'd never met, and was just about the coolest cat to talk to that you'd ever hope to meet. Ray Wylie Hubbard is exactly who you think he is, only better.
I finally started listening to American Aquarium & now I'm sad that Burn, Flicker, Die didn't make it into my best of 2013 list. These guys are going to lead the charge to take back country music right alongside Turnpike Troubadours. They're the truth.
I discovered Fistful Of Beard a few months too late to ever see a live show, which is quite a shame, but they left behind one really good album.
I finally got around to listening to John Fullbright's solo stuff around the time my daughter was born. She's 10 months old & Song For A Child might be her favorite song.
I rediscovered, through my daughter, how much FUN music is supposed to be. She already loves music & she already knows how to find John Fullbright, The Trisha's, Jason Boland & Brandy Clark on my phone whenever she's feeling like an impromptu dance party. Her favorite dancing song is probably Mike Ness (of Social Distortion) covering I Fought The Law, and if you've never seen this child jam out to that song, I feel bad for you.
Jan 6, 2015
You'll note this list excludes Sturgill Simpson's masterpiece, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. Much like Jason Isbell's Southeastern last year, that album has gotten so much coverage that there's really nothing to add. It's a potentially genre redefining masterwork.
That said, these are the albums (out of what I heard this year) that topped my personal list.
Call it alt country, call it country rock, call it whatever you like, just call it good! Loveless has a wonderfully smoky vocal quality, the music is well done, but the songwriting really sets this apart. "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" may be a bit too obscure a literary reference for the pop-country crowd, but Loveless doesn't seem to care. She throws it all out there with a tale-it-or-leave-it attitude & that's the biggest appeal of this album that in any other year would likely be in my top-5 or better.
I will admit to being a huge Waylon Jennings fan, so just the opportunity to hear his voice on some (kind of) new tracks predisposed me to want to listen to this album. In Waylon's autobiography he mentioned that his son was a fan of 90s industrial bands such as Ministry, and that he too had developed an appreciation for that sound. Now we finally get to hear the project that a then-16 Shooter made with his father back in the 90s. It's not a country album by any stretch, it's an industrial album of mostly Waylon tunes & it works. Standout tracks include the Shooter-penned I Found The Body & White Room, but the whole thing is a really cool passion project that worked on a level I never expected.
I reviewed this one earlier in the year, so I won't spend a ton of space on it other than to say that it's one of the top 3 Billy Bob's albums ever made, in my opinion. It captures the band at the height of their Rance Cox period & it's raw, real, energetic & in-your-face. Jackson's Social Distortion meets Billy Joe Shaver sound is at it's zenith here & the DVD is also killer.
I got into Johns solo work a little late, though I'd seen him as a member of Turnpike Troubadours in the earliest days of that band. This isn't really a country album & it's not a folk album either. It's just an album of songs & some pretty fine ones. The One Who Lives Too Far is absolutely amazing songwriting, and the whole album is just effortlessly cool.
There are divorce albums & then there is this one. The most brutally honest lyrics of Stoney's career accompanied by lush, if subtle harmonies make this a beautiful yet still bold artistic statement.
Unfortunately this album is not yet readily available. Physical copies can be purchased through Tyler's Facebook page, but it's not on iTunes yet. That's an incredible shame because this is music that needs to be heard. Old Crow & Monsters truly stand out.
The younger Braun brothers have made a statement that perhaps surpasses even Reckless Kelly. It's primarily an album of love songs, but retains the driving, whiskey-soaked feel of previous MMC albums. There's not a weak track; be sure to listen to the whole thing.
(*Editor's note - This is a 2013 release but I'll let it slide since he said "best I've heard this year")
This album gives me more hope for the future of mainstream country music than anything I've heard in a while, including Kacey Musgraves. It's been covered ad infinitum in other places, so I won't go track by track, suffice to say it's hands-down the best mainstream country album I've heard all year. If you have to sample tracks check out Hungover & Take A Little Pill.
I'm a sucker for songwriting. I'll admit it. If you've got something to say, something that HAS to be said, something with some urgency to it, I'm going to listen more closely.
That said, nothing I heard all year packed the same gut-pinch intensity of Matt Woods tour-de-force, With Love From Brushy Mountain. Woods singing voice might not be for everyone, and I don't see how anybody can maintain the level of intensity that this album contains for the long term. But even if Woods never records another song, Dead Mans Blues, Lying On The Floor & the title track could be the future benchmark for intensity in songwriting. Do yourself a favor & give this one a couple of very hard listens.