There was a bumper crop of good music this year on the Americana Music Show. More albums than ever were submitted to the show. By my rough count, almost twice as many albums hit my inbox in 2013 than 2012. So far I'm proud to say that I was able to give every single one of them a listen.
More important than the quantity, the music coming into my inbox just keeps getting better and better. As you can tell from this list there's a wider variety of music than last year, and albums are showing up from all over the world.
The downside is that lots of good music doesn't make it on to the show. I figure less than 2% of the music submitted to the show makes it on to rotation. To all y'all who have submitted music but didn't make it on to rotation or this year's list, let me say keep trying. Keep writing music. Keep singing songs. Keep booking gigs. And don't stop submitting your music to the show!
Tracks from these lists will be played on the next two episodes of the podcast:
- Episode 171: Part 1, covers #30 - #16
- Episode 172: Part 2, covers #15 -#1 (to be published Dec 30)
And now for this year's list:
2013 Best Of Americana Music Show
It's tough to find a genre label that does any sort of justice to The Wood Brothers album, The Muse. I tend to use "experimental folk rock." But you know there's a significant amount of improvisational jazz in there coming from Chris' Medeski, Martin, and Wood days, not to mention Jano Rixx' drum work. There are strains of string band instrumentation throughout. The harmonies bring back memories of country acts from yesteryear. Seem like just about any element of what you'd call "americana" is in there at some point. But here's the main point I'd make abut The Muse. It is absolutely modern, current, and grounded in the here and now. So much of the music we know as "americana" is nostalgic and reminiscent of the early days of popular music. But The Muse is absolutely an album for 2013, the lyrics are something we can relate to now. the music riffs work in any venue from the heart of New York City to smallest dive in Texas. So even though this album is tough to define and label, I'm happy to call The Muse the best "americana" album of 2013.
Preview The Muse by The Wood Brothers.
The Wood Brothers were featured on episode 161.
JJ Grey and Mofro knock it out of the park again with their 2013 release, This River. They have long been the best swamp rock band working today. There's a loose bluesy feel in their music but it's always had enough of a hard edge to appeal to southern rock fans. Their 2013 album, This River, cranks all that up to 11 but also reels in a heavy dose of funk and soul. If you could only buy one "party album" this year, This River would be the clear choice.
Preview This River by JJ Grey and Mofro.
Moving back to Nashville has been good for Tim Easton on many different levels and his 2013 release Not Cool shows that Tim Easton is a master of that retro-rock sound. Think Jon Spencer/Heavy Trash on steroids. Inspired by what he saw going on at the music clubs, he set out to produce a collection of songs that start from the rockabilly riffs, borrow from the back-porch blues ballads, and mashup boom-chika riffs from Johnny Cash and classic country tunes into an high energy roots rock album that is neither nostalgic nor ironic. It's straight ahead rock and roll the way it was meant to be.
Preview Not Cool by Tim Easton.
Tim Easton was featured on episode 153.
Doug and Telisha Williams renamed themselves to Wild Ponies and applied their top notch songwriting talents to a more rock and roll vibe, producing one of the most emotionally intense albums of the year called Things That Used To Shine. A lot of the tracks have an early Drive By Truckers feel in the sense that the riffs and lyrics sound like authentic back forty rock. The characters in their songs are proud of who they are even if they aren't "winners" and not afraid to do what what's right. Things That Used To Shine has songs about loss, and losing, and getting into trouble with your friends.
The Wild Ponies were featured on episode 168.
John Paul Keith's Memphis Circa 3AM is full of the soul and blues sounds you'd expect to hear from something coming out of Memphis. But these sounds are just the starting point for his music. You have to think of John Paul Keith as a power-pop kind of guy. He's kind of a modern day Buddy Holly with more than a little bit of Elvis Costello's style of songwriting and little bit of Tom Petty's rock and roll vibe. This is an excellent road trip album.
Preview Memphis Circa 3AM by John Paul Keith.
John Paul Keith was featured on episode 170.
Like the title suggests, Mike Stinson's Hell And Half Of Georgia covers a lot of musical territory. There's some singer songwriter stuff, a country and western ballad or two, some fine 12-bar blues-rock, and more than a little garage rock thrown in the mix. Throughout it all, he never forgets that it's his job to entertain you, with thrilling tales of crime gone wrong, to the tragic tales of the every day grind. All the characters in his songs are people you'd like to hang out with, share a beer with, and take it easy for a while.
Mike Stinson was featured on episode 155.
Shannon McNally has done the world a favor by finally releasing her album, Small Town Talk, which is a tribute to the songs of Bobby Charles. He was a hugely under-appreciated songwriter, who wrote hits for folks like Fats Domino and Bill Haley. He also released a few albums of his own which are gems in their own right. It's safe to say he helped put Louisianna on the map in terms of soul and pop music. Shannon McNally has lovingly recorded many of Bobby Charles' early songs, notably from his early 70's self-titled release and she gets a lot of help from many of Bobby Charles' friends, including Dr. John. And through this tribute to his songs, Shannon McNally also shows of her chops as an engaging, charismatic singer.
Preview Small Town Talk by Shannon McNally.
Shannon McNally was featured on episode 149.
It's fitting somehow that the cover of the North Mississippi Allstars album, World Boogie Is Coming, features a huge disco ball lying in a fallow field. It's not so much that the glitzy side of the blues is taking over the world, more that it is coming home to roost. This album strips all the polished, highly produced aspects of the blues away and give you the dirty blues in a big way. It's rough, tough, and rude music produced by, let's face it, some cranky old men who don't really care if you get into their music or not. But if you want to hear the roughest version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" ever produced, this is the album to get.
Kevin Russel, in his shinyribs alter ego, released his second solo project this year, Gulf Coast Museum. Like his music with The Gourds, his songs are about hardscrabble living and hardworking, if not quite socially acceptable, people. He borrows from Gulf Coast musical styles. There's some east Texas blues in there, and a bit of Cajun influence. But it's largely a pop-rock kind of sound, perfect for moseying down the road. The album includes a couple of long time favorites from Gourd's shows so it's a good transition from their music to shinyribs.
Preview Gulf Coast Museum by Shinyribs.
Tony Joe White is one of those few individuals that can claim to be working in the business for five decades. And as a buesman, having been around the block a few times only makes your music better and better. Tony Joe White's 2013 album, HooDoo proves the point. While not exactly a live album, you can tell it's a live to tape kind of thing. A bunch of musicians laying down some amazing natural sounds. On this album, Tony Joe White seems to be exploring the long slow burn style of blues. All nine tracks are just amazingly subtle, moving, dig deep kind of grooves.
Preview Hoodoo by Tony Joe White.
Bill Kirchen is another rock and roll veteran, hailing from the early days of the country/rock fusion and the outlaw country music. He was one of those long-haired types that that got kicked out of Nashville for dropping one too many f-bombs on stage. But at the same time, he was making music that appealed both the the stetson wearing types and the dope-smoking types. His 2013 release, Seeds and Stems, revisits some of the tunes he and his band(s) have personally enjoyed playing over the years and the songs his fans throughout the decades have relied on when they needed a feel-good night.
Preview Seeds And Stems by Bill Kirchen.
Bill Kirchen was featured on episode 159.
In his previous bands, Alex Culbreth always impressed me as an original songwriter, writing ballads that would make Patterson Hood proud. His new band, Alex Culbreth & The Dead Country stars, has released Heart In A Mason Jar that puts just the right sound on those kick ass ballads. These gritty songs about slightly sleazy characters reminds me of Lou Reed, if he'd done country rock. And as an added bonus, there are strains of a Motown like R&B vibe in numbers like "Bang Bang."
Preview Heart In A Mason Jar by Alex Culbreth and the Dead Country Stars.
Alex Culbreth was featured on episode 133.
Both in his solo career and his work as front man for Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty has demonstrated again and again his uncanny ability to reach into the heart and soul of every day people and pull out the good stuff. He and CCR cranked out one americana anthem after another and then there was a period of a few years when these songs weren't performed live any more due to some legal issues. Apparently that's all behind him now because in 2013 John Fogerty released Wrote A Song For Everyone which contains 16 tracks of mostly hits from past years. But he has re-recorded them with a who's who of superstar guests and rearranged the tunes so they sound fresh and new while staying true to the spirit of the originals.
Woody Pines is what I'd call a hunger-driven blues man. He spends most of his time on the road with a rag tag band of musicians, playing for audiences every night. If they like the show, you make enough to eat, if not, well, tough luck. OK that's probably overstating the case a bit, but they play their songs like that. Every single track on Rabbits Motel is designed as pure entertainment whether to make you laugh or cry or dance. Stylistically I'd call it "jump blues," but Woody Pines, because they are so earnest and eager to please, cranks that style up to 11 and they call it "viper blues."
Preview Rabbits Motel by Woody Pines.
Woody Pines was featured on episode 150.
Southeastern by Jason Isbell was credited as the most played Americana album this year by the Americana Music Association. And I have to agree it's a damn fine album. He's changed a lot since his Drive By Truckers days and so has his songwriting. It's a lot more raw and exposed and personal than he used to have. Some stories in this album are almost make you cringe because they are so personal and the music makes it all that more intense. These day's I'd say he's splitting the difference between Ryan Adams and Drive By Truckers. He's more of a singer-songwriter than a rock and roller in a lot of ways. Until you hit tracks, like "Super 8" and then you think, "wow, he can do it all."
Preview Southeastern by Jason Isbell.
Fiddleworms joins the ranks of the few bands in the world that have successfully integrated a full marching band into a rock & roll song. But it's not just a parlor trick, it's just one of the many southern sounds that permeate See The Light, from this Muscle Shoals-based band. You hear some power pop, some southern rock, some pyschadelia, You can almost hear Duane Allman in the background urging the band on and Spooner Oldham inspiring a line or two.
Preview See The Light by Fiddleworms.
The Fiddleworms were featured on episode 148.
Javi Garcia cranks out the kind of rock and roll that parents warn their children against. It's aggressive, rude, sexual, and completely unashamed, just like rock & roll used to be. But at the same time there's room for horn sections, pianos, and actual dynamic crescendos that build up to those wall of sound moments. This is an album that appeals both to music critics and head-bangers everywhere.
Preview The Great Controversy by Javi Garcia.
Javi Garcia was featured on episode 142.
Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, known as Mandolin Orange, just keep getting better and better as songwriters. They are essentially folk music singers with a deep background in string band and bluegrass music. Their lyrics pick at long forgotten, fundamental views of the world, stuff you thought had been buried long ago and replaced with Our Modern World. So every song is full of blank spaces waiting for you to fill in with your past, your history, your outlook on life. And they do it with such tender, beautiful music it's almost a shame they don't play it in church.
Elvis Club is kind of a power pop / rock affair. There are occasional forays into roots rock territory but mostly it's straight up rock & roll album that draws you to the mosh pit like a moth to a flame. And through it all there's a slightly cheesy, eye-wink attitude in the lyrics, like they aren't trying to be a super-serious rock and roll band. Instead they are trying to be a fun rock and roll band and that makes all the difference.
Preview Elvis Club by The Del Lords.
The Del Lords were featured on episode 141.
I mean no disparagement when I say the Delta Saint's album, Death Letter Jubilee is a perfect example of a frat party album. It's a boogie album that has both the head banging rock as well as just enough of a dance beat to it. And like their name implies, it's a swampy, New Orleans-based sound. Lots of smoky guitar work, harmonica, and blues inspired vocals.
The Delta Saints were featured on episode 125.
OK so on the one hand you will listen to Leo Rondeau's Take It And Break It and think this is a fairly standard country rock album with some honkytonk thrown in for good measure. But the secret sauce in Leo's music is that he sounds so earnest and sincere. He sells every song like it's his personal story. And by the time you get to end of the album, not only have you heard some damn good music, you've made a friend.
Preview Take It And Break It by Leo Rondeau.
Leo Rondeau was featured on episode 158.
Sometimes there is just nothing better than an angsty gritty singer telling you about his pain and agony to get you through the day. No one does that middle of the night lonely rock & roll ache better than Michael Rank & Stag. There are rootsy elements through out this album from all the local rock, including rhythm guitar riffs done on mandolin, angsty pedal steel, and classic country drums. But at it’s heart, this latest release, Mermaids, is a rock & roll album.
Preview Mermaids by Michael Rank and Stag.
If there's a sub-genre of rock & roll called drinking rock & roll, then Rich Mahan's Blame Bobby Bare is at the top of the list. As you might expect from the title it's full of 70's era sounding country rock. There's some Gram Parson's inspired guitar work and some Dylan-esque lyrics here and there. But it's all got a slightly boozy feel to it, kind of pleasant haze like when you've had one to many beers at the local pub and you'd rather hang out all night and listen to the music than try to stand up.
Preview Blame Bobby Bare by Rich Mahan.
Rich Mahan was featured on episode 121.
Mando Saenz' 2013 release Studebaker has a lot of sing-along-worthy tunes. With Kim Richey backing him up on vocals, the harmonies have that relaxed feel to them that makes everyone feel comfortable singing along, especially if you're driving down the road and no one's watching. Saenz' voice has just the right amount of twang in it and he delivers the lines of his ballads and road songs with the authority of an experienced traveler who's learned to appreciate the value of getting back home to friends and family. His music has a Ray LaMontagne feel to it. Relaxed, natural, but with a rock & roll backbone.
Preview Studebaker by Mando Saenz.
Mando Saenz was featured on episode 162.
#25 Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday - Donna The Buffalo
If you need a dose of hippie, dippie, feel-good jam-band music, and who doesn't these days, Donna The Buffalo is the band for you and their 2013 release, Tonight, Tomorrow, and Yesterday is dance-in-the-fields album that's feels just right. Like many other jam bands, there's a heavy dose of roots music / traditional music in the mix. And with Donna The Buffalo you also get a good Cajun dance vibe too. It's not the same as going to one of their live festivals, but it will give you a taste of what you need.
Donna The Buffalo was featured on episode 147.
Yvette is a Louisiana-based songwriter and performer. And as you might expect there is some blues and cajun influence showing throw in her songs, but her 2013 release is a honky-tonk effort through and through. Her songs range from ecstatic joy to tear-jerkers to angry woman rants, but every one of them has a boot-scooting shuffle in them. Her voice is strong, with a little bit of twang, but very beautiful at the same time and you can listen to her songs all night long.
Preview No Man's Land by Yvette Landry.
Yvette Landry was featured on episode 152.
Slaid Cleaves' album, Still Fighting The War, is filled with earnest songs about the working class folks. But it's not all about the troubles they face, it's also about their triumphs and success. The language of his lyrics is spot-on authentic. Every line sounds like something you might hear at your local beer joint and lots of them are songs you can sing along to.
Slaid Cleaves was featured on episode 146.
Beth Lee's rock & roll, is simple and straight forward. It's a retro-roots-rock sound, but not nostalgic. It's music designed to frame her voice which is clear and strong and full of conviction, even when she's singing about heartache and woe. Beth Lee claims both Wanda Jackson and Lucinda Williams as influences in her music and you can hear both in her songs.
Beth Lee was featured on episode 140.
Hans Theessink is a Dutch blues man living in Vienna and he's been playing american blues, especially Piedmont style blues and other "finger-picking" styles of blues, for longer than most of us have been alive. His 2013 release covers many famous blues songs that have become personally important to him over the decades because of who he played them with or who he learned them from. What makes this album really special though is it contains a few original tunes that Hans has written, which he rarely does. And his original tunes sound so authentic that you can't tell which ones are his and which ones are from the early 30's.
Preview Wishing Well by Hans Theessink.
Hans Theessink was featured on episode 145.
Take equal parts 60's lounge swing music, guitar surf, and southern white trash and you get Southern Culture On The Skids. Not may people can make songs about pulled pork, banana pudding, trailer parks, and chicken farmers and really make them swing, but that's what Southern Culture On The Skids does. Their 2013 release called Dig This is sort of a greatest hits album. It's a collection of some of their more popular tunes from their live shows over the years rearranged and re-recorded to bring them into the new millennium.
Carrie Rodriguez has one of the most beautiful and compelling the voices of any songwriter working today. She could sing the phone book and make everyone in the room pay attention. Fortunately, the songs on Give Me All You Got are perfect for her voice. They are typically about relationships and love, whether ecstatic, crazy, or bad. She covers it all. Her backing band, has just enough roots music feel to it to keep her grounded and she gets to highlight her fiddle playing on this album too. Give Me All You Got is probably the first album that is all Carrie Rodriguez through and through and it's a joy to listen to.
Carrie Rodriguez was featured on episode 138.
Jonathan Byrd and Chris Kokesh met at a songwriting conference and decided to record some folk songs together under the name Barn Birds. The result is amazing. Their songs will take you back to the days when music was a social event to be shared and participated in, not just consumed. These songs are simple and beautiful and full of lyrics we can all relate to. I believe most if not all of these tracks are originals but they sound like songs that could have been written hundreds of years ago.
Preview the Barn Birds self-titled album.
The Barn Birds were featured on episode 164.
Sometime you just need to some head banging rock & roll. Blue Heart from Too Slim & The Taildraggers will fit the bill nicely. Lots of the lyrics and riffs have a southern blues base. You got harmonicas and funky bass lines. Seems like I hear strains of Allman Brothers in the guitar work and the lead vocals are full of yearning and angst like any good rock album should.
Ganey Arsement's Le Forgeron is about half Cajun music, full of accordion, upbeat rhythms, and lyrics that are half in English and half in French. They are foot tappers designed to get everyone on the dance floor moving. The rest of the songs are more of an east Texas blues sound good to have on at your next crawfish boil. If you have never had a Cajun album in your collection, Le Forgeron is a great one to start with, because it's true to the form but designed to entertain.
Preview Le Forgeron by Ganey Arsement.
Band Of Heathens is undergoing a lot of changes these days, but Sunday Morning Record proves they are still the quintessential Austin band. It's full of relaxed, back-porch rock & roll music that has just a hint of hippie in it and lots of positive vibes. There's also a smoothness that kind of reminds you of the Tulsa sound ala Mark Knopfler.
The Band Of Heathens were featured on episode 166.
Underhill rose is a trio from Asheville and I like to think of them as ambassadors of Appalachian string band music. It's very traditional sounding string band music with guitar, bass, and banjo, but they write original tunes about their lives and travels. Their beautiful, feminine voices harmonize well together and they have an emotional presence that is rare in a string band.
Preview Something Real by Underhill Rose.
Underhill Rose were featured on episode 167.
The thing you gotta love about Tokyo Rosenthal's music is that he writes songs about stuff that no one else writes about. For example Tokyo's Fifth has a song about a small town in Ireland called Killaloe which commemorated a pub in the town and the loss of one of it's beloved patrons. The song won him honors and praise from the entire town. He's a true troubadour in the ancient sense of the word and the world needs more songwriters like Toke.
Preview Tokyo's Fifth by Tokyo Rosenthal.
Tokyo Rosenthal was featured on episode 122.
Kenny Roby is probably the most literary of the songwriters on this year's list. His 2013 album Memories and Birds is full of sketches of characters from past decades, from small boys to jaded housewives to broken veterans. The music is lush, atmospheric, and reflects the inner world of all the characters.
Preview Memories & Birds by Kenny Roby.
Kenny Roby was featured on episode 144.
From the opening chords of The Why And The What For, you know that Semi-Twang has lined up a big rock & roll band sound, full of sax and piano, and lots of screaming lead guitars done up in a roots rock style. And yes, there's lots of twang in there giving it a CCR kind of vibe. What I like most about this album is its infectious upbeat mood. This is another great album to have in your car for road trips.
Barrence Whitfield's Dig Thy Savage Soul tells you exactly what you're gonna get, if you know how to parse the title. Yes, it's soul music, based on the the lyrics and structure of the songs. But it's soul music played by savages. It's a hard heavy metal approach to soul music. It's the hardest hitting music on this year's list and it's somehow, someway, refreshing to hear soul music done this way.