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.
This episode features tracks from albums #15-#1 on the 2013 Best of Americana Music Show list.
Southeastern by Jason Isbell won Best Album of the Year from 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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All music on the Americana Music Show has been submitted to the show by the artist or their agent for promotional purposes and is used with permission. The episode as a whole is copyright 2013 by Taproot Media.
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