It's my favorite time of the year! Nope, not Christmas. Time for the annual Best of Americana Music Show list. I always enjoy looking back at all the albums since the beginning of the year and thinking tomyself, wow that album came out a long time ago! It's like revisiting old friends.
As always, I make no claims about this list representing the best of the industry or the best of the americana genre. But in 2016 I auditioned over 600 albums, so I feel like I have a pretty good cross section. And, as you all know, my definition of "americana" is a lot broader than most. That's part of what makes my show unique and why I think my "best of" list stands apart from others.
Best Of Lists are inherently subjective. I don't use play counts or any other artificial criteria. I use the gut check method. I look at the list of every album and do a gut check test to select the albums that go on the list. My gut check is, "how much entertainment does my audience get from this album?" The first time I went through the list I came up with 150 albums, So I went through that list of 150 and weeded out some more. And then a third time. And then a fourth. Yes it took me four iterations to get the list down to 40. And it was more and more painful each time to leave albums out. I say this to point out that if your (or your favorite) album didn't make the list, don't think it's because I thought your album was "bad." If I played even one song from your album on the show or included it in rotation even one week, it's because I was proud to do so.
- Listen to Episode 332 - Best of Americana Music Show 2016, Part 1. Release date December 20, 2016
- Listen to Episode 333 - Best of Americana Music Show 2016, Part 2. Release date December 27, 2016
1. The Honeycutters / On The Ropes
Amanda Anne Platt, lead singer/songwriter for the Honeycutters, is a master songwriter, not because she finds unusual metaphors, creates cute wordplay, or buries deep psychological meaning in her lyrics, but because her songs are so effortlessly conversational. She's like that old friend at the bar who sidles up to you real close, in your personal space, and grabs your forearm to get your attention because she really really wants to make sure you get what she's telling you. Her songs are poignant, funny in an everyday sort of way, heartfelt, and authentic. The Honeycutter's On The Ropes is a good friend when you need one the most.
Listen to an interview with Amanda Platt of the Honeycutters and tracks from On The Ropes on episode 304.
Preview On The Ropes by The Honeycutters.
2. Drive-By Truckers / American Band
It's been an election year in the United States and as usual many songwriters out there tried to Make A Political Statement with their music. Most of them just embarrassed themselves. Here's a clue. Any time you make art serve politics, it suffers. This is a truism that goes back thousands of years. Plus, you are guaranteed to piss off people who don't share your political beliefs. Not a good way to build a following. Which leads me to The Drive-by Truckers' latest album, American Band. While there are moments on this album that skirt dangerously close to being too political, there are a number of songs on this album that manage to stick to universal truths while mindfully making comments on current events and the zeitgeist of the times. Plus, it's the Drive-by Trucker's unique blend of twang and heartland rock & roll. As much as I enjoy Patterson Hood's work, I have to say Mike Cooley is one of the most underrated songwriters working today. I predict his songwriting is going to stand the test of time. If you don't believe me, check out "Once They Banned Imagine."
Preview American Band by the Drive-by Truckers.
3. Malcolm Holcombe / Another Black Hole
Malcolm Holcomb's music is absolutely unique. If you have to call it something, call it folk. But we're not talking folk music written by whiny emo hipsters at the local coffeehouse. I think Malcolm Holcombe must be as old as the North Carolina mountains he comes from and he just doesn't quite see the world the way the rest of us do. So he writes the folk music of crotchety old men who have seen it all and don't suffer fools. The world needs more songwriters like that. Another Black Hole proves that Malcolm Holcombe is at the top of his game. He's got the usual haunting, face slapping folks sounds on this album but several tracks have a definite rock & roll vibe.
Listen to an interview with Malcolm Holcombe and tracks from Another Black Hole on episode 285.
Preview Another Black Hole by Malcolm Holcombe.
4. Jim Lauderdale / This Changes Everything
When I first heard Jim Lauderdale's country album This Changes Everything, I thought "Wow, what is this new vibe in country music he has discovered?" Took me a long time to nail it down because it has a lot of the typical honkytonk vibe running through it but there was a little something different. It finally dawned on me. This is a mostly HAPPY honkytonk country album. The opening/title track is an unbridled love song. Are you allowed to do that? Apparently so! Even the songs about love lost have a positive vibe running through them.
Preview This Changes Everything by Jim Lauderdale.
5. Tony Joe White / Rain Crow
Not many men can take credit for singlehandedly creating a sound. Tony Joe White is one of them. You can call it swamp rock or swamp blues if you want. Yeah, a lot of musicologists might say Tony Joe White got a lot of his sound from JJ Cale, but he puts on layers and layers of thick fuzzy undercurrents befitting the swamps he comes from and turns it into something new. Rain Crow is a collection of songs about people who come from those swamps. The sound is a little dark, a little mysterious, a little mythical.
Listen to an interview with Tony Joe White and tracks from Rain Crow on episode 300.
Preview Rain Crow by Tony Joe White.
6. Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms / Innocent Road
My tagline for Caleb Klauder is that he writes original music that sounds like the type of country music my grandparents enjoyed, but all his songs are completely original and fit right in with the times. It's tough to keep up with all the different band incarnations Klauder has put together over the years. But on this latest album, Innocent Road, he teams up with long-time music partner Reeb Willms and serves up a nice collection just right for next week's jamboree. There are a few Reeb Willms led songs, a few Caleb Klauder led songs and a few duets that have a classic country duet vibe to them.
Listen to an interview with Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms and tracks from Innocent Road on episode 324.
Preview Innocent Road by Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms
7. Dale Watson / Live at The Big T Roadhouse
As a rule, it's tough for a live album to win me over. The limitations of an album format tend to get in the way of the live vibe they are trying to capture. But Dale Watson's Live At The Big T Roadhouse nails it. They managed to capture the ambience and vibe of the roadhouse in a recording and you can imagine yourself there sipping on a beer chewing the fat with your friends, playing chicken shit bingo with everyone else. And it's the perfect environment for Dale and his band. There's the foot tapping honkytonk numbers, there's the tear in your beer numbers, there's a few cajun numbers.
Preview Live At The Big T Roadhouse by Dale Watson
8. Michael Rank / Red Hand
Michael Rank's Red Hand conjures up echoes of the 1970s soft rock era. Think Cat Stevens with a fiddle and twang, He again gets a lot of help from Heather McEntire of Mt. Moriah with vocals creating earnest vocals full of yearning energy. The sound on the album is amazing. It is its own world and it would all collapse if the music couldn't rely on the strength of Michael's lyrics.
Listen to an interview with Michael Rank and track from Red Hand on episode 318.
Preview Red Hand by Michael Rank.
9. Luther Dickinson / Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger's Songbook) Volumes I & II
This album is so many things I don't know where to start. It's a tribute back to the day when music was still captured on and primarily transmitted by song sheets and lyrics. it's inspired by a bluesman by the name of Otha Turner who gave him some ideas. It's a historical record, documenting some sounds of "blues fife and drums." And above all, it's a record of Luther's amazing musicianship and ear for the blues. `
Preview Blues & Ballads by Luther Dickinson.
10. Town Mountain / Southern Crescent
Town Mountain is one of my favorite string bands. Their sound is a little bit Appalacian mountain music, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit boogiewoogie. And it's always entertaining. Yes they have a foot in decades past, but you needn't have lived through the era of the Southern Crescent to enjoy Southern Crescent.
Listen to an interview with Town Mountain and tracks from Southern Crescent on episode 308.
Preview Southern Crescent by Town Mountain.
11. Nathan Bell / I Don't Do This For Love, I Do This For Love
Nathan Bell is one of the best songwriters you've never heard of. He's a veteran of the Nashville music scene and folks who know what they're talking about compare Nathan Bell favorably with Steve Earle. He dropped out of the music business for a couple of decades but now he's back, wiser, angrier, and more tuned in to the American Experience than ever before. His songs tell you something about yourself that you didn't know was in you.
Preview I Don't Do This For Love, I Do This For Love by Nathan Bell.
12. Lucinda Williams / The Ghosts Of Highway 20
If you think you know Lucinda Williams and her music but you haven't heard Ghosts Of Highway 20, you don't know Lucinda Williams. I like to tell folks that "Lucinda Williams has gone full Tony Joe White," but that doesn't help people really understand. Let's just say that if Lucinda Williams was starting fresh today you'd call her a blues singer. A very sad, beautiful, strong blues singer. On The Ghosts Of Highway 20, Lucinda illiams tests the limits of sadness and angst to find the beautiful bits of humanity that are strong enough to survive.
Preview The Ghosts Of Highway 20 by Lucinda Williams.
13. Bonnie Bishop / Ain't Who I Was
Ain't Who I Was by Bonnie Bishop is a haymaker of an album. Lord knows she's not the first country artists to crossover into soul music, she's just the latest to do so. But wow she nails it. She gives every song just the right amount of emotional gut punch that you love so much in soul music. Her backing band sounds like they are straight outta 1968. In addition to her cover of Anne Sexton's "Mercy," make sure you check out "Not Cause I Wanted To."
Preview Ain't Who I Was by Bonnie Bishop.
14. God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
Sweet Jesus this is a great album. Blind Willie Johnson was a blues and gospel singer who had about five recording sessions in the late 1920's or so. He only recorded around 30 songs or so. And yet he's one of the most influential singers of his time. This album is a who's who compilation of Blind Willie Johnson covers, including the likes of Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, Sinéad O'Connor, Luther Dickinson and many more. The album is a proudly gospel album. But the arrangements modern rock and blues arrangements that will blow you away, even if you aren't Christian.
15. Cris Jacobs / Dust to Gold
Cris Jacobs is an experienced rock & roll singer who's been honing a vibe for many years that's both resonant and emotional and full on in-your-face rock & roll. He knows when you need to hear a wall of sound, he knows when you need to hear him wail. He knows when you need to cry. And that's exactly what you want from a songwriter.
Listen to an interview with Cris Jacobs and tracks from Dust To Gold on episode 327.
Preview Dust To Gold by Cris Jacobs.
16. Eli Paperboy Reed / My Way Home
Eli Paperboy Reed's My Way Home has an earnest urban soul sound to it. Parts of it sound like the soundtrack of a 1970's blaxsploitation film. Parts of it sound like sermon. Parts of it sound like a rousing anthem. This album's got the funk, got the soul.
Listen to an interview with Eli Paperboy Reed and tracks from My Way Home on episode 323.
Preview My Way Home by Eli Paperboy Reed.
17. Hard Working Americans / Rest In Chaos
Sometimes what you really need is some crank-it-up rock & roll. Tunes to play when you're driving at instantly-arrestable speeds. For those times, make sure you have Rest In Chaos by Todd Snider's Hard Working American's band. What sets this album apart is the how much variety there is in the 13 tracks. Every single track on this album will satisfy a different mood.
Preview Rest In Chaos by Hard Working Americans.
18. Arty Hill / Live: Church On Saturday Night
Arty Hill is a honkytonker's honkytonker. When he announces a new album all the DJs I know stumble over themselves to be the first to play his music on their show. But this album was a surprise, it just started showing up in people's mailboxes with no fanfare or announcement. And what's on the CD? I an awesome live show that's high-test, double distilled top-shelf country rock.
Listen to an interview with Arty Hill and tracks from Live: Church On Saturday Night on episode 326.
Preview Live: Church On Saturday Night by Arty Hill.
19. Beth Lee & The Breakups / Keep Your Mouth Shut
Beth Lee & The Breakups are an Austin-based roots rock band. They Keep It Simple, which I appreciate a lot.The sound is early 60's garage rock adapted to modern times. The sound sets the stage for Beth Lee's vocals that range from waifish and tender to chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out. She sells every song with heart, soul, and coy wink that keeps you hanging on every word
Listen to an interview with Beth Lee and tracks from Keep Your Mouth Shut on episode 303.
Preview Keep Your Mouth Shut by Beth Lee & The Breakups.
20. Jack Grelle / Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down
Jack Grelle's sound on Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down sounds like pure country. If you don't pay attention to the lyrics much you might think it's in the vein of Townes Van Zandt or John Prine. But then when you start paying attention you start to realize that his songs are actually pretty subversive and thought provoking, well, kinda like Townes Van Zandt.
Preview Got Dressed Up To Be Let Down by Jack Grelle.
21. Southern Culture On The Skids / The Electric Pinecones
Nobody does the back-woods, trailer-park garage rock psychedelic sound better than Southern Culture On The Skids. Come to think of it, no one else is doing the back-woods, trailer-park garage rock psychedelic sound. Part of what's so amazing about their sound on Electric Pinecones is how positive, wholesome, and (I'll say it) family friendly the music is. I think it's awesome.
Preview The Electric Pinecones by Southern Culture On The Skids.
22. Lonesome Shack / The Switcher
The Switcher by Lonesome Shack is full of heavy, fuzzy, trancey blues rock backing blown-out vocals and I could listen to it for hours. There's enough of an homage to backwoods North Mississippi blues that the album stays grounded.
Listen to an interview with Lonesome Shack and tracks from The Switcher on episode 316.
Preview The Switcher by Lonesome Shack.
23. Jubal Clark / Jubal Clark The Man And His Music
This is kind of a Best Of album for Jubal Clark. It's a collection of some of his live performances plus selected tracks from his few album releases. He was born too a very poor family in west Texas and move to Austin in the 1970's, which is when he wrote and recorded most of his songs. Not only are these songs fun, entertaining, and clever, I think they capture a lot of the spirit and vibe that made Austin so weird and interesting during that time.
Preview Jubal Clark: The Man And His Music.
24. Margo Price / Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Midwest Farmer's Daughter elevates Margo Price to the top tier of classic country women singers. Her vocals are both high-lonesome, strong, and feminine. The songs are about the big markers in people's lives, losing loved-ones, losing the family farm, drinking to much, etc. And all these down and out songs only serve to highlight Margo Price's strength and resilience.
Preview Midwest Farmer's Daughter by Margo Price.
25. Ivas John / Good Days a Comin'
There are lots of string bands / pickers out there who are very accomplished at their instrument. But there aren't so many that are also entertaining as hell. Ivas John is one of those folks. Good Days A Comin' is full fo good down-home back porch music that's easy to listen to and easy to tap your foot to.
Preview Good Days A Comin' by Ivas John
26. Becky Warren / War Surplus
Becky Warren is a tough-as-nails songwriter with an eye for those gritty real-life details that make you go, "dang!" On War Surplus she turns here eye to the folks who serve in the military and the fall out to their relationships that comes from it. Her insights are amazing and she never forgets that she's making a rock & roll album.
Listen to an interview with Becky Warren and tracks from War Surplus on episode 331.
Preview War Surplus by Becky Warren.
27. Mudcrutch / 2
Tom Petty's Mudcrutch incarnation has released their second album, simply called 2. And honestly, not much needs to be said other than that to get me to listen to it. Tom Petty is one of the foundational artists in that american heartland sound and the rest of the guys in Mudcrutch get it too. So their resulting sound is american heartland rock dialed up to 11.
Preview 2 by Mudcrutch.
28. Colvin & Earle / Colvin & Earle
The Colvin & Earle self-titled album is tough to separate from your opinion of Steve Earle. If you're into what Earle's been doing lately, you'll like thsi album. Having said that, Shawn Colvin isn't exactly a wallflower on this album. There's no danger of her being overshadowed by her more famous music partner. She holds her own on every song.
Preview Colvin & Earle.
29. Hayes Carll / Lovers And Leavers
So Hayes Carll is trading in his rogue country outlaw persona for a persona that's more introspective and thoughtful. Well, that threw me for a loop the first time I threw the CD into the car player. But after I adjusted my expectations, I was very happy to realize what a good songwriter he is. This is a very welcome addition to his catalog.
Listen to an interview with Hayes Carll and tracks from Lovers And Leavers on episode 312.
Preview Lovers And Leavers by Hayes Carll.
30. Karen Jonas / Country Songs
I've enjoyed Karen Jonas' songwriting ever since her days with the Parlor Soldiers. She's kinda got this vibe of someone who has spent more than her fair share of time hanging out at the local bar with all the other long-timers. So it's only a natural progression for her to turn her attention to really digging into the core of country music. Hint: it starts with a broken heart.
Listen to an interview with Karen Jonas and tracks from Country Songs on episode 322.
Preview Country Songs by Karen Jonas.
31. Seth Walker / Gotta Get Back
Seth Walker has always had an ear for funky riffs and ear worms in his music. But this time he teamed up with Jano Rixx as producer and together they have cranked out a collection of songs that are Grade-A head-boppers. Of course there's more than a little bit of twang infused into the Dr. John inspired 'tude. Very fun.
Listen to an interview with Seth Walker and tracks from Gotta Get Back on episode 320.
Preview Gotta Get Back by Seth Walker.
32. Matt Patershuk / I Was So Fond Of You
After one listen to Matt Patershuk's I Was So Fond Of You, I declared him to be one of Canada's best kept songwriting secrets. It probably has to do with the fact that he's lived the blue collar life he sings about, not to mention he's not afraid to sing about the tragedies in his life, not to mention the fact he has an ear for dramatic riffs.
Listen to an interview with Matt Patershuk and tracks from I Was So Fond Of You on episode 298.
Preview I Was So Fond Of You by Matt Patershuk.
33. Corin Raymond / Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams
The opening track on Corin Raymond's Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams will leave you slack-jawed. It's like there's no where to go from that haunting sound. Fortunately he knows how to start from there and take you on a sonic journey through some sort of Universal Psyche. It's a rewarding journey, but not for the faint-hearted.
Listen to an interview with Corin Raymond and tracks from Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams on episode 296.
Preview Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams by Corin Raymond.
34. Owen Campbell / Breathing Bullets
Owen Campbell's Breathing Bullets album is another entry in the just-plain-good-rock&roll category on this year's Best Of Americana Music Show. His sound is a little less wall-of-sound (although there's plenty of that) and more of a rock & roll outlaw troubadour kind of thing. His voice has that late-night quality and he complements the vocals with just the right about of backup singer vocals to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Listen to an interview with Owen Campbell and tracks from Breathing Bullets on episode 328.
Preview by Breathing Bullets by Owen Campbell.
35. Chatham County Line / Autumn
Chatham County Line is practically an institution in our area of North Carolina. They have been playing acoustic stringband music together for so many years they have a rabidly loyal following and a huge catalog of material. This fan base gives them the opportunity to experiment with their sound and the song forms they use and it shows on Autumn. And it's an awesome moving experience to listen to these songs. Not your grampa's bluegrass by any stretch.
Listen to an interview with Chatham County Line and tracks from Autumn on episode 319.
Preview Autumn by Chatham County Line.
36. Boo Ray / Sea Of Lights
Ok, Boo Ray has the deep-drawled country rock sound. He sings about the good stuff and the bad stuff with equal enthusiasm like it's all just changes from one day to the next. You gotta take the bad stuff in stride and Boo Ray's Sea Of Lights will help you do that.
Listen to an interview with Boo Ray and tracks from Sea Of Lights on episode 315.
Preview Sea Of Lights by Boo Ray.
37. Hymn For Her / Drive Til U Die
Hymn For Her is one of the hardest working bands I know. I've heard bands talk about living on the road but Lucy and Wayne (and their daughter) literally live on the road, pulling an airstream trailer behind them that serves as both their home and their recording studio. And it shows in their music. Always the newcomers to town they can see stuff the rest of us can't and they know how to turn that into some pretty damn good rock & roll.
Listen to an interview with Hymn For Her and tracks from Drive Til U Die on episode 330.
Preview Drive Til You Die by Hymn For Her.
38. Yarn / This Is the Year
Yarn's This Is The Year is sort of an anthem about where they are in life, hitting their stride, getting it all figured out, getting things done. The result is a smooth, confident, and musical album. And it's universal. It can be your anthem album too if you need one.
Listen to an interview with Yarn and tracks from This Is The Year on episode 314.
Preview This Is The Year by Yarn.
39. Reckless Kelly / Sunset Motel
Reckless Kelly's Sunset Motel album is one of those things that can only come from a band that's been working together for a decade or two. It's comfortable, familiar, not the least bit flashy and feels oh so right. If you are looking to try on some well-worn country rock that knows exactly what you need, this is a good album for you.
Preview Sunset Motel by Reckless Kelly.
40. Andy Ferrell / At Home And In Nashville
Imagine a guy who lives deep in the North Carolina mountains who's been to fair number of Merelfest's over the years. Now imagine the kinds of songs he'd write and you've got a pretty good idea of what Andy Ferrell's sound is like. Yes, its' grounded in traditional instruments and old time songs. But he writes for himself and his generation and its fun to hear hem belt out his lyrics.
Listen to an interview with Andy Ferrell and tracks from At Home And In Nashville on episode 302.
Preview At Home And In Nashville by Andy Ferrell.
- Plott Hounds / Thirsty For Something
- Milagro Saints / Stranger Times
- Lydia Loveless / Real
- Sarah Borges / Good And Dirty
- Eric Ambel / Lakeside
- Grant-Lee Phillips / The Narrows
- Julie Rhodes / Bound to Meet the Devil
- The Cactus Blossoms / You're Dreaming
- Aaron Lee Tasjan / Silver Tears
- The Felice Brothers / Life in the Dark
- Keegan Mcinroe / Uncouth Pilgrims
- Good Intentions / The Long Unbroken Line
- Wild Ponies / Radiant
- The Walcotts / Let The Devil Win
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