If you join the Americana Music Show community site, I consider you to be one of the show producers. Not just because your membership fee helps pay the bills around here, but because your input, feedback, recommendations, and guidance are key to keeping the show on track and headed in the right direction.
To that end, I gave all of the show producers an opportunity to share their picks for Best of 2015 and here's what I received. Enjoy!
Once again, Kevin Gordon has put out a roots-genius album: LONG GONE TIME. Straight to the boogie swamp of my soul. Favorite cut: "GTO" -- and it's got the coolest videohttps://youtu.be/A_bkneB4vPY (Paul Griffith and Joe McMahan join him outside my fave diner: Charlie Bob's on Dickerson Road in Nashville)
And J.D. McPherson got me up an dancing again. We need more of this on the radio: LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL. Favorite track: "Let the Good Times Roll"
Here is my Top 10 Americana list for 2015. I am not a music critic, so make no representations that this is the best music of the year. These are just the albums that I truly enjoyed and found myself listening to most often over the course of the year. I used NO DEPRESSION website’s preliminary list of 2015 Americana albums as the basis for my selections. There were over 600 albums on this list, and despite Calvin’s valiant efforts to expose us to the best of these in 2015, I was surprised at how many I had never heard.
Top 10 list:
Calexico - Edge of the Sun (Deluxe Edition)
Calexico’s musicians and their esteemed contributors (including Neko Case) on this eclectic album hail from everywhere and the songs on this album reflect this geographic diversity. It is not hard to tell that much of the music was recorded in Mexico City. This was the most interesting album I heard all year.
Songs: When the Angels Played, Tapping On the Line, Cayoacan
Cody Canada and the Departed-HippieLovePunk
Cody is the former frontman of Cross Canadian Ragweed and the Departed have gone back to those roots on this album. Pure classic Texas and Red Dirt Southern rock. Full disclosure…they live in my hometown, so I am slightly biased.
Songs: Comin to Me, Revolution, Great Big Nothin
Colin Hay-Next Year People
The lead singer for the 1980’s Australian mega-band, Men At Work, Colin has produced a body of quality work as a solo artist. From my perspective, this is his best since the 1987 Looking For Jack album.
Songs: Trying To Get To You, If I Had Been a Better Man, Waiting in the Rain
Andrew Combs-All These Dreams
Andrew reminds me of a 1970’s country artist like Ronnie Milsap….but also incorporates 60’s and 70’s influences like Jim Croce and Simon and Garfunkel. Unbelievable voice.
Songs: Rainy Day Song, Nothing to Lose
The 2015 version of traditional country meets Spaghetti Western. Somebody called this album cluttered and confusing…and, even if it was, this is a problem why? Crooks are exhibit one for why Austin is such a creative and diverse music location.
Songs: Toe to Toe, Fork in the Road, The Hunted
Kacey Musgraves-Pageant Material
A great follow up to her award winning debut. She has figured out how to achieve critically acclaimed Nashville success and still remain true to her rural Texas roots. Authentic songwriting and fantastic melodies.
Songs: Dime Store Cowgirl, Pageant Material, Cup of Tea
I first heard Tokyo when he released Ghosts in 2010. The lead track from that album “Inside Your Skull” is one of my favorite songs from any band released in this decade. Afterlife is another example of outstanding song writing and he demonstrates a willingness to break the mold in his approach to this album. A fascinating musician who should be as popular in the U.S. as he is in Europe.
Songs: The Bunk House, The Cold War
The Kennedys released a live 2014 album of Nanci Griffith cover songs. This wasn’t surprising because Maura Kennedy sounds like she could be her twin. The new album is not rock, not country and not folk….just a superb and captivating mix of all of these genres.
Songs: Sisters of the Road, Jubilee Time, Perfect Love
Vanessa Peters-With The Sentimentals
An under-appreciated Dallas singer-songwriter who recorded this album in Denmark with a backing band called The Sentimentals. Vanessa’s superb vocals on this album are best described as dreamy and the backing musicians do a great job creating an album that is “folkier” than her earlier work.
Songs: Call You All the Time, Big Time Underground
Whitney Rose-Heartbreaker of the Year
A throwback album of the first order with the help of Raul Malo and The Mavericks. She calls her music “Vintage Pop-infused Neo Traditional Country” and says the album is a little weird and quirky….but then admits so, is she. This album is all that and would stand up in any era.
Songs: Little Piece of You, Heartbreaker of the Year, Be My Baby
Just missed the cut…Eilen Jewell, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Turnpike Troubadours
If I may be allowed a few more observations….
My favorite live album was Live at Massey Hall by Blue Rodeo.
The best live shows I saw this year were Band of Heathens and The Avett Brothers. I had never seen the Avett’s before and came away in absolute awe of their talent.
Finally, Colin Hay got me thinking about other popular musicians from past decades that released new albums this past year. They share two characteristics with most Americana music…you wouldn’t know they were released unless you were paying attention and they will get no commercial radio air play. The list includes Brian Wilson No Pier Pressure, Jeff Lynne’s ELO Alone In the Universe, The Zombies Still Got That Hunger and Squeeze with Cradle to the Grave. I am glad they are all still kicking around and releasing great music.
I look forward to seeing Top 10 lists from other producers and, if I haven’t heard their favorites, enjoying listening to these new artists for the first time.
Happy Holidays and thank you for introducing us to a lot of great music in 2015, Calvin.
There has been a flood of very good, enjoyable Americana music released in 2015, as evidenced in Calvin’s playlists. As far as albums, my personally road-tested, favorites from this year are Bill Mallonee’s Lands & Peoples and James McMurtry’s Complicated Game. I couldn’t pick one over the other. No critical analysis here. Simply, they are the only two albums that I have repeatedly played from beginning to end since they came out. Both men are exceptional songwriters and these albums speak of an America here and now as well as gone by.
Lands & Peoples is redolent of Mallonee’s New Mexico home and its high desert highways. He speaks of the tribulations, aspirations and determination of people taking to or coming off the road. Steering Wheel Is A Prayer Wheel (“there ain’t nothin’ like the past to remind you who you are; there ain’t nothin’ like the present to tell who you aren’t. …the steering wheel is a prayer wheel on the open road.”) is my personal favorite, although all the songs are genuine expressions of the human spirit as well as tributes to American places and the inhabitants, past and present.
Complicated Game is all over the American map with its tales of both economic woes and financial success, personal relationships, rootlessness, escape, people and places changed or gone, it’s all there in rich imagery. My personal favorite is Carlisle’s Haul, the tale of Carlisle and Uncle Freddy, New England crab fishermen who are persevering despite being past their prime in a number of ways (“wish I’d known them in their prime… they learned from the best” and “it’s hard not to cry and cuss, this old world is just bigger than us and all we got is pride and trust in our kind.”). All the songs are well-crafted stories rooted in the American experience and landscape.
This weekend I give thanks for these albums as well as for that rising tide of new releases filling the Americana music reservoir.
Here are my top ten album picks for 2015. All they have in common is that I liked them. Several featured on the Music Show so I hope some may find favour with listeners.
1. The Mastersons, “Good Luck Charm”. Highly polished follow-up to their debut “Birds Fly South”. Husband and wife duo, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore make their own music and they are also members of Steve Earle’s Dukes. Songs range from their Texas roots to the very modern curse of mobile (cell) phones in Cautionary Tale. Also go for the title track.
2. John Moreland, “High on Tulsa Heat”. This just oozes emotion. Moreland sounds as if he’s been to hell and back living to tell the tale. Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars and Cleveland County Blues.
3. Ray Wylie Hubbard, “The Ruffian’s Misfortune”. You wouldn’t want to cross this man if you found yourself sitting next to him at the bar. Ray starts Bad on Fords with a great list of his influences, “…cut my teeth on the Allman Brothers..”and vividly tells the blues journey from south to north in Mr Musselwhite’s Blues.
4. The Mallet Brothers Band , “Lights Along the River” .Listening to Late Night in Austin you might think these guys were singing about their home town but their home is far from Texas, they come from Maine. This is a great definition of Americana; it spans the country. Try Les Pauls as well.
5. Steve Earle, “Terraplane”. This man won’t fit any neat classification; here he is with his first pure blues album and for that alone he deserves top ten status. This record seethes with menace, particularly Tennessee Kid. Go Go Boots Are Back moves along at swift step. This album formed the core of a tremendous live show this year.
6. Allison Moorer, “Down to Believing”. The break-up of her marriage to Steve Earle must have left some deep wounds but it also led to this cracking collection. I’m Doing Fine says it all and Like it Used to Be isn’t without meaning either.
7. Warren Haynes, “Ashes & Dust”. Selecting another big name isn’t copping out. It just seems that two, Steve Earle and here, Warren Haynes, have taken a new direction. Though fully committed with his Gov’t Mule but following the break-up of the Allman Brothers Warren has gone back to his roots with a collection of songs mainly from his youth in Asheville, NC. Coal Tattoo and Glory Road. No shredding, just beautifully crafted songs.
8. Tia McGraff, “Crazy Beautiful”. Canadian roots. I discovered this singer-songwriter from Ontario this year. Lovely voice, big sound on What a Heart Must Do and Movin’ the Smoke Away.
9. Jason Isbell, “Something More Than Free”. “Southeastern” would always be a hard act to follow but this matches up. Isbell’s DBT days look some way off now. The Life You Choose and 24 Frames. He can write a song.
10. Kevin Sekhani, “The Day Ain’t Done”. Thanks Calvin for introducing me to him. As the title suggests, this is about working, hard. Sekhani’s Louisiana roots are frequently in evidence with some fine Cajun/zydeco weaved into the album. Would love to see him live. Oilfield Tan (if just for the title) and Day Ain’t Done.
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