Editor’s note: Once a year I receive an email from Robert Klausner, better known to Twangville as Bobby K. The email is an annual newsletter sent to his friends recapping favorite music picks and discoveries from the year. I asked for Bobby’s permission to repost here because it’s just too good not to share. Enjoy! -Tom
Hope everyone had a great, music-filled year in 2015. As I do every year, I created two Playlists of music from this year. The first is called Bobby K’s Best of 2015, which contains my favorite songs of 2015 from some of my favorite records of the year. The second is called Bobby K Grooves of 2015, which contains songs that should open up your musical pores and fill you with love. If you would like to listen to these Playlists on Spotify, follow the links for Bobby K’s Best of 2015 (Spotify) and Bobby K’s Groves of 2015 (Spotify). I hope you enjoy the great music on these Playlists.
This year was a great year for young artists producing exciting music! There are two interesting trends in music that I noticed this year. The first is the numerous young artists playing vintage-soul music reminiscent of Sam Cooke, Elvis, Otis Redding, Etta James, Wilson Pickett among others. This is a great trend, as what can be better than music similar to the music produced by those masters! The second is the continuing expansion of the sound of country music emanating from Nashville. In the past, the Nashville music scene has been the hotbed for “traditional” country music. Due to the fact that very few radio stations play rock-n-roll anymore and that over the last five years many folk and rock-n-roll singer-songwriters have moved to Nashville, currently the music coming out of Nashville is almost more Americana rock-n-roll. In fact, if you listen to the CMA’s Country Artist of the Year, Chris Stapleton, his new record, the “Traveller”, has as much soul, blues and rock-n-roll, as it does country. I’m convinced if Springsteen, Petty or Mellencamp were new artists today, they would be considered country artists, as there is no other category to put them in.
Amy and I had two great concerts at our house this year, with the great Willie Nile indoor, and a great outdoor concert with a new artist from Nashville, Sam Lewis (reviewed below). The reaction from those of you that attended these shows is what inspires me to continue producing these shows. I thank you so much for your support.
The following are the reviews of my favorite records of 2015. If you are interested in an artist, double click on his/her name and you will be taken to the artist’s webpage. If you double click on the title of the record, you will be taken to the ITunes page for this record:
Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight. (Type of Music – Americana/Rock-n-Roll/Folk. Sounds–like: Stones, The Band, Dylan, Replacements). This is one of my top two favorite records of the year. This band is off the charts talented. Their sound looks back and forward at the same time. They can play a Dylanesque folk song (“For No One”) and rock out in a way Paul Westerberg would be pleased (“Black Gold”). All of the band members contribute to the writing and the songs are fabulous …. great hooks, melodies, vocals and harmonies (all 4 band members sing). Their melodies and hooks are so strong that their songs are almost like pop songs, but they play with such ferociousness that they are anything but pop songs. It’s very rare, but every now and then I find a band that has it all. This is one of those bands. Their sense of melody and their ability to write a hook is so strong. They are also a great live band as they play off of each other really well. The lead guitarist/singer Matt Meyers has a little Jagger/Bowie showmanship in him (particularly his dress). He is also becoming more confident in his guitar playing, which is surprisingly superior. If you get a chance, see this band live.
Ike Reilly – Born on Fire. (Type of Music: rock-n-roll, blues, soul with a touch of hip hop. Sounds-like: Paul Butterfield, Replacements, Dylan, Springsteen). Ike is by far the most interesting and exciting musician that I listen to. This man is genre bending. He’s blues, rock-n-roll, folk and, on some songs a little hip hop. Whenever I want to turn my kids’ friends onto new music, I play Ike and they absolutely love him. Ike is such a great lyricist, that even hardcore Dylan fans will admire him. His arrangements are fascinating and his production is impeccable. The great Tom Morrello has a great guitar lead on Paradise Lane. The following is a quote in a recent review of Ike’s record in the American Songwriter “To say this is exciting, unpredictable, idiosyncratic American rock and roll is not to do it justice. Established cult Reilly fans might know what to expect, but even they will be thrilled with the sheer dynamic, gusto and rollicking grooves he unleashes. It’s pure, unaffected and raw; adjectives that have always described Reilly and result in this explosive album, the culmination of his extensive years in the trenches.” There are too many standout tracks to list, but my favs are “Born on Fire”, “Two Weeks-a-Work, One Night-a-Love”, “Hanging Around” and “Paradise Lane”.
Jackie Greene – Back to Birth (Type of Music: Mid-tempo r-n-r, soul, blues and gospel. Sounds-like: Tedschi Trucks, Petty, Clapton). I was waiting for this record for a long, long time. Although the first 3 tracks on this record don’t blow me away, starting with track 4 “Light Up Your Window” (a great Pure Prairie League type song) this record really takes off. From this song on, the record maybe Jackie’s best recorded music. The songwriting is predictably strong and his singing gets better with each record he makes. Track 5 “Trust Somebody”, a soulful symphony, is one of my favorite songs of the year. Others great songs are “Hallelujah”, “Where the Downhearted Go” and the exquisitely beautiful “You Can’t Have Bad Luck All the Time”, which reminds me of Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack”. Let’s hope that Jackie continues releasing records at a more brisk pace, as it is clear he has an absolute classic record in him.
James McMurtry – Complicated Game. (Type of music – folk. Sounds like John Prine, Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen, John Hyatt, Jimmy Lafave.) James McMurtry (the son of Larry McMurtry, the author of Lonesome Dove) released his fabulous debut album, “Too Long In The Wasteland” in 1989. Since then, McMurtry has released many fine records, but in my humble opinion, none as fine as his debut … that is until now with the release of “Complicated Game”. While McMurtry may have limited vocal range, his delivery and phrasing are perfect for a detailed folk-story teller. Each of McMurtry’s songs is a little novel. His writing is so detailed that the listener can actually visualize the story. In fact, there is so much magic in many of these songs that McMurtry actually transports the listener into the story. Only rare artists can do this. Although this is a folk record, it has great pacing and holds my attention from the first song to the last. My favorite tracks on this record are “She Loves Me”, “Ain’t Got A Place”, “Carlisle’s Haul”, and “Long Island Sound”. This is one of my favorite records of the year.
Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams. (Type of music – rock and roll, country. Sounds like Jason Isbell, Adam Hood, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen). Someone once said, Will Hoge makes country music which is too rock and roll for the country radio and too country for rock and roll radio (if there is such a thing anymore). On this record, Will is leaning more to the country side. Hoge has shown his ability to write anthemic songs on his other records, but on “Small Town Dreams” Hoge unleashes them one song after another. When I first listened to this record, it reminded me of Kid Rock and I quickly thought that if Kid Rock ever listened to this record, he would quit making music as this is so much better than anything Kid has ever done. “Small Town Dreams” is filled with 4 or 5, great radio-friendly songs. While the hard core Will Hoge fans might not love Will’s new direction, I actually love this record and find it his most consistent record to date. Hoge has received great critical acclaim over the last 5 years, with a number 1 country song sung by the Zack Brown Band, other songs covered by some leading country artists, as well as having his song, “Strong”, being the center-piece of a Chevy ad campaign. I’m confident that this record will continue to build Hoge’s reputation and grow his fan base. My favorite songs on this record are “Growing Up Around Here”, “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To”, “Better Than You”, “Little Bitty Dreams”, “Middle of America” and “Just Up The Road”. As you can see, there are many great songs on this record.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – Medicine. (Type of Music – Folk, mid-tempo rock-n-roll, basically acoustic based songs, with relaxed rhythms, piano and pedal steel guitar. Sounds-like: Justin Townes Earle, Ray LaMontagne, John Fullbright, Tom Petty). This is a band that has released quite a few strong records over the last decade. This record, while definitely more low keyed than any of Drew’s past records, may be his strongest yet. Listening to this record, one can tell that this band has been together for a while. While 3 of the 12 songs on this record pick-up the tempo, this record is really a mellow record that you can really catch a groove with. Drew is becoming one of the strongest songwriters around. Standout tracks are “American Beauty”, “Tightrope”, “Avalanche” and “Ain’t Nobody Got It Easy”.
Sam Lewis – Waiting On You. (Type of music – mellow rock and roll/folk. Sounds like James Taylor, Justin Towns Earl, Amos Lee, Van Morrison.) When I first heard a song from this record, I immediately knew this artist’s music is in my sweet spot. Sam reminds me of James Taylor with more guts, more soul – a James Taylor with a hefty shot of Van. Obviously, if I am mentioning JT’s vocal prowess, it means that this man Lewis can sing. Besides his beautiful voice, Lewis’s songwriting is strong as this record is consistent from the beginning to the end. This record and Lewis’ first record, “Sam Lewis”, are superior records and very different stylistically (the first record is more soulful and bluesy). I can’t wait to see what Sam has up his sleeve on his next release. My favorite songs on this record are “3/4 Time”, “Waiting On You”, “She’s A Friend”, “Talk To Me”, “Virginia Avenue” and “I’m Coming Home”.
Nathaniel Rateliff – Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. (Type of music – soulful rock and roll. Sounds like an updated Southside Johnny, JJ Grey, Otis Redding and Sam Cook). Nathaniel has taken the music scene by storm with his hit song, “S.O.B.”. This is an artist that, like Leon Bridges and Anderson East, plays retro-soul which sounds like the masters of old, but Rateliff looks forward more than he looks to the past. This record consists of 11 songs, all of which are good. Nathaniel’s singing and the horn arrangements are infectious. I was very excited to see Nathaniel live a couple of months ago. Although the show was too short (75 minutes), I’m confident that as he continues to write more material and plays more covers, this guy is going to be a great live act. This is one of the most listenable records of the year. I can’t imagine anyone buying it and not liking it. The standout tracks for me are “I Need To Never Get Old”, “Howling At Nothing”, “I’ve Been Failing”, “S.O.B.” and “Wasting Time”.
Parker McCollum – The Limestone Kid. (Type of music – Austin country rock and roll. Sounds like Joe Ely, Hayes Carl, Robert Earl Kean Ryan Bingham). Another 22 year old Parker (you guys remember Parker Millsap from last year) who is making great music. Country music can be divided into two hotspots, Nashville and Austin. Although Nashville has been moving towards a broader sound as discussed above, Austin has always been the place where country music meets rock-n-roll head-on. Parker fits perfectly in the Austin scene and is quickly building a reputation in Austin and around Texas. This debut record contains fabulous songs that can be classified as “roots” rock, rock-n-roll and heart wrenching country. This album was released in the earlier part of the year, and I keep going back to it because it is so strong from the beginning to the end. My favorite songs on this record are “Happy New Year”, “Meet You In The Middle”, “All Day”, and “The Tune”. Just a great debut by this young artist. Keep an eye out for this artist.
Langhorne Slim – Spirit Moves. (Type of music – rock, folk, pop, with a little (just a little) dash of punk. Sounds like The Avett Brothers, The Head and the Heart, Deer Tick). This is the 7th record released by Langhorne since 2004. Langhorne’s last record, “The Way We Move”, in 2012, was very critically acclaimed and was a great record. “The Spirit Moves” may be just as good. Langhorne really slowed it down for this record and streamlined the instrumentation. This is clearly Langhorn’s most folky record to date. His songwriting continues to excel and his sense of melody and hooks are unique. Anybody that has not listened to Langhorne should pick this record up as an introduction to his music. Langhorne is a fine young artist who consistently releases great records.
Jesse Malin – New York Before The War. (Type of music – alternative rock and roll. Sounds like Ryan Adams, The Hold Steady, Paul Westerburg). Although Jessie prides himself as a punk rocker, Malin sounds more like Paul Westerburg (post-Replacements), than the Replacements themselves. In my humble opinion, this is Malin’s most mature record; a record where he doesn’t try to be something he isn’t. Malin is a fine songwriter who happens to make play catchy, edgy, atmospheric rock and roll. The record starts off extremely slow with the first song, “The Dreamers”, being my least favorite song on the record. Thereafter, the record gets going and by song 4, it really takes off. My favorite tracks on this record are “Oh Sheena”, “She’s So Dangerous”, the beautiful “The Year I Was Born”, “She Don’t Love Me Now” and “Bar Life”.
Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks. (Type of music – mid tempo rock and roll. Sounds like Sean Mullins, Langhorne Slim, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon). This record follows Josh’s fine 2013 release, “The Beast In Its Tracks”, which was a very mellow and solemn record, detailing the breakup of his marriage. On this record, Josh is more upbeat. A few of the songs have a syncopated beat, similar to many of Paul Simon’s songs. Josh has been releasing great records for a long time, and is really finding his place in the music industry, as he is selling out theatres all over the country. I attribute this to the strength of his songwriting, melodies and hooks. On every Josh Ritter record, there are always one or two fabulous songs, and this record doesn’t disappoint, with “Getting Ready to Get Down” and “Where The Night Goes”. Just a note of caution, like the Jessie Malin record reviewed above, the first song on this record, “Birds On The Meadow”, is my least favorite song on the record, so don’t get discouraged after listening to the first track.
Lucero – All a Man Should Do. (Type of music – Americana/rock and roll. Sounds like The Gaslight Anthem, Drive By Truckers, Kings of Leon, The Lumineers, Bruce Springsteen). Lucero has been touring for over 20 years and has been known for their crazy, alcohol infested live shows. Lucero has been labeled as a country punk alternative band, but over the years, they have become a very soulful band. Lucero’s last 2 records were recorded down in Memphis, and incorporated a lot of Memphis styled horns and keyboards into their songs. While this record is a bit mellower than their past couple of records, there is still plenty of soul on this record. In fact, the song “Throw Back No. 2” has the Jersey Shore sound of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thundercrack” from the early 70’s. I’m not the first to make the comparison to Springsteen, as Ben Nichols (the lead singer and songwriter) is a noted Springsteen fan. Nichols’ voice is very gravelly and is an acquired taste. To me, Nichols’ voice emits raw emotion. I believe this is Lucero’s most consistent record. Top tracks on this record are “When Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles”, “I Woke Up In New Orleans”, “Throw Back Number 2”, and “My Girl And Me In ‘93”.
Ryan Bingham – Fear and Saturday Night. (Type of music – Austin rock and roll/country/folk. Sounds like Hayes Carl, Reckless Kelly, Jason Isabelle, Justin Towns Earle, Lucinda Williams). Five years removed from his Grammy winning song from the acclaimed film, “Crazy Heart”, Ryan has finally released an album worthy of his early works. In 2007, Ryan released the great debut album, “Mescolito”. Since then, he has released some really good records, but nothing that approached the greatness of “Mescolito” …. until this record “Fear and Saturday Night”. While “Fear and Saturday Night” is a much mellower and more folk-based record than “Mescolito” it still has the edge that Bingham’s other records possess. His writing and storytelling are captivating. The first song on this record, “Nobody Knows My Trouble”, is one of my favorite songs of the year, and lyrically is off the charts. For example, Bingham sings, “I have been carrying my troubles, in this pack strapped to my shoulder, ever since I was a baby, I’ve been running from everything I know. Don’t tell me about my troubles, nobody knows about my troubles, except for my baby and me. So I got the hell out of there, and made my way to the big town, I checked myself into the lost and found, and what do you know my baby come for me”. Those lyrics are such great country lyrics. This is a really good record from start to finish. Ryan’s voice pulls at my heartstrings. Any of you that lean more to the Austin country scene, rather than the Nashville scene, will really dig this record.
Anderson East – Delilah – (Type of Music – Muscle Shoals Soul. Sounds–like: Sam Cooke, Wilson Picket, Leon Bridges, Nathaniel Rateliff). Anderson East, another child of the Baptist Church, knows how to use his beautiful gravelly voice in a way that belies his age. His songwriting is really strong as well, which to me differentiates him with Leon Bridges, whose sound is also great, but songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. Standout tracks are “Satisfy Me” (sounds like a Wilson Picket song), “Devil In Me” (could have been on Van’s “Period of Transition” record), “All I Ever Need” and “Lonely”. This is a short record with only 10 songs coming in at 33 minutes, but it is very satisfying from start to finish. I’m anxious to see this young man perform. Definitely on the Klausner radar for a summer show.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Chris Stapleton: “The Traveller”. A great record from the CMA Country Artist of the Year. This is a country, soul, blues and rock-n-roll record. Eric Lindell: “Going to California”. Another fine record by Lindell. Although it is only 7 songs (it is more like an EP), Lindell continues to turn out great music. Ezra Furman: “Perpetual Motion People”. One of my favorite, kooky artists around. Many of the songs sound like Rocky Horror Picture Show outtakes. I really like most of what Furman releases. Glen Hansard: “Didn’t He Ramble”. Glen always releases albums with a few classic songs. This is no exception. As with his past efforts, the album is a little spotty, but definitely worth a listen. Lone Bellow: “Then Came The Morning”. I was a little disappointed with this sophomore album from Lone Bellow. I was expecting great things after their very strong debut record. Unfortunately, this record was over produced. It still, however, has many good songs. Mark Knopfler: “Tracker”. This incredibly talented artist continues to release one good album after another. This is record is chocked filled with excellent songs. Rhiannon Giddens: “Rhiannon Giddens”. Her voice is off the charts. There are so many different styles of music on this record, urban country, gospel, blues and American folk songs. A really strong album from this young artist. Stereophonics: “Keep The Village Alive”. I’ve been waiting for the Stereophonics to release a record like this for a long time, since I first heard them on Loft from Fannie Thomas. The Stereophonics always had a great sound that really hits me. Sort of a Lou Reed type sound. Tobias Jesso Jr.: “Tobias Jesso Jr.”. Really a sweet, sweet album from this young artist. Very mellow. Surprisingly, my 24-year old son and his friends turned me on to this record. I wouldn’t have guessed that kids in their mid-twenties would like this piano based, mellow music, but apparently it works for them. It also works big time for me.
That’s it for me this year. Hope you will enjoy the music reviewed in this Newsletter.
About the author: Washington, D.C. area web designer by day. Music is my muse. I host Twangville‘s weekly Readers‘ Pick.