Mayer’s Picks – The Best of 2014, So Far (the Albums)

The year is off to a strong start and I expect that it will only get better. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite releases from the first half of 2014.

Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless


“Simply bad-ass” is the phrase that overwhelms my thinking every time I give this album a listen. Loveless isn’t one to pull any punches and her rocking band gets in more than a few jabs of their own. This is my kinda rock and roll.

Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, Head, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud, Somewhere Else

Featured Twangville coverage of Lydia Loveless: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1, Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless, and Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless

Alexandria, Chris Mills


There has long been something magical in Mills’ writing and his latest release is no exception. Mills wears his musical heart on his sleeve, crafting songs that are filled with emotion and intensity which he then brings to life with a voice that is passionate and full of conviction.

Key Tracks: Alexandria, Rubicon, Blooms, The Sweet Hereafter, Quiet Corners

Featured Twangville coverage of Chris Mills: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills, and Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills

Hard Working Americans


You never know what you’re going to get when a “super group” of musicians come together. Leave it to the newly formed Hard Working Americans to demonstrate how to do it right. They hit the bulls-eye twice, first with their stand-out performances and musicianship. Second, by covering a collection of songs written by some of theirs – and my – favorite songwriters.

Key Tracks: Another Train, Down to the Well, Stomp and Holler, Welfare Music

Featured Twangville coverage of Hard Working Americans: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1

Drive-By Truckers


Are you ready to rock? Well the Truckers certainly are. English Oceans finds Patterson Hood in fine story-telling form and Mike Cooley filling his songs with plenty of piss and vinegar. The results are pretty damn potent.

Key Tracks: Shit Shots Count, Primer Coat, Pauline Hawkins, Hearing Jimmy Loud, When Walter Went Crazy, Grand Canyon

Featured Twangville coverage of Drive-By Truckers: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2 and Drive By Truckers – Live at Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN

Chuck Ragan


Ragan has found a way to marry his punk pedigree with the edgier side of Americana. Let’s call it rustic punk… and a mighty fine listen.

Key Tracks: Something May Catch Fire, Vagabond, Non Typical, Bedroll Lullaby, Gave My Heart Out

Featured Twangville coverage of Chuck Ragan: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1.

Sarah Borges


Borges returned from her musical hiatus by releasing what is arguably the best album of her career. Radio Sweetheart bristles with swagger and attitude, not to mention plenty of guitar-driven punch.

Key Tracks: Girl With a Bow, Think of What You’ve Done, The Waiting and the Worry, Start Again, Record on Repeat

Featured Twangville coverage of Sarah Borges: Happy Valentine’s Day: Radio Sweetheart from Sarah Borges , Monday Morning Video: Amy Black, Girls Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges , and More Video Fun from Sarah Borges, Amy Black and Girls Guns & Glory

Girls Guns and Glory


While they remain true to their love of Hank Williams and vintage country, Girls Guns and Glory let their rock and roll colors fly on Good Luck. It makes for one rollicking good time.

Key Tracks: All the Way Up to Heaven, Be Your Man, One of These Days, C’Mon Honey, Rockin’ Chair Money, It’s Your Choice

Featured Twangville coverage of Girls Guns and Glory: Mass Ave – A Special Boston Playlist , Photos that Rock: Girls Guns and Glory , and Girls Guns and Glory at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse

Parker Millsap


The Oklahoma native sets a high bar for himself with an outstanding debut release, deftly mixing up a stew of country gospel, folk and bluegrass.

Key Tracks: Old Time Religion, Truck Stop Gospel, The Villain, Quite Contrary, When I Leave

Featured Twangville coverage of Parker Millsap: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, and Old Settlers Music Fest 2014 Edition .

Best Albums of 2013, Official Twangville Editors’ Picks

Official Twangville Album of 2013:

Jason Isbell, Southeastern

No drumroll necessary, it’s Jason Isbell’s Southeastern with the runaway pick for the official Twangville best album of 2013. This list combines best of year picks from our Twangville authors plus the Readers’ Top 20 which you helped us create. Congrats to all the finalists.

Official Twangville Top 20 of 2013:

Eli’s Favorite Records of 2013

Southeastern cover

2013 was a pretty crazy year for me. Personally, professionally, and music listening habit-wise, it was all over the map. At different points during the year, I obsessed over the back catalogs of The Clash, Emmylou Harris (again), Tom Waits, Kevin Gordon, Superchunk (again), Kanye West (weirdly), Paul Westerberg solo records (again), and finally The Bottle Rockets.

The last of these may have been my favorite discovery of the year. Bloodshot Records gloriously curated this year’s re-release of the Bottle Rockets first two albums, the self-titled debut and the major label follow-up the Brooklyn Side. Both records are phenomenal and re-introduced me to a band that I had somehow neglected to appreciate during my archivist like obsession over 90’s era No Depression acts during my college years (this unhealthy addiction occurred in the mid-2000s and may explain why I was the least hipster college radio DJ of all time).

There was also a shit ton (which I believe is a metric unit of measure) of new music released this year. Jason Isbell was easy to put at the top of my list, but there were a bunch of records that I have a an inordinate fondness towards sprinkled throughout. I doubt many people have the Shouting Matches record so high, at least not unless they’re Justin Vernon obsessives. Ashley Monroe has also been a consistent favorite this year and I would highly recommended Like a Rose to any classic country fan. Caitlin Rose’s The Stand-In is probably the most orchestrated and produced record on the list, but feels as comfortable and lived in as any of the acoustic-based records that precede it.

There were also excellent tribute records put out, but I generally don’t include those in my traditional favorites list so I’m calling them out here.  The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver was released by ATO records and High Cotton: Tribute to Alabama was released by Lightening Rod Records. John Fogerty also put out Wrote A Song for Everyone, which features an All-Star line-up of acolytes doing (mostly) re-arranged Creedance songs.

So, without further stalling, here are my favorite records of 2013:

1.Jason Isbell- Southeastern

Instant classic. His first record that can sit comfortably next to Decoration Day and The Dirty South.

2.Holly Williams- The Highway

Early in 2013, my brother played me “Drinkin” and “Waiting On June” back to back .The Highway hasn’t left my car stereo since.

3.Patty Griffin- American Kid

Stupid good.

4.Valerie June- Pushin Against the Stone

Yea, I listen to NPR.

5.Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You

Guy Clark is better than your favorite songwriter. Picks: “My Favorite Picture of You“, “Hell Bent on a Heartache”

6.John Moreland- In the Throes

Soulful, poignant, and honest, fans of Lucero, Two Cow Garage, and Joe Pug would be wise to pick this one up.

7.Ashley Monroe- Like A Rose

The best set of straight up country songs I heard last year. Picks: “Weed Instead of Roses”, “Like A Rose”, “Two Weeks Late”, and “You Ain’t Dolly (You Ain’t Porter)”

8.The Shouting Matches- Grownass Man

I like atmospheric folk, but I like blues rock more.

9.Superchunk- I Hate Music

I love music. I love Superchunk. I love it when Superchunk makes new music.

10.Caitlin Rose- The Stand In

This record deserves better than the 10 spot. Greats songs and better production, The Stand-In felt like a huge step forward for Rose. Picks: “No One To Call”, “Waitin”, “Dallas”, and “When I’m Gone”

11.Frank Turner- Tape Deck Heart

For my complete thoughts on this one, see the link below. It’s a mixed bag, but a bag worth obsessing over.

Ducktape Saves Live- Frank Turner’s Recovery

12.Aofie O’Donovan- Fossils

Check out this video

13.Butch Walker- Peachtree Battle EP

14.Josh Ritter- The Beast In the Tracks

15.Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon

16.Amanda Shires- Down Fell The Doves

17.Kasey Musgraves- Same Trailer, Different Park

18.Two Cow Garage- The Death of the Self Preservation Society

19.Charles Bradley- Victim of Love

20.Motel Mirrors- Motel Mirrors

Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith combine for an album of duets. The whimsical nature of the projects comes across as pure energy on record. Highly recommended.

21.Leeroy Stagger- Truth Be Sold

22.Mount Moriah- Miracle Temple

23.Jen Buxton- Desperation Demos [EP]

Worship at the altar of Jen Buxton or face the consequences (which I’m pretty sure consists of a life of sobriety, whilst simultaneously losing your library card privileges).

24.Lucero- Texas and Tennessee [EP]

Title track was great. I’m contractually obligated to refrain from commenting on the other three songs (not their best).

25.Sarah Jarosz- Build Me Up From Bones

26.Shannon McNally- Small Town Talk, The Songs of Bobby Charles

27.Slaid Cleaves- Still Fighting the War

28.Sarah Borges- Radio Sweetheart

29.Wayne Hancock- Ride

30.Deadstring Brothers- Old Cannery Row

Tom’s Picks: Best of 2013

Album of the Year:

Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Jason IsbellSoutheastern

Jason Isbell is quickly establishing himself as one of the greatest singer/songwriters alive today. He’s cleaned up, remarried, and recording without the 400 Unit (his backing band from the last few years). Southeastern is one of those albums I imagine we’ll look back on some day as a pivotal album in this young artist’s career. I hope Isbell goes on to create a catalog to match Neil Young’s. I’d say he’s well on his way.

Heavy Rotations & Honorable Mentions

While Isbell’s Southeastern was a clear favorite album of the year for me, I honestly don’t feel that I can give the rest fair rankings. At the risk of copping out, here’s two dozen more you should check out:

Tom’s Picks (2013), a Playlist

Best of 2013 – Chip

Here is my Top Ten for 2013:

Feel free to cast stones and insults if you disagree.

1. Patty Griffin American Kid

patty-g-pixlr-resized The combination of Griffin’s vocal elegance along with Luther and Cody Dickinson’s backup, made this album stand above all others. The ethereal duet with Robert Plant was also a high impact song.

2. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Southeastern cover Close to being my number 1. There really isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t already been said about this release. Isbell has now shown the world what his core fans have always known, that he is a great songwriter.

3. Tim Easton – Not Cool

Not-Cool-Album-Cover-JPG-1-220x220 Welcome Back! This may be his best solo album. It is certainly his most diverse.

4. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

silvergymnasium_small I was not overwhelmed by the 2013 Indie Rock offerings. “Silver Gymnasium” was a real stand out. The Band had a less dramatic sound on this offering, and the simplicity worked.

5. Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain

sturgill True authentic Country. Close your eyes and you will see Waylon Jennings. Need I say more.

The next 5:

6. Son Volt – Honky Tonk
7. North Mississippi All-Stars – World Boogie is Coming
8. Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self-Preservation Society
9. Donna the Buffalo -Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday
10. Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott – Memories and Moments