As is always the case, I heard a lot of good music this year. And there was a lot more good music I didn’t hear. So I’m going to call this my favorites of the year and not suggest they were the best, but only the best that I heard.
1. Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey To Lubbock Two musical veterans with a wealth of experience across many genres came together and made a great Americana album. It’s got rock and roll and country and everything in between. There’s driving guitar and soulful harmonica and a fantastic set of back up musicians. They’re just as good live, and drummer Lisa Pankratz is single-handedly bringing the drum solo back to rock and roll.
2. Paul Thorn – Don’t Let the Devil Ride Thorn dug into his musical upbringing as the son of a southern preacher with this collection of hymnals from the late 19th century. He updated them, added some delta blues and juke joint jump, and ended up with a record like you’ve never heard before. Plus a killer cover of the O’Jays hit from the 70’s, Love Train.
3. John Prine – Tree Of Forgiveness Prine is an icon to songwriters everywhere and his latest proves that, after 13 years since his last record of new songs, he hasn’t lost a step. He’s always been able to take everyday situations and ordinary observations and elevate them to parables for everyone. On top of that he calls us music critics “syphilitic parasitics” and manages to make it rhyme. High honor.
4. The War & Treaty – Healing Tide This husband and wife team popped up on my radar at this year’s Folk Alliance. Their new album is a masterpiece of southern rhythm & blues with soul like you just don’t hear anymore.
5. Speedbuggy USA – Kick Out the Twang Also new to me this year was Speedbuggy USA, a Los Angeles band at the crossroads of punk and country. They’re not the first people to do this, obviously, but they have a unique way of combining Hollywood and Bakersfield to put out some hard-core twang.
- 6. Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You The more I hear this record the more impressed I am with it. The songs pack an emotional punch and the production (Dave Cobb & Shooter Jennings) is outstanding. Her performance of The Joke at the Americana Music awards was mesmerizing.
- 7. J.P. Harris – Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing Nashville carpenter by day and troubadour by night, J.P. Harris dipped into his own life experiences for this record. The stories he tells are lessons about life on the road, generally running from something, but self-aware enough to avoid a downward spiral.
- 8. Kevin Gordon – Tilt and Shine Arguably the best songwriter in the country right now, Gordon set another gem this year. Not unlike John Prine, Gordon takes ordinary stories of rural southern youth and turns them into poetic works of art.
- 9. I See Hawks In L.A. – Live and Never Learn The current standard bearers for the southern California country rock scene, the Hawks delivered the goods with Live and Never Learn. And you have to listen to My Parka Saved Me and know it’s essentially an extemporaneous performance on a break in the studio.
- 10. Wood & Wire – North Of Despair A very fine bluegrass album from some of Austin’s finest musicians. It also had one of my favorite lines of the year, about being “south of rich, north of despair”.
- 11. The Bottle Rockets – Bit Logic Brian Henneman and team continue to stay close to their alt country roots and we’re all better off for it.
- 12. Western Centuries – Songs From the Deluge Good old-school country music, with subtle influences from Cajun to Celtic.
- 13. John Oates – Arkansas Half of the largest selling duo of all time, Oates explores and updates admirably several standards from the Depression-era Mississippi Delta.
- 14. Vivian Leva – Time Is Everything Beautiful, haunting, plaintive stories of Appalachia, sung by one of its own.
- 15. Larkin Poe – Venom & Faith This will restore your faith in youth and rock and roll.
- 16. Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles – Love’s Middle Name Twangville’s favorite rock goddess released a new album that’s no-holds-barred rock and roll.
- 17. The Furious Seasons – Now Residing Abroad Folk music with stunning guitar work and catchy melodies.
- 18. Steep Canyon Rangers – Out In the Open One of bluegrass’ biggest names pushes the boundaries on traditional music.
- 19. Laura Benitez & the Heartache – With All Its Thorns Old fashioned country music at its shuffle-around-the-dance-hall best.
- 20. The Slocan Ramblers – Queen City Jubilee Good traditional bluegrass from city kids in Toronto.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.