Favorite Music of the Year, 2016 Edition

As December rolls in, bringing Winter chills, it is time for this blog’s 8th annual favorite albums of the year list.

In perusing my music collection, I’ve collected 31 albums this year spanning 15 genres. My musical tastes run in the Southern Rock to Alternative Country styles, so if this is not to your tastes, you may want to check out some other lists available elsewhere. Of these, 8 stand out as my favorites. Before getting into that list, I want to touch briefly on 3 runners up.

Honorary Mentions:
Drive-By Truckers, American Band; Waco Brothers, Going Down in History; and Steve Earle/Shawn Colvin, Earle and Colvin. These are great albums and in a normal year would have made the final list, but this year had many great albums, read on for my favorites.

8) Hackensaw Boys, Charismo. I classify these guys as roots country but you probably know them as string band music. Long before Mumford and Sons were watering down this style for mass consumption this band from Virginia has been stompin’ and rollickin’. If you like music without frills, the Hackensaw Boys are worth checking out.

7) Whiskey Myers, Mud. The 4th album from this Texas band continues their unique blending of Southern Rock and Red Dirt Country. Like many genre bending bands, Whiskey Myers does not get the acclaim that they deserve.

6) Devil Makes Three, Redemption & Ruin. Eight albums in 14 years and this roots country band is just now getting the attention that they deserve. American Songwriter has a good review of this album.

5) Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories. Robbie Fulks is America’s troubadour, largely unrecognized, but still capturing the ideas of the nation. Rooted firlmly in American folk, it is only the vagaries of the pop country industry that Fulks is not played on every country station from coast to coast.

4) Cody Jinks, I’m Not the Devil. Despite his background in the thrash metal scene, it is Johnny Cash that Jinks channels in his newest release (the third for those counting at home).

3) Blackberry Smoke, Like An Arrow. Blackberry Smoke was on this list last year for a live album, this year they are back with a new release of original music. The voice of Southern Rock with a healthy dose of Americana. How this hard working touring band found the time to record and produce this album is beyond me, but the quality of the music speaks to the work ethic of these guys from Georgia. If you get the chance to see them live, take it, you will  not be disappointed.

2) Billy Bragg/Joe Henry, Shine Light. These two folkies compliment each other to a tee. Singing classic tales of railroads and those who rode them. An instant classic.

  1. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Simpson has been hailed as the saviour of country music. Surely that task is too much for one man, but Simpson has done more than anyone else in a long time. This album was written and recorded for his son who he missed while on tour. See NPR’s review.

If you liked this post, check out my past yearly lists:  2009, 2010, 2011, 20122013, 2014, and 2015.

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Favorite New Music, 2015 Edition

Welcome to my 7th annual list of favorite albums of the year. My musical taste tends towards alt-country, southern rock, and related genres; if that is not your thing then you may not enjoy this list. That’s fine, there are lots of other lists out there that you may enjoy.

This year I am going to do something differently, rather than attempting to put this list in order counting down to my favorite amongst favorites, I am going to list them in alphabetical order by artist name. To be up front, my far and away favorite album of 2015 is Blackberry Smoke’s Holding All the Roses. Click play and scroll down to see the list.

2015 was a great year for music, here are my favorite 10 albums from this year.

Anne McCue: Blue Sky Thinkin’. This singer songwriter from Australia channels Patsy Cline’s voice with the jazz instrumentation of Billy Holliday. Think smoke filled bar room and a sultry band with a sexy singer on a Saturday night maybe 70 years ago. Yes, it is that good.

Blackberry Smoke: Holding All the Roses. I’ve been following this southern rock outfit for a few years and finally got a chance to see them live last year in Missouri. They continue to impress with their tight lyrics and tighter instrumentation, I consider Blackberry Smoke to be the epitome of southern rock in the modern era.

The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club. Is this band really 23 years old? That means I’ve been listening to them for over 20 years and they have a sound that never grows stale. This is classic Bottle Rockets and an impressive release from Bloodshot Records.

Corb Lund: Things That Can’t Be Undone. Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertins are country from Canada’s hinterlands. This is their most accessible album to date, a vast array of music showing the bands versatility.

The Deslondes: The Deslondes. This debut album is a style that I am really appreciating these days, hardcore country with nary a hint of western. Looking forward to more from this band.

Ryan Bingham: Fear and Saturday Night. This cowboy is back with another Americana album that leaves you shaken. His raspy voice and erudite lyrics are some of the best currently being recorded.

Shakey Graves: Nobody’s Fool. This Americana band out of Austin continues to carry the torch for America’s music city.

Sugarcane Jane: Dirt Road’s End. This tight American band will leave you gasping for more, give a listen and you will see what I mean.

Turnpike Troubadours: The Turnpike Troubadours. Today’s preeminent red dirt band out of, where else, Oklahoma.

Wrinkle Neck Mules: I Never Thought it Would Go This Far. The 6th album from this Virginia based roots country band is well worth listening to…go check it out.

If you like this year end wrap up, you might be interested in one of the previous lists:  2009, 2010, 2011, 20122013, and 2014.

Top Albums of the Year, 2014 Edition

2014 has turned out to be a great year for (mostly) independent music. This is the 6th annual favorite albums of the year list that I have made on this blog.  This year I’m highlighting 12 albums from this past year that (I believe) stand above the rest.

Before we get too far into this year’s list, here are the lists from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Below I list my favorite 12 albums from 2014, the band’s name links to their official website. Click play on the video above and continue on.

12) Asylum Street Spankers: The Last Laugh.  This band is a lot of fun, but I almost left them off this list because they broke up back in 2011. This is “new to us” music recorded live at their final performance. (It appears that their website forwards to facebook so I won’t link to it.)

11) Little Buffalo: Little Buffalo. Debut album from this Northern California Roots/Country/Americana/Rock band. I confess to not knowing much about this band, other than the fact that I really like their debut. This album can be streamed from their website in its entirety.

10) Cory Branan: The No Hit Wonder. I first heard of Branan when he joined Bloodshot Records back in 2012, this is his second album with that label, his 4th album overall.  I place his music in the “country rock” category within my collection, but his style is one that transcends country and rock and folk and could just as easily fit in any of them. Twang Nation review.

9) Chuck Mead: Free State Serenade. This former BR-549 front man returns with his 3rd solo album. This one does not fail to impress, a rollicking roll in Mead’s own brand of Americana country.

8) Bap Kennedy: Let’s Start Again. A two disk album of new music from this genre defying singer/songwriter. The artist’s webpage has videos and tracks to stream, well worth checking out!

7) Whiskey Myers: Early Morning Shakes. The 3rd album from this Texas based Southern Rock band. While they get most of their attention from the country music scene, they channel everything that makes Southern rock great. The entire album is well worth checking out.

6) Blackberry Smoke: Leave a Scar (Live in North Carolina). A double live disk from the hardest working band in show business. This Southern rock band is a touring band first, as such their albums are few and far between. Having had the opportunity to see them over the summer, I can attest that this album captures some of the vitality of their live shows. They have a new album coming out early next year that I am sorely looking forward to.

5) Bob Wayne: Back to the Camper. If you like your alternative country with attitude, Bob Wayne may be the band for you. This is great story telling with a musical assault that leaves you both exhausted and wanting more. I’ve yet to have the opportunity to see this band live but I imagine that it would be a show to remember.

4) Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to be Stressed. I had never heard of Paul Thorn when I saw him over the Summer, since then I’ve had his music in constant rotation. Like many of the musicians on this list, his music defies easy categorization; but I would call him blues rock with a heavy southern influence. Beyond genres, Thorn is a story teller, and his stories are well worth listening to.

3) Corb Lund: Counterfeit Blues. This is probably Lund’s most approachable album to date. On his past albums this Canadian story teller has had a sparser sound. This album is some of his classics remixed for an American audience and broader appeal.

2) Old 97’s: Most Messed Up. This country rock group from Texas makes repeated entries on my yearly music round-ups. If you’ve listened to their latest album then you know why. I am unsure if there is a band out there that turns a phrase better than this band.

1) Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. I cannot sing the praises of this album (and of Simpson himself) loud enough. A classic country sound with lyrics that are honest and modern in their sensibilities. While it may be a burden too heavy for any man, Simpson may be in the position to save country music from the powers in Nashville (who seem hell bent on taking it to vacuous irrelevance.)

Edit: Cracker just released an album too late to make this list, but it is great. Thier best stuff in some time, Berkeley to Bakersfield…check it out!

Best New Music, 2013 Edition

As has become my custom, it is time for me to list my favorite album releases of the year.  This is the 5th annual listing, and it has been a great year for roots/alt-country music.  This years listing is unique in numerous ways as we have the first heavy metal album on the list, the first EP on the list, and the first re-issue on the list. Read on to see who made the cut.

Per usual, the artist links to their website while the album links to a review by a third party. Without further ado, here is my list of the top 12 albums of 2013.

12. Red Dirt Rangers, Lone Chimney. Red Dirt Country is a sub-genre out of Oklahoma and nobody represents that sound better than the Red Dirt Rangers. This is their first release since 2007 and it was well worth the wait. (Surprisingly there is not a good review easily found of this album…perhaps my next post.)

11. Hank III, Brothers of the 4×4. If you like your alternative country with bark on it, Hank III will not disapoint. This album would have charted higher on this list if the production wasn’t sub-par. Hank III does some of the best music out there, unfortunately being independent has a drawback, lack of an editor. For these reasons Hank III’s album charts lower than expected…still some great music worth listening too.

10. The Dinosaur Truckers, The Dinosaur Truckers. Debut album from this American roots band from Germany hits all of the right notes. Looking forward to more from these guys.

9. Steve Earle, The Low Highway. While being another great release from Steve Earle, there was nothing on this album that jumped out at me and had me playing it over and over, as such it still comes in at number nine.

8. Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants, All Hat & No Cattle. This band was new to me this year, but I think this is their 3rd album. It is classic honky tonk with a modern sensibility, the album is mostly covers.

7. Drag the River, Drag the River. Even though they have at least seven albums out, they went with the eponymous name for their lowest release.  It is country rock with a little punk edge to it.

6. Donna the Buffalo, Tonight Tomorrow and Yesterday. String music, zydeco, cajun and other genres come together to make this band the best jam band out there. There is no disappointment with this bands latest release. My only regret is that I have not been able to see them live yet.

5. Old 97s/Merle Haggard, Iron Road. A great collaboration that has finally seen the light of day. Only an EP but the albums title track and The Other Shoe carry it to number 5 on this list. Look for a new album from the Old 97s this next year.

4. Black Sabbath, 13. All I can say is wow. I grew up on this band and this album is at least as good as anything they have done since 1974. Produced by Rick Rubin and proof that the man is a genius.

3. The Hackensaw Boys, For the Love of a Friend. This band continues their trend of producing some of the best string music out there. I am glad I got this album digitally becasue I would surely have worn out vinyl by now.

2. Robbie Fulks, Gone Away Backward. Some of the best music that Robbie Fulks has put out, a sparse roots sound, mostly acoustic. I can not get enough of this album.

1. The Bottle Rockets, The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side (reissue). It is hard to believe The Bottle Rockets are 20 years old. This is a two disc set with 46 songs on it, not bad for $12.95. Most of the bonus material is acoustic demos some featuring the band’s predecessor Chicken Truck and others with backing by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. You can not go wrong with this album…go buy it now. And if you get the chance, see them live.

See my previous lists: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Remember, many reviews have downloadable tracks and the artist sites often offer streaming.

Edit: Oops…I left out Son Volt’s new album. Maybe there was a tie for number 3 or 4?

Son Volt, Honky Tonk.

Favorite Music Releases of 2012

Last year I was about 10 months late with this list, this year I am a month early.  Before I list my favorite 8 releases of 2012, I want to first list a few albums that nearly made the list.  In no particular order here are 5 albums that nearly made my top 8 list for 2012:

And, now, my favorite album releases of 2012.

8) Corb Lund: Cabin Fever. Canada’s favorite acerbic wit has released his most pop friendly album to date.  While straying from his folk roots he has given up none of his biting sarcasm and good time sound.

7) Kid Rock: Rebel Soul.  Detroit’s favorite rapper returns with another pop album.  Two Detroit based post-rap countryish albums made this list, I really enjoy the sound.

6) Ryan Bingham: Tomorrowland.  Bingham returns with another gravelly voiced album chronicling America’s underbelly.  This album seems more electric than his previous albums.

5) Wrinkle Neck Mules: Apprentice to Ghosts.  You can call them Southern rock or roots country, but their sound remains eternal.  Traditional instrumentation with a wholesome plaintive sound.

4) Bob Wayne: Till the Wheels Fall Off.  More Hank III than Hank III, Wayne hits all of the themes of the country outlaw: trucks, exes, and fighting the law.

3) Uncle Kracker: Midnight Special.  Less auto-tuned than his previous album, Kracker hits all of the right notes to make this Detroit post-rapper’s latest album a fun album.

2) Chuck Mead: Back at the Quonset Hut. This ex BR-549 front man returns with his second solo album.  This album is made up of a dozen country and rockabilly standards, a fun album.

1) Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Wreck and Ruin.  This is the second collaboration between this Aussie married couple.  Like any great collaboration the result is more than a sum of its parts.  If you like old-timey with modern sensibilities, this album may be for you.

Better Late Than …

So, here it is, mid-August 2012.  What can that mean?  Of course, that means it is time for my favorite music of 2011 list!

I was thinking of writing a review of Corb Lund’s new album, Cabin Fever.  Then I wondered how long it had been since I last reviewed an album on this blog…and it has been awhile.  I was somewhat surprised to note that I had not done my traditional end of year music list last year.  Having done so in both 2009 and 2010, I want to throw something out there to maintain the fledgling tradition.

Of the 26 albums tagged “2011” in my media manager, I pulled my favorite 7, and without further ado:

(I’ve linked the artist name to their web site and the album’s name to a review.)

#7 The Old 97’s: The Grand Theatre Vol. 2

Like 2010’s Vol 1, this album hearkens back to an earlier sound for The Old 97’s.  This is the band that I fell in love with way back in 1996.  Country and Pop is a sound that is hard to successfully straddle, but there is no doubt that the Old 97’s pull it off.

#6 Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Heirloom Music

This album is exactly what the title says, heirloom music.  Culled from the 30s and 40s, this follow up to Come On Back never fails to impress.

#5 The Bottle Rockets: Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening

Country rock with a real down-home feel, this Bottle Rockets acoustic album still manages to bring out some of the raucous live vibe that they seem to imbue into everything that they do.

#4 The V-Roys: Sooner or Later

This late 90s alt-country band from Knoxville got back together just long enough to release a compilation album and to do one show.  The album is sounds fresh even though the music is 15 years old.

#3 Great American Taxi: Paradise Lost

Is it alt-country or roadhouse?  Whatever label you put on their music, GAT is pure Americana adrenaline.  Had I done this list in a timely manner this album would have been missing because I just got turned on to GAT this past March; all three of their albums are top notch…well worth checking out.

#2 Drive-By Truckers: Go-Go Boots

The Drive-By Truckers put out two albums in 2011.  One was a compilation and this one is new music.  Not as gritty as some of thier earlier works, this album still serves as the face of modern southern rock.

#1 Bob Wayne: Outlaw Carnie

This is country music with a metal attitude.  Outlaw country has lost its sound becoming just another carcass picked over by Nashville.  Well, Bob Wayne is taking it back, and taking it back big.

Maybe late, but these 7 artists will stand the test of time…check ’em out.

Food For Thought (music)

Really enjoying Backyard Tire Fire this morning.  Food for Thought is off the album Good To Be.

Food for Thought

Here’s a little food for thought
Whatcha gonna do with your stuff when you’re gone?
‘Cause when you’re through and your time has come
And you think you’ve had your fun
All that really matters is what you’ve done

Just a little food for thought
Whatcha gonna do with your duds when you’re done?
‘Cause when you’re through and your time has come
And you think you’ve had your fun
All that really matters is what you’ve done

‘Cause all of your things don’t matter at all
Don’t matter at all, they don’t matter at all
Well all of your green don’t matter at all
Don’t matter at all, it doesn’t matter at all
Matter at all, it doesn’t matter at all

‘Cause when you’re through and your time has come
And you know you’ve had your fun
All that really matters is what you’ve done
What you’ve done

(chorus)
(Lyrics pulled from Backyard Tire Fire‘s official page.)