Another year, another superb collection of Americana/roots music to choose from. This year’s selection has a number which have addressed pressing social issues, as well as giving us great music.
Here’s Our Top 10
Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
The thirteen-track album, featuring Rhiannon Giddens. Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah and Leyla McCalla, explores the history of slavery and its legacy, especially from the point of view of black women. It’s a stunning piece of work, a tour de force, musically, lyrically and thematically. Rhiannon Giddens, the driving force behind the album, has said that she sees this album “as a part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history of this country.”
Make sure and read our interview with Allison Russell about the making of the album here.
Rich, typically Keb’ Mo’ style rootsy blues, featuring collaborations with Rosanne Cash, Taj Mahal, Jaci Velasquez, and his wife, Robby Brooks Moore. Producer Colin Linden and Robert Randolph pitch in too, to great effect in a potent and hugely enjoyable set of songs which will surely compete for a Grammy. Check out our longer piece on the album here.
The Avett Brothers: Closer than together
“At some point, [our] conversations grow melodies,” said Seth Avett of this terrific album which combines the Brothers’ commitment to Americana with some hard-hitting songs about gums, the threat of violence, injustice and the legacy of American racism. “I live in the country because I love peace and quiet / But all of my neighbors have closets full of machine guns.”
Paul Nelson: Over, Under Through
A terrifically fresh collection of Americana, featuring great arrangements of really fine songs. It’s a well-produced album, with a top notch set of musicians. It’s laid back and bluesy, yet with a gentle intensity. It’s still one the best albums we’ve heard this year. Highly recommended. You can find our full review combined with a chat with Paul here.
Luther Dickinson & the Sisters of the Strawberry Moon: Solstice
Dickinson, in the background for the most part, along with Amy Helm, Allison Russell (Birds of Chicago), Shardé Thomas, Amy LaVere, and the Como Mamas, have given us a wondrous, soulful album of both old and new songs, which live and breathe delight.
An upbeat, infectious affair, with songs co-written by Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow, producer Cason Cooley, and Ellie Holcomb. You’ll find yourself humming along, tapping your toes and generally the better for having listened to it. It’s an assured slice of sunny Americana. Catch our interview with Drew here.
Dori Freeman: Every Single Star
Wonderful, melodic set of classic country songs from the ever consistent Dori Freeman, aided and abetted by producer Teddy Thompson. “A master of blurring the lines between Appalachian folk and Nashville country,” said one reviewer.
Marc Cohn & The Blind Boys of Alabama: Work to Do
These Grammy winners seem made for each other, Cohn’s gospel-tinged songs blending perfectly, and given new life by the Blind Boys. An album consisting of Cohn hits, gospel standards and two newly penned Cohn songs is mesmerizing stuff, guaranteed to bring a big smile onto your face.
Intensely personal collection of songs, from a master songwriter which tackles sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, and racial inequality. Gill’s fine singing voice is to the fore here, rather than his blazing Telecaster in a beautiful set of songs. A highlight is, of course, Forever Changed, a song he wrote some years ago that was inspired by a moment in middle school when a gym teacher touched him inappropriately. “There is so much shame,” says Gill. “If you speak out, you are persecuted. I wanted to speak out for innocence.”
North Mississippi Allstars: Up and Rolling
11th album from the Dickinson brothers’ band, which is effectively a soundtrack to photographer Wyatt McSpadden’s shots of local musicians which sought to capture the musical heritage of North Mississippi. With guest appearances from Mavis Staples, Sharde Thomas, Jason Isbell and Duane Betts, this is a hugely enjoyable album, with its roots in the past but a distinctly modern feel.
And Our Next 10
Gidden & Anthony Turrisi: There is No Other
Rhiannon Giddens continues to give us albums of wonderful music which can’t quite be pinned down to one particular genre or region. There Is No Other is a collaboration with Italian pianist and percussionist, Francesco Turrisi, twelve songs effortlessly fusing influences from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America. You can find our review of the album here.
Sean McConnell: Secondhand Smoke
Terrific album from the talented songwriter and performer McConnell. Thirteen songs choc full of great melodies, engaging stories and biblical imagery. “You could buy the world for the price of your soul,” he sings against the background of the McCrary sisters gospel harmonies. McConnell’s singing is consistently outstanding and the whole album is one you want to play again and again.
The Allman Betts Band: Down to the River
Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, recorded live to 2-inch analogue tape and no digital editing. Allman (the son of Gregg Allman) and Duane (the son of Dickey Betts) and Berry Oakley Jr. (son of Berry Oakley) pay homage to a famous pedigree. A great set of songs, full of life and energy, is completed by a wonderful cover of Tom Petty’s Southern Accents, which features some delicious slide guitar.
The country supergroup, composed of Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hamby, puts a feminist spin on country music, whilst sounding classic. Produced by Dave Cobb and backed by a top-notch band, this is fine stuff, great tunes, lovely harmonies. What’s not to like?
Ten years on from his last album, folk troubadour Pettis returns with this outstanding release. Sometimes hailed as the “songwriter’s songwriter,” Pettis gives us a 10-set of songs quietly introspective, spiritual, nostalgic, and humane, beautifully arranged and performed. Recommended for sure.
Various Artists: Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits
What’s not to like about an album of Tom Waits covers? Especially with a stellar cast of women artists which includes Iris Dement, Rosanne Cash, Shelby Lynne, Patty Griffen, Courtney Marie Andrews and others. Twelve songs, beautifully arranged and performed, which shine a light on Waits’s lyrical artistry in a new way.
Remarkable vocal performance by the 80 year-old Staples, aided and abetted by producer Ben Harper. In songs of hope and determination, she sings, “things gotta change around here” and we’re “not too far down the wrong road to turn around.”
Austin-based duo of Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance deliver their third album of nostaligic Americana, with beautiful harmonies and melodic storytelling. Watch out for the masterful cover of the Mama and Papas’ California Dreaming.
Rich storyteller with a large cast of characters in this 10 song set from Kentucky songwriter, Noe, who brings them to life in a world-weary, plaintive kind of way. Produced by Dave Cobb, the sparse arrangements blend perfectly with Noe’s Dylan-esque vocals and the subject matter.
This 6th album from Texas troubadour, Carll, is choc full of snappy lines, great tunes and sharp wit. Twelve fine songs, most driven by Carll’s acoustic guitar, but backed by a fine band. “I just wanna do my labor, love my girl, and help my neighbour, while keeping all my joie de vivre.” (Times Like These)
And Our Final 5 Picks
(find our review of Polychrome here.)
And check out our Best Blues of 2019 here.